[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 6:29am
The Justice Department scored a historic victory with the conviction of two leading Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, on the rare charge of seditious conspiracy for their plots to attack the U.S. Capitol on January 6, along with a slate of lesser offenses for them and other close associates.But according to CNN, the DOJ's upcoming effort to convict another, lower-ranking slate of people from the far-right militia could be more difficult: "This time ... prosecutors face a new challenge – convincing a jury that lower-level members of the Oath Keepers and associates were in on the alleged sedition plot and not just swept up in the mob on January 6, 2021," reported Hannah Rabinowitz and Holmes Lybrand."The trial starts Tuesday with jury selection in Washington, DC, and is expected to last five to seven weeks," said the report. "In addition to seditious conspiracy, the defendants face charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging duties. They have pleaded not guilty."As the report noted, even the seditious conspiracy charges against Rhodes and his direct associates were hard-won and not a total victory; three of the five members were acquitted of that charge."Prosecutors struggled to overcome testimony from several civilian defendants, including other members of the Oath Keepers, who repeatedly stated there was no explicit plan to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021," said the report. "All five defendants in the first trial, however, were found guilty of obstructing an official proceeding, which carries the same 20-year maximum sentence as the seditious conspiracy charge. 'It sends a message that efforts to undermine our democracy will not be tolerated,' said Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.""The new round of defendants – Roberto Minuta, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel and Edward Vallejo – are more disconnected from the top brass of the far-right militia. All four have pleaded not guilty," said the report. "Like the defendants in the first trial, Minuta, Hackett, Moerschel and Vallejo allegedly sent several violent messages in the lead-up to January 6 and discussed fighting what they viewed as a corrupt government. The men also allegedly contributed weapons to the quick reaction force, and three are accused of entering the Capitol building. But Minuta, Hackett, Moerschel and Vallejo are not accused of leading the charge at the Capitol on January 6. Prosecutors have alleged that the four were waiting for orders from Oath Keepers who were higher up in the command structure of the militia."RELATED: Trump's legal troubles mount as Oath Keepers plan to throw him under the bus at sedition trial
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 6:19am
In interviews with the Guardian, disinformation experts singled out Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as a key American dispenser of Kremlin propaganda aimed at undercutting support for the unjustly invaded Ukraine.With Republicans poised to take control of the House -- and with that control of the budget -- supporters of Ukraine are becoming increasingly alarmed at conservatives increasingly taking an overtly pro-Russia stance.Noting that Fox News host Tucker Carlson and conservative gadfly Steve Bannon are also pushing a pro-Vladimir Putin worldview, the Guardian report points out, "Some of the Kremlin’s most blatant falsehoods about the war aimed at undercutting US aid for Ukraine have been promoted by major figures on the American right, from Holocaust denier and white supremacist Nick Fuentes to ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Fox News star Tucker Carlson, whose audience of millions is deemed especially helpful to Russian objectives."Warning, "the influence of these Ukraine aid critics in Congress and Moscow-friendly media on the right led by Carlson is expected to increase," the Guardian's Peter Stone added, "There are signs that the conservative wing of the Republican party and its media allies are already ratcheting up their criticism of US backing for Ukraine."RELATED: Russia pumping millions into US-based propaganda outlets According to Bret Schafer, a senior fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, "Marjorie Taylor Green’s introduction of a resolution to audit aid to Ukraine is entirely unsurprising given the pervasively negative messaging about Ukraine coming from the right flank of the GOP over the past three months.”To drive home his point, Schafer added, "Although most members of Congress support Ukraine, the loudest members do not, and their voices are dominating online spaces”.According to Megan Squire, a deputy director for data analytics with the Southern Poverty Law Center, conservative social media site Rumble has become a hotbed of anti-Ukraine, pro-Putin propaganda and Taylor Greene has been at the center of it."Alt-tech platforms such as Rumble are actively peddling the anti-Ukraine talking points of their heavy users, many of whom have been deplatformed elsewhere,” Squire explained. “A simple search for ‘Ukraine’ in Rumble today shows that the top search results are for a Steve Bannon video where he promotes Marjorie Taylor Greene’s demands for an audit of Ukrainian relief funds, and junk news site Post Millennial, which is using Rumble to promote clips from a similar story from Tucker Carlson.”Carlson's influence is becoming even more concerning with Andrew Weiss, vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stating, "The audience for Fox News commentators like Tucker Carlson, who frequently spreads pro-Russian narratives, is obviously orders of magnitude bigger than that of new niche players like Rumble that often carry Russian disinformation. Such platforms are far more impactful than the more sneaky techniques that the Russian propaganda apparatus employs these days.”You can read more here.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 6:17am
Kanye West followed up his blatantly antisemitic rant on Alex Jones' program by urging Jewish people to "forgive Hitler."The rapper, who now goes by Ye, appeared on the right-wing platform Censored.TV with Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes, who said off the top that he hoped to "talk him off the ledge" and prevent him from "becoming an antisemite or a Nazi," but the rest of the program strongly suggested he was too late, reported Rolling Stone.“Jews should work for Christians," West told McInnes. "I’ll hire a Jewish person in a second if I knew they weren’t a spy and I could look through their phone and follow through their house and have a camera all in their living room.”McInnes met with West, who again wore a black mask covering his entire head, and neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes, who recently joined the rapper for dinner with Donald Trump, and pointed out that Adolf Hitler had a historically bad reputation."We make our reputations, that was made by Jewish people," West claimed. "But some of it's incorrect. Also, the Holocaust is not the only holocaust, so for them to take that and claim -- we have abortion right now. That's eugenics, that's genocide. That's a holocaust that we're dealing with right now, so because Jewish people control the majority of the media, along with banks, along with real estate, along with malls."McInnes argued that secular Jews were problematic "liberal elites," just like Kamala Harris and Barack Obama, but defended Orthodox Hasidic Jews, and West said he "lumps them all together" and blamed them for pornography -- which he compared to a "gas chamber."“They can control the narrative," West said. "History is written by the winners.”RELATED: Kanye West storms from interview after right-wing podcaster offers 'slightest' pushback on his antisemitism
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 6:10am
The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan, best known as the singer of Christmas favorite "Fairytale of New York", has been admitted to hospital, his wife said.The 64-year-old Celtic punk rocker's wife Victoria Clarke wrote on Twitter on Monday that MacGowan was "in hospital again and really hoping to get out asap!".Clarke, 56, asked that fans "send prayers and healing vibes", sharing a picture of the Irish musician and songwriter smiling in an armchair and wearing a crucifix on a chain.MacGowan, who rose to fame in the 1980s as the battered and drawling face of The Pogues, was previously admitted to hospital in 2015 after breaking his pelvis that left him using a wheelchair.In 2016, Clarke revealed MacGowan, whose persona was synonymous with boozy excess, was finally sober.On social media fans lamented MacGowan's admission to hospital during the build-up to Christmas, wishing him a speedy recovery.One Twitter user dubbed the disheveled singer "the sound of Christmas".MacGowan's "Fairytale of New York" duet with Kirsty MacColl has regularly topped polls as listeners' favorite Christmas song in Britain and Ireland.But when the ballad of a skid-row romance was released in 1987, it failed to make it to Christmas number one in the UK charts, missing out to the Pet Shops Boys "Always on My Mind".© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:37am
A newspaper editorial board challenged Republican lawmakers to finally dump Donald Trump after he called for the termination of the U.S. Constitution.The twice-impeached former president raged against the founding document in a lie-filled 2020 election rant on his Truth Social website, and the Kansas City Star editorial board asked GOP lawmakers whether they had finally seen enough."Aren’t you sick of being scared of whatever idiocy Donald Trump is going to drag you into next?" the editorial board wrote. "Why on Earth aren’t you coming together as a party and taking the chance to formally renounce this historic loser once and for all?"The editorial board called out Missouri's GOP lawmakers for standing behind Trump despite his ongoing efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, including fomenting the Jan. 6 insurrection, and his increasingly close ties to Nazis and white supremacists."Sure, Josh Hawley, your Senate campaign’s Facebook page still shows you beaming as you embrace the two-time popular vote flop," the board wrote. "And yes, Jerry Moran, you can probably credit Trump’s endorsement for scaring off a primary challenger in your bid for reelection this year. Roger Marshall echoed the ex-president’s anti-science musings on the COVID-19 pandemic during his 2018 campaign and made it to the Senate. And Sen.-elect Eric Schmitt is all in on the fiction of building a functioning border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border."The board recognized that most Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial failed to make it out of GOP primaries, but they said the stakes -- literally the survival of constitutional democracy -- were too high to allow him to win the 2024 presidential nomination.RELATED: Josh Hawley's hometown newspaper issues blistering editorial: 'He has blood on his hands' "Come on, Republicans. It’s time for you, Fox News and the rest of the conservative cinematic universe to unite and take down the cruel, mercurial Big Bad who’s been holding you all hostage for more than six years now," the board wrote. "You have the power. You’re the ones who wrote this tale.""End Donald Trump’s political story once and for all," the board concluded, and added in the headline for good measure: "Dump this loser for good."
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:32am
During the 2022 midterms, countless pundits predicted that if Republicans flipped the U.S. House of Representatives, investigating President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, would be high on their list of priorities. Republicans did flip the House, where they will have a small majority of around six seats in 2023. And sure enough, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky (the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee) is promising in-depth investigations of the president’s son.Veteran columnist/author and Never Trump conservative Mona Charen examines MAGA Republicans’ obsession with Hunter Biden in an article published by The Bulwark on December 6. The 65-year-old Charen, who worked in the Reagan White House during the 1980s and was a speechwriter for First Lady Nancy Reagan, is not a Hunter Biden fan. But she is much more critical of former President Donald Trump and his many allies in the GOP, and she finds MAGA Republicans’ obsession with Hunter Biden laughable in light of the many lines the former president has crossed.“Hunter Biden seems to be corrupt,” Charen writes. “He traded on his father’s name. He has abused drugs and engaged in other unsavory practices. He’s a mess. But there is nothing relevant to public policy or civic virtue here. President Biden is hardly the first president to have troubled family members. But Joe Biden didn’t hire Hunter at the White House, and if there is any evidence of the president using official influence on Hunter’s behalf, we haven’t seen it. The Department of Justice under President Trump opened an investigation into Hunter Biden. President Biden has left it alone. It’s ongoing.”READ MORE: 'No more kings' – How 3 judges 'utterly demolished' Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago defense: law professorTrump’s Republican supporters, Charen argues, have “a deep psychological need for the Hunter Biden story,” which is a distraction from the many lines the former president has crossed.“For seven years, the right has been explaining, excusing, avoiding, and eventually cheering the most morally depraved figure in American politics,” Charen emphasizes. “That takes a toll on the psyche. You can tell yourself that the other side is worse. Or you can tell yourself that the critics are unhinged, suffering from ‘Trump derangement syndrome,’ whereas you are a man of the world who knows nobody’s perfect. But then Trump will do what he always does — he’ll make a fool of you.”Charen continues, “You denied that Trump purposely broke the law when he took highly classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and obstructed every effort to retrieve them. And then, what does Trump do? He admits taking them! You scoff at the critics who’ve compared Trump with Nazis. And then, what does he do? He has dinner with Nazis! And fails to condemn them even after the fact. You despised people who claimed Trump was a threat to the Constitution, and then, Trump explicitly calls for ‘terminating’ the Constitution in order to put himself back in the Oval Office.”Republicans who are obsessed with Hunter Biden, Charen writes, have “provided succor and support” to a former president “who has encouraged political violence since his early rallies in 2015, has stoked hatred of minorities through lies, has used his office for personal gain in the most flagrant fashion, has surrounded himself with criminals and con men, has committed human rights violations against would-be immigrants by separating children from their parents, has pardoned war criminals, has cost the lives of tens of thousands of COVID patients by discounting the virus and peddling quack cures, has revived racism in public discourse, and attempted a violent coup d’état.”READ MORE: Appointment of highly regarded special counsel Jack Smith viewed as sign Trump is in legal jeopardy“They know it,” Charen writes. “It gnaws at them. That’s why the Hunter Biden story is their heart’s desire. But here’s something else they need to meditate on: Even if everything they’re alleging about Joe Biden were true — even if he did pull strings to help his son and even profited unjustly thereby — it still wouldn’t amount to a fraction of what Trump did.”READ MORE: 'Can we keep it about Hunter Biden?' GOP rep refuses to talk about Jan. 6 at press conference
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:24am
Appearing on "CNN This Morning" to discuss receiving a Congressional Gold Medal -- the highest honor that can be bestowed by Congress -- Capitol police officer Harry Dunn laughed off Donald Trump's desire to "terminate" the U.S. Constitution and said he wasn't going to let him ruin his day. With Dunn expected to accept the award from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) later Tuesday -- with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also attending -- he was asked about the Trump threat by CNN co-host Don Lemon and immediately laughed. "Listen, as a law enforcement officer you took an oath," host Lemon prompted. "The former president of the United States also took and oath to the Constitution, and is now saying that the Constitution, or has said that the Constitution should be suspended. What do you make of that?" "That's a wild dude, man," Dunn laughed. RELATED: Legal experts: Trump's attempt to whitewash his call to 'terminate' the Constitution only makes it worse "Like, he -- just when you think he can't get any more outrageous he just goes and does and says those things," he continued. "But I'm not giving him any attention. Today it's all about dedication to duty and oath to my co-workers and myself, and the Metropolitan Police Department took and fulfilled on that day." "I don't want to give any attention and credit to that guy," he added. Watch below or at this link. CNN 12 06 2022 06 34 51 youtu.be
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:09am
Dec. 6, 2022"Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick diverge ahead of the legislative session on property taxes, power grid" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.The legislative session is more than a month away, but fault lines are already emerging between Texas’ top two Republican leaders on two major issues.Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick want to use the state’s massive budget surplus to deliver property tax relief, but they appear split on how far to go — and how to pay for it. And in a starker contrast, Patrick has deemed it a top priority to continue fixing the power grid, while Abbott has declared the issue resolved.“Everything that needed to be done was done to fix the power grid in Texas,” Abbott famously said after the 2021 regular legislative session.Patrick, by contrast, said Wednesday that making the grid more reliable was “the most important thing this session besides managing our money.”[Texas lawmakers have a $27 billion surplus, but a spending cap complicates their goal of lowering property taxes]The dueling approaches are coming into focus as lawmakers prepare to return to Austin for the session, which begins Jan. 10. Patrick, who presides over the Senate with enormous influence, is coming back after a decisive reelection win. So is the governor, who will lay out his agenda in his State of the State speech during the opening weeks of the session.In his race against Democrat Beto O’Rourke, Abbott regularly promised voters on the campaign trail that he would use at least half of the state’s $27 billion surplus toward property tax relief.On Wednesday, however, Patrick held a news conference at the Capitol where he began to outline his legislative priorities. It came shortly after the Legislative Budget Board, a panel of lawmakers led by Patrick and House Speaker Dade Phelan, voted to allow legislators to spend about $12.5 billion more in the next budget than last cycle — short of the amount Abbott has promised for property tax relief. To spend more, lawmakers would have to bust a constitutional spending cap, and Patrick said he opposed that, saying it “sets a very dangerous precedent.”At the press conference, Patrick cast doubt on the reality of spending half of the surplus on property taxes, but he suggested there could still be a path.“I’ve heard some people say we should spend half the [surplus] money on [property tax relief], which would be about $13 billion, but that would bust the spending cap, unless we find some creative ways to do it, and I think we can,” Patrick said. He declined to put a number on the size of any property tax cut but emphasized he wants it to be “robust,” while also laying out a number of other priorities he would like to see funded.The next day, the governor held firm on his promise.“More than any other candidate, I campaigned prolifically and daily on saying we would use at least half of the surplus to give back to the people whose money it is in the first place,” Abbott told reporters after an event in Houston, calling it the “most prolific way” to help taxpayers. “We’ll need to get into session to figure out which strategy is the best strategy to use, but the people who deserve that money are the taxpayers of the state of Texas.”It is unclear if Abbott supports busting the spending cap for property tax relief — a move that would require majorities in both chambers to vote to exceed the set cap for one budget cycle.Abbott has not floated other ways to meet his campaign promise. Neither Abbott nor Patrick’s office responded to requests for comment.State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who specializes in property tax issues and is one of the Senate’s staunchest advocates of property tax relief, downplayed the notion Abbott and Patrick were at odds.“We’re still in the early stages of this, and right now … maybe it’s not a difference more than a distinction,” Bettencourt said.The tension is an extension of a general election, in which Abbott and Patrick ran different campaigns when it came to property taxes and the grid. Abbott vowed to deliver the biggest property tax cut in Texas history by returning at least half of the surplus to taxpayers. When the surplus was first revealed in July, Patrick pitched a more modest set of property tax proposals, including $4 billion in property tax relief and upping the homestead exemption to $60,000.Patrick repeatedly said Wednesday he was concerned about using the surplus for property tax relief that is not sustainable, and he called raising the homestead exemption “something we can afford and maintain.”On the power grid, Abbott avoided the issue as much as possible in his campaign as his opponent blamed him for the blackouts in 2021 that left millions of Texans without power in a freezing winter storm. When he was asked about it over the past year, he exuded confidence. During his only debate with O’Rourke, Abbott said the grid was “more resilient and reliable than it’s ever been.”On the other hand, Patrick actively campaigned on his ongoing commitment to fixing the grid. He boasted about how he successfully demanded the resignation of Abbott’s appointees overseeing the grid and he plainly said there was more work to do in the next session.Patrick said Wednesday he would fight hard during this session to ensure Texas builds more natural gas plants, which he argues will prevent another grid collapse like the one in 2021 that left millions without power.“We can’t leave here next spring unless we have a plan for more natural gas power,” Patrick said.Patrick’s news conference came a day after the head of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas warned that the grid is still vulnerable to extreme winter weather conditions. ERCOT and the Public Utility Commission, which regulates electricity infrastructure, are currently working to redesign the state’s power market, but a plan they released earlier this month has not gone over well in the Senate.On Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators released a letter that effectively pumped the brakes on the plan, saying it does not “guarantee new dispatchable generation in a timely and cost-effective manner.”The PUC chair, Peter Lake, argued during a committee hearing Monday that the current plan would cause more natural gas power plants to be built. But amid lawmaker concerns that they would have enough time to make changes to the proposal, he suggested it was in limbo, saying the PUC did not plan to move forward with implementing the plan "until we receive guidance from the Legislature.”Abbott and Patrick make up two-thirds of what is known as the “Big 3,” the other member being the state House speaker, Phelan. The Republican speaker has not been as aggressive in shaping pre-session expectations, but he has expressed caution about deploying the surplus for property tax relief in a way that cannot be sustained beyond this session.During a speech last month in Houston, said he wants to see property tax relief but warned that the surplus will not be as big two years from now. Plus, “no one’s even considering how much more expensive it is gonna to be to run government next cycle,” he said, referring to increased costs that the Texas Department of Transportation is facing due to inflation.Phelan has generally been seen as more aligned with Abbott on grid issues, if only because he has not been outspoken on it since the last time the Legislature met.Phelan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.Erin Douglas contributed to this report.This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/06/greg-abbott-dan-patrick-power-grid-property-taxes/.The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:06am
Choosing between a pastor and a former football star, voters in Georgia will decide Tuesday on a seat in the US Senate in an election with high stakes for Joe Biden's presidency.Democratic senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker, who is backed by former president Donald Trump, will clash in a hotly contested runoff after neither of the African American candidates earned more than 50 percent in the November 8 midterm election.With Warnock, 53, and Walker, 60, running neck and neck, Biden has urged Georgians to turn out and vote Democrat. "It really is critical," the president has said.Even though Democrats have already retained control over the Senate in last month's vote, albeit just barely, this election is nonetheless decisive for Biden.Republicans see the Georgia Senate seat as a chance to boost their ability to block Biden's policies, having won back control of the House of Representatives.With 700 days to go before the 2024 presidential election, Republicans hope to stymie Biden's momentum, after his party performed much better than expected in November.For Democrats, on the other hand, a Warnock victory would help consolidate their paper-thin Senate majority and allow them to wield greater influence in key congressional committees.It would also significantly curb the power of centrist Democratic senator Joe Manchin, who has already blocked several major Biden initiatives in the first two years of his term.Top guns to the rescueDetermined to win the race, Democrats have called on their top guns: former president Barack Obama, the most charismatic leader in the Democratic Party, campaigned in Atlanta last week.And in yet another sign of how high the stakes are, some 400 million dollars have already been spent in this campaign, making the Georgia race the most expensive in all of the midterms.Some 1.9 million people have already voted early, many of them likely Democratic voters, while Republicans are expected to turn out in force on Tuesday.With the two candidates running head to head, according to most recent polls, the outcome is hard to predict.Historically a Republican state, Georgia took America by surprise when voters chose Biden over Trump in the 2020 elections and then sent two Democrats to the Senate two months later in another runoff.Polar oppositesThis time, while both of the candidates are natives of Georgia, the men are polar opposites.Born the eleventh of 12 children to a former soldier and preacher father and a mother who worked in the cotton fields, Warnock, 53, grew up in poverty.Even after his election, Warnock remained as senior pastor in an Atlanta church where slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr once preached. Warnock holds a doctorate in theology.Walker is a latecomer to politics with his 2022 Senate run.The 60-year-old conservative is considered one of the best players in the history of American college football -- a near-religious institution in the South -- and holds several records.Walker, who is staunchly anti-abortion, even in cases of rape, has been the subject of several recent scandals, having been accused of paying for abortions of two women he had relationships with.© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:05am
It was a mistake a flock of geese wouldn’t make. It was a mistake nature and evolution have designed against in all animal life. But a small group of humans keep making it over and over again, and our Supreme Court has made the situation far, far worse.There’s a reason Donald Trump just came out against the United States Constitution, and it’s not because he’s simply a fascist or that the guy he paid to show up for his classes in prep school and college didn’t fill him in on civics.It’s the same reason he publicly had dinner with Kanye West and Nick Fuentes instead of, as when he was in the White House, keeping his dinners with Mark Zuckerberg and others who helped him win the White House in 2016 private.Trump has now made the same mistake Napoleon made, the same mistake Hitler made, the same mistake Putin made when he invaded Ukraine. It’s the mistake the business press says Elon Musk is making, as did Sam Bankman-Fried, and Mike Lindell.It’s the mistake Xi Jinping is making right now governing China.All these rich and powerful men had/have the same thing in common: they believed their brilliance or success in one area meant they were brilliant and would be successful in all endeavors. As a result of this false belief, each surrounded themselves with yes-men and lived in a bubble, disconnecting them from their business or political constituents…leading to bad, poorly informed decision-making processes.In other words, each rejected democracy.A threat like this to democracy is also a threat to all life on Earth. Because, at its simplest, democracy can be described as the ultimate human survival behavior. From the earliest appearance of Homo sapiens 300,000 years ago, the great challenge for every group of humans was finding a way to survive both in the face of environmental challenges like predators, food scarcity, and local climate variations and to survive predation from other nearby groups of humans covetous of local resources.A massive body of scientific literature, most accumulated over the past century, shows that group decision-making is almost always superior to decision-making by charismatic individuals or small groups of people who’ve managed to ringfence resources that give them great wealth and power over others.We see this across the animal world — with swarm, flock, and school behavior — and we see it across world human history. It’s universal.Democracies are most robust when the people lead politicians who are responsive to popular opinion; they’re most fragile when politicians can ignore public opinion because they’ve seized the power to choose their voters and dictate the terms of governance.Dynamic advanced democracies, like Germany in the 1920s, can find themselves in crisis within a decade when a single charismatic leader and his select in-group become the nation’s sole decision makers. We were almost there with the Trump presidency, and may well end up back there with DeSantis or another Trump wannabee. From Putin’s disastrous attack on Ukraine to the governments of Iran and Afghanistan being controlled entirely by a small subset of religious men, we see the calamitous consequences of rule by the few.Thus, we find that democracy — a system of decision making and rulemaking that most efficiently encompasses the collective wisdom of the group — is a survival system every bit as important as technology, from stone tools to weapons of war to rocket ships.Democracy doesn’t rule out leadership or hierarchies of wealth or power. Rather, it specifies that the power determining how those hierarchies are formed, maintained, and determined — who’s in charge, in other words — comes from, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “the consent of the governed.” And we get there through voting. This use of voting democracy is so universal that it’s not limited to human beings.In the Declaration of Independence’s first paragraph Jefferson wrote that “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” compelled America’s Founders to reject British oligarchy and embrace democracy. It got him into a small fight with the Declaration’s main editor, John Adams, who thought it should be “the Christian God,” but Jefferson prevailed. His deist friends like George Washington, Dr. Benjamin Rush, and Ben Franklin knew what he meant: nature and god were the same thing, interpenetrating each other. And they operate by certain rules of nature that are as universal to humans as they are to all other animals on earth.But was he right? Is nature actually democratic?Biologists Tim Roper and L. Conradt at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, England, studied this issue in animals.We’ve always assumed that the alpha or leader animal of the herd or group makes the decision, and the others follow, like the human kings and queens of old. The leader knows best, we believe: he or she is prepared for that genetically by generations of Darwinian natural selection.But it turns out that there’s a system for voting among animals, from honeybees to primates, that we’ve just never noticed because we weren’t looking for it.“Many authors have assumed despotism without testing [for democracy],” they note in Nature, “because the feasibility of democracy, which requires the ability to vote and to count votes, is not immediately obvious in non-humans.”Stepping into this vacuum of knowledge, the two scientists decided to create a testable model that “compares the synchronization costs of despotic and democratic groups.”Conradt and Roper discovered that when a single leader (what they call a despot) or a small group of leaders (the animal equivalent of an oligarchy) make the choices, the swings into extremes of behavior tend to be greater and more dangerous to the long-term survival of the group.Because in a despotic model the overall needs of the entire group are measured only through the lens of the leader’s needs, wrong decisions would be made often enough to put the survival of the group at risk.With democratic decision-making, however, the overall knowledge and wisdom of the entire group, as well as the needs of the entire group, come into play. The outcome is less likely to harm anybody, and the group’s probability of survival is enhanced.“Democratic decisions are more beneficial primarily because they tend to produce less extreme decisions,” they note in the abstract to their paper.Britain’s leading mass-circulation science journal, New Scientist, looked at how Conradt and Roper’s model actually played out in the natural world. They examined the behavior of a herd of red deer, which are social animals with alpha “leaders.”What they found was startling: Red deer always behave democratically. When more than half the animals were pointing at a particular water hole, for example, the entire group would then move in that direction.“In the case of real red deer,” James Randerson noted, “the animals do indeed vote with their feet by standing up. Likewise, with groups of African buffalo, individuals decide where to go by pointing in their preferred direction. The group takes the average and heads that way.”This explains in part the “flock,” “swarm” and “school” nature of birds, gnats, and fish. With each wingbeat or fin motion, each member is “voting” for the direction the flock, swarm or school should move; when the 51% threshold is hit, the entire group moves as if telepathically synchronized.Dr. Tim Roper told me:“Quite a lot of people have said, ‘My gorillas do that, or my animals do that.’ On an informal, anecdotal basis it [the article] seems to have triggered an, ‘Oh, yes, that’s quite true’ reaction in field workers.”I asked him if his theory that animals — and, by inference, humans in their “natural state” — operating democratically contradicted Darwin.He was emphatic:“I don’t think it is [at variance with Darwin]. … So the point about this model is that democratic decision-making is best for all the individuals in the group, as opposed to following a leader, a dominant individual. So we see it as an individual selection model, and so it’s not incompatible with Darwin at all. “Democracy, it turns out, is the norm in the animal kingdom, for the simple reason that it confers the greatest likelihood the group will survive and prosper.When democracies begin to drift away from this fundamental principle, and those who have accumulated wealth and the political power typically associated with it acquire the ability to influence or even control the rule-making process, democracy begins to fail.When this process becomes advanced, democracies typically morph first into oligarchies (where we largely are now) and then dictatorships (where Trump just proposed to take us).When the US Supreme Court ruled in a series of decisions between 1976 and 2013 that it is mere “free speech“ protected by the First Amendment when wealthy people or corporations nakedly buy and bribe political figures to alter the rules in a way that benefits themselves, they placed a cancer at the heart of our democracy that has now significantly metastasized.The great challenge of our day is going to be to excise that disease, to wrest control of our economic and political systems away from the small group of billionaires and politically active corporations that have seized it.These men (mostly) and CEOs have, like Trump and Putin, come to “believe their own BS,” as the old expression goes. It blinds them to the larger impact of their political machinations on all of society, all of humanity, all life on planet Earth. Instead, they welcome the corruption the Supreme Court put into place with Citizens United, which gives the tiny slice of morbidly rich people such massive power. They welcome it because they think — being “secret geniuses,” as Brian Klaas wrote about last week — that they’re deserving of it and uniquely know best how to use it. To the extent that the United States is still a democracy — and lacking a legislature or court system willing to challenge America’s oligarchs — the only option left to Americans to save our nation and the world from these “secret geniuses” is to soundly reject them and their bought-off shills at the ballot box.It won’t be easy, but if this is not accomplished soon our current marginally democratic oligarchy will become a dictatorship with a thin façade of democracy, much like modern-day Hungary or Russia. And that’s not just a threat to Americans: it’s a threat to all life on Earth.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 5:01am
New Zealand authorities on Tuesday launched a battle for custody of an infant whose parents are blocking life-saving surgery because blood donors may have been vaccinated against Covid-19.The New Zealand health authority took the bid for emergency custody to the High Court in Auckland in a case that has sparked local protest and underscored the potency of vaccine misinformation.The four-month-old -- whose name has been suppressed by court order -- needs an "urgent operation" to correct a heart disorder known as pulmonary valve stenosis, the child's mother has said.The surgical procedure has been delayed because the baby's parents do not want any blood transfused that could have come from a donor vaccinated using mRNA vaccines.Health authorities rejected the parents' request for unvaccinated blood.New Zealand's blood service does not make a distinction between donations from those vaccinated or unvaccinated against Covid, as there is no extra risk from using vaccinated blood.The authorities want to take partial custody of the child, leaving the parents in charge of non-medical care, but allowing the procedure to go ahead.Health New Zealand has said it applied to the court "with the best interests of the child in mind" following "extensive conversations" with the family.Around 150 anti-vaccination protesters were outside the court in Auckland on Tuesday to voice support for the family.New Zealand’s strict response against Covid was widely regarded as one of the most successful in the world, with the country enjoying a low mortality rate even before a vaccine program started.But tough travel constraints, lockdowns and other restrictions caused concern about the erosion of civil liberties and sparked the emergence of small-but-vocal anti-vaccine and anti-restriction groups.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:57am
Indonesia's parliament approved Tuesday legislation that would outlaw extra-marital sex while making other sweeping changes to the criminal code – a move critics described as a setback to the country's freedoms. After the controversial new criminal code received the majority of votes from lawmakers during the plenary session, deputy house speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad banged the gavel to signal the text was approved and shouted "legal".Rights groups had protested against the amendments, denouncing a crackdown on civil liberties and a shift towards fundamentalism in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation. "We have tried our best to accommodate the important issues and different opinions which were debated. However, it is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind," Yasonna Laoly, Minister of Law and Human Rights, told parliament.Some of the most controversial articles in the newly passed code are criminalizing premarital and extra-marital sex, as well as the cohabitation of unmarried couples. There are also fears these rules could have a major impact on the LGBTQ community in Indonesia where gay marriage is not allowed.The spokesperson of the Law and Human Rights Ministry's criminal code bill dissemination team, Albert Aries, defended the amendments before the vote and said the law would protect marriage institutions. He said acts of pre-marital and extra-marital sex could only be reported by a spouse, parents or children, limiting the scope of the amendment. But rights groups slammed the legislation as morality policing and activists denounced it as a crackdown on civil and political freedoms.A revision of Indonesia's criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades. Rights groups say the proposals underscore a growing shift towards fundamentalism in a country long hailed for its religious tolerance, with secularism enshrined in its constitution."We are going backward... repressive laws should have been abolished but the bill shows that the arguments of scholars abroad are true, that our democracy is indisputably in decline," Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid told AFP. About a hundred people protested against the bill Monday and unfurled a yellow banner that read "reject the passing of the criminal code revision", with some dropping flower petals on the banner as is done for a funeral.Abdul Ghofar, a campaigner of Indonesia's environmental group WALHI, said the symbolic acts signified the public's "grief" over the impending passage of the revision. Another protest to reject the new law is scheduled to be held on Tuesday in front of the parliament building. (AFP)
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:54am
Donald Trump raised alarm by calling for the termination of the U.S. Constitution, but he has a long history demonstrating that he knows little about the founding document and cares even less.The ex-president posted more lies about the 2020 election on his Truth Social website over the weekend to justify his extreme suggestion, which was prompted by Elon Musk's release of internal documents showing Twitter's decision to restrict materials stolen from Hunter Biden's computer, but Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler found Trump has long demonstrated ignorance of constitutional issues."Trump’s comments over the years do not indicate he has much depth of knowledge about one of the nation’s founding documents, which might indicate why he is fickle about it," Kessler wrote. "In fact, in one of his earliest tweets, on Dec. 5, 2011, he placed it on par with his latest book: 'First there was the Declaration of Independence, then there was the Constitution. Now there is #TimeToGetTough. Available today.'”Trump has celebrated the Constitution and pledged during his first campaign to appoint Supreme Court justices who would follow its precepts, but he also used it as a cudgel against his enemies and pushed the document's boundaries.“Let’s say you don’t do it,” Trump told his supporters at a Jan. 6, 2021, rally that preceded the U.S. Capitol riot. “Somebody says, ‘Well, we have to obey the Constitution,' and you are because you’re protecting our country and you’re protecting the Constitution. So you are, but think of what happens. Let’s say they’re stiffs and they’re stupid people, and they say, ‘Well, we really have no choice.’”Trump repeatedly accused Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats of ignoring the Constitution, but his ongoing efforts to overturn his re-election loss shows that he cares little for the rules it codifies."I hope Mike is going to do the right thing, I hope so, I hope so," Trump told his supporters ahead of the insurrection. "Because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. All he has to do — all this is — this is from the number one or certainly one of the top constitutional lawyers in our country. He has the absolute right to do it. … Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a — a sad day for our country because you’re sworn to uphold our Constitution. … Mike Pence, I hope you’re going to stand up for the good of our Constitution and for the good of our country, and if you’re not, I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:52am
An off the cuff tweet by Elon Musk has left Bulgarians over the moon, hoping the world's richest man may be planning to visit the EU's poorest region.The Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter boss -- who is not immune to bouts of online whimsy -- recently commented on an image of the towering Belogradchik Rocks in northwestern Bulgaria under menacing clouds."Pretty sure that was in Elden Ring," Musk tweeted, referring to one of his favorite video games.Bulgarians were quick to educate him."Dear Elon, this is from Bulgaria! I invite you to see this place," Tourism Minister Ilin Dimitrov responded.Hundreds of other Twitter users did likewise, delighted by the attention for a country rarely in the spotlight of the rich and famous.An official invite was promptly dispatched, accompanied by a silver rhyton drinking horn, a symbol of the ancient Thracian civilization that Bulgaria prides itself on.Mystery deepensThe plot thickened when the chef of a high-end restaurant about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Belogradchik published an email purportedly from SpaceX hinting at a visit by Musk in April 2023.The whole episode ignited a social media buzz, with memes aplenty showing the billionaire drinking the local rakia alcohol or dressed in traditional Bulgarian attire.Not everyone was star-struck. "He will come and buy our land," one woman worried.But the online frenzy has delighted Vladislav Terziiski, who took the picture of the spectacular Belogradchik rocks and its fortress some five years ago."It is so rare that good news from Bulgaria sparks such interest," he told AFP, welcoming "the wave of reactions, jokes, anecdotes and expressions of national pride."As for a possible visit by the man himself?"I am quite skeptical," Terziiski said. "But I keep some hope in my heart."'Three-day wonder'The Belogradchik fortress awaits its "messiah", political scientist Dimitar Ganev joked on Bulgarian television.Almost obscured by the mist on a cold November day when AFP visited, the impressive rocks were indeed waiting... for tourists.While visitors frequent the site in the warmer spring and summer months, the biggest group on that November day was a three-men camera crew filming for their own project.Also, few of the 5,500 inhabitants of the little town at the foot of the fortress were getting that excited.Like the rest of Bulgaria, whose population has been dropping since the end of communism, Belogradchik has lost half of its people since 1991.Musk "does what he wants, why not come and visit a nice site and a poor region", said Svetoslav Zahariev, a construction worker in his 50s, who was "disappointed to find the same misery" on his return here after 16 years working abroad.More than 40 percent of the region's people live below the poverty line, making it the EU's poorest, according to Eurostat.Local officials are pushing concrete government policies to help develop tourism, instead of empty declarations."You see how one picture has reached Musk. We can't do all this alone, we need a government policy (for tourist development of the region)," longtime mayor Boris Nikolov told AFP.Tourism numbers increased sharply after the Belogradchik Rocks were named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature poll by a Swiss foundation in 2007.But people left "disappointed by the lack of infrastructure and accommodation", deputy mayor Rosen Mladenov lamented."What is this country that relies on a tweet from Musk to develop its tourism!" he fumed.And even if the tech billionaire comes, he "would only be a three-day wonder, unless he invests here", Nikolov said.So far Musk has remained uncharacteristically silent, ignoring numerous questions on Twitter from the Bulgarian media asking him to confirm or deny a visit.Should Musk venture into this neglected corner of Bulgaria, he should not risk one of his Tesla cars on its rutted roads, a Sofia newspaper warned. Instead, it said, it was best he come in a rocket.© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:46am
The conservative-majority US Supreme Court appeared poised Monday to rule in favor of a Christian graphic designer who refuses to make wedding websites for same-sex couples.The case, one of the most consequential being heard by the nation's highest court this term, pits free speech rights against anti-discrimination laws.Lorie Smith, owner of 303 Creative, a website design firm in Colorado, is challenging a state law that prohibits businesses from discriminating on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.Smith claims that creating marriage announcements for same-sex couples would be "inconsistent" with her Christian beliefs and being compelled to do so would violate her First Amendment free speech rights.The case closely resembles one from 2018 when the Supreme Court partially ruled in favor of a Colorado baker, also a devout Christian, who had refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.During Monday's two-and-a-half-hour hearing, the six conservative justices on the court, which recognized same-sex marriage in 2015, appeared to be receptive to arguments made by Smith's lawyer.The liberals were deeply skeptical."This would be the first time in the court's history that it would say that a commercial business serving the public could refuse to serve a customer based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation," said Sonia Sotomayor, one of the three liberal justices."How about people who don't believe in interracial marriage?" Sotomayor asked. "People who don't believe that disabled people should get married?"Where's the line?" she asked. "If I disagree with their personal characteristics like race or disability I can choose not to sell those people my website because it's my speech?"Ketanji Brown Jackson, another liberal justice and the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court, questioned whether religious objections were a valid basis for refusing to provide a service."Historically, opposition to interracial marriages and to integration, in many instances, was on religious grounds," Jackson said.Conservative Justice Samuel Alito took issue with the comparisons to interracial marriage and also said there are "honorable people who object to same sex marriage."'Cannot refuse to serve gay couples'Smith's lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who heads the faith-based Alliance Defending Freedom, said the state law would force her client to "create and speak messages" she does not believe in "on pain of investigation, fine and reeducation.""When you're requiring a speaker to create a message to celebrate something that they believe to be false you're compelling their speech," said Waggoner, who represented cakemaker Jack Phillips in the previous case."Under Colorado's theory, jurisdictions could force a Democrat publicist to write a Republican's press release," she said.Waggoner said Smith provides website services to members of the LGBTQ community other than marriage announcements and there are heterosexual unions she also would not endorse."So it's about the message and not about the sexuality of the couple?" asked conservative justice Amy Coney Barrett.Another conservative justice, Brett Kavanaugh, said the case may hinge on the "narrow question" of whether Smith can be considered an artist with free speech rights rather than, for example, a landscaper or restaurant owner.Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson said a company can "sell websites that only feature biblical quotes describing a marriage as between a man and a woman -- just like a Christmas store can choose to sell only Christmas-related items."The company just cannot refuse to serve gay couples," Olson said. "Just as a Christmas store cannot announce no Jews allowed."Asked about the case, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration "believes that every person, no matter their sex, race, religion or who they love, should have equal access to society, including access to products and services."In the 2018 case, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had displayed anti-religious hostility toward the baker, thus violating his constitutional rights.The court, however, did not squarely address the issue of whether a business can decline to serve gays and lesbians on free speech or religious grounds.The Supreme Court has undergone a radical transformation since that ruling, with two staunch conservatives nominated by former president Donald Trump replacing one liberal and one swing justice.The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its ruling before the end of June.© Agence France-Presse
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:46am
Over the weekend, Donald Trump effectively demanded the end of America's constitutional democracy. On his Twitter-substitute Truth Social, Trump called for "the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution," escalating his long-standing demands that the 2020 election be overturned in his favor. His call to terminate the constitution earned relatively little mainstream coverage. Trump's anti-democratic views are no longer surprising, plus there's no apparent mechanism for him to get his way on this, both of which likely contributed to the unwillingness to front-page his comments. But it also likely reflects an ongoing, shaky assumption in the Beltway press: That protecting democracy is too abstract of an issue for Americans to be invested.During the weeks leading up to the 2022 midterms, mainstream election coverage appeared to be guided by the presumption that President Joe Biden's pleas to save democracy were largely being ignored by American voters, that high inflation and gas prices would instead drive them to punish the incumbent party at the polls and hand Republicans dramatic victories. This wasn't just conjecture, either. New York Times polling showed that, while voters did say democracy was under threat, they did not rate saving democracy as a voting priority. The much-predicted "red wave" did not happen. Straightaway, there were early indicators that Americans would end up putting a higher value on democracy than they had told pollsters they would. Republican candidates who made a big show of supporting Trump's Big Lie, hinting they were open to interfering with the 2024 election, lost their elections at a much higher rate than almost anyone predicted. Aligning a Republican campaign with Trump meant performing an average of five points below non-Trumpy GOP candidates. Most importantly, Democrats won crucial races for governor and senator in states like Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, shutting down Trump's likeliest path to interfering with the 2024 election. There are strong signs the trend will continue in Georgia's runoff Senate election between incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock and Trump-backed Republican challenger Herschel Walker. Georgia voters have been in long lines to vote, setting daily record turnouts, exceeding not only previous runoff elections but also any early voting day in the state's history. More than a quarter of Georgia voters have already shown up at the polls.Part of that is due to Georgia Republicans passing a law to truncate the early voting calendar, which prominent Democrats like Stacy Abrams have criticized as voter suppression. People have fewer days to vote early now, concentrating early voters into longer lines and higher per-day averages. Still, these numbers also suggest that the same democracy-protecting urge that shaped the midterm elections is likely in play. It's hard to argue that the runoff between Walker and Warnock will have much impact on those much-ballyhooed "kitchen table" issues. Democrats already have a 50-vote majority in the Senate. A Warnock win would help protect that, but it isn't likely to make a huge difference in the daily operations of the Senate. Democrats are still short one vote to overturn the filibuster. Plus, Republicans now control the House, which presents a significant roadblock for passing meaningful legislation with or without Warnock.That said, voting in this election also has great symbolic value to many people, with Georgia's recently-passed sweeping voter restriction law compared by critics to Jim Crow-era voter suppression. "Voter suppression is one of the surest cures for apathy," Charles Blow, a New York Times opinion writer who recently relocated to Georgia, wrote last week. "Nothing makes you value a thing like someone trying to steal it from you." He describes the long lines to vote as "a poll tax paid in time," but notes that "voters are simply responding with defiance to the efforts to suppress."This enthusiasm to show up for democracy may not have been evident in pre-election polls, but it's showing up in post-election data. On Monday, the progressive strategy group Way to Win released an exit polling report that shows, contrary to pre-election assumptions, protecting democracy was ranked a number two priority by voters, only behind the economy. "Pundit predictions about what would move voters were wrong – the loss of abortion rights and other freedoms, including attacks on our democracy, drove a winning pro-freedom, anti-MAGA majority in the midterms," Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, the vice president of Way to Win, told Salon. "These issues helped us buck historic trends and avoid a red wave – and the same issues are particularly salient in Georgia."Last week, research from Impact Research, a Democratic polling firm, showed similar trends. "Six in 10 voters cited protecting democracy as an extremely important reason that they decided to vote in November. This put the issue ahead of inflation (53%), abortion (47%) and crime (45%)," HuffPost reports. Not only did the issue motivate turnout, but it helped independent voters decide to back the Democrats. To be clear, the high early turnout in Georgia doesn't mean that Warnock is guaranteed to win. As Blow notes, "all of the obstacles placed in voters' way" do cause a lot of voters to give up, even if it stiffens the spines of others. In addition, as a New York Times analysis from the weekend reminds us, "Georgia is still fundamentally a right-leaning state." Yes, it's hard to imagine Republican voters will be moved to stand in line to back someone as demonstrably unfit as Walker. Even Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, a Republican, confessed that, after waiting in line for an hour to vote, "I walked out of that ballot box showing up to vote but not voting for either one of them." But after a disappointing overall midterm election for Republicans, it is possible that many will show up to vote for Walker in hopes of carving out a victory.Still, the high voter turnout plus this post-midterm polling shows that, despite warnings to the contrary, voters do put a premium on protecting democracy. As Brian Beutler of Crooked Media argued in a pre-midterm newsletter, Americans downplayed their concerns about democracy to pollsters and focus groups because of a "common human distaste for conflict." Most people "wish politics could be a kinder sport" and tend to react negatively to both the increasingly authoritarian rhetoric coming from Republican politicians and the dire warnings about fascism coming from Democrats. If Warnock wins in Georgia, it will be continuing evidence that, as uncomfortable as Americans may be with talking about these issues, they are still motivated to save the American experiment.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:41am
A man who shot Lady Gaga's dogwalker during an attempt to steal the singer's prize French bulldogs was sentenced to 21 years in prison Monday after pleading no contest to attempted murder.James Howard Jackson and two other men attacked Ryan Fischer on a Hollywood street in February 2021, and after a struggle made off with two of the "Poker Face" singer's three pets that were out for a walk.Fischer sustained chest injuries in the attack and said on Instagram a month later he had suffered a collapsed lung.Jackson, 20, entered the no-contest plea after prosecutors agreed to drop further robbery, assault and other charges."The plea agreement holds Mr Jackson accountable for perpetrating a cold-hearted violent act and provides justice for our victim," said a statement from the District Attorney's Office.The two other assailants have already been jailed for their parts in the crime.Following the incident, Lady Gaga offered a $500,000 reward for the return of dogs Koji and Gustav. A woman who handed in the dogs in response to the reward has been charged with being an accessory after the fact and with receiving stolen goods.The singer's other bulldog, Miss Asia, was able to evade capture, and ran back to the wounded Fischer's side after the robbers left.Jackson earlier this year was recaptured after being accidentally released from custody in what officials described as a "clerical error."Los Angeles police said at the time they did not believe the dogs were targeted because of their owner, but because of the breed's appeal on the black market.Small and friendly -- and thus easy to grab -- French bulldogs do not have large litters.Their relative scarcity, and their association with stars such as Lady Gaga, Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Jackman, Chrissy Teigen, Leonardo DiCaprio and Madonna, gives them added cachet and means they can change hands for thousands of dollars.© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:38am
NASA's Orion spaceship made a close pass of the Moon and used a gravity assist to whip itself back towards Earth on Monday, marking the start of the return journey for the Artemis-1 mission.At its nearest point, the uncrewed capsule flew less than 80 miles (130 kilometers) from the surface, testing maneuvers that will be used during later Artemis missions that return humans to the rocky celestial body.Communication with the capsule was interrupted for 30 minutes when it was behind the far side of the Moon -- an area more cratered than the near side and first seen by humans during the Apollo era, although they didn't land there.The European Service Module, which powers the capsule, fired its main engine for over three minutes to put the gumdrop-shaped Orion on course for home.It was the last major maneuver of the mission, which began when NASA's mega Moon rocket SLS blasted off from Florida on November 16. From start to finish, the journey should last 25 and a half days.Orion will now make only slight course corrections until it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean off San Diego on Sunday, December 11 at 9:40 am local time (1740 GMT). It will then be recovered and hoisted aboard a US Navy ship.Earlier in the mission, Orion spent about six days in "distant retrograde orbit" around the Moon, meaning at high altitude and traveling opposite the direction the Moon revolves around Earth.A week ago, Orion broke the distance record for a habitable capsule, venturing 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) from our planet.Re-entry into Earth's atmosphere will present a harsh test for the spacecraft's heatshield, which will need to withstand temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800degrees Celsius) -– or about half the surface of the Sun.Under the Artemis program -- named for the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology -- the United States is seeking to build a lasting presence on the Moon in preparation for an onward voyage to Mars.Artemis 2 will involve a crewed journey to the Moon, once again without landing.The first woman and next man are to land on the lunar south pole during Artemis 3, which is set for no sooner than 2025, though likely significantly later given timeline delays.© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:37am
Current House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's plans to pursue the impeachment of President Joe Biden and members of his administration are being greeted with a cold-shoulder by his Republican Party counterparts in the U.S. Senate, reports Politico.The California GOPer, whose bid to become the new House Speaker is not a sure thing, has been threatening to go after the president as well as Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as he tries to round up enough votes among far-right members of his caucus, but Republicans in the Senate are pouring cold water on his plans, with at least one GOP senator dismissing his plans outright.As Politico's Jordain Carney wrote, "While House GOP leaders feel intense pressure from their Donald Trump-aligned base and colleagues to impeach President Joe Biden or a top member of his Cabinet, many of the party’s senators want nothing to do with it," adding that any impeachment would die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.According to the report, key Republican senators are serving notice that they want nothing to do with any impeachment trials and that they believe they will be counterproductive and could hurt the party in 2024.RELATED: 'It's just personal': Kevin McCarthy whines because Matt Gaetz won't make him Speaker"Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close ally of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), said he 'hadn’t really given any thought' to impeaching Biden or a Cabinet official," the report states, noting that Cornyn added he sees no impeachable offenses that need to be taken up.Senate GOP leadership member John Thune (R-SD) was more to the point, explaining, "I think there is a legitimate need for oversight … but, I mean, I think it needs to be focused on some specific areas.” According to Politico's Carney, "It’s an ongoing pattern for Republican Senate leaders, who have mostly tried to avoid the pitfalls of Trump-related probes. While House GOP leadership has leaned hard into publicly pushing back on the Democratic-run panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, their Senate counterparts have largely sidestepped tangling with the select committee."Senior GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) outright dismissed McCarthy's plans for the upcoming House session, telling Politico, "I can’t do anything about what the House does.”You can read more here.
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:34am
Chilly weather and common respiratory infections often go hand in hand.Reasons for this include people gather inside more in winter, and viruses survive better in low-humidity indoor air. But there has been less certainty about whether lower temperatures actually impair human immunity and, if so, how.Now, a new study published Tuesday in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology details a previously unknown way that the immune system attacks viral intruders inside the nose -- and finds it works better when it's warm.These discoveries could pave the way for an eventual treatment against the common cold and other viruses, Mansoor Amiji, a pharmaceutical sciences professor at Northeastern University, who co-led the research, told AFP.The starting point was previous research by Amiji and colleagues in 2018, which found that nasal cells released "extracellular vesicles" (EVs) —- a spray of tiny sacs that swarmed and destroyed bacteria upon inhalation"The best analogy that we have is a hornet's nest," said Amiji. Like hornets defending a nest from attack, EVs swarm, bind to, and kill invaders.For the new research, the team set out to answer two questions: are EVs also secreted in the nose in the presence of viral infections? And, if they are, is the strength of their response linked to temperature?To answer the first question, they used a test substance which mimics a viral infection to stimulate nasal mucosa -- a thin tissue that lines the nose -- that was taken from volunteers who had surgery to remove polyps.They found it did in fact produce EVs that target viruses.In order to tackle the second question, they divided the nasal cell samples into two groups and cultured them in a lab, subjecting one set of samples to 37 degrees Celsius, and the other to 32C.These temperatures were chosen based on a separate test that found the temperature inside the nose falls by about 5C when outside air drops from 23C to 4C.Under regular body heat conditions, the EVs were successfully able to fight off viruses, by presenting them with "decoy" targets that they latch on to instead of the receptors they would otherwise target on cells.But under the reduced temperatures, fewer EVs were produced, and those that were made packed less punch against the invaders tested: two rhinoviruses and a non-Covid coronavirus, which are typically found in winter cold season."There's never been a convincing reason why you have this very clear increase in viral infectivity in the cold months," said co-author Benjamin Bleier, a surgeon at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Eye and Ear, in a statement."This is the first quantitative and biologically plausible explanation that has been developed."One of the most exciting aspects of the work is the potential to rev up the body's natural production of virus-targeting EVs in order to fight or even fend off the cold -- or even the flu and Covid, said Amiji."That's an area of great interest for us and we certainly continue to pursue that," he said.© 2022 AFP
[*] [-] [-] [x] [A+] [a-]  
[l] at 12/6/22 4:30am
TV network Al Jazeera submitted the case of slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court on Tuesday, saying she was killed by Israeli forces.The Qatar-based channel said it had "unearthed new evidence" on the death of the Palestinian-American, shot while covering an Israel army raid in Jenin on May 11.Any person or group can file a complaint to the ICC prosecutor for investigation, but the Hague-based court is under no obligation to take on such cases.Al Jazeera said its submission highlighted "new witness evidence and video footage (that) clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces.""The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded," the channel said.An AFP journalist saw a lawyer representing Al Jazeera's case entering the ICC's headquarters to hand over their submission.The ICC last year launched a probe into war crimes in the Palestinian territories, but Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court's jurisdiction.Israel said it would not cooperate with any external probe into Abu Akleh's death."No one will investigate IDF (Israeli military) soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera," Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.The Israeli army conceded on September 5 that one of its soldiers had likely shot Abu Akleh after mistaking her for a militant.The veteran reporter, who was a Christian, was wearing a bulletproof vest marked "Press" and a helmet when she was shot in the head in the Jenin refugee camp, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.After receiving complaints from individuals or groups, the ICC prosecutor decides independently what cases to submit to judges at the court.Judges decide whether to allow a preliminary investigation by the prosecutor, which can then be followed by a formal investigation, and if warranted, charges.In the majority of cases such complaints do not lead to investigations, according to the ICC.© 2022 AFP

As of 12/6/22 7:09am. Last new 12/6/22 7:09am.

Next feed in category: Open Democracy