Tag Archive for: Texas

Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide.

Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment.

Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea.



Texas judge hears case that could ban abortion pills nationwide

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

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

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

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

Trump-appointed judge tried to keep hearing quiet

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

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

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

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

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Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over toxic derailment

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

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

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

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Russian warplane forces down US surveillance drone over Black Sea

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

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

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

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Texas: Five women sue after abortion bans put their lives at risk.

DOJ moves to block merger between discount airlines JetBlue and Spirit.

Was Mexico kidnapping a case of mistaken identity?



Texas: Five women sue after abortion bans put their lives at risk

Five women from Texas have filed a lawsuit demanding greater clarity for medical exceptions in Texas’ various abortion bans. All of Texas’ anti-abortion laws contain exceptions for preserving the life of the mother. However, according to women’s health advocates, these exceptions are written in a way that is deliberately vague and that make it unclear when a medically-necessary abortion is permitted.

The laws have discouraged healthcare providers in the state from providing or even suggesting abortions to their patients, even when there is no viable alternative. That lack of clarity put the lives of these five women, and countless others, at risk. Two healthcare providers have also joined them in the suit. 

Click here to read the women’s stories

Women and healthcare providers in many states that have laws banning abortion have faced similar problems. Most healthcare providers have interpreted the laws to mean an abortion is only permissible once the mother is at the point of death. Even in situations where a fetus cannot survive, such as when the mother’s water breaks prematurely, medical practitioners won’t provide abortions until the fetus no longer has a detectable heartbeat.

Putting off abortions in these situations puts mothers at risk of sepsis and other deadly complications. If an infection becomes too advanced, it can also necessitate a hysterectomy, an outcome that can be avoided with early intervention.

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DOJ moves to block merger between discount airlines JetBlue and Spirit

In a rare move, the Department of Justice has sued to block a proposed merger between two discount airlines, JetBlue and Spirit. The DOJ argues that this merger will decrease competition and raise prices for travelers on all routes that these two airlines serve, whether or not they’re flying with one of the discount airlines.

According to Attorney General Merrick Garland, “Spirit’s own internal documents estimate that when it starts flying a route, average fares fall by 17%. And an internal JetBlue document estimates that when Spirit stops flying a route, average fares go up by 30%”.

The merger between JetBlue and Spirit would create the nation’s 5th largest airline. Thanks to decades of buyouts and consolidation in the airline industry, 80% of the US air travel market is controlled by just four airlines.

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Was Mexico kidnapping a case of mistaken identity?

After a four-day ordeal, two Americans kidnapped in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas last week were released yesterday. Two friends that were traveling with them did not survive injuries from an initial shooting. Now theories abound as to why these four Americans, one of whom was there for a medical procedure, fell victim to this attack in the first place, and why they were held captive for so many days.

Kidnapping for ransom is common in several Mexican states. Usually, people traveling alone on a remote road are grabbed, forced to withdraw a large amount of money from an ATM, and then let go unharmed. However, ransom does not appear to have been the motive in this case. 

Some have raised the possibility that members of the Gulf cartel, which has long dominated this area, mistook the four Black Americans for rival Haitian gang members. As the political and economic situation in Haiti has worsened in recent years, thousands of Haitians have relocated to Mexico. Some Haitian gangs that smuggle drugs or people have also gained a foothold in this part of Mexico. Officials have not commented on this theory, but have said they believe the kidnapping resulted from a “misunderstanding”.

Mexican drug war analyst Alejandro Hope also speculates that the Gulf cartel members soon realized their mistake. Fearing that the full force of both American and Mexican law enforcement would soon come down on them, Hope says the cartel likely tipped off their local law enforcement and government connections to the location of the safehouse where the captives were. 

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Calls for police reform at Tyre Nichols’ funeral.

Texas: 6 dead, nearly 350,000 without power in winter storm.

Myanmar: Western fossil fuel companies profit under brutal junta.



Memphis: calls for police reform at Tyre Nichols’ funeral

In Memphis, the severe weather forced a delay of a service in memory of Tyre Nichols who was beaten to death by Memphis police officers earlier this month. The service was to take place at 10:30am but instead commenced around 1pm local time. Despite the weather, the service at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church was well attended. Rev. Al Sharpton gave the eulogy, during which he condemned the actions of the police. “But you don’t fight crime by becoming criminals yourself. You don’t stand up to thugs in the street becoming thugs yourself. You don’t fight gangs by becoming five armed men against an unarmed man. That ain’t the police. That’s punks,” Sharpton said.

Vice President Kamala Harris also spoke at the service. Like Sharpton and many others at the service, including Nichols’ parents RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, Harris urged Congress to pass the long-stalled George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The act would standardize many police practices as well as create a national database of police brutality incidents. The goal is to combat the use of excessive force and to make it easier to hold officers and their departments accountable when they do. During her remarks, Nichols’ mother RowVaughn Wells said that if Congress did not pass the act, the blood of the next person to die due to police brutality would be on their hands.

Accountability at the top?

Sharpton remarked at one point that he believed the officers would have acted as they did if they believed they would be held accountable. Indeed, since the 5 MPD officers were fired, other citizens have come forward to say they had endured brutal and excessively aggressive treatment at the hands of some of the officers, or others in the SCORPION unit, before Tyre Nichols’ fatal encounter. Some even showed that they had complained to the police Internal Affairs division, but their complaints were not addressed.

It’s now emerged that 4 of the 5 officers indicted in Nichols’ death had committed infractions (including one involving excessive force) before they joined the SCORPION unit, which was founded in October 2021.

Despite this, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis initially reluctant to disband the unit. She was resistant to shutting down the entire unit just because “a few officers” committed “some egregious act” and insisted she needed the unit to continue to work. It was only after continued revelations about the unit and continued public outcry following the release of the video that Davis announced she was disbanding SCORPION.

Years before she became Memphis Chief of Police, Davis was Commander of the infamous Red Dog unit in the Atlanta PD, which was similar to the SCORPION unit. That unit was disbanded in 2011 due to rampant accusations of excessive force, police brutality, illegal searches, and civil rights violations. Before that, Davis was fired from the APD in 2008 for attempting to prevent an investigation into a sex crime allegedly committed by her co-worker’s husband.

The SCORPION unit was founded just four months after Davis became Chief of Police in Memphis.


Texas: 6 dead, nearly 350,000 without power in winter storm

The harsh winter storms moving across the southeastern US has forced the cancelations of thousands of flights and left roads icy and dangerous. Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi are all expecting multiple rounds of precipitation over the next 24 hours.

In Texas, six people have died due to icy road conditions since Monday. At the time of this writing, nearly 350,000 customers are without power throughout the state, 180,000 of them in Travis County, where the state capital Austin is located.

Ahead of the storm, many feared a repeat of the deadly February 2021 storms which left thousands in Texas without power for days. Following the storm, the official death toll from the storm was placed at 246 people. Those deaths spanned 77 of Texas’ 246 counties. The causes of death included injuries, hypothermia, and carbon monoxide poisoning from unsafe heat sources. A separate analysis by BuzzFeed claimed that the total was closer to 700 deaths.

Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the organization that oversees the Texas power grid, was widely blamed for the failures that led to those deaths. Officials say they have since made improvements that should make the grid more resilient to freezing weather. This round of storms will be the first major test of their work since February 2021.

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Myanmar: Fossil fuel companies profit under brutal junta

Two years ago today, Myanmar’s military leadership (known as the Tatmadaw) seized power in the country and arrested much of its civilian leadership. Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned ever since and has been brought before the military-controlled court to be summarily tried and sentenced on a litany of sham charges. Meanwhile, both in Myanmar’s cities and its countryside, resistance fighters are engaging in all out civil war with the Tatmadaw forces. In response, the Tatmadaw has committed numerous atrocities, including laying waste to rural villages and torturing and killing civilians.

The US and many other Western countries have imposed various sanctions on Myanmar’s military leadership. Despite this, a report from a watchdog group shows that some of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies (some of them subsidiaries of US companies) have continued to operate the country. Their activities have profited them handsomely and also served to prop up the military dictatorship despite sanctions.

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Memphis: Protests after Black man dies of injuries following MPD traffic stop.

Texas prisoners hunger strike to protest inhumane solitary confinement.

US, European firms supply Myanmar’s brutal junta.




Memphis: Protests after Black man dies of injuries following MPD traffic stop

On Jan. 7, Memphis police pulled over Tyre Nichols, 29, for reckless driving. What happened next is a little unclear. Authorities say that there was a “confrontation” between Nichols and the officers who approached him, after which Nichols ran away. There was then another “confrontation” before police managed to apprehend and arrest Nichols.

Following this confrontation, “the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath, at which time an ambulance was called,” police said, and Nichols was taken to an area hospital in critical condition. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Nichols “succumbed to his injuries” three days later on Jan. 10, though the agency didn’t specify the nature of the injuries. Immediately following the incident, TBI opened a use of force investigation on Memphis PD.

Nichols’ family said he was “brutalized” to the point he was “unrecognizable“. Rodney Wells, Nichols’ stepfather, said Nichols suffered cardiac arrest and kidney failure because of a beating by officers. “When we got to the hospital, it was devastating,” Wells said. “All of that still should not occur because of a traffic stop. You shouldn’t be on a dialysis machine looking like this because of a traffic stop. That’s inhumane.”

Over the weekend, Nichols’ friends and family and other community members gathered to remember him and staged protests near the site of the stop. Nichols’ family have retained renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump. Crump has represented bereaved families in numerous high profile incidents where Black people were killed by police or in racially-motivated attacks. Nichols’ family want a more answers about their son’s death and are demanding the release of police bodycam footage from the incident.

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Texas prisoners on hunger strike to protest inhumane use of solitary confinement

Prisoners in over a dozen state correctional facilities in Texas have been on hunger strike for nearly a week. Texas’ State Department of Criminal Justice says 72 inmates are on hunger strike, but outside organizers say it’s closer to 300. The prisoners, all men, are protesting the state’s overuse of solitary confinement and deteriorating conditions. Organizers say that staffing shortages throughout the prison system has created inhumane living conditions for solitary inmates.

In solitary, prisoners spend 22 hours a day alone in their cells. The nature of their confinement creates greater demands on staff who must closely supervise their time outside their cells, when they shower or have their one hour of recreation time each day. Inmates wrote a letter to state lawmakers stating that because of staffing cuts, these needs aren’t being met. At one facility, solitary inmates have only had outside recreation a handful of times in the last few years and guards find it difficult to allow the inmates to shower more than once a week.

Decades in solitary

The protesting inmates also want reforms to better govern how Texas prisons use solitary confinement. Prison officials say they use solitary confinement for inmates considered to be an escape risk or those who’ve exhibited violent behavior while in prison. But Texas also uses solitary confinement to isolate prisoners that are affiliated with certain gangs, even if they’ve not committed any other offense while incarcerated.

In order to leave solitary, gang members have to go through a program that requires them to snitch on fellow gang members, which places the inmates in mortal danger when they return to the general prison population. As a result, prisoners with gang affiliations could spend their entire sentences, years or even decades, in solitary. When they eventually return to society (as 80% of them will) the psychologically crippling effects of extended solitary confinement stay with them. Extended solitary confinement is known to cause long term effects such as PTSD, hallucinations and psychosis.

Texas is one of the last few states to place inmates in solitary based solely on gang affiliation. California ended the practice years ago following a weeks-long hunger strike involving hundreds of inmates and a class-action lawsuit.

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US, European firms supply Myanmar’s brutal junta

An independent group of international policy experts has found that companies from 13 countries are supplying Myanmar’s brutal military dictatorship with tools, machines and software that allows them to create weapons to use against the regime’s opponents. Several of these countries, including the US, Germany, and France, have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s junta.

Myanmar’s military (known as the Tatmadaw) seized control of the country in February 2021. They imprisoned Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s elected president. After several prosecutions against her, the military-controlled courts have sentenced her to decades in prison, with more prosecutions to come. Much of the country’s other high-ranking civilian leaders are also in jail.

Opposition groups and ethnic minority militia’s in Myanmar’s border regions have engaged in all-out civil war against the Tatmadaw. The military have carried out numerous atrocities in an attempt to stamp out rebels, laying waste to entire villages. According to the Special Advisory Council on Myanmar, the companies from these 13 countries are supplying the Tatmadaw with hardware and services that enable them to wage war on their own people.

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Critics unimpressed by Biden’s first trip to border.

Virginia: Authorities unsure what to do after 6-year-old shoots teacher.

Brazil: Bolsonaro supporters storm Congress.



Biden makes first trip to border amid crisis

Today, President Biden is in Mexico City meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Immigration is likely to be high on their agenda. Yesterday, Biden made his first trip to the US-Mexico border, the epicenter of one of the most pressing political and humanitarian crises of his presidency. Biden visited El Paso, TX, which has recently borne the brunt of dealing with a wave of arrivals. There he met with local and state officials, local law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. He also visited a border crossing, part of the border wall and a migrant welcome center, where somehow there were no migrants in sight.

Amazingly, in Biden’s four-hour visit to El Paso, he managed not to encounter a single migrant. This is quite a feat in a city where thousands of migrants have been sleeping on the streets for weeks in freezing temperatures. The closest Biden came to a migrant was when his motorcade passed by the border where a dozen migrants were visible on the Mexican side. Biden didn’t visit any Border Patrol stations, where CBP processes migrants. He also delivered no public remarks and the press was kept at a distance. At no point was Biden up close and personal with the human faces of the humanitarian crisis.

This carefully-maintained distance confirmed the worst criticisms leveled at Biden by advocates for migrants since his announcement last Thursday of the expansion of harsh, restrictive and punitive border policies for Haitians, Cubans and Nicaraguans.

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Authorities unsure what to do after 6-year-old shoots teacher

Last Friday, a 6-year-old boy in Newport News, VA, shot this first grade teacher, causing her life-threatening injuries. The local school district has identified the teacher as Abby Zwerner, 25. Officials have so far not named the boy or his parents. Zwerner remains in hospital in stable but serious condition.

Police have said that the shooting was the result of an “altercation” and that it was “not accidental”. This incident has raised a number of questions for the public, such as where the boy obtained the gun and how he got it into the school (which is equipped with metal detectors). Police have so far not offered any specifics on the circumstances of the altercation or other details.

Officials are grappling with questions of their own, the most pressing of which is what to do next. Even though investigators believe the boy’s actions were intentional, he is too young to be tried as an adult in Virginia. He’s even too young to enter Virginia’s juvenile justice system. However, a juvenile judge could revoke the parents’ custody and place the boy in the care of the state.

Under Virginia law, if the boy’s parents allowed him access to a loaded gun, they could potentially be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.

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Brazil: Bolsonaro supporters storm Congress

Trouble has been brewing in Brazil ever since the country’s far-right former President Jair Bolsonaro narrowly lost his re-election bid to leftist rival Lula da Silva in October. Immediately following the election, Bolsonaro supporters set up roadblocks throughout the country. Bolsonaro himself eventually appealed for calm, but did not concede the election. Even after Bolsonaro’s staff promised an orderly transition of power, Bolsonaro and his party sued to have some of the results thrown out. Brazil’s Supreme Court not only rejected this lawsuit, they fined Bolsonaro and his party for bringing the litigation in bad faith.

Despite these setbacks, Bolsonaro’s hardcore supporters remained undeterred. Many camped outside of military barracks for weeks, demanding that the military intervene to halt Lula’s inauguration. Even after Lula’s inauguration on Jan. 1, Bolsonaro’s supporters have continued protesting.

Yesterday, about 40 busloads of them assembled in the capital, Brasilia. They breached a military barricade with minimal opposition as federal police forces stood by. The few police officers who did stand and fight were mobbed and beaten. The marchers then stormed the federal complex that houses the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the presidential palace. There they smashed windows, set fires and used furniture to form barricades against military reinforcements who eventually arrived. The Congress was not in session and other offices were closed on Sunday.

Brazil’s new President Lula da Silva promised to bring everyone involved in the riot to justice. He also placed the blame squarely on his predecessor. Bolsonaro has denied any involvement and was in Orlando, FL, at the time.

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Freezing temperatures and snow to hit much of the US this week. White House eyes new strategy to combat homelessness: prevention. Researchers identify 168 new Nazca line glyphs.




Freezing temperatures and snow to hit much of the US this week

Much of the country is expecting dangerously low temperatures, ice and snow this week as an Arctic wind tracks behind a cold front. The Northwest, Great Plains, Great Lakes and Southeast regions are all expected to see hazardous conditions. The weather is likely to force flight delays and cancellations as people prepare to travel for the holidays. Yesterday, the Seattle-Tacoma Airport had to cancel nearly 200 flights due to snow, rain and low visibility. More cancelations are likely today. Icey roadies will also create dangerous conditions for drivers. Travelers are urged to check local weather conditions before venturing out.

The Southeast from Texas to Tennessee to Central Florida is also expecting wet weather and freezing temperatures. The conditions will be similar to conditions that created a massive days-long power outage in Texas in February 2021. During that freeze, much of the core power infrastructure failed and hundreds of people died. The state’s grid will be put to the test once again.

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White House eyes new strategy to combat homelessness: prevention

One night a year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts a count of homeless people in the US. Data from this year’s count showed that 582,462 were homeless, which is only slightly more than the last full pre-pandemic count in 2020. This would suggest that the US homeless population has stabilized. But that number should be falling. Government and private outreach organizations help bring hundreds of thousands back from homelessness every year. Unfortunately, a roughly equal number of people are falling into homelessness right behind them.

This week, the Biden administration unveiled its new plan to reduce homelessness by 25% by 2025. The focus of this plan is on preventing homelessness before it happens. The premise is that it is easier and costs less money to keep someone in a home than it is to get an unhoused person into a home. By implementing this plan, the White House hopes to stop the churn into and out of homelessness by interrupting the cycle.

Creative individualized solutions

The White House Plan builds on efforts during COVID to keep people in their homes by offering rental assistance. Biden has requested a $360 million increase in the 2023 budget for HUD. The plan is for HUD to coordinate with local officials and organizations to identify people who are at risk of homelessness and offering individualized assistance that can help keep them in work and in their homes.

Sean Read of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit Friendship Place says its important to find “the creative solutions, like, three steps before the full-blown emergency”. Read gives an example of a person who needs their car to get to work. If the car breaks down, having the money to repair the car could be the difference between that person staying in their home or losing it. “If you can do an $800 car repair that keeps them in work {and] able to pay the $2,000 a month rent, you’ve addressed the issue earlier on at a lower cost,” Read says.

Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, who helped craft the White House plan, says the government must also do a better job of identifying people at risk. For example, individuals transitioning out of rehab, foster care or prison are often at higher risk for homelessness. “At those critical moments of transition,” Olivet says, “we have an opportunity. We know where people are. We could bridge that in-patient, or incarceration, or foster care experience straight into housing. It does not have to result in shelter or living in a tent”.

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Researchers identify 168 new Nazca line glyphs

Visitors and archaeologists have long marveled at the famous Nazca lines in the Peruvian desert. These glyphs are excavated from the dry earth in trench-like formations. Some take the form of long straight lines while other have more complicated shapes depicting humans, animals, plants or sacred symbols. They range in size from tens to hundreds of feet across and are anywhere from 1700 to 2100 years old. In the nearly 100 years since they were rediscovered by military and civilian pilots, many have speculated as their purpose, but there remains no universal consensus.

A two-year project by Japanese and Peruvian researchers has discovered an additional 168 previously unrecorded glyphs. That’s in addition to the over 1100 glyphs previously identified. The latest research project involved the use of aerial photography and drones. Further studies using artificial intelligence may help in efforts to identify more glyphs and preserve them. Many of the glyphs are unfortunately under threat from mining activity and other development in the area.

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Jan. 6 committee to vote on criminal referrals for Trump, others today. El Paso, TX, declares state of emergency over expected influx of migrants. Thai warship capsizes, 31 sailors missing.





Jan. 6 committee to vote on criminal referrals for Trump, others today

The Congressional Jan. 6 Committee will meet for its final televised event today at 1 pm ET/ 12 noon CT. The committee will be concluding its public business with a vote on whether to send criminal referrals to the Justice Department in connection with the events of Jan. 6, 2021. These referrals will not be binding, meaning the DOJ can choose whether or not to follow the committee’s recommendations for charges. The committee will be forwarding their findings, including thousands of hours of witness testimony, to the DOJ.

Early reporting suggests the panel may recommend three charges against former President Trump. These are conspiracy to defraud the United States, disrupting an official Congressional proceeding, and the most serious charge, insurrection.

Reports also indicate that Trump will not be the only figure the committee may issue referrals for. For example, a referral may also come for John Eastman, one of the lawyers in Trump’s circle who championed the view that Vice President Mike Pence could use his authority to thwart the certification of the vote. There are also members of Congress who the committee believes conspired with Trump who may get referrals to the House Ethics Committee. 

Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) has hinted that aside from DOJ, the committee may send referrals to four or five other agencies.

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El Paso, TX, declares state of emergency over expected influx of migrants

Oscar Leeser, mayor of El Paso, TX, has declared a state of emergency in hopes of accessing additional resources to cope with an expected wave of immigrants over the border. The pandemic-era border restriction Title 42 is expected to expire on Dec. 21, this Wednesday. In anticipation of the order’s repeal, immigrants have been amassing on the border for weeks, and many have already started crossing over. Some have waited on the Mexico side of the border for months. Once over the border, the migrants usually turn themselves in to Border Patrol officers and ask for asylum. The problem for El Paso is what happens next.

El Paso is already getting just a small preview of the work and resources that will be required. City Manager Tommy Gonzalez described the picture on NPR. After Customs and Border Patrol processes the migrants, they get brought to local bus stations and airports to arrange transport to their preferred destination. But many will be waiting in the area for relatives to come collect them, or to await relatives coming over the border behind them. This creates a problem of sheltering people in the local area when overnight temperatures are dropping below freezing.

Gonzalez says that the city has been seeking extra resources from state and federal authorities, both for transporting and sheltering migrants. But despite promises, those resources have been slow to arrive. Local authorities worry that without additional help, they could soon have a massive humanitarian crisis on their hands.

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Thai warship capsizes, 31 sailors missing

Rescue missions are underway in the Gulf of Thailand where a Thai warship HTMS Sukhothai, carrying more than 100 crew, capsized last night. Authorities have rescued 75 sailors, some of whom managed to get to life rafts. Thirty-one sailors are still missing. Thai navy officials say they haven’t given up on finding the missing crew, even though their chances look bleak.

The navy is also launching an investigation into what caused the sinking of the Sukhothai. The ship went down in a storm after taking on water, which short-circuited the ship’s power systems. The vessel then listed on its side before sinking at around 11:30 pm local time.

The ship had been on patrol and had sent distress messages, but only one ship managed to arrive before the Sukhothai sank. The Sukhothai was built for the Thai navy in the US in the 1980s. Such a massive naval disaster is unprecedented in Thailand among naval ships in active service.

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Texas judge blocks student debt relief. Child labor law violations at JBS meatpacking plants. Myanmar civil war on the agenda at Asian summit.




Texas judge blocks student debt relief

Federal District Judge Mark T. Pittman, a Trump-appointee, has vacated an order by the Biden administration that would forgive about $400 billion in student loans to some 43 million borrowers. The decision came in a joint lawsuit with two plaintiffs. One of the plaintiffs was disqualified from receiving student loan relief after the Biden administration eliminated FFEL loan recipients from the program to fend off another lawsuit. The other plaintiff qualified to receive $10,000 in debt relief but was upset he didn’t qualify for the $20,000 in forgiveness for low-income Pell Grant recipients.

Persis Yu of the Student Borrower Protection Center, which advocates for debt relief, says the plaintiff’s case is an example of “the toddler problem”. In other words, “‘If I can’t have it, you can’t have it either’,” Yu says. “And that’s not how the law works. And it’s not how the courts should apply the law”.

But the crux of Pittman’s decision wasn’t whether the two plaintiffs had been aggrieved or even had standing. Instead, Pittman cast the executive order as government overreach, arguing that the President does not have the authority to forgive student debt without approval from Congress. The Biden administration has used the HEROES Act as its basis for Congressional authorization. In Pittman’s decision, he wrote, having interpreted the HEROES Act, the Court holds that it does not provide ‘clear congressional authorization’ for the Program proposed by the Secretary,” referring to the Secretary of Education.

Applications on hold

Debt relief advocates have argued that the 1965 Higher Education Act gives the President absolute authority over student financial assistance policies. Some have criticized the White House for adopting the more tenuous authorization of the HEROES Act. The Justice Department is appealing Pittman’s ruling. From there, the case would go to the 5th Circuit, one of the most conservative US Circuit Courts. If the 5th Circuit strikes down the order again, DOJ would have to appeal to the Supreme Court.

For now, the Department of Education has frozen new applications for the debt relief program. About 26 million people had already applied. Following another recent court case that temporarily blocked relief, the Department of Education had encouraged people to continue applying. 

It’s uncertain what will happen now when a moratorium on student loan payments expires in January. When Biden announced the debt relief and an extension of the moratorium in August, he said that this would be the last extension.

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Child labor law violations at JBS meatpacking plants

The Labor Department has discovered that children are illegally working in dangerous overnight cleaning jobs ad JBS meatpacking plants in Minnesota and Nebraska. One 13-year-old worker suffered severe burns from a caustic cleaning agent. JBS contracts its cleaning services out to Packers Sanitation Services, or PSSI. PSSI employs about 17,000 workers to perform contract labor at about 700 food processing plants. Investigators found that PSSI had illegally hired at least 31 children -between 13 and 17 years of age.

The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits minors 13 years old and younger from working. The Act also restricts what hours 14- and 15-year-old employees can work and bars minors from working with hazardous equipment. The Department of Labor has accused PSSI of knowingly violating all of these labor laws.

PSSI claims it has a “zero-tolerance” policy on child labor and claims they were misled by individuals with fake IDs. However, the Labor Department says PSSI attempted to interfere with their investigation by intimidating minor workers to discourage them from cooperating with investigators, and by deleting and manipulating its employment files.

JBS claims to have been unaware of the violations taking place at several of its plants and says it is conducting a third-party investigation.

In a related story, a Hyundai plant in Alabama was accused of contracting with a firm that illegally employed minors earlier this year. Again Hyundai claimed to know nothing. The contracting firm, SMART Alabama, claimed they’d been deceived by individuals with fake IDs. Other workers at SMART said it was very obvious some of the employees were underage.

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Biden attends Asian summit; Myanmar civil war on the agenda

In February 2021, a military coup removed Myanmar’s democratically-elected president Aung San Suu Kyi from power. Since then, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military junta) has been fighting against armed, pro-democracy rebels. Tatmadaw forces have carried out numerous massacres in its border regions where most of Myanmar’s ethnic minority populations reside. The military enters villages, slaughters all the men and sets the village ablaze in an attempt to suppress armed resistance. 

Military courts have also imprisoned most of Myanmar’s civilian leadership and even executed a few. Throughout all this, the West has been quick to condemn the brutality of the Tatmadaw and has even imposed some sanctions. Some countries have also halted arms sales to Myanmar’s military. Other than that, the West has done little to aid Myanmar’s minority groups and protesters.

Meanwhile, senior Tatmadaw general Min Aung Hlaing has continued to procure weapons and military aircraft from Russia, and has voiced support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi has called on the West to impose sanctions to clamp down on Myanmar’s international oil and gas sales. Yi says the Tatmadaw gets around half of its financing through oil and gas sales. The EU has imposed restrictions on Myanmar’s fossil fuel industries, but the US and UK have not.

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Ian deaths near 100; FL officials criticized over response. TX: Trial begins for man charged with killing 22 elderly ladies. Fmr. CIA head: US could “take out” Putin’s forces if he used nukes.




Ian deaths near 100 as officials face criticism over response

As of now, 98 people (94 in Florida, 4 in North Carolina) are known to have died as a direct result of Hurricane Ian. Lee County, FL, which contains Ft. Myers and Sanibel island, accounts for 54 of the state’s deaths so far, with 40 confirmed in surrounding counties. Hundreds of thousands in southwest Florida remain without power 5 days after Hurricane Ian made landfall there.

Volunteers and first responders continue rescuing people and recovering deceased victims from Sanibel and Ft. Myers Beach, both barrier islands. Sanibel now has no landward access to the mainland after Ian washed out the causeway. Authorities say it will take a year to rebuild the causeway. Rescuers continue to ferry survivors off the island using swamp boats, some volunteer craft and National Guard helicopters. About 2 feet of compacted sand blankets the island and there is no power and running water. Authorities say the island will be without basic utilities for months.

Lee County’s recovery and relief efforts have been seriously hampered by downed trees and ongoing flooding further north that has made major routeways into southwest Florida impassible. Hours-long lines at the few gas stations that have both gas and the power necessary to pump it have led to flaring tempers. The state has at last managed to open several free food distribution sites in the area.

Evacuation order controversy

Almost immediately after the storm, city and county officials in Lee County have come under fire for their initial emergency response. Some have questioned whether county officials waited until too late to order mandatory evacuations ahead of Ian’s landfall.

Last Monday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued an official warning (as opposed to an advisory) about the possibility of dangerous storm surges in the area. This should have triggered a mandatory evacuation under Lee County’s own emergency management plan. Instead, officials waited until Tuesday morning to issue the evacuation order. Critics of the response question whether this delay resulted in a greater loss of life than might otherwise had been the case. 

City and county officials, and even the state’s Gov. Ron DeSantis, have been quick to dismiss this criticism. Cecil Pendergrass, chairman of the county’s board of commissioners, said that the county didn’t issue evacuation orders until the county was projected to be in the storm’s direct path. Pendergrass instead blamed residents who chose to stay put. “I respect their choices,” Pendergrass said. “But I’m sure a lot of them regret it now”. DeSantis backed up local officials and also laid the responsibility on locals and tourists that didn’t take officials’ warnings seriously enough.

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Florida want to rebuild after Ian, but should they? (opens in new tab). 


Trial begins for man charged with killing 22 elderly ladies in TX

In Dallas today, a capital murder trial opened in the case of Billy Chemirmir, 49. Prosecutors say that in 2018, Chemirmir followed Mary Brooks, 87, from a grocery store to her home, where he then smothered her to death and stole her jewelry. At the time, police first believed that Ms. Brooks had died of natural causes.  That was until another similar attack occurred.

This time the victim was Mary Annis Bartel, then 91. Bartel actually survived and described the attack to police, saying a man had forced his way into her home in an independent living community, tried to smother her and then made off with her jewelry. Bartel said that when she saw her assailant’s green rubber gloves, she knew she was in “grave danger”.

Police caught up with Chemirmir the next day at his apartment complex, where he was holding jewelry and cash. He’d also just discarded a large red jewelry case. Documents in the case led police to the home of Lu Thi Harris, 81. Police found Harris dead. Chemirmir received a life sentence for Harris’ killing earlier this year. At trial, prosecutors proved that Chemirmir had followed Harris home from a Walmart and smothered her before stealing her jewelry. 

Police then began re-examining the deaths of older women in the area in which family members claimed jewelry was missing. In all, Chemirmir is now charged in the killings of 22 elderly women in the Dallas area. Chemirmir maintains his innocence, claiming that he made a living selling jewelry and as an at home caregiver.

One of the women Chemirmir is suspected of killing was the widow of an elderly man he’d cared for as an in-home caregiver.

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Fmr. CIA head: US could “take out” Putin’s forces, Black Sea fleet if he used nukes

Some may remember retired 4-star Gen. David Petraeus’ brief tenure as CIA director from 2011-2012, or at least its salacious end. Throughout his military career, Petraeus has had a knack for courting the press. In his (somewhat forced) retirement, Petraeus has largely kept his head down, with one or two exceptions.

Then yesterday, ABC’s Jon Karl invited Petraeus to give his analysis of the current situation in Ukraine, and in particular Russia’s strategic situation. After describing Putin’s military and territorial losses in Ukraine as irreversible, Petraeus said that Putin’s recent annexation of Ukrainian territories, disastrous mass conscription and veiled threat of a nuclear attack were “desperate”.

While Petraeus said Putin’s nuclear threat had to be taken seriously, he also suggested that such an attack might galvanize the US and NATO to enter the conflict. Petraeus said a hypothetical nuclear attack by Putin “cannot go unanswered” and theorized that US and NATO forces would “take out” all of Putin’s conventional soldiers on the ground in Ukraine and in Crimea, as well as his Black Sea fleet.

Petraeus said that the US would likely not respond with its own nuclear strike. However, Petraeus doesn’t account for what would stop Putin from launching a nuclear strike against the US or other NATO countries should they officially volunteer themselves into the conflict.

Former Putin confidant: Putin fighting for his life; will use nukes if all else fails

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch and one-time collaborator of Putin’s, offered a comparatively sober and sobering assessment. Khodorkovsky suggests that if Putin loses in Ukraine, “he is going to lose power, and also possibly his life”. In this context, Khodorkovsky sees no reason to doubt Putin’s sincere willingness to use any means at his disposal to achieve his objectives. If the current mobilization of 300,000 troops doesn’t accomplish this, the use of a tactical nuke “will be on the agenda,” Khodorkovsky said.

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A month after floods, nightmare continues for eastern Kentucky. Four more states ban nearly all abortions this week. Ukraine nuclear plan cut off from grid.



A month after floods, nightmare continues for eastern Kentucky

It’s been nearly a months since floods devastated several counties in eastern Kentucky. The search effort for victims continues, with 39 confirmed dead so far. Despite the best efforts of volunteer organizations, the plight of many residents in the impoverished and mountainous region has improved little since floodwaters receded.

Several towns and three entire counties remain without access to running water. Because of the extensive infrastructure damage, service may not be restored in some areas until December or January. Those who don’t have a well must travel to centers where volunteers have set up temporary showers and laundry facilities. 

Having lost everything, many residents have already left the area and others plan to do so. Those who have stay put and hope to rebuild are living with neighbors or in tents, trailers and temporary shelters as they try to salvage their homes. Relief from the government has been slow to arrive. Several people who have applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for financial help have seen their applications turned down multiple times. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has urged residents not to take FEMA’s initial rejection has a final answer. With mountains of bureaucratic red tape to negotiate, even one missing or misfiled document can result in a rejection. 

FEMA agents are on the ground, but the terrain and isolated homesteads pose challenges. It may be years before those who have lost their homes are made whole, if ever.

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Four more states ban nearly all abortions this week

Trigger laws banning nearly all abortions go into effect in Tennessee, Texas, Idaho today and in North Dakota tomorrow. These laws, voted in in many Red States as far back as 2007, were put in place to ban abortions in the states if Roe v. Wade were overturned. None of the laws in any of these states have any exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Abortions are allowed only in cases where the mother’s life is in imminent danger.

However, Idaho’s law as initially written was by far the most draconian. It would have criminalized even abortions in emergency situations. This would have forced doctors who provide life-saving abortions to defend themselves in court after the fact. In a lawsuit by the Justice Department, a federal judge ruled that this portion of Idaho’s abortion ban violated federal law, which requires emergency room doctors at institutions accepting Medicare to render life-saving care. The judge ordered a temporary injunction preventing this portion of the law from coming into effect. But this legal fight is not over.

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Ukraine nuclear plan cut off from grid

The nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia in southern Ukraine has been disconnected from the electrical grid after fires in the area downed overhead power lines. Zaporizhzhia supplies about 1/5 of Ukraine’s electrical power. Last week, Ukrainian officials claimed that Russian forces, who’ve been occupying the plant for months, are planning to cut off power supply to the area from Zaporizhzhia in order to connect it to Russia’s power grid, via occupied Crimea. As a result. several towns and cities in the local area are currently without power. 

This could pose a danger to Zaporizhzhia’s safety mechanisms. For now, the safeguards are receiving power from a nearby thermal plant. But the international community and particularly IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has expressed alarm at Russia’s actions. Any interruption to power at the plant could trigger a nuclear emergency.

Meanwhile in Russia, Vladimir Putin has ordered a 10% boost in recruitment to the country’s armed services. Russian forces have suffered heavy losses since the Ukraine invasion began in February. It’s impossible to now exactly how many, as the Kremlin has massively understated its losses publicly.

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How abortion bans put hopeful mothers at risk. Oak Fire grows to 17,000 acres, threatens Yosemite. Pope in Canadian apology tour over Indian boarding schools.



How abortion bans are putting hopeful mothers at risk

Elizabeth Weller, 26, of Houston, TX, recently shared her nightmarish story of pregnancy healthcare limbo, a direct result of her state’s near total abortion ban. Weller and her husband were delighted when they conceived soon after they decided to try for a baby. At first, everything progressed smoothly. Then, at 18 weeks of pregnancy, Elizabeth’s water broke unexpectedly. Such ruptures affect about 3% of pregnancies. Elizabeth’s OBGYN told her that the loss of amniotic fluid meant there was nearly no chance that she would be able to bring a fully-developed baby to term.

With the tragic fate of her unborn daughter now a foregone conclusion, Elizabeth did not anticipate that her own health would be put in the crosshairs. “I have said throughout my life I believe that women should have the access to the right to an abortion,” Elizabeth said. “I personally would never get one”.

If Elizabeth had lived in a state with free access to abortion, her doctors would have performed a termination right away. But in Texas, the so-called Heartbeat Act forbids terminations once a fetal heartbeat is detectable. Though it was certain Elizabeth’s baby would not survive, the baby’s heart was still beating. Because of this, doctors said they could not terminate the pregnancy- not until the heart stopped beating or until Elizabeth’s own life was imminently threatened by a “medical emergency”.

So what does “medical emergency” mean?

Most states with abortion bans make exceptions in cases of “medical emergencies” that threaten the life of the mother. But the Texas law, and abortion bans in many other states, do not define what qualifies as a “medical emergency”. Healthcare advocates say that state laws purposefully leave this distinction vague to discourage healthcare providers from performing medically necessary abortions until the mother’s health is at crisis point.

Though she’d already lost her baby, Elizabeth’s ordeal was only just beginning. Her doctor told her to go home and wait for the baby’s heart to stop beating or for the symptoms of the infection already setting in her womb to worsen.

And worsen they did. Elizabeth experienced cramps, bloody and foul smelling discharge. But when she reported these, she was told theses weren’t the right symptoms of a worsening infection. She was told the same when she started vomiting.

Finally, the ethics board of the hospital treating Elizabeth agreed that it was “ridiculous” not to do a termination under these circumstances. At that, Elizabeth and her husband embraced in their relief.

“We shouldn’t have been celebrating,” Elizabeth says. “And yet we were. Because the alternative was hell.”

Pregnancy in the US just got a lot more dangerous

Elizabeth’s story resembles a case that made international headlines last month. An American tourist in Malta was denied a life-saving abortion when she ran into complications in the 20th week of her pregnancy. Like Texas and now many other US states, the tiny European island nation of Malta has a strict ban on abortion. As in Elizabeth’s case, Andrea Prudente, 38, was told to return to her hotel and wait until either her baby died or she herself got sicker. Prudente’s condition worsened until she was finally able to fly to Spain to have her pregnancy terminated.

NPR previously reported on another similar case from Texas before the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. In a post-Roe landscape, any hopeful but unlucky mother can find themselves in the same tragic and traumatizing circumstance that befell Elizabeth and Andrea – and they will.

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Oak Fire grows to 17,000 acres, threatens Yosemite

A wildfire has been raging in Mariposa County, CA, for over a week and has forced 6000 people to evacuate. The fire has now burned nearly 17,000 acres and is approaching Yosemite National Park. This is California’s worst wildfire to date in 2022. Firefighters on the ground have it 16% contained despite working in unfavorable wind conditions and rugged terrain.

The fire spread rapidly due to dry conditions in the area’s dense and uncontrolled underbrush. The state fire service has also noticed a lot of “spotting” with the Oak fire. “Spotting” occurs when floating embers from the main body of the blaze ignite another fire some distance away. Firefighters say the Oak fire has managed to spark fires in new locations 2 to 3 air miles away, opening new fronts that can then join up with the main fire.

If the Oak fire reaches Yosemite National Park, it could threaten a large grove containing some of the nation’s largest and oldest sequoia trees. The grove was already under threat from fire once earlier this month, but firefighters managed to save it.

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Pope in Canadian apology tour over Indian residential schools

Throughout the 19th century well into the 20th century, the Catholic Church operated hundreds of boarding schools for Native children in the US and Canada. The aim of these schools was to forcibly assimilate Native children into white Christian society. Children were punished for speaking their own Native languages, and many endured abuse of other kinds. Thousands of children also died at these schools due to abuse, disease or malnutrition. More often than not, the children received hasty burials on the grounds of these schools, often without even a marker for their final resting place.

Recent ground penetrating radar studies on the former grounds of these schools have already turned up hundreds of unmarked children’s graves. As these studies progress and expand, more will certainly be found.

Pope Francis is now in Canada, issuing public papal apologies to the still-living survivors of these schools and their descendants. The Pope’s first address took place in northern Alberta. He was introduced there by Chief Wilton Littlechild. Littlechild was himself of a survivor of the nearby Ermineskin Indian Residential School.

Many Native people, including some residential school survivors, traveled for two days hear this first address. Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of another Catholic-run residential school where nuns physically and sexually abused children in their care, was present at the ceremony. “I’ve waited 50 years for this apology. And finally today, I heard it,” Korkmaz said. 

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Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena. Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting. Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Prince.



Jan. 6: Secret Service reportedly deleted texts from Jan. 5 and 6 after subpoena

In a letter to the Congressional homeland security committees, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security claims that members of the Secret Service deleted their texts from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, after the Jan. 6 select committee had subpoenaed them. The Secret Service denies that their members deleted these texts to evade the subpoena. Instead, they maintain that some texts were deleted long ago and that others were lost in a “device-replacement program”.

Whatever the case, this oversight failure is only the latest in a string of worrisome revelations about the Secret Service and its parent agency DHS. 

Back in March reports surfaced that, as early as Dec. 21, 2020, the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) had been monitoring threats of violence to occur on Jan. 6. These included specific threats to kill protesters and government officials, as well as tactical maps of D.C. and the Capitol grounds. I&A made no attempt to share its concerns with law enforcement or other relevant officials until Jan. 5. That report was not even approved and released until two days after the riot.

However, I&A officials were trading communications amongst themselves, joking about the prospect of Democratic politicians being hanged.

DHS targeted journalists, protected far-right militants

Intelligence and Analysis found itself in the spotlight previously in 2020. First, in the summer of 2020, leaked documents revealed that  I&A officials had been compiling files on journalists who were covering the George Floyd protests. Later, an I&A whistleblower came forward claiming that the acting heads of DHS had pressured analysts to downplay intelligence concerning threats of violence from far-right groups and to instead focus on bolstering Trump’s claims of dangerous left-wing organizations. At the time, Trump loyalists Chad Wolff and Ken Cuccinelli were the acting Secretary and Deputy Secretary of DHS, respectively. Cuccinelli also famously promised to ban sodomy during his unsuccessful campaign to become governor of Virginia.

Jan. 6 involvement

The key to understanding the role members of the Secret Service played in the planning of the attempted coup on Jan. 6 lies with Tony Ornato. Ornato was himself a member of the Secret Service and head of Trump’s security detail until Dec. 2019. At that point, Trump appointed him Deputy Chief of Staff, an unprecedented step up for a Secret Service agent. In his new position, Ornato oversaw security matters at the White House.

During the riot on the 6th, Vice President Pence and others were removed to secure locations near or within the Capitol grounds. Ornato reportedly wanted to remove Pence from the Capitol altogether. Pence, however, insisted on staying put. Ornato allegedly told Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg that he wanted to remove Pence to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Kellogg reportedly said to Ornato, “You can’t do that, Tony. Leave him where he’s at. He’s got a job to do. I know you guys too well. You’ll fly him to Alaska if you have a chance. Don’t do it”.

Had Ornato gotten his way and removed Pence to Maryland, or even further afield, Trump’s goal of blocking the certification of the 2020 election results would have been accomplished. Kellogg’s words to Ornato seem to indicate that Kellogg’s suspicions that Ornato and perhaps other members of the White House security detail had just such an outcome in mind.

A spokesperson for the Secret Service has denied that Ornato had any involvement in Pence’s movements on the 6th. Ornato has denied having several crucial conversations reported by multiple high-ranking members of the Trump White House, with some outright calling Ornato a liar. Ornato remains a high-ranking member of the Secret Service, currently serving as assistant director of the Secret Service’s Office of Training.

Thursday’s hearing

The 8th and possibly final public hearing of the Jan. 6 committee is set to take place this Thursday, July 21, during prime time, though these schedules are always subject to change. Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) told ABC that following the reporting about the deletions from the DHS Inspector General, the Secret Service reached out to the committee denying the allegations and saying that they will comply with the subpoena. Lofgren says the committee expects to have the relevant texts by Tuesday, July 19. It’s not clear what texts the Secret Service has or how they were preserved or recovered. Lofgren says the texts are necessary to get “the full picture” of what happened on Jan. 6. 

This week’s hearing will focus on Trump’s actions and other goings on in the White House on the day of the 6th.

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Report finds “systemic failures” in police response to Uvalde shooting

A committee of state legislators in Texas has released the report of their investigation into the Uvalde school shooting. The report found “systemic failures” in the police response to the shooting. In particular, the report blames a lack of leadership and a “lackadaisical approach” to the shooting for allowing a gunman to rampage inside two classrooms for 77 minutes. Ultimately, the 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two teachers as about two dozen police officers stood in the hallway. 

The report found that nearly 400 police officers responded to the shooting, many from surrounding areas. Videos circulated after the shooting of the hundreds of police officers with military grade weapons and heavy protective gear standing outside the school. Rather than attempting to enter the school to stop the shooter, these officers stood outside preventing unarmed parents and community members from entering the school. In at least one instance, police pepper sprayed a distraught onlooker and tackled him to the sidewalk.

Despite pointing to a lack of leadership, the report did not single out any particular official as being responsible for the failures that day. Following a public outcry from citizens, the Chief of the Uvalde School District police Pete Arredondo finally resigned weeks after the incident. Arredondo has claimed that he didn’t know he was in charge of the scene when he turned up.

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Tensions remain after Biden meeting with Saudi Crown Prince

Over the weekend, President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia in his first official visit since taking office. Previously, Biden had pledged to make Saudi Arabia, and in particular its Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) a “pariah” over an abysmal human rights record. But following chaos in the oil markets due to the war in Ukraine, Biden relented his former rejection of talks with MBS in hopes that Saudi Arabia might increase its oil production.

One of the key points of tension between the two leaders is the finding by US intelligence that MBS approved the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khasshoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Accounts differ over whether Biden addressed Khasshoggi’s murder during his meeting with MBS. A Saudi minister who was present at the meeting said he did not hear Biden say that he blamed MBS for the assassination. Biden flatly denied the Saudi minister’s version of events.

Another account alleges that during the meeting, MBS taunted Biden for caring more about Khasshoggi’s death than the death of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Witnesses to Akleh’s death claim that she was targeted by Israeli forces. Akleh’s family has asked the US to investigate her death. US officials have so far rejected this plea, despite concluding publicly that Akleh most likely died at the hands of the Israeli military.

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