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Sioux Falls Atheists and Atheism, Agnostics and Humanism

281 Atheism & Humanism News Articles
for February 2022
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2-28-22 McConnell blasts Reps. Gosar and Greene for speaking to white nationalist group
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made a statement to reporters Monday condemning Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for appearing alongside white nationalist Nick Fuentes, Politico reports. "There's no place in the Republican Party for white supremacists or anti-Semitism," McConnell said. Greene and Gosar spoke at the America First Political Action Conference in Orlando, an event organized by Fuentes, over the weekend. It was Greene's first time at the event. Gosar returned after delivering the keynote last year. During an address to the crowd, Fuentes called for a "round of applause for Russia," amid its invasion of Ukraine. The crowd responded with a brief chant of "Putin! Putin!" On his streaming show, America First, Fuentes has used the N-word and said he believes only 200,000 to 300,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust. McConnell was not the only Republican to criticize Greene and Gosar for appearing at the event. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) described the two as "morons" who are "certainly missing a few IQ points." House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called their participation "appalling and wrong" and "unacceptable." Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), both of whom were censured by the RNC for serving on the Jan. 6 committee, also spoke out. Cheney posted a tweet calling Greene and Gosar "the Putin wing of the GOP," while Kinzinger complained that while "Liz and I can get censured, they're going to get help up as the future leaders of the party." Gosar was censured and stripped of his committee assignments by the House in November after he posted an edited anime video that depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and depicted immigrants as flesh-eating monsters. Greene was stripped of her committee assignments in Feb. 2021 for suggesting (among other things) that school shootings were false flag operations.

2-28-22 Ukraine conflict: Dozens killed in attack on Kharkiv
Dozens of people have been killed in Russian missile strikes on Ukraine's second city, Kharkiv, officials say. "Kharkiv has just been massively fired upon by grads [rockets]. Dozens of dead and hundreds of wounded," interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said in a post on Facebook. The attack came on the fifth day of the Russian invasion as negotiators from both sides held talks in Belarus. Other major Ukrainian cities remain under attack from Russian forces. Videos shared on social media showed rockets landing all over Kharkiv, in what some defence analysts described as typical of a cluster munition strike on a dense urban area. The fighting has already caused more than half a million Ukrainians to flee their homes, while millions more are seeking refuge underground. In the capital, Kyiv, the bulk of Russian forces are about 30km (19 miles) outside the north of the city, slowed by fierce Ukrainian resistance, according to the UK Ministry of Defence. But street-level fighting continues in several parts of the city. Despite the danger, a two-day curfew has been lifted, with residents emerging from underground shelters to buy food and gather supplies. Kasenya, who spent more than 36 hours underground, told the BBC she had managed to get home. "I can't describe how I am feeling, I'm happy to stay alive and safe and just have the possibility to see my splendid and beautiful Kyiv," she said. Meanwhile, on the northern border with Belarus, Ukrainian and Russian officials are meeting for talks for the first time. Hopes for a breakthrough are slim, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said there was a "small chance to end the war". The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said millions of civilians were being forced to huddle in makeshift bomb shelters such as underground rail stations to escape explosions. Since the invasion began on Thursday, her office has recorded 102 civilian deaths, including seven children - and more than 300 injured. "The real figures are, I fear, considerably higher," she said.

2-28-22 Ukraine conflict: Russia doubles interest rate after rouble slumps
Russia has more than doubled its interest rate to 20% in a bid to halt a slump in the value of its currency. The Bank of Russia raised the rate from 9.5% after the rouble sank 30% after new Western sanctions. The currency then eased back to stand 20% down. The collapse in value erodes the currency's buying power and could wipe out the savings of ordinary Russians. Amid pictures at the weekend of queues at cash machines, Russia said it had the resources to ride out sanctions. Ahead of an emergency meeting between President Vladimir Putin and his economic advisers on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "These are heavy sanctions, they're problematic, but Russia has the necessary potential to compensate the damage from these sanctions." He said Russia would respond with its own sanctions. At the weekend, Russia's central bank issued an appeal for calm amid fears that new financial sanctions could spark a run on its banks. It said it had the "the necessary resources and tools to maintain financial stability." Videos on social media on Sunday appeared to show long queues forming at cash machines and money exchanges in Moscow, with people worried that their bank cards may stop working or that limits will be placed on the amount of cash they can withdraw. Chris Weafer, chief executive at consultancy firm Micro-Advisory and based in Moscow, said on Monday he was seeing some queues in food stores. "You are beginning to see a little bit of queuing in some grocery stores, particularly people buying some goods that they think might come into short supply due to trade restrictions or maybe will be subject to big price increases because of the rouble devaluation. "This set of sanctions is hitting ordinary Russians to an extent that previous sanctions have not and people are now becoming aware of that.

2-28-22 Ukraine invasion: Would Putin press the nuclear button?
Let me begin with an admission. So many times, I've thought: "Putin would never do this." Then he goes and does it. He'd never annex Crimea, surely?" He did. "He'd never start a war in the Donbas." He did. "He'd never launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine." He has. I've concluded that the phrase "would never do" doesn't apply to Vladimir Putin. And that raises an uncomfortable question: "He'd never press the nuclear button first. Would he?" It's not a theoretical question. Russia's leader has just put his country's nuclear forces on "special" alert, complaining of "aggressive statements" over Ukraine by Nato leaders. Listen closely to what President Putin has been saying. Last Thursday when he announced on TV his "special military operation" (in reality, a full-scale invasion of Ukraine), he delivered a chilling warning: "To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside - if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history." "Putin's words sound like a direct threat of nuclear war," believes Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, chief editor of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. "In that TV address, Putin wasn't acting like the master of the Kremlin, but the master of the planet; in the same way the owner of a flash car shows off by twirling his keyring round his finger, Putin was twirling the nuclear button. He's said many times: if there is no Russia, why do we need the planet? No one paid any attention. But this is a threat that if Russia isn't treated as he wants, then everything will be destroyed." In a 2018 documentary, President Putin commented that "…if someone decides to annihilate Russia, we have the legal right to respond. Yes, it will be a catastrophe for humanity and for the world. But I'm a citizen of Russia and its head of state. Why do we need a world without Russia in it?" Fast forward to 2022. Putin has launched a full-scale war against Ukraine, but the Ukrainian armed forces are putting up stiff resistance; Western nations have - to the Kremlin's surprise - united to impose potentially crippling economic and financial sanctions against M

2-28-22 The Ukrainian border guards who told the Russians to 'go f--k yourself' might still be alive
The 13 Ukrainian border guards who last week defended the strategically-important Snake Island from a Russian warship — having gone so far as to tell the boat to "go f--k yourself" — are apparently still alive and in the hands of the Russians, The Daily Beast reports. The 13 Ukrainian border guards who last week defended the strategically-important Snake Island from a Russian warship — having gone so far as to tell the boat to "go f--k yourself" — are apparently still alive and in the hands of the Russians, The Daily Beast reports. On Monday, Ukraine's Navy wrote in a Facebook post that, "Regarding the Marines and border guards, who were taken captive by Russian occupiers on the island of Snake ... We are very happy to learn that our brothers are alive and well with them!" per The Daily Beast. Kyiv had previously thought all soldiers dead, with the now-famous "f--k yourself" dig against the Russians being perhaps their last words. The Navy also noted that a civilian ship had sailed to Snake Island to rescue the Ukrainian guards after the attack, but that vessel was captured by the Russians, as well, adds The Jerusalem Post. The Navy then called for the release of the Ukrainian citizens. Per Kevin Rothrock, apparently the Ukrainian military had assumed the deaths of the soliders after losing communications with the island. In its attack, "Russia destroyed the island's infrastructure including lighthouses, towers, antennas," in addition to the seizure of the civilian ship, Politico writes, per the Navy's Facebook post.

2-28-22 Peace talks between Russia and Ukraine begin on Belarusian border
Peace talks between Russian and Ukrainian delegations began Monday on the border between Ukraine and Russian-allied Belarus, The Hill reports. Per The Hill, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — who is not attending the talks — said Ukraine's goal is a ceasefire and the withdrawal of invading Russian forces. In a televised address Sunday, Zelensky told Ukrainians he was not optimistic about achieving this goal. He said the meeting would likely achieve nothing but that he wanted to show his people he tried "to stop the war when there was even a small chance." The Russian delegation is insisting that Ukraine "demilitarize and denazify," according to The Washington Post. Although there is a neo-Nazi militia group serving in Ukraine's military, Russian sources regularly overstate the influence of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. Zelensky, who is Jewish, was elected in 2019 with almost 75 percent of the vote. The Post also reports that Belarus is planning to send troops into Ukraine as early as Monday, according to a U.S. official. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko previously allowed Russian troops to launch missiles from inside Belarus and to use the country as a staging ground for their invasion, but did not commit Belarusian troops to the war.

2-28-22 U.S. officials, experts aren't clear on what's going on with Putin and his vague nuclear threats
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday he has ordered his top military officials to put "the Russian Army deterrence force on special combat readiness," a command generally understood to put Russia's nuclear arsenal on higher alert to warn the West to stay out of its Ukraine war. The Biden administration criticized the announcement as needlessly and unacceptably "escalatory" but did not announce any nuclear escalation of its own. Still, nobody seems quite sure what Putin meant or hopes to accomplish with this move. "We've never heard announcements like that before," Pavel Podvig at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research told Defense One. "I don't have absolute certainty what it means. My best guess is that he was referring to the way the command-and-control systems operate." Whatever he meant, "a deficit of rational thinking in certain quarters" raises the risk of an inadvertent nuclear war, Podvig told the Financial Times. "People said invading Ukraine was crazy and irresponsible — this is an order of magnitude higher." Current and former U.S. officials raised similar concerns. Putin has "gone off the rails" and it's "very worrisome," former Defense Secretary Bob Gates told CNN on Sunday. "This behavior is different than he has been in the past." James Acton at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Defense One he isn't sure Putin "knows exactly what he wants us to do in his own mind, and that's kind of concerning for me." He suggested "we have to try and find a face-saving way for Putin to extricate himself from this crisis." Russian state TV interpreted Putin's comments as a threat. "Our submarines alone can launch more than 500 nuclear warheads, which guarantees the destruction of the U.S. and NATO for good measure," one host said Sunday, BBC News notes. "The principle is: Why do we need the world if Russia won't be in it?" The U.S. is refraining from escalating the nuclear saber-rattling, "but the longer-term U.S. response will almost certainly depend on what the Russian nuclear forces do in the next several days, as the commanders of the Russian strategic forces try to demonstrate that they are responding to Mr. Putin's vaguely worded order," The New York Times reports. "A vast nuclear-detection apparatus run by the United States and its allies monitors Russia's nuclear forces at all times," and "a deviation from usual practice would almost certainly be noticeable."

2-28-22 CPAC 2022: US conservatives show little interest in Ukraine
The Conservative Political Action Conference, or Cpac for short, is usually a good way to gauge the mood of grass-roots activists within the Republican Party. If the four-day event that concluded in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday night was any indication, the conservative base of the party is much more interested in the upcoming congressional mid-term elections in November and defeating Democrats than they are about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some of the top Republican officeholders in the party, like Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Rick Scott, didn't mention Ukraine at all in their speeches. Donald Trump, who took the stage on Saturday night, offered a quick condemnation of the invasion, but spent more time defending his interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that led to his first impeachment and his statements earlier this week calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a "genius". He added that Nato nations and current US leadership were dumb. One of Mr Trump more loyal supporters, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, went further, questioning why the US should be "footing the bill for Ukraine" by imposing sanctions that could damage the American economy. Others, like Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, warned of "evil" people who run countries without mentioning Mr Putin by name. And Florida Senator Marco Rubio was particularly careful in the Ukraine portion of his speech. "No matter where you stand on this Ukraine-Russia situation, what we should have done beforehand, what we should do now," he said, "the one thing I think everyone can agree upon is that the people of Ukraine are inspiring to the world." That's the kind of delicate language you seldom hear at Cpac when the topic is Iran or China. The speakers who were the most direct in their condemnations of Russia, in fact, were ones who were commentators or foreign policy experts - like former National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, radio show host Mark Levin and ex-White House adviser Sebastian Gorka - not current or aspiring politicians.

2-28-22 The genocide that still haunts Russian-Ukrainian relations
Russia once tried to kill millions of Ukrainians. The nation hasn't forgotten. Russian President Vladimir Putin has long regretted the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unsurprisingly, that nostalgia for a lost empire isn't shared by those in Ukraine he's now trying to conquer. In a long, rambling broadcast as the invasion was beginning last week, Putin spoke of the shared history of Russia and Ukraine and what he called the tragedy of Ukrainian independence. "From the very first steps, they began to build their statehood on the denial of everything that unites us. They tried to distort the consciousness, the historical memory of millions of people, entire generations living in Ukraine," Putin said, according to the Reuters translation. Yet calling on those shared memories seems a strange choice, as that history includes one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the 20th century: the Holodomor. The Holodomor (the Ukrainian term for death by hunger) was a famine that killed nearly 4 million people between 1932-33. It was artificially engineered by Joseph Stalin as an attempt to bring the rebellious Soviet republic to heel, and is widely acknowledged today as a genocide against the people of Ukraine. The great starvation took place in Ukraine's farmland, sometimes called the Black Earth due to the color of its soil. It is among the most fertile land in the world and Ukraine itself was known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union; even today, the nation has been a source of much of the World Food Programme's aid to other countries. But at the end of the 1920s, with hunger spreading in Russia largely because of Communist policies, Stalin demanded farms and livestock be taken from their owners and collectivized, which he believed would be more modern and efficient. Many Ukrainian farmers refused to join collectives and were killed for their defiance, with thousands of others exiled to the desolation of Siberia. The famine grew worse throughout the Soviet Union and reached its peak in 1932. In their zeal for wringing grain from Ukrainian farms, the Communists took not just every last morsel from many farmers, but even the seeds needed for the next year's planting. "The brigades took all the wheat, barley — everything — so we had nothing left," Holodomor survivor Nina Karpenko told the BBC in 2013. "Even beans that people had set aside just in case." Finally, with nothing left to eat, people turned on each other, at times eating the corpses of their neighbors, even members of their families. Still other people resorted to murder. There are reports of mothers killing their weakest and youngest children to feed the others. The tragedy is unimaginable. The scars on the survivors are permanent and passed down through generations of remembered trauma. But if Ukrainians have not forgotten the events of 1932-33, neither has Russia. The Holodomor remains a politicized topic in Russia today, with the recent screening of a film in Moscow about the mass starvation broken up by masked men. Putin's government has since taken legal action against Memorial, the human rights group that was showing it, threatening to dissolve the organization. Clearly, even after 90 years, the deliberate starvation of Ukraine is not so far in the past. Putin is right: Russia and Ukraine share a deep common history. But perhaps that history doesn't mean what he thinks it does. Rather than an argument for invasion, history may be Ukraine's greatest argument for independence.

2-28-22 Covid-19 news: Omicron immune response protects against BA.2 variant
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Data suggests that people who’ve had the BA.1 omicron variant are protected against BA.2, at least in the short term. A preliminary study of coronavirus infection rates suggests that people who have recently been infected by the BA.1 omicron variant are 95 per cent protected against infection with the fast-spreading BA.2 omicron variant. The omicron wave, which began in November, has primarily been driven by the BA.1 variant, but now another variant of omicron, BA.2, seems to be rising to dominance. BA.2 has 32 of the same mutations as BA.1 but it also has 28 that are different. Rapidly rising numbers of BA.2 infections suggest that this variant is even more transmissible than the BA.1 omicron variant. A key problem with the omicron variants is their ability to escape immunity, but data from around 20,000 people in Qatar suggests that people who have recently been infected with BA.1 are 95 per cent protected against catching BA.2 35 to 50 days after infection. The team who did this research also analysed data from around 100,000 people who had been infected with BA.2 and found that this variant offers roughly 85 per cent protection against BA.1 infection 35 to 40 days later. The findings suggest that immunity resulting from BA.1 could help reduce the spread of BA.2, which is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in the UK in the next few weeks. A previous study from Japan suggested that BA.2 caused more severe disease in hamsters than BA.1, but real world data from the UK, South Africa, and Denmark – where population immunity levels are relatively high – found no difference in severity between the two variants. “Initial data from population-level reinfection studies suggest that infection with BA.1 provides strong protection against reinfection with BA.2, at least for the limited period for which data are available,” said a WHO statement on 22 February. Public mortuaries in Hong Kong have reached maximum capacity amid record numbers of deaths due to covid-19, according to the city’s Hospital Authority. Dozens of bodies are waiting in hospitals for transportation to mortuaries. The city saw a record 34,466 new cases and 87 deaths on 28 February. In Scotland, secondary school students no longer have to wear face masks in the classroom but will still need to wear them in corridors. Meanwhile, people entering large venues are no longer legally required to show vaccine passports. The Republic of Ireland has ended the legal requirement for people to wear face masks on public transport and in healthcare settings, but advises that people continue to do so.

2-28-22 A detailed look at the coronavirus's first days at a Wuhan market
Three recent studies give a detailed picture of how the coronavirus pandemic began and strengthen the case that the virus came from animals at the Huanan seafood market. The SARS-CoV-2 virus appears to have jumped from animals into humans at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, at least twice in late 2019. That’s according to three preliminary new studies that give a remarkably detailed picture of how the covid-19 pandemic began. The picture depicted by these studies is as follows. At some point before 2020, the ancestor of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus jumped from bats into other mammals. We don’t know when or where this happened, or which mammals were involved. But we do know that by November 2019, the coronavirus was spreading among mammals kept in cages at the Huanan market. The evidence for this comes from nearly 600 swabs of objects at the market taken in January 2020. Of these, 33 tested positive for the virus, according to a report by the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control. An international team of coronavirus researchers led by Michael Worobey at University of Arizona has now mapped the precise locations of these positive objects. They found 31 out of 33 were in the western part of the market where live mammals were kept. Five positive samples were found in just one market stall. The objects that tested positive at this stall included a metal cage in a back room, two carts used to move cages and a hair/feather remover – all objects directly associated with animals. Documents and photographs show that the live mammals present at Huanan market in November 2019 included raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides), hog badgers (Arctonyx albogularis), Chinese bamboo rats (Rhizomys sinensis) and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). All these animals can be infected by SARS-CoV-2, and we know that raccoon dogs are capable of spreading it.Around 25 November, the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped from one of these infected mammals to a person. Then, around 2 December, it happened again, but this time with a slightly different version of the virus.

2-27-22 tudies suggest COVID came from a Wuhan market, not a lab
The "lab-leak theory" of the origins of the COVID-19 virus has been dismissed as a conspiracy theory and seriously considered as plausible explanation, but two studies released Saturday could shed new light on the question, The New York Times reported Sunday. Both studies show that the virus likely originated in live mammals sold at a market in Wuhan, China, in 2019. According to CNN, one study "used spatial analysis to show that the earliest known COVID-19 cases … were centered on the market" while the other showed that "the two major viral lineages were the result of at least two events in which the virus crossed species into humans." University of Arizona evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey, who was the lead author on one study and a co-author on the other, said that in light of the studies' findings, the theory that COVID originated in a lab "no longer … makes sense." In May 2021, Worobey signed a high-profile letter urging further study of the theory that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but by November, he said his research was beginning to point to the market rather than the lab. Both studies are still undergoing peer review.

2-27-22 'We did it twice, and we'll do it again': Trump stops just short of announcing 2024 run
In a speech delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida on Saturday, former President Donald Trump stopped just short of formally announcing a 2024 presidential run, according to video shared by podcaster Benny Johnson on Twitter. "[Democrats are] going to find out the hard way, starting on Nov. 8, and then again even more so on [sic] November 2024, they will find out like never before. We did it twice, and we'll do it again. We're going to be doing it again, a third time," Trump said, reiterating his false claim that he was the true winner of the 2020 election. Trump then transitioned back to discussing the 2022 midterms. "2022 will be the year that millions of everyday citizens stand up to the left-wing fascists, and they'll continue — and we will all continue together — to make America great again!" Trump said. Trump also repeated his assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin is "smart" but called Putin's invasion of Ukraine an "outrage and an atrocity," the Independent reported. "The problem isn't Putin is smart … it's that our leaders are dumb," Trump said.

2-27-22 Ukraine invasion: Russian planes face near-total airspace ban to west
Russian airlines face a near-total airspace blockade to the country's west after an EU official said most European countries are set to impose flight bans. A formal decision is expected on the measure later on Sunday. One by one, European countries said they were closing their airspace, including Germany for three months. With airspace curbs over Ukraine, Russian flights now have few route options for westbound journeys. Departure boards at Moscow's Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo airports showed dozens of cancellations on Sunday, including flights to Paris, Vienna and Kaliningrad. Russia's S7 Airlines said on Facebook it would cancel flights to many of its European destinations until at least 13 March. Aeroflot, Russia's biggest airline, said it would cancel its services to Latvia and Romania until at least 26 March, and its Prague and Warsaw routes until 28 March. Meanwhile, Russia has responded with tit-for-tat restrictions on countries banning its flights. Russian-owned planes, including private jets, can no longer enter the skies above the Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia. Russian planes have also been banned from UK airspace. Several more EU countries have now joined the action to close airspace to Russian flights:.Germany has imposed a three-month ban..Spain, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy will also close their airspace to Russian aircraft. Finland, which shares an 800 mile (1,300km) border with Russia, "is preparing to close its airspace to Russian air traffic," Transport Minister Timo Harakka wrote on Twitter. Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said European skies were "open for those who connect people, not for those who seek to brutally aggress". Ireland and Austria have thrown their weight behind an EU-wide ban. The restriction on flights over many of the countries to Russia's west will require its airlines to take circuitous routes, resulting in longer flight times.

2-27-22 Ukraine invasion: Kharkiv fighting 'like Star Wars above your head'
Ukrainian forces say they have repelled an attack on the country's second city Kharkiv after fierce clashes with Russian forces. Regional governor Oleh Synehubov said the city was now rid of Russian troops - after street-to-street fighting overnight. Residents described intense shelling, with one woman saying it was "something like Star Wars above your head". A nine-storey residential tower was hit, emergency services said. The building was severely damaged and an elderly woman was killed, according to emergency services. Rescuers said about 60 people were spared injury as they had taken refuge in the basement. "I can't describe the sounds that woke us up," one Kharkiv resident said about the fighting overnight. Another resident, university professor Dmitry Shabanov, said his family was fortunate to still have running water. "We called our friend to join us - she has a newborn and a toddler. But she can't take a risk to try and get to us through the whole town," he said. Russian troops also blew up a natural gas pipeline nearby, according to a Ukrainian state communications agency. The fighting across Ukraine has resulted in at least 240 civilian casualties, including 64 deaths, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It added that damage to homes and critical infrastructure has left hundreds of people without access to water and electricity. Vladimir Putin says he is moving Russia's nuclear deterrent to "special alert". He says it's a response to Nato "aggression". The announcement does not mean Russia intends to use the weapons. The US has condemned the move as "unacceptable". Ukrainian troops are in control of Kharkiv, governor says, after Russian attack . Ukraine claims 4,300 Russians have died in the whole invasion - this has not been verified. Ukrainian delegation will meet Russians on Belarus border for talks, Ukraine's president says. And Germany pledges a massive hike in defence spending.

2-27-22 Ukraine conflict: Terrified but coping, residents of Dnipro jolt into action
On the day Vladimir Putin ordered his soldiers into Ukraine, Arina had planned a dance class after work and then a party. Three days later, the English teacher was making Molotov cocktails in a park. I found her crouching on the grass with dozens of other women, grating polystyrene chunks as if they were cheese and ripping sheets into rags for homemade bottle-bombs. Such scenes are unimaginable to most in Europe. They were unthinkable here too, once. But Dnipro is now preparing to defend itself against advancing Russian troops. "No-one thought this is how we'd spend our weekend, but it seems like the only important thing to do now," Arina told me, the young teacher's face and hair sprinkled in white dust from the polystyrene. "It's pretty terrifying. I think we don't really realise what it is we're doing; we just need to be doing something," she said. A few metres away, Elena and Yulia told me they'd left their children with grandparents in order to come and help make these weapons. "Sitting home doing nothing would be even scarier," Elena said, not pausing her grating even for a second. She laughs that she's a good cook and this process is not so different. "I can't believe this is happening to us, but what choice do we have? No-one consulted us on anything," Elena said. It feels like this whole city has been jolted into action. The steps of a nearby hall are heaped with donated clothes, blankets and buckwheat. A stream of people keep arriving with more - including petrol, water and toiletries - as volunteers yell instructions on where to take it all. The supplies are for Ukrainian fighters, as well as anyone forced to flee to Dnipro from fighting elsewhere. But it's also a stockpile for if the strategic city comes under siege itself. The giant effort was launched by five women and a handful of social media posts. Now, dozens of people are coordinating a major aid effort that looks chaotic but is anything of the sort.

2-27-22 Ukraine conflict: Citizen volunteers take up arms to fight Russian invasion
As the Russian invasion continues, thousands of ordinary Ukrainians are volunteering to fight to defend their neighbourhoods, despite many having no previous military experience. Men between the ages of 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country and have been urged to fight. The Ukrainian defence minister says that 25,000 guns have been handed over to territorial defence members in the Kyiv region alone. The BBC Ukrainian service visited one centre distributing weapons in the capital Kyiv.

2-27-22 Germany to send weapons directly to Ukraine
Germany's Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has announced that Germany will deliver weapons directly to Ukraine. He said Germany would be sending 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles. Berlin has also dropped some restrictions on German-made weapons being sent to conflict zones, meaning that third countries will be able to send more arms to Ukraine. Mr Scholz said the Russian invasion marked a turning point. The move reverses Germany's long-standing policy of banning weapon exports to conflict zones. At the same time, German ministers have said they are working on restricting Russia's access to the Swift global interbank payment system in a "targeted" way that "hits the right people" and avoids collateral damage. Germany's three-party coalition government, made up of socialists, liberals and Greens, has faced challenges in formulating a coherent response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. But there is a dawning realisation here that Germany may have to rely not just on trade and diplomacy for its security, but also on military might. And those public figures who in the past have expressed sympathy for Moscow have either fallen silent or said they were wrong. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, herself a Green, tweeted: "Our world is different after Putin's war of aggression. While we are stunned by this breach of international law, we are not powerless. "That's why we will help the Ukrainian soldiers fighting for their country with anti-tank weapons and Stinger missiles." Germans have been shocked by Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine and have been demanding that their government take tougher action against the Kremlin. Now it has.

2-27-22 Russia central bank urges calm amid cash run fears
Russia's central bank has issued an appeal for calm amid fears that new financial sanctions could spark a run on its banks. It said it "has the necessary resources and tools to maintain financial stability and ensure the operational continuity of the financial sector". The EU, the US, the UK and Canada have announced that the assets of Russia's central bank will be frozen. Some Russian banks will also be excluded from the Swift payment system. A run on Russian banks would see too many people trying to withdraw money. On Friday, Russia's central bank was forced to increase the amount of money it supplies to ATMs after demand for cash reached the highest level since March 2020. Russia's central bank has reserves of around $630bn (£470bn). The aim of sanctions against the Bank of Russia would stop it from selling assets overseas to support its own banks and companies. Announcing the measures, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said: "The European Union and its partners are working to cripple Putin's ability to finance his war machine." Market analysts predict that on Monday the value of the rouble will drop and Russians may rush to remove their money from banks. "These new sanctions are likely to cause serious damage to the Russian economy and its banking system", said Clay Lowery, executive vice president at the Institute of International Finance. "This will most likely exacerbate ongoing bank runs... causing a sharp sell-off and a drain on reserves." But on Sunday, the Bank of Russia insisted: "The Russian banking system is stable, has sufficient capital and liquidity to function smoothly in any situation. All customer funds on the accounts are saved and available at any time." It also said that it will use its own network, called the System for Transfer of Financial Messages (STFS) , for payments within Russia. On Saturday, leaders from the EU, the UK, the US and Canada announced that some Russian banks will be excluded from Swift, an international payment system that is used by thousands of financial institutions across the world, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The system is key for the smooth transactions of money globally.

2-27-22 Ukraine conflict: Children on their own, parents stay behind
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians are pouring towards neighbouring countries to flee the Russian invasion. In the three days since the invasion began, more than 115,000 have crossed into Poland alone - some travelling for more than two days, others joining queues 15km (10 miles) long at border points. Those fleeing are mostly women and children, as all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 are being told to stay and fight - in some cases separated from their families. BBC correspondents met them at the borders. Seen from the Moldovan border, Ukraine is a nation of women. Mothers and grandmothers, wheeling suitcases to safety, leading their children into the unknown. Ana arrived at the Palanca crossing point after more than 24 hours waiting in a queue on the Ukrainian side of the border - her little yellow car stuffed with bags, her six-year-old granddaughter singing to herself in the backseat. Ana and her stepdaughter had driven straight from the southern city of Odesa - some 50km away and now a key target for Russia in the war. But Ana's calm smiling manner crumbled as soon as she began to speak. Breaking down in tears, she described how she'd had to leave her husband behind to defend their country. "I hope the West will help us get out of this terrible situation, because right now we're facing the Russian aggressor alone." Around her, local volunteers from Moldova's towns and villages waited to offer lifts to Ukrainians arriving here on foot. But, like Ana, many who turn up here have thought only of escaping Ukraine, and have little idea of what happens now - for their country or themselves. The overnight train from Kyiv, via Lviv, pulled in carrying Europe's new refugees. They arrived at the 19th Century train station at Przemysl, which is now a modern-day reception centre. "It took us 52 hours to get here," said Kateryna Leontieva, who had travelled from Kharkiv with her teenage daughter. Clutching their Ukrainian passports, and carrying a rucksack of belongings, they stepped out into eastern Poland - and safety.

2-27-22 Ukraine conflict: Thousands of people try to force their way onto a train to Poland
Thousands of people packed on a crowded platform at a train station in the city of Lviv near the Polish border have tried to force their way onto a train bound for Poland. The BBC's Fergal Keane describes the scenes, as a mother and her child were caught in the crush to escape Ukraine.

2-26-22 Russia vetoes U.N. resolution condemning Ukraine invasion
Russia used its power as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on Friday to veto a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NPR reported. China abstained from the vote, while the remaining three permanent members — the U.S., the U.K., and France — voted in favor of the resolution. Earlier this month, Russia and China released a 5,000-word joint statement opposing NATO expansion and U.S. military activities in the Asia-Pacific region. The statement did not mention Ukraine, an omission some analysts told The Washington Post "reflect[ed] China's unwillingness to support a Russian invasion." Among the 10 non-permanent Security Council members, which do not have veto power, none voted against the resolution, and only India and the United Arab Emirates abstained. "We are united behind Ukraine and its people, despite a reckless, irresponsible permanent member of the Security Council abusing its power to attack its neighbor and subvert the U.N. and our international system," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas Greenfield said after Russia used its veto, according to Reuters. She also told Russia's U.N. ambassador, "You can veto this resolution but you cannot veto our voices."

2-26-22 GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger calls for U.S.-enforced no-fly zone over Ukraine
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) called for the U.S. to declare a no-fly zone over Ukraine to give the country's military a "fair fight" against invading Russian forces. "The fate of #Ukraine is being decided tonight, but also the fate of the west. Declare a #NoFlyZone over Ukraine at the invitation of their sovereign govt," Kinzinger tweeted on Friday. In addition to serving in Congress, Kinzinger is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. According to Politico, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked NATO to "close the skies," but as of Friday the alliance remained unwilling to take the risk. Critics were quick to point out that Kinzinger's proposed no-fly zone would likely require the U.S. to fire on Russian aircraft, which could lead to a war between Russia and NATO. "No. This is insane," tweeted Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), who is known for his non-interventionist views on foreign policy. Buzz Patterson, a former U.S. Air Force pilot who ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Republican in 2019, wrote that a no-fly zone would force American pilots "to shoot down Russian aircraft" and called the proposal "the dumbest s--t I've ever heard [Kinzinger] say … And that's a pretty high bar." In an Feb. 13 appearance on CBS' Face the Nation, Kinzinger accused Republicans who disagreed with his hawkish stance of "naivety" and "affection for authoritarianism."

2-26-22 Russia has reportedly detained almost 2,700 protesters since Thursday
Russia has detained 2,692 anti-war protesters since the invasion of Ukraine began on Thursday, according to Russian human rights media group OVD-Info, CNN reported Saturday. At least 1,370 of those protesters were detained in Moscow, but protests were ongoing in at least 27 Russian cities. The New York Times reported Friday that, in a move likely to make it more difficult to organize protests, Russia was restricting access to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Hundreds of protesters flooded Moscow's Pushkin Square on Thursday night, while others marched in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and in Russian President Vladimir Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg. Pro-Ukraine demonstrations were also held in London, Madrid, Milan, Paris, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world throughout the weekend. At the Dubai Championships on Friday, Russian tennis player Andrey Rublev wrote the phrase "no war please" in English on the lens of a television camera after winning a match. On the eve of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered an address in Russian in which he appealed directly to the Russian people. "If the leadership of Russia does not want to sit at the table with us to make peace, perhaps it will sit at the table with you," Zelensky said. "Does Russia want a war? I would very much like an answer to this question. But that answer depends only on you, citizens of the Russian Federation."

2-26-22 Germany agrees to send weapons to Ukraine
After consistently refusing to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Saturday his country will send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine, Axios reports. According to Politico Europe, Scholz said the Russian invasion "marks a turning point" that "threatens our entire post-war order" and that "it is our duty to do our utmost to support Ukraine in defending itself." Germany also changed its position on sanctions. After initially opposing any move to bar Russia from the international financial intermediary SWIFT, Germany said it supported finding a "targeted and functional" way to boot Russia that would "limit collateral damage," Bloomberg reported. Germany drew criticism in January for promising to send 5,000 military helmets to Ukraine in lieu of weapons. Around the same time, the head of Germany's navy was forced to resign after saying NATO should give Russian President Vladimir Putin "the respect he demands, and probably deserves." Germany is a major importer of Russian natural gas and sits at the other end of Russia's Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Many observers say this gives Russia too much leverage over Germany, especially after the NATO member increased its dependence on Russian energy in January by decommissioning three of its six remaining nuclear plants. Just days before Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Scholz announced that the pipeline's certification process would be halted.

2-26-22 Watch: Ukrainian civilians use their bodies to block Russian tanks
Ukrainian citizens in the city of Bakhmach stood in front of advancing Russian tanks on Saturday, according to video verified by CNN. Per CNN, "[i]n the video, tanks can be seen driving on roads in Bakhmach, which is just over 110 miles northeast of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv." The video shows a man climbing onto a Russian tank as it drives down a city street. The tank stops, and the man climbs down and briefly kneels in front of it before standing up and moving out of the way. According to CNN's translation, a voice can be heard saying, "They are throwing their bicycles underneath the Russian tanks," though no one can be seen doing so on the video. The voice also describes people "throwing themselves under the wheels." As the video ends, someone can be seen climbing back onto the tank. Ukraine's government has encouraged civilians to help defend their country, handing out assault rifles and urging citizens to assemble Molotov cocktails. The Russian Defense Ministry has condemned these actions, arguing that arming untrained civilians "will inevitably lead to accidents and casualties," per CNN. The U.S. Defense Department believes that 50 percent of the approximately 200,000 troops Russia massed on Ukraine's border in the months leading up to the invasion are now fighting inside Ukraine, USA Today reported Saturday afternoon. According to USA Today, Russian reconnaissance forces have entered Kyiv and engaged in street battles with Ukrainian troops, but the main force driving south from Belarus toward the capital city is still around 18 miles away. Bakhmach is around 150 miles from Kyiv, and is located midway between the capital and the northeastern city of Kharkiv, which has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war so far, according to CNBC.

2-26-22 Conservatives pounce after Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court
Conservatives pounce after Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court President Biden announced Friday that he had picked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee for the Supreme Court. Biden described her as "a proven consensus builder, an accomplished lawyer, [and] a distinguished jurist." Biden then yielded the microphone to Jackson, who began "by thanking God for delivering me to this point in my professional journey." Some conservatives, however, were less than thrilled with Biden's choice. In a Saturday opinion piece for Fox News, Carrie Severino, who heads the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, called Jackson "a politician in robes" and accused her of being bad for business, soft on illegal immigration, and hostile toward the pro-life movement. Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Biden's decision to consider only Black female candidates for the Supreme Court would "humiliate" and "degrade" America. "[Y]ou should be elevated in America based on what you do ... not on how you were born, not on your DNA, because that's Rwanda," Carlson said Friday night, according to The Guardian. Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin called Carlson's comments "[t]he perfect distillation of white supremacy." W. James Antle III argued for The Week that Biden should have chosen Judge Michelle Childs, who would have gotten more Republican votes but would not have made the Democratic Party's progressive wing quite as happy. If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Jackson currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Senate confirmed her to that position in a 53-44 vote in June 2021. Jackson previously served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, whose seat she would be filling. She would also be the first Supreme Court justice to have worked as a public defender.

12-26-22 CDC says about 70 percent of Americans don't need to wear masks indoors
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has eased its mask guidance for the majority of Americans in light of declining COVID-19 cases. The CDC said Friday that in counties classified as having a "COVID-19 community level" of low or medium, it's safe not to wear masks indoors, including in schools, and this applies to about 70 percent of Americans, according to NBC News. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the move could be made because the U.S. is in a "stronger place today as a nation" in the pandemic with "more tools to protect ourselves." Under the CDC's new guidelines, those who live in areas of the country with a high COVID-19 community level are still advised to wear masks indoors, and this is true of about 28 percent of Americans, according to Stat News. But the new system takes multiple factors into account to decide whether a community's COVID-19 risk is low, medium, or high, including hospital admissions. Those who don't live in "high" areas, but who are at high risk of severe illness themselves, should "talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions," the CDC said. The CDC was previously recommending about 99 percent of the U.S. population continue to wear masks indoors, CNN notes. Last May, prior to the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19, the CDC also changed its mask guidelines to say fully vaccinated people mostly didn't need to wear masks indoors. According to NBC News, Walensky said Friday the guidelines could still change again but that "we want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when levels are low, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things get worse in the future." A map showing the risk level for each U.S. county is available on the CDC's website.

2-26-22 Street fighting breaks out as Russian forces push into Kyiv
Russian forces have entered the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv but have not yet seized control of the city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Saturday. According to Ukrainian military sources, Russian forces made several attempts to push deeper into Kyiv on Friday night but were repelled after vicious street fighting, BBC reported. "We broke their plan," Zelensky said in a video posted on social media. Ukraine's health ministry stated Saturday that 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed since the invasion began on Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported. Ukraine's government has distributed assault rifles to civilians, urged citizens to "make Molotov cocktails and take down the occupier," and promised to arm any foreign volunteers who arrive to help defend Ukraine, according to CNN and The Hill. One of the many Ukrainians taking to the streets of Kyiv to defend their country was former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire who lost to Zelensky in a landslide in 2019. In an interview with CNN on Friday, Poroshenko brandished a Kalashnikov and insisted that "Putin will never capture Ukraine."

2-26-22 Ukraine invasion: Missiles hit Kyiv as fight for capital looms
Russian assaults on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv have been met with fierce resistance, as the Ukrainian military says it fought off several attacks. The military said in a Facebook post early on Saturday that an army unit managed to repel Russian forces near its base on a major city street. President Volodymyr Zelensky said: "The occupiers wanted to block the centre of our state... We broke their plan." Meanwhile, fighting continues near several other Ukrainian cities. A total of 198 Ukrainians, including three children, have been killed since Russia invaded, the country's Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said. According to a report by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency, Kyiv officials put out a statement asking people to stay in shelters and to stay away from windows if they were at home. But Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Oleksiy Danilov told Ukrainian news site Lb.ua that the army was "in control" of the situation. "We are stopping the horde using all means available. The army servicemen and citizens are in control of Kyiv," said Mr Danilov. In his self-shot video, Mr Zelensky could be seen walking around Kyiv's government district in an apparent effort to dispel rumours he had called on the army to surrender to Russian troops. "I'm here. We won't lay down our arms. We will defend our state," he said. In an address later, he added: "We are defending the country, the land of our future children. Kyiv and key cities around the capital are controlled by our army. "The occupiers wanted to block the centre of our state and put their puppets here, as in Donetsk. We broke their plan."Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, said a missile had hit a block of flats in the city, posting a picture on Facebook showing at least four apartments destroyed. He added on Telegram that 35 people, including two children, had been wounded as of 06:00 local time (04:00 GMT). "There are no Russian troops in the city," he claimed, adding that people should stay in shelters as more air attacks were expected. Ukraine has been fighting Russian troops in the capital Kyiv, Odesa in the south and Kharkiv in the north-east, President Zelensky says. "We've derailed their plan," he claims, after Kyiv was hit by strikes overnight but Russian forces did not break through. The invasion has so far killed 198 Ukrainians, the health minister says. Russia says it has captured the city of Melitopol in the south. The UK says it and 25 other nations will send more weapons and aid to Ukraine. Poland says they won't play 2022 World Cup play-off with Russia in Moscow next month. The UN estimates that at least 120,000 people have escaped Ukraine in the past 48 hours.

2-26-22 Ukraine invasion: Russia restricts social media access
Russia has blocked Twitter and threatened to do the same with Facebook after a clash over "censorship". Russia's communications regulator Roskomnadzor accused Facebook of violating "the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens". Facebook said it had refused to stop fact-checking and labelling content from state-owned news organisations. Internet connectivity watchers at NetBlocks say there is a total or near-total restriction on Twitter in Russia. The actions follow Russia's attack on Ukraine with many videos and images of the invasion going viral on social media. NetBlocks says Facebook and Instagram appear to be running normally but Twitter services started being disrupted on Saturday morning. User reports also corroborate this. Circumvention for those in Russia is currently possible using VPN services, which can work around government-imposed restrictions. NetBlocks Director Alp Toker told the BBC: "Russia's restriction of Twitter will significantly limit the free flow of information at a time of crisis when the public most need to stay informed." Twitter has not responded to requests for comment and Roskomnadzor has not announced actions against Twitter. It is unclear what the Facebook restrictions could mean if implemented or if other Meta-owned platforms - like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram - will be hit. The Russian regulator had demanded Facebook lift the restrictions it placed on Thursday on state news agency RIA, state TV channel Zvezda, and pro-Kremlin news sites Lenta.Ru and Gazeta.Ru. It said that Meta had "ignored" these requests. Sir Nick Clegg, vice-president of global affairs at Meta, said Russian authorities "ordered us to stop the independent fact-checking and labelling" the outlets' content. "We refused," he said. But he made clear he wanted Russians to continue to use Meta's platforms. "Ordinary Russians are using our apps to express themselves and organise for action", Sir Nick said, and the company wants "them to continue to make their voices heard".

2-26-22 CPAC: US conservatives talk Ukraine, Putin and Biden
US conservatives are unsurprisingly united in their criticism of Joe Biden's foreign policy - but they are also divided over how best to deal with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. The BBC went to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida to ask grassroots activists what they think of Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

2-26-22 Supreme Court: Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to top court
President Joe Biden has nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, calling her "one of the nation's brightest legal minds". She will be the first black woman to serve in the court's 233-year history if confirmed. She would replace liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires at the end of the court's term in June. Ms Jackson, a federal appeals judge, said on Friday she was "humbled" by the nomination. Announcing the nomination on Friday, President Biden described Judge Jackson as an "extraordinary" candidate, with an "independent mind, uncompromising integrity and a strong moral compass". With the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, Democrats have just enough votes to confirm President Biden's choice if they all back her. Vice President Kamala Harris has the deciding vote in the case of a tie. Justice Breyer's replacement would not shift the court's current 6-3 conservative majority. The Supreme Court plays a key role in American life and is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions. For any Supreme Court justice nomination, the president first chooses his preferred candidate and the Senate then votes to confirm that nominee, which requires a simple majority. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings "in the coming weeks". Ms Jackson, 51, currently serves on the influential US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit. Three current supreme court justices previously served on that court. The jurist has two degrees from Harvard University, which she attended as an undergraduate and as a law student, and once served as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Ms Jackson has said when she told her high school guidance counsellor she wanted to attend the prestigious Ivy League school, she was warned not to set her sights so high. Mr Biden first promised to nominate a black woman to the top court two years ago while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination.

2-26-22 US Capitol riot 'podium guy' Adam Johnson gets 75 days in prison
A Florida resident photographed during the Capitol riots with a podium bearing the Speaker of the House seal has been sentenced to 75 days in prison. Adam Johnson, 37, dubbed "Podium Guy" by social media users in the wake of the riot, was also fined $5,000 (£3,725). In November, Johnson pleaded guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building. Federal prosecutors had asked for a 90-day sentence. Judge Reggie Walton questioned how he could be "a good role model" to his five children, according to NBC News. He said Johnson had made "a mockery" of the day's events, which he likened to those seen in a "banana republic". "We're on a dangerous slide in America," the judge warned. Johnson had travelled to Washington DC from Tampa, Florida on 5 January, a day before the riot. He was photographed carrying the lectern used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and posing in front of a painting depicting the surrender of British General John Burgoyne in the American Revolutionary War. According to court documents, he believed the podium "would make a good prop for a picture". Johnson also admitted he told other rioters that a nearby bust of George Washington would make for "a great battering ram" if needed. He is said to have spent about half an hour inside the building. Johnson later deleted his Facebook account as well as photos and videos from inside the building. Days after the breach, he was charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and theft of government property. Some of those charges against him were dropped late last year by prosecutors in exchange for his guilty plea. The stay-at-home father has said he "deeply regrets his participation" in the Capitol breach. More than 740 people have been arrested since the attack last year. Most have been charged with misdemeanours but at least 40 have received prison sentences.

2-25-22 Ukraine and Russia are seeking a time and place to meet for negotiations
Ukraine and Russia are working out a time and place to meet for negotiations, Bloomberg reported Friday. Kyiv government officials said they are seeking a diplomatic meeting with Moscow amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which continued on Friday with fighting and airstrikes across the country. "Any talks would likely struggle to find common ground on the question of 'neutrality' for Ukraine, which has sought to join NATO and draw closer to Europe," writes Bloomberg, but Belarusian news outlet Nexta reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to mediate. Russia previously said it was open to negotiating with Ukraine, though the potential settlement Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined came with a number of ultimatums attached. Attempts to set a meeting for further talks came after the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union all announced they would sanction Putin personally, in addition to the existing sanctions on Russian banks and high-level figures. "While the move is largely symbolic given uncertainty about Putin's assets," writes Bloomberg, "it puts the Russian president in a category of infamous leaders including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and former Libyan strongman Moammar Al Qaddafi."

2-25-22 Supreme Court: Biden nominates Ketanji Brown Jackson to top court
President Joe Biden has nominated Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, calling her "one of the nation's brightest legal minds". She will be the first black woman to serve in the court's 233-year history if confirmed. She would replace liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer when he retires at the end of the court's term in June. Ms Jackson is a federal appeals judge, who has worked as a public defender. With the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties, Democrats have just enough votes to confirm President Biden's choice if they all back her. Vice President Kamala Harris has the deciding vote. Justice Breyer's replacement would not shift the court's current 6-3 conservative majority. The Supreme Court plays a key role in American life and is often the final word on highly contentious laws, disputes between states and the federal government, and final appeals to stay executions. For any Supreme Court justice nomination, the president first chooses his preferred candidate and the Senate then votes to confirm that nominee, which requires a simple majority. Ms Jackson, 51, currently serves on the influential US Court of Appeals for the DC circuit. Three current supreme court justices previously served on that court. The jurist has two degrees from Harvard University, which she attended as an undergraduate and as a law student, and once served as editor of the Harvard Law Review. Mr Biden first promised to nominate an African American woman to the top court two years ago while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. "I'm looking forward to making sure there's a black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we, in fact, get every representation," he said at the time. Last month, he called the nomination of a black woman "long overdue". Black women make up about 3% of the federal judiciary, according to data from the Federal Judicial Center, the court system's research arm.

2-25-22 Biden to nominate Ketanji Brown Jackson to be 1st Black woman on Supreme Court
President Biden has reportedly made his historic Supreme Court selection. Biden has picked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as his nominee for the Supreme Court, multiple outlets including CNN and The Associated Press reported Friday. If confirmed, Jackson would become the first Black woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Jackson currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Senate confirmed her to that position in a 53-44 vote in June 2021. At the time, Jackson was already thought to be a frontrunner for a Supreme Court seat when one became vacant. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last year praised Jackson as "an outstanding, trailblazing nominee" with "all the qualities of a model jurist," and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) voted to confirm her, The New York Times notes. "I think she's qualified for the job," Graham said in 2021, per ABC News. "She has a different philosophy than I do, but it's been that way the whole time." Jackson previously served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and she will be filling the seat vacated by Breyer after the liberal justice announced plans to retire from the Supreme Court. He had been facing calls to do so by those on the left to ensure Biden would be able to select his replacement. During his presidential campaign, Biden vowed he would nominate a Black would to the Supreme Court, and he's expected to officially unveil Jackson's selection on Friday afternoon with a few days remaining in Black History Month. "The person I will nominate will be someone with extraordinary qualifications, character, experience, and integrity, and that person will be the first Black woman ever nominated to the United States Supreme Court," Biden said in January. "It's long overdue, in my view."

2-25-22 Florida House of Representatives passes 'Don't Say Gay' bill
Legislation that bans the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in primary school classrooms has passed in Florida's statehouse. Governor Ron DeSantis has indicated support for the bill - dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics - which now moves to the State Senate. Mr DeSantis and others say the measure will empower parents to be more engaged in their children's education. But activists and parents warn it could stigmatise and isolate LGBT youth. The ban on discussing LGBT topics will apply largely to sex education at the primary grade levels, but also when "not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students". It passed on Thursday in the state House of Representatives in a 69-47 vote. "Every child has a right to speak honestly about their lives, a right to have access to a history that is honest and includes them, and a right to library books that reflect and include who they are," said Nadine Smith, a queer mother and executive director of the Equality Florida non-profit. "What we are seeing is the systematic erasure, or elimination of those resources for young people and a gag order imposed on educators," she said. The White House has sternly rebuked the bill as "designed to attack" LGBT youth, but it has the support it needs to pass through the state's Republican-controlled legislature. Backing the measure, Governor DeSantis - a Republican widely touted as a possible 2024 White House contender - said schools should avoid "entirely inappropriate" topics and instead be teaching science, history, civics and other lessons. "Parents must have a seat at the table when it comes to what's going on in their schools," he said. Critics protested last weekend against an amendment to the bill that would require schools to "out" - disclose a student's sexual orientation - to parents within six weeks. State Representative Joe Harding withdrew the proposal on Tuesday, saying he would focus on the bill itself "rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment". State laws that ban or constrain the discussion of LGBT life in classrooms - sometimes referred to as "no promo homo" laws - are not uncommon in the US.

2-25-22 Why is Russia invading Ukraine and what does Putin want?
By air, land, and sea, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people, and its forces are on the outskirts of the capital, Kyiv. For months, President Vladimir Putin denied he would invade his neighbour, but then he tore up a peace deal, sending forces across borders in Ukraine's north, east and south. As the number of dead climbs, he stands accused of shattering peace in Europe. What happens next could jeopardise the continent's entire security structure. Russian troops are advancing on Ukraine's capital from several directions after Russia's leader ordered the invasion. In a pre-dawn TV address on 24 February, he declared Russia could could not feel "safe, develop and exist" because of what he claimed was a constant threat from modern Ukraine. Airports and military headquarters were hit first, near cities across Ukraine, then tanks and troops rolled into Ukraine from the north, east and south - from Russia and its ally Belarus. Many of President Putin's arguments were false or irrational. He claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the "demilitarisation and de-Nazification" of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine: it is a vibrant democracy, led by a president who is Jewish. "How could I be a Nazi?" said Volodymr Zelensky, who likened Russia's onslaught to Nazi Germany's invasion in World War Two. President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule. Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east, backing separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives. Late in 2021, Russia began deploying big numbers of troops close to Ukraine's borders, while repeatedly denying it was going to attack. Then Mr Putin scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent. Russia has long resisted Ukraine's move towards the European Union and the West's defensive military alliance, Nato. Announcing Russia's invasion, he accused Nato of threatening "our historic future as a nation".

2-25-22 Ukraine conflict: Why Biden won't send troops to Ukraine
President Joe Biden has spent enormous diplomatic capital on countering Russian aggression toward Ukraine. His administration relentlessly broadcast doomsday warnings about an impending invasion - which proved to be correct - and declared that no less than the international order was at stake. But Mr Biden has also made clear that the Americans are not willing to fight, even though the Russians clearly are. Furthermore, he's ruled out sending forces into Ukraine to rescue US citizens, should it come to that. And he's actually pulled out troops who were serving in the country as military advisers and monitors. Why has he drawn this red line in the most consequential foreign policy crisis of his presidency? First of all, Ukraine isn't in America's neighbourhood. It is not located on the US border. Nor does it host a US military base. It does not have strategic oil reserves, and it's not a major trade partner. But that lack of national interest hasn't stopped former presidents from expending blood and treasure on behalf of others in the past. In 1995 Bill Clinton intervened militarily in the war that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia. And in 2011 Barack Obama did the same in the Libyan civil war, both largely on humanitarian and human rights grounds. In 1990 George H W Bush justified his international coalition to expel Iraq from Kuwait as defending the rule of law against the rule of the jungle. Biden's top national security officials have used similar language when describing Russia's threat to international principles of peace and security. But they have been preaching a response of economic warfare through crippling sanctions as a response, not military operations. This has something to do with President Biden's non-interventionist instincts. Granted, they were developed over time. He supported US military action in the 1990s to deal with ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. And he voted for America's ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003. But since then he's become more wary of using US military power. He opposed Obama's intervention in Libya as well as his surge of troops in Afghanistan. He resolutely defends his order to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan last year despite the chaos that accompanied it and the humanitarian catastrophe left in its wake. And his top diplomat Antony Blinken - a Biden "Whisperer" who's crafted the president's foreign policy over some 20 years of working at his side - has defined national security to be more about combating climate change, fighting global diseases and competing with China than about military interventionism.

2-25-22 Former Ukraine president, armed with an AK-47, tells CNN Putin will 'never' take the country
The former president of Ukraine spoke live with CNN on Friday from the streets of Kyiv, while armed with a rifle, amid Russia's invasion of the country. CNN on Friday aired a live interview with Petro Poroshenko, who served as president of Ukraine until 2019 and spoke from the country's capital with an armed battalion behind him. Poroshenko spoke out against Russia's "disastrous aggression" against Ukraine, and he said there was fighting with Russia ongoing two or three kilometers away from him. "Everybody should understand, Putin declared a war not for Ukraine," he said. "Putin declared a war to the whole world, to every single person who's watching now." Poroshenko also called Russian President Vladimir Putin "simply crazy" and "evil" to "come here to kill Ukrainians." Asked by CNN anchor John Berman what he was armed with, Poroshenko held up a Kalashnikov, and he said that many Ukrainians wanted to enlist to fight against Russia, which shows "how Ukrainians people hate Putin." But he noted "we don't have enough arms." When Berman asked how long he can hold out against Russia, Poroshenko replied, "Forever." "Putin never will capture Ukraine, no matter how many soldiers he has, how many missiles he has, how many nuclear weapons he has," he said. "We Ukrainians are free people with a great European future." CNN's interview with Poroshenko on the streets of Kyiv on Friday came as the network reported that U.S. intelligence officials "are concerned that Kyiv could fall under Russian control within days."

2-25-22 Even the Taliban wants Russia and Ukraine to stop fighting
Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has sparked near-universal condemnation — including, on Friday, by the Taliban. In an official "statement concerning [the] crisis in Ukraine," the Taliban, which governs Afghanistan, formally called for "restraint by both parties" in the crisis and expressed concern about the "real possibility of civilian casualties." "All sides need to desist from taking positions that could intensify the violence," the group, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations and recently stormed Kabul, said. Afghans are, of course, no strangers to Russian violence. However, the Taliban and Kremlin have been cautiously friendly toward each other since the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan last year. Kabul might have another reason for calling for calm, however: Hundreds of Afghans fled to Ukraine on evacuation flights in August 2021. "Just like a war zone, everyone is running to the shelters, streets are full of the army," Jawed Haqmal, an Afghan refugee living in Kyiv, told The Globe and Mail. "Just like war, the same as what was going on in front of the airport of Kabul on the last day. The same thing is going on here."

2-25-22 Canadian province has no mystery brain disease, panel finds
A long-awaited report by Canadian health officials into a possible new brain disease has found that no such disorder exists. It comes almost one year after the New Brunswick government raised alarm about mysterious symptoms that seemed to have struck 48 people in the province. The afflicted suffered everything from anxiety and depression to muscle atrophy and hallucinations. But officials said the symptoms were not evidence of a novel illness. Family members of those affected said they were let down by the findings and accused health officials of choosing "to abandon scientific rigour in exchange for political expediency," when undertaking the study. But the committee that oversaw the report "unanimously agreed that these 48 people should never have been identified as having a neurological syndrome of unknown cause," said Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer. "This does not mean that these people are not ill, it means they are ill with a known neurological condition," she said. The committee - made up primarily of neurologists from New Brunswick - found "potential alternative diagnoses" for 41 of the 48 patients, including Alzheimer's disease, Lewy body dementia, post-concussion syndrome and cancer. Concerns about transparency plagued the investigation, with family members of patients criticising what they described as a lack of communication. Canadian media reported that the country's top experts had been excluded from the process, including Alier Marrero, a Moncton-based neurologist who first identified the potential new disorder in 2015. Of the 48 patients identified, Dr Marrero identified all but two. On Thursday, families of those afflicted called for a full scientific investigation. "Our lives and the lives of our loved ones will not be railroaded by a slipshod investigation that offers no answers to our pain and suffering," they said.

2-25-22 Ex-police officers guilty in George Floyd death
Three ex-Minneapolis policemen present at the death of George Floyd denied the unarmed black man of his civil rights, a jury has found. The officers were charged with showing "deliberate indifference to [Mr Floyd's] serious medical needs" during the attempted arrest in May 2020. Tou Thao, 36, J Alexander Kueng, 28, and Thomas Lane, 38, all testified in their own defence in the trial. They said they did not realise Mr Floyd needed medical care at the time. Violating a person's civil rights carries various punishments but prosecutors have recommended 25 years in federal prison for each man. Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who was filmed kneeling on Mr Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, is currently serving a 22-and-a-half-year sentence. Chauvin was found guilty of Mr Floyd's murder last April. He also pleaded guilty in December to his own federal civil rights charges as part of a plea agreement. Video footage of the arrest shows Keung and Lane assisting Chauvin by helping to hold Mr Floyd down. Thao, meanwhile, kept concerned bystanders away. Over four weeks of testimony, prosecutors argued that "human decency and common sense" should have compelled the men to take action to prevent Mr Floyd's death. "It wasn't a split-second use of force like a gunshot. Not 30 seconds, not a minute, several minutes - 569 seconds," said Assistant US Attorney Manda Sertich. But lawyers for the defence claimed they were listening to a commander with seniority. Chauvin was a field training officer to both Lane and Kueng. When asked why he did not tell Chauvin to get his knee off Mr Floyd's neck, Officer Thao testified: "I think I would trust a 19-year veteran to figure it out." A 12-person jury deliberated for about 13 hours before returning their verdict on Thursday. In June, the trio of defendants will be back, this time in state court, to face criminal charges for aiding and abetting Chauvin's actions.

2-24-22 3 ex-officers convicted of violating George Floyd's civil rights
Three former Minneapolis police officers were found guilty on Thursday of violating George Floyd's civil rights during his May 2020 arrest, The Associated Press reports. Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Lane were convicted of "depriving Floyd of his right to medical care when Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for 9 1/2 minutes," writes AP. Chauvin previously pleaded guilty to violating Floyd's civil rights, and was sentenced to 22 years in prison on charges including second-degree murder in his separate state trial. Prosecutors said Thao, Kueng, and Lane "didn't lift a finger to help" save Floyd. While Chauvin knelt on his neck, "Kueng knelt on Floyd's back, Lane held his legs and Thao kept bystanders back," says AP. Defense attorneys argued the officers were deferring to Chauvin's authority and didn't have sufficient training to offer medical attention. "Conviction of a federal civil rights violation that results in death is punishable by life in prison," notes AP, though the three men will remain free on bond until their sentencing. The police killing of Floyd, a Black man, sparked nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

2-25-22 Covid-19 news: 5.2 million children have lost a relative or caregiver
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Around 3.3 million children worldwide have lost a parent to covid-19, researchers estimate. A study of mortality data suggests that, globally, around 3.3 million children have had a parent die of covid-19. Researchers analysed data from 21 countries – including England, India and Peru – from March 2020 to October 2021. The team estimated that at least 5.2 million children had lost a parent, grandparent or caregiver in this period, with about 3.3 million losing a parent. But researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who led the analysis, say this estimate is likely an underestimate as many countries lack a robust reporting system for deaths. The World Health Organization estimates that the number of coronavirus deaths in Africa is actually 10 times higher than what has been reported. Three out of four parents lost in the pandemic were fathers, according to the analysis. Those aged between 10 and 17 were the most likely to have lost a parent. Indoor mask guidance will be loosened in the US today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), according to reports. The CDC has been recommending the use of indoor masks in public spaces like gyms and cinemas for the majority of the US population. But the Associated Press have reported that today, the CDC will change its guidelines so that they are based on the number of covid-19 hospitalisations in local areas, rather than local infection rates. This means most people in the US will no longer be in areas where it is advised to wear a mask indoors. Anti-vaccine mandate protesters yesterday chased a van in which New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s was travelling. The crowd shouted “traitor” as she was leaving a school in Christchurch. Anti-vaccine and anti-vaccine mandate protesters have been occupying the country’s parliament grounds for over two weeks.

2-24-22 Obama calls on Americans to support sanctions against Russia despite 'economic consequences'
Former President Barack Obama was one of many prominent U.S. politicians to comment on Russia's invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, saying it "threatens the foundation of the international order" and offering his perspective on what Americans should do moving forward. The former president first condemned Moscow's "brutal" attack, despairing at the death and destruction that would leave "untold numbers" of displaced Ukrainians. He then called on Americans to denounce Russia's actions and put aside political differences to "support President Biden's efforts ... to impose hard hitting sanctions on Russia." "There may be some economic consequences to such sanctions, given Russia's significant role in global energy markets," Obama continued. "But that's a price we should be willing to pay to take a stand on the side of freedom."

2-24-22 Ukraine conflict: Russian forces invade after Putin TV declaration
Russian forces have launched a military assault on neighbouring Ukraine, crossing its borders and bombing targets near big cities. In a pre-dawn TV statement Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not plan to occupy Ukraine and demanded that its military lay down their arms. Moments later, attacks were reported on Ukrainian military targets. Ukraine said that "Putin has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine". Russia's military breached the border in a number of places, in the north, south and east, including from Belarus, a long-time Russian ally. There are reports of fighting in some parts of eastern Ukraine. About 10 civilians are believed to have been killed, including six in an air strike in Brovary near the capital Kyiv. A man was also killed in shelling outside the major eastern city of Kharkiv. A Ukrainian presidential adviser said that more than 40 soldiers had died and dozens more were wounded. Ukraine said it had killed 50 Russian troops and shot down six Russian aircraft, but this has not been verified. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced martial law across all of Ukraine, severed all diplomatic relations with Russia and said weapons would be distributed to anyone who wanted them. "No panic. We're strong. We're ready for anything. We'll defeat everyone, because we are Ukraine," he said in a video statement. Ahead of Russia's attack he had made a last-ditch attempt to avert a conflict, warning that Russia could start "a major war in Europe" and urging Russian citizens to oppose it. Warning sirens blared across the capital, which has a population of almost three million. Traffic queued to leave the city and crowds sought shelter in Kyiv's metro stations. Several neighbouring countries have begun preparations to take in a large number of refugees. Russian forces have launched a major military assault on Ukraine, with missile strikes and explosions near major cities. The Ukrainian military claims to have shot down at least six Russian aircraft and says it has lost at least 40 of its troops; there are reports of civilian casualties too. People have been trying to flee the capital Kyiv and there is a palpable sense of shock. Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg denounces Russia's invasion as cold-blooded and long-planned. UK PM Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin has unleashed a "tidal wave of violence" against Ukraine. The UK, EU and other Western allies have vowed to impose a new package of much tougher sanctions to punish Russia but will not send troops. Vladimir Putin warns that Moscow's response will be "instant" if anyone tries to take on Russia.

2-24-22 CNN witnesses Russia firing rockets toward Ukraine live on air
Amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, CNN on Thursday aired live footage of its reporter on the ground witnessing artillery rockets being fired toward the country. After Russia launched an attack against Ukraine late Wednesday, CNN correspondent Frederik Pleitgen was reporting on the ground from Russia's Belgorod Region when he noted that "you can see more artillery rockets apparently being fired from Russian territory toward" Ukraine, which was captured live on the air. "So that's another salvo of what we believe is multiple artillery rocket launchers that have been going off here," Pleitgen said. In another stunning clip, CNN reporter Matthew Chance was reporting near the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, showing footage of Russian forces who have taken over the Antonov Airport. The CNN international correspondent said he spoke with the commander of the Russian forces on the ground, who told him that "they are now in control of this airport," and Chance said that just moments before he went on the air, "they were engaged in a firefight, presumably with the Ukrainian military, which says it is staging a counteroffensive to try to take back this airport." Chance also noted that he didn't initially realize these forces weren't Ukranian until he began speaking with them. "It only emerged during the conversation that they're all Russians, and there are no Ukrainian military forces in sight," he said. "Although I can hear them because they've been shooting ferociously in the past few minutes."

2-24-22 Oil prices skyrocket while markets sink amid Russia's attack on Ukraine
Oil prices jumped up Thursday morning after Russia ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The international benchmark, Brent crude oil, surged to around $105 per barrel, reports CNBC, the first time it climbed that high since 2014. The 8 percent surge also came as European natural gas futures soared 40 percent, writes The New York Times, and as global markets sank amid the turmoil. Russia "provides more than a third of the European Union's gas," writes the Times, "with some of it running through pipelines in Ukraine." Russia's markets collapsed, with the ruble falling to a record low against the dollar. Russia is seemingly seeking to partner with Pakistan on a new gas pipeline. In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 700 points, the S&P 500 sank 1.7 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.6 percent, per CNBC. The indexes are all down significantly from their highs earlier this year, as the disruption to energy markets compounded inflation concerns. While the U.S. does not directly import Russian gas, "disruptions anywhere could drive up prices," writes the Times, "prolonging the inflation that already has dragged on longer than officials had anticipated."

2-24-22 Why is Russia invading Ukraine and what does Putin want?
By air, land, and sea, Russia has launched a devastating attack on Ukraine, a European democracy of 44 million people. For months President Vladimir Putin had denied he would invade his neighbour, but then he tore up a peace deal, sending forces across borders in Ukraine's north, east and south. As the number of dead climbs, he is now accused of endangering peace in Europe and what happens next could jeopardise the continent's entire security structure. Airports and military headquarters were hit first, near cities across Ukraine, including the main Boryspil international airport in Kyiv. Then tanks and troops rolled into Ukraine in the north-east, near Kharkiv, a city of 1.4 million people; in the east near Luhansk, and from neighbouring Belarus in the north. Russian troops landed in Ukraine's big port cities of Odesa and Mariupol too. Moments before the invasion began, President Putin went on TV declaring that Russia could not feel "safe, develop and exist" because of what he called a constant threat from modern Ukraine. Many of his arguments were false or irrational, as he claimed his goal was to protect people subjected to bullying and genocide and aim for the "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine. There has been no genocide in Ukraine and it is a vibrant democracy led by a president who is Jewish. "How could I be a Nazi?" said Volodymr Zelensky, who likened Russia's onslaught to Nazi Germany's invasion in World War Two. President Putin has frequently accused Ukraine of being taken over by extremists, ever since its pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in 2014 after months of protests against his rule. Russia then retaliated by seizing the southern region of Crimea and triggering a rebellion in the east by Russian-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces in a war that has claimed 14,000 lives. Late in 2021 he began deploying big numbers of Russian troops close to Ukraine's borders. Then this week he scrapped a 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent. Russia has long resisted Ukraine's move towards the European Union and the West's defensive military alliance Nato. Announcing Russia's invasion, he accused Nato of threatening "our historic future as a nation".

2-24-22 Ukraine conflict world reaction: Sanctions, refugees and fears of war
Major Western nations have reacted with outrage at Russia's invasion of Ukraine, accusing it of bringing war back to Europe. US President Joe Biden feared a "catastrophic loss of life" and said allies would impose severe sanctions. In eastern Europe, the fears extended to coping with a wave of refugees. Other nations, including China, which bridled at the word invasion, were more muted. Some focused more on the safety of their citizens in Ukraine. Ukraine says Russia is carrying out a full-scale attack from many directions, but the details of the assault and the number of casualties are not yet clear. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken of a "special military operation" aimed at the demilitarisation and "denazification" of Ukraine, but his overall goals also remain unclear. The uncertainty has not stopped an angry and defiant response from Western allies. FrencA largely united voice spoke out with condemnation and promises of sanctions. Joe Biden said: "President Putin has chosen a premeditated war that will bring a catastrophic loss of life and human suffering." He said the United States would meet with allies to hammer out economic punishment. European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Mr Putin was "responsible for bringing war back to Europe". The sanctions would "weaken Russia's economic base and its capacity to modernise". UK PM Boris Johnson said Mr Putin had "chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction" with an "unprovoked attack". German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he stood by his allies in eastern Europe, saying Mr Putin would pay a "bitter price" for his "serious error". Calling for a speedy Nato summit, Mr Macron expressed France's solidarity with Ukraine. It was a view echoed by many, including Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Russia's attack "unjustified and unjustifiable". But there was also huge concern at what could happen next. One German minister spoke of a "land war in Europe that we thought was only to find in history books", while another, Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, said Germany would help neighbours if there was a "large-scale influx" of refugees.h President Emmanuel Macron said this was a "turning point in the history of Europe"

2-24-22 Oil hits seven-year high and shares sink as Russia invades Ukraine
Oil prices have surged past $100 (£74) a barrel to hit their highest level for more than seven years after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine. Global shares fell and the price of gold rose as investors worried about the possible impact of the conflict. Russia is the second biggest exporter of crude oil, and is also the world's largest natural gas exporter. The price of oil topped $105 a barrel, and UK motoring groups said petrol prices had hit another record high. The UK imports 6% of its crude oil and 5% of its gas from Russia, but there are concerns sanctions could constrict supplies and drive up prices worldwide. The price of UK natural gas futures soared nearly 60% on Thursday. UK consumers are already paying a high price for energy and fuel, with demand surging following the easing of Covid restrictions. Both the RAC and AA motoring groups said average petrol prices hit a record high of nearly 149.5p on Wednesday, with diesel at 152.83p. The RAC said that if the oil price reached $110 a barrel the average price of petrol could hit £1.55 a litre. If prices do get this high it will "cause untold financial difficulties for many people who depend on their cars for getting to work and running their lives as it would sky rocket the cost of a full tank to £85", said the RAC's Simon Williams. Petrol price movements in the UK are mainly determined by the price of crude oil, and the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound, because crude oil is traded in dollars. The price of crude oil is up, and the pound is down against the dollar. News of Russia's actions led to steep falls on global stock markets. In Europe, the UK's FTSE 100 index fell more than 3% and Germany's Dax index was nearly 5% lower. In the US, the Dow Jones was down more than 2%, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both fell by more than 1%. The Moscow Stock Exchange saw trading suspended briefly, but when it reopened the index fell by more than a third. On the currency markets, the rouble sank to a record low against the US dollar. The price of gold - which is considered a haven asset in times of uncertainty - jumped 3% to its highest price in more than a year.

2-24-22 US trucker convoys prompt National Guard deployment in Washington
The US is to deploy hundreds of unarmed National Guard troops to Washington ahead of the arrival of trucker convoys protesting against pandemic restrictions. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from the District of Columbia government and the US Capitol police for 700 troops. Around 25 separate convoys plan to join forces and converge on the nation's capital, to replicate recent protests in Canada. The stand-off there paralysed Ottawa for days. The National Guard troops will man traffic posts and "provide command and control" from Saturday until 7 March, a statement said. Some 50 "large tactical vehicles" will be stationed 24 hours a day, it added. The troops will not carry firearms or take part in law enforcement. The US Capitol Police said several trucker convoys were planning to converge on Washington around the time of President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on 1 March. One - the People's Convoy - has already raised almost $500,000 (£369,000) through online crowd-sourcing to fund the truckers' efforts. It will cross the country from California. One of its organisers, Brian Brase, told Reuters wherever the convoy stops, it is "not going anywhere" until its demands - which include an end to mask mandates and vaccination requirements - are met. A second group, from Scranton, Pennsylvania, said it aimed to shut down the Beltway, the main road that surrounds Washington. It spokesperson Bob Bolus, told a local Fox News TV station, it would be like "a giant boa constrictor....that basically squeezes you, chokes you and it swallows you. "That's what we're going to do DC," he said. However, a Reuters journalist reported only one truck - Mr Bolus' - was so far participating, along with five smaller pick-up trucks and two smaller vehicles. Erica Knight, spokesperson for a third group, the American Trucker Freedom Fund, said she believed there was "no need" for a heavy police or National Guard presence as they did not want to disrupt daily life, but instead meet with members of Congress "to try and move some policy change rather than just gather and protest like Canada".

2-24-22 Breonna Taylor: Officer was reckless during deadly raid, prosecutors say
A jury is deciding whether a former detective showed "extreme indifference to human life" during the raid that led to the death of Breonna Taylor. Brett Hankinson allegedly fired 10 shots blindly into a neighbour's flat in the melee that followed a "no-knock" search of the black woman's Kentucky home. He is now standing trial on three charges of endangerment. Ms Taylor's death sparked racial injustice rallies across America. Officers had forced their way into the 26-year old paramedic's Louisville home during a narcotics raid using the "no-knock" warrant - which meant they did not have to announce themselves. Her boyfriend shot and wounded one of the officers. In response, officers fired 32 shots, six of which struck Ms Taylor. Prosecutors allege that in the raid some of the shots fired by Hankinson entered a neighbouring flat, endangering three people inside: Cody Etherson, his pregnant wife Chelsey Napper and their five-year-old son. "This is not a case to decide who is responsible for the death of Breonna Taylor," Kentucky assistant attorney general Barbara Maines Whaley said during her opening remarks on Wednesday, but more whether Hankinson had showed "extreme indifference to human life" during the raid. But Hankinson's team sought to portray him as an experienced officer who was facing a confusing situation. Defence attorney Steve Matthews described it as a scene of "total chaos". At the trial, Mr Etherson said he believed the raid was "reckless" and described a chaotic scene with bullets shredding through a wall his apartment shared with Ms Taylor's, covering him in debris and only narrowly missing him and his son. He said he woke that March night to a "boom", then heard several shots and felt debris falling on him. When his glass patio door shattered, Mr Etherton said he went to see what was happening - but was faced with officers pointing guns at him. The case, in Jefferson County Circuit Court, is expected to take about two weeks. It is the only trial stemming from the death of Ms Taylor. In 2020, her family sued Louisville police and reached a $12m (£8.8m) settlement.

2-24-22 Covid-19 news: Trust in UK government fell in 2021, study finds
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Trust that the UK government does ‘the right thing’ declined during the second year of the pandemic. Mistrust in the UK government grew during the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, according to a study. The study was led by researchers at King’s College London and the University of Sheffield. The study was based on two online surveys involving over 4000 UK adults in April 2021, and the same number in December 2021. In the second survey, 45 per cent of the respondents said their overall level of trust in the government had decreased due to their experience of the pandemic, compared to 36 per cent in the first survey eight months earlier. The survey also found that 58 per cent of respondents in December 2021 disagreed with the statement that the UK government is honest and truthful, an increase of 11 percentage points from April 2021. Similarly, in December only 28 per cent of people agreed that the government usually does the right thing, down from 38 per cent in April. The decline in trust was more pronounced among Conservative voters and people in older age groups. However, despite the increased mistrust, 48 per cent of people agreed that their experience of the pandemic had made them realise it is best to follow government rules. Iceland plans to lift all remaining covid-19 restrictions on Friday, the Ministry of Health announced yesterday. This includes removing curfews on bars and restaurants and all border restrictions. Italy will end its covid-19 state of emergency on 31 March, Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi has announced. The country has been in a state of emergency since 31 January 2020.

2-24-22 Why are black Americans being punished for their hair?
Many black Americans are embracing the natural curls and coils in their hair. But there’s been a backlash against black hairstyles in classrooms and companies across America. Toddlers and teens have been kicked out of school because of their hair, while many adults face losing their jobs. We get to the root of why this kind of discrimination is so common - and legal - in the US and find out what it will take to stop it.

2-23-22 Manhattan prosecutors conducting criminal investigation into Trump resign
The Manhattan district attorney's criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump's business dealings hit a snag on Wednesday when the two prosecutors leading the probe resigned without warning or explanation, The New York Times reported. According to the Times, "the prosecutors, Carey R. Dunne and Mark F. Pomerantz, submitted their resignations after the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, indicated to them that he had doubts about moving forward with a case against Mr. Trump." The investigation began under Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., as a probe into whether Trump paid hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels but now focuses on whether he defrauded lenders by overinflating the value of his assets. Vance retired at the end of 2021 after three terms. The special grand jury investigating Trump reportedly has not questioned any witnesses in more than a month. This setback for the investigation comes less than a week after what many saw as a major breakthrough in the parallel civil investigation being conducted by New York Attorney General Letitia James. A judge ruled on Thursday that Trump and his two eldest children — Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — must testify under oath, though Trump could choose to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. This could be good news for the former president, whose recent legal setbacks led Washington Post columnist George Conway to speculate that "the beginning of the end for Trump" may have arrived. Trump is also facing three lawsuits, which a judge declined to dismiss on Friday, alleging that he incited the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In Georgia, a special grand jury is investigating whether he broke the law when he urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) to "find" enough votes to overturn President Biden's victory.

2-23-22 US trucker convoys prompt National Guard deployment in Washington
The US is to deploy hundreds of unarmed National Guard troops to Washington ahead of the arrival of trucker convoys protesting against pandemic restrictions. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a request from the District of Columbia government and the US Capitol police. The roughly 700 troops will be deployed on various roads in Washington. The US trucker convoys aim to replicate recent trucker protests in Canada, which paralysed the capital Ottawa. The National Guard troops will "provide support at designated traffic posts, provide command and control, and cover sustainment requirements" from Saturday until 7 March, a statement said. Some 50 "large tactical vehicles" will be stationed at traffic posts 24 hours a day, the statement said. The troops will not carry firearms or take part in law enforcement. Last week the US Capitol Police said several trucker convoys were planning to converge on Washington around the time of President Biden's State of the Union address on 1 March. One of the protest organisers, Bob Bolus, told a local Fox News TV station that his group aimed to shut down the Beltway, a highway that surrounds Washington. "I'll give you an analogy of that of a giant boa constrictor. That basically squeezes you, chokes you and it swallows you, and that's what we're going to do DC," he said. The convoys follow protests by Canadian truckers that blocked a bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, with the US state of Michigan - the busiest border crossing between the US and Canada. They also converged on Ottawa, with hundreds of trucks blocking streets in the city. The protests began with a truck convoy heading to Ottawa to oppose a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border, but eventually became about a broader opposition to pandemic restrictions and Mr Trudeau's government. In response, Canada for the first time invoked an emergency law, detained convoy leaders and froze truckers' bank accounts.

2-23-22 Pentagon approves 700 unarmed National Guard troops to help D.C. manage expected truck 'convoys'
The Defense Department said late Tuesday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had approved the deployment of 700 National Guard troops to help manage traffic in and around Washington, D.C., as it prepares for a possible cavalcade of big rigs and other vehicles modeled after the "Freedom Convoy" in Canada. The 400 D.C. Guard members and 300 from other states will not carry firearms, take part in law enforcement, or conduct any domestic surveillance, the Pentagon said. Several groups are organizing convoys to Washington in online forums, aimed at pressuring President Biden to end any remaining COVID-19 restrictions or requirements. The District of Columbia's government and U.S. Capitol Police had requested the deployment. The trucker convoy in Ottawa, Canada's capital, paralyzed much of the city for 23 days until an amalgamation of police forces pushed them out last weekend. "It remains to be seen if any of the U.S. convoys would seek to actively shut down Washington's streets," The Associated Press reports. Some organizers insist the plan is to blockade the Beltway that encircles the capital. Mike Landis, an organizer of the proposed People's Convoy, said it is open to all vehicles and its goal is to force Biden to lift the national state of emergency that former President Donald Trump declared in March 2020. "We do not want to be under a dictatorship communism-style regime, like where we are right now," he said in a video testimonial.

2-23-22 Poll: Conservatives reject book banning but still hate critical race theory
Large majorities of conservatives and Republicans disapprove of critical race theory, but that doesn't mean they're ready to ban books that depict slavery or highlight the uglier aspects of U.S. history, CBS News reports. According to a new CBS News/YouGov poll over 80 percent of Americans agree that books should never be banned from schools for criticizing U.S. history, depicting slavery, discussing race, or including political ideas with which respondents disagree. Opposition to book banning is also high among right-leaning Americans. Eighty-five percent of conservatives, 88 percent of Republicans, and 88 percent of Trump voters said books should never be banned for depicting slavery. Two thirds of conservatives agreed that "public schools should be allowed to teach about ideas and historical events that might make some students uncomfortable," far short of the 90 percent of liberals who agreed with the same statement, but still a large majority. When it comes to critical race theory, though, right-of-center Americans remain strenuously opposed. Eighty-six percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of CRT compared to only 19 percent of Democrats. Independents are split right down the middle, with 53 percent viewing CRT unfavorably. The poll surveyed 2,494 adults between Feb. 15 and Feb. 18 and has an error margin of 2.3 percent.

2-23-22 Hong Kong: What went wrong with its Covid plan?
The scene was grim at Caritas Medical Centre last week. Just outside the hospital's emergency room, dozens of hospital beds had been placed in an alley under makeshift tents. The air was punctuated by the moans of patients - most of whom were elderly - and cries of children. All were suspected or confirmed Covid cases waiting to be admitted. "It felt like we were in a wartime refugee camp. It was depressing. We were tearful, but there was no more space in the ward. They could only wait and there was nothing we could do," one emergency room nurse told the BBC. Days later the patients were moved indoors, after Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the situation was "unacceptable". But Hong Kong's hospitals still remain full as the city battles its worst wave of infections. Hong Kong was a poster child of pandemic control success in the past two years. By the end of 2021, the city of 7.5 million had recorded only 12,650 cases and fewer than 220 deaths. The success justified the government's adherence to the mainland's "dynamic zero Covid" strategy, which involves early testing, detailed contact tracing, strict quarantine rules, and tight travel restrictions. But the city has been brought to its knees with the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant. The number of reported cases has soared to more than 66,000 in just a couple of months. The first local Omicron cases linked to two Cathay Pacific flight attendants who breached Covid rules were found in late December. Then a larger cluster emerged in a quarantine hotel. According to projections by the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the city will see a peak of more than 180,000 new cases daily by mid or late March, if current social distancing measures remain in place. By mid-May, the total death toll is forecast to have topped 3,200. "Because of our success, paradoxically, people had been lulled into a sense of false security," said Gabriel Leung, HKU's dean of medicine.

2-23-22 Anti-vaccine protesters camped outside New Zealand's Parliament are beginning to attack police
Anti-vaccine protesters camped outside New Zealand's Parliament are beginning to attack police. Blasting "Baby Shark" and turning on the sprinklers didn't dislodge a group of protesters against COVID-19 vaccine requirements who have been camped outside New Zealand's Parliament building for two weeks, copying the tactics from Canadian "Freedom Convoy" blockades. So, as in Canada, police have started moving in to push back the well-organized protests. And on Tuesday, one protester nearly drove into a line of officers, police in Wellington said. About 250 officers arrived at dawn to move concrete barriers and tighten the cordon around the protest encampment, The Associated Press reports. Hundreds of cars and trucks are blocking the streets of Wellington, the capital, and police have used the barriers to allow protesters to drive away but not enter the area. In video posted online, a white car is seen driving the wrong way toward a group of officers, then stopping short as police scramble out of the way. Police said the officers, who jumped into the car and pulled out the driver, were lucky to have escaped unharmed. Three people were arrested, one for driving in a dangerous manner and two for obstructing police. Some other protesters sprayed an unknown substance at officers who are recovering in the hospital, Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters. On Monday, police said, some protesters flung feces at officers. "Our focus remains on opening the roads up to Wellingtonians and doing our absolute best to restore peaceful protest," Chambers said. "The behavior of a certain group within the protest community is absolutely disgraceful." Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said "what's happening in Wellington is wrong" and that it's time for the protesters to go home. The protesters are seeking an end to some or all of New Zealand's COVID-19 mitigation measures, including requirements that certain workers get vaccinated and vaccine passes to get into many restaurants and shops. The country is experiencing its first big COVID-19 outbreak, with a new high of 2,800 cases reported Tuesday. Just one COVID-19 patient was hospitalized in the ICU, though, and New Zealand has reported a pandemic total of 56 coronavirus deaths, AP reports. About 77 percent of New Zealand's 5 million residents are vaccinated.

2-23-22 Covid-19 news: Rush for covid tests before England starts charging
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Free lateral flow tests can now only be ordered once every three days to reduce stockpiling before charges come in. There has been a scramble for free lateral flow test kits in England after the government announced on Monday they would stop being routinely free from 1 April under the nation’s new “living with covid” plan. To cap demand in the interim period, the number of tests that can be ordered from the government website seems to have been cut to one box of seven every three days, where previously one pack a day could be ordered. But yesterday many people found kits were unavailable from the website. The UK Health Security Agency (HSA) has not confirmed the new limit, only saying that the number of tests available each day has been capped to manage demand, and it advised users to keep checking the site every few hours. Lateral flow tests and the more accurate PCR tests will remain free for some people, such as those living in care homes, but details of all the groups who will get free tests have not yet been released. Meanwhile, Boots, the UK’s largest chemist chain, has said that from early March, tests will cost £2.50 for one or £12 for a pack of five. Ireland will drop nearly all legally mandated covid restrictions from Monday, following other nations such as England, Northern Ireland and Denmark. Social distancing measures in schools will end, and mask wearing on public transport and in shops will become voluntary. Scotland has said all legal restrictions will end on 21 March. A second variant of omicron called BA.2 can re-infect people who have recently caught the first variant of omicron, called BA.1 – but it happens rarely. A study from Denmark identified 47 people who caught BA.2, and had previously had BA.1 in the past three months, while the country had been experiencing a huge omicron surge.

2-22-22 Trump praises Putin for his move into Ukraine, calling it 'genius'
Former President Donald Trump is giving Russian President Vladimir Putin two thumbs up for his decision to recognize two breakaway regions of Ukraine and send troops to the areas. While Putin's actions have received sharp criticism and sanctions from President Biden, Trump was full of praise for the Russian leader. During an interview on the conservative Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show, Trump said it was "wonderful," "so smart," and even "genius" for Putin to "declare a big portion of the Ukraine ... as independent." He claimed Putin will now "go in" and "be a peacekeeper." While Putin has said he's sending troops to the breakaway regions as part of a "peacekeeping" mission, Western leaders say he is merely making it easier for Russia to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Trump also declared that Putin has "the strongest peace force I've ever seen," with "more army tanks than I've ever seen," and "we could use that on our southern border." Putin is "savvy," Trump continued, before complimenting himself by stating the Russia-Ukraine crisis "would have never happened" if he was still president. His comments were brushed off by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. "As a matter of policy, we try not to take advice from anyone who praises President Putin and his military strategy, which I believe is what happened there," Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. "And that's probably why President Biden and not his predecessor was able to rally the world and the global community and taking steps against Russia's aggression." Trump also received pushback from Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who tweeted that his "adulation of Putin today — calling him a 'genius' — aids our enemies. Trump's interests don't seem to align with the interests of the United States of America."

2-22-22 Is Putin a 'genius,' a 'thug,' or none of your concern? Republicans are all over the map on Ukraine.
Republicans are expressing sharply differing views on Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to openly send Russian forces into two regions of Ukraine he just unilaterally recognized as independent republics. Top congressional Republicans called Putin a "thug" who is violating international law and urged President Biden to hammer Russia with tougher sanctions, while some also argued that Putin wouldn't have formally invaded Ukraine if Biden didn't project "weakness" and pursue "appeasement." Former President Donald Trump called Putin's invasion "genius" and "wonderful." Some GOP congressional hopefuls shrugged. "Conservative media has been equally divided," Sahil Kapur and Alex Seitz-Wald report at NBC News. The Wall Street Journal editorial page urged tough action against Putin while "Fox News host Tucker Carlson has for weeks been leading the charge against taking action to stop Russia." On Tuesday night, Carlson asked why viewers should "hate" Putin, since he isn't doing things like promoting critical race theory or selling fentanyl. "In 35 seconds here, Tucker Carlson basically said: 'Putin isn't your enemy. Your fellow American is,'" Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) recapped. "This is beyond dangerous, to say the least." Chess champion and prominent Putin critic Gary Kasparov tweeted about Carlson, "If [Putin] knew who you were, he'd call you a useful idiot." Ken "Popehat" White compared Carlson to another prominent America-Firster who publicly wondered why Adolf Hitler was so bad: "Tucker is basically WWII era Charles Lindbergh, if Lindbergh had not been a heroic, record-breaking, and widely beloved pilot, but instead had been a frozen fish heir whose job was to look puzzled on a propaganda channel." "The burgeoning sympathy for Putin's style in parts of the conservative movement could affect how ambitious Republicans position themselves for high office, including the White House," NBC News' Kapur and Seitz-Wald write, pointing at a recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll that found 62 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents calling Putin "a stronger leader" than Biden. Trump's former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, believed to have presidential ambitions of his own, is trying to thread the needle, hammering Russia for invading Ukraine, suggesting Putin was too scared of Trump to do it on his watch, and also calling Putin "a very talented statesman" with "lots of gifts" in a recent Fox News interview. "He knows how to use power. We should respect that," he added. Unsurprisingly, that last sentiment is the part Russian state TV is focusing on now.

2-22-22 Germany halts Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia – what's next?
After Russia’s recognition of separatist regions in Ukraine, Germany paused the certification of a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. What does that mean for gas prices and climate targets? Germany has halted the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Europe’s most controversial energy project, following Russia’s move to recognise separatist powers in two regions in Ukraine and its order to deploy troops to those areas. Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany, said today he was pausing the regulatory certification of the 1230-kilometre pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which has been built but isn’t operational. “There has been a dramatic change in the situation,” Scholz tweeted. He also ordered a review of Germany’s energy supplies by the country’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. For now, the pipeline appears paused, rather than cancelled. The decision marks a major reversal for Scholz, who had previously called Nord Stream 2 a “purely commercial project” unconnected with the geopolitics of the Ukraine crisis. But what does this decision mean for Germany’s energy future, in the short and long term? “It’s a big deal because in the past the German government hasn’t taken a strong position on Nord Stream 2. It’s a new level of policy,” says Andreas Löschel at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. “I think it’s going to lead to a re-evaluation of the German energy policy landscape.” A relationship with Russia has been one of the building blocks of Germany’s energy policy, and has been unquestioned by any German government, he says. While the source of Germany’s gas imports hasn’t been published since 2016, a government spokesperson said in 2018 that around 40 per cent came from Russia. Most of it flows from Russia through pipelines via Belarus and Ukraine. “With the escalation [in Ukraine] over the last months this is going to change substantially the perspective on natural gas and of Russia as a trustworthy supplier of cheap, reliable gas,” says Löschel. Other analysts say Germany’s energy review could prove to be just a mechanism to cover the pause on Nord Stream 2, or it could signal a more substantial shift in energy policy.

2-22-22 Ukraine crisis: Russia orders troops into rebel-held regions
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops into two rebel-held regions in eastern Ukraine, after recognising them as independent states. Russia said the troops have not yet been deployed but will be "peacekeeping" in the regions, which it has backed since 2014. The US said calling them peacekeepers was "nonsense", and accused Russia of creating a pretext for war. Several countries have announced sanctions in response. Ukraine's president said his country was "not afraid of anything or anyone". In a late-night televised address to the nation, President Volodymyr Zelensky called for "clear and effective actions of support" from Ukraine's international allies. "It is very important to see now who our real friend and partner is, and who will continue to scare the Russian Federation with words only," he added. Fears over an invasion have been rising in recent months, as Russia has massed some 150,000 troops along Ukraine's borders, according to US estimates. At an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield dismissed Russia's claims that troops would be taking on a "peacekeeping" role, saying: "We know what they really are." Recognising Luhansk and Donetsk as independent was part of Russia's bid to create a reason to invade Ukraine, she said. Russia has been backing a bloody armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine for the past eight years. Some 14,000 people - including many civilians - have died in fighting since then. In recent years, Russian passports have been given out to large numbers of people in Donetsk and Luhansk. The rebel-held areas have been evacuating women, children and the elderly to Russia since late last week. In an hour-long address on Monday, Mr Putin said Ukraine was an integral part of his country's history, and described eastern Ukraine as "ancient Russian lands". Russia's UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya argued for the need to defend the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region from what he called Ukrainian aggression. "Allowing a new bloodbath in the Donbas is something we do not intend to do," he said. But Mr Zelensky said Moscow's recognition of the rebel-held regions represented a threat to the security of Ukraine and other European nations.

2-22-22 Germany halts Nord Stream 2 pipeline approval after Putin orders Russian troops into Ukraine
Germany has made a big move in response to Russia's recent actions in Ukraine. After Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into eastern Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday announced the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline's certification process would be halted, Axios reports. Scholz said that in light of Russia's actions, "the situation has fundamentally changed." The German chancellor said he was taking the step so that "no certification of the pipeline can now take place," and "without this certification, Nord Stream 2 cannot go into operation," per Politico. Ukraine had argued the pipeline that runs directly from Russia to Germany is a "threat to Ukraine's security, not just our economy." Much of the natural gas from Russia now flows through Ukraine. In a joint news conference with Scholz, President Biden previously warned that "if Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, there will no longer be a Nord Stream 2," per NPR. "We will bring an end to it." The U.S. has been opposed to the pipeline under both Biden and former President Donald Trump, with Biden calling it a "bad deal." Germany's move to end the certification process for the pipeline was a "huge step after refusing to be drawn on it in public for months," wrote Financial Times Moscow bureau chief Max Seddon, adding, "It'll have major consequences for European energy security and suggests the Western sanctions against Moscow will be tough."

2-22-22 Ukraine-Russia tensions: Oil surges on supply fears
Oil and gas prices are climbing on fears that the Ukraine-Russia crisis will disrupt supplies across the world. The price of Brent crude oil, an international benchmark, reached a seven-year high of $99.38 (£73) a barrel on Tuesday. The RAC warned the crisis would push up UK petrol prices further, after they hit a record 149.12p a litre on Sunday. Russia ordered troops into two rebel-held regions in Ukraine's east after it recognised them as independent states. The main UK and US share indexes opened lower before regaining ground, but Asian stock markets closed lower. Western powers have imposed or threatened sanctions against Russia, which is the second largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia. Russia is also the world's top producer of natural gas. On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz took the significant step of blocking the certification of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would have supplied gas directly from Russia to Germany. Wholesale gas prices jumped in response, with the UK price for April delivery up 9% and the cost for May up 10% to 191p per therm. However, this is still considerably lower than the highs seen in December last year, when it peaked at over 400p per therm. Sanctions forcing Russia to supply less crude or natural gas would have "substantial implications" on oil prices and the global economy, said Sue Trinh of Manulife Investment Management. Oil prices, which have been rising for months, are up more than 10% since the start of February. Maike Currie, an investment director at Fidelity International, said oil could go above $100 a barrel due to a combination of the Ukraine crisis, a cold winter in the US, and a lack of investment in oil and gas supplies around the world. "Russia accounts for one in every 10 barrels of oil consumed globally, so it is a major player when it comes to the price of oil, and of course, it's really going to hurt consumers at the petrol pumps," she said.

2-22-22 E.U. sanctions against Russia could be ready by Tuesday evening
The European Union is readying an "immediate set" of sanctions punishing Russia for its recognition of two separatist regions in Ukraine, two E.U. diplomats told The New York Times Tuesday. The sanctions will target "people, government and business entities in the separatist regions and in Russia," and will be further reviewed at a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Paris later Tuesday. The ambassadors hope to then approve the measures by Tuesday evening, though it's possible the discussion could bleed into early Wednesday, writes the Times. The draft is said to include "27 individuals and entities, including political, military, business and financial entities, as well as 'propagandists' linked to the recognition decision," the Times writes, per the diplomats. Though some targeted individuals are located geographically inside the separatist Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, the list also currently includes the members of Russian Parliament who proposed the recognition of the areas, as well as those who voted in favor of the decision. Such individuals and affected entities "would be subject to European Union-wide asset freezes and travel bans," the Times adds. Notably, the E.U. has plans to implement more broad-reaching sanctions if Russia moves on Ukraine in a way that constitutes a full-fledged invasion. The U.S. will announce its own set of new sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday. Earlier, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany would be halted.

2-22-22 US reveals claims of Russian 'kill list' if Moscow occupies Ukraine
The United States says it has "credible information" that Russian forces are creating lists of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps in the event of occupation. It is the latest claim about Russia's alleged plans to be publicised by Western powers. The Kremlin has denied the existence of any "kill list". And some Western officials acknowledge the alleged plans are speculative, and may not be put into action. But Russia's FSB Security Service is believed to be involved in preparing the political ground for any occupation if orders are given. The little-known Fifth Service of the FSB is likely to play a key role in the event of a significant escalation in Ukraine. The Fifth Service and its Department of Operational Information runs covert operations in many states neighbouring Russia and has taken the lead in Ukraine. It has established networks of agents within Ukraine and has been preparing to activate them in the event of conflict, Western intelligence sources say. The aim will be to limit resistance and ensure control. If there is an attempt to remove the government in Kyiv, that could involve senior figures working in key institutions and industries being approached and instructed to work with Russia - or else face the consequences, it is claimed. Russia has denied plans to invade, and some Western analysts remain sceptical that Russia has the forces or the intent to mount a full-scale occupation with all the risks that this would entail. The claim about a list of targets to be arrested or even killed came in a letter from the US Ambassador to UN organisations in Geneva, to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The US said "likely" targets are those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, as well as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ persons. The letter says the US also has information that Russia plans to use lethal measures to disperse protests if there is an occupation.

2-22-22 Canada parliament backs Trudeau on emergency powers
Canada's Parliament has backed the government's decision to impose emergency powers to deal with weeks-long protest blockades against Covid restrictions. The motion passed with 185 votes to 151 on Monday, with the support of the Liberals and the left-leaning NDP. Over the weekend, police cleared the final protest site in Ottawa on streets around Parliament Hill. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act early last week. Earlier on Monday, the Liberal prime minister defended the continued use of the temporary emergency measures, saying that the situation across the country "is still fragile" and they are needed to prevent new blockades. He said the powers would not be kept in place for "a single day longer than necessary". Members of the Conservative Party - the official opposition - and the Bloc Quebecois voted against the Emergencies Act motion. The never-before-used Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, gives the government added powers in times of national crisis. These expire after 30 days unless renewed. It has been used over the past week to impose bans on public assembly in some areas of Ottawa, and to prohibit travel to protest zones, including by foreign nationals, among other measures. It also gives authorities the ability to freeze bank accounts. On Saturday, the federal government said it had frozen at least 76 accounts linked to the protests, representing C$3.2m ($2.5m; £1.8m) under the emergency measures. The protest began in January as a truck convoy headed to Ottawa to oppose a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border, and grew into a broader opposition to pandemic restrictions and Mr Trudeau's government, with supporting protests across the country. Authorities cleared the most economically damaging blockade - a bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, with the US state of Michigan - in mid-February. Trucker protests at other border crossings in Coutts, Alberta, Surrey, British Columbia, and Emerson, Manitoba, ended this past week.

2-22-22 Hong Kong orders compulsory Covid tests for all its citizens
Hong Kong's government has ordered the compulsory testing of all of its 7.5 million citizens as the city battles surging coronavirus infections. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said residents would have to undergo three rounds of tests starting in mid-March. Schools will break early for summer and strict social distancing measures and travel curbs remain in place there. The highly contagious Omicron variant has overwhelmed hospitals and testing and quarantine facilities this year. Thousands of new cases are being reported in the former British colony every day. Mainland Chinese officials have been drafted in to help Hong Kong deal with an exponential rise in infections. "The coming one to three months are crucial in fighting the pandemic," Ms Lam told reporters. "This quickly worsening epidemic has far exceeded the Hong Kong government's ability to tackle it, so there is great need for the central government's support in fighting the virus." It's the first time everyone in the territory has been tested - a policy enacted elsewhere in mainland China. Authorities in Hong Kong, which had been hailed for its pandemic control over the past two years, are trying to adhere to the mainland's "zero Covid" strategy. It involves early testing, detailed contact tracing, and strict quarantine and travel restrictions.

2-22-22 Ahmaud Arbery: Jury finds killers guilty on federal hate crimes charges
A father and son convicted of killing a black jogger in Georgia have been found guilty of federal hate crimes. Jurors found the two white defendants, along with a third man, targeted Ahmaud Arbery, 25, because he was black. Gregory McMichael, his son Travis, and their neighbour William Bryan, had already been found guilty last year of Arbery's murder. Tuesday's verdict was over a separate set of federal charges filed by the US Justice Department. They may be sentenced to life in prison - in addition to the life sentences they already received for Arbery's murder. Arbery was jogging in the coastal city of Brunswick when he was confronted, and ultimately killed, by the three men in February 2020. The jurors in this latest trial - a panel of eight white people, three black people and one Hispanic person - considered five separate federal charges and found the defendants guilty on every count. The first two involved federal hate-crime statutes, and charged the three men of using force and threats to deprive Arbery of his right to use a public street because of his race. The third count charged the men with kidnapping. The McMichaels also faced firearms charges. Travis McMichael was convicted of discharging a shotgun and his father was convicted with brandishing a revolver. The federal convictions come just one day short of the two-year anniversary of Arbery's death. During closing arguments on Monday, lawyers for the three defendants argued that the men pursued the young jogger because they believed he was involved in criminal activity - not for any racially motivated purpose. "Would Travis McMichael have grabbed a gun and done this to a white guy?" asked defence lawyer Amy Lee Copeland at trial. "The answer is yes." But the jurors accepted the prosecution's argument that the McMichaels and Bryan were driven by "racial assumptions, racial resentment and racial anger".

2-21-22 A COVID-19 booster shot may provide protection for years, studies find
A range of new studies suggest that a COVID-19 booster shot may provide protection against future variants for many months, even years, The New York Times reports. A recent study posted on bioRxiv, for instance, suggests that a third Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shot helps to produce antibodies that could be effective against yet-unseen mutations — even though the vaccines were "not specifically designed to protect against variants." "If people are exposed to another variant like Omicron, they now got some extra ammunition to fight it," Dr. Julie McElrath, a Seattle infectious disease physician, told the Times. The new findings are similar to those found in the wake of the SARS epidemic that swept across Asia in 2003; one study found that people exposed to SARS at the time were still producing T cells — specialized immune cells — 17 years later. "Memory responses can last for ages," Wendy Burgers, an immunologist at the University of Cape Town, also told the Times. "Potentially, the T-cell response is extremely long-lived."

2-21-22 Putin orders troops into eastern Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops into eastern Ukraine late Monday, all but confirming the White House's long-held fears of invasion. The move comes shortly after the Kremlin recognized the independence of two territories in eastern Ukraine that are controlled by Russian-backed separatists, the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic. Moscow described Monday's dramatic escalation as "peacekeeping functions" in its decrees. The targeted regions are home to roughly 800,000 Russians, and Putin last week alleged, without providing evidence, that Ukraine had committed "genocide" in the areas. "It was not immediately certain whether the Russian troops would remain only on the territory controlled by the separatist republics, or whether they would seek to capture the rest of the two Ukrainian regions whose territory they claim," The New York Times reports. Photos circulated late Monday showed Donetsk residents celebrating Putin's recognition of the region's independence. Earlier Monday, the leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk regions had appealed to Moscow for recognition. The White House said in a statement that Biden would be signing an executive order to "prohibit new investment, trade, and financing by U.S. persons to, from, or in the so-called DNR and LNR regions of Ukraine." The White House further promised that it would "soon announce additional measures related to today's blatant violation of Russia's international commitments." Biden also spoke on secure calls with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday afternoon. He also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, with the White House reporting afterward that "President Biden reiterated that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, in lock-step with its Allies and partners, to further Russian aggression against Ukraine."

2-21-22 Boris Johnson announces 'living with covid' plan for England
The legal requirement for people in England with covid-19 to self-isolate will end this Thursday but will remain part of country's guidance. Widespread free PCR and lateral flow testing will stop in April. England is to end all of its remaining legal coronavirus rules – including the requirement for people with covid-19 to self-isolate – under a ‘living with covid’ plan announced today in parliament by UK prime minister Boris Johnson. The significant shift means the country will begin to rely on guidance rather than rules backed with enforcement, almost two years after Johnson first ordered the nation into lockdown as the pandemic surged. Today’s step is about “moving from government restrictions to personal responsibility”, he said. Self-isolation of people who test positive for the coronavirus will become guidance rather than a legal requirement from 24 February, and routine contact tracing will cease. Testing will be scaled back, with PCR and lateral flow tests no longer free for everyone from April. Ministers said tests cost £2 billion in January, though that figure is unusually high: it has more typically been £1.2 billion per month on average. Whether the government is “following the science”, as it claimed in the early stages of the pandemic, is an open question. The office of Patrick Vallance, chief scientific adviser to the UK government, didn’t comment when asked this morning if he supported the move, pointing only to minutes from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). “It’s not a science decision: none of the recent SAGE minutes suggest this is a good time to be doing this,” says Christina Pagel at University College London. “We still have some of the highest infection rates we’ve had. I think it is the wrong time and sends the wrong message.”

2-21-22 Canadian police regain control of downtown Ottawa
Canadian police fenced off parts of downtown Ottawa on Sunday to reestablish control of the capital city after a weekend crackdown ended the so-called Freedom Convoy protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Officers made 191 arrests and towed nearly 80 vehicles. Truckers started the demonstration more than three weeks ago, blocking city streets with parked trucks to protest a vaccine mandate on cross-border truck drivers. The demonstration grew as others came to express opposition to other coronavirus restrictions. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week invoked emergency powers to give the government authority to shut down the protest. Police said they had gathered intelligence on departing protesters "to make sure that these illegal activities don't return to our streets."

2-21-22 Ukraine tensions: Biden agrees in principle to summit with Putin
US President Joe Biden has agreed "in principle" to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the crisis over Ukraine. The talks proposed by France will only take place if Russia does not invade its neighbour, the White House said. The Kremlin, meanwhile, said there were no "concrete plans" for a summit. It is hoped that such talks could offer a possible diplomatic solution to one of the worst security crises in Europe in decades. US officials say intelligence suggests Russia is ready to launch a military operation, which Moscow denies. The proposed summit was announced by the French presidency after two phone calls between President Emmanuel Macron and Mr Putin, which went on for almost three hours in total. The second exchange happened in the early hours of Monday Moscow time, and followed a 15-minute conversation Mr Macron had with Mr Biden. Mr Macron's office said details of the possible summit would be discussed during a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday. to be "continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon", and that the US was ready to impose "swift and severe consequences" should it happen. Russia has massed more than 150,000 troops close to Ukraine's borders, according to US estimates. US company Maxar said new satellite imagery showed multiple new field deployments of armoured equipment and troops from Russian garrisons near the border with Ukraine, indicating increased military readiness. The French presidency said both leaders had agreed to resume talks through the Normandy Format, a group created to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine that includes Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany. Mr Putin agreed on the need to "prioritise a diplomatic solution" to the crisis, it said, adding that "intense work" would be carried out to enable a meeting "in the next few hours" aiming for a ceasefire. However, the Kremlin later said it was "premature to talk about any specific plans for organising any kind of summit".

2-21-22 Ukraine crisis: War, sickness and love in rebel-held Ukraine
Ukraine crisis: War, sickness and love in rebel-held Ukraine. Cancer, a war that has dragged on for eight years, and the threat of a Russian invasion - Larysa is living with them all, with fortitude and humour. We met the 65-year-old queuing in a hangar, at the Novotroitske crossing point in Eastern Ukraine. It sits on the "line of contact" - an almost 500km (310 mile) long fissure between Ukrainian government territory and two enclaves that have been held by Russian backed separatists since 2014. Families, communities, and services are divided by this line. The enduring conflict here on the eastern front has already claimed more than 14,000 lives - at least 3,000 of them civilians, according to the United Nations. The self-styled Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) are recognised by no one - for now, not even the Kremlin - but they are home to about four million people. Larysa is one of them. She was wrapped up against the cold in a bright blue jacket, pink jumper, and matching woolly hat. She preferred not to use her last name. It takes permission and patience to get from Ukrainian government territory to the other side. Larysa knows the drill. "I do this every six months," she said. "I have been for a check-up at a hospital in Dnipro (in central Ukraine) and now I am going home to Donetsk." As she waited for sniffer dogs to check her bag, she wasn't too concerned about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine's borders. "I don't believe there will be an invasion, or if there is, it won't be a big one. That's my view as someone with intuition. I watch TV and what politicians say. I think all of this is just to keep us on our toes and stop us from getting too relaxed." But Western leaders have long feared that President Vladimir Putin would fake a crisis in the Russian-backed rebel areas - or the appearance of one - to use as an excuse to invade. The seeds were sewn on Friday when rebel leaders announced that women and children would be evacuated over the border to Russia because Ukraine was planning to attack. Ukraine denied that and most civilians in those areas appear to have stayed put. "We, the people, do not want any war to happen. We want to live, love… We want to love everybody and give them a hug," said Larysa, eyes smiling above her mask. With that she boarded a bus to take her through no man's land to a checkpoint on the other side.

2-21-22 Covid-19 news: Australia opens borders to vaccinated travellers
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Australia opens borders to vaccinated travellers and New Zealand plans to lift some restrictions after omicron peak. Australia opened its borders to vaccinated international travellers from around the world today. Since November 2021, the country has allowed vaccinated permanent residents and travellers from New Zealand and Singapore to enter the country. In December, this was expanded to include international students and skilled migrant workers. Tourists from across the world will now be able to visit. Over 50 international flights will arrive in the country today – around half of which will touch down in Sydney. “It is a very exciting day, one that I have been looking forward to for a long time, from the day that I first shut that border right at the start of the pandemic,” said Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison. The country seems to have passed its peak of omicron infections, which reached around 75,000 cases on 2 February. Hospital admissions have fallen over the past three weeks. Today New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern said vaccine mandates and social distancing rules will be lifted after omicron infections peak in the country, which is expected in mid-to-late March. Earlier this month, the country announced plans for a phased reopening of its borders from the 27 Feb. The UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce plans this afternoon to lift all coronavirus restrictions in England. This could include the end of self-isolation rules and reduced free testing for the coronavirus. The Queen has tested positive for coronavirus. She is reported to have mild cold-like symptoms. Hong Kong’s government will launch a vaccine passport on 24 February, which will require those aged 12 and over to get a vaccine dose before entering supermarkets and clubhouses. The country’s healthcare facilities are currently overwhelmed, amid a record 7533 new cases today.

2-21-22 Covid: Australia's border reopens to international visitors
Australia has reopened its international border for the first time in nearly two years, bringing joyful family reunions and a boost to tourism. The country imposed some of the world's strictest travel bans after shutting itself off in March 2020 due to Covid. Australians and some others were allowed to return from late last year, but most foreigners have had to wait. There were tearful reunions at Sydney Airport on Monday as hundreds of people began arriving on flights. One young girl, Charlotte, shared an emotional hug with her grandfather. She told the local Nine Network: "I've missed him so much and I've looked forward to this trip for so long." Double-jabbed visitors do not need to quarantine, but unvaccinated travellers must do so in a hotel for up to 14 days at their own expense. More than 50 international flights were due to land on Monday. Travellers can enter all states except Western Australia, which remains closed until 3 March and will require three jabs. "What wonderful, wonderful news for our tourism industry and the 660,000 people employed in it," said Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan. Australia had about 9.5 million overseas visitors in 2019. Mr Tehan said he hoped for a strong rebound in the tourism sector, which has been hit by domestic travel bans too. The country's strict measures drew criticism for separating families and stifling businesses, but they were also credited with preventing many deaths before vaccines were available. Australia has had about 4,900 Covid deaths. Like the sunrise, Dawn the koala is a sign of brighter times ahead for Australia's beleaguered tourism industry. She is one of the star attractions at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney. International tourists were its lifeblood accounting for two-thirds of its revenue before Australia's borders were slammed shut. Domestic visitors have helped to keep the park afloat, but the reopening of Australia's borders is a big moment.

2-21-22 Truth Social: Banned from Twitter, Trump returns with a new platform
Donald Trump's social-media platform, Truth Social, has launched, in a limited form, on the US Apple App Store. The app had similarities to Twitter, commentators noted - Mr Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube last year. And some early users had difficulties registering accounts. Project lead and former congressman Devin Nunes said it was expected to be fully operational by the end of March. Some of those trying to register had been told: "Due to massive demand, we have placed you on our waitlist," the Reuters news agency reported. Created by the year-old Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), Truth Social had previously been made available to about 500 beta testers. Last week, Donald Trump Jr shared a screenshot of his father's first "truth" on the social network: "Get ready. Your favourite president will see you soon." Truth Social has already had one update for "bug fixes", according to the App Store, and is now on version 1.0.1. Last autumn, pranksters discovered a test version of the app website and, according to the Washington Post, adopted the username donaldjtrump. Twitter banned the former president following the 6 January 2021 US Capitol riot, saying he had broken its rules on the glorification of violence. And commentators have highlighted, among other things, Truth Social buttons that resemble those relating to Twitter's reply, retweet and "like" functions. On its website, Truth Social describes itself as a "'big tent' social-media platform that encourages an open, free and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology". Mr Trump wants Truth Social to champion "free speech" and eschew the "censorship" of sites such as Twitter and Facebook. It is a common view among conservatives Silicon Valley social-media companies are curtailing free speech by removing posts and users.

2-20-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Police arrest almost 200 protesters and tow more than 50 vehicles in Ottawa
Canadian police took aggressive action over the weekend to break up the Freedom Convoy protests that have occupied downtown Ottawa for three weeks, USA Today reported. Police arrested 191 people and towed 57 vehicles on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, according to Ottawa Police. Officers used batons and "chemical irritant" against protesters, who they described as "aggressive and assaultive" and accused of using children to shield themselves from police, CNN reported. Videos appear to show some demonstrators being trampled by police horses. Police said one protester threw a bicycle at a police horse. Another was arrested after allegedly launching a gas canister. "If you were involved in this protest we will actively look to identify you and follow up with financial sanctions and criminal charges, absolutely. This investigation will go on for months to come," Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said Saturday, according to BuzzFeed News. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the country's Emergencies Act on Monday, empowering his government to freeze Canadians' bank accounts and compel tow truck drivers to remove protesters' vehicles. Critics from Canada's Conservative Party called Trudeau a "dictator" in response. According to Reuters and CBC, Canada's federal government and the provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ottawa, and Quebec have all relaxed COVID restrictions since the protests began.

2-20-22 Russians are being 'barraged with claims of looming Ukrainian attacks' by state media, NBC reporter says
Messaging from Russian government sources and state media suggest that an invasion of Ukraine could begin at any moment, NBC News reporter Mathew Bodner said on Meet the Press Sunday. "We're seeing a very harsh increase in rhetoric here," Bodner told host Chuck Todd from Moscow. "Forty-eight hours ago we saw … the switch flipped on Russian state media, and it has been wall to wall — and I cannot emphasize this enough — since that happened, since the announcement of evacuations from [separatist-held eastern Ukraine]." The New York Times reported that separatist leaders, claiming an attack by Ukrainian government forces was immanent, announced Friday that women and children should evacuate the areas they control and that all military-age males should register to fight. Bodner continued, "If you tune into Russian TV right now, you open any of the state media websites, you are gonna be barraged with claims of looming Ukrainian attacks on the Russian-speaking peoples of eastern Ukraine, claims of immanent, already-occurring Ukrainian provocations. And you have the Kremlin saying that right now the situation is essentially at a breaking point … They are being prepared now for what we fear might happen." On Sunday afternoon, the second-most-popular story on Russia's state-owned TASS news network bore the headline "Armed Forces of Ukraine may intensify offensive on the night of February 21."

2-20-22 Americans could see increased energy costs if Russia invades Ukraine, Harris says
Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday that Americans could see their energy costs rise if Russia invades Ukraine, Bloomberg reported. "It requires sometimes for us to put ourselves out there in a way that, maybe, we will incur some cost. And in this situation, that may be related to energy costs, for example," Harris told reporters at the Munich Security Conference before boarding her flight back to Washington, D.C. She added that the Biden administration is "taking very specific … steps to mitigate what that cost might be, if it happens." Americans are already chafing under high energy prices. A Bureau of Labor Statistic report released last month showed that the prices of gasoline and fuel oil increased by 40 and 46.5 percent, respectively, between Dec. 2020 and Dec. 2021. According to Bloomberg, Russia exports more oil to the U.S. than any other nation except Canada. Europe will also feel the pressure if Russia turns off the tap, and the U.S. could end up paying the price to alleviate that pressure. Last month, The New York Times reported that the Biden administration was working with "gas and crude oil suppliers from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia" to ensure NATO would not be crippled if Russia shut off natural gas shipments. The vice president also shut down any speculation that Russia might step back from the brink: "Putin has made his decision. Period." Harris met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Munich on Saturday. Zelensky told Harris through an interpreter that he is grateful for American support and that "the only thing we want is to have peace." In a speech to the conference on Saturday, Harris warned that the U.S. and NATO would respond to a Russian invasion with "far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls," though she clarified Sunday that the U.S. will not impose sanctions preemptively.

2-20-22 Australia welcomes tourists after nearly 2 years of closed borders
Australia re-opened its borders to tourists on Monday after nearly two years of stringent travel restrictions that earned it the nickname "Fortress Australia," Reuters reports. According to The Guardian, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday that 56 international flights were expected to land at Australian airports in the next 24 hours. "We are going from COVID cautious to COVID confident when it comes to travel," he said. Australia's COVID restrictions attracted international attention during the legal battle the culminated in the deportation of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic last month. Critics referred to Australia's policies — which included quarantine camps, restrictions on internal movement, and bans on public gatherings — as "draconian." Until November, Australian citizens were forbidden to leave the country, and a strict quota system for arrivals left thousands of Australians stranded overseas. According to data from Johns Hopkins, Australia's death rate from COVID is 19.37 per 100,000, one of the lowest in the world. Before the pandemic, Australia's tourism industry was growing at a rate nearly double that of overall GDP growth, but many in the industry worry that it will take a long time for tourism to return to pre-COVID levels. "I think it will be heading towards the end of the year before we really start seeing any international tourism volume," Deb Zimmer told The Guardian. Zimmer is the CEO of BridgeClimb Sydney, a popular attraction that takes tourists to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge arches. Per Reuters, "Fully vaccinated tourists will not need to quarantine," but those who have not received two doses "will require a travel exemption to enter the country and will be subject to state and territory quarantine requirements."

2-20-22 Ukraine crisis: Russia keeps troops in Belarus amid Ukraine fears
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ally Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko have extended military drills which were due to end on Sunday. A statement cited the "deterioration of the situation" in east Ukraine as one reason for keeping an estimated 30,000 Russian troops in Belarus. The move will add to fears that Russia plans an invasion of Ukraine, which shares a long border with Belarus. Western leaders have accused Moscow of seeking a pretext to send in troops. Russia has denied it plans to invade its neighbour. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the extension of military exercises shows the world is on the brink of war. The BBC's Eastern Europe Correspondent Sarah Rainsford said the announcement - made by the Belarus defence ministry - is another strong signal that Russia is not prepared to back down in its stand-off with Western countries over Ukraine. The announcement also coincided with more explosions in the east Ukrainian conflict zone through the night and into Sunday. Detonations could be heard from the separatist-held city of Donetsk while both sides said they had come under heavy shell fire. As explosions boomed out in Donetsk on Sunday morning, separatists in Luhansk accused government forces of crossing the front line to mount an attack which killed two civilians. No proof was given for the allegation but Russian investigators opened an inquiry. The separatists and government forces accused each other of violating the ceasefire dozens of time on Sunday. Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed on Saturday as international monitors reported that ceasefire violations had increased dramatically this week. Thousands of civilians are being evacuated from the separatist territories into Russia while men of fighting age are being mobilised to fight. Speaking as she prepared to leave Donetsk for Russia by bus with her four-year-old daughter, an evacuee who gave her name as Tatyana told Reuters news agency: "It's really scary. I've taken everything I could carry."

2-20-22 Ukraine crisis: Criss-crossing the country with Zelensky
"Move quickly, but watch where you put your feet," the soldier instructed as we pulled in behind a wall a few hundred metres from the frontline. Beside us, Ukraine's president was already climbing out of his vehicle wearing body armour and a helmet and heading across a strip of wasteland towards the trenches. This week, as western governments escalated their warnings about the threat of all-out war with Russia, Volodymyr Zelensky decided to drop-in on some of the Ukrainian soldiers who could be right in the path of any invasion. The visit was part of the president's own, two-pronged offensive: showing support for his country's troops on the one hand, whilst warning allies in the West that trying to "appease" Moscow over Ukraine was dangerous. For two days, we followed Volodymyr Zelensky as he criss-crossed the country. By plane and helicopter, we moved from military drills to the actual conflict line and from land into the Azov Sea as the West pumped up the volume on its war-warnings. Meant to deter Russia, its alarm appears to have been ignored. The idea of Russia bombing Kyiv into submission still seems far-fetched - more damaging to Vladimir Putin than of any possible benefit. But violence in those parts of eastern Ukraine already controlled by Russian-backed forces has suddenly picked-up. At the frontline in Shyrokyne, President Zelensky shared tea and chat with soldiers in the shell of someone's ruined house. Once a popular holiday destination, the coastal village has been shattered by eight years of fighting, its streets partly replaced by deep, muddy trenches and abandoned, shrapnel-hit buildings all around. One soldier admitted his parents were worried about the latest spike in tensions and called constantly to check on him. He himself seemed more anxious about meeting the president: on the table, neat plates of cheese and salami sandwiches lay untouched.

2-20-22 Canada protests: Police push back demonstrators in Ottawa
Police in Canada's capital Ottawa have cleared a main protest site in front of parliament that had been occupied by demonstrators for over three weeks. More than 170 people have been arrested and 38 vehicles seized as officers, some on horseback, continued the second day of a massive crackdown. Some protesters who resisted were thrown to the ground and had their hands zip-tied behind their backs. Police said, however, that operations were ongoing in Ottawa. "We won't commit to any end time," interim police chief Steve Bell said, adding "We are in this until it is over. Mr Bell said that some protesters had moved from the heart of the protest area near Parliament Hill to surrounding neighbourhoods and that those areas would also be cleared. It is one of the biggest police operations in Canada's history. Police confirmed on Twitter they had used pepper spray on some protesters, saying: "You will have seen officers use a chemical irritant in an effort to stop the assaultive behaviour and for officer safety." The crackdown on the self-styled Freedom Convoy began on Friday morning, when hundreds of police, some holding riot batons, descended into the protesters' encampment in downtown Ottawa. But some protesters refused to leave, forming a line in front of approaching officers, linking arms and singing the national anthem, O Canada. "PROTESTORS: We told you to leave," Ottawa Police tweeted. "We gave you time to leave. We were slow and methodical, yet you were assaultive and aggressive with officers and the horses. "Based on your behaviour, we are responding by including helmets and batons for our safety." Police said some of those arrested had been wearing body armour and carrying fireworks and smoke grenades. And they criticised people for bringing children to the protest, saying anyone bringing a minor to an illegal protest site could be jailed for five years or fined. Police have also accused protesters of launching gas canisters at officers.

2-19-22 Separatist shelling reportedly kills 2 Ukrainian soldiers
Ukraine's military said artillery shells fired by Russian-backed separatists killed two Ukrainian soldiers and wounded four others in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, Reuters reported. According to Reuters, the "Ukrainian military said on its Facebook page" at around 5:00 p.m. local time that "it had recorded 70 ceasefire violations by separatists since the start of the day compared with 66 cases over the previous 24 hours." Since 2014, around 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between the separatists and Ukrainian government forces. Fox News foreign correspondent Trey Yingst, who pulled back from the front in eastern Ukraine on Saturday afternoon after the unit with which he was embedded came under separatist artillery fire, said the Ukrainian forces he was with did not return fire. He also said other Ukrainian troops he had spoken with earlier in the week said they returned fire in response to other attacks, but only "within the confines of the [Minsk] Agreement," which banned heavy weapons from the front. Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade, to whom Yingst was speaking, suggested that Ukrainian forces were showing restraint "because they don't want to respond to that provocation, which is exactly what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is looking for." According to The Associated Press, Russia accused Ukrainian government forces of firing at least two shells at the separatists, a claim Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed as "fake." The New York Times reported that separatist leaders urged 700,000 women and children to evacuate the areas they control, "claiming that Ukrainian government forces were planning a large-scale attack." Per AP, Russia "has issued around 700,000 passports to residents of the rebel-held territories." Russia has massed over 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border and is conducting large-scale military exercises, including drills involving Russia's nuclear arsenal. President Biden said Friday that he is "convinced" Putin has made up his mind to invade Ukraine.

2-19-22 Judge won't dismiss Jan. 6 incitement lawsuits against Trump
Former President Donald Trump's motion to dismiss lawsuits accusing him of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol failed on Friday, Reuters reported. Trump is the defendant in three lawsuits related to his actions on Jan. 6, one from Democratic members of Congress and two others from police officers. A 1982 Supreme Court decision held that presidents are immune from lawsuits stemming from their officials acts, but Judge Amit Mehta ruled that Trump's speech on Jan. 6 was outside the scope of his presidential duties. Mehta also seemed sympathetic to the accusations of incitement. "President Trump's January 6 Rally Speech was akin to telling an excited mob that corn-dealers starve the poor in front of the corn-dealer's home," he wrote in his decision. Mehta did, however, agree to drop Donald Trump Jr. and Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, both of whom were originally listed as co-defendants, from the case. According to CNBC, this was Trump's second major legal defeat in as many days. On Thursday, a judge ruled that Trump must testify in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil investigation into his business practices. Rather than answering questions, Trump may decide to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, especially since any testimony he gives as part of the civil investigation could later be used against him in a parallel criminal investigation. Trump and two of his children — Ivanka and Donald Jr. — must testify within 21 days of the ruling. Washington Post columnist George T. Conway III speculated that these setbacks could "be, at long last, the beginning of the end for Trump."

2-19-22 Putin orders nuclear weapons drills
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order Saturday for his country's military to begin a series of drills involving its nuclear arsenal, Reuters reports. According to The New York Times, the exercises will include ballistic and cruise missile launches as well as nuclear-capable bombers and warships from Russia's Black Sea Fleet. Russia has conducted extensive military exercises along Ukraine's border, in the Black Sea, and in neighboring Belarus in recent weeks. Earlier this month, The Associated Press reported that Russia had flown two Tu-22M3 nuclear-capable bombers over Belarus. According to the Arms Control Association, Russia possesses over 6,000 nuclear warheads. This latest show of force comes after President Biden warned on Friday that he is "convinced" Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and that the invasion would likely include a strike on Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city. Over 100,000 Russian troops are in position along Ukraine's border. The Russian-backed separatists who control part of eastern Ukraine are also preparing for war, per the Times. On Friday, separatist leaders, warning of an imminent Ukrainian offensive, told 700,000 women and children to evacuate the region. On Saturday, they called on all military-age men to register to fight.

2-19-22 Ukraine conflict: Rebels declare general mobilisation as fighting grows
Ukraine's Russian-backed breakaway eastern territories have ordered military mobilisations amid a deadly escalation in fighting. Men of fighting age in the self-declared people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk are being put on stand-by. US President Joe Biden says he is convinced Russia will invade Ukraine, an allegation Moscow denies. Western nations have accused Russia of trying to stage a fake crisis in the eastern regions as a pretext to invade. International monitors report a "dramatic increase" in attacks along the line dividing rebel and government forces. Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and four injured by shelling on Saturday, the first deaths to be reported in weeks. Mr Biden's Defence Secretary, Lloyd Austin, said Russian forces were beginning to "uncoil and move closer" to the border with Ukraine. In the German city of Munich, US Vice-President Kamala Harris told a security conference that if Russia did invade, the US and its allies would impose a "significant and unprecedented economic cost", targeting its financial institutions and key industries, as well as those who aided and abetted such an invasion. Echoing her remarks, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that, in the event of an invasion, his country would "open up the Matryoshka dolls" of strategic Russian-owned companies and make it impossible for them to raise finance in London. Mr Johnson had talks in Munich with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was visiting for the security conference against the advice of President Biden, who had said it might not be a "wise choice" for the Ukrainian leader to be out of his country at this time. The US estimates there are 169,000-190,000 Russian personnel massed along Ukraine's borders, a figure that includes separatist fighters in Donetsk and Luhansk.

2-19-22 Harris meets with Ukrainian president in Munich
Vice President Kamala Harris met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, The Hill reports. President Biden told reporters on Friday that he is "convinced" Russian President Vladimir Putin has made up his mind to invade Ukraine, but that a diplomatic solution could still be possible. Zelensky told Harris, through an interpreter, that he is grateful for American support and that "the only thing we want is to have peace." Harris reportedly "reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine," per The Hill. Zelensky has faced criticism for leaving Ukraine when an invasion might commence any day. CNN reported that the Biden administration privately urged Zelensky to remain with his people, but Biden refused to publicly condemn the Ukrainian leader for his decision. "That's a judgment for him to make," Biden said Friday. In a speech delivered the same day, Harris warned that the U.S. and NATO would respond to a Russian invasion of Ukraine with "far-reaching financial sanctions and export controls" that "will target Russia's financial institutions and key industries" and "inflict great damage," according to CNN. Speaking after Harris, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a Russian invasion of Ukraine "would be an absolute disaster be disaster for Europe, a disaster for Ukraine, and a disaster, certainly for Russia," per the Independent. Even China joined in calling for peace. Chinese Foreign Minister told the assembled leaders and diplomats that the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of every country ought to be respected and that "Ukraine is no exception," China expert Noah Barkin posted on Twitter.

2-19-22 Ex-police officer Kim Potter jailed for killing Daunte Wright
A veteran former Minnesota police officer has been sentenced to two years in prison over the fatal shooting of a black motorist last April. In December, a jury convicted Kim Potter, 49, of manslaughter after she killed Daunte Wright, 20, during a traffic stop. He was shot dead when she mistakenly fired her gun instead of her Taser. The Wright family criticised the sentence as "a slap on the wrist". Relatives had earlier delivered emotional victim impact statements calling for Potter to face the maximum possible sentence of 15 years. Wright's mother Katie said she could never forgive Potter, claiming the ex-officer never once said her son's name during the trial. "She referred to Daunte over and over again as 'the driver' as if killing him wasn't enough to dehumanise him," she said through tears. A distraught Potter addressed the Wright family in court - turning to face them directly - before her sentence was handed down. "You said that I didn't look at you during the trial. I don't believe I had a right to," she said. "I didn't even have a right to be in the same room with you. I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly and my heart is devastated for all of you." As she read out her sentencing decision on Friday, Judge Regina Chu described it as "one of the saddest cases I've had in my 20 years on the bench". Prosecutors initially sought a sentence of seven years in prison - the presumed penalty under the state's guidelines - but Judge Chu ruled that there were not aggravating factors in this case. She said she had been "profoundly moved by the comments of the Wright family" and knew that the lighter sentence would be a disappointment to many in the community. The former officer will spend 16 months behind bars and serve the rest of her sentence under supervised release. Potter must be held accountable for her reckless actions, the judge said, but ultimately Daunte Wright's death had been a "tragic mistake". She added that she believed Potter was remorseful. (Webmasters Comment: If this had been a white person killed by a black person what do you think would have been the outcome?)

2-19-22 Defense rests in hate crimes trial of men who killed Ahmaud Arbery
The defense rested Friday after calling only one witness in the federal hate crimes trial of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan, who were convicted in November of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, The Washington Post reported. The three have already been sentenced to life in prison. The McMichaels' sentences offer no possibility of parole, while Bryan will be eligible for parole after 30 years. The defense argued the three white men who chased Arbery down in pick-up trucks and shot him while he was out jogging, were motivated by concerns about neighborhood crime, not racial animus. The prosecution called 20 witnesses, including an FBI intelligence analyst, who said the three men routinely made racist remarks, both in person and via text and Facebook messages. According to CNN, one witness said Gregory McMichael told her, "All these Blacks are nothing but trouble. I wish they'd all die." Another said Travis McMichael called her a "n----rlover" after learning she'd once dated a Black man, per the Post. Bryan also reportedly used the n-word when describing how upset he was about his daughter dating a Black man.

2-19-22 Canada protests: Police begin to make arrests at Ottawa protest
Police have clashed with demonstrators in Canada's capital, Ottawa, as they move to end a three-week anti-vaccine mandate protest, with 100 arrests made. The operation started early on Friday, with some officers on horseback, after the government invoked the Emergencies Act to crack down on the protest. Some protesters who resisted were thrown to the ground and had their hands zip-tied behind their backs. Police have also accused protesters of using children as a shield. A group of protesters have remained in the city in defiance of orders to leave. Footage from the scene showed hundreds of police officers advancing into the heart of the protest zone, next to Parliament Hill. Some of the remaining protesters formed a line in front of approaching officers, linking arms and singing O Canada - the national anthem. "Freedom was never free," protester Kevin Homaund told the Associated Press. "So what if they put the handcuffs on us and they put us in jail?" Ottawa police have set up almost 100 police check-points around the main protest site as well as a large business and residential district in the city centre to prevent more protesters from entering the area. "DEMONSTRATORS: You must leave," Ottawa police wrote on Twitter. "Anyone within the unlawful protest site may be arrested." Police have also towed 21 vehicles as part of the operation. No protesters were injured during the operation and those arrested face various charges including mischief, Ottawa's interim police chief Steve Bell said. He would not say how many protesters remain at the site of the demonstration or how long the police operation is expected to take. "We will work day and night until this is completed," he said. Earlier, authorities also reported a "concerted effort" to flood the city's 911 and non-emergency phone lines. Ottawa police described similar tactics last week, saying a gush of US-based phone calls to local emergency numbers nearly crashed the city's crisis response system. Two leaders of the trucker convoy were scheduled to appear in court on Friday. Tamara Lich and Chris Barber were both charged with mischief. Mr Barber also faces an obstruction charge. (Webmasters Comment: Arrest them! Confiscate their trucks and junk them!)

2-18-22 The red-blue COVID-19 death rate chasm apparently narrowed during the Omicron wave
The gap in total per capita COVID-19 deaths in Republican and Democratic counties has grown a lot wider since New York Times data journalist David Leonhardt chronicled the red-blue divide in November, at the beginning of the Omicron wave. At the beginning of the pandemic, blue counties had higher death rates. "Only after the vaccines became widely available, in early 2021 — and liberals were much more willing to get shots than conservatives — did COVID become a disproportionately Republican illness," Leonhardt writes in Friday's Morning newsletter. "By the summer of 2021, the gap was soaring." But while the gap in cumulative deaths continues to expand, the growth the red-blue per capita death rate has slowed during the Omicron wave. The most likely explanations for this narrowing death rate gap, Leonhard writes, is "that the number of Trump voters vulnerable to severe illness — which was still very large earlier last year — has declined, because more of them have built up some immunity to COVID from a previous infection." But even with natural immunity, the COVID-19 dead are disproportionately unvaccinated or unboosted in red and blue counties alike. And the number of people dying each day is still tragically — unnecessarily — high. You can read more abut the red-blue gap at The New York Times.

2-18-22 Daunte Wright's family 'very disappointed' by 'slap on the wrist' for Kim Potter
Former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter has received a two-year sentence for the killing of Daunte Wright. Judge Regina Chu during a hearing on Friday announced a 24-month sentence for Potter, 16 months of which she will serve in prison and the rest she will serve on supervised release. Potter was found guilty in December on charges of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter after she fatally shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in April 2021. She says she mistook her gun for a taser. Prosecutors argued Potter should be sentenced to seven years, while Potter's legal team argued she should receive probation, according to The New York Times. The judge called this "one of the saddest cases I've had in my 20 years on the bench," saying that Potter "made a tragic error" that she is "extremely remorseful" about. She also said her sentencing decision was "extremely difficult" but that she took into account that Potter "does not present a danger of future crimes." Members of Wright's family, including his mother, delivered emotional remarks during the sentencing hearing. "I'll never be able to forgive you," Katie Wright told Potter. Potter also spoke, tearfully telling the family she was "so sorry that I brought the death of your son, father, brother, uncle, grandson, nephew … My heart is broken for all of you." After the sentencing, Wright's mother, Katie, slammed the judge's decision, saying the family is "very disappointed in the outcome." "Yes we got a conviction, and we thank everybody for that," she said. "But again, this isn't okay. This is the problem with our justice system today. White women tears trumps justice." Wright's father, Arbuey, also expressed disappointment, saying, "This lady got a slap on the wrist, and we're still every night sitting around crying, waiting for my son to come home."

2-18-22 Russia has lists of prominent Ukrainian figures to arrest or kill should Moscow invade, U.S. officials say
The U.S. reportedly has intelligence that, in the event of a Russian-led invasion of Ukraine, Moscow may "target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile," Foreign Policy reports. Though no such invasion has yet occured, Western officials as well as President Biden have cautioned it could go down any day now. According to four people familiar with the intelligence in question, "Russia has drafted lists of Ukrainian political figures and other prominent individuals to be targeted for either arrest or assassination in the event of a Russian assault on Ukraine," Foreign Policy writes. "These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons," one official said. The White House is also reportedly shocked at how "formalized" the lists are, Foreign Policy notes. Those included on the lists seem to essentially be "anyone who could challenge the Russian agenda." One Belarusian official said that though his team had advised Belarusians living in Ukraine on how to handle a Russian attack, "they had not been informed of a specific threat to Belarusian dissidents," writes Foreign Policy. Biden will speak on the ongoing crisis at the Russia-Ukraine border at 4 p.m. on Friday.

2-18-22 Russian troop build-up most significant since WW2 - US
Russia creating 'false provocations' in Ukraine, Blinken says. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that shelling in eastern Ukraine over the past 48 hours is part of Russian efforts to create "false provocations" to justify further "aggression". What has happened "in the last 24-48 hours is part of a scenario that is already in place of creating false provocations, of then having to respond to those provocations and then ultimately committing new aggression against Ukraine," Blinken told the Munich Security Conference. Ukraine's military and Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region accuse each other of violating a ceasefire and targeting civilians. Speaking earlier, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said events in the Donbas were "very concerning", warning that the situation there looked potentially very dangerous. Russia now has up to 190,000 troops built-up around Ukraine according to US officials. They say it is the "most significant military mobilisation" in Europe since WW2. World leaders are meeting in Munich today for a security conference, but Russia won't attend for first time since 1999. Russian President Vladimir Putin meanwhile says the situation in Eastern Ukraine is deteriorating. Russia has been backing rebels in separatist-held areas there since 2014. Moscow continues to deny planning an invasion of Ukraine and accuses the West of stoking "hysteria".

2-18-22 Why would Vladimir Putin risk a Ukraine invasion? Check his 'ego,' analysts suggest.
President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and numerous other U.S. officials delivered the same dire message on Thursday: All signs point to Russia invading Ukraine within days. "Biden and his top aides acknowledge they are risking American credibility" by constantly warning that Russian President Vladimir Putin is about to launch a bloody, "unprovoked land war in Europe," The New York Times reports. But they say "they would rather be accused of hyperbole and fearmongering than be proven right." Russia has maintained it has no plans to invade Ukraine, and Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner told NPR News on Tuesday that the feeling among Russians is that "Russia can win nothing by invading Ukraine," On the contrary, he said, "it can lose a lot. Not only would it be a drawn-out guerrilla warfare kind of thing, which Russia cannot really bear. It would be total destruction of any kind of respect for Russia. There's nothing to win and a lot to lose. And there are people who say that's exactly what the West wants." On the Ukraine border, though, "most military indicators are in the red," a Western intelligence official tells The Washington Post. "It all comes down to a political decision about whether to launch an attack. The Russians are actively fabricating the casus belli." "Putin has enough troops in place now to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it," says Politico national security editor Ben Pauker, and when assessing whether he will invade, "the word we don't hear often enough is 'ego.'" Putin has "played the pressure/escalation game many times before in order to extend the sphere of Moscow's influence" or just "put himself back in the center of the world stage," Pauker writes. "But this time, it seems he's boxed himself into a corner: invade and suffer the consequences of international opprobrium and crippling sanctions, or pull the troops back and return home to a public that might smell weakness. I think ego is a significant part of why observers are so worried that he might actually do this, despite the consequences." Putin's sated ego might help avert an "overt" Russian invasion, too, former U.S. NATO ambassador Douglas Lute suggested Thursday. "He enjoys this position,'' Lute told the Times. "Everyone's paying attention to him, like they haven't in years. And he feels in control."

2-18-22 US candidate 'traumatised' by bail for gun suspect
A US mayoral candidate who was shot at during a campaign meeting this week has blasted the decision to grant bail to his alleged would-be assassin. Nobody was injured in Monday's gun attack on Louisville city hall contender Craig Greenberg. Quintez Brown, a 21-year-old left-wing activist who has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder, was bailed out by a Black Lives Matter fund on Wednesday. Mr Greenberg said it indicates the "justice system is clearly broken". Mr Brown, from west Louisville, was reportedly an organiser during Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in the city following the fatal police shooting in March 2020 of a black woman, Breonna Taylor. He has previously worked in youth violence prevention training and was once invited to meet Barack Obama at the launch of a programme started by the former US president. Mr Brown's lawyer has said his client suffered a "mental health breakdown" before the shooting, and had not slept for "days or weeks". Monday's gun attack came as Mr Greenberg, a Democrat, was holding a meeting with four staff members. Nobody was injured, though a bullet did graze the candidate's sweater. Mr Brown was arrested with a pistol and ammunition near the crime scene, said police. His release after two days has provoked criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike. Police have not discussed any motive. "It is nearly impossible to believe that someone can attempt murder on Monday and walk out of jail on Wednesday," Mr Greenberg said in a statement on Thursday. "If someone is struggling with a mental illness and is in custody, they should be evaluated and treated in custody." Mr Greenberg said the release of Mr Brown has left his team and family "traumatised again". The mayoral candidate last month released plans for a "community-oriented police force" and more mental health treatment as part of his platform for public safety in Louisville.

2-18-22 Canada protests: Police begin to make arrests at Ottawa protest
Police are making arrests at a protest site in Canada's capital which has been occupied by anti-vaccine mandate demonstrators for three weeks. The operation started early on Friday morning in downtown Ottawa with police saying some protesters surrendered. It comes days after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act to crack down on demonstrations. A group of protesters have remained in the city in defiance of orders to leave. The police operation has so far remained peaceful. "Freedom was never free," protester Kevin Homaund told the Associated Press. "So what if they put the handcuffs on us and they put us in jail?" On Thursday, police detained two leaders of the trucker convoy. Tamara Lich and Chris Barber were both charged with mischief. Mr Barber also faces an obstruction charge. Ottawa police set up almost 100 police check-points around the main protest site on Thursday, and a large business and residential district in the city centre to prevent more protesters from entering the area. Canada's House of Commons and Senate cancelled Friday sittings because of police action surrounding the parliament buildings. Parliamentarians were scheduled to debate the decision by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke the never-before-used emergencies law. The law grants government added powers in times of crisis and has been used to impose bans on public assembly in some areas of Ottawa and has prohibited travel to the protest zone, among other measures. What began in late January as a truck convoy headed to Ottawa to oppose a vaccine mandate for truckers crossing the US-Canada border grew into a broader opposition to pandemic restrictions and Mr Trudeau's government, with supporting protests across the country. Authorities last weekend cleared the most economically damaging blockade - of a bridge linking Windsor, Ontario, with the US state of Michigan. Trucker protests at other border crossings in Coutts, Alberta, and Emerson, Manitoba, ended this week. Many Ottawa residents have expressed frustration at local police, saying not enough was done to clear the protest, which has paralysed parts of the city around parliament and affected local businesses. The police chief resigned earlier this week over his handling of the demonstration.

2-17-22 Report: 19 Austin police officers indicted for handling of 2020 protests
A grand jury in Texas has indicted 19 Austin police officers on charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with their actions during 2020 protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd, people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Thursday. Travis County District Attorney Jose Garza spoke to reporters on Thursday afternoon about the grand jury, but did not share any details, including how many officers were indicted. Austin Police Association President Ken Cassidy said "numerous officers" have been indicted, but did not have the exact number. He called the indictments "devastating" and accused Garza of "ruin[ing] lives and careers simply to fulfill a campaign promise." Garza said his office will prosecute anyone who causes harm, and believes "our community is safer when our community trusts enforcement. When it believes law enforcement follows that law and protects the people who live here. There cannot be trust if there is no accountability when law enforcement breaks the law." Earlier Thursday, the Austin City Council approved two settlements for people injured by police during the protests — $8 million will go to Justin Howell, who suffered a cracked skull and brain damage after being hit by a beanbag round, and $2 million will go to Anthony Evans, whose jaw was damaged after he was hit by a beanbag round. At the time of the protests, Howell was 20 and Evans was 26. The settlements are reminders of "a real difficult and painful moment in our city," Austin Mayor Steve Adler said.

2-17-22 Police in Ottawa arrest 2 organizers of the 'Freedom Convoy'
Tamara Lich and Chris Barber, two of the main organizers of the so-called "Freedom Convoy" in Ottawa, were arrested on Thursday. Dagny Pawlak, a spokeswoman for the convoy, told The Washington Post that Lich was detained on a charge of "aiding and abetting mischief." Earlier Thursday, Lich, an Alberta resident, told CBC News her personal bank account had been frozen, and she knew she would soon be jailed. Ottawa police declined to comment on the arrests. The protest against Canada's COVID-19 policies began three weeks ago, and demonstrators who remain say they won't leave until all mandates are lifted. There have been dozens of criminal investigations launched from the protests, Ottawa residents have complained about the noise from idling trucks and all-night honking, and police have ticketed people for bringing in fuel to refill trucks and for illegal parking. On Thursday, Ottawa interim Police Chief Steve Bell told the demonstrators it's "time to go. Your time in our city has come to an end and you must leave." Police have set up a perimeter around Ottawa, Bell said, and a large area is now only open to residents, workers, and law enforcement. "I implore anyone that's there — get in your truck and we will navigate safe passage for you to leave our city streets," he added. "We want this demonstration to end peacefully. ... There is a deliberate plan, there is commitment, and there's the resourcing that we now have in place to end this." Earlier this week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau authorized the Emergencies Act to give authorities temporary powers during the crisis. Trudeau on Thursday said this wasn't done in order to suspend the fundamental rights of Canadians or deploy the military. "Some protesters came to Ottawa to express their frustration and fatigue with public health measures," he added. "That's their right. But the illegal blockades and occupations are not. They have to stop." Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Thursday said there are links between the Ottawa protest and a blockade in Coutts, Alberta, where police seized guns and ammunition from demonstrators. Government documents released Wednesday suggest that former police officers and military members are providing security and logistics support for the Alberta blockade, Global News reports, and the country's protests have become a haven for "anti-government and anti-authority, anti-vaccination, conspiracy theory, and white supremacist groups throughout Canada and other Western countries."

2-17-22 3 in 4 Americans have immunity from Omicron, model estimates, but the other 80 million 'have to be very careful'
About 73 percent of Americans are currently immune from the Omicron coronavirus variant, and that number could rise to 80 percent by mid-March as the highly infectious COVID-19 strain continues to circulate, the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated for The Associated Press. About 50 percent of eligible Americans are fully vaccinated and boosted, about 80 million COVID-19 infections have been confirmed, and many other infections were never reported. The IHME modelers took those figures into account and tried to fill in the blanks by looking at health data from Britain, Denmark, South Africa, and other countries, AP reported Thursday. With three-fourths of Americans having some level of protection, "future spikes will likely require much less — if any — dramatic disruption to society." "I am optimistic even if we have a surge in summer, cases will go up, but hospitalizations and deaths will not," IHME's Ali Mokdad tells AP. But even in the most optimistic estimates, some 80 million Americans are still vulnerable to a dangerous virus, and "the 26 percent who could still get omicron right now have to be very careful," Mokdad added. "We've reached a much better position for the coming months, but with waning immunity we shouldn't take it for granted." Millions of Americans don't have immunity because they refuse to get vaccinated, but there are also more than seven million immunocompromised adults in the U.S. who will likely never have strong immunity and tens of million more with at least one medical condition that puts them at greater risk of serious COVID-19 infections, The New York Times reports. "And they have seethed over talk from politicians and public health experts that they perceive as minimizing the value of their lives." ransplant recipients, cancer patients, and others with compromised immune systems have been "sequestering at home, keeping their children out of school, and skipping medical care rather than risk exposure to the virus" since March 2020, the Times reports. "As Year 3 of the pandemic approaches, with public support for precautions plummeting and governors of even the most liberal states moving to shed mask mandates, they find themselves coping with exhaustion and grief, rooted in the sense that their neighbors and leaders are willing to accept them as collateral damage in a return to normalcy."

2-17-22 CDC's Walensky told House panel there's no timeline for relaxing school masking guidance
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said Wednesday that her agency is working on COVID-19 guidance that is "relevant" and based not just on case numbers but also hospital capacity, community transmission rates, and other metrics. Everyone is eager to "get to a point where COVID-19 is no longer disrupting our daily lives," and "we want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again," Walenksy said. "If and when we update our guidance, we will communicate that clearly and it will be based on the data and the science." At a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Republicans had pressed Walensky on the CDC's guidance that children wear masks in schools, and she acknowledged "limitations" to the science on school masking, according to audio of the virtual hearing shared with Reason. But the research "uniformly" shows "that when there's a lot of disease out there, the masks are preventing that disease and preventing that transmission, and because of that we are able to keep our schools open," she added. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) argued that the U.S. is "an outlier as it relates to the mask mandate for our children to go to school," and asked Walensky to "commit to update your guidance by Friday to allow children in person without the burden of masks," Reason reports. Walensky declined. When Rep. Gary Palmer (R–Ala.) asked Walensky to justify the school masking guidance, Reason reports, she noted that "guidance is just guidance," decisions "have to be made at the local level," and "as cases come down dramatically, we have deferred our guidance to the local jurisdictions." Palmer called that answer "not acceptable." Rep. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said local jurisdictions lifting mask requirements while the CDC advises them on a national level "puts a dent in CDC credibility." Indeed, "government and business leaders have been out ahead of the CDC in ending virus measures in the last week, including ordering workers back to offices, eliminating mask mandates, and no longer requiring proof of vaccine," The Associated Press reports. COVID-19 infections have dropped to their lowest levels since September, and coronavirus-related hospitalizations have dropped 30 percent in the past two weeks, to about 85,000 on Tuesday, The New York Times reports. "Deaths, though, remain high at about 2,300 a day."

2-17-22 Evidence suggests Russian invasion of Ukraine is still 'imminent,' U.S. says
In keeping with rhetoric from ealier in the week, the U.S. said Thursday that evidence from Ukraine's border shows Russia "moving towards an imminent invasion" — not withdrawing its troops, as the Kremlin has claimed, CNN reports. "The evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving towards an imminent invasion," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., on Thursday, per CNN. Thomas-Greenfield said that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will, in a last minute change, address the U.S. Security Council considering "this is a crucial moment." "Our goal is to convey the gravity of the situation," she added. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also on Thursday said that, "even in the last couple of days," U.S. officials have seen Russia add to its military presence along the border — evidence once again at odds with Moscow's claims. "I was a soldier myself not that long ago, and I know firsthand that you don't do these sort of things for no reason, and you certainly don't do them if you're getting ready to pack up and go home, so we and our allies will stay vigilant," Austin said Thursday. Added NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: "We don't know what will happen, but what we do know is that Russia has amassed the biggest force we have seen for decades in and around Ukraine." Also on Thursday, Russia expelled Deputy U.S. Ambassador Bartle Gorman for reasons not immediately known, Reuters reports.

2-17-22 'This is our home': The Americans who refuse to leave Ukraine
The US government has urged its citizens to leave Ukraine immediately, citing the threat of imminent Russian invasion. Not all US citizens who live in Ukraine are taking this advice. The West has dismissed Russian claims of a partial troop withdrawal and US officials continue to believe that Moscow could attack at any time. But many here don't believe that a full-scale attack on Kyiv is imminent, despite warnings from intelligence sources quoted in the media. The question of whether to leave Ukraine is currently one of the most discussed in expat social media groups, which includes people who came to Ukraine on a short visit and those who have lived here for a long time. BBC News Ukraine spoke to some Americans in Ukraine - businessmen, teachers, volunteers - and asked them about their decision to stay. Sean Almeida was born in Boston, Massachusetts, but he has been building a business in Kyiv since 2014. He is the director of a real estate company and now, despite the threat, does not intend to flee Ukraine. "I did not leave during the Maidan revolution [protests in 2013 and 2014 that led to the overthrow of Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych], or when Russia annexed Crimea, or during the start of hostilities in the Donbas," he told the BBC. "Let Biden say what he wants, but I am not going to panic and leave the country that has long since become my home." Sean does not believe that the Russian invasion is as inevitable as Western media and diplomats say. The American not only does business in Ukraine but has also started a family. "I have a family here, and my daughter was born over a year ago," he said. Ahead of 16 February, the day on which US officials said Russia might begin its attack, the businessman sent his family to Lviv in the west of Ukraine. Some countries have relocated their embassies to Lviv, as it is further away from the border with Russia. Sean saw off his wife, mother-in-law and two daughters but himself was determined not to leave Kyiv. No one from the US embassy has contacted him about evacuation, he added.

2-17-22 Canada protests: Ottawa stand-off continues as blockades cleared
Police in Canada's capital are telling protesters to "leave the area now" as the demonstration against Covid restrictions continues. Hundreds remain in Ottawa in defiance of the newly deployed Emergencies Act. The warning came as the last remaining border blockade, at Emerson, Manitoba, came to an end on Wednesday. Authorities already cleared border blockades in Coutts, Alberta; in Surrey, British Columbia; and the vital Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the unprecedented step of invoking emergency powers to crack down on the demonstrations. On Wednesday morning, Ottawa police issued leaflets warning those still in the city centre after nearly three weeks of demonstrations that anyone blocking the streets - or assisting those doing so - would face arrest. "The people of Ottawa are being denied the lawful use, enjoyment and operation of their property and you are causing businesses to close. That is mischief under the criminal code," the leaflets said. Many Ottawa residents are angry about the protests, which have affected local businesses and daily life. The police chief resigned this week after mounting criticism over his force's handling of the demonstration. Interim Police Steve Bell said on Wednesday that officers will "take back the entirety of the downtown core and every occupied space" in the "coming days". The new powers invoked by Mr Trudeau will be used to ban gatherings in the parts of Ottawa most affected by the protest - around Parliament Hill and nearby government buildings and war monuments - and prohibit travel to these areas. Demonstrators will also be barred from bringing children to the Ottawa protest. Those who do so risk incurring thousands of dollars in fines as well as potential jail time.The powers will also be used to compel the provision of essential services, namely tow truck drivers and companies to help remove vehicles from Ottawa's congested downtown.

2-17-22 FBI analyst testifies Ahmaud Arbery's murderers regularly used racial slurs, shared racist posts
An FBI intelligence analyst testified Wednesday at the federal hate crimes trial of Ahmaud Arbery's murderers that two of the three men routinely used racial slurs in text and Facebook messages. Late last year, Gregory McMichael, his son Travis McMichael, and William "Roddie" Bryan were convicted on state murder charges in the February 2020 death of Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood. The McMichaels claimed they believed Arbery was a burglary suspect, and chased him in a truck. Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery as they struggled over McMichael's shotgun. Bryan was behind them in another vehicle, and recorded some of the incident on his cellphone. The McMichaels and Bryan are white, and in this federal trial — unlike the state one — prosecutors aim to prove that the three men attacked Arbery due to racial bias. During her testimony Wednesday, FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan went over more than 24 text and Facebook conversations Travis McMichael and Bryan had with others, conducted in the months and years prior to Arbery's killing. She said the FBI was unable to gain access to Gregory McMichael's phone because it was encrypted. Vaughan testified that Travis McMichael used the N-word to describe Black people in text and Facebook conversations, and once shared a video showing a young Black child dancing with a white supremacist song playing over it, The Guardian reports. He also stated multiple times he was glad he wasn't a Black person, using a racial slur, and talked about violence against Black people. Additional evidence was presented that showed Bryan used the N-word, including while describing how upset he was over his daughter dating a Black man, and mocked Martin Luther King Jr. Day, while Gregory McMichael posted a meme on Facebook in 2016 saying white Irish slaves were "treated worse than any race in the U.S. but that the Irish were not asking for handouts," The Guardian reports. Attorneys for the defendants did not dispute any of the messages. Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery, told reporters outside the court he wasn't really "shocked" by the text messages and social media posts, but didn't realize "all that hate was in those three men."

2-17-22 Covid-19 news: 5-to-11-year-olds in England to get vaccines from April
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Children aged between five and 11 in England will be able to get a covid jab. All five to 11-year-olds in England will be offered a low-dose Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. It follows months of deliberations by the Joint Committee on Vaccines and Immunisation (JCVI). The JCVI reportedly decided that vaccinating children in this age group is beneficial, but of less benefit than for older age groups. This is partly because children are less likely to become severely ill from covid-19 and also because many children have already caught the virus. However, vaccinating children soon should prevent a certain number from developing severe illness in future waves of infection. The JCVI estimates that vaccinating one million children will prevent 98 hospitalisations if the next covid wave is severe, and about 17 hospitalisations if the next wave is relatively mild like omicron. Expectant mothers who get vaccinated for coronavirus pass on immune protection to their new-borns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The risk of hospitalisation due to coronavirus for a baby who is six months or younger is 61 per cent lower if the mother received two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines while pregnant, said Dana Meaney-Delman at the CDC. The team analysed data from 20 paediatric hospitals across 17 states from July 2021 to January 2022. They also found that 84 per cent of the babies hospitalised with covid-19 in that period had been born to unvaccinated mothers. The study did not look at the effects of booster shots during pregnancy. Countries in the Americas need to be better prepared for the next wave of covid-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) said yesterday. Too many countries in the Americas responded to the omicron wave with a shrug and did not alter any public health measures to effectively slow down transmission, said Carissa Etienne at the Pan American Health Organization (a regional arm of the WHO). “Now we’re dealing with the consequences,” she said. “A rise in infections is driving a surge in deaths.” “This will not be the last variant and the future of the pandemic is still extremely uncertain,” said Etienne. “A new variant could emerge at any time.”

2-16-22 U.S. official says Russia has added 7,000 more troops near Ukraine border
Russia has said it is pulling back troops from the country's border with Ukraine, but a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press on Wednesday evening that in fact, 7,000 more troops have been added. It is estimated that more than 150,000 troops are stationed to the east, north, and south of Ukraine, and the U.S. official said some of the 7,000 new troops arrived as recently as Wednesday. Last month, the U.S. warned that Russia could be planning a false-flag operation as a pretext for invading Ukraine, and the U.S. official told AP there has been an uptick in the number of false claims being made by Russia, including that the West is bringing in guerrillas to kill Ukrainians and Ukrainian forces are killing Russians and putting their bodies in unmarked graves. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Wednesday said Russia could claim to be withdrawing forces while actually adding troops because "this is the Russian playbook, to paint a picture publicly ... while they do the opposite." NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also said the alliance has not seen "any withdrawal of Russian forces," adding, "if they really start to withdraw forces, that's something we will welcome, but that remains to be seen." With the amount of troops still at the border, Russian President Vladimir Putin "can pull the trigger," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC News. "He can pull it today. He can pull it tomorrow. He can pull it next week. The forces are there if he wants to renew aggression against Ukraine." Wednesday was declared a national day of unity by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, following reports that this could be the date Russia launched an invasion. Zelensky believes it is "too early to rejoice" about Russia pulling back troops, and in a televised address, said his country is "united by a desire to happily live in peace. We can defend our home only if we stay united."

2-16-22 More Russian military trains have arrived near border since withdrawal claims, says independent satellite analysis
Despite Moscow's claims, the West and Russia are still at odds over the latter's purported partial troop withdrawal from the border of Ukraine, The Washington Post reports. U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly pushed back on the Kremlin's reports, maintaining that the continued presence and massing of Russian troops contradicts whatever declarations Moscow wants to make. What's more, Rochan Consulting — an independent Polish analytical group that "tracks military movements using satellite images," writes the Post — recently shared some information to futher underscore the West's point. The consulting group reported Wednesday that more military trains have made their way toward the country's border with Ukraine since Moscow's partial withdrawal announcement was made. The group said "elements of Russia's 2nd Combined Arms Army and equipment from other units continued to move toward the border," writes the Post. "There is no indication that troops are being withdrawn. In fact, it is the opposite," the report read. Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that while he cannot say whether the threat of invasion is greater today than it was yesterday, the possibility is "there" and "it's real." "Unfortunately there's a difference between what Russia says and what it does, and what we're seeing is no meaningful pullback," Blinken said.

2-16-22 Israel has reportedly told Russia it will need help evacuating citizens if Ukraine is invaded
Israel is taking the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine seriously, with a senior government official telling his Russian counterpart during a Wednesday phone call that if it happens, Israel will need Moscow's help getting citizens and diplomats evacuated, Axios reports. Two senior Israeli officials told Axios the phone call was between Alon Ushpiz, the director general of Israel's foreign ministry, and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Earlier, Israel's ambassador to Moscow had a similar conversation with Bogdanov, the officials said. Since Sunday, 3,000 Israeli citizens have left Ukraine, and the government estimates that about 10,000 are still in the country, Axios reports. The Israeli officials said the government wants to make sure that if an invasion happens, citizens will be able to safely move to a neighboring country, and there is a draft contingency plan to evacuate them through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Moldova, and Romania. Israel has "close relations" with Russia, Ukraine, and the United States, Axios notes, and has been careful to avoid upsetting those partners and making it look like one was favored over another. On Friday, though, after receiving a new intelligence report from the U.S., the Israeli government decided to tell citizens in Ukraine to leave immediately, five Israeli officials told Axios.

2-16-22 Canada's Conservative lawmakers call Trudeau 'dictator' as he defends his emergency declaration in Parliament
Conservative members of Canada's House of Commons lit into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday after he invoked the country's Emergencies Act earlier this week to crack down on the Freedom Convoy protests. Conservative MP Andrew Scheer argued that when First Nations peoples blocked railroad lines and the path of a planned pipeline in 2020, Trudeau was willing to negotiate with the protesters, "but now that the protests are about something that he disagrees with, he uses inflammatory language, hurls personal attacks, and makes a massive power grab." "We know the PM finds democracy inconvenient and that he admires China's dictatorship," Scheer continued. "So will the prime minister admit that this is all just a move to crack down on dissent?" Scheer was not the only one to bring up comments Trudeau made about China when he was leader of the opposition. "There's a level of admiration I actually have for China, because their basic dictatorship is allowing them to actually turn their economy around on a dime," Trudeau said at a 2013 fundraiser. Nor was Scheer the only one to criticize Trudeau's handling of the protests. Candice Bergen, who became the Conservative Party's interim leader after Erin O'Toole was ousted earlier this month, rose to blast the prime minister for "call[ing] people he disagrees with racists, misogynists." Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman called Trudeau's emergency declaration "unjustified." Trudeau responded to Lantsman, who is Jewish, by saying Conservatives have chosen to "stand with people who wave swastikas." Trudeau defended himself by insisting the protests were harming Canadians and by doubling down on his criticism of the demonstrators, drawing cries of "Dictator!" and other shouts of derision from the Conservative benches. Debate in Canada's Westminster-style parliament tends to be more vigorous than in the U.S. House and Senate, but even so, Speaker of the House of Commons Anthony Rota was forced to intervene several times to restore order.

2-16-22 CDC director: We want to give people 'a break' from mask wearing when metrics improve
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said that although the agency is not changing mask guidance just yet, it is reviewing its recommendations and shifting its focus toward hospitalizations as a key metric for determining tighter pandemic protocols, CNBC reported Wednesday. "We must consider hospital capacity as an additional important barometer," Walensky said during a Wednesday COVID-19 response briefing. "We want to give people a break from things like mask wearing when these metrics are better and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen." The agency recommends people in areas with high viral transmission wear masks regardless of vaccination status. "Nearly every county in the U.S. has high transmission right now," CNBC reports, citing CDC data. Still, the CDC is may loosen indoor masking guidelines "as early as next week," NBC News reported Wednesday, citing individuals familiar with the matter. The White House has, as of late, been hoping for an update to the CDC's indoor guidelines but did not want to put pressure on the agency, NBC News notes. Meanwhile, several Democratic governors have already gone ahead and announced plans to lift mask mandates, beating the federal government to the punch.

2-16-22 Trump's Interior secretary Zinke broke ethics rules, watchdog says
Ryan Zinke broke federal ethics rules while serving as secretary of the Interior under former President Donald Trump, the Interior Department's internal watchdog said Wednesday. According to The Washington Post, Zinke, who served one term in the House of Representatives before joining Trump's cabinet, committed ethical breaches by "improperly participating in real estate negotiations with the chairman of the energy giant Halliburton at the time and other developers … to discuss the design of a large commercial and residential development in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana." Zinke also reportedly had federal employees set up his meetings with those developers. Zinke's family foundation, which his wife, Lola, runs, had agreed to donate a parking lot for the project. David J. Lesar, the then-chairman of Halliburton, funded the development group. Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt's 32-page report concludes that, despite Zinke's ethical violations, he did not break the law. Per the Post, the "did not find evidence that Zinke had used his position to benefit Halliburton or for his own financial gain." The Post also notes, however, that "the project had the potential to increase the value of multiple parcels of land the Zinkes owned nearby." Zinke resigned in January 2019 after being plagued by scandal throughout his tenure as secretary. He drew criticism for taking 66 personal days in his first 18 months as secretary and quickly became the subject of at least three investigations. He also falsely claimed to be a geologist more than 40 times. By late 2018, Trump was considering firing him. Zinke became a lobbyist after resigning and is now running for a second term in the House of Representatives.

2-16-22 Bill that would have criminalized lying about election results dies in Washington state Senate
A bill that would have made it illegal to lie about the results of an election died in the Washington state Senate on Tuesday, The Seattle Times reported. Senate Bill 5843 was introduced at the urging of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and would have made it a gross misdemeanor for elected officials or political candidates to lie "knowingly, recklessly, or maliciously" about election results. State Sen. David Frockt (D), who sponsored the bill, said, "We have to respect that the bill in its current form did not have enough support to advance despite the care we took in its drafting through our consultation with leading First Amendment scholars." Law professor Jeff Kosseff wrote that Inslee's bill amounted to "jailing people for political speech" and is part of an "illiberal trend" to "sacrifice core free speech protections to address the problems of the day." Per the Times, Inslee first proposed the bill on the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The same day protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Trump supporters in Olympia, Washington, breached the gates of the governor's mansion, forcing Inslee to flee. Loren Culp, the Republican who lost to Inslee in the 2020 gubernatorial election, "filed a legal challenge alleging fraud by then-Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a fellow Republican," after the election, the Times reports. Her lawsuit was later withdrawn. After the bill was defeated on Tuesday, Inslee said in a statement, "We all still have a responsibility to act against this Big Lie ... we must continue to explore ways to fight the dangerous deceptions politicians are still promoting about our elections."

2-16-22 Poll: 75 percent of Americans support requiring vaccines, masks, or both to access indoor public spaces
A Politico-Morning Consult poll released Wednesday shows that, while frustration with COVID-19 restrictions has become increasingly mainstream, plenty of voters aren't ready to return to pre-pandemic normalcy just yet. Ffity-four percent of respondents said government should prioritize the economy over slowing the spread of COVID. Only 38 percent said addressing COVID should be the higher priority. But, when pollsters introduced the trade-offs involved, the numbers flipped. 57 percent of voters said "Americans should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus even if it means continued damage to the economy," while only 31 percent said "Americans should stop social distancing to stimulate the economy even if it means increasing the spread of coronavirus." Seventy-five percent said local governments should require vaccinations, masks, or both to access indoor public spaces. According to Politico, support for requiring masks and vaccinations, which stands at 49 percent, is down seven points since September, suggesting that "anti-masking sentiment" is "now mainstream — and growing in popularity." Support for COVID restrictions remains fairly strong, but this support is heavily concentrated among Democrats. 65 percent of Democrat respondents said it was too early to for states to rescind mask mandates, compared to 42 percent of independents and only 20 percent of Republicans. In light of this disparity, Democratic governors seeking to broaden their party's appeal ahead of the midterms have relaxed COVID restrictions in recent weeks. The Politico-Morning Consult poll surveyed 2,005 registered voters, was conducted on Feb. 12 and 13, and has an error margin of two percent.

2-16-22 Families of Sandy Hook victims settle with Remington
A company that made a rifle used in one of the US's deadliest school shootings has settled with the families of victims for $73m (£53.9m). The settlement from Remington Arms comes in response to a lawsuit brought by the families of nine of 26 victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. The case marks the first time a gun-maker has faced liability for a mass shooting. Until now, the industry had immunity from litigation. Each family will receive a share of the settlement, but other details of the deal were not disclosed. Josh Koskoff, a lawyer representing the families of victims, said they were delighted by the outcome because their focus was on "preventing the next Sandy Hook". "Our loss is irreversible, in the sense this outcome is neither redemptive nor restorative," Lenny Pozner and Veronique De la Rosa, whose six-year-old son Noah was killed, wrote in testimony released after the settlement. "What is lost remains lost," they added. "However, the resolution does provide a measure of accountability in an industry that has thus far operated with impunity." One example cited by Mr Koskoff featured an image of a rifle along with the words "consider your man card reissued". The lawsuit alleged that the campaign formed part of a larger and "aggressive" marketing effort that included product placement in video games. "I had thought the case was about the gun, but it's just as much about the greed," he said at a news conference on Tuesday. The $73m amounts to the full amount of coverage available from Remington's four insurers. "This victory should serve as a wake up call, not only to the gun industry, but also the insurance and banking companies that prop it up," he added. "For the insurance and banking industries, it's time to recognise the financial cost of underwriting companies that elevate profit by escalating risk." Last July, Remington - the oldest gun-maker in the US - offered $33 million to (£24m) to the families, falling far short of the $225m they'd sought in court. They rejected the offer and said they had collected enough evidence to prove misconduct from Remington.

2-16-22 Blinken unable to say if Russian threat is 'higher or lower,' but 'it's there' and 'it's real'
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Good Morning America on Wednesday to discuss a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine, which U.S. officials have posited could happen as soon as Feb. 16. On Tuesday, Moscow said it was pulling some troops back from the border in a sign of potental de-escalation, though NATO officials as well as Ukraine were skeptical of the claims. Even President Biden warned that an invasion "is still very much a possibility." On Wednesday, Blinken told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that despite Russia's partial withdrawal reports, the threat at the border nonetheless "remains deeply, deeply concerning." And when asked by Stephanopoulos whether the threat today — i.e. the day of a predicted invasion — is greater than that of yesterday, Blinken was unable to say, but noted danger is still there and "it's real." "From day to day, George, you can't say it's higher or lower ... it's there. It's real. We haven't seen a pullback, we'd like to see one, if we see one we would welcome it," Blinken responded. "We're prepared for diplomacy, we're prepared for aggression, we're prepared either way." Watch the full interview with Blinken at ABC News.

2-16-22 Ukraine crisis: Human cost of Russia attack would be immense - Biden
A Russian attack on Ukraine is "still very much a possibility" and the human cost would be "immense", US President Joe Biden has said. In remarks televised nationally, he said the US was ready to respond decisively to such a move. Mr Biden said Russia had massed some 150,000 troops on Ukraine's borders. Russia says it is pulling back some of its troops. On Wednesday, it announced that military drills in Moscow-annexed Crimea had ended. "Units of the Southern Military District, having completed their participation in tactical exercises, are moving to their permanent deployment points," the defence ministry said in a statement, without detailing how many troops were leaving. Footage broadcast on state television appeared to show military vehicles crossing the bridge to leave Crimea. But Western leaders remain wary, with Nato saying there were no signs yet of a de-escalation. "On the contrary," secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said, "it appears that Russia continues their military build-up". His comments, ahead of a meeting of the military alliance's defence ministers, echoed Mr Biden's remarks on Tuesday, when he said Russia's withdrawal "would be good" but had not yet been verified. "Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position," the president said. Also on Tuesday, Ukraine said the websites of its defence ministry and two banks came under a cyber-attack. The cause is not clear but Ukraine has suffered large-scale attacks before on its online infrastructure and has pointed the finger at Russia. Russia's government, however, has denied any involvement. There has long been concern that, rather than a full-scale invasion, Russia could use less obvious means to destabilise Ukraine, for example through cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. President Biden said the US was prepared to respond to any such move.

2-16-22 'Freedom (infection) Convoy' donations are about half Canadian, half from U.S., leaked data show
As Canadian law enforcement dismantles "Freedom Convoy" protests blocking U.S.-Canada border crossings, the effective blockade of the capital, Ottawa, shows no signs of breaking up. Ottawa Police Services chief Peter Sloly stepped down Tuesday amid criticism of his tepid, ineffective response to the entrenched, disciplined, and logistically sophisticated occupation. As news of Sloly's departure reached the central protest encampment, "jubilant honking blared through the city," The New York Times reports. High above the clot of trucks on Ottawa's Parliament Hill, in hotel rooms just out of the fray, are the war rooms behind the operation," run by "a team of self-appointed leaders, some with military and right-wing organizing backgrounds," the Times reports. "On the ground," captains oversee each occupied road and block, checking in "on the drivers ensconced in their cabs, delivering things like hot breakfasts — doling out so much food that some protesters said they have to turn it away." This all takes serious resources. Earlier in the three-week occupation, Sloly said a "significant" part of the funding was coming from the U.S. A hack of Christian crowdfunding site GiveGoSend on Sunday shows he was right: 56 percent of the 92,844 cataloged donors are American, according to an analysis of the leaked data by Canada's Globe and Mail. On the other hand, about 52 percent of the nearly $9 million in documented donations came from Canada, versus 42 percent from the U.S., The Washington Post said. The largest single non-anonymous donation, $90,000, appears to have come from Silicon Valley billionaire Thomas Siebel. "Large donations were so significant that the top 1 percent of donors accounted for 20 per cent of all donations," the Globe and Mail reports. "The top 10 per cent, meanwhile, accounted for nearly 50 percent of all donations. The Post broke down the U.S. donations by zip code. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Monday to give law enforcement more tools to dismantle the occupation in Ottawa and at border crossings, and a key part of the strategy "is about following the money," Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday. "This is about stopping the financing of these illegal blockades." Canadian security analyst Jessica Davis told the CBC on Tuesday she doesn't think freezing the accounts of protesters and organizers will immediately dissolve the Ottawa protest, but it could make life very difficult for them in the medium term.

2-16-22 Jury rules against Sarah Palin in New York Times libel lawsuit
A jury in New York City has ruled unanimously against ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in her defamation lawsuit against the New York Times newspaper. Ms Palin argued the Times defamed her in 2017 by linking her to a shooting that left six people dead. The verdict comes after the judge threw out the case on Monday, saying her lawyers had not presented the evidence required for public figures to sue. Ms Palin is expected to appeal the case to a higher court. "The New York Times welcomes today's decision," said a newspaper spokeswoman. "It is a reaffirmation of a fundamental tenet of American law: public figures should not be permitted to use libel suits to punish or intimidate news organisations that make, acknowledge and swiftly correct unintentional errors." Ms Palin originally filed her lawsuit in 2017, arguing her reputation was damaged by an opinion piece written by its editorial board, which said her political rhetoric helped incite the 2011 shooting in Arizona that severely wounded US congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed six other people. A fundraising group for Ms Palin had circulated a map of electoral districts that put Ms Giffords and 19 other Democrats under "stylised crosshairs", the newspaper said. It later corrected the editorial and conceded the wording used in it was flawed. During her witness testimony, Ms Palin accused the New York Times of trying to "score political points" with the editorial, which she said left her feeling "powerless" and "mortified". She also said the newspaper's correction was insufficient - and didn't include her name. On Monday, US District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed the case, saying that Ms Palin's lawyers had failed to show that the newspaper acted with "actual malice". However, he made the unusual decision of allowing the jury to continue deliberating. If they ruled in Ms Palin's favour, he would have thrown out the case, but given the likelihood of appeal, he decided that another court "would greatly benefit from knowing how the jury would decide it". The jury of nine had been deliberating since Friday before given their verdict on Tuesday. "We reached the same bottom line, but on different grounds," Judge Rakoff told the jurors on Tuesday. "You decided the facts. I decided the law." In January, the court case was delayed after Ms Palin - a 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee - tested positive for Covid-19.

2-16-22 Covid: Hong Kong's hospitals overwhelmed amid spike in cases
Hong Kong's healthcare system has been overwhelmed by a huge surge in Covid-19 cases, with infected patients being treated outside crowded hospitals. The government has admitted it is struggling to contain the fifth wave of infections, fuelled by Omicron. But it has ruled out a city-wide lockdown. A record 4,285 new cases were reported on Wednesday. Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the local leaders to take "all necessary measures", in a rare intervention. The comments may signal tighter controls in China's special administrative region, which pursues a zero Covid policy - but without the strict mass testing and lockdowns seen in mainland China. More than 10,000 people are waiting to be admitted to hospitals, as experts warn cases could surge to 28,000 daily. Nine people died from the virus in the past 24 hours, including a three-year old girl, authorities say. The city of 7.5 million people has confirmed about 26,000 infections since the start of the pandemic and just over 200 deaths, numbers far below other similar sized cities. But there is rising fatigue among residents who have had to endure tight measures that include the closure of most public venues like pubs, gyms and churches, and severe travel restrictions. The government has also struggled to persuade residents to get vaccinated, with a relatively low uptake among the elderly in particular. President Xi said the Hong Kong government "must mobilise all power and resources to take all necessary measures" to control the outbreak, according to pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao. Responding to the message, Hong Kong leader Carry Lam said local authorities would "mobilise all available manpower and resources and adopt all necessary measures" to control the situation. The work would focus on improving testing capacity, building treatment and isolation facilities, and receiving medical and other supplies from mainland China, she said.

2-15-22 Sandy Hook settlement marks first time a gun maker has been held liable for a mass shooting
The families of victims killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting have reached a $73 million settlement with Remington Arms, the company that manufactured the gun used in the massacre, NPR reports. It is the first time a gun maker has been held liable for a mass shooting in the U.S. "These nine families have shared a single goal from the very beginning: to do whatever they could to help prevent the next Sandy Hook," the families' lawyer, Josh Koskoff, said in a statement. "It is hard to imagine an outcome that better accomplishes that goal." The Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, resulted in the death of 20 students and six educators. Tuesday's settlement "represents a rare victory for plaintiffs suing gun makers" in the wake of a 2005 law that protects firearms manufacturers from liability in how their products are used, says The Wall Street Journal. The exception to the law notes manufacturers "may be liable for injuries resulting from violations of state laws dealing with the marketing of their products," the Journal writes. The nine Sandy Hook families "sued and claimed Remington violated Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act" because "its promotional materials for the Bushmaster rifle encouraged violent behavior," reports the Journal. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that Remington could be held responsible for their marketing practice, and the U.S. Supreme Court subsequently denied the gun maker's request to review the case. Remington filed for bankruptcy in 2020.

2-15-22 D.C. lifts indoor vaccine mandate, mask mandate to follow March 1
Washington D.C., lifted its short-lived indoor vaccine mandate on Tuesday and plans to lift its mask mandate on March 1, Axios reports. The vaccine mandate, which took effect on Jan. 15, required "all patrons aged 12 or older to show proof that they have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before they are allowed entry" to bars, restaurants, sporting venues, convention centers, and other establishments. Gym patrons had to remain masked even on treadmills. The requirement was scheduled to increase to two doses on Feb. 15. Instead, it was dropped altogether. The return to pre-COVID normalcy is not total, however. According to Axios, even after March 1, "masks will still be required in some places, including schools … nursing facilities, childcare facilities, and libraries." D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser made the decision after concluding the city is in "a much better place" than it was during the height of the Omicron variant spike. Case numbers are down 42 percent since the beginning of February and have almost returned to pre-Omicron levels, per Axios. Bowser is not the only Democrat rolling back COVID restrictions. Earlier this month, the Democratic governors of Colorado, New Jersey, and New York all dropped their states' mask mandates.

2-15-22 Trudeau vows to freeze anti-mandate protesters' bank accounts
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act to crack down on anti-vaccine mandate protests. Mr Trudeau said the scope of the measures would be "time-limited", "reasonable and proportionate" and would not see the military deployed. With no need for court orders, banks can freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests. Hundreds of demonstrators remain in Canada's capital city. On Sunday, law enforcement cleared anti-mandate protesters at the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor - a critical pathway for Canada-US trade - after a week-long stalemate. What began as a rally against a new rule that all truckers must be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border, or quarantine upon return, has grown into a broader challenge to all Covid health restrictions. "This is about keeping Canadians safe, protecting people's jobs," Mr Trudeau told a news conference on Monday. He said the police would be given "more tools" to imprison or fine protesters and protect critical infrastructure. Mr Trudeau told reporters the legislation would be applied temporarily and in a highly specific manner. Critics have noted that the prime minister voiced support for farmers in India who blocked major highways to New Delhi for a year in 2021, saying at the time: "Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest." Mr Trudeau's invoking of the Emergencies Act comes as demonstrations across Canada enter their third week. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at Monday's news conference that banks would be able freeze personal accounts of anyone linked with the protests without any need for a court order. Vehicle insurance of anyone involved with the demonstrations can also be suspended, she added. Ms Freeland said they were broadening Canada's "Terrorist Financing" rules to cover cryptocurrencies and crowdfunding platforms, as part of the effort.

2-15-22 Canadian Mounties seize weapons cache, arrest 13 in Alberta Freedom (Infection) Convoy blockade
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Monday that they arrested 13 people and seized a cache of weapons and body armor from the "Freedom Convoy" protest blocking the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Coutts, Alberta. The RCMP said its weeklong investigation found that the 11 people arrested in the first sweep had "a willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade." Two more people were arrested traveling to join the protest, one with two weapons in his car and the other after coming close to ramming one of the Mounties, police said. One of the protest organizers, Marco Van Huigenbos, said after the arrests that "our objective was to be here peacefully" but "we were infiltrated by an extreme element." He said that "to keep that message going, we want to peacefully leave Coutts and return to our families," starting Tuesday morning. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters on Monday that the seizure of guns and those who would wield them will allow the RCMP and provincial authorities to peacefully reopen the border crossing. "Now that the RCMP has successfully resolved this potential threat, they will proceed, I'm informed, with enforcement against others who are involved in the blockade." Kenny and the premiers of Quebec, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan said they did not require the federal government's emergency powers invoked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday. But Doug Ford, the Conservative premier of Ontario, supported the unprecedented emergency declaration. Police cleared the Ambassador Bridge border blockade in Windsor, Ontario, on Sunday, but the nation's capital, Ottawa, is still in a tense standoff with protesters who have used big-rig trucks to clog up the financial district and residential neighborhoods for more than two weeks. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Trudeau's government may very narrowly use its emergency powers to freeze the bank accounts and void the vehicle insurance of anyone involved in unlawful demonstrations. Tamara Lich, a leader of the Ottawa occupation, dismissed Trudeau's move. "There are no threats that will frighten us," she told The Associated Press. "We will hold the line."

2-15-22 Canada (Infectiion) trucker protest: What powers will Emergencies Act give Trudeau?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked the never-used Emergencies Act to give his government enhanced authority in response to the anti-vaccine mandate protests and blockades gripping Canada. The law will grant Mr Trudeau's government extraordinary powers for 30 days - including the power to prohibit public assembly, travel and the use of specific property. The move comes amid weeks of disruptive - and expensive - demonstrations against Covid-19 restrictions. Law enforcement on Sunday re-opened the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor - a critical crossing for Canada-US trade - after a week-long standstill. But in Ottawa, hundreds of demonstrators have begun their third week of occupation around the city's Parliament Hill. Here's a look at what the Emergencies Act is, and what it can actually do. The Emergencies Act, passed in 1988, bestows the government with added powers in times of national crisis. The situation must meet a high bar, specifically an "urgent and critical situation" that "seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians". And Cabinet may only invoke the legislation if the emergency cannot be addressed by any existing federal law and if it exceeds the capacity of the provinces to handle it effectively. The Emergencies Act outlines four different types of emergencies: public welfare emergencies, public order emergencies, international emergencies and war emergencies. If the legislation is invoked this week, it will likely be under the 'public order' category. Again, the criteria here is strict - lawful protests do not qualify. Instead, the situation must be considered a threat to the security of Canada, as defined by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act. This law outlines four possible scenarios. It is so far unclear which scenario Mr Trudeau would rely on to justify the use of the Emergency Act - none of these four scenarios have been clearly present in Ontario.

2-15-22 Covid-19 news: Northern Ireland lifts remaining legal restrictions
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Remaining measures will stay in place as guidance, but not legal obligations. Northern Ireland will lift its last legal pandemic restrictions later today, as the nation’s current measures become suggested guidance instead. These measures include the use of covid certificates in nightclubs, face coverings and a cap of 30 people for gatherings in homes. The restrictions had been due to expire on 24 March, but Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann announced on Monday that he would terminate the legislation with immediate effect. However Swann added that the threat from the virus hadn’t disappeared and that guidance should be followed: “It is vitally important that we continue to observe the sensible measures we have all learnt to protect ourselves and others.” Meanwhile, UK government ministers are pushing ahead with plans to wind down covid testing and payments for isolation in an effort to cut costs, despite warnings from health advisers, The Guardian reports. A wave of infections caused by the omicron variant is moving across Eastern Europe, with case counts doubling in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine over the past two weeks. The World Health Organisation has warned that, as countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic consider lifting restrictions, the threat level remains high. The Cook Islands, one of the last remaining covid-free nations, has recorded its first case of the coronavirus, after a traveller from New Zealand tested positive on 10 Feb.

2-15-22 Ukraine-Russia tensions: Russia pulls some troops back from border
Russia says it is pulling back some of its troops from near Ukraine after a build-up raised fears of an invasion. The defence ministry said that large-scale drills continued but that some units were returning to their bases. There has been no independent confirmation of the withdrawal and international powers have reacted cautiously to the announcement. More than 100,000 Russian troops have massed at Ukraine's border. Russia has always denied it is planning an attack. Russia has deep cultural and historic ties with Ukraine, and has been seeking guarantees it will not join the Nato military alliance, something the bloc has refused to promise. Troops began gathering in large numbers last November, bringing increasingly dire warnings about Russia's intentions. In recent days the US warned an invasion could be imminent, and moved its embassy out of the capital Kyiv. Nato said the Russian announcement gave cause for "cautious optimism" but that they had not seen evidence of de-escalation on the ground. In its statement, Russia's defence ministry said it was withdrawing some of the troops conducting exercises in military districts bordering Ukraine. "A number of combat training exercises, including drills, have been conducted as planned," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said. Some exercises are continuing, such as a large joint Russia-Belarus drill, due to end on 20 February. A British government source said it was waiting to see the scale of the withdrawal, saying it would have to make a difference to the ability to invade to be meaningful. But the announcement was enough for both Ukraine and Russia to claim victory in the stand-off. Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dymytro Kuleba said he would believe the withdrawal when he sees it but "we have managed together with our partners to deter Russia from any further escalation". A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the day "will go into history as the day western war propaganda failed. They have been disgraced and destroyed without a single shot being fired."

2-15-22 NATO, Ukraine skeptical of Russia's partial troop withdrawal: 'We don't believe what we hear, we believe what we see'
Russia has begun returning troops stationed at the Ukrainian border to their bases, the Kremlin announced Tuesday, though both NATO and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky aren't entirely convinced, CNN and CNBC report. Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, said that Russian forces along the shared border with Ukraine had finished their military drills and "have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and will begin moving to their military garrisons today." He added that Russian troops in Belarus will return to base when their military exercises conclude on Feb. 20. Other major drills will, however, continue, CNN notes. That said, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba isn't getting excited. "We in Ukraine have a rule: we don't believe what we hear, we believe what we see," he said in response to Moscow on Tuesday, per CNBC. "If a real withdrawal follows these statements, we will believe in the beginning of a real de-escalation." And NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg essentially agreed with Kuleba during a press conference Tuesday, noting that while there's reason for "cautious optimism," the alliance had not yet seen "any sign of de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side." "Russia has amassed a fighting force in and around Ukraine unprecedented since the Cold War," Stoltenberg said. "Everything is in place for a new attack. But Russia still has time to step back from the brink, stop preparing for war and start working for a peaceful solution." Moscow said Tuesday that it "had always said its troops would return to their bases after participating in military exercises," CNBC writes, per Reuters. According to U.S. intelligence, a Kremlin-led invasion could come as soon as Wednesday, Feb. 16. Zelensky, unconvinced, instead declared the day one of national unity.

2-15-22 Trump accountants say financial reports unreliable
Donald Trump's accounting firm has cut ties with the former president and said a decade of financial reports should "no longer be relied upon". The firm, Mazars, said in a letter to the Trump Organization that it could not stand behind statements it had prepared for Mr Trump from 2011-20. But Mazars said it had not concluded they contained material discrepancies. The letter was revealed in a court filing as part of a fraud investigation into the Trump Organization. In the filing, New York Attorney General Letitia James repeated her request that the former president and his daughter, Ivanka, give evidence under oath. Her office has already questioned Mr Trump's son, Eric Trump. Ms James last month said her civil inquiry into the Trump family firm had uncovered what she claimed was "significant evidence" of misleading business practices, including over-valuing certain assets. In its letter, Mazars wrote that the findings of Ms James' investigation had contributed to the conclusion that the statements should no longer be relied upon. The firm also said it performed its work in "accordance with professional standards", and compiled the reports based on information provided by the Trump Organization. "While we have not concluded that the various financial statements, as a whole, contain material discrepancies, based upon the totality of the circumstances, we believe our advice to you to no longer rely upon those financial statements is appropriate," the letter said. It added that the firm would no longer be working with the Trump Organization. The financial documents are at the heart of the New York attorney general's civil investigation and a second, criminal inquiry by the Manhattan District Attorney's office. In January Ms James, a Democrat, accused the Trump Organization of using "fraudulent or misleading asset valuations" to get loans, insurance and tax breaks. Mr Trump's lawyers are trying to stop Ms James from questioning the former US president and his children, and he has sued her to try to halt the probe.

2-15-22 Fox News is mangling Special Counsel John Durham's latest Trump-Russia filing
On Friday night, Special Counsel John Durham filed a pretrial motion on possible conflicts of interest by the lawyer representing Michael Sussmans, a cybersecurity lawyer Durham has charged with allegedly lying to the FBI. But he also "slipped in a few extra sentences that set off a furor among right-wing outlets about purported spying on former President Donald J. Trump," Charlie Savage writes in Monday's New York Times. Trump and allied media organizations say Durham's filing, as Fox News' Brooke Singman put it in a widely cited early report, shows that lawyers for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign "paid a technology company to 'infiltrate' servers belonging to Trump Tower, and later the White House, in order to establish an 'inference' and 'narrative' to bring to government agencies linking Donald Trump to Russia." Those claims were repeated Monday on Fox News' daytime news and prime time opinions shows. "But the entire narrative appeared to be mostly wrong or old news," the conclusions "based on a misleading presentation of the facts or outright misinformation," Savage writes. Gabriel Malor, a lawyer who writes for several conservative media outlets, lays out a few specific points on Durham's filing, including that it never uses the word "infiltrate" or accuses the Clinton campaign of ordering Sussmans or anyone else to pass the tech company's analysis of DNS data to the FBI or CIA. Savage summarizes the competing narratives from Durham and the cybersecurity experts who compiled the contested DNS data, adding that the right-wing mischaracterizations "involve dense and obscure issues, so dissecting them requires asking readers to expend significant mental energy and time — raising the question of whether news outlets should even cover such claims." Lawyer Marcy Wheeler, who writes at Emptywheel, has a lot more detail about Durham's filings and Kash Patel's involved role in this story. And Wheeler, a critic of Durham's Trump-Russia meta-investigation, has a theory about why he dropped this information into an unrelated motion just days after the statute of limitations appears to have expired. "As I keep noting, Durham is obviously trying to pull his fevered conspiracy theories into an actual charged conspiracy, one tying together the DNC, Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele, and Hillary herself," she writes. "If he succeeds, these flimsy charges (against both Sussmann and [Igor] Danchenko) become stronger, but if he doesn't, he's going to have a harder time proving motive and materiality at trial."

2-14-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Trudeau declares emergency just hours after Ontario announces end to vaccine passports
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday declared a national emergency during peacetime for only the second time in Canadian history, to put an end to the Freedom Convoy protests against the country's COVID-19 restrictions, The New York Times reports. "Those people who disagree with the measures that governments put in place to keep Canadians safe . . . have gone from protesting and disagreeing with those measures to limiting and blocking the freedoms of their fellow citizens, hurting jobs, hurting lives and livelihoods, endangering public safety, and weakening our country." Trudeau told reporters. "These illegal blockades are hurting Canadians, and they need to stop." He also said the government's powers under the Emergency Act would be "time limited, geographically specific, and extremely bounded." Trudeau declared an emergency on the same day Ontario, the epicenter of the Freedom Convoy protests, announced it would stop requiring vaccine passports on March 1, The Detroit News reported. The emergency declaration empowers the government to restrict travel, public assembly, and "the use of specified property," and to compel any person "to render essential services" in return for "reasonable compensation." Canada's Parliament must approve the emergency within seven days. Emergencies automatically expire after 30 days but can be extended. The Emergencies Act, which replaced the War Measures Act in 1988, had never been invoked before. Trudeau's father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, invoked the War Measures Act during peacetime for the first and only time in the country's history after Québécois terrorists kidnapped Quebec's deputy premier in 1970. According to CBC, the emergency "allowed police searches and arrests without warrants, and prolonged detentions without charges and without the right to see a lawyer." More than 400 people were detained.

2-14-22 Parkland victim's father protests on crane in DC on 4-year anniversary of shooting
Manuel Oliver — father to Joaquin "Guac" Oliver, one of the 17 people killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 — protested atop a construction crane in Washington, D.C., Monday morning, The Washington Post reports. "The whole world will listen to Joaquin today. He has a very important message," Oliver tweeted, standing on the 150-foot crane. "I asked for a meeting with [President Biden] a month ago, never got that meeting." Oliver and his wife Patricia wanted to draw attention to their new initiative shockmarket.org, "a website tracking gun violence during Biden's term as president," writes the Post. The effort is also asking Biden to pledge substantial reform to curb gun violence during his State of the Union address, slated for March 1. The project was launched in conjunction with March for Our Lives and Guns Down America. Oliver also hung from the crane a sign that read, "45K people died from gun violence on your watch!", alongside a photo of Joaquin, per CNN. "We decided to grab Mr. Biden's attention and that crane was exactly across from the White House," Patricia Oliver told the Post. There will be no way for Biden "to say 'I didn't notice it,'" she added. The demonstration ended midmorning. Three people are in custody and facing charges of unlawful entry, though it is not entirely clear if Manuel Oliver is one of them, the Post notes. Biden released a statement on Monday to commemorate the lives lost four years ago in the Parkland shooting, saying he "stands with those working to end this epidemic of gun violence."

2-14-22 Judge says he will dismiss Sarah Palin's libel case against The New York Times
A federal judge in New York said Monday he will dismiss a libel lawsuit former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin filed against The New York Times over a 2017 editorial. The editorial linked Palin to the 2011 mass shooting in Arizona that left six people dead and seriously injured former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.). Palin accused the Times and former editorial page director James Bennet of defaming her by unfairly connecting her to the incident. U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff said in his ruling that Palin's attorneys did not produce adequate evidence showing that the Times knew the information was false or acted with "actual malice." Rakoff also said the jury in the case will continue deliberating, since it's likely Palin will appeal and he wants a future court to consider their verdict. Jurors are expected to continue deliberations on Tuesday. The Times' editorial suggested a link between a shooting map that Palin's political action committee issued and the Arizona shooting. There were mistakes made during the editing process, Bennet testified, and within hours of the editorial being published, the Times issued two corrections. In her lawsuit, Palin claimed that because of this editorial, her reputation was damaged and she lost opportunities for speaking engagements. Rakoff said this was "an example of very unfortunate editorializing on the part of the Times, but, having said that, that's not the issue before this court."

2-14-22 Canada bridge protesters cleared by police after a week of disruption
Police have cleared the remaining protesters blocking a key bridge between Canada and the United States, after a week of disruption. Canada's protests against Covid vaccine certification to cross the border have paralysed trade across the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. A judge issued an order on Friday to break up the protest, but dozens of demonstrators remained in defiance. Police have now cleared the road, though the bridge remains closed. In a statement, police said Sunday's action resulted in over a dozen arrests on a charge of mischief - which refers to damage or interference with property. Multiple vehicles were also seized, police said, none of the arrests became violent. The clearing effort first began on Saturday morning, when many of the vehicles involved left peacefully on police orders. But as news of the police action spread, more protesters turned up, temporarily swelling the crowd. But by Sunday morning, only a few dozen people remained, and police resumed their operation. Within hours, only a small number of stragglers remained on the sidelines, though police vehicles, rather than protesters, continue to block off the road to the Ambassador Bridge. Windsor police warned people to avoid the area of the bridge, tweeting: "Enforcement will continue in the demonstration area and there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity." Officials say they hope to reopen the bridge later on Sunday. The police came to oust the remaining protesters in the early cold of Sunday morning, putting an end to the blockade that had ground traffic on one of Canada's most important trade routes to a halt for nearly a week. Their numbers had dwindled overnight from a couple hundred protesters on Saturday to just about 30 stalwarts willing to brave the -17C (1F) temperature over night. Police had erected concrete barricades, effectively boxing their encampments - located south of the Ambassador Bridge - and surrounded them in tactical gear. "Nobody is doing anything there. We're all just standing there with our Canadian flags, we want freedom", protester Tyler Kok told the BBC.

2-14-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Ambassador Bridge to re-open soon now that police have cleared out protesters
Police cleared protesters from Ontario's Ambassador Bridge on Sunday morning, and the bridge is likely to re-open soon, CBC reports. Demonstrators protesting Canada's COVID-19 restrictions continued to block the Ambassador Bridge early Sunday morning, impeding the flow of international trade for the seventh consecutive day. The protesters chose not to disperse after a judge ordered them to leave the bridge Friday night, though several vehicles departed and others were towed away. Police moved in Saturday morning, but more protesters arrived on foot to — at least partially — maintain the blockade. At around 7 a.m. on Sunday, police began to advance onto the bridge. Several people were arrested. By roughly 9:30 a.m., the area was clear. According to The Washington Post, Windsor, Ontario, Mayor Drew Dilkens said he hoped the bridge would re-open by the end of the day. A Canada Border Services Agency spokesperson said the agency is "working collaboratively with law enforcement partners to restore normal border operations at affected ports of entry as quickly as possible." Ambassador Bridge connects Detroit with Windsor and is responsible for about a third of U.S.-Canada trade, The New York Times notes. Detroit automakers have been forced to slow down production in recent days due to the reduced flow of parts from Canada, a situation Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) described to CNN as "an economic crisis." Protesters continue to block a border crossing in Manitoba while others occupy the downtown core of Ottawa, the capital.

2-14-22 Major Canada-U.S. border bridge cleared of anti-vax protesters, reopened, as Ottawa residents get fed up
The Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, fully opened to traffic Sunday night after police cleared the remaining Canadian anti-vaccine protesters who had blocked the bridge for seven days. The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing, facilitating about a quarter of all trade between the two countries. A Canadian judge had ordered an end to the bridge blockade on Friday, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford then declared a state of emergency authorizing fines of up to 100,000 Canadian dollars ($79,000) and a year in jail for anyone illegally blocking roads, walkways, or other critical infrastructure. Police arrived in force Sunday morning and cleared the remaining trucks and protesters, arresting more than two dozen people and towing or seizing 12 vehicles that refused to leave. Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, put the price tag of the week-long blockade at about a billion Canadian dollars ($790 million), plus the harm to Canada's reputation as a reliable trading partner. "In Windsor we have at its core, several dozen people who are macroeconomically illiterate and absolutely disrespectful of their own community," Volpe told BBC News. "Never has a tantrum cost so many people so much." The capital, Ottawa, is still gummed up with protesters demanding "freedom" from all COVID-19 restrictions. Mayor Jim Watson said on Sunday he had agreed to meet with protest organizers if the truckers and other demonstrators would vacate residential areas and congregate near Parliament Hill by noon on Monday. He showed a letter from the organizer, Tamara Lich, in which she agreed to the arrangement, but Lich later tweeted that "no deal has been made." Amid mounting frustration at Ottawa police for failing to clear the protest, hundreds of residents formed counter-protests Saturday and Sunday, successfully blocking some trucks from joining the protest downtown. "It just feels like I'm living in a different country, like I'm in the States," counter-protester Shannon Thomas, 32, told The Associated Press. "It just makes me really sad to see all these people waving Canadian flags and acting like patriots when it's really the most sad and embarrassing thing I've ever seen." Ottawa police said Saturday morning that they had issued more than 2,600 tickets and made 26 criminal arrests among the entrenched demonstrators, adding that they have a plan to "end this unlawful occupation" as soon as reinforcements arrive.

2-14-22 Canada protests: After police cleared bridge, is this the end?
A police raid has finally put an end to the costly bridge blockade at Windsor, Ontario, with the crossing reopening for traffic on Sunday night after a six-day protest. But with the demonstrations in Ottawa still going strong, is any end in sight for the anti-mandate movement? This was the moment the protesters had dreaded. "I was hoping it wasn't going to end like this, I was hoping the police would allow us to continue to peacefully protest," Tyler Kok told the BBC as he left the site. The officers arrived by the bus load on Sunday morning - in balaclavas and carrying long guns, ready to oust the last few protesters blocking the roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge. A week-long stalemate was about to come to an end. About 100 vehicles had been parked along a 2km (1.25 miles) stretch of the road for days on end. There were pickups, SUVs and even a dog-grooming van, festooned with Canadian flags, anti-vaccination slogans and anti-Trudeau epithets, as well as some heavy commercial trucks. The people were a mix of evangelical Christians, anti-mask mums, vaccine sceptics and local residents who are tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports. The Freedom Convoy, as it's been called, began as a protest against a mandate requiring truckers who cross the US-Canada border to be vaccinated against Covid. But the group is not united by any one occupation - rather, they share a distrust of vaccines, a concern for government overreach and a general dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Similar blockades have also popped up at other border crossings across the country - four people were arrested at one in British Columbia on Sunday. But the biggest one in Windsor is no more. The police began stage one of their clearance operation on Saturday and only a few dozen remained by Sunday morning after a bitterly cold night. That meant police could make their final and decisive move. Dozens of officers descended on the two remaining encampments located about a kilometre apart on the single road leading to the bridge.

2-14-22 Covid-19 news: US and UK delay next decisions on child vaccinations
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. US awaits more data on vaccinating under-5s while UK government delays decision on vaccinating 5-to-11-year-olds. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has delayed a decision on whether to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children between 6 months to 4 years of age in the US. A decision was due to be made tomorrow. On 11 February, the agency said it had decided to wait for more data from clinical trials involving under-5s before making a decision. Earlier this month, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted data on two doses of a three-dose regimen for 6-month-to-five-year-olds to the FDA, but “it makes sense to wait for the safety and efficacy data on all three doses to be available before we make a decision about this vaccine,” said Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee. The data on three shots is due to be available in early April. Meanwhile, the UK government is still deciding whether to approve widespread vaccines for 5-to-11-year-olds, following advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) over a week ago, the details of which have not yet been made public. A decision had already been rescheduled from 11 February to today, but it has been delayed once again and is now expected to be announced on 21 February, as part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s wider long-term covid plans. Although the JCVI recommendation has not been disclosed, it is thought that the group is in favour of offering vaccines to all children in this age group. Vaccination has recently begun to be offered to 5-to-11-year-olds in England who are deemed vulnerable or who live with people who are immunocompromised. The UK has been relatively slow to vaccinate children – the US and Israel both began offering vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds in November 2021, for example. Sweden’s Health Agency has recommended that people aged 80 and over receive a fourth vaccine dose. The country lifted almost all its covid-19 restrictions last week. People from the UK travelling to France no longer need to get tested for covid-19 from the 12 February. Hong Kong saw a record 2071 new cases on 14 February. The recent wave has “overwhelmed the city’s capacity of handling,” said the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam.

2-14-22 Mexico violence: Gunmen attack wake, then target funeral
Gunmen in Mexico have killed nine people mourning the death of a man who died in jail last week, officials say. The nine were killed in two attacks in the northern city of Ciudad Juárez. Assailants first burst into a private home where friends and family had gathered for the wake of the inmate and shot dead two women and a man. Hours later, the premises where the funeral service for the same man was being held, were targeted by attackers who killed six more people. Witnesses said the gunmen stormed into the home, which doubles up as an evangelical church, as a pastor was holding the funeral service. They described scenes of panic as the gunmen opened fire. Among those killed were a 12-year-old boy and his father. Investigators told local media there were strong indications that the same criminal group was behind both attacks. Officials have not released the name of the inmate whose funeral was attacked - but the prosecutor's office said he had been killed on Wednesday while imprisoned in a jail in the city of Chihuahua. His body had been returned for burial to Ciudad Juárez. Ciudad Juárez, on Mexico's border with the US, is one of the Mexican cities with the highest murder rate nationwide. In 2021, an average of four people was murdered every day in the city, according to data from the regional prosecutor's office. Most of the murders are linked to rivalries between local drugs gangs, the region's attorney general says.

2-14-22 Ukraine says its U.K. ambassador did not offer to bargain away NATO aspirations in Russia standoff
Ukraine's foreign ministry said Monday that a comment by Kyiv's ambassador in London about NATO and Russia has been "taken out of context." Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told BBC News that Ukraine could be "flexible" about NATO membership, perhaps dropping its constitutionally enshrined aspirations to join the Western military alliance, "especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it." Ukraine's foreign ministry said Monday that a comment by Kyiv's ambassador in London about NATO and Russia has been "taken out of context." Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko told BBC News that Ukraine could be "flexible" about NATO membership, perhaps dropping its constitutionally enshrined aspirations to join the Western military alliance, "especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it." British officials told BBC it was "too early" to tell if Prystaiko's comment was a genuine negotiating chip. Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko clarified on social media — in English — that no, it was not. Russia, which is surrounding most of Ukraine with an estimated 130,000 troops and heavy weaponry, is demanding that NATO vow it will never admit Ukraine. NATO is refusing to change its open-door policy to appease Moscow, arguing it is a core tenet of NATO that sovereign nations get to choose their own alliances. Still, Ukraine is nowhere close to becoming a NATO membership. NATO's mutual defense clause means that if one country in the alliance is attacked, the other countries will come to its aid. Putin says he sees NATO's expansion into Central and Eastern Europe as a dangerous encroachment into Russia's sphere of influence. But as Nikolenko suggests, using the threat of invasion to keep countries out of NATO might only make such security guarantees more attractive to Russia's neighbors.

2-13-22 Russia 'will not capture' any of Ukraine's cities, Ukrainian defense minister says
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Saturday he believes the country's military is capable of fending off a Russian invasion, CNN reported. "Everyone who has looked into the eyes of our soldiers at least once is sure that there will be no repeat of 2014. The aggressor will not capture either Kyiv, Odessa, Kharkiv, or any other city," Reznikov said in a statement, adding that the "armed forces of Ukraine are absolutely ready to fight back and will not give up Ukrainian lands." He also cited the sophisticated weaponry, improved training, the experience soldiers have gained in the ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists, and strong international support as reasons for his optimism. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley gave a very different assessment of the situation earlier this month, suggesting that Kyiv could fall to the Russians within 72 hours of an invasion, Fox News reported. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Russia have all pulled diplomats out of Ukraine's capital, according to The Wall Street Journal and BBC. Politico reported Saturday that President Biden told U.S. allies Russia may begin its invasion Wednesday. Ukrainians held a patriotic demonstration in Kyiv on Saturday, carrying signs that read "RESIST" and "Invaders Must Die."

2-13-22 Canada (Infection) truckers protest: After a police raid, what next?
A police raid on the bridge blockade at Windsor, Ontario, failed to shut it down. With protesters in Ottawa also digging in, what will it take to get them to budge? They arrived by the bus load - police in balaclavas and carrying long guns, ready to oust dozens of protesters blocking roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge. There were pickups and SUVs festooned with Canadian flags, anti-vaccination slogans and anti-Trudeau epithets, as well as some heavy commercial trucks. About 100 vehicles have been parked along the roughly 2km (1.25 miles) of road leading up to the bridge for almost a week. The Freedom Convoy, as it's been called, began as a protest against a mandate requiring truckers who cross the US-Canada border to be vaccinated against Covid. But the group is not united by any one occupation - rather, they share a distrust of vaccines, a concern for government overreach and a general dislike of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. More than 12 hours after a court issued an injunction ordering the Windsor site to be cleared, the police moved in on Saturday morning. A number of vehicles agreed to leave immediately, although not without a loud honk or a shout of disapproval. More were ticketed and towed in the evening. But vehicles are no longer the problem, says Jason Bellaire, deputy chief of operations for the Windsor Police Service. The problem is the people, he says. "We need to make it exceeding clear they're not welcome to stay here, they're not welcome to disrupt our bridge traffic, they're not welcome to disrupt our community," he told the BBC. While many of the vehicles are now gone, a hundred or so people remain blocking the road - a mix of evangelical Christians, anti-mask mums, vaccine sceptics and local residents who are tired of lockdowns and vaccine passports. "They [government leaders] are not following the laws that God gave them," said Tina, who did not give the BBC her last name. The young woman's eyes welled with tears when she described how vaccine mandates have impacted on her family. (Webmasters Comment: Arrest them all and put them in jail!)

2-13-22 Canada bridge protesters cleared by police after a week of disruption
Police have cleared the remaining protesters blocking a key bridge between Canada and the United States, after a week of disruption. Canada's trucker protests against Covid vaccine certification to cross the border have paralysed trade across the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario. A judge issued an order on Friday to break up the protest, but dozens of demonstrators remained in defiance. Police have now cleared the road, though the bridge remains closed. Moves had been made to clear the demonstration on Saturday morning, and many of the vehicles involved left peacefully on police orders. But as news of the police action spread, more protesters turned up, swelling the crowd. On Sunday morning, only a few dozen people remained, and police resumed their operation, this time arresting a few who refused to leave and towing a small number of vehicles. Within hours, only a small number of stragglers remained on the sidelines, though police vehicles, rather than protesters, continue to block off the road to the Ambassador Bridge. Windsor Police warned people to avoid the area of the bridge, tweeting: "Enforcement will continue in the demonstration area and there will be zero tolerance for illegal activity." The police came to oust the remaining protesters in the early cold of Sunday morning, putting an end to the blockade that had ground traffic on one of Canada's most important trade routes to a halt for nearly a week. Their numbers had dwindled overnight from a couple hundred protesters on Saturday to just about 30 stalwarts willing to brave the -17C (1F) temperature over night. Police had erected concrete barricades, effectively boxing their encampments - located south of the Ambassador Bridge - and surrounded them in tactical gear. "Nobody is doing anything there. We're all just standing there with our Canadian flags, we want freedom", protester Tyler Kok told the BBC. (Webmasters Comment: They just want the right to infect others!)

2-13-22 Ukraine tensions: US defends evacuating embassy as Zelensky urges calm
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said the "imminent" threat of Russian military action in Ukraine justifies evacuating the US embassy in Kyiv. His words came after Ukraine's president urged calm, saying the biggest enemy was panic. More than a dozen countries have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine. Moscow, with more than 100,000 troops near the border, has denied it plans to invade. The Kremlin's top foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushakov, has dismissed US warnings of an attack, saying "hysteria has reached its peak". The crisis comes eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula. Since then, Ukraine's military has been locked in a war with Russian-backed rebels in eastern areas near Russia's borders. Saturday saw further attempts to de-escalate tensions in the region. In a phone call, President Joe Biden warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin of "swift and severe costs" if Russia sends in troops. Mr Biden will speak to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky later on Sunday by phone. UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, meanwhile, compared recent Western diplomatic efforts to stop an invasion to the appeasement of Nazi Germany. Mr Wallace told the Sunday Times newspaper "there's a whiff of Munich in the air", a reference to an agreement with Hitler that failed to prevent World War Two. Ukraine's ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko however criticised Mr Wallace's comments. "It's not the best time for us to offend our partners in the world, reminding them of this act which actually [brought] war," he told BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme. The UK, US and Germany are among several countries who have urged their nationals to get out of Ukraine immediately. The US decision to evacuate most of its embassy staff in Kyiv was followed by similar moves by Canada and Australia. All three nations have instead shifted operations to the western city of Lviv, near the Polish border, although the UK ambassador has said she will stay in the Ukrainian capital with a core team. Mr Blinken said the risk of military action was "high enough and the threat [was] imminent enough" that the evacuation was "the prudent thing to do". But earlier Ukrainian President Zelensky had urged calm, saying: "Right now, the people's biggest enemy is panic." Mr Zelensky said that if Western powers had any firm evidence of an impending invasion, he had yet to see it.

2-13-22 Pakistan: Man accused of blasphemy killed by mob in Khanewal
A mob has killed a man for allegedly burning pages of the Koran in central Pakistan, police say, in the latest case of blasphemy-related violence in the country. Police say they have arrested more than 80 people in connection with the killing on Saturday in the district of Khanewal in Punjab province. Reports said the man was in police custody before a crowd snatched him. His body was handed over to his family and a funeral held on Sunday. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the case would be "dealt with the full severity of the law" and asked for a report on police officers accused of failing their duty to save the man. His government, he said, had "zero tolerance for anyone taking the law into their own hands". Police official Munawar Hussain said officers arrived to find the man, reportedly in his 40s, unconscious and tied to a tree. Khanewal is located 275km (170 miles) south-west of Lahore. "The villagers armed with batons, axes and iron rods killed him and hanged his body from a tree," Mr Hussain told Reuters news agency. Munawar Gujjar, chief of the police station in Tulamba, where the incident happened, added to the AP news agency the victim had been "mentally unstable for the last 15 years". The killing comes just over two months after a Sri Lankan factory manager was beaten to death and set ablaze by a mob over blasphemy in Sialkot city, also in Punjab province. Pakistan's blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam, but critics say they have been used to persecute minority faiths and unfairly target minorities. The laws have been used to settle personal scores in cases which can appear to have little or nothing to do with religion, according to human rights groups. (Webmasters Comment: These men are also barbaric savages!)

2-13-22 Swiss vote on tobacco ad ban long after neighbours
Swiss voters go to the polls on Sunday to decide on a raft of measures, including a ban on tobacco advertising anywhere young people might see it. In effect it would be a complete ban. That might cause some raised eyebrows among Switzerland's European neighbours, most of whom adopted strict rules on tobacco advertising years ago. But Switzerland, despite its healthy, environmentally friendly image, has the most lax regulations on tobacco in Europe. Long after smoking in pubs and restaurants was outlawed in the UK, France, or Germany, the Swiss were still puffing away. Supermarket shoppers would be regularly approached by smiling young women giving away free samples of the latest cigarette brand. And while those things have now been banned, tobacco advertising remains. The World Health Organization's historic Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was negotiated in Geneva almost 20 years ago. Switzerland signed it, but still hasn't ratified it - the only country in Europe not to - because its legislation on advertising is not compliant. Compared with much of Europe, cigarettes here are cheap and 27% of Swiss adults smoke - higher than the European average. Time and again legislation aimed at introducing tighter restrictions has been rejected in parliament. Even now, after campaigners gathered enough signatures to force a referendum demanding a ban, the Swiss government has recommended a No vote. Sunday's referendum is one of several votes under Switzerland's system of direct democracy. Voters will also decide on proposals for restrictions on animal testing and new money for the media. Those backing the advertising ban say the government's opposition is down to the presence of the world's major tobacco companies here. Philip Morris, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco all have their headquarters in Switzerland. The tobacco industry is estimated to contribute more than $6bn (£4.5bn; €5bn) a year to the Swiss economy, and employs over 11,000 people.

2-12-22 French (Infection) Freedom Convoy rolls into Paris
Authorities have ordered more than 7,000 additional law enforcement officers to Paris as a French "Freedom Convoy" inspired by the one currently occupying the Canadian capital converged on Paris to protest the country's COVID-19 restrictions, BBC reports. Reuters explains that "France requires people to show proof of vaccination to enter public places such as cafes, restaurants and museums, with a negative test no longer being sufficient for unvaccinated people." Police say they stopped 500 vehicles from entering the city on Saturday, but at least several dozen — cars, campers, tractors, and other vehicles — were able to enter Paris and impede traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and on the Champs Elysees. Law enforcement responded by firing tear gas at demonstrators, arresting 14 people, and handing out 337 fines. Per BBC, of those arrested, "[t]wo were allegedly carrying knives, hammers and petrol canisters, and five were allegedly carrying slingshots." Police have also "deployed armored personnel carriers and water cannon trucks," according to Reuters.

2-12-22 Freedom Convoy: Police move in to clear protesters from Ontario's Ambassador Bridge
Canadian police moved in Saturday morning to remove protesters and end a five-day blockade of Ontario's Ambassador Bridge, The Associated Press reported. A Canadian judge on Friday ordered protesters to stop obstructing the bridge, which they had blocked with their vehicles to protest Canada's COVID-19 restrictions. The order went into effect at 7:00 p.m. Friday, after which police were empowered to arrest anyone who remained and seize their vehicles. Despite these threats, the protesters refused to comply, voting instead to "[l]eave our cars here, park them, get out, stand in front of the intersection, lock arms, no one's going nowhere," as one demonstrator put it. Some vehicles reportedly left overnight, however, while others abandoned the bridge as police moved in. According to CNN, by 10:00 a.m. there were only around 20 protester vehicles remaining. No arrests have been reported. Ambassador Bridge connects Detroit, Michigan, with Windsor, Ontario. The bridge is responsible for about a third of U.S.-Canada trade, The New York Times notes.

2-12-22 Is Trudeau losing his fight against (infection) truckers?
As anti-vaccine mandate protests drag on in Ottawa and spread to border crossings across the country, threatening trade, the Canadian prime minister is facing growing pressure to step in. Before they had reached the national capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to the convoy of truckers and their like-minded supporters as a "small fringe minority". Two weeks later, he's facing a spiralling crisis. Protesters are blocking or slowing traffic at vital border crossings - including the Ambassador Bridge linking Michigan to Ontario, where at least a quarter of annual trade between the two countries comes through, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Within days, two of the world's biggest carmakers, Ford and Toyota, said plants had been forced to shut because car parts were being held up at two border points. US governors and the White House are raising alarm over the economic impact, and on Friday evening a judge granted a court order to clear the bridge. In Ottawa, the "Freedom Convoy'' that has gridlocked streets near parliament with some 500 trucks is entering its third week. Called a "siege" by overwhelmed police, the protesters, with support and funds flowing from the US and elsewhere, show no signs they plan to pack up and go home. The city is under a state of emergency. The province of Ontario declared one on Friday, making it illegal to block crucial infrastructure, with the provincial premier accusing protesters of "trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos". And Mr Trudeau is facing questions about whether he's doing enough to de-escalate the situation and bring it to an end. "Canadians have been missing national leadership during this crisis," NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Thursday, accusing Mr Trudeau of seeking "excuses not to act". Since the protests began, the prime minister has kept the federal government at arm's length, promising cities and provinces struggling to deal with protests and blockade any federal help they requested.

2-12-22 U.S. begins evacuation of Kyiv embassy
The U.S. began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv on Saturday as intelligence sources warn a Russian invasion could begin at any moment, Politico reports. Per Politico, the "State Department said Saturday that almost all of its 200 staff based in Kyiv will be required to leave" but that "embassy will keep a small number of 'core' diplomats in Kyiv and will maintain a small consular service in Lviv, which is further away from a potential conflict zone." Russia announced Saturday it is also cutting back its diplomatic presence in Ukraine. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia had decided on a 'certain optimization' of staffing … because it feared 'certain provocations by the Kyiv regime or third nations.'" Zakharova's attempt to portray Ukraine as the potential aggressor fit with U.S. intelligence reports that Russia could conduct a "false flag" operation — in which Russians posing as Ukrainians would launch attacks on Russian forces — ahead of its invasion. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned Friday that all American civilians should leave Ukraine "as soon as possible," and that if they failed to do so in the next 24 tp 48 hours, there might not be "any other opportunity to leave." On Jan. 22, the State Department ordered the families of U.S. Embassy personnel in Ukraine to evacuate the country. President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for about an hour on Saturday. According to the official White House summary, Biden "reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia's standing" and said the U.S. "remains prepared to engage in diplomacy" but is "equally prepared for other scenarios."

2-12-22 Black Lives Matter signs get Library of Congress exhibit
Digitized versions of signs and other pieces of art created during the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, D.C., are now part of a Library of Congress exhibit, NPR reported Saturday. According to NPR, when "authorities took down the fence" that separated protesters from Lafayette Park "in early 2021, activists made it their mission to preserve every artifact" that had been hung on the fence, "knowing that each sign represents a part of the nation's history." Activist Nadine Seiler removed over 800 signs from the fence. The signs are currently being stored in a D.C. storage unit until they can be scanned by Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library. After that, Seiler plans to gift them to museums and other Black liberation organizations. 37 images are currently available via the Library of Congress. One reads "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE NO RACIST POLICE." Another bears the slogan "DEFUND ACAB ACAB," an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards." Yet another says "Elijah McClain — He played violin to shelter animals! Say his name!" McClain, a 23-year-old Black man, died in 2019 after police accosted him on his way home and, when McClain became agitated, placed him in a chokehold. McClain was unarmed. During the protests that sprang up in the nation's capital after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, dozens of D.C. businesses were looted or vandalized, the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial were defaced, and the historic St. John's Episcopal Church was set on fire, CNN and a local CBS affiliate reported at the time. On June 1, 2020, federal law enforcement officers used tear gas to clear protesters form the square, which was later renamed "Black Lives Matter Plaza."

2-12-22 Amir Locke, police reform, and the future of no-knock warrants
Amir Locke's killing brings Minneapolis police into the spotlight — again. Another high-profile police-related death has rocked Minneapolis, once again thrusting the Twin Cities — and the authorities' use of controversial no-knock search warrants — into the spotlight. Here's everything you need to know. Early morning on Wednesday, Feb. 2, the Minneapolis SWAT team entered an apartment at the Bolero Flats in downtown Minneapolis. The authorities were acting on a no-knock search warrant in connection with a January homicide in St. Paul, and gained entrance to the unit with a fob, according to the Minneapolis Police Department. After announcing their presence upon entry, the police then encountered a man — now identified as 22-year-old Amir Locke — "huddled under a blanket" on the couch holding a handgun, which his family says was legally registered (Locke reportedly worked as a DoorDash driver, and bought the gun for protection against an increase in carjackings). According to the MPD report, Locke's gun was pointed "in the direction of the officers," though in since-released body camera footage it's unclear if that was the case. SWAT team member Mark Hanneman then shot the clearly-startled Locke. "They loudly and repeatedly announced 'police search warrant,' before they crossed the threshold into the apartment, and ongoing as they made entry," interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman said of authorities during a news conference. "Just over nine seconds after they had made entry into the apartment, the officers encountered a male who was armed with a handgun. He was holding that gun in his hand at the time that shots were fired." Officers then carried Locke, who is Black, outside to be tended to by paramedics. He later died at the hospital, per the Star Tribune. Notably, Locke was not named in the MPD's search warrant, nor was he a suspect in the connected homicide investigation. "Amir was an innocent young man ... who is now the latest statistic and victim of the dangerous and intrusive no-knock warrant techniques that must be banned," said civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is leading the legal team representing the Locke family. The graphic body camera footage from the shooting was released to the public on Feb. 3, per Minneapolis' KMSP, and also appears to contradict Police Chief Huffman's claim that police officers announced themselves before crossing the threshold of the apartment. "The whole system. He wasn't killed, he wasn't murdered, he was executed," said Karen Wells, Locke's mother. At the time of his death, Locke was one week away from moving to Dallas to pursue a career in music. On Feb. 8, prosecutors charged 17-year-old Mekhi Speed — Locke's cousin — with two counts of second-degree murder in the Jan. 10 shooting death of 38-year-old Otis Elder in St. Paul. Locke was killed as the MPD carried out no-knock raids on three apartments to which Speed was believed to have access, including one he lived in. Officers began to look for Speed on Jan. 24, and found him on Feb. 6 in Winona, per the Star Tribune. Said Locke's family in a statement: "We are aware of the recent reports of an arrest and the charging of a teenager in connection with the warrants executed at the Bolero Flats. We can confirm that the charged teenager is Amir Locke's cousin. His cousin was not present in Unit 701, where the no-knock warrant and Amir were both executed." (Webmasters Comment: The Police (KKK and Neo-Nazis members) are working to kill any black they can!)

2-12-22 US father and son 'chased and shot' black FedEx driver
A black delivery driver in Mississippi who says he was pursued and shot at by two white men while on the job has argued that they should face hate crime charges. D'Monterrio Gibson, 24, compared his case that of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was murdered while jogging. "I feel it's my responsibility to speak up, because [Arbery] didn't survive to speak up for himself," he told CNN. Similar to that case, suspects in Mr Gibson's incident are a father and son. According to Mr Gibson, he was delivering a FedEx package in Brookhaven, about 55 miles (88km) south of Jackson, Mississippi on 24 January when his van was cut off by a pickup truck as he was pulling out of a driveway. He swerved around it, then encountered a man in the street pointing a gun at him and gesturing for him to pull over. He ducked behind the steering wheel as the man opened fire, he said. Bullets damaged the van and packages inside but no one was hurt in the shooting. Mr Gibson said the two men, identified as father Gregory Charles Case and son Brandon Case, then pursued him, firing more shots, until he got onto the highway to return to the FedEx distribution centre. The Cases were arrested eight days later. They have been released on bail. In his complaint to police, Mr Gibson said he was not taken seriously until he and his manager went to the station the next day to show them the bullet holes in the van. He was wearing a full FedEx uniform, and was driving a marked rental van when it happened, he said. Brandon Case, 35, is charged with aggravated assault for shooting into moving vehicle. Gregory Case, 58, is charged with conspiracy. Lawyers for Mr Gibson argued that the charges were too lenient, and called for a federal hate crime investigation. They also called for the Brookhaven Police to hand over the investigation to an outside agency and for the charges to be upgraded to attempted murder. "This man is fully, gainfully employed by FedEx, doing his job, and still you haul off and try to chase him and cut him off and shoot him multiple times", said lawyer Carlos Moore. "It's sickening to be that hateful and that racist and that full of just malice just because of the colour of his skin."

2-12-22 Judge issues injunction blocking charges against Texas election officials who encourage mail-in voting
A federal judge issued an injunction Friday barring Texas counties from pursuing criminal charges election officials who encourage mail-in voting, CNN reported. According to the new voting law known as Senate Bill 1, which Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed in September, local election officials "may make no attempt to solicit a person to complete an application for an early voting ballot by mail." Per CNN, election officials "face fines of up to $10,000 for violating the ban." The law, which Texas Democrats attempted to block during the summer by fleeing the state to deny Republicans a quorum, also requires mail-in voters to provide a Texas ID number or the last four digits of a Social Security number twice: once when requesting the mail-in ballot and again when submitting it. According to The Washington Post, large numbers of ballots have been rejected ahead of the March 1 primary as voters struggle to adapt to the new requirements. Per the Post, "In Harris County, the state's most populous county and home to Houston, election officials said … 40 percent of roughly 3,600 returned ballots so far have lacked the identification number required." In Hays County, southwest of Austin, voters figured out the new system fairly quickly, with the rejection rate dropping from 25 percent to just four percent. "It seems like our outreach is working," said Hays County elections chief Jennifer Anderson. Voters who forget to provide the required ID number are given an opportunity to correct their mail-in ballots or to cancel their mail-in ballots and vote in person. Around one million Texans voted by mail in 2020, CNN notes. Those eligible include people "65 or older, voters who will be out of their home county during in-person voting, those who are sick or disabled, and people who are incarcerated but still have the right to vote."

2-12-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: police move in to clear protesters from Ontario's Ambassador Bridge
Canadian police moved in Saturday morning to remove protesters and end a 5-day blockade of Ontario's Ambassador Bridge, The Associated Press reported. A Canadian judge on Friday ordered protesters to stop obstructing the bridge, which they had blocked with their vehicles to protest Canada's COVID-19 restrictions. The order went into effect at 7:00 p.m. Friday, after which police were empowered to arrest anyone who remained and seize their vehicles. Despite these threats, the protesters refused to comply, voting instead to "Leave our cars here, park them, get out, stand in front of the intersection, lock arms, no one's going nowhere," as one demonstrator put it. Some vehicles reportedly left overnight, while others abandoned the bridge as police moved in. According to CNN, by 10:00 a.m. there were only around 20 protester vehicles remaining. No arrests have been reported. Ambassador Bridge connects Detroit, Michigan, with Windsor, Ontario. The bridge is responsible for about a third of U.S.-Canada trade, The New York Times notes.

2-12-22 Ambassador Bridge: Police begin clearing Canada trucker blockade
Police have started to clear a blockade of the main crossing between Canada and the United States. After days of protests by truckers against Covid rules at the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario, officers urged them to heed an injunction against the demonstration. The vital trade route links Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit, Michigan. Truckers' protests against Covid vaccine mandates are also ongoing at other border crossings and in Ottawa. The self-styled "Freedom Convoy" movement was started by Canadian truckers opposed to a vaccinate-or-quarantine order for drivers crossing the border. Friday's court order against the blockade was filed by the city of Windsor and the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, which argued that it was losing as much as $50m ($39m; £29m) per day because of the convoy. Following the injunction, Windsor Police put out a statement to "make demonstrators clearly aware that it is a criminal offence" to block the border crossing. The police added that a criminal conviction could lead to the seizure of vehicles and the inability to enter the US. But hours later, crowds of people waving Canadian flags flouted the order and continued to occupy the bridge. Police added on Saturday: "We urge all demonstrators to act lawfully [and] peacefully. Commuters are still being asked to avoid the areas affected by the demonstrations at this time." Hundreds of other protesters continue to demonstrate in the centre of Ottawa, the nation's capital. Two other border crossings with the US are also being blocked by anti vaccine mandate protesters. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with US President Joe Biden about the border blockades on Friday. The week-long disruption to the bridge, which accounts for roughly 25% of US-Canada annual trade estimated to be worth $1.7bn (£1.2bn) a day, rocked the car manufacturing industry. General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Honda plants have been forced to halt production and cancel work shifts due to parts shortages caused by the blockade.

2-12-22 Is Trudeau losing his fight against truckers?
As anti-vaccine mandate protests drag on in Ottawa and spread to border crossings across the country, threatening trade, the Canadian prime minister is facing growing pressure to step in. Before they had reached the national capital, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referred to the convoy of truckers and their like-minded supporters as a "small fringe minority". Two weeks later, he's facing a spiralling crisis. Protesters are blocking or slowing traffic at vital border crossings - including the Ambassador Bridge linking Michigan to Ontario, where at least a quarter of annual trade between the two countries comes through, valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Within days, two of the world's biggest carmakers, Ford and Toyota, said plants had been forced to shut because car parts were being held up at two border points. US governors and the White House are raising alarm over the economic impact, and on Friday evening a judge granted a court order to clear the bridge. In Ottawa, the "Freedom Convoy'' that has gridlocked streets near parliament with some 500 trucks is entering its third week. Called a "siege" by overwhelmed police, the protesters, with support and funds flowing from the US and elsewhere, show no signs they plan to pack up and go home. The city is under a state of emergency. The province of Ontario declared one on Friday, making it illegal to block crucial infrastructure, with the provincial premier accusing protesters of "trying to force a political agenda through disruption, intimidation and chaos". And Mr Trudeau is facing questions about whether he's doing enough to de-escalate the situation and bring it to an end. "Canadians have been missing national leadership during this crisis," NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said on Thursday, accusing Mr Trudeau of seeking "excuses not to act". Since the protests began, the prime minister has kept the federal government at arm's length, promising cities and provinces struggling to deal with protests and blockade any federal help they requested. His response seems to be both "a real desire not to validate the technique" used by the protesters and to respect the jurisdictional powers of provincial governments and police forces, said Stewart Prest, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University.

2-12-22 Covid protests: Hundreds fined as convoy enters Paris
Police have intercepted hundreds of vehicles trying to enter Paris as part of a protest against France's coronavirus regulations. Authorities have deployed more than 7,000 officers over the next three days in a bid to stop the demonstrators. Some vehicles managed to arrive at the Arc de Triomphe in the city, and tear gas was fired at demonstrators on the nearby Champs-Élysées. Similar demonstrations have started to spread around the world. Austria and Belgium have banned such convoys from entering their capitals, with similar demonstrations also emerging in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands. The groups were inspired by the self-styled Canadian "Freedom Convoy" which has disrupted trade on the US border and occupied streets in Ottawa. On Saturday, police in Paris said they had intercepted hundreds of vehicles heading into the city and issued more than 300 tickets to drivers, as well as arresting 14 people. Two were allegedly carrying knives, hammers and petrol canisters, and five were allegedly carrying slingshots. A video posted online by a journalist and shared by the police showed officers halting lines of vehicles on the city's ring road. Police close to the Arc de Triomphe were seen diverting camper vans and other vehicles away from the area. Demonstrators who oppose France's Covid pass, which requires people to show proof of vaccination before entering public venues, want to gather and blockade the capital. Convoys have organised online and appear to come from various political and ideological backgrounds, making it difficult to estimate how many vehicles might arrive in Paris. They have also drawn in others angry at rising prices in France. Some plan to continue on to Brussels, home of many European Union institutions, for further demonstrations after the Paris protest. Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday that authorities would be "very firm" if the group tried to block the French capital. "The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or prevent coming and going is not," he told France 2. Mr Castex also objected to the demonstrators calling themselves a "Freedom Convoy". The word freedom should not be associated with "virulent attacks against vaccination", he said, because freedom is not "contaminating others".

2-12-22 Lawmakers allege 'secret' CIA spying on unwitting Americans
Two US senators have raised concerns that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is again spying upon unwitting Americans. The agency has "secretly" conducted warrantless surveillance through a newly disclosed programme, Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich alleged. In a letter to intelligence officials, the two Democrats called for declassifying details of the programme. Government data collection has been the subject of much controversy in the US. Officially, the CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) have a foreign surveillance mission and domestic spying is prohibited by the CIA's 1947 charter. But in 2013, a programme of data collection using extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence was disclosed to the public by Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor-turned whistle-blower. A Washington Post analysis of the Snowden leak found some 90% of those being monitored were ordinary Americans "caught in a net the National Security Agency had cast for somebody else". Top officials had until then denied - and even lied under oath to Congress - that they were knowingly collecting such data. The programme, known as Prism, was later ruled unlawful by a US court. But a government watchdog last year disclosed two CIA data collection efforts that Senators Wyden and Heinrich now claim are likely to be again subjecting Americans to warrantless searches. The CIA released a declassified report on one of the programmes on Thursday, but declined to declassify the other, citing the need to protect "sensitive tradecraft methods and operational sources". But Mr Wyden, of Oregon, and Mr Heinrich, of New Mexico, said by failing to do so the agency was "undermin[ing] democratic oversight and pos[ing] risks to the long-term credibility of the Intelligence Community". The senators, who sit on the Intelligence committee, said the public deserved to know "the nature and full extent" of the surveillance, which is all but certain to include records on Americans.The still-classified programme operates under the authority of a Reagan-era executive order and is therefore "entirely outside the statutory framework that Congress and the public believe govern this collection," they said.

2-12-22 Afghanistan conflict: US plans to use frozen funds for 9/11 victims and relief
The US government is planning to use $7bn (£5.16bn) in frozen Afghan assets to compensate victims of the 9/11 attacks and for relief efforts. Washington froze the money after the Taliban took power last year but has been under pressure to find a way to use it without aiding the militants. A Taliban spokesman condemned the move, calling it "theft" and a sign of "moral decay". The move came in an executive order declaring a national emergency. As for the funds, President Biden's order formally blocks them, and says US financial institutions should transfer them to a consolidated account at the Federal Reserve. The money, along with another $2bn held in Europe, the UAE and elsewhere, is primarily the proceeds of international assistance given to Afghanistan over the last two decades. On Friday, a senior administration official said that a third-party $3.5bn trust fund would be set up to ensure that the money addresses the immediate humanitarian needs of the Afghan people, while at the same time "ensuring no benefit goes directly to the Taliban". "We've not made specific decisions about how the funds will be used," the official said, adding that it would be months before the money was available, pending a judicial decision. The rest of the money, the official said, would remain in the US and was subject to ongoing litigation by US victims of terrorism. In 2010, about 150 family members of people killed on 9/11 sued several targets - including the Taliban and al-Qaeda - for their role in facilitating and planning the attack. While some have made claims against the funds, a court will need to determine whether they can access them, the White House said. "The US claimants are going to have a full opportunity in US courts," the official said. "This is one step forward in a process and no funds are going to be transferred until the court makes a ruling." Mohammed Naeem, a Qatar-based spokesman for the Taliban's political office, tweeted on Friday that the seizure of the Afghan central bank funds is "theft" and "represents the lowest level of human and moral decay". The Taliban had previously warned that a failure to return the funds would cause "problems" including mass migration and further economic collapse. Afghanistan's economy has been in a freefall since the Taliban takeover, with the UN warning the country could approach a "near-universal" poverty rate of 97% by the middle of 2022.

2-11-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Judge orders end to blockade at bridge on Canada-U.S. border
A Canadian judge on Friday ordered an end to a 5-day blockade of Ontario's Ambassador Bridge, where drivers have "parked their pickups and other vehicles in a bumper-to-bumper protest against the country's COVID-19 restrictions," The Associated Press reports. The order will go into effect at 7 p.m., giving protesters time to leave; those who don't "could be subject to arrest and their vehicles may be seized," writes AP. The ruling arrives following a court hearing in which "the city of Windsor and lawyers for auto parts makers argued that the blockade was causing undue economic harm for the city and region." The bridge is responsible for about a third of U.S.-Canada trade, notes The New York Times. Ontario Premier Doug Ford also declared a state of emergency on Friday and warned of "severe" consequences for those who violate measures he hopes to enact following a meeting with the provincial cabinet on Saturday, per AP. "This is a pivotal, pivotal moment for our nation," he said. The judge's order is just the latest in the divisive political crisis that has rocked Canada while simultaneously garnering attention and praise from right-wing U.S. politicians. Meanwhile, there also appears to be a shady underbelly to the social media presence of the protests, as was seemingly first reported by Grid News, then later by NBC.

2-11-22 National security official warns Americans to leave Ukraine ASAP: 'The risk is now high enough'
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has issued a direct message to the Americans still in Ukraine: get out while you can. "Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event in the next 24-48 hours," Sullivan said at Friday's press briefing. "We obviously cannot predict the future. We don't know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough, the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands." Sullivan continued by warning those who do decide to stay that they are "assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other oppportunity to leave." On Thursday, President Biden delivered a similar message during an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News. "American citizens should leave, should leave now," Biden said, per The Guardian. "We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. This is a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly." Sullivan also cautioned that the Russian invasion could, in fact, begin during the Beijing Games, "despite a lot of speculation that would only happen after the Olympics," he said, per ABC News. That in mind, the U.S. still cannot say with 100 percent certainty whether Moscow has made up its mind on that front.

2-11-22 Trump reportedly packed White House boxes in secret, took 'top secret' documents to Mar-a-Lago
The National Archives found documents clearly marked as classified, including at the "top secret" level, among the 15 boxes of papers and mementos former President Donald Trump improperly took home from the White House, The Washington Post reports. Those documents are now being kept in secure storage by the Justice Department while officials determine the next step. A "top secret" classification, according to the Archives, applies to documents in which unauthorized disclosure "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security." Even if the Justice Department doesn't launch a criminal investigation into how such materials ended up at Trump's not-secure club, former federal prosecutor Brandon Van Grack tells the Post, "the FBI would want and need to review the information and conduct an investigation to determine what occurred and whether any sources and methods were compromised." One key question for federal or congressional investigators is how highly classified information ended up in Trump's Mar-a-Lago boxes. One person familiar with the scramble to pack up Trump's belongings suggested some of the documents Trump piled up in the White House residence may have inadvertently ended up at Mar-a-Lago. But multiple people close to the former president told the Post that "Trump was very secretive about the packing of boxes that were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago last month, and did not let other aides — including some of his most senior advisers — look at them." And "Trump has been loath to return the boxes of documents he took from the White House, despite repeated efforts by the National Archives to obtain them," starting last summer, when archivists noticed some high-profile records were missing, The New York Times reports. Eventually, "officials at the National Archives threatened to send a letter to Congress or the Department of Justice if he continued to withhold the boxes," and Trump started going through the files in December. Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich told the Post that "a normal and routine process is being weaponized by anonymous, politically motivated government sources to peddle Fake News," and the National Archives could "credibly dispute this false reporting" but isn't. The "top secret" document report comes atop other new revelations about Trump's habitual mishandling of presidential records, including frequently tearing up documents, possibly trying to flush printed paper down the toilet, and using personal cellphones that avoided White House call logs.

2-11-22 3,000 NYC staff face lost jobs over vaccine rules
Roughly 3,000 teachers, firefighters and other New York City workers face losing their jobs Friday after failing to get vaccinated against coronavirus by the city's deadline. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said he would not change the rules, despite the city facing many days of protests since his predecessor announced the policy last year. More than 95% of staff have complied. Opponents say the requirements violate their freedom. More protests are planned for Friday and opponents have filed numerous legal challenges, arguing, for example, that the rules violate protections against the free practice of religion. But though the US Supreme Court last month struck down a national policy requiring vaccination or weekly tests for staff of large businesses, it has declined to take a stance against more localised requirements. New York City Mayor Eric Adams told a news conference it was not that the city was firing employees, but that "people are quitting". Many of the unvaccinated have been on unpaid leave since the mandate went into effect last autumn. New York City - the epicentre of the pandemic when it first struck in 2020 - is not alone among US cities in insisting that public employees get the jabs, which experts say is the safest way to protect against infection. San Francisco, Boston and Chicago are among the cities and states that have implemented similar rules, which typically allow staff to seek exemptions. Many health workers also face the mandates as a result of state or national rules, while some large employers have also moved forward with mandates. More than 85% of adults in New York City are fully vaccinated - compared to about 75% nationally - and more than half of eligible children. But there are pockets of resistance. Roughly 13,000 people applied for exemptions from New York City's rules. The city has processed about half of those requests. Former elementary school teacher Bonnie Skala Kiladitis, who has taught in Queens since 1993 and sits on the steering committee of the Teachers for Choice activist group, said she had applied four times on religious grounds, believing it should be her choice. (Webmasters Comment: Choosing to spread the infection means you are outta here!)

2-11-22 Ukraine tensions: Joe Biden says US citizens should leave Ukraine now
US President Joe Biden has called on all American citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave the country immediately, citing increased threats of Russian military action. Mr Biden said he would not send troops to rescue Americans if Moscow invades Ukraine. He warned that "things could go crazy quickly" in the region. Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to invade Ukraine despite massing more than 100,000 troops near the border. But it has just begun massive military drills with neighbouring Belarus, and Ukraine has accused Russia of blocking its access to the sea. The Kremlin says it wants to enforce "red lines" to make sure that its former Soviet neighbour does not join Nato. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Europe faced its biggest security crisis in decades amid the tensions. The US State Department urged Americans in Ukraine to leave immediately. "American citizens should leave now," Mr Biden told NBC News. "We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly." Asked whether there was a scenario that could prompt him to send troops to rescue fleeing Americans, Mr Biden replied: "There's not. That's a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another. We're in a very different world than we've ever been." Other nations, including the Netherlands, Japan and South Korea, have banned travel to Ukraine and urged their citizens in the country to leave as soon as possible. World leaders, meanwhile, continued their frenzied diplomacy to defuse the current crisis over Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine announced late on Thursday that they had failed to reach any breakthrough after nine hours of talks with French and German officials aimed at ending the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian envoy Andriy Yermak said while there were disagreements "there is a will to continue and there is a will to negotiate". The current tensions come eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula. Since then, Ukraine's military has been locked in a war with Russian-backed rebels in eastern areas near Russia's borders.

2-11-22 Reports of splitting Afghan funds with 9/11 victims bring Biden admin under fire
The Biden administration is expected to announce on Friday its decision to split $7 billion in frozen Afghan funds between certain relatives of 9/11 victims and humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, The New York Times reports. Afghanistan's central bank had deposited the $7 billion in assets in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York before the Taliban takeover, notes the Times. News of the administration's reported decision, however, was not taken lightly online, with many observers weighing in to accuse the White House of stealing from a country on the brink of humanitarian collapse. "Families of 9/11 victims have been pursuing financial compensation from the Taliban for years," CNN writes, "and renewed their efforts following the group's takeover of the country [in 2021] and the subsequent freezing of the Afghan assets." The White House has been figuring out how to handle the situation for months, having now seemingly landed on this 50/50 split — $3.5 billion for Afghanistan aid, and $3.5 billion for terror victims.

2-11-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: US urges Canada to end blockade by truckers
US officials have urged Canada's government to use its federal powers to end a blockade by truckers protesting against Covid restrictions. President Joe Biden is being briefed regularly on the protests, which have hit Ottawa and a border crossing that generates a quarter of US-Canada trade. Car-makers and local authorities are seeking an injunction to end the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge. An Ontario court has stopped protesters from accessing online donations. The truckers have raised over $8m (C$10m £5.9m) through online platform GiveSendGo, after being kicked off GoFundMe for allegedly violating its policy on harassment. A statement from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose office pursued the order, said it "binds any and all parties with possession or control over these donations". On Thursday, the US Secretaries of Homeland Security and Transportation spoke to their Canadian counterparts "urging them to use federal powers to resolve this situation at our joint border and offering the full support of our Homeland Security and Transportation departments", a White House official said. "We are principally focused on resolving the blockage at the Ambassador Bridge as well as other ports of entry," the official added. The span - which links Windsor, Ontario, with Detroit, Michigan - remains closed to most traffic, though other ports and border crossings are open nearby. Now partially shut for four days, it is the largest international suspension bridge in the world. Windsor police are getting support from other police jurisdictions "for the purpose of helping support a peaceful resolution", they tweeted on Thursday evening. "[If] the protesters don't leave, there will have to be a path forward. If that means physically removing them, that means physically removing them, and we're prepared to do that," Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens told CNN. "[While] it may be gratifying for someone to see the forced removal of the demonstrators, such action may inflame the situation and certainly cause more folks to come here and add to the protest, and we don't want to risk additional conflict," he added. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has urged authorities to intervene, too, saying: "It's hitting pay checks and production lines. That is unacceptable." (Webmasters Comment: Arrest, fine and jail them!)

2-11-22 Trucker protests: Ontario calls state of emergency
Ontario has declared a state of emergency in response to two weeks of protests against Covid-19 restrictions. The order came as demonstrations continue to shut down parts of Ottawa and Windsor's Ambassador Bridge, a key entry point for US-Canada trade. Blocking crucial infrastructure would be made "illegal" under the order, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said. Protesters could face up to a year in jail and $100,000 in fines. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Mr Ford said the order will apply to anyone who impedes the movement of goods, people and services along international border crossings, airports, ports and major highways. The province will also provide additional authority so that the personal and commercial licenses of protesters who do not comply may be cancelled. "There will be consequences, and they will be severe," he said. (Webmasters Comment: Arrest them, confiscate their trucks, fine them, throw them in jail!)

2-11-22 Not everything is about Nazis
Marjorie Taylor Greene's gazpacho gaffe proves we need new comparisons beyond the Holocaust. Did you order the gazpacho? Or were you hoping for vichyssoise? That's just one of the many jokes provoked by the latest gaffe by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). In an interview on Wednesday with the right-wing One American News Network, Greene denounced "Nancy Pelosi's gazpacho police" — a reference to allegations that the Capitol Police improperly investigated members of Congress. By the end of the day, Greene herself got into the Soup Nazi act, tweeting, "No soup for those who illegally spy on Members of Congress, but they will be thrown in the goulash." The stakes were minute even by the standards of social media controversy. Surveying the responses, it's hard to avoid the impression that Greene's critics thoroughly enjoyed the diversion from their real jobs. Still, the timing, just a few weeks after related spats about Whoopi Goldberg and the removal of the graphic novel Maus from a Tennessee middle school curriculum, points toward a more serious question. Do Americans know enough about the Holocaust and the Nazi regime? Surprisingly, the answer may be yes. As Yair Rosenberg reports in The Atlantic, Americans are well-informed on the topic. According to a 2020 Pew study. Still, public knowledge of the Holocaust is far better than almost any aspect of American history or politics. While more than 80 percent display some understanding of the Holocaust, majorities are unable to identify basic constitutional structures or major figures and events. As I've noted before, this isn't a new problem. Evidence of widespread civic ignorance goes back as far as we have systematic data. Rosenberg argues that Americans' relatively strong knowledge of the Holocaust and the omnipresence of analogies to the Third Reich is an educational success story. I'm not so sure. For one thing, public awareness of the Holocaust is probably not the result of formal teaching. A recent study by the American Historical Association found the top sources for information about the past were TV and film. Even non-classroom educational settings, such as museums, were far less popular. It's a limitation of the survey that it didn't consider K-12 schools, where all students receive at least some history instruction. But it's not unreasonable to think that the dominant influence is Hollywood, where Nazis have served as all-purpose villains for more than 75 years. Whatever its cause, moreover, disproportionate attention to the Holocaust is intellectually distorting. Nazis atrocities must never be forgotten. But there's something wrong when they're just about the only things Americans know about Jewish or European history, both of which include ample evidence of the best human capacities as well as the worst. Nor is there anything to celebrate when Americans are much better acquainted with foreign events than with our own past, which includes its horrors as well as its triumphs. The neglect of other events, periods, and regions has damaging political consequences, too. Greene and other populist opponents of COVID restrictions have been rightly criticized for comparing mask requirements or vaccine mandates to Nazi policies. But American thinking on foreign policy is seriously distorted by the respectable habit of identifying every authoritarian ruler as another Hitler and every territorial dispute as a second Munich. Historical analogies are a valuable tool of political reasoning. But they don't work if you only know one case for comparison.

2-10-22 White House residential staff reportedly found wads of printed paper clogging Trump's toilet
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman unveiled the name and title of her book on former President Donald Trump on Thursday, and Axios, which says Haberman's Confidence Man will be "the book Trump fears most," got a sneak peak at some of her discoveries. Trump, for instance, reportedly has told people he has kept in contact with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since leaving office. But the most eye-catching scoop involves clogged toilets. Whiile Trump was in office, White House residence staff would occasionally discover wads of printed paper clogging a toilet and believed Trump had tried to flush it down, Axios reports, citing Haberman's book. Trump was, at times, fixated on toilets that wouldn't flush, as The Washington Post's Philip Bump noted. Axios calls Trump's reputed toilet-clogging "a vivid new dimension to his lapses in preserving government documents," a polite nod to the 15 boxes of papers the National Archives had to retrieve from Mar-a-Lago last month to put Trump in compliance with the Presidential Records Act, his possible mishandling of classified documents, and his habit of ripping up papers after reading them, among other long-reported compliance issues. Top White House officials were so "deeply concerned" about Trump's handling of sensitive national security material that one of this chiefs of staff, John Kelly, "tried to stop classified documents from being taken out of the Oval Office and brought up to the residence because he was concerned about what Mr. Trump may do with them and how that may jeopardize national security," the Times reported Wednesday. Former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman wrote in her 2018 Trump White House book, Unhinged, that she saw Trump "put a note in his mouth" in the Oval Office "appeared to be chewing and swallowing the paper," a shocking action for a famous "germaphobe." You can read more about Haberman's reporting at Axios. Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America comes out Oct. 4.

2-10-22 US consumer prices rise at fastest rate since 1982
Price rises in the US accelerated by more than expected last month, pushing annual inflation up to 7.5% - the highest rate since 1982. Food and energy costs helped to drive the increases, which left few spending categories untouched. The rising prices are squeezing household finances as wages fail to keep pace. Washington is under pressure to address the issue, with the US central bank expected to raise interest rates. The Bank of England has already raised interest rates twice in the last three months in a bid to dampen down consumer spending by making borrowing more expensive. In the US, consumer spending held strong for much of last year despite the rapidly rising prices, which analysts say have been caused by a mix of robust demand, government spending, supply chain hold-ups and pay increases following labour shortages. Amazon, Netflix and Procter & Gamble are among the many firms that have announced price rises in recent months, citing higher costs. They have said they expect most households to absorb the increases. But the issue is increasingly a key issue for voters, hurting President Joe Biden's popularity despite strong economic growth last year. In a statement, Mr Biden pledged that his administration would "be all hands on deck to win this fight", acknowledging that "Americans' budgets are being stretched in ways that create real stress at the kitchen table". On a monthly basis, consumer prices climbed 0.6% in January, the US Labor Department said. The rent index rose 0.4%, while grocery prices jumped 1%, driven by increases in the cost of bakery and cereal products. Detra Thomas, a 60-year-old human resources assistant who lives in New York, says she recently stopped shopping at the supermarket, opting to order in bulk online or visit street vendors in hopes of finding lower prices. "I just can't afford to buy all my food from the regular grocery store," she told the BBC.

2-10-22 National Archives reportedly believes Trump took classified information to Mar-a-Lago, wants federal inquiry
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) asked the Justice Department to look into former President Donald Trump's handling of classified information after discovering what it believes to classified documents among the 15 boxes of records it retrieved from Mar-a-Lago last month, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Wednesday evening. The Justice Department told the National Archives to have its inspector general examine the matter, the Times adds. The inspector general would be required to alert the Justice Department if any classified material was discovered in the records and mementos Trump took home from the White House, in pretty clear violation of the Presidential Records Act, the Times reports. Prosecuting Trump for mishandling classified information would be politically and perhaps legally difficult. But if Trump did take classified documents back to his club in an insecure cardboard box, that's "much more serious" than violating the Presidential Records Act, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN Wednesday night, and "the Justice Department, in my view, will have to investigate," "It would be, I think, intolerable for the department to have investigated Hillary Clinton over handling of classified emails and ignore allegations that Donald Trump may have brought classified documents" to Mar-a-Lago, Schiff argued. He called Trump's alleged actions actions "jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, grab-you-by-the-throat hypocrisy" after years of calling for Clinton to be locked up. If you were wondering whether Clinton is following this story, the answer is yes. Along with taking boxes of presidential records to Mar-a-Lago, Trump also had a well-documented habit of ripping up papers, despite warnings about preserving records from lawyers and two chiefs of staff. His aides picked up some of the ripped documents, but others are believed to have been destroyed. Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, both senior Trump White House advisers, used personal email and texting apps for official business. Among the challenges that prosecutors would face bringing charges against Trump, when he was president, he had the power to declassify any information. If he did not declassify documents in his possession before that power expired with his presidency, prosecutors would still have to prove he intentionally mishandled the classified documents he took or was grossly negligent. In a statement Wednesday, Trump called "the media's characterization" of his relationship with the National Archives "Fake News," adding, "It was a great honor to work with NARA to help formally preserve the Trump Legacy."

2-10-22 White House residential staff reportedly found wads of printed paper clogging Trump's toilet
New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman unveiled the name and title of her book on former President Donald Trump on Thursday, and Axios, which says Haberman's Confidence Man will be "the book Trump fears most," got a sneak peak at some of her discoveries. Trump, for instance, reportedly has told people he has kept in contact with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un since leaving office. But the most eye-catching scoop involves clogged toilets. Whiile Trump was in office, White House residence staff would occasionally discover wads of printed paper clogging a toilet and believed Trump had tried to flush it down, Axios reports, citing Haberman's book. Trump was, at times, fixated on toilets that wouldn't flush, as The Washington Post's Philip Bump noted. Axios calls Trump's reputed toilet-clogging "a vivid new dimension to his lapses in preserving government documents," a polite nod to the 15 boxes of papers the National Archives had to retrieve from Mar-a-Lago last month to put Trump in compliance with the Presidential Records Act, his possible mishandling of classified documents, and his habit of ripping up papers after reading them, among other long-reported compliance issues. Top White House officials were so "deeply concerned" about Trump's handling of sensitive national security material that one of this chiefs of staff, John Kelly, "tried to stop classified documents from being taken out of the Oval Office and brought up to the residence because he was concerned about what Mr. Trump may do with them and how that may jeopardize national security," the Times reported Wednesday. Former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman wrote in her 2018 Trump White House book, Unhinged, that she saw Trump "put a note in his mouth" in the Oval Office "appeared to be chewing and swallowing the paper," a shocking action for a famous "germaphobe." You can read more about Haberman's reporting at Axios. Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America comes out Oct. 4.

2-10-22 US National Archives requests legal probe of Trump over handling of documents
The US government agency that manages the preservation of presidential records has asked the justice department to investigate Donald Trump for his handling of official papers. US presidents are required by law to transfer all of their letters, work documents and emails to the National Archives. But officials say the former president illegally ripped up many documents. Some of them had to be taped back together, the Archives said. It has also emerged that 15 boxes of papers that Mr Trump should have turned over when he left the White House were instead taken to his home in Florida. They include letters between Mr Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the presidential handover letter from Barack Obama. Mr Trump has clashed with the National Archives in the past. He unsuccessfully sued in an effort to prevent the transfer of White House records to a congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot on the US Capitol. In a statement, Mr Trump acknowledged cooperation with the National Archives. "The media's characterisation of my relationship with NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] is Fake News. It was exactly the opposite! It was a great honour to work with NARA to help formally preserve the Trump Legacy," he said.

2-10-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Canada trucker protests force car plant shutdowns
Two of the world's biggest carmakers, Ford and Toyota, say production is being disrupted by trucker protests in Canada. Plants have been forced to shut because car parts are being held up at two US border points blocked by truckers protesting against a vaccine mandate. Canada's Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, called it an illegal economic blockade against all Canadians. The trade disruption is estimated to be costing $300m (£221m) a day. Truckers blocking the most important border crossing, the Ambassador Bridge, waved Canadian flags and banners denouncing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has refused to scrap a rule requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunised against coronavirus. The demonstrators have also voiced opposition to Covid passports and the requirement to wear masks. The Ambassador Bridge is the largest international suspension bridge in the world and carries about a quarter of US-Canada trade. It connects Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, in the US state of Michigan. Toyota, the world's biggest car manufacturer, has halted production at three factories in Ontario, saying no more vehicles will be produced there this week. Output has also been halted at a Ford engine factory, while Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, said parts shortages had affected shifts at its Ontario plant. On the other side of the border, General Motors said it had been forced to cancel two production shifts at a plant in Michigan where it builds sport utility vehicles. The shutdowns come as a further blow to the car industry, which was already struggling with a global shortage of semiconductor chips due to the economic effects of the pandemic. Industry experts say that the protests could result in company layoffs and increase the prices that consumers pay for vehicles. The demonstrations began late last month in central Ottawa, where about 400 trucks remain. Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Autotrader in Detroit, told AFP that North American assembly plants relied on timely parts deliveries across the Ambassador Bridge. She said the car industry was "a significant portion of the economy and an important portion of consumer spending - it's the second-largest purchase people make - and it's been hampered in the past year". Another key trade link between Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana has also been blocked by protesters for several days.

2-10-22 The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic.
UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, has announced his plans to lift all covid-19 regulations in England on 24 February. All covid-19 restrictions in England, including the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive, could end on 24 February, announced Boris Johnson. Regulations were originally due to expire on 24 March, but in parliament on Wednesday, the prime minister Johnson said the date had been brought forward to show “that the hard work of the British people is paying off”. “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with covid,” he said to parliament. If it goes ahead, England will be following in the footsteps of Sweden, who on Wednesday lifted nearly all restrictions. Sweden’s minister of health, Lena Hallengren said in a statement: “As we know this pandemic, I would say it’s over.” This came after Denmark became the first European Union country to scrap all of its coronavirus restrictions. As of right now, the country has one of the highest numbers of covid-19 cases per capita in the world, with 43,503 daily cases. Globally, the number of covid-19 cases has officially surpassed 400 million, according to analysis from Reuters. This is amid surges of the virus around the world caused by the omicron variant. In Hong Kong yesterday, daily infections rose to a record 1161 cases, with outbreaks in 10 care homes. South Korea’s government announced today that patients with mild symptoms will have to treat themselves. This is to alleviate the strain on medical resources as omicron sweeps through the country, with daily cases hitting a new high of 54,122 on Wednesday. The US government will begin to vaccinate children under the age of 5 as soon as 21 February, according to a document from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The US Food and Drug Administration has not yet authorised the use of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccine for the age group. But, the pharmaceutical companies have confirmed that they have submitted data to support the vaccines’ authorisation.

2-10-22 'Auschwitz tattoo kit' claim put in doubt by Yad Vashem
A kit purportedly used to tattoo people at the Auschwitz death camp that is being sold by a Jerusalem auctioneer was probably made after World War Two, an Israeli court has been told. The court suspended the sale of the set of stamps in November at the request of Holocaust survivors and asked the Yad Vashem memorial centre to investigate. Its report says a booklet accompanying the kit was printed in 1949. It also says most victims tattooed with such stamps at Auschwitz were not Jews. Nazi Germany systematically murdered almost one million Jews at the camp in what was then occupied Poland during WWII. Some 75,000 Polish civilians, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, 25,000 Roma and Sinti, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals and political prisoners were also put to death at Auschwitz. When he put them up for sale last year, auctioneer Meir Tzolman described the set of 14 stamps, made from steel needles arranged in the shape of numbers, and instruction booklet from the manufacturer Aesculap as "the most shocking Holocaust item". He stated that the kit was used to tattoo Jewish inmates at Auschwitz, and that it was one of only three known to exist. Mr Tzolman said he wanted the stamps to end up in "the right hands", but Holocaust survivors and Jewish leaders condemned the sale. The head of Yad Vashem called it "morally unacceptable", while the Center Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel declared that "such an evil item can't have an owner". The Tel Aviv District Court issued an injunction against the sale following a request by the group and asked Yad Vashem's experts to try to authenticate the kit before it issued a ruling. The centre's report, a copy of which has been seen by the BBC, notes that Aesculap produced such stamps for use by farmers on livestock between 1912 and 1987. It says the stamps being auctioned appear to have been produced in 1949 because the kit comes with a brochure that was published by the manufacturer that year.

2-10-22 White House left behind as states drop Covid rules
The White House is facing pressure to revise its position on mask wearing as pandemic restrictions are eased in a number of US states. The governors of New York, Illinois and Massachusetts have said they will end certain mask mandates in their states. Earlier this week, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon unveiled plans to lift mask rules. Impatient governors have been urging the White House to release guidance for dropping the use of face coverings. But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterated on Wednesday that it was not yet time to lift US mask requirements. And White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Americans should follow the CDC guidelines rather than less-restrictive state or local rules. Governors, however, are not waiting around for the go-ahead from medical experts in Washington. All of the governors dropping restrictions this week - with the exception of the one in Massachusetts - are Democrats like US President Joe Biden. Mask rules have already been eased or were never adopted in most Republican-led states. On Wednesday, the governors of New York and Illinois announced they would end their Covid-19 mandates requiring face coverings in most indoor public settings, but keep it for schools. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said her state would stop requiring people to wear a mask or prove they had received a Covid-19 vaccine when entering most indoor public places from Thursday. But in New York City the office of Democratic Mayor Eric Adams said people would still be required to show proof of vaccination to enter indoor public places. In Massachusetts, students and teachers will no longer be required to wear masks in schools after 28 February, said the liberal state's Republican Governor Charlie Baker. "It's time to give our kids a sense of normalcy," Mr Baker said. Boston Public Schools, the state's largest school district, said it was still deciding how to respond to Mr Baker's move to relax mask rules.

2-10-22 'Don't Say Gay': Biden denounces 'hateful' new Florida bill
US President Joe Biden has condemned a Florida bill that would ban discussion of sexual orientation in primary schools as "hateful" to LGBT students. Governor Ron DeSantis has signalled his backing for the measure and it appears to have enough support to pass through the state's Republican-led legislature. Activists have dubbed it the "Don't Say Gay" bill and warn it will stigmatise LGBT people and issues. But its proponents say the legislation is about protecting parental rights. The proposal was introduced in the state House of Representatives last month. An identical version advanced in the state Senate on Tuesday. In a Twitter message to the LGBT community - "especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill" - Mr Biden vowed to "continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve". At a news conference earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children's safety, protection, and freedom. "Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most." State laws that ban or constrain the discussion of LGBT life in classrooms - sometimes referred to as "no promo homo" laws - are not uncommon. Several were introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, closely correlated with anti-gay rights activism at the time, but many have long been repealed. Currently, four US states - Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas - have laws on the books that expressly prohibit or limit sex education to heterosexual activity. Last year, Tennessee and Montana passed laws that allow parents to opt their children out of discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Florida bill goes a step further, allowing parents to directly sue schools districts and seek damages if they believe an educator has broken the law.

2-9-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: Ottawa Children's Aid Society cites 'child welfare concerns'
The Ottawa Police Service said in a statement Wednesday that police are working with the Children's Aid Society of Ottawa to investigate and address "child welfare concerns" at the ongoing trucker protest in the city's downtown area. "Police have a role to play in observing any potential dangers and will report them immediately to CASO. In matters that involve a child or youth who is in the protest area, CASO will work closely with the OPS to respond to the concern," the statement read. The Children's Aid Society of Ottawa is funded by the Ontario government and is empowered to seize children from families if necessary. The statement built on comments OPS Deputy Chief Steve Bell made to reporters Tuesday. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Bell said children could be at risk during a police operation to remove protesters. He also said the children faced risks including carbon monoxide poisoning and lack of sanitary facilities. Bell added that OPS was "not at the stage of looking to do any sort of enforcement activity around that." One protester became irate when told about the child welfare concerns. "The [police are] gonna come in here and do what to my kids?" he asked CBC journalist Joseph Tunney. "I have two teenagers here that're in my car. Are they in danger?" A convoy of truckers and other demonstrators protesting Canada's COVID-19 policies entered Ottawa on Jan. 29, blocking streets and using horns to disturb residents. Efforts to dislodge them have increased in recent days. On Monday, a judge issued a 10-day injunction banning honking. Police have also attempted to cut off the protesters' funding and fuel. Per the Citizen, as of Tuesday police had "made 23 arrests, issued more than 1,300 tickets, and were conducting 79 criminal investigations in connection with the demonstration."

2-9-22 New York to lift mask-or-vaccine requirement for indoor businesses
New York is lifting its mask-or-vaccine mandate for indoor business, citing declining COVID-19 cases. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) made the announcement during a briefing Wednesday that the requirement for businesses to mandate proof of COVID-19 vaccination or masks indoors will be lifted on Thursday, confirming an earlier report from The New York Times. The mandate had been scheduled to expire that day. "It was an emergency, temporary measure put in place literally two months ago, and at this time, we say that it is the right decision to lift this mandate for indoor businesses and let counties, cities, and businesses make their own decisions on what they want to do with respect to masks or the vaccination requirement," Hochul said. "Given the declining cases, given the declining hospitalizations, that is why we feel comfortable to lift this in effort tomorrow." Hochul added, though, that counties, cities, and businesses may still require masks, and "I suspect when I walk the streets of New York City, as I often do, I'm still going to see a lot of people wearing masks because they will feel safer." In lifting the requirement, Hochul was "marking a turning point in the state's coronavirus response," The New York Times wrote. Still, the statewide mask requirement remains in effect in numerous settings including at buses and train stations, and a mask mandate for schools is still in effect as well. Other states, including Massachusetts, have also announced plans to roll back mask requirements. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday it's continuing to recommend wearing masks indoors in areas with substantial or high transmission. "That is essentially everywhere in the country," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told Reuters.

2-9-22 The pathological politics of leaving the pandemic behind
If you thought partisanship was making us stupid, just wait till you see how Republicans respond to Democrats lifting COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. There are numerous signs this week that Democrats are ready to do precisely that. But will Republicans applaud, cheering on a belated embrace of something they've been advocating for the better part of two years? Not on your life. After endless months of hitting Democrats for upholding masking requirements and attempting to enforce vaccine mandates, Republicans are getting ready to hit them again, this time for lifting pandemic restrictions on the grounds that late is really no better than never. The line we'll likely hear is this: Your polling must really be in the tank if you're conceding we were right all along! The claim will be that Democrats are just running scared from political reality, not responding to how the Omicron wave unfolded or the inevitable need to transition to a longer-term, endemic response to COVID-19 and its future variants. The right will insist the left has always wanted to impose its will on the country, forcing everyone to don masks and curtail their activities, and only now is preparing to back down from its "soft totalitarian" footing with great reluctance in the face of a surge of popular resentment. This is mostly projection. Democrats have actually adjusted their positions quite a lot over time as public health authorities have learned more about the virus, how it spreads, whom it kills, and how many Americans would take advantage of widely available and effective vaccines. They've also learned things from the highly contagious but less deadly Omicron wave. Those lessons are the very reason views are now beginning to change (among public health officials and office holders, as well as in the public at large). It's Republicans who have been lamentably consistent from nearly the beginning of the pandemic in opposing any and all restrictions and painfully resistant to adjusting course as COVID-19 deaths have risen into the stratosphere. Recall, the pandemic began with Republican President Donald Trump backing lockdowns in mid-March 2020. But the first protests against them took place in Michigan a month later, and a few days after that, Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN," "LIBERATE MINNESOTA," and "LIBERATE VIRGINA." Very little has changed on the right since then, as lockdowns have been lifted and various mandates imposed, and as the number of deaths has climbed past 900,000. The Democratic response to the pandemic has been far from perfect. But it has usually been motivated by a concern for public health, and it has shown an admirable willingness to adjust course in the face of new information. That's more than one can say about Republicans.

2-9-22 Australian MP in emotional plea over religion bill
A leading opposition Australian lawmaker has made an emotional plea not to rush through a controversial bill aimed at protecting religious people. Critics says the bill enables discrimination and would allow religious schools to exclude transgender students. Mentioning his late gay nephew, Labor MP Stephen Jones said the bill had not been thought through. "He was just 15 when he took his own life," he told parliament. Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the Religious Discrimination Bill in November, and said it will ensure protection for religious people and organisations to express beliefs and avoid "cancel culture". During a speech in parliament in Canberra on Tuesday, Mr Jones, the shadow assistant treasurer, said the bill in its current form "pleases no-one". "I support freedom of religion. I understand many in our community who want to see the existing laws strengthened to protect their freedom of religious expression. I support that too," he said. But he stressed that "the sometimes toxic debate that has been unleashed by the prime minister has put a spotlight on the fact that no rights are unlimited". Only last week his family held a funeral for his nephew Ollie, Mr Jones added. "He was a beautiful, creative, courageous young man," he told parliament. "He was gay. He was uncertain about his gender and struggled with his mental health." Mr Jones also said he was worried that his own gender non-conforming teenage son may be attacked for just telling people who he was. "What message do we want this parliament to send to these kids?" he asked the parliament. "Surely we're not saying to them 'it's okay to be gay, just so long as we don't see it? Surely we can do better than that." "Let's get this done but let's do it properly," he said. Under Australia's federal Sex Discrimination Act, religious schools can expel a student or refuse to hire a teacher because of their sexuality or gender identity.

2-9-22 Amir Locke: Protesters demand end to 'no-knock' warrants
Protesters in Minneapolis are demanding justice after a no-knock warrant resulted in the death of a 22-year-old man during a police raid. Bodycam shows police entered the apartment and fired three shots in a matter of seconds. Amir Locke was not the target of the warrant and was armed with a gun for which he had a permit. Police later arrested Locke's cousin in connection with the homicide investigation for which the warrant was issued.

2-9-22 Freedom (Infection) Convoy: How might Canada's trucker protest end?
The narrow streets of central Ottawa remain clogged with trucks and other vehicles, two weeks into a protest calling for the country's pandemic measures to be axed. How might they be moved on? Organisers have pledged to keep going "for as long as it takes... until Canada is a free nation again". But frustrated locals are calling for more action to be taken against the convoy's participants. What can actually be done, however, remains unclear. Here are some options. The stand-off has created a tough choice for local towing companies. Their heavy tow trucks, commonly known as "wreckers", can ostensibly help clear the roads, but trucker Doug Rowland says many may be reluctant to get involved for both political and practical reasons. "A lot of towing companies consider themselves truck drivers as well," he explained. Tow operators and truckers require the same classification of driving licence, so there is plenty of overlap between the two industries. (Mr Rowland - who is not involved in the protests - himself operates both articulated lorries and wreckers.) According to him, even large to mid-sized towing companies might own five wreckers at most, often at hefty price tags ranging from $300,000 (£221,000) to $1m, so smaller companies are likely to avoid a hostile situation that could damage their expensive equipment. Further logistical difficulties arise from the sheer number of vehicles involved in these protests. Each truck requires its own wrecker and hooking up a wrecker to a truck takes about an hour, assuming the driver is present and co-operating. "If the trucker is not co-operative, it probably takes an extra 15 minutes or half hour because you don't have access to the cab, the inside of the truck," said Mr Rowland. A mechanical engineer by trade, he says such an instance could require each parking brake on the vehicle to be manually released. That means, for a lorry, the brakes need to be "caged" or manually backed off its 18 individual wheels. (Webmasters Comment: This is not a Freedom convoy. it is an Infection convoy!)

2-9-22 Ambassador Bridge protest: Truckers block vital Canada-US border crossing
Truck drivers are blocking a key border crossing between the US and Canada, sparking fears of economic disruption. While limited US-bound traffic is being allowed to cross the Ambassador Bridge in Ontario, Canada-bound lanes from Detroit remain closed. Business associations have called for the bridge to be immediately cleared to ensure the steady flow of goods. The protests across Canada against vaccine rules and Covid restrictions are now two weeks old. Truckers are demonstrating against a rule that requires them to be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border. But the protests have grown to include anger at restrictions and at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government generally. They have mostly centred on the capital, Ottawa, and another border crossing between Montana and Alberta has also been blocked. The closure of the Ambassador Bridge is particularly significant because nearly 30% of annual trade between the US and Canada comes through it. "I've already heard from automakers and food grocers," Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said on Tuesday. "This is really a serious cause for concern". Lorry drivers rallying in solidarity with the demonstrators in Ottawa first blocked the bridge on Monday afternoon. While the bridge was reopened to limited traffic from Canada into the US by Tuesday morning, authorities in Michigan have said that traffic flows into Canada remain blocked. They continue to advise drivers to divert to nearby Port Huron to cross the border. On Tuesday night, dozens of business associations based on both sides of the border called for a swift re-opening of the bridge, as well as the Alberta-Montana crossing. "The disruption of the Ambassador Bridge is an attack on the well-being of our citizens and the businesses that employ them," a statement from the organisations said. "As our economies emerge from the impacts of the pandemic, we cannot allow any group to undermine the cross-border trade that supports families on both sides of the border."

2-9-22 Canada truckers: Arrests as police warn of 'volatile' protesters
Ottawa police have said "volatile" and "determined" demonstrators remain in Canada's capital after nearly two weeks of a trucker-led anti-vaccine mandate protest. Ottawa is under a state of emergency after protesters blockaded the city centre with trucks and cars. Police have seized thousands of litres of fuel in recent days. Up to 25% of the vehicles contain children who could be at risk during operations, police said on Tuesday. The so-called Freedom Convoy began on 9 January in western Canada, as truckers protested against a rule that requires them to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to cross the US-Canada border. The demonstrations have morphed to include anger at Covid restrictions and at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government generally. Though the rally has been mostly peaceful, police have expressed concern about extremist rhetoric coming from far-right groups among the protesters. As well as reported racial and homophobic abuse, some danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial. Nearly 80 criminal investigations have been opened in relation to the protests, including for alleged hate crimes and property damage. Some two dozen people have been arrested. One officer was reportedly attacked while attempting to seize fuel from a protest truck. Speaking to press on Tuesday, deputy police chief Steve Bell said: "Our message to the demonstrators remains the same: Don't come. If you do, there will be consequences." He said police had found about 100 trucks with children in them and had contacted the Children's Aid Society over concerns about the noise, fumes and hygiene in the convoy. Some 756km (469 miles) away from Ottawa, Canada's busiest border crossing - the Ambassador Bridge - was partially reopened on Tuesday after protesters ground traffic there to a standstill.

2-9-22 Covid-19 news: NHS backlog could grow by millions over next two years
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. People waiting for medical care in England grew to a record six million during pandemic. The waiting list for NHS care in England could grow by millions over the next two years, after the pandemic deterred many from seeking medical care. Health secretary Sajid Javid told the commons that there are an estimated 10 million people who avoided care during the pandemic. “Even if half of these people come forward, this is going to place huge demand on the NHS,” Javid told MPs yesterday. The government has now promised to recruit an extra 15,000 NHS healthcare workers by the end of March, made up of 10,000 foreign nurses and 5,000 healthcare support workers. The announcement forms part of NHS England’s “Elective Recovery Plan”, which was delayed from December after the winter omicron surge. The European Union is seeking to establish a global treaty that prevents new pandemics, according to Reuters. The agreement could include a ban on global wet markets, a suspected source of the coronavirus pandemic, and reward countries that closely monitor new viruses and variants. New York, and several other US states, are lifting their mask mandates, as coronavirus cases begin to decline from the omicron-driven peak earlier in the winter. Coronavirus continues to surge around the world, with Slovakia, Russia and Hong Kong all recording their highest ever daily case numbers. A senior World Health Organisation advisor, Bruce Aylward, told the BBC’s Today programme: “If we look at the situation today – there’s still 2 million reported cases alone, over 5000 deaths every single day right now. The numbers are absolutely staggering.”

2-8-22 Doug Emhoff evacuated from D.C. school due to bomb threat
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was rushed out of a Washington, D.C., high school on Tuesday afternoon after a bomb threat was made. Emhoff's spokesperson, Katie Peters, tweeted that the Secret Service "was made aware of a security threat" at Dunbar High School, where Emhoff was meeting with students and faculty members during a Black History Month event. The school was evacuated and Emhoff is "safe," Peters said, adding, "We are grateful to Secret Service and D.C. Police for their work." A White House official told CNN Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to her husband soon after and he was doing "okay." D.C. Police Executive Assistant Chief Ashan Benedict told reporters that at around 2:15 p.m., someone called the bomb threat in to the school's front desk, saying they had 10 minutes to get everyone out. Law enforcement declared the building safe late in the afternoon. The Secret Service said "there is no information to indicate" that Emhoff was the target of the bomb threat. There also does not appear to be any relation between this incident and bomb threats being called in to more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities last week, Benedict told reporters, but the FBI "will work with us to kind of decipher what we have here and make those links if any."

2-8-22 Biden supports Capitol Hill staffers seeking to unionize, Psaki says
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that President Biden supports congressional staffers seeking to form a union, The Hill reported. Biden "supports the right of any individual to seek to join a union, to collective bargain, and of course Capitol Hill staffers are certainly individuals who are pursuing that," Psaki said. Per The Hill, Psaki would not confirm whether the White House had been in contact with the organizers of the budding Congressional Workers Union. The leaders of the push to unionize cited a "growing reckoning with poor pay and hostile working conditions" as well as a "fresh groundswell of lawmaker support," Politico reported. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have both voiced their support for the union, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he didn't believe it would be "productive for the government." Roll Call reported last year that the median salary for House staffers is $59,000.

2-8-22 Could Trump be prosecuted for his serial Presidential Records Act violations?
The National Archives confirmed on Monday that representatives for former President Donald Trump had turned over 15 boxes of documents, letters, gifts and mementos he had brought to Mar-a-Lago after leaving office but was legally required to hand over to government archivists. Trump's representatives confirmed they "are continuing to search for additional presidential records that belong to the National Archives," the Archives said in a statement. The boxes contain letters to Trump from former President Barack Obama and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Hurricane Dorian map Trump infamously augmented with black Sharpie, piles of news clips, and at least one item of clothing, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Monday, citing people familiar with the contents. Some former Trump officials insisted there was no nefarious intent behind taking the 15 boxes to Florida, describing the transfer as part of a frenzied exit after "Trump had spent the bulk of the presidential transition trying to find ways to stay in power," the Times reports. Regardless, the law is pretty clear. Could Trump faces legal consequences? Former federal prosecutor Daniel Goldman told MSNBC he would want to see what was in those 15 boxes before discussing criminal charges, though he added Trump's habitual destruction of White House documents appears to be a pretty open-and-shut case. Trump's repeated ripping up of documents "is against the law, but the problem is that the Presidential Records Act, as written, does not have any real enforcement mechanism," James Grossman at the American Historical Association tells the Post. One Archives official described the Presidential Records Act as functionally a "gentlemen's agreement." "You can't prosecute for just tearing up papers," Charles Tiefer, former House counsel, tells the Post. "You would have to show [Trump] being highly selective and have evidence that he wanted to behave unlawfully." Trump routinely ripped up papers throughout his presidency, despite repeated warnings from lawyers and two chiefs of staff that he was violating the Presidential Records Act, the Post reports, citing 11 former Trump aides and associates. "He didn't want a record of anything," one former senior Trump official said. "He never stopped ripping things up. Do you really think Trump is going to care about the records act? Come on." "At first, we were a White House that didn't know about preserving things and then, in the end, didn't care," former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN.

2-8-22 Was the January jobs report really that good?
It appears the U.S. economy didn't dodge the Omicron bullet after all. The Labor Department's jobs report, which was released Friday, showed that the U.S. economy added 467,000 jobs in January and that the unemployment rate increased only slightly to 4.0 percent. Several outlets hailed these numbers as a pleasant and unexpected surprise after many experts predicted a downturn due to Omicron. Politico called the report "phenomenal." The Democratic Party hailed it as evidence of "the Biden Boom." Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote that the report "signals that the job market recovery is plowing forward, despite Omicron headwinds." But was it? According to Matt Yglesias' Slow Boring newsletter, not really. "One natural interpretation of these numbers is that the fears of an Omicron impact on the economy were wrong. But this is incorrect," Yglesias wrote. "January happens to be the month when the [Bureau of Labor Statistics] does an annual update of some of its models," he continued. "With updated [census] data, they're able to generate new and better estimates. The January jobs gains came entirely from these changes." Without the adjustment for new census data, the economy actually lost jobs between December 2021 and January 2022. Thanks to the adjustment, gains that actually took place in previous months showed up in January's report. "That doesn't mean the jobs aren't real," Yglesias wrote. "But they are jobs we had all along. Using consistent household survey data, employment fell in January … for precisely the reason the Biden administration was worried it would fall: lots of people missed work because they were sick" with Omicron. Axios reported Tuesday that over "1 million men surged into the job market last month … compared to just 39,000 women," a conclusion Yglesias also disputed. "[I]t's not that a ton of men newly entered the labor force, a bunch of working age men who'd been around all along got counted correctly," he tweeted.

2-8-22 Ukraine crisis: Macron says Putin pledges no new Ukraine escalation
French President Emmanuel Macron has told reporters that President Vladimir Putin assured him that Russian forces would not ramp up the crisis near Ukraine's borders. "I secured an assurance there would be no deterioration or escalation," he said before meeting Ukraine's leader. However, Russia said any suggestion of a guarantee was "not right". Russia has denied any plans to invade Ukraine, but it has assembled more than 100,000 troops near its borders. US officials believe Russia has assembled 70% of military forces needed for a full-scale invasion. The tensions between Russia, Ukraine and the West come nearly eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and backed a rebellion in the eastern Donbas region. Moscow accuses the Ukrainian government of failing to implement the Minsk agreement - an international deal sponsored by Germany and France to restore peace to the east, where Russian-backed rebels control swathes of territory and at least 14,000 people have been killed since 2014. President Macron this week is on a diplomatic tour of national capitals trying to find a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. He arrived in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday after almost six hours of talks with Mr Putin in Moscow on Monday. At a news conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Mr Macron said there was now the chance to "make these negotiations move forward" between Russia and Ukraine, and that he could see "concrete solutions" to reducing tensions. He also said there was a "shared determination" to implement the Minsk agreement. Any resolution to the crisis could take months, he said, but he repeated that Mr Putin had told him he would not be behind any escalation. Mr Zelensky meanwhile said he expected "in the near future" there would be talks between Russia, France and Germany about resolving the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. But he called on Mr Putin to take serious measures to reduce tensions. "I do not really trust words, I believe that every politician can be transparent by taking concrete steps," he said.

2-8-22 Covid-19 news: Hong Kong restricts public gatherings as omicron surges
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. 614 covid-19 cases were reported in Hong Kong yesterday as the city brings in new measures to curb the coronavirus. Hong Kong has restricted public social gatherings to just two people as it faces a mammoth surge in omicron cases. Yesterday 614 new cases were reported in the city – double the previous day’s total, and a record for Hong Kong. The city is in a precarious position as even though 80 per cent of its population is double-jabbed against the coronavirus, fewer than 32 per cent of its over-80s have received at least one dose of a covid-19 vaccine. In addition to the limits for social gatherings, vaccine passes will be required in supermarkets and department stores. Religious venues and hair salons will close on Thursday until 24 February. Bans on restaurant dining after 6pm and gym closures have been in place since early January. All covid cases are hospitalised in Hong Kong whether they are symptomatic or not. Almost 4000 people are also quarantined in isolation centres across the city currently. The policy, following China’s lead, is aimed at eliminating coronavirus completely. Using trucks and campervans, hundreds of people blocked the streets surrounding New Zealand’s parliament building today calling for the government to drop its pandemic measures. The protest comes as New Zealand faces a rise in coronavirus cases. New Zealand reported 202 cases of coronavirus today, while on Saturday it reported a record 243 positive results. New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern told RNZ, the national radio broadcaster, that she expected the country’s cases to peak at between 10,000 and 30,000 in late March. The protesters, in a move similar to the ongoing trucker blockade in the Canadian capital Ottawa, have vowed to camp outside parliament until the country’s remaining restrictions are lifted. They are calling for an end to mask mandates and requirements that certain workers get vaccinated against coronavirus. With a population of five million, New Zealand has had just 18,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 53 deaths to date. The UK’s opposition leader, Labour’s Keir Starmer, was yesterday surrounded by a mob that was protesting, among other things, covid-19 restrictions and mandatory vaccinations.

2-8-22 Military towns are the most racially integrated places in the U.S. Here’s why
After a 1930s U.S. government policy cemented segregation, the military pushed back. Amber Williams and her husband bought their first house in 2008 for $80,000 in the small military city of Killeen, Texas. “I wanted to go big and bad, but he nipped that in the bud,” Williams quips. For this Army veteran, who launched her own personal training company in 2013, buying even a modest home meant that she’d reached a new station in life, moving up from her lower-income beginnings. “We actually lived in a mobile home all of my childhood,” she says. Williams, a Black woman, first arrived at Fort Hood, the Army base near Killeen, in 2006. She returned to the base after two deployments to Iraq, and her children, now ages 11 and 13, were born there. This area, where life revolves around Fort Hood, the area’s largest employer, has become home, she says. About an hour’s drive from the state capital of Austin, Killeen ranks as one of the most integrated metropolitan areas in the country, according to a 2021 report by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. To identify segregated pockets within a larger geographic area, the report compares the proportion of racial minorities in a smaller area, such as a neighborhood, with its larger region, such as a county. Integration in Killeen is evident in everyday life, Williams says. Her neighbors come from many different backgrounds, and her children have had several Black teachers, even though the vast majority of U.S. public school teachers are white. Most of her friends in Killeen, also current or former military, are in interracial relationships. Killeen is not an anomaly. The UC Berkeley researchers found that the most integrated places in the country have a strong military presence, including larger cities such as Fayetteville, N.C., and Colorado’s Aurora and Colorado Springs. “The biggest players for effective integration ended up being these military towns,” says social psychologist Lindsey Burnside of UC Berkeley, who worked on the report.

2-8-22 Why are certain school books being banned in US?
A growing number of US parents are alleging that school books are obscene or otherwise harmful to children. It's creating an increasingly divisive political battle that could spill over into upcoming national elections. Yael Levin-Sheldon, a mother of two who lives near Richmond, Virginia, recently heard about a book that a teacher in an area school brought into the classroom. She made a note of the title, The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person. The title alone, Levin says, is racist - and it's not the kind of book that should be available to children in public schools. "Now think of it saying, 'on being a better black person'," she said. "Would that be ok? Levin-Sheldon is the Virginia chapter president of the conservative parents-rights group No Left Turn in Education. Her organisation compiles a list of books it says are "used to spread radical and racist ideologies to students" and "divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology". The list includes Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale and White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. The Black Friend, a New York Times best-selling memoir by Frederick Joseph recounting his challenges as a black student in a predominantly white high school, isn't on the list. At least, not yet. Books such as Joseph's - offering critical views on topics like US history or race - gained new prominence in school curricula and library collections as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 and educational efforts to address concerns about persistent racism in the US. No Left Turn contends that the works should be taught in context, along with other texts that provide a different (and assumedly more positive) view of America's past. And parents, Levin-Sheldon adds, should have the choice of opting out of those lessons.

2-8-22 John Simpson in Afghanistan: Watching the destruction of a nation?
Afghanistan's economy has collapsed and up to eight million people are facing starvation. Almost six months after the Taliban took power, BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson returns to the country for BBC Panorama. Afghanistan’s new masters face international isolation for links to terrorism and years of human rights abuses. Now, however, there are growing questions over whether the West needs to change its approach to Afghanistan’s leaders to allow aid to reach its people.

2-8-22 Canada truckers protest: Trudeau demands an end to trucker protest
Canada's prime minister has said a protest by truckers that has paralysed the capital Ottawa "has to stop".Justin Trudeau said Canadians were "shocked and frankly disgusted" by some protesters' behaviour, which has reportedly included vandalism and racial abuse. Lorry drivers have been rallying against Canada's Covid vaccine rules. Their vehicles have gridlocked Ottawa and a state of emergency has been declared in the city. For nearly two weeks, hundreds of lorries have brought the city centre to a standstill, forcing many local businesses to close. Resident's nerves were also being frayed by constantly blaring air horns. On Monday, however, they had a small victory when an Ottawa judge ruled that the truckers must stop honking their horns for 10 days. While most of the protest has been peaceful, Ottawa police have said they are concerned about the extremist rhetoric coming from far-right groups at the rally. As well as reported racial and homophobic abuse, Nazi symbols have been displayed and protesters danced on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial. Ottawa police have said they are investigating more than 60 incidents, including alleged hate crimes and property damage. "I want to be very clear - we are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless," Mr Trudeau told MPs at an emergency debate in Canada's House of Commons on Monday. "We won't give in to those who fly racist flags, we won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonour the memory of our veterans." On Sunday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency in the capital, and said the protests were "out of control." He asked the federal government to send an extra 1,800 police officers and a mediator to work with the protesters to "end this siege". Mr Trudeau has pledged to send whatever the city needs, but did not elaborate on what that could be. Last week, he ruled out deploying the army to the city, saying one must be "very, very cautious" about doing that. The so-called Freedom Convoy began on 9 January in western Canada as truckers protested against a new rule that requires them to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to cross the US-Canada border. The demonstrations have now morphed to include anger at a raft of Covid-19 restrictions and at Mr Trudeau's government generally.

2-8-22 Canada trucker's protest: Ceaseless horn blaring frays nerves in Ottawa
For city blocks, in the centre of the national capital, massive trucks are parked, many decorated with signs calling for an end to vaccine mandates - or simply "Freedom". Up to 500 such trucks are estimated to be in Ottawa's downtown 12 days now with no end in sight. There are the sounds of running engines, small clusters of protesters chatting on a weekday morning - some gathered around makeshift fire pits to keep out the winter chill - and the occasional deep honk of a big rig horn. The fences in front of the parliament building are covered in hundreds of handwritten protest signs expressing support for their cause. The protesters say that theirs is a cause all Canadians should applaud - but after nearly a fortnight of blaring horns and streets shut by blockaders and police, many residents of Ottawa see it differently. "There's been nothing but love, unity and peace out here," said John Van Vleet, a protester whose three daughters were offering coffee to those up and about. "There's been no graffiti. There's been no garbage. People are feeding people." A truck driver from the Niagara region of Ontario, near the US border, he'd been in the city since the start. "It's important for me to come down here to fight for my freedoms," he said. "I don't want to be told what to do, to get injections if I don't want an injection, to wear a mask if I don't want to wear a mask." Being asked to mask up, he said, is the government making people "cover up God's image". Mr Van Vleet is frustrated that Ottawa police launched a "major public order operation" on Sunday against the demonstrators - it was "completely wrong", he said. In the city's east end, there are more trucks and supplies, and even some outdoor saunas set up. Police moved in at the weekend, seizing "thousands of litres" of fuel cans and propane that keep the trucks running. (Webmasters Comment: Arrest them all and throw them in jail!)

2-7-22 Protesters in Minneapolis demand firing of interim police chief, officer who shot Amir Locke
Demonstrators in Minneapolis made their way to City Hall on Monday, where they called on Mayor Jacob Frey to fire the interim police chief and the officer who shot and killed Amir Locke last week during a raid. Locke, a 22-year-old Black man, was shot on Wednesday morning while police officers carried out a no-knock warrant at a Minneapolis apartment. Locke, who was not listed on the warrant, was on a couch in the living room when officers entered. He is seen on body cam footage wrapped up in a blanket, and there is a gun in his hand. Officer Mark Hanneman fired three shots, hitting Locke. Locke was a DoorDash driver, and his family said he legally purchased a gun for protection, due to an increase in carjackings. "The Second Amendment is for Black people, too," Locke's cousin, Nneka Constantino, said on Monday. "Our family is not naive. So we understand that it was not necessarily a person but a system of injustice that has killed Amir Locke." Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy Armstrong said she was "honored" to stand in solidarity with the Locke family, but the "reality is that we should not have to be here. How many more Black lives have to be lost and needlessly taken by those who are supposed to protect and serve?" Armstrong called for the immediate firing of Hanneman and either the firing or resignation of interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman, saying she has failed "miserably" at her job. In the wake of Locke's shooting, Huffman did not "speak truthfully or candidly" about what happened during the raid, Armstrong continued, and "even after the body camera footage was released, she continued to distort the truth." Locke was referred to as a suspect, which he was not, and there was a focus placed on his gun, which he owned legally, Armstrong said. She also brought up appointments Huffman has made in the department, including promoting an officer who was previously fired to the role of training director. "We ask that Mayor Jacob Frey step up to the plate immediately," Armstrong said. "No more excuses, no more hiding behind policies that do not fully get implemented." (Webmasters Comment: Fire them? Arrest them for murder!)

2-7-22 'It has to stop': Canada's Justin Trudeau returns to Parliament for Ottawa blockade emergency session
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday night that the "Freedom Convoy" that has ensnarled Ottawa's business district with hundreds of parked big-rig trucks for a dozen days is "trying to blockade our economy, our democracy. and our fellow citizens' daily lives. It has to stop." The people of Ottawa, he added, "don't deserve to be harassed in their own neighborhoods." Trudeau lambasted the protesters in a speech to an emergency session of the House of Commons, and it was his first public appearance since he tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 31, two days after the trucks rolled into Ottawa. Trudeau said all Canadians are tired of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the restrictions at the center of the protest won't last forever and the vast majority of Canadians support "science" and public health measures. "A few people shouting and waving swastikas does not define who Canadians are," he said. In a letter Monday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson asked Trudeau for 1,800 additional police officers to help the overwhelmed Ottawa Police Services dismantle what "has now turned into a siege of our downtown area." He also referred to it as an "insurrection." Ontario Premier Doug Ford has called the "Freedom Convoy" an "occupation." Trudeau told Parliament "the federal government will be there with whatever resources the province and city need in this situation," but did not make any specific commitments. He said last week that sending in the military is "not in the cards." The "Freedom Convoy" was a proximate response to Trudeau's order that cross-border truckers be vaccinated, one of the few public health measures the federal government instituted. (Most are enacted by provincial governments.) The protesters are now demanding an end to all vaccine requirements and COVID-19 restrictions, and the dissolution of Trudeau's recently re-elected government. The Ottawa police, who planned only for a three-day protest, have started tackling the supply lines to the entrenched protesters, including fuel, food, and money, much of it coming from the U.S. Physically removing the trucks has been ruled impractical. Transport Minister Omar Alghabra urged Ford to do more, suggesting the Ontario provincial government "begin suspending commercial licenses and also insurance of commercial owners of equipment blockading the streets for days on end." Canadian officials have also hit back at Republican politicians in the U.S. who are encouraging the protest and trying to restore funding avenues.

2-7-22 Court issues 10-day ban on honking in downtown Ottawa
A Canadian judge issued a 10-day injunction Monday banning protesting truckers from honking their horns in downtown Ottawa, CBC reports. "Tooting a horn is not an expression of any great thought I'm aware of," Justice Hugh McLean of the Ottawa Superior Court said. He also said the ban on honking would not rob demonstrators of their right to protest. A convoy of truckers and other demonstrators protesting Canada's COVID-19 policies entered Ottawa on Jan. 29 and has been blocking streets and using horns to disturb residents ever since. Journalist Élie Cantin-Nantel tweeted that, so far, the truckers appear to be complying with the ban. Per CBC, the "request for an injunction came out of a proposed class-action lawsuit." Protesters have also cooked food, set up bouncy castles, held impromptu dance parties, and played street hockey. Local government and law enforcement have made several attempts stop, or at least hinder, the protests. Last week, Ottawa police convinced GoFundMe to delete the "Freedom Convoy 2022" fundraiser that had raised over 10 million Canadian dollars. Several U.S. Republicans responded by vowing to launch investigations into whether the company defrauded donors. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency Sunday, claiming the protest posed a "serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents." Ottawa police are also working to cut off the truckers' fuel supply, warning Monday that "anyone found bringing fuel to the demonstration trucks in the red zone could be subject to arrest and charges." Fox News reported that, according to Ottawa police, "seven people have been arrested and more than 100 have been issued tickets in connection to 'demonstration-related enforcement.'"

2-7-22 Biden warns 'there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2' if Russia invades Ukraine
Following a bilat in which the two world leaders agreed they are in "lockstep" as to handling the current Russia-Ukraine crisis, President Biden warned alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that any movement on Moscow's part would be a threat to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. "If Russia invades — that means tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again — then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2," Biden said during the joint press conference. "We will bring an end to it." The president did not detail exactly how that might happen, but promised "we'll be able to do it." Scholz did not respond with the same gusto as Biden did, opting instead to repeat a frequent refrain: "We are absolutely united." Previously, the German leader "has been vague about whether he would agree to terminate the pipeline project," the Times writes. Scholz on Monday also reportedly did not use the pipeline's name when asked about it, replying through a translator that it is best to "not spell out everything in public," but both the U.S. and Germany have planned out "far-reaching measures" in advance, The Independent says. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is "meant to connect Russian natural gas supplies with Germany and the rest of Europe," notes The Independent. Its construction has become quite the issue, given it could serve as a Russian "coercive tool against Ukraine and other allies," the Times adds.

2-7-22 After meeting with Putin, Macron says the 'risk of destabilization is increasing'
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on Monday, but after five hours of negotiations, there was no breakthrough on the Russia-Ukraine crisis. "Right now the tension is increasing and the risk of destabilization is increasing," Macron said. "Neither Russia, nor the Europeans, want chaos or instability, when nations have already suffered from the [COVID-19] epidemic. So we need to agree on concrete measures." Macron added that he doesn't "believe in spontaneous miracles. There is lots of tensions, nervousness." It's estimated that Russia has about 140,000 troops along the border with Ukraine and in Belarus, and on Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Putin has "added to his force capability" in those areas. U.S. officials believe that Russia has in place more than 70 percent of the soldiers needed to launch an invasion of Ukraine, and some analysts believe Putin is only entertaining Western leaders in order to buy more time to prepare, The Guardian reports. Ukraine never be admitted into NATO. Macron said on Monday that NATO's open door policy is essential for Europe; Putin replied that it is only good for the United States. While he didn't go into detail about what was privately talked about, Putin did say it is possible for Russia to consider "a number" of Macron's "proposals and ideas ... in order to lay a foundation for our further steps." Macron will head to Kyiv on Tuesday to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and he said he'll call Putin afterwards to brief him on their discussion.

2-7-22 Supreme Court halts lower court's order that Alabama draw new Black-majority congressional district
With a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Monday put on hold a lower court's order that Alabama create a second majority-Black congressional district ahead of the 2022 election. Chief Justice John Roberts and the three liberal members of the court dissented, with Justice Elena Kagan saying this does "a disservice to Black Alabamians who under [Supreme Court] precedent have had their electoral power diminished — in violation of a law this court once knew to buttress all of American democracy." The court will hear arguments on the case at a later date. Late last month, a panel of three federal judges — including two appointed by former President Donald Trump — threw out a new congressional map drawn by Alabama's GOP-controlled legislature. Alabama has seven congressional districts, and the map only had one district with a majority of Black voters. Over the last 10 years, Alabama's Black population has grown, now making up 27 percent of the state's total population, while the white population has declined. The panel said because of this, the state's map should have two districts with either Black majorities or close to it. The panel's ruling stated that Black voters "have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress," and challengers would likely be able to show the new map violates the Voting Rights Act. "We find the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law," the ruling declared.

2-6-22 Protesters in Minneapolis decry police shooting of Amir Locke, no-knock warrants
Over the weekend, hundreds of protesters walked and drove through the streets of Minneapolis, calling for justice in the fatal shooting of Amir Locke, a 22-year-old Black man. Locke was killed Wednesday inside a downtown Minneapolis apartment while police officers carried out a no-knock search warrant in connection with a homicide investigation out of neighboring St. Paul. Locke was not named in the warrant, and Minneapolis police were criticized for initially referring to him as a "suspect," MPR News reports. Body cam footage released by police after the shooting shows several officers yelling, "Police! Search warrant!" as they rush into the apartment. It appears that Locke was sleeping on a couch when they came inside, and was waking up as officers came closer to him. Locke is wrapped up in a blanket, and a gun can be seen in his hand. One of the officers, Mark Hanneman, then fired three shots, hitting Locke. In a no-knock warrant, police are authorized to enter a private property without announcing their presence. In 2020, Minneapolis restricted the practice, but they were still used in certain cases, the Star Tribune reports. Following Locke's death, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said no-knock warrants would be suspended in the city. Critics of no-knock warrants say it is easy for a civilian to become disoriented during the chaos, and reach for a weapon. Locke, who did not have a criminal record, was a delivery driver for DoorDash, and his family said because of an increase in carjackings, he decided to legally purchase a gun for protection. He was planning on moving to Texas in about a week to pursue a career in music.

2-7-22 Covid: Australia to reopen borders to international travel
Australia has announced the reopening of its borders to vaccinated tourists and other visa holders for the first time in almost two years. "If you're double vaccinated, we look forward to welcoming you back," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. The reopening, on 21 February, will be welcome news for many sectors including international education. Australia has had some of the world's strictest border controls throughout the coronavirus pandemic. In March 2020, the government closed the borders. It barred most foreigners from entering the country and put caps on total arrivals to help combat Covid. Some international students and skilled migrants have been permitted to enter the country since last December. On Monday, Mr Morrison said those entering Australia when the borders fully reopened would need to provide proof of vaccination: "That's the rule. Everyone is expected to abide by it," he said. Unvaccinated travellers who have a medical reason for not being jabbed will still need to apply for a travel exemption and, if successful, will be required to quarantine at a hotel. Melinda de Boer, 44, from Switzerland, told the BBC that she was finally planning to travel to Melbourne to see her mum, who had breast cancer last year. "Her grandchildren haven't seen her for nearly three years. We are looking to go in the October or December holidays," she said. Ms De Boer said she was reluctant to book at the moment and was "worried about the airlines and masses of people going". Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has implemented strict measures to help fight the spread of Covid infections - even banning its own people from leaving the country last year. Despite most of the country opening up, the state of Western Australia (WA) still has tight measures. It is currently closed to non-residents, including those from other Australian states, unless they have permission to enter. There had been plans to open WA's borders to interstate and international tourists this month, but that move was postponed indefinitely due to the Omicron variant. Australia has so far reported more than 2.7 million cases of coronavirus and more than 4,240 Covid-related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Nearly 80% of the population is fully vaccinated.

2-7-22 Canada trucker protest: Ottawa declares emergency
The mayor of Canada's capital, Ottawa, has declared a state of emergency in response to more than a week of truckers' protests against Covid restrictions. Jim Watson said the city was "losing this battle" and "completely out of control". He added the protests posed a threat to residents' safety. There have also been reports of racial attacks. Ottawa's centre has been paralysed, with vehicles and tents blocking roads. The "Freedom Convoy" was sparked by the introduction last month of a new rule that all truckers must be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border, but the protests have morphed into broader challenges to Covid health restrictions. The protesters have since gathered in central Ottawa near Parliament Hill, and their demands have grown to include ending all such mandates nationwide and opposing the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Speaking to Canadian radio station CFRA, Mr Watson said the protesters were behaving increasingly "insensitively" by continuously "blaring horns and sirens, [setting off] fireworks and turning it into a party". "Clearly, we are outnumbered and we are losing this battle," he said, adding: "This has to be reversed - we have to get our city back." The mayor did not give specific details about what measures he might impose, but police said on Sunday that they would step up enforcement, including possible arrests of those seeking to aid the protesters by bringing them supplies like fuel, toilet paper and food. A state of emergency will give the city additional powers, including access to equipment required by frontline workers and emergency services. Many Ottawa residents have objected to the demonstrations. Complaints range from idling trucks that impede traffic and makeshift wooden structures in city parks to lost income and fears of harassment and even violence. Police have said they are concerned about how the convoy has attracted far-right and extremist elements, and on Sunday confirmed they were dealing with more than 60 criminal investigations, with alleged offences including "mischief, thefts, hate crimes and property damage". (Webmasters Comment: Arrest them. try them, convict them, and put them in prison!)

2-6-22 Ottawa declares state of emergency over 'serious danger' posed by anti-mandate protest
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Sunday in response to the anti–vaccine mandate protest roiling Canada's capital, saying this declaration "reflects the serious danger and threat to the safety and security of residents posed by the ongoing demonstrations and highlights the need for support from other jurisdictions and levels of government." Watson told CBC News that the state of emergency "gives our staff and our city a few extra tools to speed things up like procurement. We're in the midst of a serious emergency, the most serious emergency our city has ever faced, and we need to cut the red tape to get these supplies available to our police officers and to our public works staff." The protest was organized by a group calling itself the Freedom Convoy, and is against the requirement that cross-border truck drivers receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The demonstration began 10 days ago, and Ottawa residents have complained of truck horns blaring at all hours and verbal and physical altercations with protesters. Ottawa police said there are 97 criminal investigations now underway, and 11 are related to hate crimes. So far, four people have been charged. Diane Deans, a city councilor and chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said on Saturday that "this group is emboldened by the lack of enforcement by every level of government." Ottawa police later announced that anyone bringing "material aid" to demonstrators, like fuel, could be arrested. In addition to being against the vaccine mandate for drivers, many of the demonstrators are also protesting public health measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. CBC News reports that the protesters still in Ottawa say they won't leave until all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted; most of the policies were introduced by provinces.

2-6-22 DeSantis and other Republicans say they'll investigate GoFundMe over Freedom Convoy donations
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and multiple Republican state attorneys general have announced plans to investigate fundraising company GoFundMe, Reuters and The Hill reported. The Republican officials allege that GoFundMe may have violated state laws by refusing to distribute funds raised to support the "Freedom Convoy," a group of truckers and other demonstrators protesting Canada's COVID-19 policies. According to The Daily Wire, the Republican attorneys general of Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and Louisiana have all said they plan to investigate whether GoFundMe defrauded donors from their states. The convoy first entered Ottawa on Jan. 29 and has been blocking streets and keeping residents awake with loud honking ever since, The Washington Post reported. GoFundMe said it deleted the fundraiser after being told by Ottawa police "that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation." According to BBC, as of Saturday the protests were still mostly peaceful, having resulted in only three arrests. The company initially said donors would have to apply for refunds and that any remaining funds would go to charities approved by GoFundMe, but later reversed course and made refunds automatic. "It is a fraud for @gofundme to commandeer $9 million in donations sent to support truckers and give it to causes of their own choosing. I will work with [Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody] to investigate these deceptive practices — these donors should be given a refund," DeSantis wrote on Twitter on Saturday, several hours after GoFundMe announced that all donations to the Freedom Convoy would be automatically refunded. DeSantis also stated the amount in question in a slightly misleading manner. The funds GoFundMe refused to distribute totaled about 9 million Canadian dollars (equivalent to about 7.9 million U.S. dollars). Around 1 million Canadian dollars were distributed to the protest's organizers before GoFundMe removed the fundraiser.

2-6-22 Ex-Pence chief of staff says Trump's advisers were 'basically snake oil salesmen'
The advisers working with former President Donald Trump after the 2020 presidential election "were basically snake oil salesmen," Marc Short said on Sunday's Meet the Press, leading Trump to believe that there was some way former Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the results. Short served as Pence's chief of staff, and was with him at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack. In an address on Friday to the conservative Federalist Society, Pence pushed back at Trump's false assertion that he could have decided the election, saying, "President Trump is wrong." Short backed Pence up on Meet the Press, telling host Chuck Todd that Pence made it clear from the beginning he could not overturn the election and never intended to delay certification of the results. Trump, Short continued, "had many bad advisers, who were basically snake oil salesmen giving him really random and novel ideas as to what the vice president could do. But our office, you know, researched that and recognized that was never an option." Short added that he didn't know if Trump sought out this advice because it's what he wanted to hear. attack is "partisan," but he testified before its members because he was subpoenaed. "I don't know how often you've been subpoenaed, Chuck, and if you view that as cooperation, but I view that as following the law," he said.

2-6-22 The shadow hanging over the Winter Olympics
The 2022 Olympics begin this week under the shadow of COVID and Beijing's flagrant abuses of human rights. The 2022 Winter Games will take place in a "closed-loop system," or bubble, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus — a similar but more stringent version of the protocols utilized by last summer's Tokyo Olympics. Thousands of athletes, coaches, Olympic staff members, and journalists will be confined to an enclosed network of competition sites and hotels for the duration of the Games. Everyone must be vaccinated or go through three prior weeks of isolation, and athletes will be tested daily. China has operated under an extreme "COVID zero" policy since the first cases were detected in Wuhan, quarantining tens of thousands of people and testing millions in response to a single case. Thus far, it's been successful in limiting outbreaks: China has reported roughly 4,600 deaths, compared with nearly 900,000 in the U.S. But the Omicron variant has caused small outbreaks in Beijing and presents a new challenge. Olympic events will be held in Beijing and the cities of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou, northwest of the capital. The U.S. is sending 223 athletes to the Games. Alpine skiing superstar Mikaela Shiffrin will look to add to her two previous gold medals and cement her status as a legend of the sport. Chloe Kim, who at 17 won gold in the halfpipe at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, will return and is favored to repeat as champion. Snowboarders Lindsey Jacobellis and Shaun White will become five-time Olympians when they compete in Beijing, as will curling legend John Shuster and Katie Uhlaender in skeleton. The Games will see the debut of seven new events, including the "monobob," a solo women's bobsled competition; three-time bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor will be a top contender. Beijing is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time, so American viewers will see the opening ceremony and other "live" events with their morning coffee. China was originally one of many contenders to host the 2022 Games, but Poland, Ukraine, and Sweden dropped out because of domestic opposition. Norway's bid collapsed over public outrage at the International Olympic Committee's demands for luxury treatment, such as special lanes on all roads for IOC members. China and Kazakhstan wound up as the only two bidders left. The IOC's selection process now has a built-in bias for autocracies willing to pamper IOC members and build expensive venues — without inconveniences such as democratic approval. China displaced 1.5 million people when Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, and the 2022 announcement spurred a rush for developers to snap up properties in humble mountain towns, forcing longtime residents to move. Beijing and its environs receive little natural snowfall, so organizers have had to make artificial snow for outdoor skiing events. China's brutal persecution of its Muslim Uighur minority and dismal human rights record has led to widespread comparisons between these Games and the 1936 Berlin Olympics and 1980 Moscow Olympics, both of which sparked global controversy and boycotts.

2-6-22 Ukraine tensions: US sources say Russia 70% ready to invade
Russia has assembled about 70% of the military capability needed for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in the coming weeks, US officials say. The ground is expected to freeze and harden from mid-February, enabling Moscow to bring in more heavy equipment, the unnamed officials said. Russia is said to have more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders but denies planning to attack. The US officials did not provide evidence for their assessment. They said the information was based on intelligence but that they were unable to give details due to its sensitivity, US media report. The officials also said they did not know if Russian President Vladimir Putin had decided to take such a step, adding that a diplomatic solution was still possible. Speaking on condition of anonymity, two US officials told Reuters news agency that weather conditions would provide a peak window for Russia to move equipment forward between about 15 February and the end of March. According to reports, the officials warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could cause as many as 50,000 civilian deaths. They also estimated that an attack could see the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, fall within days and prompt a refugee crisis in Europe as millions of people flee. Additional US troops have been arriving in Poland as part of a new deployment to bolster the Western military alliance Nato's forces in the region. The first group landed at Rzeszow in the south-east of the country on Saturday. The Biden administration announced days ago that it would send nearly 3,000 additional troops to Eastern Europe. Moscow says its troops are in the region for military drills, but Ukraine and its Western allies remain concerned that the Kremlin is planning to launch an assault. The tensions come nearly eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and backed a bloody rebellion in the eastern Donbas region.

2-5-22 Biden restores sanctions relief in attempt to salvage Iran nuclear deal
The Biden administration restored a sanctions waiver for Iran's nuclear program Friday, but the Iranian foreign minister says it won't be enough to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, The Washington Post reported. The Trump administration withdrew from former President Barack Obama's 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2018. A senior State Department official said the Biden administration's decision to restore sanctions relief "is not a concession to Iran" or a "signal that we are about to reach an understanding" but that it will "enable some of our international partners to have more detailed technical discussions to enable cooperation that we view as being in our non-proliferation interests," CNN reported. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was less optimistic. "Lifting some sanctions in a real and objective manner could be interpreted as the good will that Americans talk about," he said Saturday but added that the Biden administration's waiver is "not sufficient." Ongoing talks in Vienna temporarily adjourned Friday. The Week contributor David Faris has argued that the negotiations are "almost certainly doomed" and that when they "inevitably collapse, they will entomb decades of delusion and leave the mangled edifice of American foreign policy exposed." Read more at The Week.

2-5-22 Trump was wrong to seek to overturn Biden win, says Mike Pence
Former US Vice-President Mike Pence has dismissed claims by Donald Trump that he could have stopped Joe Biden becoming president last year. In his strongest rebuttal yet, he said Mr Trump was wrong to suggest he had had the right to overturn the election. Separately the Republican Party censured two of its top lawmakers for investigating the Capitol riots. A mob stormed the Capitol as lawmakers met to confirm President Joe Biden's poll win on 6 January last year. Four people died during the riots, and a police officer who suffered two strokes while defending the building died the following day. The two legislators, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are the only Republicans on a congressional select committee investigating the riots. The statement by the Republican National Committee (RNC) accused the pair of helping to persecute "ordinary citizens engaged in legitimate political discourse". The RNC appeared to suggest rioters had been involved in legitimate political actions but RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel clarified that it was a reference to "legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol". The vote was passed by an overwhelming majority of the 168 RNC members at their winter meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, reports say. The committee said it would "immediately cease any and all support of them" as party members without removing them from the party. Both lawmakers issued statements in advance of the vote. "The leaders of the Republican Party have made themselves willing hostages to a man who admits he tried to overturn a presidential election and suggests he would pardon 6 January defendants, some of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy," Ms Cheney said. They also received support from other opponents of Mr Trump in the party. Senator Mitt Romney tweeted: "Shame falls on a party that would censure persons of conscience, who seek truth in the face of vitriol."

2-5-22 Pence slams Trump for 'un-American' bid to overturn vote
Former US Vice-President Mike Pence says he had no right to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, despite what Donald Trump may think. Mr Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims of mass voter fraud, recently insisted Mr Pence could have blocked certification of the results.

2-5-22 Amir Locke: US gun group defends armed man killed by police
A gun rights group has condemned the Minneapolis police killing of a man who was shot while lying on a couch. Bodycam video shows Amir Locke, 22, stirring under a blanket before he is gunned down by a Swat team during a dawn raid on Wednesday. Mr Locke, who appeared to be holding a pistol but was not the target of the warrant, died within minutes. The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus called Mr Locke "a law-abiding citizen who was lawfully in possession of a firearm". The Minnesota National Guard has been activated in case of unrest, the governor said on Friday. The city police department is still trying to regain public confidence after one of its officers murdered George Floyd in May 2020. Three other officers are currently on trial for Floyd's death. Video released on Thursday shows Mr Locke, who was black, lying on a couch as officers use keys to enter the flat. They were searching for someone connected to a homicide in the city of St Paul, but Mr Locke was not the suspect. The officers identified themselves as police, and opened fire after Mr Locke's blanket shifted and a handgun appeared. The entire encounter lasted around 10 seconds. Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus chairman Bryan Strawser said in a statement: "As seen in the body-worn camera video released by Minneapolis Police, Mr Locke appears to be sleeping on the couch during the execution of a no-knock warrant. "He is awoken with a confusing array of commands coming from multiple officers who are pointing lights and firearms at him." Rob Doar, who works in the group's government affairs office, added: "Mr Locke did what many of us might do in the same confusing circumstances, he reached for a legal means of self-defence while he sought to understand what was happening." The American Civil Liberties Union, a left-leaning organisation, said police had failed to ask Mr Locke to drop the gun, or warn him that they would shoot. Mr Locke's parents say that he was respectful of police, and that they had instructed their children about "what they needed to do whenever they encountered police officers". "My son was executed on 2/2 of 22," said his mother Karen Wells. "And now his dreams have been destroyed." "They didn't even give him a chance," added personal injury lawyer Benjamin Crump. (Webmasters Comment: The KKK and Neo-Nazis in the police get away with murder again!)

2-5-22 Joe Rogan: Podcast star apologises over past use of racist language
The US podcast host Joe Rogan has issued an apology over his past use of racist language on his popular show. A widely-shared compilation video showed him repeatedly using the N-word in early episodes of his show, which has been running for over a decade. The 54-year offered his "deepest" apologies and called his past use of the slur "shameful". Rogan also apologised for making a racist comment about visiting a predominantly black neighbourhood. He said he "felt sick" watching the compilation, and wished he could take his comments back. During a six minute video posted to his Instagram page, the MMA commentator also said that he hoped his errors could help to educate others. "I do hope that this can be a teachable moment for anybody that doesn't know how offensive that word can be coming out of a white person's mouth," the Spotify star said. But Rogan also sought to defend himself, saying that many of the clips had been "taken out of context of twelve years of conversations on my podcast". He said that he had often used the slur while quoting comedians such as Paul Mooney and Lenny Bruce, or while discussing the use of the word in movies directed by the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. India Arie, the Grammy-winning artist who first posted the compilation video on her Instagram page, condemned Rogan's use of the slur and said she would remove her music from Spotify in protest. "He shouldn't even be uttering the word. Don't even say it, under any context. Don't say it. That's where I stand. I have always stood there," Arie said. Several artists have recently quit Spotify in protest at what they allege is Rogan's role in spreading coronavirus misinformation. Spotify is thought to have paid more than $100m (£74m) for exclusive rights to the podcast in 2020.

2-5-22 Freedom Convoy: GoFundMe seizes funds of Canada 'occupation'
GoFundMe says it will withhold millions of dollars raised for Canadian truckers protesting against vaccine mandates, citing police reports of violence. The Freedom Convoy has been rallying since last weekend, and more protests are expected in Toronto and Ottawa. In a statement, the crowdfunding website said it would withhold the donations already made, and refund donors who fill out a request form. Another online platform has offered to take donations for the convoy instead. Of the thousands who joined the truckers' protest, three people have so far been arrested: one for carrying a weapon, one charged with mischief under $5,000, and another with uttering threats on social media. Donations to the GoFundMe page "Freedom Convoy 2022" had reached C$10m ($7.9m; £5.8m), with about C$1m released so far to organisers. In a statement on Friday, GoFundMe said the demonstrations were peaceful when the fundraiser first started, but had since violated their terms of service prohibiting the promotion of violence and harassment. "We now have evidence from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity," GoFundMe said. The $1m that has already been released will only go to participants who went to Ottawa to peacefully protest, said GoFundMe. "No further funds will be directly distributed to the Freedom Convoy organizers - we will work with organisers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe," its statement added. Another online fundraising platform, GiveSendGo, announced it would accept donations for the convoy shortly after GoFundMe backed out. In response to objections from Ottawa residents, organisers of the Freedom Convoy have promised to protest peacefully and respect the law, but also to "stay as long as it takes".

2-5-22 GoFundMe will refund donations to Canadian trucker protest
Fundraising website GoFundMe has removed a fundraiser for Canada's "Freedom Convoy" protest against the country's COVID-19 policies and said in a statement released Friday that it will withhold any donations made to support the protesting truckers and their allies. GoFundMe originally said it would allow individual users to apply for refunds and would "work with organizers to send all remaining funds to credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe," but the company soon abandoned this approach. Early Saturday morning, GoFundMe posted a Tweet announcing they "will be refunding all donations to the Freedom Convoy 2022 fundraiser. This refund will happen automatically — you do not need to submit a request. Donors can expect to see refunds within 7-10 business days." Around one million Canadian dollars have already been released to the organizers of the protests, which have blocked streets in Ottawa and kept residents awake with loud honking. About ten million Canadian dollars ($7.9 million American) will be refunded, BBC reported. Per BBC, three protesters have been arrested so far — "one for carrying a weapon, one charged with mischief under $5,000, and another with uttering threats on social media." GoFundMe said in the Friday statement that it banned fundraising for the protest after learning "from law enforcement that the previously peaceful demonstration has become an occupation, with police reports of violence and other unlawful activity." Elsewhere in Canada, the Freedom Convoy is gaining ground. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday he will announce early next week "a firm date to end" the province's vaccine passport policy, The Globe and Mail reported. One opinion writer for CBC accused Kenney of "caving in to the truckers and their illegal blockade" of an Alberta-Montana border crossing.

2-3-22 Washington state audit reveals Black voters' mail ballots were tossed at 4 times the rate of white voters'
A review conducted by the state auditor's office in Washington found that, in the 2020 election, counties were more likely to reject the mail ballots of younger voters, men, and people of color when compared to other demographics and racial groups, the Seattle Times reports. On a more specific level, the audit determined that mail ballots belonging to Black voters were "thrown out four times as often as those of white voters," The New York Times adds. Such rejections "disqualified one out of every 40 mail-in votes from Black people," the Times notes, adding that the cause for every rejection was a problematic signature. Rejection rates were elevated for Native American, Hispanic, and Asian and Pacific Islander voters, as well. The analysis also determined that "where a person lives was the most significant factor to whether their election ballot was rejected"; for example, mail ballots submitted to certain counties were four to seven times more likely to face rejection than those submitted to others, notes the Seattle Times. "There were some disparities between the counties, and that's a concern," state Auditor Pat McCarthy told the Seattle Times. "Who you are and where you live should never matter." Officials said there were no signs that ballots cast by minority voters were intentionally targeted; rather, the issue was with signatures that were either missing or did not match those on file, notes the Times. Such an issue could be the result of "voter inexperience, language problems or other factors." In terms of remedying the situation, recommendations include increased voter outreach, targeted education regarding signature requirements, and even perhaps eliminating the need for a signature match to begin with, the Seattle Times and the Times report.

2-4-22 U.S. details elaborate Russian plan to produce video of fake Ukrainian attack, with corpses and actors
U.S. officials said Thursday that Russia has advanced plans to produce a video of a fake Ukrainian attack on Russian-speaking civilians to use as a pretext for invading Ukraine. "We believe that Russia would produce a very graphic propaganda video, which would include corpses and actors that would be depicting mourners and images of destroyed locations, as well as military equipment" made to look like "Western-supplied" arms, said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby. The plan is far enough along that Russian officials have found corpses to use in the video and recruited actors to play mourners, U.S. officials told The New York Times and The Washington Post. State Department spokesman Ned Price got some pushback from Associated Press reporter Matt Lee when he described the same Russian plot Thursday. Lee repeatedly pushed Price to provide evidence for the U.S. allegation. "'Crisis actors'? Really?" he said. "This is like Alex Jones territory you're getting into now." Price said Russia has staged similar "false flag" attacks in the past, including televised fake claims of Ukrainian genocide in Crimea before Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. "This is derived from intelligence in which we have confidence," he said, and the point of making it public is to deter Russia from carrying it out. Russia denies the allegation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said the U.S. and Britain have warned of Russian plots in Ukraine already in the past few weeks, "but nothing ever came of them." The U.S. has shared the information with European allies, and top intelligence officials briefed members of Congress on the classified intelligence Thursday. Senators from both parties emerged sounding convinced Russia is planning a false flag attack. A British official told the Times that the U.K. did its own analysis of the intelligence and has high confidence Russia is planning to engineer such a false attack to justify an invasion. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the U.S. intelligence is "clear and shocking evidence of Russia's unprovoked aggression and underhand activity to destabilize Ukraine." Russia, meanwhile, continues adding to its more than 100,000 troops staged around Ukraine's borders, including sending more special forces, missiles, and advanced fighter jets into neighboring Belarus, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday. "This is the biggest Russian deployment there since the Cold War." Russia says its forces are in Belarus for war games starting Feb. 10. (Webmasters Comment: The united States also faked the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify the war against North Vietnam.)

2-4-22 China joins Russia in opposing Nato expansion
China has joined Russia in opposing further Nato expansion as the two countries move closer together in the face of Western pressure. Moscow and Beijing issued a statement showcasing their agreement on a raft of issues during a visit by Russia's Vladimir Putin for the Winter Olympics. Mr Putin claims Western powers are using the Nato defence alliance to undermine Russia. It comes amid tensions over Ukraine, which he denies planning to invade. Some 100,000 Russian troops remain at the border with Ukraine, which is a former Soviet republic. Mr Putin, who has written that Russians and Ukrainians are "one nation", has demanded that Ukraine be barred from joining Nato. While the lengthy joint statement did not refer directly to Ukraine, the two countries accused Nato of espousing a Cold War ideology. The talks, which the Kremlin said were "very warm", were held ahead of the Games opening ceremony. It was the first time the leaders have met face-to-face since the start of the pandemic. "Friendship between [Russia and China] has no limits, there are no 'forbidden' areas of cooperation," the statement reads. The two countries said they were "seriously concerned" about the Aukus security pact between the US, UK and Australia. Announced last year, Aukus will see Australia build nuclear-powered submarines as part of efforts to boost security in the Asia-Pacific region. It is largely seen as an effort to counter China, which has been accused of raising tensions in disputed territories such as the South China Sea. Meanwhile Russia said it supported Beijing's One China policy, which asserts that self-ruled Taiwan is a breakaway province that will eventually be part of China again. However, Taiwan sees itself as an independent country, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders. Amid a growing war of words, the US on Wednesday accused Russia of planning to stage a fake Ukrainian attack that it would use to justify an invasion. Russia denied it was planning to fabricate an attack, and the US did not provide evidence to support the claim.

2-4-22 'Ghost guns' in crosshairs of Biden firearms fight
The US government is to crack down on homemade guns bought and sold without records amid a surge in gun crimes. The justice department will open a national "Ghost Gun Initiative" to pursue federal charges against those involved in the trade of such weapons, President Joe Biden has said. He announced the move on Thursday during an appearance with New York City Mayor Eric Adams. It comes as Mr Adams calls for help to fight a "pandemic" of gun violence. Statistics compiled by US researchers have shown a dramatic rise in gun crimes across the country. While the problem is often attributed to the pandemic, crime rates largely decreased around the globe during lockdowns, according to studies. Homicides spiked in American cities shortly after George Floyd's murder and the ensuing protests in 2020, with anecdotal evidence suggesting demoralised members of law enforcement became less proactive in policing. The initiative on "ghost guns" - as unregistered homemade armaments are called - is part of a larger White House pledge to address gun violence that includes a proposal to ask Congress for an additional $300m for the justice department. Mr Biden said: "If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, not only are state and local prosecutors going come after you, but expect federal charges and federal prosecution as well". These guns are self-assembled and sometimes 3D printed, which means they do not contain a serial number and cannot be traced. Background checks are also not required to purchase the assembly kits. Although it is impossible to know how many ghost guns are in circulation, police officers have said that they are being seized more frequently during arrests. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) said that 10,000 were recovered in 2019. Since 2016, about 25,000 privately made guns have been confiscated nationwide, according to a New York Times report. About 325 were used in homicides, an unnamed senior US official said on Thursday.

2-4-22 Freedom Convoy: No plans to call in military, says Trudeau
Canada's prime minister has said sending in troops to clear protesters from the nation's capital is "not in the cards right now". The city's police chief had earlier refused to rule out military intervention to remove demonstrators. Thousands arrived in the city last weekend to protest vaccine mandates, gridlocking downtown Ottawa. Police Chief Peter Sloly warned that protests could grow again this weekend. "There may not be a policing solution" to resolve the impasse, he said on Wednesday. Though many protesters have left over the course of the week, some 250 remain who are "a highly determined and highly volatile group of unlawful individuals", Chief Sloly has said. On Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government had received no formal request for military assistance to remove this core group of protesters who have been camped out in and around parliament. "One has to be very, very cautious before deploying military in situations engaging Canadians," he added, saying it's not something to "enter into lightly". Mr Trudeau has told the protesters to "go home" - a sentiment echoed by city officials. The prime minister has refused to meet the truckers. Ottawa residents have also expressed frustration over the demonstrations, complaining of constant noise, an impact on local businesses and public services, and unruly and aggressive behaviour. Police have begun ticketing protesters, writing 30 traffic tickets for infractions like excessive noise for horn honking and disobeying street signs. On Thursday, protesters were seen building a wooden structure in Ottawa, and gathering supplies of fuel such as propane. Organisers representing the so-called Freedom Convoy said they don't plan to remain in Ottawa "one day longer than necessary", but that their departure is conditional on all Covid-19 mandates being lifted nationwide. "We are here out of love for our families, our communities and our nation," said organiser Tamara Lich during a press conference on Thursday. "These past two years, the Covid mandates have divided us," she added, saying that the "movement" grew because "common people are tired of the mandates and restrictions in their lives that now seem to be doing more harm than good".

2-4-22 Texas butterfly centre closes after QAnon threats
A Texas butterfly sanctuary that sued to block border wall construction has been forced to close due to escalating threats from conspiracy theorists. The National Butterfly Center sits on the Rio Grande river on the US-Mexico border. It was a vocal opponent of Donald Trump's promised border barrier. QAnon believers and groups supporting Mr Trump have baselessly claimed the centre is smuggling migrants. The centre said it was closing for "the safety of our staff and visitors". The centre will be closed until further notice, Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association, which runs the organisation, said. His statement cited "disruption caused by false and defamatory attacks directed by political operatives". The sanctuary is home to over 200 species of butterfly, as well as bobcats, armadillos, coyotes and tortoises. It attracts more than 35,000 visitors each year, including 6,000 school children. It became an enemy of the former US president's supporters in 2017 when it filed a lawsuit to block construction of the wall on its property. It argued that the barrier would cut two-thirds off the 100-acre nature preserve, "effectively destroying it". The move comes after an emergency three-day closure over the weekend, sparked by a nearby rally over border security called We Stand America. One week before the rally, two women showed up demanding to "see the rafts with the illegal crossing", the centre said in a statement last week. They said that one person struck National Butterfly Centre executive director Marianna Trevino Wright and nearly ran over her son with their vehicle. The person, who they identify as a political candidate in Virginia, can be heard claiming that the centre permits child rape, according to audio of the encounter provided to reporters. The decision to close was made after a local Republican official warned her that the weekend event would feature a motor convoy, known as a "Trump train", that would probably stop at the centre. The conspiracy theory surrounding the butterfly sanctuary recalls the false claims back in 2016 that a Washington DC pizza parlour was running a child abuse ring for top Democrats. A man who believed in the wild rumours fired a gun at the restaurant, but no-one was injured.

2-4-22 Beijing Olympics: Winter Games start amid Covid and boycotts
The most divided Olympic Games in decades gets under way in China on Friday as Beijing becomes the only city to host both the Summer and now the Winter Games. As well as tight Covid-19 controls, the Games are fraught with political tensions over allegations of human rights abuses and boycotts. Most of the snow on the slopes where the Olympic events will take place is man-made. But inside an indoor rink where the icy climate is maintained by massive freezers at the side of the dome, six-year-old ice skater Yiyi doesn't care how Beijing is making the Winter Games happen. She just can't wait to see it. She wasn't even born the first time the Olympics came to town. Now she's inspired by it. "It's very exhausting but she presses on," her mum told me, after we'd watched her daughter in a lesson with a coach. "She won't leave until she learns how to do all the moves. She doesn't quit." But this is as close to the action as she is going to get. Yiyi and her mum can't go to any of the events. The Winter Olympics is happening in Beijing, but almost everyone here is excluded from it. China is in the middle of a renewed effort to maintain "zero Covid". So authorities have decided that no tickets will go on sale to the general public. Only members of the ruling Communist Party or staff from government-controlled companies are being invited, and even they have to abide by strict testing and restrictions. As Yiyi's mum was telling me how disappointed she was that they could only watch the Games on TV, the six-year-old jumped in, making sure I knew that she was definitely going to be watching. Spectators are just one part of China's strict Covid prevention measures. The athletes and officials are all inside strictly managed "bubbles" to try to stop any spread. They can't leave. Anyone travelling between bubbles in official cars or coaches has been told that, in the event of a crash with a member of the public, they must stay in their vehicle. They must not make contact. But it's not just Covid that makes these games unusual. There's confrontation over China's human rights record. Senior officials from the US, the UK and more than a dozen other governments aren't coming. China's leaders, and state media, have dismissed the diplomatic boycott as "politicisation".

2-4-22 Covid: South Africa makes its own version of Moderna vaccine
Scientists in South Africa have made a copy of the Moderna Covid vaccine, a move which they say could help boost vaccination rates across Africa. The continent currently has the lowest uptake of Covid shots in the world. The company behind the new vaccine - Afrigen Biologics - says it hopes to start clinical trials in November. Moderna previously said it would not enforce the patents on its vaccine, allowing scientists in Cape Town to make their own version of it. The researchers were backed by the World Health Organization (WHO). Petro Terblanche, director of Afrigen Biologics, said they were starting small, but had ambitions to scale up quickly. "We have used the sequence, which is the same sequence as the Moderna vaccine 1273," he told the BBC. "This is part of a global initiative to build capacity and capability in low and middle-income countries to become self-sufficient." The shot being copied is a messenger RNA vaccine made by US firm Moderna. Pfizer-BioNTech also made its vaccine using the same technology. They were some of the first Covid vaccines to be authorised for use around the world. This type of vaccine teaches cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response inside our bodies, rather than putting a weakened or inactivated germ into the body. The company's chief scientist, Dr Caryn Fenner, called the achievement "really significant". "It puts the power in our hands to be able to produce our own vaccines for the future, to be ready for further pandemics, to produce clinical trial material on African soil and then to look at other diseases of relevance in Africa." Many of Africa's countries have fully vaccinated less than 10% of their populations, compared to 60% in North America, 63% in Europe and 61% across Asia. Despite having one of the best rates on the continent, South Africa has only vaccinated 27% of its people. It's been reported that BioNTech - the company which partnered Pfizer in producing an mRNA vaccine - also has plans to open a vaccine manufacturing plant on the continent. A number of other Covid-19 vaccine production facilities are in the pipeline in Africa, mainly focused on Russian and Chinese-made vaccines.

2-3-22 Biden details new steps to combat gun violence
President Biden met with New York Mayor Eric Adams on Thursday to discuss ways to fight gun violence, about two weeks after two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed by a man who had an illegal gun. The Department of Justice will work with state and local law enforcement to "address the most significant drivers of violence" in every town and municipality, Biden said. Additionally, the DOJ is sending more resources to task forces working to shut down the Iron Pipeline, the route used to illegally funnel guns from the South to the northern United States. Congress needs to be part of the solution as well, Biden said, and he called on lawmakers to pass his appropriations package that would set aside $300 million to hire more police officers and $200 million to fund community outreach programs that aim to stop conflicts before they escalate to violence. "The answer is not to defund the police," Biden said. "It's to give you the tools, the training, the funding to be partners, to be protectors and community leaders. To know the community, you know. Police need to treat everyone with respect and dignity." There also has to be "more social workers," Biden declared. "We need mental health workers, we need more people who when you're called on these scenes, and someone's about to jump off a roof, it's not just someone standing there with a weapon. It's someone who also knows how to talk to people, talk them down." The Gun Violence Archive says that in 2021, there were more than 44,000 gun deaths and 40,000 gun injures reported in the United States, ABC News reports.

2-3-22 Covid-19 death figures reveal huge ongoing impact on minority groups
More than 30 per cent of deaths in England among over-30s from Bangladeshi, Black African or Pakistani ethnic groups since 2020 have involved covid-19 – more than double the proportion among adults recorded as white British. Since the pandemic began, the coronavirus has been involved in more than 30 per cent of all deaths in people aged over 30 in England whose ethnic group was recorded as Bangladeshi, Black African or Pakistani, according to a New Scientist analysis of data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is more than double the proportion of covid-19 deaths during this period among people whose ethnic group was recorded as white British; covid-19 was involved in 14 per cent of deaths in this group. These figures are based on the number of people between the ages of 30 and 100 who died between 24 January 2020 and 1 December 2021 in England. “There are a number of reasons why ethnic minorities are more likely to contract and die from covid-19,” says Azeem Majeed at Imperial College London. Ethnic minorities are more likely to have lower incomes, work in public-facing roles and live in multigenerational households or high population density areas, he says. Deaths were classed by the ONS as involving covid-19 if the illness was mentioned on a death certificate. This could be due to a person testing positive for the coronavirus prior to death or because a doctor made a covid-19 diagnosis based on a person’s symptoms close to death. Covid-19 was involved in a higher proportion of deaths in all ethnic minority groups than in white British people during this period. People of Bangladeshi descent were hit hardest, with covid-19 being involved in 39 per cent of deaths. It was involved in 35 per cent of deaths in people of Pakistani descent, 31 per cent of deaths in people of Black African descent and 20 per cent of deaths in people of Chinese descent during this time period.

2-3-22 Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi killed in Syria, US says
The leader of the Islamic State (IS) group has been killed in an overnight US special forces raid in north-western Syria, senior US officials say. "Thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi," President Joe Biden said. Qurayshi detonated a bomb that killed him and members of his own family, administration officials told US media. Syrian first responders said they found the bodies of 13 people after the raid. Several US helicopters reportedly landed on the outskirts of the opposition-held town of Atmeh, which is in northern Idlib province and is close to the border with Turkey, around midnight on Thursday (22:00 GMT on Wednesday). Local sources said the troops faced stiff resistance on the ground, and that they came under fire from heavy anti-aircraft guns mounted on vehicles. Gunfire and shelling were heard for two hours before the helicopters left. The New York Times reported that one helicopter was abandoned after suffering a mechanical problem, and that it was later destroyed in a US air strike. Photos of the wreckage have been posted online. President Biden said all Americans involved had returned safely from the operation, which he declared would "protect the American people and our allies, and make the world a safer place". An AFP news agency correspondent who visited a two-storey home that appeared to be targeted in the raid said it bore the scars of an intense battle - with blood-splattered walls, torn window frames, charred ceilings and a partly collapsed roof. The White Helmets, also known as the Syria Civil Defence, said in a statement that its first responders reached the building at 03:15 and recovered the bodies of 13 people, including six children and four women. They also found an injured girl whose other family members were killed in the raid, the organisation said. She was taken to hospital along with a man who was injured when he approached the building during the clashes to see what was happening, it added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitoring group, also put the death toll at 13, but said four children and three women were killed.

2-3-22 IS chief al-Qurayshi: Why getting him mattered so much to the US
The decision to deploy a Special Forces team to target Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi showed he was considered an important figure by Washington. Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda figures over the years have often been targeted by drone strikes. Sending teams on the ground is far riskier and has been reserved for what are seen as "high-value" targets or those where the conditions are challenging - most notably the raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011. Such raids are sometimes used when the US wants to capture an individual alive or there is some other intelligence they are seeking to collect from a site. The risks were apparent in this latest mission with a helicopter having to be destroyed, although no US personnel are reported to have been injured. A special forces mission also led to the death of the founder and previous leader of IS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He died in October 2019 when he blew himself up when he was cornered by US forces in Syria. Al-Qurayshi, who took over as leader of IS, is reported to have also blown himself up during the latest raid. Relatively little was known about al-Qurayshi. He lacked the stature of his predecessor who had launched the so-called Caliphate - land ruled by IS - and he kept a lower profile. He is thought to have originally been an officer in former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's Iraqi army before joining the fight against the US after 2003 -initially with al-Qaeda before later joining IS. The US had previously offered a reward for information on al-Qurayshi saying "he was a senior terrorist leader in IS's predecessor organization, al-Qa'ida in Iraq (AQI), and steadily rose through the ranks to assume a senior leadership role as the ISIS deputy leader." The US also said al-Qurayshi "was one of ISIS's most senior ideologues" and "helped drive and justify the abduction, slaughter, and trafficking of the Yazidi religious minority in north-west Iraq and also led some of the group's global terrorist operations".

2-3-22 Biden announces U.S. raid killed ISIS leader in Syria
President Biden has announced the leader of ISIS has been killed during a U.S. raid in Syria. Biden said in a statement Thursday that U.S. military forces undertook a counterterrorism operation early Thursday, and "thanks to the skill and bravery of our armed forces, we have taken off the battlefield Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi — the leader of ISIS." Biden added that "all Americans have returned safely from the operation." The announcement comes after The New York Times previously reported that U.S. Special Operations raided a two-story house in Syria, pursuing a "high value" target. "The mission was successful," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said. "There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available." Thirteen people, including four women and six children, were reportedly killed, according to The Associated Press. The Times reported that there was a "long, tense standoff" and a "major battle erupted" involving rocket-propelled grenades. "The size, scope, and duration of the battle suggested that the target of the raid was likely a senior Qaeda figure," the Times reported. "The fact that the United States risked sending in commandos, and not just launching airstrikes, also suggested the focus of the raid was a senior figure." Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi has been leader of ISIS since 2019, when previous leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a U.S. raid. Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House about the raid on Thursday morning.

2-3-22 Successful' U.S. counterterrorism raid in Syria reportedly left civilians dead, too
U.S. Special Operations forces conducted a large-scale counterterrorism raid on a two-story house in Syria's northwest Idlib Province early Thursday, in pursuit of what one U.S. official told The New York Times was a "high value" target. The Pentagon gave only cursory details of the raid, near Atmeh, a town near the Turkish border. Local aid and monitoring groups said at least 13 bodies were recovered from the wreckage, including some women and children. "The mission was successful," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement released early Thursday. "There were no U.S. casualties. More information will be provided as it becomes available." Residents of Atmeh said U.S. helicopters flew in low a little after 1 a.m. local time, and a man speaking Arabic said through a loudspeaker that the house was surrounded and women and children should evacuate. "This went on for 45 minutes," nearby resident Omar Saleh told The Associated Press. "There was no response. Then the machine gun fire erupted." After "a long, tense standoff," the Times reports, "a major battle erupted, with rocket-propelled grenades and other fire hurtling from the house and surrounding buildings toward the Americans." A U.S. helicopter malfunctioned and had to be blown up on the ground. A senior U.S. military official told the Times there was also an explosion inside the house caused not by U.S. firepower but more likely by the target of the raid blowing himself up. After about two hours, the U.S. forces left in the remaining helicopters. "The size, scope, and duration of the battle suggested that the target of the raid was likely a senior Qaeda figure," the Times reports. "The fact that the United States risked sending in commandos, and not just launching airstrikes, also suggested the focus of the raid was a senior figure." U.S. officials said they could make an announcement as early as Thursday, following a DNA analysis. The Syrian Civil Defense, a first responder group known as the White Helmets, and Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group both said 13 people were killed, including at least four children and two women. A spokesman for the White Helmets said the group "cannot determine whether there were bodies that were retrieved by U.S. forces because there is blood everywhere."

2-3-22 Juveniles investigated in bomb hoaxes against black colleges
Six children are suspected of orchestrating a nationwide campaign of bomb threats against black colleges, law enforcement officials have said. More than a dozen universities and places of worship have been targeted by hoax calls, which spiked on the first day of Black History Month on Tuesday. The suspects reportedly used sophisticated methods of technology to disguise the origin of their calls. The FBI is investigating the incidents as racially motivated hate crimes. No explosives were found at any of the sites. In a statement on Wednesday, the FBI said its Joint Terrorism Task Forces was conducting the investigation with "the highest priority" and that more than 20 field officers were involved. "Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the locations, the FBI takes all threats with the utmost seriousness, and we are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats," the FBI statement said. The threats "are being investigated as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes", the statement adds. According to US media, six children have been identified as persons of interest in the case. One unnamed official told NBC News that the group appeared to be "tech savvy". Investigators were searching their homes and conducting interviews, the Wall Street Journal reported, adding that it was not known if any arrests had been made. More than a dozen historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) received threatening calls on 1 February, the first day of Black History Month in the US, as well as the day beforehand. Dozens of campuses and places of worship, including black-affiliated churches and Jewish synagogues, have received similar calls since the beginning of 2022. The universities that received the threatening calls were forced to close their doors and send out shelter-in-place alerts. Many moved to online learning as bomb squads combed campuses for suspicious objects.

2-3-22 Ottawa police say there's a 'significant' U.S. presence at Canadian anti-mandate protest
Anti–vaccine mandate protesters in Ottawa received some help from their neighbors to the south, the Ottawa police chief said Wednesday, with a "significant element" from the U.S. involved with funding and planning the event. Thousands of people descended on Ottawa Friday to demonstrate against Canada's efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, including vaccine mandates and mask wearing. Many came in their big rigs, specifically protesting the rule that truck drivers who cross the border must be fully vaccinated. The Canadian Trucking Alliance says a vast majority of its members are fully vaccinated and insists several people at the protest over the weekend "do not have a connection to the trucking industry." "They have converged in our city, and there are plans for more to come," Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said on Wednesday. All of the participants, he added, are "putting our city and our residents, our partners, and our officers at great risk." Officials said there is a core group of protesters remaining in Ottawa, The Washington Post reports, and many are honking their horns at all hours and blocking businesses. Over the weekend, the National War Memorial was vandalized, and a homeless shelter and soup kitchen said its staff was harassed by protesters and one of its residents assaulted. There are several criminal investigations now underway into "threatening" and "illegal" behavior by protesters, police said, and three people have been charged. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said Canadians are "shocked and frankly disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capital." Sloly said Wednesday that police are "trying to be responsible, lawful, ethical, and measured. The longer this goes on, the more I am convinced there may not be a police solution in this demonstration."

2-3-22 Freedom Convoy: GoFundMe pauses donations to Canada truckers
GoFundMe has paused donations to truck drivers protesting against vaccine mandates in Canada. Donations to the page "Freedom Convoy 2022" had reached C$10m ($7.9m; £5.8m), by Wednesday afternoon with about C$1m released so far to organisers. A number of officials have suggested legal action against the platform to prevent the release of more funds. Nearly a week-long, the protest began over a mandate requiring Covid jabs to cross the US-Canada border. "This fundraiser is currently paused and under review to ensure it complies with our terms of service and applicable laws and regulations," said a notice that appeared on the Freedom Convoy donations page on Wednesday. "Our team is working 24/7 and doing all we can to protect both organizers and donors. Thank you for your patience." In a separate statement, GoFundMe said: "We strictly prohibit user content that reflects or promotes behaviour in support of violence - in this case, the organizer met our requirements and the fundraiser did not violate our Terms of Service at the time of creation." Of the money raised from more than 120,000 donors, GoFundMe said it has been monitoring the fundraiser to ensure the cash is going to the intended recipients. Protest leaders have yet to comment on the move by GoFundMe. Earlier on Wednesday, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly suggested that many of the donations had come from the United States. CBC News reports that other donors left comments saying they were located in the UK, Australia and Poland. When asked by reporters what measures might be needed to end the protests in Ottawa, which have dwindled in recent days, the police chief refused to rule out military intervention. "Most demonstrators have left," Chief Sloly said. "What remains is a highly determined and highly volatile group of unlawful individuals."

2-3-22 Beijing 2022: Life inside the Winter Olympics bubble
Robots serving drinks, temperature-controlled sleep pods and disinfectant everywhere. These are the everyday scenes that Olympic athletes, officials and media covering the event will be living with for the next few weeks as the Winter Games get under way in the Chinese capital Beijing. The 2022 Beijing Games are likely to be the most controlled international sporting event held to date. The Tokyo Games last year proved that an Olympics could be conducted in a confined space in the age of the coronavirus pandemic. But China - wealthy, powerful and determined - has gone even further to create a vast system designed to ensure a virus-free Games. Central to the whole plan is the "closed loop" environment - home to an estimated 60,000 athletes, team officials, media, volunteers and more. The world of the Beijing Games is made up of three main gated "bubble areas" spread over a 160km (100 mile) area. Each bubble is centred around a sporting venue and is connected via designated travel lanes. They encompass hotels, conference centres, worker dormitories and other facilities. The BBC teams inside have described what daily life is like inside - attendees have to wear a mask everywhere except their own rooms and when eating, and maintain social distancing. Everyone also undergoes a PCR deep-throat swab test every day which has to be recorded with the Games' My2022 health app. "The understanding is that we don't get results unless we test positive. The proverbial no news is good news," says BBC producer Pratiksha Ghildial. Out of the tens of thousands of people who've arrived so far, authorities have found about 300 cases - less than half in the closed loop. Infected people are taken into isolation - and allowed to re-join the bubble once they test negative. Chinese officials have specified that their aim isn't zero cases, but zero spread - and so far the system has held up. "The counter-Covid measures are extraordinary," says Ms Ghildial. "The other day I asked for a little repair in my room and a man in a bio-hazard suit turned up to do it." Constant vigilance is the overriding theme.

2-3-22 Medicare planning to cover at-home COVID tests starting this spring
Medicare will soon begin paying for at-home COVID tests purchased at select pharmacies and retailers, CNN reports, per the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. CMS expects said coverage will be available in early spring. The change arrives after the Biden administration last month "began requiring health insurers to cover the cost of home tests for most Americans with private insurance," CNN writes. That said, Medicare was not included in the White House directive, angering seniors enrolled in the program. Considering over-the-counter tests have not been covered by traditional Medicare before, the new process now being set up by CMS could take time, "which is why reimbursements won't start immediately," CNN explains. "In the weeks ahead, we'll be working diligently on behalf of people with Medicare to set up a process for them to receive free over-the-counter tests through eligible pharmacies and other participating entities," CMS' Dr. Meena Seshamani told CNN. The list of participating retailers and pharmacies will be released when coverage officially begins, CNN adds. Enrollees will not need to see a doctor or secure a prescription to get their free tests; they are eligible for eight tests per covered individual per month. Until the new offering kicks in, CMS recommends Medicare enrollees order their four free at-home tests from the recently-launched government distribution progam at covidtests.gov, utilize free community testing sites, or go through a lab per their health care provider.

2-3-22 Europe entering Covid pandemic 'ceasefire', says WHO
The World Health Organization's (WHO) Europe director says the continent could soon enter a "long period of tranquillity" in the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Hans Kluge cited high vaccination rates, the end of winter and the less severe nature of the Omicron variant. Speaking to reporters, he said: "This period of higher protection should be seen as a 'ceasefire' that could bring us enduring peace." It comes as a number of European nations end Covid-19 restrictions. Dr Kluge said some 12 million new virus cases were detected across Europe last week - the highest recorded - but officials have not seen a significant spike in those needing critical hospital care. Denmark became the first nation in the European Union to lift all rules, including the wearing of face masks, earlier this week. While cases are still relatively high there, the authorities say the virus no longer qualifies as a "critical threat" with high vaccination rates helping to protect against serious illness despite the rapid spread of Omicron. Norway has since announced its own relaxation, and Sweden announced on Thursday it would also lift almost all of its own domestic restrictions on 9 February. "The pandemic is not over, but we are entering a whole new phase," Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson told reporters. Officials there vowed to remain "vigilant" against the virus, with some guidance remaining in place, such as staying home if you have Covid-19 symptoms. Unvaccinated people are also urged to avoid crowds, and some border entry restrictions are still in place. Dr Kluge from the WHO on Thursday urged European nations to continue with their vaccination campaigns and surveillance of strains, despite his talk of a "ceasefire". But he said he was confident the continent would be in a "better position... even with a more virulent variant" than Omicron. "I believe that it is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before," Dr Kluge added. He urged individual responsibility, further protection of at-risk groups and what he described as a "drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine sharing across borders" to help protection worldwide. The easing of restrictions across Europe follows similar decisions in England and other UK nations in January.

2-3-22 Covid-19 news: US army discharges unvaccinated soldiers
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. US army discharges soldiers who refuse covid-19 vaccine. US soldiers who refuse to get the covid-19 vaccine are to be discharged from service immediately. Soldiers who are unvaccinated pose a risk to the force and jeopardise readiness, according to a statement from the army secretary Christine Wormuth, yesterday. The new order applies to regular army soldiers, reservists on active duty and cadets. It follows a mandate from the Pentagon last August that all US military service members get fully vaccinated. Around 90 members of the US military have died from the coronavirus so far. Soldiers can seek a temporary exemption to the vaccination order for medical or religious reasons. If the request is denied, they are given seven days to get vaccinated or submit an appeal. Other parts of the US military have already discharged unvaccinated members. The US air force discharged 27 personnel last December and the Navy discharged 45 sailors last week. New Zealand has announced a phased reopening of its borders, which will allow some of its vaccinated citizens and visa holders to return to the country without staying in state-managed isolation facilities from the 27 Feb. Foreign vaccinated travellers and some skilled workers will be allowed to enter from 13 March and up to 5000 international students can enter from 12 April. People entering the country will have to self-isolate for 10 days. Sweden plans to lift all coronavirus restrictions next week, despite reporting around 36,000 daily cases, on average. Current restrictions include early closure for bars and restaurants and a cap of 500 people in larger indoor venues. The move follows that of Denmark, which this week became the first European Union country to lift all of its coronavirus restrictions, amid daily new infections of between 40,000 to 50,000.

2-3-22 Ukraine tensions: Russia condemns destructive US troop increase in Europe
Russia has condemned a US decision to send extra troops to Europe to support its allies amid continuing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow said it was a "destructive" step which heightened tension and reduced the scope for a political solution. The Pentagon said 2,000 US troops would be sent from North Carolina to Poland and Germany, and a further 1,000 already in Germany would go to Romania. Russia has some 100,000 troops near Ukraine. It denies planning to invade. The tensions come eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and backed a bloody rebellion in the eastern Donbas region. Moscow accuses the Ukrainian government of failing to implement the Minsk agreement - an international deal to restore peace to the east, where Russian-backed rebels control swathes of territory and at least 14,000 people have been killed since 2014. The US and the Western military alliance Nato question the continued build up of Russian forces near Ukraine. On Thursday Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance had seen a "significant movement" of roughly 30,000 Russian troops to Belarus in the last few days - the biggest deployment to the country since the end of the Cold War. Russia says the troops are there for joint military drills. Ukraine, meanwhile, has sought to dampen talks of conflict. Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Thursday the number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine had dropped, and that there have been no combat losses for three weeks. In a separate development, Russia announced that it was closing the Moscow bureau of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and revoking accreditations for its staff. This comes a day after Germany banned Russian state TV network RT on the grounds that it did not have a legitimate broadcasting permit.

2-2-22 McConnell continues to push COVID vaccination but says it's time to end the 'state of emergency'
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that it's "time for the state of emergency" around COVID-19 "to wind down," Politico reported. "What exactly are we doing here? Where are the goalposts? What's the end game?" McConnell asked. McConnell also said that because "we know the vaccines do not prevent us from catching the current variant of the virus or transmitting it to others," there is "no moral justification for vaccine mandates," though he added that vaccines do "slash the odds of hospitalization" from the Omicron variant. McConnell has been a consistent champion of the COVID vaccines. In September, McConnell released a 30-second ad in which he drew on his childhood battle with polio to encourage vaccination. Yet despite McConnell's continued support of urging vaccines, he says he's now ready for the country to return to normal. "Consider if this variant were its own separate virus that we were just meeting for the very first time without the scar tissue from the prior two years," McConnell said Wednesday. "Nobody would accept anywhere near this much disruption to fight the virus that we're actually facing right now." According to The New York Times, 295,374 new COVID-19 cases were reported on Feb. 1, and around 2,600 people are dying from the virus every day. New daily cases are down significantly from a peak of over 900,000 in mid-January but have not yet returned to pre-Omicron levels. Deaths are at their highest level since last winter, when the 7-day average number of daily deaths topped 3,000 for over a month. (Webmasters Comment: The United States has become a cesspool for the Covid virus thanks to leaders like McConnell!)

2-2-22 Army will immediately begin discharging over 3,300 unvaccinated soldiers
The U.S. Army said Wednesday that it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused orders to get vaccinated against COVID-19, The Associated Press reported. According to an Army memo dated Jan. 31, commanders must immediately begin "involuntary administrative separation proceedings" against any soldier who "has received a lawful order to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19," "has been provided a reasonable opportunity to receive the COVID-19 vaccination," "has made a final declination of immunization," and "does not have a pending or approved medical or administrative exemption." Around 3,300 soldiers are set to be discharged. The Army will be the last branch of the armed forces to begin discharging unvaccinated servicemembers. The Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force have discharged a combined total of almost 600 troops, per AP. The Air Force Times reported last month that "[a]s of Dec. 31, 2,500 unvaccinated airmen and Space Force guardians are ineligible for pay or benefits from the Air National Guard." The memo also states that any unvaccinated soldiers already scheduled to retire or otherwise leave the Army before July 1 will not be involuntarily separated. Soldiers kicked out of the Army for refusing the vaccine will receive honorable discharges, "unless additional misconduct warrants separation with an Other than Honorable characterization of service," the memo reads.

2-2-22 On student debt, Biden supporters are 'growing impatient'
Some of those hoping President Biden might still move to reduce student debt are beginning to waver in their faith, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. "It's become this unmanageable beast for me," said Melanie Kelly, 38, who voted for Biden in 2020. "A lot of people are not going to vote again because they feel like they're not being heard," she added. Though supporters have praised the temporary extension of the pause on loan repayments, they are nonetheless "growing impatient," writes the Journal. "I have no faith in Biden at all on this issue," said Ryan Velez, 36, another Biden voter, who also criticized a provision prohibiting the discharge of private student loans through bankruptcy. "Taking away bankruptcy protections has obliterated any person's hope who gets in this debt trap of getting out." And with legislative efforts to forgive student debt failing in Congress, lawmakers have also begun turning up the presidential pressure. "He must do this," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). "It's the right thing for generational equality; it's the right thing for racial equality; and it's the right thing for strengthening our economic future." Per data firm MeasureOne, "Americans owe around $1.6 trillion in federal student loans and more than $130 billion in private student loans," the Journal writes. Around 43 million have student debt. Whether or not Biden even has the power to cancel student debt has also proved controversial among his allies, the Journal notes. Some believe the move would "energize young voters," while others think caution and a punt to Congress are better suited for the situation. Meanwhile, White House officials maintain that Biden supports legislation to eliminate $10,000 in student debt per borrower — even if that has yet to happen. Read more at The Wall Street Journal.

2-2-22 U.S. to send new troops to European allies as 'first major movement' in Russia-Ukraine standoff
President Biden has approved the deployment of roughly 3,000 additional American troops to Europe "in the coming days", NBC News and The Wall Street Journal confirmed Wednesday. It's "the first major movement of U.S. forces in Russia's military standoff with Ukraine," intended to shore up the defense of European allies, the Journal writes. According to a senior administration official, 2,000 soldiers from the U.S. will join troops already in Poland and Germany, while 1,000 troops currently in Europe will move to join U.S. troops currently in Romania, NBC News reports. The deployment was confirmed by Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, who assured the moves are not permanent and that forces are not going to fight in Ukraine; rather, they are simple going to bolster NATO allies. On Friday, Biden said he planned to move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe and NATO countries "in the near term," NBC News adds. This latest decision arrives after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Moscow's demands in the current standoff. The move also follows word from Pentagon leaders claiming Putin "had deployed the necessary troops and military hardware to conduct an invasion of Ukraine," notes The New York Times. Previously, Biden had said he would only deploy troops if Russia did actually invade, but he seems to have changed his opinion as the situation continues to unfold, adds Axios. "Its important that we send a strong signal to Mr. Putin and the world that NATO matters," Kirby told reporters at a press conference, per the Times. "We are making it clear that we are going to be prepared to defend [our] NATO allies if it comes to that."

2-2-22 Leaked docs suggest the U.S. might throw Russia a bone. Will it be enough to avert war?
The U.S. could be willing to offer Russia a transparency agreement to guarantee that cruise missiles will not be stationed at NATO bases in Eastern Europe, The Associated Press reported Wednesday. According to El País, a Spanish newspaper that reportedly obtained leaked documents containing U.S. and NATO responses to Russian demands, the Biden administration is willing to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin "a 'transparency mechanism.'" This would "verify the absence of Tomahawk cruise missiles, which are capable of reaching Russian territory, at the NATO anti-missile shield bases in Romania and Bulgaria." Putin has repeatedly expressed concerns about the possibility of NATO missiles in Eastern Europe that could strike Moscow within minutes. But his demands go much further. In the pair of draft treaties to which the leaked documents were responding, Russia insisted that Ukraine be barred from membership in NATO and that the alliance pull its troops out of Eastern Europe. The transparency agreement proposed by the Biden administration is a far cry from Putin's demand for a total pullout, and guaranteeing Ukraine won't join NATO appears to be a non-starter for both the U.S. and the alliance. According to AP, the leaked NATO document included a reaffirmation of the 30 member nations' "commitment to NATO's Open Door policy." Meanwhile, CNN reported Wednesday, Russia continues to move troops into position on the Ukrainian border. New satellite imagery shows evidence of troop buildups at several bases, new Russian deployments in Belarus, and live-fire artillery drills. The New York Times reports that around 130,000 Russian troops are massed on Ukraine's border. President Biden has ordered 3,000 American troops to move into position to "bolster the defense of European allies," The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Some 2,000 troops from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, are being sent to Poland and Germany, while around 1,000 troops stationed in Germany are heading to Romania.

2-2-22 Ukraine tensions: US trying to draw Russia into war, Putin says
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of trying to draw his country into a war in Ukraine. He said America's goal was to use a confrontation as a pretext to impose more sanctions on Russia. Mr Putin also said the US was ignoring Russia's concerns about the expansion of Nato, the Western military alliance which Ukraine is seeking to join. The US and its allies accuse Russia of planning to invade Ukraine, something Russia has repeatedly denied. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the US was "committed to preventing a conflict that is in no one's interest". Meanwhile, Spanish newspaper El Pais has released what it says are confidential documents the US and Nato sent to Russia last week - including offers of talks on cutting back on nuclear weaponry and trust-building measures in exchange for reducing tensions over Ukraine. A Nato official told the BBC the alliance never comments on alleged leaks. President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was aware of the report, but that they did not publish it and did not want to comment on it, according to AFP news agency. In recent weeks Russia has moved about 100,000 troops - equipped with everything from tanks and artillery to ammunition and air power - to Ukraine's border. It comes eight years after the country annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and backed a bloody rebellion in the eastern Donbas region. Moscow in turn accuses the Ukrainian government of failing to implement an international deal to restore peace to the east, where at least 14,000 people have been killed and Russian-backed rebels control swathes of territory. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky however warned on Tuesday that a Russian invasion would "not be a war between Ukraine and Russia - this would be a war in Europe, a full-scale one". Speaking after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow, Mr Putin said: "It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine... but its main task is to contain Russia's development. In this sense Ukraine itself is just a tool to reach this goal."

2-2-22 US boosts troops in Europe amid fears Russia may invade Ukraine
US President Joe Biden is to send extra troops to Europe this week amid continuing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, White House officials say. Some 2,000 troops will be sent from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland and Germany, and a further 1,000 already in Germany will go to Romania. Moscow denies planning to invade but has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders. It fiercely opposes Ukraine joining the US-led Nato military alliance. The tensions come eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine's southern Crimea peninsula and backed a bloody rebellion in the eastern Donbas region. Moscow accuses the Ukrainian government of failing to implement an international deal to restore peace to the east - where Russian-backed rebels control swathes of territory and at least 14,000 people have been killed since 2014. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had not yet amassed enough forces to mount a full-scale invasion and that diplomacy was helping avert the threat of a Russian attack. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to speak to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson by phone on Wednesday. Earlier, on a visit to Ukraine, Mr Johnson accused Russia of putting a "gun to Ukraine's head". The US troops being deployed will not fight in Ukraine but will ensure the defence of US allies. Of the 2,000 troops being sent from Fort Bragg, 1,700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division will be sent to Poland and the others will go to Germany. Their deployment is in addition to the 8,500 troops the Pentagon put on alert last month to be ready to deploy to Europe if needed. "It's important that we send a strong signal to Mr Putin and, frankly, to the world that Nato matters to the United States and it matters to our allies," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters. But on the question of alleged invasion plans by Mr Putin, he said: "We still don't believe he's made a decision to further invade Ukraine."

2-2-22 Tonga enters Covid lockdown after aid delivered
Tonga will go into lockdown after several cases of Covid were recorded in the capital city Nuku'alofa. Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni said on Tuesday two port workers had tested positive. Officials later confirmed three more cases in family members. The South Pacific nation had previously managed to stay virus-free. The outbreak comes as Tongans try to recover from a deadly volcanic eruption and tsunami which left three dead and damaged homes and infrastructure. Tonga had avoided Covid outbreaks by closing its borders to the outside world in early 2020. But since the eruption it has since been heavily dependent on foreign aid for supplies of fresh drinking water, shelter kits and rescue equipment. So far, foreign aid deliveries there have been handled using contactless protocols to stop the virus spreading from abroad. They include leaving humanitarian supplies in isolation for three days before they are handled by Tongans. Australia, New Zealand, the United States, China, France, Fiji and the UK have all sent ships carrying supplies. Last week however, a Covid outbreak hit the HMAS Adelaide - a crucial Australian relief ship bound for the island nation - with dozens of crew members infected. The ship eventually docked at the capital's port. The Tongan government is investigating but says it does not believe there is a link to the vessel. The Australian Defence Force's operations chief said on Wednesday workers who tested positive had been working in a different area of the port to where the warship was and said there was "no evidence" the cases were linked. "We unloaded in a manner that was Covid-friendly, contactless, in line with arrangements made with Tongan officials at the wharf," Lieutenant General Greg Bilton told Sky News Australia. The ship will take back samples from the Tongan cases so that an Australian health facility can assess the strain and find out which country it came from. In a national address late on Tuesday, Mr Sovaleni confirmed the Covid cases and said Tonga would enter lockdown from 18:00 local time (05:00 GMT) Wednesday, with the situation reviewed every 48 hours.

2-2-22 Brian Flores: Former Miami Dolphins coach sues NFL & teams in racism claim
Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores is suing the NFL, the New York Giants and every other NFL franchise alleging racial discrimination in hiring practices. Flores, who was passed over for a job with the Giants last week, said the league and its owners ran their operation "like a plantation". He has filed a class action lawsuit in the US courts. The league and teams have denied the racism claims. The suit, filed on the first day of Black History Month in the US, begins with an errant text message said to be from New England coach Bill Belichick congratulating who he thought was Brian Daboll on getting the Giants job. However, it was Flores he was texting with, three days before Flores interviewed with the team. In addition to the NFL and Giants, the Dolphins and Denver Broncos are named as defendants along with 'John Doe Teams 1-29', meaning every other NFL franchise. The lawsuit says: "In certain critical ways, the NFL is racially segregated and is managed much like a plantation. "Its 32 owners - none of whom are black - profit substantially from the labour of NFL players, 70% of whom are black." Flores alleges he was fired after rejecting an offer from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for $100,000 for every defeat late in the season which would have improved the club's position in the off-season entry draft. He also says he refused to violate the league's tampering rules when owner Ross arranged a meeting between Flores and a "prominent quarterback". "After the incident, Mr Flores was treated with disdain and held out as someone who was non-compliant and difficult to work with," the suit reads. "From that point forward, Mr Flores was ostracised and ultimately he was fired." Flores, 40, finished with a 24-25 record over three seasons at Miami. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and purportedly shows screen grabs from Flores' phone of text messages between he and Belichick.

2-2-22 Covid-19 news: Results from world’s first human challenge trial
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Study that infected young adults with the coronavirus finds virus may largely be shed from nose. A small trial that involved deliberately infecting volunteers with the virus that causes covid-19 has revealed new details on how it can cause mild to moderate symptoms. This type of research is known as a human challenge trial, and while similar studies have been conducted for various viruses over the years, this is the first to report findings on the coronavirus. Researchers in the UK gave 36 volunteers aged between 18 and 29 a low dose of the virus via droplets placed in the nose. The virus was taken from a person who became ill with covid-19 very early in the pandemic, before any notable variants had emerged. Eighteen of the volunteers became infected with the virus, and 16 of them developed cold-like symptoms, such as a runny rose, sore throat, cough, fever or headache. Many of these symptoms were not included on symptom lists published by health authorities early in the pandemic. Thirteen of the volunteers also temporarily lost their sense of taste and smell. Among those who became infected, the virus could be detected, and symptoms began to develop, within 42 hours. This incubation period is significantly shorter than estimates at the time, which put the incubation period between two and 14 days. Pfizer and BioNTech have begun a process that may eventually allow for the vaccination of children against covid-19 in the US aged between six months and four years. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was first rolled out in the US under an Emergency Use Authorisation or EUA. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for adults over the age of 16 in August last year. The vaccine is currently available for children aged five and older in the US under an EUA, but those under five are not eligible for vaccination. Pfizer and BioNTech expect to complete an EUA submission for six-month to four-year-olds within days. Tonga is set to enter lockdown following the confirmation of five cases of covid-19 in the country. The cases were identified among two port workers and their relatives. The cases represent the first instance of community transmission in the country. Until now, only one case had ever been reported – in a quarantined traveller arriving in the country in October 2021.

2-2-22 US unveils new policy for elite transgender swimmers
US competitive swimming's governing body has updated its policy on the eligibility of transgender athletes. A three-person medical panel will now determine whether "prior physical development of the athlete as a male" gives transgender swimmers an unfair advantage, USA Swimming says. There will also be testosterone tests for 36 months before competitions. It comes as a transgender Pennsylvania university athlete has been smashing female swimming records. The new policy was released on Tuesday and is effective immediately. In a statement, USA Swimming said it "has and will continue to champion gender equity and the inclusivity of all cisgender and transgender women and their rights to participate in sport, while also fervently supporting competitive equity at elite levels of competition". The policy for elite athletes, it said, "acknowledges a competitive difference in the male and female categories and the disadvantages this presents in elite head-to-head competition". USA Swimming cited data showing that the top-ranked female athlete in 2021 would on average be ranked below 536th on male events that year. The new policy "relies on science and medical evidence-based methods to provide a level-playing field for elite cisgender women", USA Swimming said. They added that the policy serves "to mitigate the advantages associated with male puberty and physiology". The policy update comes amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed on the men's team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in spring 2019. She has shattered records for her university swim team, posting the fastest time of any female swimmer. At a meeting in Ohio in December, Ms Thomas qualified for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships finishing 38 seconds ahead of her second-place teammate. On Tuesday, Ms Thomas' teammates released a statement supporting her. "As members of the Penn Women's Swimming and Diving team and teammates of Lia Thomas, we want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," the team members said in a statement provided to US media.

2-2-22 Freedom Convoy: Blockade at Alberta border crossing 'unlawful'
Tensions are rising at one of the US-Canada border's busiest ports of entry over a vehicle blockade that has halted traffic and disrupted services. The demonstration is tied to the ongoing nationwide "Freedom Convoy" protests over Canada's new restrictions on unvaccinated cross-border truckers. Some motorists and local residents have reportedly been stuck in standstill since the protest began on Saturday. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said the event was "unlawful". They said "extensive efforts" to negotiate with protest organisers had failed and the force has tapped "additional resources" to make arrests or tow trucks if needed. "While we thought we had a path to resolve this, the protesters chose not to comply," a statement said. The Freedom Convoy began as a call to end a federal vaccine mandate that would require unvaccinated Canadian truckers returning from across the US border to quarantine and get tested once they are home. It has since grown into a push to end all vaccine mandates nationwide and what supporters see as government overreach on Covid-19 restrictions. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would not engage with, or cave in to, the demands of protesters. "My focus is standing with Canadians and getting through this pandemic," he said. The line-up of trucks in Alberta extends for several miles along the main Highway 4 into the border village of Coutts. Some 250 people live in Coutts and Mayor Jim Willett said the protest was blocking residents' access to the grocery store and the petrol station, and playing havoc with mail delivery and school bus pickups. "Once they blocked off commerce and blocked off the highway, they lost some of my sympathy because now you've gone beyond protest," he told CBC News. Officials across the border in the US state of Montana have also reportedly turned away motorists trying to cross into Canada. Alberta's minister of transportation Rajan Sawhney said dozens of truckers have been stranded since the weekend with little access to food or medical assistance.

2-2-22 The rise and fall and rise again of the libertarian moment
Libertarianism is back, with a new look. Do you remember the "libertarian moment"? I wouldn't blame you if not. For a few years around the end of the Obama administration, though, it looked as if the right just might coalesce around restrained foreign policy, opposition to electronic surveillance and other threats to civil liberties, and enthusiasm for an innovative economy, very much including the tech industry. Beyond policy, the libertarian turn was associated with a hip affect that signaled comfort with pop culture. Even though they were personally far from cool, The New York Times compared the movement's electoral figureheads, the father-and-son duo Ron and Rand Paul, to grunge bands Nirvana and Pearl Jam. In retrospect, those descriptions seem naive. Less than a year after the Times feature was published, the announcement of Donald Trump's presidential campaign sounded the death knell of the libertarian moment (along with Rand Paul's own bid for the presidency). In another unforeseen twist, though, the pendulum seems to now be swinging back toward libertarian instincts. While in office, Trump had deployed an apocalyptic idiom that clashed dramatically with the libertarians' characteristic optimism. Although personally indifferent to ideas, Trump also inspired a cohort of intellectuals who denounced libertarians' ostensible indifference to the common good and proposed a more assertive role for government in directing economic and social life. But as the pandemic has continued, opposition to restrictions on personal conduct, suspicion of expert authority, and free speech for controversial opinions have become dominant themes in center-right argument and activism. The symbolic villain of the new libertarian moment is Anthony Fauci. Its heroes include Joe Rogan, whose podcast has been a platform for vaccine skeptics, advocates of ivermectin and other dubious treatments for COVID, and other challenges to the expert consensus. Appeals to personal freedom, limited government, and epistemological skepticism against pandemic authorities have some basis in the organized libertarian movement. Early in the pandemic, the American Institute for Economic Research issued the so-called Great Barrington Declaration, which rejected lockdowns and argued (before vaccines became available) that mitigation strategies should be limited to the most vulnerable portion of the population. In the Senate, Paul (Ky.) has been the leading critic of Fauci and the CDC. Long-standing libertarian positions have also been energized by the pandemic. The disruption of public education, for example, has revitalized the school choice movement. But it would be a mistake to think these appeals succeed because Americans have any newfound appreciation for Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, or other libertarian thinkers. More than any coherent political theory, the libertarian revival draws on inarticulate but powerful currents of anti-authoritarianism in American culture. In a blog post drawing on the work of historian David Hackett Fischer, the writer Tanner Greer argues that this disposition is an inheritance from the Scots-Irish settlers of colonial America. Concentrating on its recent expressions, my predecessor Matthew Walther described the defiant, individualistic, risk-embracing sensibility as "barstool conservatism" after Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who joins Rogan among its most prominent Whatever its origins, the new quasi-libertarianism is an obstacle to the managerial tendencies that increasingly define the center-left. More than opposition to the government as such, it revolves around opposition to administrative restrictions imposed for one's own good. If the old libertarianism was obsessed with the risk of ideological totalitarianism, the new version concentrates on the influence of human resources bureaucrats, public health officials, and neighborhood busybodies.

2-1-22 MSNBC's Chris Hayes very carefully suggests Fox News inform viewers when anti-vax guests die of COVID
"After months of trying to convince anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and anti-social distancers that lifesaving measures are both for their own good and for that of others," many people are frustrated and some may even give in to gloating when a prominent anti-vaxxer dies of COVID-19, Fr. James Martin writes in a New York Times essay. But "crowing over someone's suffering or demise" is "cruel," and "no matter how much I disagree with anti-vaxxers, I know that schadenfreude over their deaths is a dead end.". MSNBC's Chris Hayes was very careful to avoid schadenfreude Monday when he discussed Friday's COVID death of Robert Lamay, "a Washington State Police officer who became something of a hero on the anti-vax right after he was fired from his job last October for refusing to get vaccinated." Lamay told Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to "kiss my a--," earning him "particularly notoriety" and two interviews on Fox News. Lamay "leaves behind a wife and four children — it's an unbelievably sad story," Hayes said. "It's also a microcosm of a larger daily tragedy in America," where "the vast majority" of the 2,500 daily COVID deaths "are entirely preventable" with a couple of shots. Lamay genuinely "lived his values," and "those values, no doubt, [were] informed by right-wing media, including Fox News," a "company that takes this virus very, very seriously, at least behind the scenes," Hayes said. In public, Fox News executives have "decided to fan the flames of vaccine resistance, and those flames are getting thousands of people killed, thousands and thousands and thousands. And when those people die, they are, of course, forgotten by Fox News. Lamay passed away on Friday, and as of this afternoon, the network has not mentioned his death once." "Right-wing influencers like Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and [Steve] Bannon have all raised questions about the efficacy of vaccines or have invited anti-vaxxers to speak to their millions of viewers," Politico reports. "The growth of the vaccine skeptical universe has caused alarm within the Republican party, where officials note that — in addition to the serious public health consequences — the position carries obvious political risks." Read more at Politico to learn about how former President Donald Trump has dropped his vocal support for vaccines and boosters to accommodate the anti-vaxxers in his base, and Fr. Martin's essay for some reflections on the temptation of COVID schadenfreude.

2-1-22 Pfizer asks FDA to authorize its COVID vaccine for use in kids under 5
Pfizer and BioNTech have requested emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to use their COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 6 months to 5 years, the companies announced Tuesday, following Monday reports. If authorized, Pfizer's would be the first COVID vaccine available for kids under five, CNN reports. The two companies are also "continuing to test a three-dose version of the vaccine in this younger age group." The youngest kids will receive the smallest dose: 3 micrograms a shot. Federal regulators encouraged Pfizer to submit data for authorization for the two-dose vaccine, rather than wait on data for three doses, which could have potentially delayed the process until March, CNN notes. The two-dose regimen notably produced "disappointing results in some children during testing," leading researchers to believe another dose may eventually be required for full protection, reports The Wall Street Journal. "If the goal of the vaccine is to get baseline immunity in the kids — to prevent really bad outcomes and you're really not using the vaccine as a tool to prevent infection in the first place — two doses could do that," former FDA commissioner and current Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Sunday, per CNN. "I think that may be why federal health officials are rethinking this." On that note, the FDA reportedly encouraged Pfizer to forge ahead with authorization of the two-shot regimen so kids would be eligible for a third dose later, should it prove safe and effective, the Journal adds. There were no serious safety concerns during testing, the companies said. There are over 19 million Americans under 5 years old, The New York Times reports.

2-1-22 GOP Rep. Cawthorn files lawsuit arguing N.C. can't remove him from ballot over role in Jan. 6
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is suing the North Carolina State Board of Elections, arguing that a law under which his eligibility to run for re-election is being challenged is unconstitutional, The Raleigh News & Observer reports. According to The Associated Press, a group of North Carolina voters filed a challenge to Cawthorn's candidacy in the 2022 midterms last month. By speaking at a rally immediately before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the complaint alleges, Cawthorn "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the United States and is therefore disqualified from serving in Congress according to Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under current state law, the "burden of proof" is "upon the candidate, who must show by a preponderance of the evidence of the record as a whole that he or she is qualified to be a candidate for the office." In the lawsuit, filed Monday, Cawthorn argues that the "provision of the Challenge Statute which shifts the burden of proving a negative to the Candidate" is a violation of "the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Since Jan. 6, 2021, Cawthorn has repeatedly baselessly blamed the riot on left-wing infiltrators or federal agents and has referred to those charged for their role in the attack on the Capitol as "political hostages." According to the News & Observer, the "process for state elections officials to decide on the complaint will begin Wednesday." The North Carolina State Board of Elections will select panelists to consider the arguments from both Cawthorn and his accusers.

2-1-22 Native American tribes will get $665 million in opioid lawsuit settlement
America's three largest drug distributors and Johnson & Johnson have agreed to pay Native American tribes ravaged by the opioid crisis up to $665 million, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. Per the Post, drug distributors "McKesson, Cardinal Health, and AmerisourceBergen reached a deal to pay $515 million over six years to the federally recognized tribes while Johnson & Johnson would distribute $150 million in two years, according to court documents filed Tuesday." Most of the money, the Post reports, will "go toward programs that aid drug users and their communities," while around 15 percent will cover attorneys' fees. In 2019, J&J settled with two Ohio counties for $20.4 million in a deal that did not require the pharmaceutical giant to admit liability for the harm opioids caused in those counties. A district court in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, found J&J culpable for damages related to the opioid crisis the same year. In November 2021, the Oklahoma Supreme Court overturned the lower court's $456 million judgement, ruling that Judge Thad Balkman and state prosecutors had incorrectly used public nuisance laws against J&J. According to the Post, "[n]ationwide, from 2006 to 2014, Native Americans were nearly 50 percent more likely to die of an opioid overdose than non-natives."

2-1-22 Book banning is back, and it's targeting Black folks
Modern book bans don't make Black authors' work illegal. They just make it inaccessible for the kids who need it most. Book banning has returned to American schools. It's targeting authors who deal with race, sexuality, and gender, and it's moving with a fervency that should alarm not only anyone concerned about he plight of authors but ultimately anyone worried about how American history is taught, because this is an effort to erase some of us from sharing our stories. Hiding away these books will quiet diverse voices, diminish our education system, and sanitize American history for the comfort of white folks. One of the latest victims of this trend, Toni Morrison, once argued about the dangers of book banning in response to past attempts to restrict access to Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, over its use of racial slurs. "The brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is [in] the argument it raises," Morrison explained. Banning books, she continues, is a "purist and yet elementary kind of censorship designed to appease adults rather than educate children." Sadly, Morrison was not extended the same degree of thoughtfulness she applied to Twain by the Wentzville School Board, located in western St. Charles County, Missouri, last week. The board voted 4-3 to pull Morrison's celebrated The Bluest Eye from the district's high school libraries. The Bluest Eye tells the story of a young Black girl, growing up during the Great Depression, who longs for blue eyes because she feels unattractive and oppressed due to her complexion. Morrison, who died in 2019 at the age of 88, said she wrote the book to highlight the psychological toll of racism. Yet, somehow, this is offensive material to the school board. Naturally, those behind the banning of the book prefer none of us categorize it as a ban: "By all means, go buy the book for your child," Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at the board meeting. "I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see." The condescension and latent prejudice is to be expected, but it is no less distasteful. The Wentzville board also voted to ban Heavy, by Kiese Laymon, All Boys Aren't Blue, by George M. Johnson, and Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. And this is but the latest in a series of such votes in school districts across the country. There's a pattern in the books they choose: These are texts about Blacks folks and other marginalized groups. A representative list of the targeted works can be found on the site of No Left Turn in Education, an organization that has identified around 75 books it claims "are used to spread radical and racist ideologies to students." The books are grouped in three categories ("critical race theory," "anti-police," and "comprehensive sexuality education") and, curiously, are covered with Black faces, queer people, and women who dare to believe they deserve autonomy over their own bodies. These books "demean our nation and its heroes, revise our history, and divide us as a people for the purpose of indoctrinating kids to a dangerous ideology," No Left Turn says. For all the awkward phrasing and nonsensical claims, this is not a movement to be dismissed as irrelevant. The American Library Association said its Office for Intellectual Freedom reported 273 books were affected by censorship attempts in 2020, many with content that highlighted race, gender and sexuality. Between September and the start of this year alone alone, however, there have been at least 230 such challenges, the organization said in an email to NBC News — a marked acceleration. As a Black and queer author, I know first and foremost there is an overbearing whiteness to the publishing industry. It is no easy feat to become a published author, much less to have a book be made accessible to the most vulnerable among us in communities all across the country through the public school and library systems.

2-1-22 Covid: Pfizer jab for children under five expected by end of month
The US is expected to approve coronavirus vaccines for children under the age of five by the end of February, marking a global first in the pandemic. Officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) anticipate Pfizer will ask them in coming days to authorise two doses for the age group. The company is also researching a three-dose regimen but that data is not likely to be submitted until March. Paediatric Covid-19 cases have spiked since the rise of the Omicron variant. More than 3.5 million cases were reported in the US last month, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But data shows few children have been hospitalised or have died from the virus. In December, Pfizer announced a low-dose trial for children - at a tenth the amount of the adult dose - had delivered mixed results. While the company said it had not identified any safety concerns, initial results showed that those aged two to four years old produced a less adequate immune response post-jab compared to adults. But it also found children from six months old to two years old were well-protected. Pfizer, therefore, expects three shots might be needed, not two and its trial has since been modified to include a third dose, but the FDA has reportedly urged the company to submit its data for two so it can begin reviewing it. On Monday, regulators granted full approval to the Moderna vaccine, following suit after it did the same for the Pfizer jab back in August. Pfizer is currently available to children over the age of five, but Moderna is only approved for use in adults over the age of 18. Meanwhile, schools struggling to stay open during the latest wave of the pandemic are moving to mandate the vaccine for approved age groups. The New Orleans public school system on Tuesday became the first major school district in the nation to require the jab for students aged five and up.

2-1-22 MSNBC's Chris Hayes very carefully suggests Fox News inform viewers when anti-vax guests die of COVID
"After months of trying to convince anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, and anti-social distancers that lifesaving measures are both for their own good and for that of others," many people are frustrated and some may even give in to gloating when a prominent anti-vaxxer dies of COVID-19, Fr. James Martin writes in a New York Times essay. But "crowing over someone's suffering or demise" is "cruel," and "no matter how much I disagree with anti-vaxxers, I know that schadenfreude over their deaths is a dead end." MSNBC's Chris Hayes was very careful to avoid schadenfreude Monday when he discussed Friday's COVID death of Robert Lamay, "a Washington State Police officer who became something of a hero on the anti-vax right after he was fired from his job last October for refusing to get vaccinated." Lamay told Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to "kiss my a--," earning him "particularly notoriety" and two interviews on Fox News. Lamay "leaves behind a wife and four children — it's an unbelievably sad story," Hayes said. "It's also a microcosm of a larger daily tragedy in America," where "the vast majority" of the 2,500 daily COVID deaths "are entirely preventable" with a couple of shots. Lamay genuinely "lived his values," and "those values, no doubt, [were] informed by right-wing media, including Fox News," a "company that takes this virus very, very seriously, at least behind the scenes," Hayes said. In public, Fox News executives have "decided to fan the flames of vaccine resistance, and those flames are getting thousands of people killed, thousands and thousands and thousands. And when those people die, they are, of course, forgotten by Fox News. Lamay passed away on Friday, and as of this afternoon, the network has not mentioned his death once." "Right-wing influencers like Candace Owens, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and [Steve] Bannon have all raised questions about the efficacy of vaccines or have invited anti-vaxxers to speak to their millions of viewers," Politico reports. "The growth of the vaccine skeptical universe has caused alarm within the Republican party, where officials note that — in addition to the serious public health consequences — the position carries obvious political risks." Read more at Politico to learn about how former President Donald Trump has dropped his vocal support for vaccines and boosters to accommodate the anti-vaxxers in his base, and Fr. Martin's essay for some reflections on the temptation of COVID schadenfreude.

2-1-22 Justin Trudeau says Canadians are 'disgusted' by abusive actions of anti-mandate protesters
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out against anti–vaccine mandate protesters who vandalized property in Ottawa and harassed the staff and clients at a homeless shelter. "Canadians were shocked and frankly disgusted by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation's capital," Trudeau said on Monday. "I want to be very clear: We are not intimidated by those who hurl insults and abuse at small business workers and steal food from the homeless. We won't give in to those who fly racist flags. We won't cave to those who engage in vandalism or dishonor the memory of our veterans." including vaccine mandates and wearing masks, began arriving in Ottawa on Friday. Shepherds of Good Hope, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen, tweeted that protesters harassed staff members, assaulted a person living at the shelter, and threatened and used racial slurs against a security guard who went to his aid. Additionally, "the incessant honking and noise from trucks caused significant anxiety and distress to our staff and shelter residents," Shepherds of Good Hope said. Some demonstrators waved flags with Nazi and Confederate imagery and the Ottawa Police Service tweeted that multiple criminal investigations are underway "in relation to the desecration of the National War Memorial/Terry Fox statue, threatening/illegal/intimidating behavior to police/city workers and other individuals, and damage to a city vehicle." Fox was an athlete and cancer research activist who died in 1981 and is considered one of Canada's national heroes. A sign reading "Mandate Freedom" was placed in the arms of his statue, as well as an upside down Canadian flag. This is "completely unacceptable," Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said, adding, "This kind of stunt by protesters does not help their cause." It's estimated that about 90 percent of Canadian truck drivers have been vaccinated, Reuters reports, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance said "it appears that a great number" of the protesters in Ottawa "have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross-border vaccine requirements."

2-1-22 Global Covid response generating masses of waste, WHO says
The amount of waste being generated by the Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to the environment and human health, the World Health Organization (WHO) says. The agency said used medical equipment such as needles posed a health hazard, while the increase in plastic waste was straining waste management systems. In its report, the WHO called on manufacturers to use more biodegradable materials and eco-friendly packaging. It also said there was a "dire need" to reform how waste is disposed globally. The materials being discarded include protective clothing, syringes, gloves, face masks and test kits. "It is absolutely vital to provide health workers with the right PPE," WHO Emergencies Director Michael Ryan said after the report was released on Tuesday. "But it is also vital to ensure that it can be used safely without impacting on the surrounding environment." The agency's 71-page report found that most of the 1.5 billion medical items distributed by the UN in the first months of the pandemic ended up as rubbish, equivalent to the weight of 262,000 jumbo jets. Disposable gloves contributed to more waste than any other item procured through the UN's system, the report said. The WHO's own guidance does not recommend that healthcare workers be required to wear gloves while administering the Covid-19 vaccine, despite it being common practice in many places. In one study cited by the report, it was estimated that 3.4 billion single-use masks were discarded every day in 2020 around the world. Because most masks are made from plastic, the waste can end up polluting both land and water, especially in countries with less developed refuse management systems. And more than half of healthcare facilities in poorer countries aren't able to deal with the waste safely, the WHO found. The first eight billion Covid vaccines administered globally generated 144,000 tonnes of waste in the form of syringes and needles, which can cause injuries to health workers if they are disposed of carelessly. The report also highlighted creative ways for sustainably reusing medical waste. In one Australian example, researchers used discarded face masks as material for road construction by shredding them and drying them at high temperatures.

2-1-22 Lunar New Year: Covid thwarts travel plans for millions
Covid-19 has dampened the travel plans of millions of Chinese for the Lunar New Year for a third straight year. Pre-pandemic, the celebration would see as many as 3 billion trips made across China, and was the world's largest annual migration of people. But resurgent virus outbreaks have forced many to cancel their plans. Chinese officials - still pursuing a zero-Covid strategy - have enforced strict measures with days to go before the 2022 Winter Olympics begin. The Lunar New Year - also known as the Spring Festival in China - falls on 1 February this year. Widely regarded as the most important time to be with family, hundreds of millions of people who have carved out a livelihood in cities make their way back to their hometowns to celebrate together. The Chinese Ministry of Transportation estimates that 1.18 billion trips will be made this year. While the figure remains a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers, there are still worries that it may turn into a super-spreader event. Chinese citizens have been placed under strict government surveillance, with a colour-coded system determining whether they can travel. They are required to display a green health code on their phone - which indicates they have not been in Covid-infected areas - before boarding public transport and passing through highway points. China's insistence on pursuing a virus elimination policy has seen officials carry out rounds of mass testing and impose sudden lockdowns affecting millions of people in response to sporadic outbreaks across the country. The Winter Olympics, which is scheduled to kick off on the first day of the Spring Festival, has further intensified pressure on local officials, who have shut down local municipalities and entire towns to battle the spread of the virus. The measures have been met with dismay. Migrant workers especially remain the hardest-hit, as the Spring Festival represents the few precious days a year where they can return to see their loved ones back home. "Is it wrong for a migrant worker who toils day and night, who lives far away from home, to return to his hometown and reunite with his family during his only few days of annual holiday?" wrote a user on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

2-1-22 Denmark Covid restrictions lifted despite increase in cases
Denmark has lifted all of its domestic Covid-19 restrictions, including the wearing of face masks, making it the first European Union country to do so. Nightclubs have reopened, late-night alcohol sales have resumed, and the contact-tracing app is no longer needed to enter venues. While cases are still relatively high, the authorities say the virus no longer qualifies as a "critical threat". That is due to the country's high vaccination rate, experts say. "We have an extremely high coverage of adults vaccinated with three doses," epidemiologist Lone Simonsen of the University of Roskilde told the AFP news agency. "With Omicron not being a severe disease for the vaccinated, we believe it is reasonable to lift restrictions," she said. From Tuesday, masks are no longer required in shops, restaurants, and on public transport. Limits on the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings and social distancing measures also come to an end. The national contact-tracing app is no longer required - although individual event organisers can still choose to make it a condition of entry. Some rare restrictions will remain in place - for example, for unvaccinated travellers attempting to cross the border from outside Denmark's free travel zone, or the use of face masks in hospitals and care homes. Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen welcomed the move, writing "good morning to a completely open Denmark" on Facebook and thanking the population for getting vaccinated. "I'm so happy that this is all going to be over tomorrow," 17-year-old student Thea Skovgaard told AFP on Monday. "It's good for life in the city, for nightlife, just to be able to be out longer." The easing of restrictions in Denmark follows similar decisions in England and other UK nations in January. Other EU member countries - such as Ireland, France, and the Netherlands - have also begun to remove their restrictions.

2-1-22 Covid-19 news: Mandatory vaccines scrapped for NHS workers in England
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Vaccinations will not be a condition of employment for NHS workers in England. NHS staff in England will not be required to have coronavirus vaccinations, health secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday. The move will be subject to a government consultation. Regulations for mandatory vaccines were due to come into effect for NHS staff on 1 April which would have made 3 Feb the last day an unvaccinated worker could start a course of vaccinations. Javid says mandatory vaccines are now less important because omicron, which is currently the dominant variant, appears to be more transmissible and less severe than the earlier delta variant. “It’s only right that our policy on vaccination as a condition of deployment is reviewed,” Javid said. Austria has moved in the opposite direction, as its policy of mandatory jabs for all over-18s comes into effect today. It is the first European Union country to impose such a mandate. Denmark today became the first EU country to lift all of its coronavirus restrictions, despite daily cases of between 40,000 to 50,000, or 1 per cent of its population. Denmark’s health authorities hope that its high vaccination rates of about 81 per cent will prevent a spike in hospitalisations. Russia has seen its highest daily total for new coronavirus cases, reporting 125,836 on 1 Feb. Unlike Denmark, Russia has relatively low vaccination coverage, estimated at around 50 per cent. World leaders continue to contract the virus: Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau yesterday announced he has tested positive for coronavirus, while UK foreign secretary Liz Truss also said she had tested positive, hours after speaking to a packed House of Commons without a mask.

2-1-22 Russia-Ukraine tensions: Powers clash at UN Security Council
There have been angry clashes between Russian and US envoys at the UN Security Council, after the US called a meeting to discuss Moscow's troop build-up on its borders with Ukraine. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the mobilisation was the biggest Europe had seen in decades. Her Russian counterpart accused the US of fomenting hysteria and unacceptable interference in Russia's affairs. The US and UK have promised further sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine. UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said legislation was being prepared which would target a wider range of individuals and businesses close to the Kremlin than is currently possible. A US official said Washington's sanctions meant individuals close to the Kremlin would be cut off from the international financial system. Russia has placed an estimated 100,000 troops, tanks, artillery and missiles near Ukraine's frontiers. Diplomatic efforts continue, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken due to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Tuesday. The US said it had received a written response from Russia to a US proposal aimed at de-escalating the crisis in Ukraine. But hours later Russia's deputy foreign minister said that was not true and a source told Ria news agency it was still preparing a response. A state department spokesperson said the US remained fully committed to dialogue and would continue to consult closely with its allies and partners, including Ukraine. Meanwhile a number of European leaders are travelling to Ukraine on Tuesday for talks. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is flying to Kyiv after promising to work with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to find a diplomatic solution to arguments with Moscow and "avoid further bloodshed". Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte are also heading to the Ukrainian capital.

2-1-22 Ukraine's army is obsolete but battle-hardened, New York Times report says
Ukraine's army may have trouble transitioning from low-level conflict with Russian-backed separatists to full-scale war with Russia, a New York Times report published Tuesday claimed. According to the Times, the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014 and has killed more than 14,000 people, "is fought mostly with rifles, machines guns, rocket propelled grenades, mortars and artillery systems dating to the 1970s or earlier." Ukrainian tactics, which focus on infantry-heavy trench warfare, are seen as equally outdated. The United States, United Kingdom, and Eastern European NATO members have all sent high-tech anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, but Ukrainian troops have little to no experience using these weapons in combat. The more than 100,000 troops Russia has massed on Ukraine's border would enjoy a number of advantages over Ukrainian forces, including air superiority and more modern weapons. Forbes suggested last month that "[i]nfantry packing anti-tank missiles, scurrying across a network of trenches and bunkers, are central to Ukraine's defense plans" but that Russia could use fuel-air explosives to neutralize these fortifications. Fuel-air weapons, Forbes explained, "burst over their targets, spreading a fuel vapor, before exploding and igniting the fuel and creating a pressure wave that's twice as powerful as that from a conventional artillery shell" According to two experts cited by Forbes, "neither natural terrain features nor non-hermetically sealed field fortifications (emplacements, covered slit trenches, bunkers) protect against the effects of fuel-air explosives." Ukrainian forces on the eastern front operate mostly out of trenches soldiers dig for themselves. The Times reported that the entrenched position their reporters visited was covered with plastic sheeting.

2-1-22 Israeli policies against Palestinians amount to apartheid - Amnesty
Israeli laws, policies and practices against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories amount to apartheid, Amnesty International says. A new report alleges that the Israeli state maintains "an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis". Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity under international law. Israel says it "absolutely rejects all the false allegations" in the report. A foreign ministry spokesperson accused Amnesty of recycling "lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organisations". "The report denies the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. Its extremist language and distortion of historical context were designed to demonize Israel and pour fuel onto the fire of anti-Semitism," they said in a statement. The Palestinian foreign ministry welcomed the report, saying it was a "detailed affirmation of the cruel reality of entrenched racism, exclusion, oppression, colonialism, apartheid, and attempted erasure that the Palestinian people have endured". Apartheid was a policy of racial segregation and discrimination that was enforced by the white minority government in South Africa against the country's black majority from 1948 until 1991. Three main international treaties prohibit apartheid, including the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid. The convention defines apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them". Just over 20% of Israel's population of 9.45 million are Arabs, many of whom self-identify as Palestinians, while 2.9 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Middle East war. Another 1.9 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which Israel pulled out of in 2005 but the UN still considers to also be occupied.

2-1-22 Multiple HBCUs receive bomb threats for the 2nd day in a row
Several historically Black colleges and universities have received bomb threats for the second consecutive day, and at least the third time in the past month. On Tuesday, Howard University said it had lifted a shelter-in-place directive after an investigation into a bomb threat made earlier that morning. A number of other historically Black colleges and universities also said they received bomb threats on Tuesday, including Morgan State University, Xavier University of Louisiana, Kentucky State University, and Alcorn State University. "I'm hopeful that these bomb threats to our National Treasure, and to many of our other sister HBCU institutions, will be aggressively investigated by the FBI," Morgan State University President David Wilson said. This was the second day in a row that multiple historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats. On Monday, Howard University, Southern University and A&M, Bethune-Cookman University, Albany State University, Bowie State University, and Delaware State University all reported receiving bomb threats, CNN reports. That, CNN noted, was already the second time in January this had happened, as on Jan. 5, at least eight historically Black colleges and universities evacuated students after receiving bomb threats, The Washington Post reported. The FBI is investigating the situation, according to CBS News. Howard University said Monday that while the bomb threats "have not yielded any credible danger to our, or any other community," they "have become a drain on institutional and municipal resources and an unnecessary mental burden on individuals trying to learn and work on our campus." Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said he was monitoring the "terrifying" situation, writing, "My prayers are with the students, teachers, staff and law enforcement during this time." Janai Nelson of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund also called for the Department of Justice to prioritize "ending the repeated targeting of Black spaces and terrorization of its occupants," adding, "These recurring threats to HBCUs are highly disruptive and damaging."

2-1-22 Ahmaud Arbery: Hate crime plea deal rejected by US judge in murder case
A US judge has rejected a plea deal between federal prosecutors and two of the three white men convicted of murdering black jogger Ahmaud Arbery. District Judge Lisa Wood said she was not willing to be bound to the clause that allowed them to serve time in a federal, and not state, prison. Her ruling comes after Travis McMichael admitted for the first time race was his motivation for chasing Mr Arbery. Mr Arbery's mother was said to be "devastated" about the deal. Travis and Gregory McMichael and their neighbour William Bryan were found guilty of his murder in November. The three also faced a fresh federal trial on hate crimes charges and had all pleaded not guilty. That trial was due to begin next month. But it emerged on Sunday that US federal prosecutors had reached plea agreements with the McMichaels, according to court papers. Wanda Cooper-Jones, Mr Arbery's mother, vehemently rejected the notion of a deal as she said it was "about serving time in a safer, less crowded prison" since it recommended the McMichaels be transferred to a federal prison for 30 years before returning them to the custody of the Georgia prison system for the rest of their lives. Federal prisons are generally perceived as less brutal environments than typical state prisons. "Please listen to me: granting these men their preferred conditions of confinement will defeat me. It gives them one last chance to spit in my face after murdering my son," Ms Cooper-Jones told the court. "The state of Georgia already gave these men exactly what they deserve. Please leave it that way." The three white men faced five federal charges, including interfering with Mr "Arbery's right to use a public street because of his race". Civil rights activists believe a federal trial would have been a key moment in the country's reckoning with racial injustice. Mr Arbery's killing in February 2020 sparked outrage across the United States.


281 Atheism News & Humanism News Articles
for February 2022

Atheism News & Humanism Articles for January 2022