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Mar 02, 2021, 11:20 PM
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 on: Today at 12:49 PM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Kristin

You wrote." What do you make of Lilith here? The more I study into this things the more it is clear to me that lilith in the charts of women, specially when it's prominent, is almost the why behind the why, the key that can unlock everything.

I agree..As an archetype, Lilith symbolizes the feminine fingerprint, and thus her sense of power for who she how she was created as a woman in the world.
Transiting Pluto is conjunct her Asteroid Lilith and Venus in Capricorn, so an opportunity to eliminate anything that does not add onto her journey and anything that limits her growth. In essence, it could lead to an ascent (Capricorn) of her own feeling of personal power....power without so many chains.)

And, yes, it is sure to unlock her in many ways.

 on: Today at 11:30 AM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Kristin
Hi Helena,

The prior lives where Brittany inherited money and a position of status comes from the Pluto/ Saturn in Libra squaring the nodes. Pluto equaling inheritance, and  Venus, the ruler of Pluto in Libra on that South Node in Capricorn in the 4th. Her wounding others with those choices can be seen with Chiron in Taurus in the 8th/ inheritance/manipulation, etc ..It is retrograde, hence her need to repent and re-route her choices seen with Mars in Virgo balsamic to Pluto/Saturn in Libra, to heal those tendencies from the past.

Her Lilith in Cap conjunct her Venus and South Node re-states the power she was given in the past through families of origin. However, in this life, that natal Lilith is all about GROWING UP and becoming an adult and taking responsibility for her own life, remembering too that her s.node of Lilith is 0.09 Cancer in the 9th, ruled by the Aquarius moon in the 5th ie. not really wanting to grow up.

The resolution node of her skipped steps is the North Node in Cancer, thus ruled by the Moon in Aquarius in the 5th. So it would seem given that the natal Lilith in the 4th with Venus/ S.Node that the inner growing up taking place in this life will manifest via the controls in place and in the environment created by those controls that will take her into her next life.

Her Moon in Aquarius, the ruler of her North Node in Cancer, also reflects the rebellion we are now witnessing, so yes I agree, a 3rd stage consensus Soul but "tip toeing" into the 1st stage Individuated.

Remember that the trinity ie past, present, future, can be seen in any signature.

In particular with Lilith, as we know, there is the original expression, the distorted, and the resolution, which can also ALL be seen within ONE symbol. (which is why early on in this asteroid goddess thread we suggested people only focus on the asteroid Lilith versus the dark Moon and the black Moon Lilith to minimize confusion, remembering too that the Asteroid Lilith is an actual asteroid with Nodes versus the other two being projections in space)

The distortions can also be seen through the hard aspects to the Original Lilith or the shadows that exist within any archetype. Every archetype, as you know, has a light and a shadow.

So while the long term goal for Brittany will be to become her own inner authority and in charge of her entire reality, that may be a lifetime or two away depending on efforts made, because in this life, she still prefers to have a more controlled environment to lean on. Perhaps too because of not trusting herself with those choices due to echoes of the past.

Her Original Lilith in Cap with its square to Pluto/Saturn reflects the guilt in her Soul that she carries into this life. The trine to Mars in Virgo in the 12th, her highway for atonement and giving away her power in a sense so she does not make the same mistakes twice or thrice.

It is important to remind ourselves that her Soul set this life up in this way. According to the documentary, she is not wanting to give up the controlled environment, she appears to agree that she needs that kind of over sight. But she does want to remove her father from the picture. Perhaps she has come to find out the hard way that family cannot be trusted, or that she is not wanting to be responsible for floating her family's lavish lifestyle.

Again, it would be a fine thing if she won this case and re-directed monies to a meaningful cause or to those in need. This would be cathartic to her Soul to know she has made a difference in this way. Her choices leading to something good, something that benefits the whole.

Goddess Bless,

 on: Today at 05:12 AM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Helena
Hi Rad,

This is an excellent addition to the documentary, in fact I had forgotten a part that replays here relative to what I had mentioned before about being so clear to social treatment differences relative for instance sexual expectations, where there was an interview of her where she was asked whether she remained a virgin and at the same time, you can see it here, another interview of the boyfriend where he is asked to brag, and I quote, if he "fucked her"...
It's just a detail but illustrates the whole thing and I'm so happy to notice that this was just 20 years ago and how much the world and collective consciousness as evolved (even if very little in the big picture) that an interview of this sorts would backlash for sure instead of being fun and universally accepted for stars with this level of fame and public acclaim.
Of course, this sort of speech is being wrapped up in a whole new package branded as "cancel culture", another trumpist inheritance, that because it appropriates universal rights and notions of freedom of speech confuses people in all sorts of social corners and allows this to continue but with a lesser degree of mainstream acceptance.

Thank you for posting it Rad,

 on: Today at 04:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Biden works to unify Senate Democrats on $1.9 trillion relief bill

Schumer intends to move legislation forward this week as unemployment benefit deadline nears

By Erica Werner and Jeff Stein
WA Post
March 2, 2021 at 12:12 a.m. GMT+2

President Biden launched a lobbying effort targeting fellow Democrats on Monday to unify them behind his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill as the Senate prepares to move forward on the massive legislation this week.

Democrats don’t have a vote to spare in the Senate, but several moderate-leaning senators have raised concerns about the structure of unemployment insurance benefits and Biden’s plan to send $350 billion to state and local governments, among other issues.

Biden convened a group of these Democrats on a conference call Monday afternoon, the first in a days-long outreach campaign that will also include calling into the weekly Senate Democratic lunch on Tuesday and addressing the House Democratic caucus on Wednesday evening.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who participated in Monday’s call, said the conversation focused on “targeting the dollars ... it wasn’t talking about reducing it, just targeting” the money that was included.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) made similar comments, saying, “We’re just looking for a targeted bill; [we] want it to be very targeted, helping the people that need help the most.”

Tester said Biden was receptive but did not agree to specific changes.

Among the policies discussed at the meeting included tightening income eligibility for the $1,400 stimulus payments, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. House Democrats added new restrictions to the payments for affluent Americans but ultimately rejected proposals to prevent single Americans earning between $50,000 and $75,000 from receiving the stimulus payments.

The White House and congressional Democrats are staring down a March 14 deadline when enhanced unemployment benefits will expire unless the relief legislation is signed into law first. The House passed the bill on Saturday, allowing just two weeks to get it through the Senate, where it’s likely to undergo some changes, and then back to the House for final passage. Tester predicted that there will be “modest” changes as the bill moves through the Senate.

“The president’s focus this week and in coming weeks, until it’s passed, is on the American Rescue Plan,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. “It’s absolutely critical Congress act, and we certainly hope they do that as quickly as possible.”

An initial procedural vote to move forward on the legislation could come as early as Wednesday in the Senate.

“I expect a hearty debate and some late nights,” Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Monday. “But the American people sent us here with a job to do: To help the country through this moment of extraordinary challenge. To end, through action, the greatest health crisis our country has faced in a century. And that’s just what we’re going to do.”

The legislation passed the House without a single Republican vote, and there’s no indication thus far it will command any GOP support in the Senate — making it crucial for Democrats to stay together. The Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, with Democrats in the majority only because Vice President Harris can break ties.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) kept up his attacks on the legislation Monday, decrying it as a “bonanza of partisan spending they’re calling a pandemic rescue package” and lamenting, “It didn’t have to be this way.”

Monday’s call with Biden also included Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Angus King (I-Maine), who have proposed breaking off some of the state and local money and dedicating it to expanded broadband instead.

Other Democratic senators are pushing for changes related to the unemployment insurance in the bill, which would increase the weekly $300 payments to $400 and extend them through August. Warner wants to restore a month’s worth of unemployment benefits to the bill so they run through September, an idea also endorsed by Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

One approach would be to keep the payments at $300 a month but extend them longer. Manchin said Monday that he supports the $300 figure.

The White House is not expected to support cutting the benefit from $400 to $300, two people granted anonymity to discuss the matter said.

King has also called for tying unemployment benefits to state unemployment rates, so the value of the benefit diminishes as the local economy improves.

“If the economy is coming back more rapidly than we expect, let’s ratchet back the expenditures,” King said.

However, any concessions to moderates, particularly on state and local aid, could alienate liberal lawmakers who are already bitterly disappointed that the Senate bill will not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. That provision was part of the House bill, but it was rejected by the Senate parliamentarian who said it was not permitted under the byzantine rules Democrats are using to push the legislation through the Senate without GOP votes.

This “budget reconciliation” process allows legislation to pass with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 normally required, but it also prohibits provisions without a certain budgetary impact. The Senate parliamentarian determined last week that the minimum-wage increase did not pass the test.

Liberals in the House are pressing the Biden administration to try to overrule the parliamentarian, but Psaki nixed that idea Monday.

“That’s not an action we intend to take,” Psaki said. She noted that such a move would also require 50 votes in favor in the Senate, which Democrats do not have.

Following the parliamentarian’s ruling, top Senate Democrats scrambled to come up with an alternative approach that would instead penalize companies that do not pay a $15 minimum wage, but those efforts collapsed over the weekend.

Instead, Senate Democrats will move forward with a version of the relief bill that does not attempt to raise the minimum wage, according to two Democratic aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity because discussions were private.

Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told reporters Monday there would be a vote during the debate over the stimulus on the $15 minimum wage. At least two Senate Democrats have expressed opposition to the measure, and only 38 Senate Democrats are currently co-sponsors of the measure. “We’ll see who is going to vote for it and who is not going to vote for it,” Sanders said. “The American people want to see that minimum wage raised.”

Psaki said that raising the minimum wage remained a priority for Biden but that there was no specific plan on how to do it.

“We don’t have a clear answer on what that looks like at this point,” she said. “It just remains a commitment and something he will use his political capital to get done.”

Even without the minimum-wage increase, Biden’s bill includes multiple liberal priorities. In addition to the state and local aid and extended unemployment insurance, it includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, $130 billion for schools, an expanded child tax credit, food assistance, rental relief and tens of billions of dollars for vaccine distribution and more testing.

Republicans say most of the new spending is wholly unnecessary after Congress already spent $4 trillion on the pandemic last year and the economy is showing signs of life, despite the millions of Americans who remain unemployed.

America's unemployed owe thousands of dollars in taxes

Psaki said Biden would be singularly focused this week on ensuring that the legislation makes it through.

“We reserved time in his schedule to ensure that he can be engaged, roll up his sleeves, and be personally involved in making phone calls, having more Zoom meetings, potentially having people here to the Oval Office to [get] this across the finish line,” Psaki said. “And I expect him to be very involved personally.”

Tony Romm and Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.


Biden Seeks Help on Border From Mexican President

As the president looks to undo his predecessor’s immigration policies, he is hoping for cooperation from a Mexican counterpart who was a contributor to them.

By Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Michael D. Shear
NY Times
March , 2021

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Monday sought help from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico in averting a new crisis at the border, hoping for diplomatic cooperation from one of the key supporters of the harsh tactics imposed by Mr. Biden’s predecessor to choke off immigration.

Mr. López Obrador won the admiration of President Donald J. Trump for cooperating with his hard-line immigration agenda, and the Mexican president praised Mr. Trump during a call with Mr. Biden, then the president-elect, in December.

Facing an uptick of illegal migrant crossings at some parts of the southwestern border, Mr. Biden is now hoping that Mr. López Obrador will become a partner in preventing another cycle of out-of-control migration from Central America, but that he will do so without resorting to the full range of policies Mr. Trump embraced. The Mexican president appeared open to collaboration, issuing a joint statement committing to address climate change, the pandemic and migration north.

Despite campaigning against Mr. Trump’s policies, Mr. Biden wants one of the same things from the Mexican president that his predecessor did: help in keeping Central American migrants from immediately surging north toward the United States through Mexico.

While Mr. Biden has presented himself as breaking sharply with Trump administration immigration policies, he has abandoned only some.   

The president has recently begun welcoming back to the United States a limited number of asylum seekers who were exposed to violence and kidnappings in dangerous areas of Mexico under a Trump-era program. But the Biden administration has kept in place a separate Trump policy that empowers agents to rapidly expel new arrivals at the border to Mexican authorities as Mr. Biden hopes to avoid a crisis that challenged his predecessors.

Both policies were accepted by Mr. López Obrador with little resistance when they were first imposed by Mr. Trump.

Mr. López Obrador recently called for a new guest worker program for Mexicans and Central Americans in the United States, although Mr. Biden’s press secretary said on Monday the move would require legislation from Congress.

But while Mr. Trump initially threatened Mexico with tariffs and a shutdown of the border to win cooperation with his immigration agenda, Mr. Biden heaped praise on Mr. López Obrador on Monday. Mr. Biden has also signaled that he is eager to open the U.S.-Mexico border to full trade when the pandemic allows it to happen.

“The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together,” Mr. Biden said at the beginning of a virtual meeting with the Mexican president, while acknowledging that the countries have not been “perfect” neighbors. He said that during the Obama administration, “we looked at Mexico as an equal — you are equal.”

The conversation came after a tumultuous start between the two leaders. Mr. López Obrador, one of the last leaders to congratulate Mr. Biden on his election victory, had come to see the Biden administration as potentially more meddlesome than Mr. Trump’s, which mostly refrained from pressuring the Mexican president on domestic matters.

Mr. López Obrador also recently adopted a measure to restrict cooperation with American narcotics agents in a sharp rebuke after the United States arrested a former Mexican official on drug trafficking charges.

“What you do in Mexico and how you succeed affects the rest of the hemisphere,” Mr. Biden told him.

Mr. López Obrador later told Mr. Biden that “it is important that we base our good relationships on constant dialogue, periodic dialogue.”

Before the meeting, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, denounced what he called the “depths of cruelty” of the Trump administration’s immigration philosophy, telling reporters that the separation of families at the border was “the most powerful and heartbreaking example” of Mr. Trump’s assault on the immigration system.

But even as Mr. Biden seeks to unwind those policies, Mr. Mayorkas acknowledged that the United States continued to rely, for now, on a measure at the heart of Mr. Trump’s approach: a public health rule that requires border agents to quickly deport border crossers to Mexico without a chance to request asylum.

“They need to wait,” Mr. Mayorkas said of potential asylum seekers. “It takes time to rebuild the system from scratch.”

Mr. Biden has made immigration one of his top legislative and diplomatic priorities, moving quickly to raise Trump-era limits on refugees who can be allowed into the United States and calling on Congress to pass a far-reaching bill that would give a path to citizenship to 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the country.

The Biden administration has also formed a task force to unite parents separated from their children under Mr. Trump’s family separations policy. Mr. Mayorkas said on Monday that Michelle Brané, the former director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission, would lead the effort to unite the families, who could be provided the option to remain in the United States permanently. Mr. Mayorkas stopped short of promising the parents citizenship.

Republicans have already signaled that they intend to seize on Mr. Biden’s reversals of his predecessor’s immigration policies as a cornerstone in their efforts to take back Congress in 2022 and recapture the White House two years later.

In an echo of his successful 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump has already offered a road map for Republican candidates in 2022 by once again exaggerating the situation at the border and falsely stating that Mr. Biden’s approach is “to cancel border security.”

Mr. Mayorkas rejected the assertion that the situation at the border had evolved into a crisis, even as Customs and Border Protection reassigned agents from coastal and northern borders to the Rio Grande Valley “due to fluctuations along the southwest border,” according to an agency statement.

“There is a challenge at the border that we are managing,” Mr. Mayorkas said.

While Mr. Biden is unwinding the Migrant Protection Protocols program that forced migrants to wait in Mexico for an adjudication in their asylum cases, he has kept another Trump-era rule in place that empowers border agents to swiftly expel migrants and turn them over to Mexican authorities.

Both the Biden and Trump administrations have said the policy is necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in border communities, even as advocates for immigrants say it diminishes the due process rights of asylum seekers.

Border agents encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January, the highest number for that month in at least a decade, according to data from Customs and Border Protection. More than 80 percent of those arrests resulted in the swift expulsion of the migrant under the emergency rule, rather than the processing of a migrant in a detention facility.

Mr. Biden is not using the rule to expel unaccompanied migrant children, a practice that under Mr. Trump caused families to scramble to find Central American children and violated a diplomatic agreement with Mexico. Instead, under the Biden administration, most of the unaccompanied children, arriving from Central America by the hundreds per day, are being placed in quarantine and shuttled to shelters in the United States until they are matched with a relative sponsor.

With border detention facilities already at restricted capacity because of the pandemic, the Biden administration also opened a temporary shelter in Texas to house migrant teenagers. The use of temporary shelters faced widespread criticism during the Trump administration.

The new administration is hoping the temporary facilities are enough until it builds up infrastructure at the border. In the meantime, Mr. Biden continues to rely on Mr. Trump’s pandemic emergency rule to turn away new arrivals at the border.

Despite the emergency rule, border agents have for weeks released a limited number of families into communities in South Texas because of a change in Mexican law that has been the subject of internal discussions between Mexican and American government officials in recent weeks, according to a senior administration official.

Biden administration officials have said the recent change in Mexican law that prohibits the detention of small children in the state of Tamaulipas has forced border agents to release dozens of families per day into border communities in the United States. The Customs and Border Protection agency does not test each migrant for the coronavirus but relies on local officials to provide testing to the families after they are released, causing widespread concern in border communities, said Representative Henry Cuellar, Democrat of Texas.

At the same time, pandemic restrictions remain in place on nonessential travelers who have long stimulated the local economy along the border, he said.

The increase in migration, Mr. Cuellar said, has made the relationship with Mexico even more crucial. “The whole key is, how are they going to work with us?” he said.


Rewriting January 6th: Republicans push false and misleading accounts of Capitol riot

By Mike DeBonis and  Jeremy Barr
WA Post
March 2, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. GMT+2

Instead of an attempt to overturn the election by radicalized Donald Trump supporters, it was a choreographed attack staged by antifa provocateurs. Rather than an armed insurrection, it was a good-natured protest spoiled by a few troublemakers.

And instead of a deadly event that put the lives of hundreds of lawmakers, police officers and others at risk, the riot was no big deal at all.

A legion of conservative activists, media personalities and elected officials are seeking to rewrite the story of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, hoping to undermine the clear picture of the attack that has emerged from video and photo evidence, law enforcement officials, journalistic accounts and the testimonials of the rioters themselves: that a pro-Trump mob, mobilized by the former president’s false claims of a stolen election, stormed the seat of American government to keep Trump in power through violent means.

Six weeks after the attack, some are taking advantage of fading memories and unanswered questions to portray the riot in a different, more benign light. The effort comes as federal authorities begin prosecuting scores of alleged marauders, congressional committees seek to plug obvious security failures, and lawmakers consider establishing an outside commission to examine the matter.

On his top-rated Fox News Channel program last week, commentator Tucker Carlson told his audience that the attack did not constitute an “armed insurrection” and accused Democrats of a “relentless and coordinated” campaign to misrepresent the riot.

The next day, during the first public appearance of top Capitol security officials in charge during the riot at a Tuesday hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) spent much of his allotted time reading a firsthand account from Jan. 6 suggesting the violence was perpetrated by a small cadre — including left-wing extremists — who were out of character in an otherwise jovial crowd.

Later in the week, scores of Republican lawmakers criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats for maintaining a razor-wire perimeter for blocks around the Capitol, saying it was more about sending a political message than security, even as the acting chief of the Capitol Police described ongoing threats to lawmakers.

“I don’t think there’s any question that Democrats never want to let an opportunity go to waste to try to attack conservatives, and so they want to try to besmirch, smear, demean all conservatives in the name of a handful of people who did the wrong thing on Jan. 6,” said Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.).

The campaign to minimize or deny the events of Jan. 6 has been weeks in the making, with the efforts to muddy the waters about what happened and who participated taking shape on pro-Trump television networks while rioters were still on the grounds of the Capitol.

On the afternoon of Jan. 6, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who said he spent $450,000 on rallies contesting the results of the election, appeared on Newsmax and made a baseless claim that would set the tone for other early efforts by conservatives in media to deflect blame for the violence.

“There were probably some undercover antifa people that dressed as Trump people,” Lindell said, a claim that went unchallenged, if not supported, by host Chris Salcedo. Later in the day, Newsmax’s star host, Greg Kelly, offered a conspiracy theory, asking hypothetically, “Did someone want this to happen?”

By the evening of Jan. 6, the most influential voices on the Fox News Channel also seemed to latch onto the theory that outside agitators could have been responsible for the violence, with unfounded reports blaming antifa and leftist radicals exploding on social media networks.

“I have never seen Trump rally attendees wearing helmets, black helmets, brown helmets, black backpacks — the uniforms you saw in some of these crowd shots,” host Laura Ingraham said.

Those narratives — blaming leftists and excusing Trump — quickly gained traction among Republicans generally. A January poll conducted by the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center on American Life found that half of Republicans agreed with the assessment that antifa was “mostly responsible” for the Capitol attack, while only 15 percent blamed Trump for inciting the invasion. Another January survey, conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, found that 56 percent of Republicans held Trump blameless for the riot.

In fact, only one of the roughly 300 rioters charged by federal authorities is alleged in public court documents to have ties to radical left-wing groups. Instead, many are said to have close links to right-wing extremist organizations such as the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, and many more said they believed they were following Trump’s orders when they stormed the Capitol.

Charlie Sykes, a former radio host who founded the Bulwark, an anti-Trump conservative website, said the right-wing media ecosystem is building elaborate alternative narratives around scant data points.

“They will always find a way to adapt reality to the narrative, even when it requires some pretty massive leaps of logic and fact,” he said. “The further you get away from Jan. 6, the more it gets possible to say, ‘Well, it wasn’t that bad,’ or, ‘It wasn’t an armed insurrection.’ . . .­ It feels like this massive gaslighting that assumes that we have really short memories, and, in some cases, that is true.”

Democrats have responded to the campaign by blasting attempts to minimize the insurrection, urging vigilance against future violence from the political right and calling for more investigations of the attacks — including Trump’s role. Negotiations continue on Capitol Hill over creating an outside commission, but a proposal from Pelosi that would stack the body with Democratic appointees has encountered strong GOP opposition.

The day after Johnson aired the account that placed “agents-provocateurs” and “fake Trump protesters” on the scene before the riot, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the suggestion “mindless garbage” and part of a “campaign of misinformation, deception and conspiracy that helped fuel the attack on January 6th in the first place.”

Several lines of pointed questioning have emerged among Republicans who are eager to deflect attention from Trump’s central role in stoking the fundamental motive for the riot — the false claim that the November election was stolen from him.

Among the most pervasive has been an effort to question whether Pelosi was responsible for the violence by failing to properly prepare the Capitol campus. The push has been fueled in part by a claim from former Capitol Police chief Steven A. Sund that one of his bosses, House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving, told him he had to run a request for National Guard assistance “up the chain of command” before approving it.

On Feb. 15, four senior House Republicans sent a letter pressing Pelosi for answers, and the concern was quickly echoed on conservative media channels. On Sean Hannity’s prime time show that night, Fox News contributor and former congressman Jason Chaffetz said that Pelosi “is running out of excuses.” Two days later, Fox News host Maria Bartiromo speculated that Democrats sidestepped witnesses at Trump’s second impeachment trial because “somebody was going to ask Nancy Pelosi what she knew and when.”

Efforts to pin the blame on Pelosi were “one of the very few and clear pieces of misinformation about Jan. 6 that cut across the entire right-wing media echo chamber,” said Angelo Carusone, president of the left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters for America. “They were all singing from the same page.”

At the hearing Tuesday, senators including Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who backed Trump’s challenges to state electoral vote counts, pressed Irving on whether Pelosi or her staff obstructed calls for aid in any way. Irving repeatedly denied it, but calls for more answers have persisted.
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Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement that Republicans are “trying to deflect responsibility for the Capitol attack from Donald Trump” and that Pelosi is “focused on getting to the bottom of all issues facing the Capitol Complex and the events that led up to the insurrection.”

Even that terminology has been contested, with many Republicans challenging whether the mob — which, according to law enforcement officials and video evidence, included people equipped with zip-tie handcuffs, bear spray and tactical gear — truly intended to subvert democracy.

Many others have questioned whether the rioters could fairly be described as “armed,” despite court filings that describe multiple instances of dangerous weapons being wielded on the Capitol grounds. At least two people are facing federal firearms charges, and authorities reported seizing firearms and explosives from multiple arrestees.

The doubters include Johnson, who told conservative talk shows in his home state this past month that he rejected the “armed insurrection” label. The PolitiFact fact-checking operation termed that “ridiculous revisionist history,” but several other Republican lawmakers last week expressed doubts about calling it an “armed insurrection”

“If it was armed, it would have been a bloodbath,” said Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), who said the term has been embraced by Democrats to create the impression that “there’s a bunch of people running around in the woods with Army fatigues on the weekends, and they’re going to take over the country, and that’s just nonsense.”

A larger group of Republicans have grown suspicious of the ongoing fortifications of the Capitol, which include a razor-wire perimeter manned by a National Guard garrison. Nearly a dozen GOP lawmakers interviewed last week said they did not believe the precautions were warranted, and many said they believed it was part of a political effort to exaggerate the threat from right-wing extremists. Some have taken to calling the fortified Capitol campus “Fort Pelosi.”

“It’s not because anybody’s out there threatening to overthrow the country,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). “It’s because it fits their narrative.”

Another strain of rhetoric has emerged seeking to defend the motivations of the rioters — particularly from Carlson, who has spent time on several recent episodes of his show attacking the notion that the riot was motivated by racism, despite prosecutors alleging significant ties to white nationalist organizations among many of those charged.

“The rally wasn’t about race at all. And neither was the riot. It was about the election. The people at the Capitol really believed the presidential election was unfair. And they had reason to believe that,” Carlson said Thursday, before adding: “Nothing is an excuse for rioting.”

Speaking Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, T.W. Shannon, a former speaker of the Oklahoma House, told an overwhelmingly pro-Trump crowd that “the reason people stormed the Capitol is that they felt hopeless, because of a rigged election.”

But few Republicans have sought to reshape the story of Jan. 6 quite as fervently as Johnson, who is mulling whether to seek a third Senate term representing Wisconsin next year.

J. Michael Waller, a senior analyst at the right-wing Center for Security Policy who published the account Johnson read at Tuesday’s hearing, called Johnson a “contrarian” but said he accurately summarized his piece, which was first published by the Federalist.

Waller stood by his observation that the crowd was largely jovial and said he never meant to insinuate that there were no extremists in the crowd, only that they came from the left and the right. He criticized those who were “grabbing one small piece and falsely saying this is a discredited conspiracy theory.”

“If my story is debunked by the facts, that’s fine with me,” he said. “I’m just saying what I saw.”

Johnson has also questioned other facts surrounding the riot. He sent a letter to congressional colleagues that included an inquiry about the cause of death of Brian D. Sicknick, the 42-year-old Capitol Police officer who died Jan. 6 and was given a hero’s farewell, including lying in honor in the Rotunda.
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Conservative activists have seized on changing accounts about Sicknick’s death to suggest that the precise circumstances have been hidden to further the Democratic political agenda. Authorities have not disclosed an official cause of death, but news emerged Friday that investigators have uncovered video appearing to show someone spraying a chemical irritant at Sicknick and other law enforcement personnel.

Johnson defended his approach to the riot, saying he viewed his role as raising questions for the various investigations to answer.

“I’m not afraid of information,” he said. “Some people seem to be afraid of the truth. I’m not. I’m just trying to get the whole truth.”

Karoun Demirjian, Scott Clement, Spencer Hsu, David Weigel and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.


 CPAC revealed something even more terrifying than Trump's fanatical personality cult

Amanda Marcotte, Salon
March 02, 2021

If you want a perfect emblem of the current state of Republican politics, look to the story of how Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., spent this past weekend.

On Friday night, Gosar attended a conference for unvarnished fascists, where the main organizer gave a speech calling for America to be white nationalist country and openly celebrated the insurrection spearheaded by Donald Trump on Jan. 6. On Saturday, while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Gosar lamely claimed to denounce "white racism," clearly feeling that those magic words erased his participation in and support for those who are organizing white racists to take over the country through force.

It should be silly that Gosar believes that simply declaring "I denounce" is enough to negate all his concrete actions in favor of white nationalism, but the sad fact is that he has good reason to think it will work. After all, that's how things have been working for years in this country. Call it the fascism two-step: First, Republicans do something overtly fascist. Then they wave off concerns about their fascism by faking umbrage and relying on the widespread belief that "it can never happen here" to paint their critics as hysterical. Gosar was just a particularly blunt and obvious example, but it's the strategy that's been used throughout Trump's presidency and now is being heavily employed to minimize the attempted insurrection.

Much was written, both on social and plain old regular media, about how CPAC this year was cementing Trump's power over the GOP and turning the party into a cult of personality for their orange-hued buffoon of a leader. Indeed, it's both alarming and darkly funny, from the rapturous reception of his predictably whiny stemwinder to the ridiculous gold statue of Trump that was on display, which drew thousands of jokes about golden calves. But really, the Trump worship is only part of what is the bigger and much scarier story of CPAC.

The conference was geared around the task of completing the transformation of the Republican party into an overtly authoritarian — even fascist — party that is focused on seizing and holding power against the will of the American people. The Trump idolatry is part of that — what's a fascist party without a cult around a narcissistic leader? — but ultimately, Trump still functions as he always has, which is as a tool for his followers to get what they want, and not an ends in himself. And what they want, as CPAC made quite clear, is to make the U.S. a white nationalist country, which is always what the "MAGA" slogan stood for.

The CPAC straw poll showed only 55% of attendees endorsed Trump as their favorite for the Republican presidential nominee. However, a full 97% approved of Trump's performance in office, despite him ending his presidency by launching a coup that ended in a bloody attack on the Capitol. Trump himself they can leave or take. But the insurrection and the violent assault on American democracy? That is what the CPAC crowd is all about.

As Heather "Digby" Parton noted at Salon Monday morning, "Trump went out of his way to cancel a whole lot of Republicans he considers disloyal, promising to do everything in his power to 'get rid of 'em all,'" and then proceeded to name "every single GOP politician who voted for impeachment individually, his voice dripping with venom."

This is a result, of course, of Trump's famous narcissism and his obsessive cataloging of his enemies. But it is also, and more importantly, about something else: Purging the party of anyone who isn't on board with a fascist agenda. The targets of Trump's wrath are the only Republicans who drew the line at a violent attempt to overthrow the government. This isn't about just remaking the party in his own image, but remaking they party as one explicitly supportive of violent insurrections. Frankly, it won't be a hard task, since, as his pathetically short list showed, few Republicans were even interested in opposing his coup in the first place.

CPAC's anti-democratic agenda was made clear by all the non-Trump programming of the conference. Multiple panels and individual speakers hyped Trump's lies about how he is the "real" winner of the election, less out of mindless Trump worship and more because those lies fit their larger agenda: Denying the legitimacy of Democratic voters, especially voters of color. The subtext was made textual but Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who gave a speech explicitly declaring: "We can have a republic where the people rule or we can have an oligarchy where Big Tech and the liberals rule."

Hawley's a formulation that puts liberals outside of the category of "the people." As Philip Bump of the Washington Post wrote, "The reason 'the liberals' have power in Washington at the moment is that more Americans voted for Democrats in the 2020 election" and Hawley's dichotomy suggests "liberals aren't Americans who have a voice in government."

The "liberals aren't legitimate Americans" notion was baked directly into Trump's coup efforts, which — until the Captiol riot, anyway — were largely focused on throwing out the votes in big, liberal cities, by declaring these votes "corrupt" and "fake". No evidence of illegal voting either was introduced nor was it needed. For Trump voters, the fact that these voters are racially diverse and prefer Democrats inherently renders their votes illegitimate.

On top of the anti-democracy rhetoric, CPAC was heavy on another major feature of fascism: An eagerness to use violence, especially against racial minorities, to stifle political opposition.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for instance, defended his "very simple message" from a notorious 2020 New York Times op-ed. In it, he lied about Black Lives Matter protests, characterizing them as "riots" when the vast majority were peaceful and used these lies as a pretext to demand martial law and the use of violence to put down protests. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also pushed the violent fantasies of putting down Black Lives Matter protesters by declaring, "In Houston where I live, I have to tell you, there weren't any rioters because let's be very clear, if there had been, they would discover what the state of Texas thinks about the 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms."

In reality, the reason there weren't any riots was that violence was quite rare at Black Lives Matter protests generally. Rigorous analysis from the fall shows that 93% of the protests nationwide were peaceful and, furthermore, most of the violence was directed against the protesters, and not caused by them. For instance, in Washington D.C., Trump set law enforcement to tear gas a peaceful crowd of protesters in Lafayette Park. In Philadelphia, police gassed a group of peaceful protesters, who were trapped by a fence. Houston's lack of violence probably has more to do with the surprisingly progressive police chief who chose to march with the protesters over assaulting them.

But these facts don't matter. The point is putting up a thin pretext of concern about largely non-existent "riots" to excuse what these speakers and their audience really wants: To use violence to silence political protest. And at a conference that was organized around feigned concern for "free speech", no less.

There were innumerable more examples. I was particularly struck by Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee expressing outrage that anyone would dare "fact-check" Trump, a distillation of the authoritarian belief that "truth" is what Dear Leader says it is, actual facts be damned.

But overall, the picture painted at CPAC was clear, even before Trump set foot on the stage. This crowd is blatantly fascist. They oppose any democracy that includes people of color as equals, believe the "winner" of an election is the guy who got the most white voters and wallow in fantasies of violently suppressing Black protesters. And they are remaking the GOP in their image, whether they use Trump or some other repulsive figure as their figurehead to do it.


 Republicans are dangerously close to killing something the American public loves – and desperately needs

Heather Cox Richardson, Moyers & Company
March 02, 2021

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the House of Representatives passed the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill requested by the Biden administration. The vote was 219 to 212, with two Democrats — Jared Golden (D-ME) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) — voting no. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.

The coronavirus relief bill illustrates a crisis in our democracy.

This measure is enormously popular. On Thursday, the day before the House took up the bill, a poll by Morning Consult/Politico showed that 76% of Americans liked the measure, including 60% of Republicans. It includes $1400 stimulus checks which, together with the $600 checks in the previous package, get us to the $2000 checks that former president Trump, a Republican, demanded.

It includes increased unemployment benefits of $400 weekly, provides $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, establishes tax credits for children, provides money to reopen schools, funds $8.5 billion to distribute vaccines, and gives small business relief.

The bill is popular among Republican mayors and governors, whose governments cannot borrow to make up for tax revenue lost because of the pandemic and who are facing deficits of $80 to $100 billion even with money from the last relief packages. The deficits will require devastating cuts on top of the 1.3 million jobs that have already been cut in the past year. Relief is "not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue," Fresno, California, mayor Jerry Dyer told Griff Witte of the Washington Post earlier this month. "It's a public health issue. It's an economic issue. And it's a public safety issue."

Those in favor of the measure note that while there is still close to $1 trillion unspent from previous coronavirus relief bills, currently unspent money has been assigned already: it is distributed among programs that are designed to spend it over a period of time. This includes federal employment benefits, which are distributed weekly; the Paycheck Protection Program, which is held in reserve for employers to apply for funds from it; enhanced medical matching funds to be distributed as the pandemic requires; and tax breaks to be spent as people file their tax returns.

The chair of the Federal Reserve, which oversees our banking system, Jerome H. Powell, has backed the idea of increased federal spending; so has Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Powell was nominated to his current position by Trump (he was nominated to the Federal Reserve Board by President Barack Obama); Yellen is a Biden appointee.

This is a bill that should have gotten some Republican votes in the House of Representatives.

But it didn't. Republican lawmakers are complaining about the partisan vote and scoffing that President Biden promised to unify the country. But the problem is not the bill. The problem is the Republican lawmakers, who are determined to oppose anything the Democrats propose.

The American Rescue Plan bill now goes to the Senate, where Republican senators appear to be united against it. In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) complained about the Democrats' "deliberately partisan process" in writing the bill, but the Republicans willing to meet with President Biden — McConnell was not one of them– proposed a measure that provided less than one-third the relief in the present bill. There is enormous urgency to passing the bill quickly, since current federal unemployment benefits expire on March 14.

The Senate is evenly split between the Democrats and the Republicans, with each party holding 50 seats (technically, Senators Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are Independents, but they currently work with the Democrats). Although each party effectively holds 50 seats, the Democrats represent 41.5 million more Americans than the Republicans do, in nation that has 328.2 million people.

In addition to their disproportionate power in the Senate, the Republicans can stop legislation through the filibuster. This is a holdover from an earlier era, in which a senator could stop a bill approved by a majority by refusing to stop talking about it, which would prevent the bill from coming to a vote unless senators voted to invoke "cloture," a process that limits consideration of a pending bill to 30 additional hours. Today, cloture requires 60 votes.

The filibuster was rarely used before about 1960; in the early twentieth century, southern senators used it primarily to stop civil rights legislation. But as the volume of business in the Senate raised the need to streamline debate, the Senate reformed the filibuster so that a senator could simply threaten a filibuster to kill a bill.

Our current Republican lawmakers use these "holds" to kill any measure that cannot muster 60 votes, effectively turning the Senate into a body that requires not a majority to pass legislation, but rather a supermajority. Those who defend the filibuster argue that this supermajority requirement will make senators create bills that are bipartisan, but in fact it has meant that a small minority controls the Senate.

So Democrats will have to pass the American Rescue Plan through a procedure known as "reconciliation," which enables certain budget bills to pass with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes currently necessary for a regular bill. But the Senate can only pass three bills a year through this process, and there are strict limits to what can be in them. The Senate parliamentarian, a nonpartisan judge of the procedural rules of the Senate, has decided that the $15-an-hour federal minimum wage in the current bill does not meet the requirements of reconciliation. Fifty-nine percent of Americans like the idea of raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2025, as the bill sets out, but the hike cannot be included in the convoluted process necessary to get the bill through without the supermajority the current filibuster system requires.

Senate leadership can overrule or fire the parliamentarian, but that really doesn't matter in this case because at least one Democrat, Senate Joe Manchin (D-WV), opposes the increased minimum wage. His opposition would sink the entire measure because the Democrats need every one of their 50 votes.

The American Rescue Plan will likely pass—without the increased minimum wage—but it will do so only because the Democrats won both Georgia Senate seats in January, giving them an equal number of senators to the Republicans.

The Democrats will be able to pass a bill popular with more than 3 out of 4 of us only because they have a slight majority in the House and can use a special budget measure to work around the Republican senators who represent 41.5 million fewer Americans than the Democrats do.

The coronavirus relief bill illustrates just how dangerously close we are to minority rule.

 on: Today at 04:07 AM 
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Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy sentenced to jail for corruption

Sarkozy found guilty of corruption and influence peddling but is unlikely to spend time in prison

Kim Willsher in Paris
2 Mar 2021 13.16 GMT

When the verdict came, it reduced the Paris court to a stunned silence: Nicolas Sarkozy was guilty of corruption and influence peddling, and sentenced to three years in prison, two of them suspended.

France’s president from 2007 to 2012 had played an “active role” in forging a “corruption pact” with his lawyer and a senior magistrate to obtain information on a separate investigation into political donations, the leading judge declared, and there was “serious and concurring evidence” of collaboration between the three men to break the law.

The conviction and sentence were dramatic, unexpected and historic. Sarkozy, 66, had repeatedly declared his innocence and dismissed the charges as an “insult to my intelligence”.

It is, however, unlikely he will spend a day in jail. His lawyer has announced he intends to appeal, a process that would lead to a new trial, and a one-year prison sentence can be served outside jail under certain conditions, including the wearing of an electronic bracelet or limited home confinement.

Sarkozy did not comment as he left the court but his wife, the supermodel turned singer Carla Bruni, on Instagram described the verdict as an “injustice”.

“What relentless nonsense my love,” she wrote. “The battle continues, the truth will out.”

While Sarkozy was not banned from holding public office, the verdict, delivered on Monday afternoon, is likely to quash his hopes of returning to public life in time for next year’s presidential election. His centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party has been struggling to come up with a credible candidate since Sarkozy’s former prime minister François Fillon was engulfed in scandal during the 2017 presidential race, opening the way for Emmanuel Macron to win.

At his trial last year, the court heard how Sarkozy instructed his lawyer, Thierry Herzog, to offer the senior magistrate Gilbert Azibert a cushy job on the Côte d’Azur in return for information on an investigation into whether he had received donations from the ailing L’Oréal heiress Liliane Bettencourt.

The Bettencourt case was eventually dropped, but by then an investigation into corruption and influence peddling had been opened.

The judge Christine Mée, the president of the tribunal, said there was serious evidence of a “corruption pact” between Sarkozy, Herzog and Azibert. Herzog, aged 65, and Azibert, 73, were given similar sentences of three years, two suspended.

The case, based on telephone taps, became known as the “Bismuth affair”; Paul Bismuth was the name the former president employed in connection to two burner telephones used to communicate with Herzog.

French detectives began monitoring Sarkozy’s communications in September 2013 as part of an investigation into claims he had received an illegal and undeclared €50m donation from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to fund his successful 2007 presidential campaign.

What they heard from the recorded conversations pointed investigators in a new and unexpected direction. They revealed the former president and Herzog were “secretly” communicating using mobile telephones registered under false names.

Additional wiretaps on these phones picked up conversations suggesting Sarkozy had been in contact with Azibert, then a member of the cour de cassation – the highest court in France – via Herzog to request confidential information about the Bettencourt case.

Sarkozy, who is embroiled in several legal cases, has repeatedly denied accusations of any wrongdoing in all past and present investigations.

He spent years attempting to have the Bismuth charges thrown out and the case dismissed. Herzog argued the secretly recorded conversations between him and Sarkozy were covered by client-lawyer privilege and could not be used as evidence.

Before his trial last year, Sarkozy had said he welcomed the hearing as a chance to “clean my name”.

“I am combative. I have no intention of being accused of things I haven’t done. I’m not corrupt and what has been inflicted on me is a scandal that will rest in the annals. The truth will out,” Sarkozy told BFMTV.

The former president is expected to appear in court later this month in yet another case, the “Bygmalion affair”, in which he is accused of overspending on his 2012 re-election bid.

He is also being investigated on allegations of influence peddling and “laundering of crime or misdemeanour” related to consulting activities in Russia.

Sarkozy supporters have accused French judges of making the former president the target of an unfair and relentless legal crusade.

He is the first former president to appear in court on criminal charges. His predecessor Jacques Chirac was charged and convicted, receiving a two-year suspended sentence, over fake jobs at City Hall when he was mayor of Paris – but was spared taking the stand because of ill health.

At the end of his two-week trial last year, Sarkozy’s said: “This case has been for me the stations of the cross. But if that was the price to pay for the truth to come out, I am ready to accept it … I still have confidence in the justice of our country.”

Herzog was also convicted of breaching the rules of professional secrecy between him and his client. Herzog and Azibert have announced they will appeal against their conviction.

After the verdict, Damien Abad, the president of LR’s parliamentary group, tweeted: “Today I want to again express my friendship with President Nicolas Sarkozy. His life has been a succession of trials that he has never ceased to overcome with energy and courage. Once again he will prove this. I am certain of it.”

 on: Today at 04:04 AM 
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Criminal complaint filed against Mohammed bin Salman in German court

Reporters without Borders accuses Saudi heir of crimes against humanity over persecution of journalists

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington and Michael Safi
Tue 2 Mar 2021 09.30 GMT

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-ranking Saudi officials have been accused of committing crimes against humanity in a criminal complaint filed in Germany by Reporters without Borders (RSF), the press freedom group.

The 500-page complaint, filed with the German public prosecutor in general in the federal court of justice in Karlsruhe, centres on the “widespread and systematic” persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the arbitrary detention of 34 journalists there and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist.

“These journalists are the victims of unlawful killing, torture, sexual violence and coercion and forced disappearance,” said Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, at a press conference on Tuesday.

RSF has chosen to file its complaint in Germany because German laws give its courts jurisdiction over international crimes committed abroad, even without a German connection. RSF indicated that it hoped its complaint, which centres on Prince Mohammed and four senior officials, will lead the German prosecutor to open what is known as a “situation analysis”, which could lead to a formal prosecutorial investigation into whether the Saudi officials have committed crimes against humanity by targeting reporters.

“The official opening of a criminal investigation in Germany into the crimes against humanity in Saudi Arabia would be a world first,” said RSF Germany director Christian Mihr. “We ask the public prosecutor general to open a situation analysis, with a view to formally launching a prosecutorial investigation and issuing arrest warrants.”

RSF said that the journalists who are in detention are victims of multiple counts of crimes against humanity, including wilful killing, torture, sexual violence and coercion, enforced disappearance, unlawful deprivation of liberty, and persecution. By focusing on dozens of cases of journalists who are being detained, RSF said it was revealing that all Saudi journalists, particularly those who speak out against the government, were under threat.

“The truth has been revealed but that is not enough,” said Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, who said she would give evidence as part of any investigation. “The murderer cannot be allowed to get away with it, otherwise it will happen again.”

The complaint came just days after the US release of an unclassified intelligence report into Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in the Saudi consulate, which US intelligence agencies said was approved by the 35-year-old Saudi heir.

The bid by RSF to try to get German prosecutors to open a case against the Saudi crown prince followed the recent conviction in Germany of a former Syrian secret police officer of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity for his role in the torture of protesters a decade ago. Eyad al-Gharib, a 44-year-old former low-ranking officer in the Syrian intelligence service, carried out orders in one of Bashar al-Assad’s prisons.

The “suspects” in RSF’s Saudi case are the crown prince, known as “MBS”, his close adviser Saud al-Qahtani, Ahmad Asiri, who has been sanctioned by the US and is alleged to have supervised Khashoggi’s murder, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the consul general in Istanbul at the time of the murder, and Maher Mutreb, an intelligence officer who is accused of leading the torture.

The Biden administration has been criticised for its decision not to take further actions against Prince Mohammed, even as it publicly acknowledged he was behind the Khashoggi murder. The Saudi government has denied it planned to assassinate the Washington Post columnist and has said the killing was a rogue operation by Saudi agents.

 on: Today at 04:02 AM 
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Nigerian governor says 279 kidnapped schoolgirls are freed


GUSAU, Nigeria (AFP) — Hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last week from a boarding school in the northwestern Zamfara state have been released, the state’s governor said Tuesday. Zamfara state governor Bello Matawalle announced that 279 girls have been freed. The government last week said 317 had been kidnapped.

Gunmen abducted the girls from the Government Girls Junior Secondary School in Jangebe town on Friday, in the latest in a series of mass kidnappings of students in the West African nation. An Associated Press reporter saw hundreds of girls dressed in light blue hijabs and barefoot sitting at the state Government House office in Gusau.

After the meeting, the girls were escorted outside by officials and lined up to be taken away in vans. They appeared calm and ranged in ages from 10 and up. Matawalle said they would be taken for medical examinations before being reunited with their families.

“Alhamdulillah! (God be praised!) It gladdens my heart to announce the release of the abducted students of GGSS Jangebe from captivity. This follows the scaling of several hurdles laid against our efforts. I enjoin all well-meaning Nigerians to rejoice with us as our daughters are now safe,” Matawalle said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday.

At the time of the attack, one resident told AP that the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from responding to the mass abduction at the school. One of the girls recounted the night of their abduction to the AP.

“We were sleeping at night when suddenly we started hearing gunshots. They were shooting endlessly. We got out of our beds and people said we should run, that they are thieves,” she said. “Everybody fled and there were just two of us left in the room.”

The attackers held guns to the girls' heads, she said. “I was really afraid of being shot,” she said, adding that they asked for directions to the staff quarters and the principal. “We said we don't know who she is. They said the principal is our father and they will teach us a lesson."

Police and the military had since been carrying out joint operations to rescue the girls, whose abduction caused international outrage. President Muhammadu Buhari expressed “overwhelming joy” over the release of the girls.

“I join the families and people of Zamfara State in welcoming and celebrating the release of these traumatized female students," he said in a statement. “Being held in captivity is an agonizing experience not only for the victims, but also their families and all of us.”

The president called for greater vigilance to prevent bandits from carrying out such attacks. He urged police and military to pursue the kidnappers, and warned that policies of making payments to bandits will backfire.

“Ransom payments will continue to prosper kidnapping,” he said. The terms of the female students' release were not made immediately clear. Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings in recent years. On Saturday, 24 students, six staff and eight relatives were released after being abducted on February 17 from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger state. In December, more than 300 schoolboys from a secondary school in Kankara, in northwestern Nigeria, were taken and later released. The government has said no ransom was paid for the students’ release.

The most notorious kidnapping was in April 2014, when 276 girls were abducted by the jihadist rebels of Boko Haram from the secondary school in Chibok in Borno state. More than 100 of those girls are still missing. Boko Haram is opposed to western education and its fighters often target schools.

Other organized armed groups, locally called bandits, often abduct students for money. The government says large groups of armed men in Zamfara state are known to kidnap for money and to press for the release of their members held in jail.

Experts say if the kidnappings continue to go unpunished, they may continue.

 on: Today at 04:01 AM 
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Dutch PM's popularity high but eroding as election looms


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AFP) — After more than a decade in power and a year spent battling the virus, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's popularity — boosted by his handling of the pandemic — remains high two weeks before a general election.

But amid a tough COVID-19 lockdown, that support is showing signs of eroding as the Dutch grow weary of pandemic restrictions. The election is being held over three days, starting with a limited number of polling booths opening on March 15 and 16 for people who are extra vulnerable to the coronavirus before the main voting day on March 17. Some 2.4 million people aged over 70 are entitled to vote by mail.

It's shaping up as a referendum on the government's handling of the unprecedented health crisis and political parties' differing plans for the country's economic and social recovery when it finally ends.

Rutte's conservative People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, is currently projected to win about twice as many seats as its nearest rival in the 150-seat lower house of parliament. Political science professor Tom van der Meer of Amsterdam University says the VVD's huge lead in the polls is partly a result of the pandemic.

“The popularity of Mark Rutte ... got a big boost last year due to the COVID-19 crisis,” Van der Meer said. Rutte’s regular TV appearances — to explain new lockdown measures, relax some restrictions or announce multibillion state support packages for ailing businesses —have cast him as a strong, dependable leader working tirelessly to protect his nation from the worst of the pandemic.

But with the election approaching, support for the virus lockdown is fading and many Dutch businesses are growing increasingly angry at being shuttered for months. The Netherlands has seen over 15,700 deaths in the pandemic and officials fear the impact of the highly transmissible and more deadly U.K. virus variant.

“We see that this rally-around-the-flag effect has diminished,” Van der Meer said. “But at the same time, voters for the VVD haven’t really yet had this clear reason to move away.” If the VVD emerges as the largest party in parliament, the 54-year-old Rutte will be first in line to form the country's next governing coalition and begin a fourth term in office. That would make him the longest-serving Dutch prime minister, overtaking the 12-year tenure of Ruud Lubbers.

Opposition parties, however, are keen to stress their differences with Rutte, even though they have largely supported his government's efforts to rein in the pandemic. Parties on the left accuse him of running the country's health service down with years of market-driven reforms.

Rutte's ongoing popularity is all the more striking because his government resigned in January over a scandal involving tax office attempts to root out fraud among parents claiming child benefit payments, leaving Rutte as a caretaker leader. A parliamentary inquiry concluded last year that tax office policies that included racial profiling violated “fundamental principles of the rule of law.”

In the campaign's first major televised debate on Sunday, Rutte was confronted by one of the parents, Kristie Rongen, who told him: “You have failed me.” “Why do you think that you can stay on as the person who is ultimately responsible in the benefit scandal?” she asked.

“I asked myself the same question,” Rutte replied. “This is such a stain, such a debacle, but I weighed up that so many things have gone well in the last 10 years and that I’m proud of and I decided in the end to keep going."

The largest Dutch opposition party is the Party for Freedom led by populist, anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders, who has harshly criticized the government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis, from the slow start of its vaccination program to its imposing a curfew.

But most mainstream parties reject the idea of working in a coalition with Wilders because of his strident anti-Islam rhetoric, effectively putting his party out of the running to join a new government.

The right-wing populist Forum For Democracy, which performed strongly two years ago during a provincial election, has imploded over the last year amid reports of anti-Semitism in its ranks. Some key members have left and set up a rival party that is fielding candidates in the March election.

That new party is among a record 37 groups registered to take part in the election, a further fragmentation of the Dutch political landscape that could make forming a new ruling coalition tricky. After the last election in March 2017, it took a post-World War II record 225 days to form Rutte's third Cabinet.

Labor Party leader Lilianne Ploumen has appealed to left-leaning parties to work together, saying “if we don't, the only one laughing will be the VVD.”

 on: Today at 03:56 AM 
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Coronavirus crisis unlikely to be over by the end of the year, WHO warns

Dr Michael Ryan says Covid-19 is ‘very much in control’ as global infections rise for first time in almost two months

Melissa Davey
Tue 2 Mar 2021 01.43 GMT

Despite the spread of Covid-19 being slowed in some countries due to lockdowns and vaccination programs, it is “premature” and “unrealistic” to the think the pandemic will be over by the end of the year, the World Health Organization’s executive director of emergency services has said.

Speaking at a press briefing Geneva, Dr Michael Ryan said while vaccinating the most vulnerable people, including healthcare workers, would help remove the “tragedy and fear” from the situation, and would help to ease pressure on hospitals, the “virus is very much in control”.

“It will be very premature, and I think unrealistic, to think that we’re going to finish with this virus by the end of the year,” Ryan said.

“If the vaccines begin to impact not only on death and not only on hospitalisation, but have a significant impact on transmission dynamics and transmission risk, then I believe we will accelerate toward controlling this pandemic.”

The number of new global infections rose last week for the first time in almost two months. Reported cases increased in four of the WHO’s six regions: the Americas, Europe, south-east Asia and the eastern Mediterranean.

“This is disappointing, but not surprising,” said the director general of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We’re working to better understand these increases in transmission. Some of it appears to be due to relaxing of public health measures, continued circulation of variants, and people letting down their guard.”

He said while vaccines would help to save lives, “if countries rely solely on vaccines, they’re making a mistake”.

“Basic public health measures remain the foundation of the response,” he said.

Tedros also highlighted inequality in vaccine access. He welcomed the first Covid-19 vaccine doses being administered in Africa on Monday, in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. But he added that “it’s regrettable that this comes almost three months after some of the wealthiest countries started their vaccination campaigns”.

“And it’s regrettable that some countries continue to prioritise vaccinating younger, healthier adults at lower risk of disease in their own populations ahead of health workers and older people elsewhere,” he said.

“Countries are not in a race with each other, this is a common race against the virus.
We’re not asking countries to put their own people at risk. We’re asking all countries to be part of a global effort to suppress the virus everywhere.

“We are also concerned about the reported arrest of health workers in Myanmar that could affect the response to Covid-19 and the delivery of other essential health services. And in Ethiopia, the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region has put many health facilities and hospitals out of action. We are deeply concerned about the risk of diseases due to lack of food, clean water, shelter and access to health care.”


Experts warn Brazil facing darkest days of Covid crisis as deaths hit highest level

Intensive care units in 17 of the country’s 26 states were near capacity, while six states and the capital had run out of ICU beds

Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro
2 Mar 2021 19.28 GMT

Health experts and lawmakers have warned Brazil is steaming into the darkest days of its coronavirus catastrophe, as fatalities soared to new heights and one prominent politician compared the crisis to an atomic bomb.

Politicians from across the spectrum voiced anger and exasperation at the deteriorating situation on Monday, after Brazil’s weekly average of Covid deaths hit its highest level since the epidemic began last February and hospitals around the country reported being swamped.

According to the newspaper O Globo, intensive care units in 17 of Brazil’s 26 states were near capacity, while six states and the capital Brasília had run out of intensive care beds altogether.

“We are living through one of the worst moments in our history,” said Tasso Jereissati, an influential centre-right politician who is among a group of senators demanding a congressional investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro’s globally condemned handling of the pandemic.

Renato Casagrande, the leftwing governor of Espírito Santo state, told the news website UOL he believed Bolsonaro’s irresponsible behaviour had cost Brazilian lives.

“We’ve lost the war … It’s as if an atomic bomb has landed on Brazil,” Casagrande said, pointing to Brazil’s soaring death toll which, at more than 255,000 people, is the world’s second highest after the US.

Luiz Henrique Mandetta, who was Bolsonaro’s health minister until he was fired last April, told O Globo that Brazil’s failure to launch a rapid vaccination scheme meant the average daily death toll could soon rise to over 2,000.

“I don’t know where this will end … The country is running the risk of becoming one big Manaus,” Mandetta warned in reference to the Amazonian capital which made international headlines in January after hospitals ran out of oxygen because of a Covid surge.

It has now been just over a year since Brazil registered its first official Covid case, on 26 February. Brazil’s first death was recorded in mid-March.

Mandetta, who was fired after challenging Bolsonaro over Covid, has claimed that before leaving government he warned the president the death toll could reach 180,000 before a vaccine was found.

But Bolsonaro, who has trivialized Covid as “a bit of a cold”, ignored those appeals, resisted quarantine measures and, one year into the outbreak, continues to undermine lockdown efforts by disparaging masks and promoting crowded public events.

In December Bolsonaro falsely claimed his country had reached “the tail end of the pandemic”.

Last Friday, as Brazil reported its highest daily number of deaths, Bolsonaro travelled to the north-eastern state of Ceará – where the leftwing governor had imposed a Covid curfew – to hold a Trump-style rally at which he railed against such measures before a throng of supporters and claimed people could no longer bear to stay at home.

That appearance sparked outrage among political opponents and fuelled calls for an inquiry into Bolsonaro’s actions.

Jereissati, who represents Ceará in the senate, said Bolsonaro’s “reckless” undermining of containment measures “bordered on insanity”.

“In my opinion, what he did here was a crime against public health,” he said.

“It was one of the most irresponsible acts that I’ve ever seen from a Brazilian president. We experienced a tough period of military rule here, which I lived through, but I’ve never seen anything so irresponsible and foolish as what happened here in Ceará.”

Jereissati added: “The president seems to believe that he can behave however he likes without facing any kind of consequences himself. With an inquiry, we hope to show the president that he must be held legally, and even criminally, responsible for his actions … These actions have consequences – and they need to have consequences for him too.”

Jean Paul Prates, a Workers’ party senator, said an inquiry could prevent the death toll soaring further.

“There is still time to save lives and to pressure the government into changing its behaviour so it doesn’t keep clinging to certain positions just because of dogmatism or pseudo-ideology,” Prates said.

Bolsonaro’s political standing was bolstered last month after candidates he had backed were elected to the presidencies of the senate and lower house. Analysts believe that is likely to free Bolsonaro from the threat of impeachment, for now at least.

However, the far-right populist is facing mounting public anger over the soaring death toll and its spluttering vaccination drive.

So far just 3.8% of Brazil’s population has been vaccinated with state capitals such as Rio, Salvador, Cuiabá, Porto Alegre and Florianópolis among the cities forced to temporarily suspend immunisation for lack of shots.

Calls for the impeachment of a man critics call “Bozo” can be seen graffitied on to walls across major cities while propaganda hoardings promoting the far-right populist have been vandalised with red paint. Both left- and rightwing detractors have taken to the streets in protest in recent weeks.

The outlook appeared bleak in many of Brazil’s states on Monday, as an association of state health secretaries called for an immediate nationwide curfew from 8pm until 6am to curb infections.

“We are facing our worst moment, with the worst president for this moment,” said Jereissati. “It didn’t need to be like this at all – on the contrary.”

 on: Today at 03:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
NASA has never seen a comet here before

By Mike Wehner

    Our solar system is full of objects much smaller than planets and moons, and sometimes they show up in the strangest places.
    NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted what appears to be a comet hanging out near the group of asteroids corralled by Jupiter.
    A comet has never been spotted in this location before, and scientists are running simulations to figure out where it originated.

The Hubble Space Telescope, which is operated by NASA and the European Space Agency, has spent much of its life peering deep into space in search of new discoveries. It’s really, really good at that, but it’s also just as adept at revealing secrets that lie much closer to home. Recently, researchers using Hubble observations were able to detect what appears to be a comet hanging out in an area of our solar system where comets aren’t typically spotted.

In a new paper published in The Astronomical Journal, scientists reveal the presence of the comet near a band of asteroids that Jupiter corralled long ago. The asteroids are known as Trojans, and they orbit the Sun but are also controlled by the gravitational power of Jupiter. Now, a comet has joined the group.

Jupiter is often called the king of the solar system, and there’s a very good reason for that. The massive gas giant has been credited with shielding the inner planets from potentially dangerous asteroids, pulling them into a Sun-centric orbit and preventing them from traveling deeper into the solar system. But its influence isn’t limited to asteroids, and as we now see with this new “comet-like object,” the planet is good at pulling in all kinds of stuff.

As NASA explains in a blog post, the object is believed to be a type of icy body called a Centaur, which is typically spotted cruising around between Jupiter and Neptune. When heated by the Sun, the ice sublimates and gives them a more comet-like appearance.

“The cool thing is that you’re actually catching Jupiter flinging this object around and changing its orbital behavior and bringing it into the inner system,” co-author Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said in a statement. “Jupiter controls what’s going on with comets once they get into the inner system by altering their orbits.”

By observing its current movements, the researchers are also able to estimate its past journey as well as its future. Unfortunately for the comet, which has been given the designation LD2, it might be bound for deep space. The researchers simulating the comet’s future movements suggest that it may end up being flung out of our solar system entirely, but that isn’t expected to happen for around 500,000 years. In the meantime, it will eventually depart from its home around Jupiter and, depending on a variety of factors, meet up with it again before being tossed from our system.

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