Tag Archive for: Jackson water crisis


Majority Black Jackson may soon have courts, police run by majority white state government. State also moves to seize control of the city’s water system- and hundreds of millions in federal funds.


Majority Black Jackson may soon have courts, police run by majority white state government

Local residents and politicians in Jackson are outraged by recent proposals from the state legislature. Many see proposals for a new court system and expansion of Capitol Police jurisdiction as a paternalistic white takeover of a majority Black city. Others, including Jackson’s Democratic Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, accuse state officials of attempting to set up a city within a city in Jackson – one white and affluent, the other Black and poor – tantamount to apartheid. 

Separate but equal judiciary

The first proposal would allow the state’s chief justice and attorney general (both white, neither from Jackson) to appoint judges and prosecutors for a new court system within Jackson. This would be a separate system from Jackson’s existing court system, whose judges and prosecutors are elected, which would supersede the elected court’s jurisdiction in parts of the city. Its judges would not have to live in Jackson, or even in Hinds County.

The white state legislators championing the bill (only one of which is from Jackson) say the new court would simply supplement the existing court and help to alleviate a case backlog. Critics say it is a naked power grab from the city’s elected Democratic government and its largely Black citizenry.

This bill initially passed in the statehouse earlier this month and is still under debate in the state Senate. Mayor Lumumba characterized the bill as “plantation politics”. He said of the legislators who voted for the bill, “I was surprised that they came half-dressed because they forgot to wear their hoods“. 

“If we allow this type of legislation to stand in Jackson, Mississippi, it’s a matter of time before it will hit New Orleans. It’s a matter of time before it hits Detroit, or wherever we find our people,” Lumumba said.

Policing a city within a city

The second proposal would expand the patrol of the Capitol Police force, which currently only patrols the Capitol district and state government buildings. The proposal would expand the bailiwick of the state-controlled Capitol Police to include wealthy (white) residential and shopping areas at the city’s heart. Recently, an amendment to the bill proposed giving Capitol Police jurisdiction over the entire city of Jackson.

Again, proponents of this proposal say that Capitol Police would not replace Jackson’s understaffed police force, but supplement it. However, this expanded district already has a much lower crime rate than the rest of Jackson. Critics see the move as an attempt to cordon off an affluent white-dominated power center, using intensified police presence as a show of force to intimidate Black residents.

Some fear this is the beginning of a return to the bad old days of segregation. It doesn’t help that the Capitol police have had several violent interactions with Black people in the past year. This includes two deadly encounters with Black motorists.

State takeover of Jackson’s water (and federal funds)

After a series of recent collapses, Jackson’s water system is currently under the control of a federal manager. But a third proposal seeks to transfer ownership of the system to a nine-member regional governing board to oversee Jackson’s water system. Again, most of the members would be appointed by Republican state leaders.

Locals are skeptical to say the least. Gov. Tate Reeves denied state financial aid requested by Jackson’s municipal leadership time after time. Reeves was so proud of this fact he even campaigned on it.

It wasn’t until the federal government pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to addressing the city’s water crisis that state leaders showed the slightest interest in helping. Skepticism is an understandable reaction. Reeves and his cronies don’t exactly have a stellar reputation when it comes to managing funds entrusted to them by the federal government to help disadvantaged Mississippians.

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Jackson mayor says latest water disruption “worst case scenario”.

Southwest Airlines: Pilot union says weather not solely to blame for mass cancellations.

US, other countries consider travel restrictions for China.



Jackson mayor says latest water disruption “worst case scenario”

Jackson, MS, has been under a boil water notice since Christmas Day after freezing weather caused a drop in water pressure. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba declared a state of emergency yesterday and declared the situation a “worst case scenario”. Local authorities hoped that increasing output from two water treatment plants might remedy the immediate problem. But even after increasing output at the O. B. Curtis and J.H. Fewell water treatment plants, much of the city remains without adequate water pressure. An official press release on Monday said “We are producing significant amounts of water and pushing that into the system, but the pressure is not increasing — despite those efforts at the plants.”

This would seem to suggest unidentified leaks somewhere in the city’s pipe network. Residents are being asked to keep taps closed to maintain what pressure there is. Officials are also urging residents to report any leaks so that they can be repaired and hopefully restore pressure. However, there are numerous anecdotal reports on Jackson’s government Facebook page from residents who say they’ve been reporting leaks for days and that no crews have yet arrived.

Mayor Lumumba explained to residents that the boil water notice is a requirement of the EPA when water pressure falls below a certain level. He did not say whether there were any indications that any water that flows out of taps poses a danger to residents. The city is continuing to work with the recently-appointed third-party manager, Ted Henifin. 

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Southwest Airlines: Pilot union says weather not solely to blame for 1000s of cancellations

Over the weekend, major airlines were forced to cancel thousands of flights due to the severe weather across the country. All but one, Southwest Airlines, were largely back to normal by Tuesday. On Monday, the carrier canceled 70% of its flights and then 60% on Tuesday. In contrast, most major airlines were only canceling about 2% of their flights by Tuesday.

A Southwest spokesman solely blamed the weather for leaving them “chasing our tails, trying to catch up”. However, Casey Murray, president of Southwest’s pilots union, says weather is the least of the airline’s problems. Firstly, Murray says the company’s scheduling software dates to the 1990s – when the airline was much smaller – and is no longer up to the job. Secondly, he cited an overall failure of leadership. “Whether it was pilots, whether it was customer service agents, whether it was ramp agents – they weren’t given the tools to do their job,” Murray said. “Nor were they given the leadership to answer the questions and to be able to provide solutions.” 

The Department of Transportation has taken notice of Southwest’s disproportionately high number of cancellations and is investigating. After a disastrous summer for many air travelers, DOT at last put airlines on notice, promising fines and other consequences if airlines continued to book more flights than they could handle given industry-wide staffing shortages.

The cancellations disrupted plans for thousands of customers and left many stranded. Democratic Senators Edward Markey (MT) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) are demanding that Southwest payout “significant monetary compensation” to customers. “Southwest is planning to issue a $428 million dividend next year – the company can afford to do right by the consumers it has harmed,” the senators said on Tuesday.

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US, other countries consider travel restrictions for China

Just China’s COVID infections are taking off at an astronomical rate, the country has announced an end to three years of tight travel restrictions. Under China’s Zero COVID policy, travel between provinces and abroad were tightly controlled, with lengthy quarantine periods for returning travelers. Next month is Chinese New Year, which is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. During this time, millions of Chinese people crisscross the country visiting relatives. This has raised concerns that city dwellers will bring COVID infections to rural areas, where health systems are more limited.

Many Chinese also take advantage of the extended New Year holiday to go abroad.  Following the announcement that travel restrictions would be lifted next month, Chinese people flocked to travel websites to book trips. But some of their favorite destinations will be tightening their controls on travelers from China due to the COVID surge. Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan and India have already announced requirements for negative COVID tests or 7-day quarantines for Chinese arrivals. The US may be following suit, blaming China’s “lack of transparent data” on its COVID surge.

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New ‘boil water’ notice in Jackson due to freeze. Four substations sabotaged in Washington State, leaving 14,000 without power. Iran protest movement marks 100 days.




New ‘boil water’ notice in Jackson due to freeze

Days of low temperatures and severe storms has wrought havoc over much of the US. Even Buffalo, NY, no stranger to harsh winter weather, has declared this the worst storm in the city’s history. In Western New York State, 27 people have died, 25 of them in Buffalo. This included many who froze to death in their cars after becoming stuck and then covered by snow.

Things haven’t been nearly as bad in Mississippi and the rest of the Southeast, but the region hasn’t been spared either. The antiquated and poorly-maintained water system in Jackson has suffered yet another weather-related blow, four months after the entire city lost water pressure for days this summer. Over the weekend, the city reported that water pressure was “fluctuating” due to the freeze. Now the entire city is under a “boil water” notice. In February 2021, a similar spate of freezing weather left much of the city without running water for days.

Months of political wrangling and finger-pointing between city, state and federal authorities has brought the city no closer to bringing its water system into the 21st century. Earlier this month, a federal judge appointed a special third-party manager to take charge of a series of short-term fixes.

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Four substations sabotaged in Washington State, leaving 14,000 without power

Between 2:39 a.m. and 7:21 p.m. local time on Christmas day, vandals broke into and sabotaged equipment in four power substations near Tacoma, WA. The entire state had suffered below freezing temperatures just two days before, but thankfully temperatures were low but at least above freezing on Christmas day. By Monday morning, most affected customers had power restored.

Local authorities are investigating but have made no arrests nor named any persons of interests. Power substations have become an appealing target for domestic terrorists. Earlier this month, gunfire attacks on two power substations in North Carolina left thousands without power for days amid freezing temperatures. Local police have still made no arrests in those incidents, which forced thousands of residents into shelters to keep warm and charge phones and home medical equipment. Authorities were also unable to confirm or refute reports that the saboteurs had targeted the substations to thwart plans for a drag show.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned that critical infrastructure, including largely unsecured power stations, could be targeted by “lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances”.

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Iran protest movement marks 100 days

Iran’s antiregime protest movement has just reached the 100-day mark. It began with the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa, or Zhina, Amini in the custody of the morality police. Since then, the protest movement has continued to grow and evolve, as has the regime’s response to it. The regime has deployed deadly force against street protesters. According to Human Rights Activists’ News Agency (HRANA), police have killed more than 500 protesters, including 69 children. Prominent members of the resistance (including some whose only crime was posting a TikTok video) have also been arrested.

Police routinely shoot protesters with pellets in the face and genitals, permanently disfiguring them. Detained female protesters have described sexual assault while in prison or in police custody. Two protesters have been executed on charges of “warring against god”. In one of these executions, the prisoner was hung from a crane. At least 26 other imprisoned protesters are charged with crimes that could result in execution. Reports of torture of detainees and evidence of torture on the bodies of deceased protesters have become common.

These intimidation tactics have indeed had an effect on the protest movement. While mass street protests continue, they are not as frequent nor as widespread as they initially were. Instead, the nature of the protests seems to be evolving. For example, protesters are hurling petrol bombs at police stations and religious schools. Recently, a “turban tossing” has emerged where a protester runs up behind a cleric, knocks their turban off their head and runs away. Famous sports figures and prominent members of Iran’s entertainment industry are also now speaking openly in favor of regime change.

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Congress unveils $1.7 trillion 2023 budget bill. Supreme Court blocks lifting of Title 42, for now. Germany sentences former Nazi typist, 97, for complicity in 10,500 murders.




Congress unveils $1.7 trillion 2023 budget bill

It has become the norm to push approval of these bills to the end of the year, but in fact they are supposed to be finished by Oct. 1, when the government’s fiscal year begins. The last time Congress managed to pass all its spending bills this deadline was in 1996. Nowadays, what should be boring and routine budget negotiations become opportunities for protracted horse-trading and brinksmanship by lawmakers. 

After passing a continuing resolution to buy yet another week to negotiate, Congress has released its $1.7 trillion 2023 spending proposal. In addition to $858 billion for the Pentagon, the 4,155-page bill also contains $772 billion for domestic priorities. Senate Republican leader

Mitch McConnell was happy to take credit on behalf of his party for massively increasing the defense budget and shrinking the domestic spending in the bill, in direct defiance to President Biden’s priorities. Even after claiming credit for this victory, McConnell said it was likely that many Republicans would vote against the new bill. If this budget fails to pass, McConnell said he would push for yet another continuing resolution to push debate on the budget into the coming year. At that time Republicans will take control of the House and thus have even more opportunities to whittle away at domestic spending.

The domestic spending proposals include, among other things, $40 billion for US communities recovering from natural disasters. About $600 million of that is to address the water crisis in Jackson, MS.

The bill also increases funding for the Capitol Police, the agency charged with protecting lawmakers, by $132 million for a total of $734.5 million.

Non-budget items

The proposal also includes provisions that don’t have much to do with the budget. One of these provisions is a bipartisan reform of the Electoral Count Act. The reform would clarify the language of the laws governing how the US certifies presidential elections by clarifying that the role of the Vice President in the certification is entirely ceremonial. The hope is that this will prevent any future Jan. 6-style insurrections.

Another proposal would ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok from cell phones belonging to members of the federal executive branch, including Defense Department officials. Several national security agencies and watchdog groups have raised concerns about TikTok’s ties to China. TitTok’s parent company ByteDance is headquartered in Beijing. National security officials worry that China’s ruling Communist Party could use TikTok’s advertising-related data collection to gather information and even spy on Americans.

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Supreme Court blocks lifting of Title 42, for now

Title 42, the pandemic-era policy that allowed the US to turn away asylum seekers at the border, was due to be lifted tomorrow after a court order last month. However, a group of 19 Republican state attorneys general appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. The group argued that lifting Title 42 might lead to disaster on the border and asked that the policy remain in place.

The court’s Chief Justice John Roberts granted the group’s request for a temporary stay on lifting the order. Robert’s decision offered no hint of a timeline for when the Justices would hear the appeal. However, the court did ask the Justice Department to file the Biden administration’s response to the appeal by 5 pm today. This suggests it’s at least possible that the court could rule quickly on whether or not to lift Title 42.

Meanwhile in El Paso, TX, Customs and Border Patrol are already processing and releasing about 2000 asylum seekers per day coming over the border from Juarez, Mexico. The city’s leadership have been seeking additional resources from the state and federal government to deal with the arrival of more migrants once Title 42 ends. So far, both the state and federal government has been slow to respond. Officials say there are at least 20,000 people in Juarez waiting for Title 42 to end. When that happens, officials say as many as 5,000 people a day may begin arriving. With limited space to shelter migrants in freezing overnight temperatures, city leaders want more help transporting migrants to their destinations of choice. 

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Germany sentences former Nazi typist, 97, for complicity in 10,500 murders

A court in Germany has found Irmgard Furchner, 97, guilty of complicity in 10,500 killings that took place during her time at the Stutthof death camp near Gdansk, Poland. Furchner was only 18 or 19 when she took work as a stenographer and typist at camp from 1943 until the end of the Nazi occupation in 1945. Because of her age at the time, she was tried in a juvenile court. Furchner received a two-year suspended sentence, meaning she will not have to serve any time in jail.

Throughout the camp’s operation from 1939 to 1945, experts believe about 65,000 prisoners died. These included Jews, non-Jewish Poles and captured Soviet soldiers. The camp employed a variety of methods to murder prisoners, including its infamous gas chambers.

Furchner worked directly with the camp’s commander as his secretary and handled correspondence and processed official orders regarding Stutthof’s detainees. Shortly before the trial commenced in September 2021, the then-96-year-old Furchner went on the run, but was found and detained only hours later.

Stutthoff camp survivor Josef Salomonovic gave evidence in the trial last December. Salomonovic was six years old when his father was shot dead at Stutthof in September 1944. “She’s indirectly guilty,” Salomonovic told reporters, “even if she just sat in the office and put her stamp on my father’s death certificate.”

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Judge OKs federal intervention in Jackson water management. San Francisco board OKs police use of killer robots. Jamaica, Barbados seek slavery reparations from sugar baron British MP.




Judge OKs federal intervention in Jackson water management

A US District Judge in Mississippi has approved a proposal from the Justice Department for federal intervention in the management of Jackson’s water system. A third-party manager has been appointed to oversee updates to the city’s struggling system. Ted Henifin, a former public works manager in Virginia, will be in charge of implementing a 13-item list of necessary improvements to the system. The most urgent project is winterizing equipment to make it less vulnerable to cold weather. In 2021, a cold snap froze pipes and left tens of thousands of residents without water for days.

These fixes are near-term solutions to help stabilize the water system while city, state and federal officials negotiate the terms of a consent decree to establish a long-term management strategy.

Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba welcomed the decision and praised Henifin’s appointment. Lumumba said the city had been working closely with the DOJ to iron out the terms of the management plan. He said Henifin’s expertise had already proven invaluable. The state’s health department also signed off on the deal.

When Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the decision yesterday, he said this proposal was part of the DOJ’s commitment to environmental justice in “overburdened and underserved communities”.

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San Francisco board votes to allow police to use killer robots

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have voted 8-3 to allow police to deploy robots capable of lethal force in “extraordinary circumstances”.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin justified his ‘yes’ vote saying that, “There could be an extraordinary circumstance where, in a virtually unimaginable emergency, they might want to deploy lethal force to render, in some horrific situation, somebody from being able to cause further harm”.

But Supervisor Dean Preston, one of the three who voted against the proposal, warned, “There is serious potential for misuse and abuse of this military-grade technology, and zero showing of necessity”.

Essentially, the board has left it up to police to decide what constitutes “extraordinary circumstances”. They set no concrete limitations as to when and how police can deploy the robot. Perhaps realizing they’d given an overbroad endorsement of discretion, the board did slightly amend their decision. They stipulated that one of the city’s two highest ranking police officials would have to authorize any use of a robot for lethal force.

SFPD Chief tries to reassure the public

When the San Francisco Police Department submitted its equipment proposal to the board, Aaron Peskin added the line “robots shall not be used as a Use of Force against any person”. The SFPD then returned the draft to the board with a red line crossing out Peskin’s addition, replacing it with an authorization to use robots to kill suspects. Peskin and seven other board members then decided to accept this without further pushback. 

In an attempt to ally fears, SFPD Chief Bill Scott said, “These robots would be a last resort. If we ever have to exercise that option, it either means lives, innocent lives, have already been lost, or in the balance, and this would be the only option to neutralize that person putting those lives at risk, or the person who has taken those lives”.

Scott vaguely described when the department might deem it “necessary” to use a robot to take a life. The one specific scenario Scott did offer was a mass shooting. Scott said the technology would be helpful in neutralizing suspects in mass shootings without putting officers’ lives in danger. “These events, these mass killings, are all too common,” Scott said. “And God forbid one happens here, we just need to give our officers the tools to do their jobs”. In case you were wondering, SFPD does have military grade body armor and weapons with which to equip their officers.

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Jamaica, Barbados seek slavery reparations from British sugar baron MP

The governments of Jamaica and Barbados are seeking slavery reparations from a wealthy Conservative British member of Parliament, either through negotiation or legal action. The MP in question is Richard Drax, who represents South Dorset and was a staunch supporter of Brexit.

The Drax family was one of the pioneers of the transatlantic slave trade and Caribbean sugar plantation system in the 17th century. His family still own Drax Hall, a 617-acre working sugar plantation on Barbados, one of the first on the island. However, Drax failed to report his ownership of this plantation in his register of members’ interests declaration, a requirement for British MPs. His ties to the plantation only became public after an investigation by Britain’s Observer newspaper. The Observer estimates that Drax has a net worth of around £150 million.

“The Draxes built and designed and structured slavery”

Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Chair of the Caribbean Community Reparations Commission, estimates that over 30,000 slaves died on the Drax plantations in Barbados and Jamaica over 200 years. “The Drax family has done more harm and violence to the Black people of Barbados than any other family,” Beckles said. “The Draxes built and designed and structured slavery”. 

The first Drax plantation opened in Barbados in 1642. The family continued operations and expanded its holdings throughout Barbados and other Caribbean islands until Britain abolished slavery in 1833. After abolition, Parliament awarded £4,293 (about £3 million in today’s money) to Drax’s ancestor John Sawbridge Erle-Drax in compensation for freeing 189 slaves.

Previously, Drax acknowledged his family’s ties to slavery. However, Drax denied any accountability for its legacy in the present day, though his family continues to profit handsomely from it. “I am keenly aware of the slave trade in the West Indies and the role my very distant ancestor played in it is deeply, deeply regrettable. But no one can be held responsible today for what happened many hundreds of years ago”.

Drax recently rejected calls to pay reparations for his family’s role in the slave trade. But after the government of Barbados threatened to take him to court, Drax traveled to Barbados to attempt to negotiate a settlement with its government

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EPA probes Mississippi state government for discrimination in Jackson water crisis. Doctors warn parents to be on the look out for severe respiratory illness in children. Zelenskyy: Russia plans to blast major dam in Ukraine.



EPA probes Mississippi state government for discrimination in Jackson water crisis

Following a complaint from the the NAACP, the Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it will be investigating whether Mississippi’s state government discriminated against the majority-black city of Jackson when allocating federal funds for water infrastructure projects. Specifically, the EPA will probe the actions of the Mississippi’s Department of Health and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. A statement from the EPA says it will investigate whether MDOH and MDEQ “discriminated against the majority black population of the City of Jackson on the basis of race in the funding of water infrastructure and treatment programs and activities in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964”.

The NAACP complaint alleges civil rights violations were committed. The complaint cited a “decades-long pattern and practice of discriminating against the city of Jackson when it comes to providing federal funds to improve local water systems”.

Earlier this week, House committee chairs Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves seeking a breakdown of what communities were allocated federal funds for water infrastructure by the state government. The letter sought specifics on racial demographics and the population sizes of each recipient city. The chairs also wanted an explanation for why Jackson faced an “additional layer of scrutiny” to no other municipality was subject to.

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Doctors warn parents to be on the look out for severe respiratory illness in children

Pediatricians are warning parents of young children to be on the look out for symptoms of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV cases have overwhelmed hospitals in 33 states, with cases having doubled in 25 states in the last month. For the moment, Mississippi is not among the states reporting an increase in cases, but neighboring states are.

RSV symptoms are similar to the common cold but come with advanced respiratory distress. Doctors say to watch out for heavily flaring nostrils and skin tightening to the ribs as children breathe.

Hospitals typically see RSV cases rise in December to February, but the wave has started earlier this year. Right now, RSV cases are outpacing all other respiratory complaints in children, including COVID and the flu. Doctors are urging parents to get their children’s flu vaccines as soon as possible to head off trips to crowded emergency rooms.

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Zelenskyy fears Russia plans to blow up a major hydroelectric dam in Ukraine

Ukrainian forces are preparing an offensive in the Russian-occupied region of Kherson. Russian authorities have already ordered an evacuation of its personnel along with 50,000-60,000 civilians. Ukraine has condemned the civilian evacuation as a mass forced deportation of its citizens.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned of another looming danger in the province. Zelenskyy said the Russians had mined a major hydrolectric dam and wired it to explode. The Kakhovka hydroelectric dam on the Dnieper River supplies power and water to much of Ukraine’s south. If the dam is destroyed, it would immediately flood about 80 settlements, including Kherson. It could also leave the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant without the water necessary to cool its reactors.

Both Russian and Ukrainian media have reported that the dam’s destruction would also stop water supply to a canal that provides Russian-occupied Crimea with 85% of its water. Russian media have claimed that it is in fact Ukraine that is planning to blow the dam. A Russian official in Kherson claims Ukraine has already fired missiles at it.

Commentators have pointed out that Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine would suffer most if the dam is destroyed, although many Ukrainian-controlled territories would be catastrophically affected as well.

If the Russians are targeting the dam, it is an act of desperation. Zelenskyy said that if the Russians blow the dam, it is an admission by Putin that he will lose control not only of Kherson but all of southern Ukraine, including Crimea.

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Congress probes Mississippi’s handling of Jackson water crisis. Kroger-Albertsons merger may increase grocery prices. Zelenskyy: 1/3 of Ukraine’s power stations destroyed. Nigeria: Floods kill 600 since summer.




Congress probes Mississippi’s handling of Jackson water crisis

House Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and House Homeland Security Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) have sent a letter to Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves asking him to explain how millions in federal funds are being distributed for water infrastructure projects in the state. Since Jackson’s days-long water outage this summer, questions have swirled about whether Mississippi’s Republican-led government has been overly stingy and restrictive of funds to the Democratic-led predominately black city. Recently, the NAACP filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA. The complaint alleges that the state government has discriminated against Jackson on the basis of race.

Maloney and Thompson’s letter requests details about which municipalities will be receiving federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and the bipartisan infrastructure plan. They also want information on the population sizes and racial demographics of those communities. The chairs also want to know why Jackson is subject to an “additional layer of review” that was applied to no other municipality in the state to receive funds.

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Kroger-Albertsons merger may increase grocery prices

Supermarket giants Kroger and Albertsons have agreed a $25 billion merger deal. If it goes through, it will be one of the biggest retail mergers in US history. The deal would bring more than 5,000 stores across the country under the same corporate umbrella. Kroger operates more than 2,800 stores in 35 states (including subsidiary brands like Ralphs, Smith’s and Harris Teeter) while Alberstons operates 2,220 stores in 34 states (with subsidiary brands Safeway, Jewel Osco and Shaw’s). 

The merger has already drawn antitrust scrutiny from members of Congress. Progressive Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MT) are already calling for regulators to block the deal.  Sarah Miller of the American Economic Liberties Project warns that the merger “would squeeze consumers already struggling to afford food”.

The companies’ executives say that the merger will save them $500 million, which can then be passed on to consumers. The merger will also allow them to expand their store brand offerings and save customers money. This may be true in the short-term, but in areas where there is little competition, supermarket mergers tend to drive consumer prices higher over time. Large mergers also tend to squeeze out smaller competitors, giving remaining stores more power to set prices.

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Zelenskyy: Russian attacks destroyed 1/3 of Ukraine’s power stations

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says that recent barrages of Russian missiles have destroyed nearly one-third of Ukraine’s power stations. The downed power stations have led to blackouts in parts of the country. Despite comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin last week indicating missile attacks would be scaled back for now, air attacks against civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine have persisted. However, Putin is relying less on conventional missiles in favor of Iranian-made “kamikaze drones”. US intelligence says Putin has been purchasing these drones for months, but this is the first time they’ve been deployed on a mass scale.

Compared to missiles, the drones are slower, noisier, and easier for Ukraine’s air defense to eliminate in flight. But because there are so many of them, Ukraine simply can’t stop them all. Ukraine’s allies have promised more air defense systems and equipment, but they haven’t yet arrived.

Meanwhile, Iran has promised to deliver surface-to-surface missiles to Russia in addition to more drones.

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Nigeria: 600 killed in floods since summer

Nigeria has long been accustomed to seasonal flooding, but this year’s flooding has lasted longer and done more damage than any in the last decade. Like Pakistan and areas of southern and central Asia that saw overwhelming flooding this year, overbuilding and poor water management in Nigeria have also contributed to the impact.

Since early summer, more than 600 people have perished in Nigeria’s floods. The flooding has destroyed over 200,000 homes and displaced about 1.3 million people. Experts expect the flooding to continue into November.

As in Pakistan, floods have also devastated much of Nigeria’s agricultural land. Nigeria is among six countries the UN says is at high risk of hunger. The country’s economy has already been battered over the last year due to high levels of inflation. 

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Congress unveils gov’t funding bill with money for Ukraine, Jackson. Hurricane Ian: 2.5 million Floridians ordered to evacuate. Iran: At least 76 dead in crackdown on “morality police” protests.




Congress advances bill to avert government shutdown with money for Ukraine, Jackson

Last night, Democrats in Congress forwarded a 237-page federal spending bill that must pass by Friday to avoid a partial government shutdown. The bill would fund the federal government until December 16. The proposal also includes $12.3 billion more for Ukraine and $20 million in emergency funding to address the water crisis in Jackson, MS. 

The bill also includes a controversial energy permit reform provision put forward by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). The reform would fast track the permitting process for oil exploration and other carbon-fueled energy projects. The provision has met resistance from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Other progressives in the House have said they will vote against the bill if the provision is included.

Speaking on Fox News, Manchin said he had expected the resistance from Sanders and other progressives. However, Manchin was surprised by opposition from Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and the Republicans. McConnell has effusively praised Manchin’s conservative votes on a host of issues, including his role in killing the Build Back Better plan. But McConnell is upset with Manchin for voting with Democrats on a much pared-down bill that included corporate tax reforms and climate change spending. McConnell came out last week against the energy permit reform, apparently in a tit-for-tat against Manchin.

Manchin expressed exasperation with McConnell’s stance, bemoaning the fact that he was “a hero one day and a villain the next”.

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Hurricane Ian: More than 2.5 million Floridians ordered to evacuate

As predicted, Hurricane Ian struck Cuba last night as a Category 3 hurricane. The storm is now making its way up to Florida and is expected to strike Wednesday afternoon. The trajectory isn’t yet certain, but meteorologists say it’ll likely hit between Tampa and Ft. Myers. Officials have ordered more than 2.5 million people in areas vulnerable to flooding and storm surges to evacuate. In most cases, officials say, evacuees won’t have to go far away from their homes to get to safety. Even 5-10 miles inland would suffice.

In an attempt to dissuade people from riding out the storm in evacuation areas, officials have repeatedly warned residents not to underestimate Ian’s destructive power. The Tampa Bay area, which has not seen a storm of this magnitude in a century, is particularly vulnerable due to the shape of its coast line.

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Iran: At least 76 dead in crackdown on “morality police” protests

Protests over the police custody death of Mahsa Amini, 22, have entered their 11th day. Last week, Mahsa Amini died in the custody of the “morality police”, who had arrested her for wearing her hijab (a hair covering) incorrectly. Authorities claim that Amini suffered a sudden cardiac episode and slipped into a coma. Her family say that Amini had been beating by police.

The protests have been springing up in cities all over the country. Despite a brutal police crackdown that has left at least 76 people dead, the protests are continuing to spread and intensify. This has forced Iran’s hardline conservative President Ebrahim Raisi to promise an investigation into Amin’s death.

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Reeves declares Jackson’s water safe again… but would he drink it? Mar-a-Lago case: Judge rejects DOJ request to access docs. Ukraine: hundreds of graves, evidence of torture in recaptured areas.



Reeves declares Jackson’s water safe to drink again… but would he drink it?

In a news conference yesterday, Gov. Tate Reeves declared that, “We have restored clean water to the city of Jackson”. Many Jackson residents are relieved after a 7-week long boil water notice. For all that time, they’ve had to hunt down bottled water from various distribution sites or buy it themselves.

With the boil water notice listed, those free distribution sites will close over the coming days. However, some residents say the water coming out of their pipes remains discolored or smelly. Their understandable distrust of the water means they’ll now either have to buy their drinking water, or rely on local charities.

In addition to continuing concerns about pollution at the source, much of the city’s aging infrastructure still relies on lead pipes. Unlike other waterborne contaminants, boiling does nothing to diminish lead content. Jim Craig, a state public health official, says Jackson residents should refrain from using the city’s water to prepare baby formula. Instead they should use either bottled or filtered water. The Health Department also recommends that pregnant women and young children use bottled water, and that children under 5 undergo regular lead screenings and blood tests.

The EPA has a set standard for how much lead in a water is “acceptable”. However, no amount of lead is safe for human consumption. Even in low levels, lead accumulates in the body over time and can lead to neurological impairment and organ damage.

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Mar-a-Lago case: Judge approves special master, rejects DOJ request to access docs

Judge Aileen Cannon has approved Judge Raymond Dearie as special master to review the documents seized by the FBI from former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. Dearie was proposed by Trump’s team but the Department of Justice has accepted his qualifications. Cannon has given Dearie until November 30 to complete his review.

In her ruling, Cannon has rejected DOJ’s request to be allowed to continue to review the documents themselves as part of their ongoing criminal investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified material.

Cannon’s ruling seemingly rejects DOJ’s assertion that the classified documents are, in fact, classified. She claims that that fact is in dispute. While Trump has claimed publicly that he declassified the documents, it’s important to note his attorneys have not made that claim in court, where they could be sanctioned for lying.

Experts have again panned Cannon’s ruling in this case, some even called it “silly”. Especially troubling is Cannon’s decision to allow Trump’s attorneys to review these documents while DOJ cannot. Some of these documents bear classifications that even high-ranking White House and defense officials wouldn’t have access to. DOJ is expected to appeal at least this part of the ruling to a higher federal court.

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Ukraine discovers hundreds of graves, evidence of torture in areas liberated from Russia

Ukrainian soldiers have discovered hundreds of graves following a massive eastern offensive that liberated an area until recently occupied by Russian troops. Some of the graves were found in a wooded area, marked by makeshift wooden crosses. At least some of these were mass graves containing the bodies of dozens of Ukrainian soldiers.

Near the city of Izium in the Kharkiv region, investigators are conducting a mass exhumation. Officials there say they are uncovering evidence of likely war crimes, including torture. Many of the people buried in the graveyard bore signs of a violent death, but also severed ears and other signs of torture. Ukraine’s national police chief says torture chambers have been found in the Kharkiv region.

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Jackson residents now have running water, but it’s still not safe to drink. DOJ subpoenas several Trump aides in Jan. 6 probe. China: Xinjiang COVID lockdowns lead to food, medicine shortages.



Jackson residents now have running water, but it’s still not safe to drink

After heavy rain and flooding overwhelmed Jackson’s O.B. Curtis water treatment plant, Jackson’s 150,000 or so residents were unable to shower or even flush their toilets for several days. But even before that, the city had been under a boil water notice for a month. With considerable help from FEMA and the EPA, Jackson has managed to restore adequate water pressure to its residents. Still, there is no end in sight for the boil water notice, and a long term solution to the city’s water woes is still nowhere to be seen.

Jackson’s mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has spoken to NPR and most recently CBS about the prospects for a resolution. It’s clear from both interviews that considerable tensions remain between Jackson’s city government and the state government. There are also major disagreements about how to proceed with necessary upgrades to Jackson’s infrastructure and who should pay for it.

Is privatization “on the table”?

The NPR interviewer mentioned Gov. Tate Reeves’ comment that privatization of Jackson’s water utility was “on the table”. Lumumba responded that privatization would take the people of Jackson “from one state of misery to the next”. Privatization of public utilities often results in unsustainable rate increases. More than a quarter of Jackson’s residents live below the poverty line and would struggle to pay higher rates for their water. Lumumba said that a maintenance agreement with a private entity that allowed rates to remain reasonable would be preferable.

EPA opens federal probe

The CBS interviewer addressed a new probe by the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General into the failures of Jackson’s water infrastructure. Lumumba said he had encouraged all city employees to cooperate fully with investigators, and denied knowledge of any criminality by city employees. In fact, Lumumba said he welcomed the probe, hoping that it would get to the root causes of the crisis.

A similar EPA OIG investigation of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, led to 9 indictments of city and state officials, including Michigan’s former governor Rick Snyder. The indictments were announced last year and the trials are still ongoing.

Lumumba touts federal help

During the CBS interview, Lumumba says he’s been in close communication with President Biden, EPA head Michael Regan and federal infrastructure czar Mitch Landrieu. The city of Jackson has recently received some $42 million in federal funds, but doesn’t yet have all that money in hand. Lumumba says that while the lion’s share of that money will go towards Jackson’s infrastructure, “it is insufficient to meet the great need of 30 years of deferred maintenance and accumulated challenges”. Lumumba said that more federal funds may be on the way to Jackson in October but didn’t give further details. In previous interviews, Lumumba has said it may cost as much as $2 billion to fully overhaul Jackson’s water infrastructure.

The CBS interviewer asked Lumumba about his previous comments claiming that state lawmakers had been racist in their treatment of Jackson. Lumumba didn’t walk back those comments but said that Jacksonians won’t be served by focusing on political infighting.


DOJ subpoenas several Trump aides in Jan. 6 probe

News broke over the weekend that the Justice Department has subpoenaed several current and former Trump aides in a grand jury probe related to Jan. 6. Sources familiar with the investigation told several news outlets that DOJ wants to question these aides about Trump’s fundraising following his November 2020 election loss. This probe is separate from another federal grand jury probe of Trump’s efforts to pressure 6 states to appoint fake electors.

This probe centers on Trump’s Save America PAC. Following the November 2020 election, Trump’s campaign raised millions in small dollar donations from Trump’s supporters, supposedly to fund the campaign’s judicial challenges to the election results. Rather than supporting court challenges, most of that money went to the Save America PAC.

Where did the money go?

The PAC’s leadership is a who’s who of current and former Trump officials, all of whom draw hefty salaries. These include subpoena recipients William B. Harrison, William S. Russell, Nicholas Luna, and Sean Dollman.

Save America also set up several sub-organizations, which have funded Trump’s defense in his myriad court battles, none of which have anything to do with his initial litigation of the election results. They’ve also helped pay for the defense of several Trump confidents who are fighting subpoenas in other Jan. 6-related cases. Through one of these sub-organizations, the PAC also funded the efforts for a ballot recount in Arizona.

PACs in general have a reputation for spreading money around in ways that rarely receive official scrutiny, although they probably should. In many cases, they simply act as warehouses to ensure that a campaign’s political operatives remain on a candidate’s payroll.

Considering the wide latitude given to other PACs, it’s not clear yet what Save America did that was egregious enough to merit a federal grand jury probe. An answer may materialize in the days and weeks to come. It’s possible DOJ believes the PAC’s financial dealings will shed light one one of their other criminal probes of Trump and his associates.

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China: Xinjiang COVID lockdowns lead to food, medicine shortages

Parts of China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, home to much of the country’s oppressed Muslim Uighur and Kazakh populations, has been under COVID lockdown since at least early August. Lately, desperate Uighurs and Kazakhs have take to social media to plead for food and medicine. China’s internet censors have instructed users to flood social media sites with innocuous posts about Xinjiang to try to drown out the cries for help.

Meanwhile, the 21 million inhabitants of the city of Chengdu in the southwest Sichuan province have endured weeks of heatwaves, power cuts and deadly earthquakes while also in strict lockdown. Chengdu is China’s largest city to go into strict lockdown since Shanghai, a city of 25 million, endured two months of lockdown earlier this year.

President Xi to meet with Putin

In his first trip abroad since the pandemic, China’s president Xi Jinping is traveling to Uzbekistan for a regional conference. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also attending and will be meeting with Xi. The last time the two leaders met face-to-face was at the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Putin was one of only a few foreign leaders to attend the Olympics. This was shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Xi and Putin’s partnership has intensified since then. However, Xi may be having concerns about Putin’s war in Ukraine, which doesn’t seem to be going very well at the moment. At an upcoming Chinese Communist Party Conference in October, Xi hopes to secure an unprecedented third 5-year term as the party’s leader and China’s president. Xi is therefore eager to avoid embarrassment from either the social and economic devastation of China’s severe lockdowns or from Putin’s destabilizing war in Ukraine.



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Jackson water crisis: Biden puts ball in Reeves’ court. Mar-a-Lago raid: Judge unseals detailed list of seized material. Zaporizhzhia: UN nuclear inspectors arrive at Ukraine plant.



Jackson water crisis: Biden puts ball in Reeves’ court

Much of Jackson still lacks adequate water pressure on the fourth day of the outage. As of Wednesday, about 80% of the city still lacked adequate water pressure. It’s not clear if there has been any improvement since then. Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba claims that there has been some improvement, but would not say when he thought water pressure would be fully restored.

The National Guard are now manning seven new water distribution sites which will remain open “until further notice”.

After issuing a federal state of emergency declaration earlier this week, President Biden seemed to call out Gov. Tate Reeves. “We’ve offered every single thing available to Mississippi. The governor has to act,” Biden said yesterday. “There’s money to deal with this problem. We’ve given them EPA. We’ve given them everything there is to offer”. Biden said he has no immediate plans to visit Jackson, but the director of FEMA is due to visit today.

Decades of political hot potato

Biden’s comments echo years of frustration with the state government’s inaction on the matter. Reeves and other state GOP say they don’t want to give Jackson a “bailout” to restore water service to its 160,000 residents. However, in recent years the state granted hundreds of millions of dollars to wealthier white communities to build new water facilities.

Successive administrations of Jackson’s city government are also guilty of years of neglect and mismanagement. Over a decade ago, the city contracted with Siemens to sort out the water authority’s billing issue. Siemens somehow managed to make matters even worse. But even if the billing was up to snuff, more than a quarter of Jackson’s residents are below the poverty line. The city simply doesn’t have the customer and tax base to raise the $2 billion Mayor Lumumba estimates it will take to fix the problem. Certainly not in the near term.

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Mar-a-Lago raid: Judge unseals detailed list of seized material

A federal judge in Florida has unsealed a detailed list of property seized from Mar-a-Lago by the FBI on August 8. The list details the contents of 33 boxes that Trump kept either in his office or in a storage room at his Florida estate. It includes:

  • 103 classified documents (31 “Confidential”; 54 “Secret”; 18 “Top Secret”).
  • 11,108 documents belonging to the US Government without classification markings.
  • 1,675 Magazines/Newspapers/Press Articles and other Printed Media dating between 2008 and 2020.
  • 48 Empty Folders labeled “Classified”.
  • 42 Empty Folders labeled “Return to Staff Secretary/Military Aide”.
  • Several dozen items of personal memorabilia including clothing items, gifts and books.

If you’d like to check my math, (never a bad idea) you can see the full list by clicking here.

What does all this mean?

The 11,000+ US documents are presumably non-classified material from Trump’s presidency that should have been turned over to the National Archives when he left office.

The 90 empty folders are most alarming as it supports suspicions that a great deal of highly sensitive material has not yet been recovered. A previous filing by the DOJ alludes to witness testimony that sensitive material was removed from Mar-a-Lago after FBI agents visited the property to recover documents in June. During that search, members of Trump’s legal team forbade agents from opening certain boxes to search for classified material.

All of this material was haphazardly intermingled with Trump’s 1,675-piece collection of magazines and newspaper clippings. It’s almost as if Trump was treating the classified documents as part of his own personal scrapbook.

As for where the 90 folders worth of classified documents are, it’s anyone’s guess. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is currently conducting a risk assessment. For now, they say they don’t believe this material has yet found its way into an adversaries hands.

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Zaporizhzhia: UN nuclear inspectors arrive at Ukraine plant

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, have arrived in Zaporizhzhia to evaluate the damage to the nuclear facility from shelling. The plant has been occupied by Russian forces for months, but remains under the control of its Ukrainian handlers. Hours before the IAEA inspectors were due to arrive, there was a new round of shelling that hit the plant. The Ukrainians and Russians have each blamed the other for the shelling. Russian military forces have been using the plant as a nuclear shield to launch attacks on surrounding cities.

On arriving at the plant, the inspectors seem to have been quite dismayed at what they saw. IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters that the “plant and physical integrity of the plant” had been “violated several times”. Grossi also said several IAEA inspectors were remaining behind to continue monitoring the situation, and perhaps also hoping their presence might discourage whoever keeps firing on the plant.

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