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December 24, 2021 at 2:02 pm #1204677574
Fauci says it’s “too premature” for US to be discussing fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose
BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL 12/24/21 01:38 PM EST
Dr. Anthony Fauci on Wednesday said it is “too premature” for the U.S. to be discussing a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, noting that health officials must first study the “durability” of protection from three jabs.
“I think it’s too premature to be talking about a fourth dose,” the White House’s chief medical adviser said when asked during an interview with WCBS Newsradio 880 if the U.S. is heading toward implementing a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose.
“One of the things that we’re gonna be following very carefully is what the durability of the protection is following the third dose of an mRNA vaccine. If the protection is much more durable than the two dose non-boosted group, and we may go a significant period of time without requiring a fourth dose,” he added.
The White House medical adviser said the “only circumstance” in which he could potentially see a fourth vaccine dose is for “individuals who have a profound degree of immune compromise because of an underlying illness or because of medications that they’re on.”
“But for the general population, I think we have to hold judgment on that for the time being,” he added.
Fauci’s comments come after Israel earlier this week said it was rolling out a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 60, those with compromised immune systems, and health care workers in an effort to tame the spread of the virus and limit the risk from the new omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa last month but has since spread globally.
The highly transmissible omicron strain now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
An Israeli health ministry expert panel recommended that eligible individuals in Israel receive a fourth shot at least four months after their first booster dose was administered, according to NBC News.
A doctor on the panel said it is “seeing a waning of protection against omicron,” according to NBC News.
Health officials in the U.S. have been pushing for individuals to get their first booster shots amid the spread of omicron, after early reports have shown that the initial jabs are less effective against the new variant than prior strains of the virus but that a third dose provides strong protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in October said some moderately and severely immunocompromised individuals can get a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to supplement their protection against the virus.
Eligible individuals can receive the second booster dose six months after the first one, according to the health agency’s updated guidance.December 26, 2021 at 2:57 am #1204679176
Desmond Tutu: South Africa anti-apartheid hero dies aged 90
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace prize laureate who helped end apartheid in South Africa, has died aged 90.
President Cyril Ramaphosa said the churchman’s death marked “another chapter of bereavement in our nation’s farewell to a generation of outstanding South Africans.”
Archbishop Tutu had helped bequeath “a liberated South Africa,” he added.
Tutu was one of the country’s best known figures at home and abroad.
A contemporary of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, he was one of the driving forces behind the movement to end the policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by the white minority government against the black majority in South Africa from 1948 until 1991.
He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1984 for his role in the struggle to abolish the apartheid system.
Tutu’s death comes just weeks after that of South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, FW de Clerk, who died at the age of 85.
“A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity, and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice, and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.”
The Nelson Mandela Foundation was among those paying tributes, saying Tutu’s “contributions to struggles against injustice, locally and globally, are matched only by the depth of his thinking about the making of liberatory futures for human societies.
“He was an extraordinary human being. A thinker. A leader. A shepherd.”December 27, 2021 at 11:16 pm #1204682644
CDC shortens isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 to five days
BY NATHANIEL WEIXEL 12/27/21 05:05 PM EST
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cutting its recommended isolation time for people infected with COVID-19 from 10 to five days, as long as they are asymptomatic.
The agency on Monday said that change applies to everyone, regardless of vaccination status and that after the five days is up, people should wear a mask around other people at all times for another five days.
Additionally, CDC said it was shortening the recommended quarantine to five days for people who are unvaccinated or vaccinated but not boosted if they are exposed.
For people who are vaccinated and boosted, CDC said there’s no need to quarantine.
Isolation is the recommended course of action when someone tests positive for COVID-19, while quarantine is suggested for a healthy person with an exposure to someone who tested positive.
CDC said the change was driven by science showing that the majority of virus transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the first two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two to three days after.
“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses. These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.
For anyone exposed to the virus, CDC said best practice would also include a coronavirus test five days after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
“This is a great example of following the science,” said Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and a dean at the Brown University School of Public Health. “We don’t need to continue to do things the same way, just because they’ve always been done that way. We should follow what we’re learning about the virus.”
But Ranney said she was concerned that people wouldn’t wear masks after the five days in isolation or quarantine, particularly people who are not vaccinated.
She also said she wasn’t sure why CDC would apply the same isolation standard to everyone regardless of vaccination status, since studies show the period of infectiousness is shorter for people who have been vaccinated.
Monday’s announcement follows the agency’s move last week to change guidelines to allow health care workers to reduce their time in isolation from 10 days to seven, or even five in times of a staffing crisis.
As the omicron variant stretches many hospitals and health workers to near breaking, federal officials said they want to make sure there are enough staff when there’s a COVID-19 outbreak.
The changes announced on Monday extend the guidance to the general public.
“If it’s good enough for health care workers, it should be good enough for everyone,” Ranney said. “If the rules truly are that if you are asymptomatic, you can shorten your isolation, that’s fair. And that’s backed up by the science.”December 28, 2021 at 5:50 pm #1204684363
Harry Reid, political pugilist and longtime Senate majority leader, dies
BY ALEXANDER BOLTON 12/28/21 08:13 PM EST
Harry Reid, one of the Senate’s longest serving majority leaders and a Democrat who played a central role in enacting President Obama’s biggest legislative accomplishments, died Tuesday at 82.
The death was announced by longtime political reporter Jon Ralston, who called Reid “probably the most important elected official in Nevada history.”
“Harry Reid was one of the most amazing individuals I’ve ever met,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “He was my leader, my mentor, one of my dearest friends.”
Reid served as majority leader from 2006 to 2014 before retiring from politics in 2017 as one of the most influential and powerful Democratic leaders ever to serve in Washington.
He was elected Senate Democratic Whip in 1998 and Senate Democratic leader in 2004, and became majority leader when Democrats took over the House and Senate at the height of public frustration with the Iraq war.
Reid, whose service as majority leader was surpassed only by Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) and Alben Barkley (D-Ky.), was not afraid to engage in open partisan warfare on the Senate floor, making him one of the chamber’s most divisive leaders in history.
He famously called George W. Bush, the sitting president, a “liar” and a “loser” and accused Mitt Romney, the GOP’s nominee for president in 2012, on the Senate floor of not paying his taxes.
He later apologized for calling Bush a loser but stuck by calling him a liar and never apologized for painting Romney as a tax cheat, even though PolitiFact rated the claim “Pants on Fire.”
Reid’s response was classic Reid. Terse and to the point.
“Romney didn’t win, did he?” he told CNN’s Dana Bash when asked whether he had any regrets.
Reid’s dogged effort to unify all 60 members of the Democratic caucus to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2009, the largest entitlement program passed since Medicare, ranks as the biggest legislative accomplishment of recent history.
To win over former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), a pivotal moderate, Reid agreed to have the federal government to pay Nebraska’s share of the cost for expanding Medicaid, a deal that critics called the Cornhusker Kickback, and was later dropped.
Reid proclaimed it as victory that “affirmed the ability to live a healthy life in our great country is a right and not merely a privilege for the select few” and dedicated it to his friend Ted Kennedy, who had recently died.
His other signature victories were the passage of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in the depth of the Great Recession and, as the nation was beginning to recover, the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which sought to rein in excesses that had nearly collapsed world financial markets.
Reid’s aggressive political style often evoked allusions to his record as an amateur boxer.
His breakthrough in politics came in 1970 when his mentor and high-school boxing coach Mike O’Callaghan, who went on to become a successful politician and run for governor, asked him to serve as his running mate.
In a Tuesday statement, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said he was “heartbroken by the news” of Reid’s passing.
“To say Harry Reid was a giant doesn’t fully encapsulate all that he accomplished on behalf of the state of Nevada and for Nevada families; there will never be another leader quite like Senator Reid,” Sisolak said.
Reid’s life was a modern-day Horatio Alger story.
He grew up in Searchlight, Nev., an isolated mining town, where he learned to swim at the indoor pool of the local bordello and lived in a shack made of railroad ties soaked in creosote to keep the termites out.
When he left the Senate, his net worth was estimated in the millions of dollars.
He also left a political dynasty behind. His son Rory served as Clark County commissioner and ran for governor in 2010.
Reid worked in the Capitol as a police officer to pay for his studies at George Washington University’s law school, served four years as a member of the House and 30 years in the Senate.
He was elected the state’s lieutenant governor at age 31.
Reid was known in the Senate for hating to gab on the phone and often hung up on colleagues without saying goodbye, sometimes leaving them to talk at length to themselves.
He made up for it, however, by being a diligent student about what his colleagues needed and often delivered by putting in hours of legwork.
“I was always willing to do things that others were not willing to do,” he told The New York Times in a 2018 interview.
Democrats celebrated Reid’s career during his final month in office with star-studded farewell tribute in the Russell Building’s Kennedy Caucus Room, where former Vice President Joe Biden praised him as a “man of your word” and declared that no majority leader in his memory had “a tougher job at a tougher time.”
Many Republicans, however, were happy to see Reid go.
Then Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) angrily predicted in 2013 that Reid would be remembered as “the worst leader of the Senate ever” if he went ahead with a controversial rules change known as the nuclear option to make it easier to confirm Obama’s appellate court picks.
Undeterred, Reid went ahead with the unilateral procedural move in November of that year, lowering the bar for confirming executive branch and judicial nominees below the level of Supreme Court.
Breaking the Republican filibuster allowed Obama to fill three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the second most powerful court in the nation, and swing its majority to the left.
Reid later told The Hill in an interview that he kept the 60-vote hurdle for the Supreme Court out of deference to former Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), an outspoken defender of women’s reproductive rights. Boxer, however, said in a follow-up interview that she did not remember any special arrangement with her leader.
Reid was also known during his tenure for keeping a tight grip on the Senate floor, protecting his vulnerable Democratic colleagues from taking tough votes by routinely filling the Senate’s amendment tree. But his tight leash on floor activity chafed colleagues in both parties who found it difficult to get their business considered in the chamber.
Mark Begich (D), a first-term senator from Alaska, came under criticism shortly before his re-election when it became known that he never received a roll-call vote on an amendment during his first five and a half years in the Senate.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) complained in June of 2014, a few months before Democrats lost their Senate majority, that he had “never been in a less productive time in my life than I am right now, in the United States Senate.”
Republicans promised that if they won back control, they would open up the floor to robust debate and frequent voting and while there have been some flashes of that, such as the immigration debate of February 2018, McConnell, who is now majority leader, has largely followed Reid’s example of keeping tight control over the floor.
Reid’s politics evolved during his time in Washington, a reflection of his job representing the entire Democratic caucus, which for much of his career was significantly more liberal than his home state of Nevada.
Early in his Senate career he said abortion should only be allowed in cases of rape or incest and voted against resolutions stating that Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights case, had been correctly decided. For his last year in office, he had a 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
He also changed his views on the Second Amendment. He accepted money from the NRA in the early nineties and once described himself as supporting the gun-rights group as “right down the line.”
Years later as majority leader he brought a gun-control package to the Senate floor in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that would have expanded background checks and banned military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Yet while Reid’s politics changed, he kept a sharp focus on his constituents back in Nevada and invoked his home state frequently, especially in the final years of his career after surviving a tough re-election in 2010, the year of the Tea Party revolution.
He made opposition to the nuclear waste repository in Yucca Mountain a signature issue and funneled back plenty of federal pork to Nevada as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee.
Republicans thought they had an excellent chance to knock off Reid, who had a dismal 38 percent approval rating—compared to a 54 percent disapproval rating—at the start of the 2010 cycle. But Reid was helped by the changing demographics of the state, which Obama won in the 2008 election.
Reid dodged a bullet when Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle won the Republican primary. His political team pummeled her for calling a fund helping the victims of the Gulf oil spill a “slush fund” and saying that rape victims should make lemons into lemonade if they become impregnated. He ended up winning reelection by a comfortable margin.
Reid survived an earlier political scare in 1998 when he barely won re-election over Republican John Ensign after a recount put him ahead by only 401 votes out of more than 400,000 cast.
Ensign went on to win election to the Senate in 2000 and Reid made an extra effort to cultivate a friendly and effective relationship with his home-state colleague. Reid’s goal was to both maximize what he could get done for Nevada but also undermine future GOP efforts to oust him from office.
Reid employed the same strategy of keeping your friends close but your enemies closer with Brian Sandoval, the Republican who later served as Nevada’s governor.
He recommended Sandoval to a federal judgeship in 2004, which kept the rising Republican star out of politics for four years until he quit the bench to re-enter the fray and defeat Reid’s son Rory in the 2010 governor’s race.
Reid was a devotee of exercise and sometimes joked about his deputy, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), spending more time on his cell phone and cutting deals in the Senate gym instead of working out.
He suffered a couple of injuries, however, that may have hastened his retirement.
Reid once gave himself a black eye on a jog when he fell after his hand slipped off a parked car he was using to stabilize himself while stretching.
He endured a much more serious injury in 2015 when an elastic band he was using in the bathroom snapped, sending him reeling into some cabinets. The accident left him with broken ribs and partially blinded.
Reid saw his time as leader was near an end after the 2014 midterm election when Republicans picked up nine seats and several centrists in his caucus, including Manchin and Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), voted against him serving another term as Democratic leader.
He tapped Schumer to succeed him in May of 2015, leapfrogging his longtime whip, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
Reid underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his pancreas in May, an operation that left him frail and needing a walker.
In an interview earlier this year, Reid told Times reporter Mark Leibovich with his trademark bluntness, “As soon as you discover you have something on your pancreas, you’re dead.”January 2, 2022 at 1:54 pm #1204692892
Capitol rioters’ tears, remorse don’t spare them from jail
BY MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, COLLEEN LONG, JACQUES BILLEAUD AND LINDSAY WHITEHURST | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 01/02/22 07:22 AM EST
WASHINGTON (AP)—Florida business owner Robert Palmer cheered on the violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 before he joined the fray. Screaming obscenities, he hurled a wooden plank and a fire extinguisher at police officers trying to ward off the mob.
Nearly a year later, Palmer fought back tears when he faced the federal judge who sentenced him to more than five years in prison. He said he was “horrified, absolutely devastated” by what he had done.
“I’m just so ashamed that I was a part of that,” Palmer told U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on Dec. 17 before she gave him the longest prison term for any rioter so far.
Judges are hearing tearful expressions of remorse—and a litany of excuses—from rioters paying a price for joining the Jan. 6 insurrection, even as others try to play down the deadly attack on a seat of American democracy.
The Justice Department’s investigation of the riot has now entered the punishment phase. So far, 71 people have been sentenced for riot-related crimes. They include a company CEO, an architect, a retired Air Force colonel, a gym owner, a former Houston police officer, and a University of Kentucky student. Many rioters have said they lost jobs and friends after their mob of Donald Trump loyalists disrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
Fifty-six of the 71 pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. Most of them were sentenced to home confinement or jail terms measured in weeks or months, according to an Associated Press tally of every sentencing. But rioters who assaulted police officers have gotten years behind bars.
With hundreds of people charged, the Justice Department has taken heat for not coming down harder on some rioters, and it has failed to charge anyone with sedition or treason despite hints early on in the investigation. But lower-level cases tend to be easier to prosecute and typically get resolved before more complex ones.
At least 165 people have pleaded guilty so far, mostly to crimes punishable by a maximum sentence of six months. There are dozens of cases involving more serious offenses still moving through the system. More than 220 people have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement officers at the Capitol, according to the Justice Department. Since November, three of them have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from more than three years to just over five years.
The District of Columbia federal court is overloaded with Jan. 6 cases. More than 700 people have been charged so far and the FBI is still looking for more. Among the most serious charges are against far-right extremist group members accused of plotting attacks to obstruct Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election. Their cases haven’t yet gone to trial.
The rioters’ refrains before the judges are often the same: They were caught up in the moment or just following the crowd into the Capitol. They didn’t see any violence or vandalism. They thought police were letting them enter the building. They insist they went there to peacefully protest.
Their excuses often implode in the face of overwhelming evidence. Thousands of hours of videos from surveillance cameras, mobile phones, and police body cameras captured them reveling in the mayhem. Many boasted about their crimes on social media in the days after the deadly attack.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson said then-President Trump’s incendiary speech on Jan. 6 “stoked the flames of fear and discontent.” But she told Russell James Peterson, a rioter from Pennsylvania, that he “walked there on his own two feet” and must bear responsibility for his own actions.
“No one was swept away to the Capitol. No one was carried. The rioters were adults,” Jackson said before sentencing Peterson to 30 days’ imprisonment.
Eighteen judges, including four nominated by Trump, have sentenced the 71 rioters. Thirty-one defendants have been sentenced to terms of imprisonment or to jail time already served, including 22 who received sentences of three months or less, according to the AP tally. An additional 18 defendants have been sentenced to home confinement. The remaining 22 have gotten probation without house arrest.
A seemingly genuine display of contrition before or during a sentencing hearing can help a rioter avoid a jail cell. The judges often cite remorse as a key factor in deciding sentences.
But Chutkan told Palmer that she couldn’t tell if his remorse was genuine.
“I can’t look into your heart or your mind,” the judge said. “The way you conduct your life after this case is going to speak volumes about whether you are truly remorseful.”
Anna Morgan-Lloyd, the first rioter to be sentenced, told Senior Judge Royce Lamberth in June that she was ashamed of the “savage display of violence” at the Capitol. A day later, however, the Indiana woman told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that people were “very polite” during the riot, that she saw “relaxed” police officers chatting with rioters and that she didn’t believe the Jan. 6 attack was an insurrection.
Her inconsistency didn’t escape Lamberth’s notice. In a footnote to an order in another case, the judge said his “hopes have been recently dashed” when Morgan-Lloyd’s Fox interview “directly conflicted with the contrite statements that she made” to him.
Dona Sue Bissey’s case is one of only six in which prosecutors agreed to recommend probation without home detention. But instead, Chutkan sentenced her to 14 days in jail. The judge questioned whether Bissey, 53, of Indiana, truly was remorseful because she bragged about her participation in the riot.
“There must be consequences for taking part, even a small part, in a mass attempt to stop the certification of the presidential election and prevent the transfer of power,” said Chutkan, who was nominated by President Barack Obama.
All eight of the Jan. 6 defendants sentenced by Chutkan have received jail or prison terms. In all but one of those cases, the sentence that she handed down was stricter than prosecutors’ recommendation.
In contrast, all four rioters sentenced by Chief Judge Beryl Howell received three months of home detention after prosecutors recommended jail terms. Howell, also an Obama nominee, questioned the Justice Department’s “muddled approach” in resolving cases with misdemeanor pleas despite using “scorching strong language” to describe rioters’ actions.
She said it was “almost schizophrenic in some ways” for prosecutors to recommend a three-month jail sentence for a Tennessee man, Jack Jesse Griffith, in a court filing that referred to rioters as “those who trespassed.”
“No wonder parts of the public in the United States are confused about whether what happened on January 6th at the Capitol was simply a petty offense of trespassing with some disorderliness or shocking criminal conduct that represented a grave threat to our democratic norms,” Howell said during Griffith’s Oct. 28 sentencing, according to a transcript.
The judge who sentenced Boyd Camper to 60 days’ imprisonment for a misdemeanor offense said the Montana man’s presence in the mob “helped create the momentum for violence” and provided safety for violent rioters even though he personally didn’t attack law enforcement officers.
“Violence is an unacceptable way to resolve political differences,” Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly told Camper.
Some judges have rejected prosecutors’ recommendations for prison sentences. Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump nominee, said it is “almost unheard of” for first-time offenders to get jail time for nonviolent misdemeanors. Howell questioned why a short jail term for riot defendant Glen Wes Lee Croy, without a longer term of court supervision, would be the best way to ensure that the Colorado man “stays on a law-abiding path.”
Many other prominent cases remain unresolved. Dozens of people linked to extremist groups have been charged with conspiring to carry out coordinated attacks on the Capitol, including more than 20 defendants tied to the anti-government Oath Keepers and at least 16 connected to the far-right Proud Boys.
At least five people associated with the Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty. At least one Proud Boys member has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. None of them has been sentenced yet.
Approximately 20 trials are scheduled in 2022. Meanwhile, judges are plowing through daily dockets of guilty pleas and sentencings.
Anthony Mariotto, a Florida man who was sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, said he “got caught up in the moment” but knows he broke the law by entering the Capitol.
“I was hoping that they would just pause the election,” Mariotto said during his December sentencing. “I wish Joe Biden, President Biden, would have won by billions of votes. None of this would have happened.”
Judge Reggie Walton dryly replied, “He won by 7 million.”
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland; Billeaud from Phoenix; and Whitehurst from Salt Lake City.January 6, 2022 at 2:29 pm #1204701091
Jamal Simmons to be named Harris communications director
BY AMIE PARNES 01/06/22 11:42 AM EST
Jamal Simmons, a longtime top Democratic communications aide, will be tapped as communications director to Vice President Harris, sources tell The Hill.
The announcement is expected to be made on Thursday, the sources say.
The move is part of a communications reset for Harris after a rocky first year for the vice president, which included a rash of negative headlines and departures of senior communications staff.
Simmons, a Michigan native who is widely respected in Democratic circles, has been involved in national politics since the Clinton administration. He went on to serve as deputy communications director for the Gore presidential campaign.
He’s also served as an aide to former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark and was chief of staff to former Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Mich.).
Simmons also formerly worked for Hill.TV.
Simmons is expected “to really change things up,” according to one source familiar with the move.
Matt McKenna, who served as a longtime adviser to former President Bill Clinton and has known Simmons for more than 20 years, said he has the right skill set for the job.
“What impressed me about him back then—and something he is only better at today—was his ability to not just listen to everyone in the room but his ability to have the right people in the room every time, even if it didn’t seem like it first glance,” McKenna said. “Vice President Harris is very lucky to have him.”
Karen Finney, a longtime Democratic strategist and commentator, said bringing Simmons into the vice president’s office is “an excellent move for a host of reasons.”
“Jamal has a unique array of expertise that will be invaluable to the vice president and the White House,” Finney said. “Having worked in media, working as a consultant, he’s done campaigns, he’s worked on the Hill. He’s a seasoned communicator and his professional career is very diverse and he has a unique expertise that he brings. It gives him a lot of resources to draw upon.”
“There are very few of us who have worked on both sides of the microphone,” she added. “It’s just invaluable.”January 7, 2022 at 12:38 pm #1204703113
Judge sentences men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery murder to life in prison
BY CAROLINE VAKIL 01/07/22 03:19 PM EST
The three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man chased down and killed while jogging in their Georgia neighborhood in February 2020, were all sentenced to life in prison on Friday in a dramatic courtroom sentencing—two of them without the possibility of parole.
Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery and was found guilty on nine charges including malice murder, and his father Gregory McMichael were both sentenced to life without parole.
William “Roddie” Bryan, who videotaped part of the incident, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
Judge Timothy Walmsley paused the courtroom for one minute as he remarked on the trial, a moment he acknowledged was theatrical but that he suggested was important to show how quickly the McMichaels and Bryan decided to chase down Arbery and kill him.
He noted it was just a fifth of the time—five minutes—that the men had chased after Arbery in a pickup. He called the incident chilling, and suggested he did not believe the McMichaels had shown remorse for the killing.
“As we understand it, [Arbery] left his home apparently to go for a run, and he ended up running for his life,” Walmsley said of the fatal shooting.January 10, 2022 at 11:54 pm #1204714430
Symone Sanders, former spokeswoman for Vice President Harris, takes job at MSNBC
Cleve R. Wootson Jr. | THE WASHINGTON POST | 1/10/22 10:39 AM
Symone Sanders, the former chief spokeswoman for Vice President Harris who advised and defended the groundbreaking politician during a historic but uneven first year, has taken a job with MSNBC, the network announced Monday morning.
Beginning in the spring, Sanders, 31, will host an unspecified weekend show on MSNBC and will also appear on the Peacock streaming network’s “The Choice,” a 24/7 news channel. Details of both shows have not been released yet. Sanders will remain based in Washington.
Before her departure at the end of last year, Sanders had been one of Harris’s most vocal and public defenders. In addition to concerns about whether Harris had adequately addressed the issues in her portfolio, the vice president’s office was beset by concerns about messaging discipline and staff dysfunction, topped by four high-level departures at the end of the year.
The troubles have continued into 2022. Jamal Simmons, who was hired as communications director for the vice president’s office, spent his first days on the job apologizing for decade-old tweets about “undocumented folks.”
Sanders, 31, a Black political strategist, was a spokeswoman for the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) but became a senior adviser to Joe Biden in his 2020 bid for the White House, a race that played out amid racial unrest following the police killing of George Floyd. Black voters emerged as key to Biden’s victory. She has previously been a political analyst for CNN and published a 2020 memoir, “No, You Shut Up.”January 11, 2022 at 1:49 pm #1204716131
CDC eyes recommending higher quality masks: report
BY LEXI LONAS 01/11/22 10:13 AM EST
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking at recommending that Americans wear higher quality masks amid the omicron surge, a CDC official told The Washington Post.
“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”
However, as the higher quality masks have been known to be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of the time, the CDC would say in new guidance that if a person can “tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should,” according to the Post.
The agency was wary of recommending that people wear N95 or KN95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic due to concerns doing so would cause a shortage of those masks for health care workers, per the outlet.
Americans would have to be careful about which higher quality masks they obtain, as the CDC has said 60 percent of the KN95 masks in the U.S. are fake, the Post noted.
The updated recommendation comes as the spread of the omicron variant has driven a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases, with early studies showing that the variant is more transmissible and more able to evade immunity gained from vaccines than past strains of the virus.
The U.S. on Tuesday broke its COVID-19 hospitalization record, after individual states such as New York and Florida recently broke their daily COVID-19 case records.
The Hill has reached out to the CDC for comment.January 14, 2022 at 12:04 pm #1204727503
White House announces website to order free COVID-19 tests starting Jan. 19
BY PETER SULLIVAN 01/14/22 02:30 PM EST
Americans will be able to order free at-home rapid COVID-19 tests online starting Jan. 19, the White House said Friday.
The move makes available the 500 million rapid tests President Biden said his administration purchased last month.
There are some important limitations, though. Each residential address will be limited to four tests. The tests are also expected to take 7-12 days to ship once they are ordered, the White House said.
People will be able to order the tests on a new website, COVIDTests.gov, which will go live on Jan. 19. The White House is partnering with the U.S. Postal Service to ship the tests to people’s homes.
The move comes as the White House has been under pressure from lawmakers and from health experts to take stronger action to address shortages of tests across the country.
Many health experts say the administration should have made testing moves like this months ago, before the omicron wave hit.
The limitation of four tests per address will mean this channel alone will be far from enough to allow for the kind of frequent testing that many experts have called for.
Asked about the limitation, a senior administration official said the initiative is “one of many programs we are executing” on testing. Other avenues include allowing people to get reimbursed by private health insurers for tests they buy at a retailer.
An official said 420 million tests are under contract already, with 80 million remaining to be contracted.
Biden also announced Thursday an additional 500 million tests to become available some time in the future.
Amid a possible surge in interest in the website, a senior administration official said the White House is ready for its launch, but noted there is always some risk in the launch of a website.January 16, 2022 at 7:23 am #1204731591
DOJ raises stakes with rarely used sedition charges for Oath Keepers
BY REBECCA BEITSCH AND HARPER NEIDIG 01/16/22 06:00 AM EST
The seditious conspiracy charges brought by the Justice Department Thursday against the leader of the Oath Keepers and other members of the right-wing group signals the government is prepared to take on an ambitious fight to show that they joined the Jan. 6 attack as part of a coordinated effort to deny President Biden the White House.
The indictment contains the first sedition charges that have been brought in the wake of the riot and mark a significant escalation in prosecutors’ efforts by drawing a connection between the physical acts of mayhem that day with the broader effort by former President Trump’s supporters to obstruct Biden from taking office.
The arrest of Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the far-right militia group, followed criticism of the Justice Department that despite filing hundreds of charges it was failing to go after major actors behind the attack.
The criminal statute for seditious conspiracy covers plots to overthrow or attack the government, or use force to prevent the execution of U.S. laws. The Justice Department’s case against the Oath Keepers’ leaders alleges that they conspired “to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power.”
“It’s significant because they are so rarely used and that reflects the gravity of the charges and the difficulties of proving it in court,” said Bruce Hoffman, a counterterrorism and homeland security expert with the Council on Foreign Relations.
The charges could help combat a narrative from some Republican lawmakers, he said, that the attack was carried out as people were swept up in moment, falling short of an act of terrorism.
“Until now the 700 people who were indicted were indicted as individuals which played into an argument that we’ve heard members of Congress that downplayed the significance and the consequences of Jan. 6,” he said.
“When you’re talking about seditious conspiracy, you’re talking about something that’s planned, premeditated and purposeful. It’s not that all of a sudden these people are angered and spontaneously or serendipitously descended on the Capitol….It’s elevating this entire Jan. 6 insurrection onto a different level where it becomes very difficult to deny it was an insurrection. It underscores how serious it was and puts it in the realm of terrorism,” Hoffman said.
The indictment from the Justice Department details how a group of 19 members wore paramilitary gear, using a military “stack” formation to enter the Capitol. It also details how Rhodes spent thousands of dollars on weapons before and after the riot and coordinated with a “quick reaction force” in Virginia who were awaiting word on whether to bring weapons into D.C.
Prosecutors say that Rhodes and his alleged co-conspirators spoke often in the weeks between the 2020 election and Jan. 6 about fighting to prevent Biden from taking office.
In one November 2020 encrypted group message to other Oath Keepers leaders, Rhodes wrote, “We aren’t getting through this without a civil war. Too late for that. Prepare your mind, body, spirit.”
Seditious conspiracy prosecutions have been rare in recent years, and in the early twentieth century they were primarily brought against dissidents like socialists, anarchists and anti-war activists.
Federal prosecutors have a mixed record of success in the more recent seditious conspiracy cases, indicating that such charges can be hard to prove and can be complicated by free speech challenges.
In 1995, a federal jury convicted Omar Abdel Rahman, an Islamic cleric known as the “Blind Sheikh” who was linked to the World Trade Center bombing two years prior, of seditious conspiracy and other charges for various plots to attack sites in New York City. The decision to bring the charges had been seen as a gamble at the time, given the few convictions prosecutors had managed to secure under the statute.
In 2010, federal prosecutors in Michigan brought the charge against members of the right-wing Hutaree militia group for scheming to kill a police officer and then assault the law enforcement funeral procession in a plot aimed at inspiring a nationwide uprising against the government. But a federal judge in 2012 dismissed the counts from the indictment, saying that prosecutors had failed to show sufficient evidence that the defendants had been engaging in an actual plot rather than expressing strong desires to attack and kill law enforcement officers.
“The Government’s case is built largely of circumstantial evidence,” U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts wrote in a decision at the time. “While this evidence could certainly lead a rational factfinder to conclude that ‘something fishy’ was going on, it does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendants reached a concrete agreement to forcibly oppose the United States Government.”
Experts told The Hill the challenge of winning seditious conspiracy cases is more about perception than meeting the legal requirements of the statute.
Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney in Michigan who prosecuted the Hutaree case, said in recent years it’s been difficult to convince jurors that militia groups actually pose a threat, even though the statute only requires showing an intent to carry out an attack regardless of whether such groups stood a realistic chance of successfully overthrowing the government.
McQuade said an obstacle in the case was that the group was viewed as “a bunch of goofy knuckleheads who like to blow stuff up in the woods and they could never possibly attack the United States.”
But the attack on the Capitol and the increased public attention on domestic extremists in recent years could make it easier for prosecutors to convince jurors of the potential threat posed by militia groups.
“The technical elements of law are pretty easy to satisfy,” she said. “For people who are law abiding American citizens, the notion that these guys think that they’re going to start a civil war by having an attack just sounds ridiculous. I think it seems less ridiculous when we saw what happened on Jan. 6.”
The indictment against Rhodes that was released Thursday indicates that prosecutors are confident that they can show that the defendants were not just using empty rhetoric when they spoke with each other about carrying out violence in order to stop the presidential transition.
Mary McCord, who served as the acting head of the DOJ’s National Security Division during the Obama administration and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. for nearly twenty years, said that the challenge in prosecuting seditious conspiracy cases lies partly in distinguishing between constitutionally protected anti-government rhetoric and communications that lay out a concerted plot against the government.
“If you are actually prosecuting a conspiracy case involving a conspiracy that was thwarted, that never got to go to fruition, you always have to convince the jury and the judge, as a threshold matter, that the planning was concrete enough, that it wasn’t just fantasy, that it wasn’t just hyperbole, that there really was a plan to engage in whatever the object of the conspiracy was,” McCord said. “The reason I think that’s less of an issue here in terms of difficulty is they didn’t just talk about it, and then not do it. They talked about it and did it.”January 16, 2022 at 6:28 pm #1204732911
Djokovic leaves Australia, says he is “disappointed” court dismissed deportation appeal
BY MYCHAEL SCHNELL 01/16/22 07:41 AM EST
Tennis star Novak Djokovic on Sunday said he was “disappointed” after a court dismissed his deportation appeal earlier that day, ending his hopes of remaining in Australia for the country’s Grand Slam tournament.
“I respect the Court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” Djokovic added in a statement, according to The Associated Press.
The Serbian tennis player also said he was “uncomfortable” that he became the center of much attention after his visa was first canceled at a Melbourne airport earlier this month.
“I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love,” he said, the AP noted.
Djokovic departed Australia on Sunday, according to Reuters, closing out a roughly 10-day saga as the tennis star looked to secure his 10th win at the Australian Open. He reportedly left from Melbourne on an Emirates flight headed to Dubai.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke canceled Djokovic’s visa for a second time on Friday for “health and good order,” noting that it was in the public’s interest to do so, according to The New York Times. Hawke’s decision came days after a Federal Circuit Court judge in Australia had ruled that Djokovic could remain in the country.
Hours after Hawke’s decision on Friday, lawyers for the tennis star challenged the decision. The case eventually made it to Federal Court on Saturday.
On Sunday, a panel of three judges rejected Djokovic’s appeal, according to the AP.
The Australian Open said it “respects the decision of the Federal Court.” The No. 1 seed in the tournament, which was held by Djokovic, has since been filled.
“We look forward to a competitive and exciting Australian Open 2022 and wish all players the best of luck,” the tournament added in a statement.Not now
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