April 2021 News

 
 

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Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative April 2021 news and views

 

April 3

Top Headlines

 

U.S. Governance, Politics

 

Virus Victims, Responses

 

Top Stories

 george floyd derek chauvin

George Floyd, above left, and former police officer Derek Chauvin, whose trial began Monday.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Derek Chauvin’s use of force against George Floyd was ‘totally unnecessary,’ senior officer testifies, Holly Bailey and Robert Samuels, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). Capping a dramatic first week of testimony in Chauvin’s murder trial, Lt. Richard Zimmerman questioned the reasoning and technique behind Floyd’s restraint, saying the man no longer appeared to be a threat.

Derek Chauvin used force that was “totally unnecessary” when he knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nine minutes and 29 seconds while Floyd was handcuffed and no longer a threat, the longest-serving officer in the Minneapolis department testified Friday.

Capping a dramatic first week of testimony in Chauvin’s murder trial, Lt. Richard Zimmerman, a 35-year veteran who leads the department’s homicide division, questioned the reasoning and technique behind Floyd’s restraint, saying the man no longer appeared to be a threat.

“Pulling him down to the ground, facedown and putting your knee on the neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” Zimmerman testified. “I saw no reason the officers felt they were in danger, if that’s what they felt, and that’s what they would have to feel to be able to use that kind of force.”

richard zimmerman resizedZimmerman, right, who was called to the scene of Floyd’s death at 38th and Chicago on May 25, testified that once someone is handcuffed, “they are not a threat to you at that point” and the amount of force should be immediately reduced. “If your knee is on a person’s neck, that could kill him.”

The longtime homicide detective, who used to work patrol, said he and other Minneapolis officers had been specifically trained to take particular care with handcuffed suspects and warned to limit use of the prone position, in which suspects are held facedown on the ground, because it can limit a person’s ability to breathe.

“Once a person is cuffed, you need to turn them on their side or have them sit up. You need to get them off their chest,” Zimmerman said, often speaking directly to the jury. “Because … your muscles are pulling back when you’re handcuffed, and when you’re laying on your chest, that’s restricting your breathing even more.”

Asked by prosecutors if Chauvin and the officers should have stopped their restraint once Floyd was handcuffed, on the ground and wasn’t resisting, Zimmerman declared, “Absolutely.”

Zimmerman’s testimony marked the second day in a row that prosecutors called Minneapolis police officers to the stand, including one of Chauvin’s close colleagues, to impeach the former officer’s behavior as they try to convince the jury that he violated police protocol and used excessive force, leading to Floyd’s david pleoger resized death.

On Thursday, David Pleoger, left, a recently retired sergeant who was Chauvin’s supervisor in the city’s 3rd Precinct that night, testified that Chauvin should have stopped kneeling on Floyd’s neck the moment he stopped resisting. He also told the jury that Chauvin didn’t immediately tell him he’d knelt on Floyd’s neck — waiting more than 30 minutes until the men were standing outside a hospital emergency room awaiting news of Floyd’s condition to tell his supervisor that information.

washington post logoWashington Post, Officer killed, suspect fatally shot after vehicle rams barricade near Capitol, Peter Hermann, Aaron C. Davis and Matt Zapotosky, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). One Capitol police officer was killed and another injured Friday when a vehicle rammed into them near the U.S. Capitol, an attack that once again put the city on edge as threats stemming from the deadly insurrection in January had started to wane.

Acting U.S. Capitol police chief Yogananda Pittman said a man exited the vehicle with a knife and started lunging. She said at least one police officer opened fire, killing the suspect. It was not immediately clear how the officer, identified as William ‘Billy’ Evans, an 18-year veteran, was fatally injured.

noah green 2 tieSeveral people familiar with the investigation identified the suspect as Noah Green, shown at left in a Facebook photo. One of those people said Green has an address in Virginia.

The suspect was not known to either D.C. or Capitol police, according to authorities. “It does not appear to be terrorism related,” acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III told reporters.

The incident occurred shortly after 1 p.m. on Constitution Avenue, once again drawing hundreds of police officers and plunging the sprawling Capitol complex into lockdown, with people inside buildings told to stay away from exterior windows, and those outside warned to “seek cover.”

Another U.S. Capitol Police officer was taken to a hospital after being struck at a barricade along Constitution Avenue, officials said. Buildings on the Capitol complex were put on lockdown. The incident comes less than three months after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol left five people dead.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. Capitol Police officer William ‘Billy’ Evans killed in the line of duty, Michael Brice-Saddler, Hannah Natanson and Julie Tat, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). Neighbors said Evans was as dedicated to his job as he was to his family.

william evansOn Friday afternoon, hours after U.S. Capitol police officer William “Billy” Evans, right, was killed in the line of duty, two of his fellow officers pulled into the quiet suburban Virginia neighborhood where he was often seen with his children.

They began unloading several plastic bags of supplies — including snacks and a rack of blue Gatorade — from the back of their black SUV and carrying the haul into Evans’s house, stepping across a tidy, grassy garden with two turquoise lawn chairs, angled slightly toward each other. Neighbors stepped from an adjacent home conferred in soft voices with the officers, asking what else was needed and how they could help.

Evans was among two officers injured when a vehicle rammed into them outside the U.S. Capitol, according to acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman.

yogananda pittmanActing Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman, shown in a file photo, spoke to reporters on April 2 after a vehicle rammed into two officers at the U.S. Capitol. (Reuters)

His death comes less than three months after the agency’s officers fought to protect lawmakers by clashing with a riotous mob that descended on the Capitol building in January, leaving one officer dead and scores of others injured.

On Friday, Pittman was forced to address yet another deadly attack at the Capitol complex — this one resulting in the death of Evans, who joined the force in 2003 and was a member of the first-responder unit.

The assailant, identified by several people familiar with the investigation as Noah Green, was shot and killed by police.

“It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of Officer William ‘Billy’ Evans this afternoon from injuries he sustained following an attack at the North Barricade by a lone assailant,” Pittman said in a statement.

New York Post, Suspect who smashed into barrier at US Capitol identified as Noah Green, Craig McCarthy, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). The driver who killed a US Capitol cop before he was gunned down by police is a Nation of Islam devotee from Indiana, according to reports and his social media.

noah green facebookNoah Green, 25, right, who may have been living in Virginia, described himself as a “Follower of Farrakhan” on his Facebook page, in reference to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Green appeared to have come on hard times from his Facebook page reviewed by The Post before his account was taken down.

“I was on the right track and everything I had planned was coming into existence. It required long hours, lots of studying, and exercise to keep me balanced while experiencing an array of concerning symptoms along the path (I believe to be side effects of drugs I was intaking unknowingly),” he wrote on March 17, signing the message Brother Noah X.

“However, the path has been thwarted, as Allah (God) has chosen me for other things. Throughout life I have set goals, attained them, set higher ones, and then been required to sacrifice those things,” he continued.

His Facebook posts were first reported by MSNBC, which read them on-air.

Green allegedly slammed into a fence outside the US Capitol just after 1 p.m. Friday and struck two officers before crashing into a barricade.

Green allegedly got out of the car with a knife and lunged at an officer before being fatally shot, reports say.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fully vaccinated people may travel, CDC says, Lena H. Sun and Lori Aratani, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). Agency updates its guidance because of studies showing real-world effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines and rapid pace of vaccinations, now close to 3 million people daily.

Federal health officials gave the green light Friday for fully vaccinated people to resume travel as an estimated 100 million Americans have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, and evidence mounts of the shots’ effectiveness.

cdc logo CustomThe long-awaited guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is welcome news for the growing number of vaccinated adults who want greater freedom to visit family members and take vacations for the first time in a year. It is also expected to help boost the travel and airline industries that have been seeking a relaxation of restrictions. Until Friday’s announcement, officials were still discouraging people who had been fully vaccinated from traveling.

The agency updated its guidance because of several newly released studies documenting the strong real-world effectiveness of coronavirus vaccines in protecting against infection and spread of the virus, and the rapid pace of vaccinations, now close to 3 million people a day.

For domestic travel, people who are two weeks past their final shot do not need to get a coronavirus test before or after trips and do not need to self-quarantine after travel. That means grandparents who are fully vaccinated can fly to visit their grandchildren without getting a coronavirus test or self-quarantining, provided they follow the other recommended public health measures, such as wearing masks on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation.

For international travel, fully vaccinated people do not need to be tested before their trips unless it is required by the destination, the guidance says. For their return to the United States, fully vaccinated people should get tested and have a negative result before they board an international flight back to the United States.

washington post logoWashington Post, MLB will move its All-Star Game out of Atlanta as backlash to Georgia voting law continues, Chelsea Janes, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said.

Major League Baseball announced Friday that it will be moving this summer’s All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the recent passage of Georgia’s sweeping voting law, following the calls of other businesses to protect voting access there and other states.

major league baseball mlb logoThe league’s decision to pull the game from Georgia represents a decisive departure for a league that traditionally has been reluctant to involve itself in what it views as potentially polarizing political issues, though it follows a week in which executives from more than 170 companies joined the corporate push.

Supporters of the law say the changes it makes to Georgia’s voting system are necessary to bolster confidence in the state’s elections. Opponents, including many high-profile activist groups, believe it will lead to longer lines, partisan control of elections and more difficult logistics for voters trying to cast their ballots by mail.

They believe the bill’s objective is making voting more difficult for people of color, something Democrats see as a direct response to the outcome of last November’s presidential and senatorial elections. Led by a large turnout of Black voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, the state voted for a Democrat in a presidential race for the first time in nearly two decades and eventually elected two Democrats to the Senate, too.

After trying to avoid taking sides in the political debate, corporations of all varieties have begun finding neutrality impossible, and this week has seen an avalanche of statements from executives, including Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, who described the bill as “wrong” and “a step backward.”

The move did not have universal support throughout the league, particularly in Atlanta where the Braves quickly issued a statement saying they “are deeply disappointed” in the decision.

“This was neither our decision, nor our recommendation and we are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city. The Braves organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion,” the statement read. “Our city has always been known as a uniter in divided times and we will miss the opportunity to address issues that are important to our community. Unfortunately, businesses, employees, and fans in Georgia are the victims of this decision.”

 

U.S. Governance, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden jobs plan seeks $400 billion for caretaking services as nation faces surge in aging population, Jeff Stein, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden’s jobs plan proposes a massive investment in home care for the elderly and people with disabilities, as America’s caretaking system faces strain from the nation’s looming demographic challenges.

The White House’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending about $400 billion over eight years on “home- or community-based care” for the elderly and people with disabilities. That amounts to roughly a fifth of the overall price tag of Biden’s plan, the first of two related economic proposals expected from the White House.

 

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Border officials say more people sneak past them as agents are overwhelmed, Nick Miroff, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). U.S. Customs and Border Protection is recording nearly 1,000 “got aways” per day, the highest in years. Nearly 1,000 people per day are sneaking into the United States without being identified or taken into custody because U.S. border agents are busy attending to migrant families and unaccompanied children while also trying to stop soaring numbers of male adults, according to three U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials familiar with the data.

While CBP has never claimed to interdict every border crosser, the number of so-called got aways recorded in recent weeks is the highest in recent memory, said two of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the data. The agency defines a got away as an individual who is not turned back to Mexico or apprehended, and is no longer being actively pursued by Border Patrol.

Counting got aways is not an exact science, but CBP has spent more than $1 billion over the past two decades on surveillance technology and camera networks that have given the agency far greater ability to detect illegal crossings in real time. Apprehending those individuals is another matter.

When migration levels surge, as with the current influx, border agents spend significant amounts of time transporting and processing families and unaccompanied minors, who generally do not attempt to evade capture, turning themselves in and seeking humanitarian refuge in the United States.

Family groups crossing border in soaring numbers point to next phase of crisis

Department of Homeland Security officials say they expect border crossings to leap to a 20-year high in 2021. The number of migrants taken into custody by agents in March is projected to top 160,000 — the highest one-month total since March 2006 — and include more than 18,000 teenagers and children who arrived without parents, a record.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Democrats should end Iowa and New Hampshire’s political monopoly, Editorial Board, April 3, 2021 (print ed.). Politico reports that Democratic Party leaders are hotly debating how to run the 2024 presidential nominating contest, and in particular whether Iowa and New Hampshire should keep their vaunted first-in-the-nation status. They should not. But the party must be careful not to do more harm than good when shifting the primary calendar. And merely reshuffling the order would be an insufficient response to the many dysfunctions the presidential nominating process has proven to have.

dnc square logoIowa and New Hampshire are unrepresentative of Democratic voters writ large and of the nation as a whole, and they are not the only states in which retail politics is possible. Both are extremely White. Both, but particularly New Hampshire, have proven susceptible to the leftward pull of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) among White progressives, leaving it to more diverse states such as South Carolina to pull the party back toward where its mainstream voters are. Their perpetual first-in-the-nation status has propped up support for federal subsidies for corn ethanol and home heating oil, as aspiring presidents must promise such payoffs to their voters every four to eight years.

There are other options. One idea is to allow South Carolina, the first Southern state to vote, to go first. The state’s electorate is far more diverse, and it has a better recent record of reflecting the Democratic voters’ ultimate preferences. Nevada Democrats want their first-in-the-West state to take the lead.

The Democratic National Committee should dock delegates from states that insist on continuing to hold caucuses. It should do the same for Iowa and New Hampshire if they refuse to give up their first-in-the-nation status to other worthy candidates.

Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), shown at left above, mocked coronavirus prevention measures last year by wearing a gas mask last year on Capitol Hill.Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), shown at left above, mocked coronavirus prevention measures last year by wearing a gas mask last year on Capitol Hill.

New York Post, Matt Gaetz and Florida pols played Harry Potter-themed ‘sex challenge’ game: report, Laura Italiano, April 3, 2021. Rep. Matt Gaetz and fellow Florida lawmakers played a creepy, competitive, “sex challenge” game while working at the statehouse ten years ago — in which participants won varying points depending on who they slept with, according to a new report.

Competitors could earn extra points for bedding a married legislator or spending the night at a college sorority house, a female GOP insider told Business Insider in the report, published Friday.

And anyone who slept with one particular conservative female politician “won the whole game regardless of points,” said the source, who spoke to Business Insider on condition of anonymity.

That woman was known as the game’s “snitch,” after the coveted flying golden ball in Quidditch, a magical sport played by young wizards in the Harry Potter book series, the source said.

The source declined to name the “snitch” to protect her privacy, and told Business Insider she “heard specific references of Gaetz being involved and scoring points,” back when he served in the state House of Representatives.

matt gaetz o CustomThe latest sordid revelation comes just when it seemed that the accusations couldn’t possibly get any raunchier against Gaetz, who is already mired in a federal sex-trafficking investigation.

The sex game has been alluded to in less detail in previous stories, Business Insider noted.

In January, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Florida state Rep. Chris Latvala accused Gaetz in a 2020 tweet of having “created a game where members of the FL House got “points” for sleeping with aides, interns, lobbyists, and married legislators.”

Legislators got one point for sleeping with a lobbyist, two for sleeping with legislative staff, three for another legislator and six for a married legislator, the Tampa Bay Times alleged.

Sleeping with “virgins” was another way to get points, ABC News alleged this week, citing a source.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, 101.8 million vaccinated, as of April 3, 2021, is the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 38.1 of the eligible population,16 and older and 30.7 % of the total population. See about your state.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: April 3, 2021, with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 130,954,934, Deaths: 2,853,007
U.S. Cases:     31,315,968, Deaths:   567,610

washington post logoWashington Post, Surprise jump pushes weekly jobless claims back above 700,000, Hannah Denham, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The increase was a surprise after last week’s tally set a pandemic-era low, another sign of the unpredictable path that economic recovery has taken since the coronavirus crisis took hold.

 

April 2

Top Headlines

  • matt gaetz o CustomGeneral News
  • Matt Gaetz Scandal Probe
  • Voter Supression In Georgia
  • Chauvin Murder Trial
  • Biden Infrastructure Plan

 

General News

 

Matt Gaetz Scandal Probe

 

Voter Supression In Georgia

 

Chauvin Murder Trial

 

Biden Infrastructure Plan

 

More On U.S. Governance, Politics

 

Virus Victims, Responses

U.S. Insurrection, Courts, Regulation

 

Media News

 

World News

 

Top Stories 

  • General News

 washington post logoWashington Post, Officer killed, suspect fatally shot after vehicle rams barricade near Capitol, Peter Hermann, Aaron C. Davis and Matt Zapotosky, April 2, 2021. One Capitol police officer was killed and another injured Friday when a vehicle rammed into them near the U.S. Capitol, an attack that once again put the city on edge as threats stemming from the deadly insurrection in January had started to wane.

Acting U.S. Capitol police chief Yogananda Pittman said a man exited the vehicle with a knife and started lunging. She said at least one police officer opened fire, killing the suspect. It was not immediately clear how the officer, identified as William ‘Billy’ Evans, an 18-year veteran, was fatally injured.

noah green 2 tieSeveral people familiar with the investigation identified the suspect as Noah Green, shown at left in a Facebook photo. One of those people said Green has an address in Virginia.

The suspect was not known to either D.C. or Capitol police, according to authorities. “It does not appear to be terrorism related,” acting D.C. police chief Robert J. Contee III told reporters.

 

  • Matt Gaetz Scandal ProbeFlorida Congressman Matt Gaetz is shown in a 2017 file photo during a visit to Pace High School in his Panhandle district.

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is shown in a 2017 file photo during a visit to Pace High School in his Panhandle district.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: Justice Dept. Inquiry Into Matt Gaetz Said to Be Focused on Cash Paid to Women, Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The congressman and a former official in Florida sent money to the women using cash apps, receipts showed. Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was first elected to the House in 2016 at the age of 34 and cast himself as a die-hard Trump supporter.

A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.

joel greenberg seminole county tax collectorInvestigators believe Joel Greenberg, left, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances, according to three people with knowledge of the encounters. Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said.

One of the women who had sex with both men also agreed to have sex with an unidentified associate of theirs in Florida Republican politics, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. Mr. Greenberg had initially contacted her online and introduced her to Mr. Gaetz, the person said.

Mr. Gaetz denied ever paying a woman for sex.

Justice Department log circularThe Justice Department inquiry is also examining whether Mr. Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything of material value, according to four people familiar with the investigation. The sex trafficking count against Mr. Greenberg involved the same girl, according to two people briefed on the investigation.

The authorities have also investigated whether other men connected to Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg had sex with the 17-year-old, two of the people said.

Mr. Gaetz, 38, was elected to Congress in 2016 and became one of President Donald J. Trump’s most outspoken advocates.

The Times has reviewed receipts from Cash App, a mobile payments app, and Apple Pay that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends that the payments were for sex with the two men, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

In encounters during 2019 and 2020, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg instructed the women to meet at certain times and places, often at hotels around Florida, and would tell them the amount of money they were willing to pay, according to the messages and interviews.

One person said that the men also paid in cash, sometimes withdrawn from a hotel ATM.

Some of the men and women took ecstasy, an illegal hallucinogenic drug, before having sex, including Mr. Gaetz, two people familiar with the encounters said.

In some cases, Mr. Gaetz asked women to help find others who might be interested in having sex with him and his friends, according to two people familiar with those conversations. Should anyone inquire about their relationships, one person said, Mr. Gaetz told the women to say that he had paid for hotel rooms and dinners as part of their dates.

FBI logoThe F.B.I. has questioned multiple women involved in the encounters, including as recently as January, to establish details of their relationships with Mr. Gaetz and his friends, according to text messages and two people familiar with the interviews.

No charges have been brought against Mr. Gaetz, and the extent of his criminal exposure is unclear. Mr. Gaetz’s office issued a statement on Thursday night in a response to a request for comment.

“Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex,” the statement said. “Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life.”

A lawyer for Mr. Greenberg, Fritz Scheller, declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokesman.

It is not illegal to provide adults with free hotel stays, meals and other gifts, but if prosecutors think they can prove that the payments to the women were for sex, they could accuse Mr. Gaetz of trafficking the women under “force, fraud or coercion.” For example, prosecutors have filed trafficking charges against people suspected of providing drugs in exchange for sex because feeding another person’s drug habit could be seen as a form of coercion.

It is also a violation of federal child sex trafficking law to provide someone under 18 with anything of value in exchange for sex, which can include meals, hotels, drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. A conviction carries a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.

The investigation stems from the Justice Department’s continuing inquiry into Mr. Greenberg, who potentially faces decades in prison on three dozen charges. The U.S. attorney’s office in Central Florida initially secured an indictment against Mr. Greenberg in June, alleging that he had stalked a political rival and had used his elected office to create fake identification cards.

During the investigation, the authorities discovered evidence that prompted them to broaden it, and Mr. Greenberg was indicted in August on the sex trafficking charge.

One of the sites the men met women through was called Seeking Arrangement, which describes itself as a place where wealthy people find attractive companions and pamper them “with fine dinners, exotic trips and allowances.” The site’s founder has said it has 20 million members worldwide. The F.B.I. mentioned the website in a conversation with at least one potential witness, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Mr. Greenberg was indicted this week on additional charges, accusing him of submitting false claims to receive pandemic relief aid from the government and trying to bribe a government official. The authorities said Mr. Greenberg undertook those efforts after he was initially indicted last summer.

Mr. Greenberg, who has pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges, is scheduled to go on trial in June. He was sent to jail in March for violating the terms of his bail.

Mr. Gaetz said this week that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. Subjects of investigations are often witnesses or people who might have information that could help the government pursue its targets. But it is common for that designation to shift over the course of an investigation.

“I only know that it has to do with women,” Mr. Gaetz said. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”

Mr. Gaetz, a lawyer, was first elected to the House representing the Florida Panhandle at age 34. The son of a former president of the Florida State Senate, Mr. Gaetz attended Florida State University and William & Mary Law School before serving in the Florida State Legislature.

Mr. Gaetz has sought to divert attention from the Justice Department investigation by claiming that he and his father were the targets of an extortion plot by two men trying to secure funding for a separate venture.

The men — Robert Kent, a former Air Force intelligence officer who runs a consulting business, and Stephen Alford, a real estate developer who has been convicted of fraud — approached Mr. Gaetz’s father, Don Gaetz, about funding their efforts to locate Robert A. Levinson, an American hostage held in Iran. They suggested to Don Gaetz that Mr. Levinson’s successful return could somehow be used to secure a pardon for Matt Gaetz if he were charged with federal crimes, according to a copy of their proposal provided to The Times.

Soon after, Don Gaetz hired a lawyer and contacted the F.B.I. Matt Gaetz said his father wore a wire and taped a meeting and a telephone conversation with Mr. Alford. An email exchange between Don Gaetz’s lawyer and the Justice Department provided to The Times appears to confirm he was generally cooperating with the F.B.I. as it looked into his claims.

Mr. Kent denied the Gaetzes’ assertions. He said he had heard rumors that Matt Gaetz might be under investigation and mentioned them only to sweeten his proposal. “I told him I’m not trying to extort, but if this were true, he might be interested in doing something good,” Mr. Kent said in an interview.

Last year, the Trump administration notified the family of Mr. Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent, that he had died while in captivity in Iran, where he disappeared in 2007 while on an unauthorized mission for the C.I.A.

But some people involved with the Levinson case continued to believe that he might still be alive, including Mr. Kent.

He was stunned when he heard that Matt Gaetz had sought to tie the Justice Department investigation to an extortion plot related to the Levinson case.

“He threw Levinson and the entire Levinson family under the bus,” Mr. Kent said. “I can’t imagine what these poor people have been through. This guy, to divert attention from himself, has raked up the attention to the family.”

Don Gaetz also taped a phone call and a meeting with David McGee, a Levinson family lawyer, where they discussed the rescue proposal. In an interview, Mr. McGee denied any involvement and suggested Matt Gaetz was conflating the matter inappropriately with his own potential criminal liability.

“He’s trying to distract attention from a pending tidal wave that is about to sink his ship,” Mr. McGee said.

Katie Benner covers the Justice Department. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for public service for reporting on workplace sexual harassment issues. @ktbenner

Michael S. Schmidt is a Washington correspondent covering national security and federal investigations. He was part of two teams that won Pulitzer Prizes in 2018 — one for reporting on workplace sexual harassment and the other for coverage of President Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. @NYTMike

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative Commentary: Indicted Gaetz sex trafficking accomplice inherited Jeffrey Epstein blackmail duties, Wayne Madsen, left (author of 18 books and former Navy intelligence officer. @WMRDC), wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallApril 1, 2021. WMR has learned from sources close to the federal prosecution of disgraced Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel M. wayne madesen report logoGreenberg, indicted in Orlando last year for the sexual trafficking of a 14-year old girl, inherited some of the political blackmail duties previously assigned by Israeli intelligence to the late Palm Beach, Florida resident Jeffrey Epstein.

Greenberg has been identified as a partner of U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, who is currently the target of a federal grand jury in Orlando for sexually trafficking a 17-year old girl.

New York Post, Rep. Matt Gaetz’s communications director resigns amid federal probe, Emily Jacobs, April 2, 2021. Rep. Matt Gaetz — who is facing a federal sex-trafficking probe, accusations that he showed lawmakers pictures and videos of nude women he claimed to have slept with and an alleged extortion plot — was hit with more bad PR Friday.

Luke Ball, communications director for Gaetz (R-Fla.), is resigning his post, the congressman’s office announced ahead of the weekend.

“The Office of Congressman Matt Gaetz and Luke Ball have agreed that it would be best to part ways,” a joint statement read. “We thank him for his time in our office, and we wish him the best moving forward.”

Ball scrubbed mentions of Gaetz, 38, from his Twitter biography by midday Thursday.

The Florida lawmaker has found himself embroiled in a considerable amount of controversy over the past week.

Previous stories:

  • CNN, Gaetz showed nude photos of women he said he’d slept with to lawmakers, sources tell CNN, Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles, April 1, 2021. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican being investigated by the Justice Department over sex trafficking allegations, made a name for himself when he arrived on Capitol Hill as a conservative firebrand on TV and staunch defender of then-President Donald Trump. Behind the scenes, Gaetz gained a reputation in Congress over his relationships with women and bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues, multiple sources told CNN.
  • New York Post, Meet Ginger Luckey, Matt Gaetz’s fiancée amid sex trafficking probe, Gabrielle Fonrouge, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz — who’s reportedly facing a federal criminal probe for allegedly enticing a minor to travel for sex — is engaged to 26-year-old Ginger Luckey, a Harvard business school student who lives in California. Gaetz — who has strenuously denied the new allegations — met Luckey in March 2020 at a fundraiser at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
  • New York Post, Oculus founder, just 21, ‘never imagined’ $2B Facebook deal, Kaja Whitehouse, March 26, 2014.
  • Washington Post, Gaetz investigation complicated by overture to his father about ex-FBI agent who went missing, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Rep. Matt Gaetz, right, a Florida Republican known for his fierce allegiance to former president Donald Trump, had been under Justice Department investigation for months for a possible sex crime when two men approached his father with a proposal, people familiar with the matter said. matt gaetz o CustomThe men had learned of the investigation, they wrote to Don Gaetz, and wanted to offer an opportunity to help his son, the people said. He could give a huge sum of money to fund their effort to locate Robert A. Levinson — the longest-held American hostage in Iran, whose family has said they were told he is dead. If the operation was a success, he would win public favor and help alleviate Matt Gaetz’s legal woes.
  • New York Times, Investigation: Matt Gaetz Is Said to Be Investigated Over Possible Sexual Relationship With a Girl, 17, Michael S. Schmidt and Katie Benner, March 31, 2021 (print ed.). An inquiry into the Florida congressman was opened in the final months of the Trump administration, people briefed on it said.
  • Washington Post, Tucker Carlson denies Gaetz claim that he met witness in FBI probes: ‘One of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted,’ Teo Armus, March 31, 2021. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was on Fox News on Tuesday night, defending himself against newly public allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl, when he seemed to pull his interviewer into the matter.
  • Washington Post, Ex-GOP official Joel Greenberg flaunted ties to Matt Gaetz. Then he was charged with child sex trafficking, Katie Shepherd,  March 31, 2021.joel greenberg seminole county tax collector Until last year, Joel Greenberg was an ascendant political player in Seminole County, Fla., where he unseated a longtime incumbent in the race for county tax collector, won a political battle to allow his deputies to carry guns on the job and flaunted his connections to prominent Republicans with close ties to president Donald Trump, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Roger Stone. But last June his reputation fell apart in spectacular fashion when federal investigators arrested him on stalking and child sex trafficking charges, prompting his resignation

 

  • Voter Supression In Georgia

washington post logoWashington Post, Companies struggle with pressure to take stand on Georgia voting bill, Todd C. Frankel, Jena McGregor, Candace Buckner and Steven Zeitchik, April 2, 2021 (print ed.).  Faced with growing expectations from the public and workers on some issues, corporate leaders have found themselves forced into positions on topics they’d probably prefer to avoid.

Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to stay on the sidelines of the nation’s social and political debates after a year of intense protests that led many firms to declare their support for racial justice and opposition to attempts to overturn the presidential election.

georgia mapBut as major corporations speaking out about Georgia’s controversial voting law discovered this week, deciding when to step in, how far to go and whether to follow up with actions, can be fraught.

On Fox News Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) compared early-voting rules in Georgia to other states and defended the measure. “They’re not going to get back on board because they’ve been pressured by their board of directors, who have been pressured by these activists. And there’s nothing I can do about that.”

He also said: “They’ll have to answer to their shareholders. There’s a lot of people that work for them and have done business with them who are very upset,” and said that “We are not going to back down when we have a bill that expands the opportunity for people to vote on the weekends in Georgia.”

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosAfter initially mild criticism of Georgia’s the measure, which was signed into law last week, companies scrambled to issue more forceful statements. James Quincey, the CEO of Coca-Cola, described the bill as “wrong” and “a step backward.” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian offered up an abrupt change in tone, calling the legislation “unacceptable” and contrary to the company’s values.

Those statements won guarded praise from activists — as well as calls for more concrete action. “Delta’s statement finally tells the truth — even if it’s late,” Nsé Ufot, head of the activist group New Georgia Project Action Fund, said in a statement.

But companies have struggled with growing expectations from the public and employees that they take stands on important social issues, forcing corporate leaders into positions on issues they’d probably prefer to avoid, from Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem to the “bathroom bills” that targeted transgender people to President Donald Trump’s statements about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden enters Ga. boycott battle by voicing support for moving All-Star Game, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The president’s remarks put him on a tightrope between defending Americans’ right to vote and calling for a boycott that could kneecap people and businesses emerging from the pandemic.

joe biden black background resized serious filePresident Biden has called Georgia’s new slate of voting rules “a blatant attack on the right to vote, the Constitution and good conscience” and “un-American.” Later, he declared it “Jim Crow on steroids.”

But until Wednesday night, Biden had not weighed in on what people who agree with him should do about the new Georgia policies, which critics say will disenfranchise mostly minority voters.

major league baseball mlb logoIn an interview aired on ESPN, Biden said he would “strongly support” players who believe Major League Baseball should move the summer All-Star Game from Truist Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Braves — a site eight miles from where Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the new election measures into law.

The remarks put Biden on a tightrope between defending Americans’ right to vote and calling for a controversial boycott that could kneecap people and businesses emerging from the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also risky ground for a president who campaigned on his ability to attract both conservatives and liberals to voting booths, and who has resisted Republican efforts to link him to the most extreme members of his own party.

Previous stories: 

  • Washington Post, Opinion: Explaining Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s belated support for democracy, Jennifer Rubin, right, April 1, 2021. In a 180-degree about-face, Delta jennifer rubin new headshotAir Lines decided that, on second thought, suppressing the vote in Georgia is a bad idea. delta logoAxios reports: “Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian condemned Georgia’s new election law as ‘unacceptable’ in a memo circulated to staff on Wednesday, claiming that the ‘entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie’ about widespread voter fraud in 2020.” Less than a week ago, Bastian had declared that the bill “improved considerably during the legislative process.”
  • Truthout, Investigation: Hidden Horrors in the Georgia Vote Law, Greg Palast, right, April 1, 2021. To understand how this mass attack on greg palast hscitizens will work, we have to go back to December 21, just before the Georgia Senate run-offs, when True the Vote, a Texas group founded by Tea Party crusader Catherine Engelbrecht, challenged the right of 364,541 Georgians to cast ballots. You read that number right: more than a third of a million voters almost lost their vote. Almost. County elections boards, facing threats by the ACLU and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, rejected the challenges, noting that the numbers were too huge to be credible. One voter can challenge another if they have personal knowledge that the other voter is a fraud. The local shills used by the Texas group knew nothing of those they challenged.

 

 

george floyd derek chauvin

washington post logoWashington Post, Chauvin should not have knelt on Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, former sergeant testifies, Holly Bailey and Hannah Knowles, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Derek Chauvin failed to immediately tell a supervisor that he had been kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while restraining him, former sergeant David Pleoger said.

Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, a former supervisor testified Thursday.

Chauvin also did not immediately tell the supervisor that he had knelt on Floyd’s neck while restraining him during a police investigation — waiting more than 30 minutes until he stood outside the hospital emergency room where Floyd remained unresponsive to disclose the information.

david pleoger resized David Pleoger, left, who was a supervisor in the city’s 3rd Precinct on May 25, 2020, testified that he called Chauvin after getting a call from a concerned 911 dispatcher who was watching a city security camera and saw police holding Floyd on the ground.

“She called to say she didn’t mean to be a snitch, but she’d seen something while viewing a camera that she thought was concerning,” said Pleoger, a retired sergeant.

In a phone conversation partially captured by Chauvin’s body-worn camera, the officer is heard telling Pleoger that the officers “just had to hold the guy down.”

“He was going crazy … wouldn’t go back in the squad,” Chauvin said just before he shut off his body camera.

Pleoger testified that he told Chauvin to turn off his camera — which is allowed for a private conversation — and that the call continued, with Chauvin saying Floyd was “combative.”

Pleoger then went to the scene to investigate.

The former supervisor testified that Chauvin didn’t tell him in that phone conversation or later when he arrived at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the intersection where Floyd died, that he had used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground. He said Chauvin told him Floyd had suffered “a medical emergency” while he was being restrained, which led to him being taken away by ambulance.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Chauvin Trial Updates: Trial to reconvene after ex-sergeant says Chauvin should have stopped kneeling on Floyd once he stopped resisting, Timothy Bella and Abigail Hauslohner, April 2, 2021. An emotional week of testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin continues Friday morning after a former police supervisor said that Chauvin should have stopped kneeling on George Floyd’s neck when he stopped resisting. David Pleoger, who was a supervisor in courteney ross resized the city’s 3rd Precinct, recounted to prosecutors how Chauvin “could have ended the restraint” once Floyd was in custody.

Pleoger’s testimony followed powerful testimony from Courteney Ross, right, Floyd’s girlfriend, who reflected on their relationship and shared struggles with opioid addiction. Two paramedics at the scene, Seth Bravinder and Derek Smith, recalled to the court how they found Floyd appearing to already be lifeless when they arrived at Cup Foods.

Here’s what to know:

  • Cup Foods clerk says he feels like a ‘contributing factor’ in Floyd’s death
  • Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, former sergeant testifies
  • Former sergeant says Chauvin did not initially say he had his knee on Floyd’s neck
  • Policy requires rolling prone, restrained people into ‘recovery position,’ retired sergeant says

george floyd derek chauvin Custom

George Floyd, above left, and former police officer Derek Chauvin, whose trial began Monday.

washington post logoWashington Post, George Floyd’s girlfriend says he’d had covid, recalls shared opioid addiction, Staff Reports, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Paramedic testifies not seeing ‘any breathing or movement’ from Floyd when he arrived; Floyd family lawyers say they expect defense to cast Floyd’s character, addiction struggles in negative light.

Previous stories:

 

  • Biden Infrastructure Plan

 joe biden flag profile uncredited palmer

washington post logoWashington Post, White House unveils $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan, setting up giant battle over size and cost of government, Jeff Stein, Juliet Eilperin, Michael Laris and Tony Romm, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Ahead of speech in Pittsburgh, Biden administration releases sprawling effort to revamp U.S. transit, broadband, housing and more.

The White House’s unveiling of a $2 trillion jobs, infrastructure and green energy proposal to reshape the U.S. economy met a chorus of opposition late Wednesday, with Republicans panning it as a partisan wish-list, some liberals challenging it as not sufficient to combat climate change and business groups rejecting its proposed tax hikes.

transportation dept logoUnder what the administration calls the American Jobs Plan, President Biden aims to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing problems — from climate change to decaying water systems to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

In a speech Wednesday afternoon at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Pittsburgh Training Center, Biden pitched his plan as a transformative effort to overhaul the nation’s economy. He called it the most significant federal jobs investment since World War II, saying it would put hundreds of thousands of electricians and laborers to work laying miles of electrical grid and capping hundreds of oil wells. He said the plan’s research funding would make America the global leader in emerging sectors such as battery technology, biotechnology and clean energy.

“This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race,” in the 1950s and ’60s, Biden said.

“We have to move now. I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people will look back and say, ‘This was the moment America won the future.’ ”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Republicans have boxed themselves in on infrastructure. Democrats know it, Jennifer Rubin, right, April 2, 2021. White House press jennifer rubin new headshotsecretary Jen Psaki, at Thursday’s briefing, gave a preview of how the Biden administration will confront the predictable objections to its large infrastructure plan funded by corporate tax increases. Told that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had declared Republicans will fight the plan “every step of the way,” she cheerily responded that there was plenty Republicans and Democrats agree on. Everyone likes infrastructure!

“Where there is agreement with across the political spectrum from investment and infrastructure, doing more to be competitive with China, and what we’re really talking about here is how to pay for it,” Psaki said. “And so what we’re looking for is proposals of alternatives.” She then issued an implicit challenge: If Republicans don’t want to raise the corporate tax rate, what alternative would they offer? “We’re happy to hear those proposals,” she said.

In other words, the White House is fully aware that Republicans are in a box. Having declared themselves in favor of infrastructure for years, they either have to come up with a tax scheme that will fall far more heavily on ordinary taxpayers or give up their phony deficit mania (which does not apply to tax cuts, apparently). This puts Democrats in both the roles of being fiscal conservatives (pay as you go!) and defenders of working-class Americans. Republicans have the choice between embracing fiscal irresponsibility or giving up their laughable claim to be the party of working people.

Democrats are managing to avoid bashing businesses outright. Psaki pointed out that for 70 years or so, the corporate tax rate had been 35 percent until the last administration dropped it all the way to 21 percent (and loosened other rules allowing many big companies to avoid paying taxes altogether). President Biden’s proposal to push the rate up to only 28 percent is “incredibly reasonable,” she said. Later she reiterated that corporations that did not pay any taxes could “afford” to shoulder the burden of infrastructure investment.

Palmer Report, Opinion: Mitch McConnell just unwittingly did President Biden a favor, Bill Palmer, right, April 2, 2021. Even though President Joe Biden has a high bill palmerapproval rating, and the Democrats control both the House and Senate, and the Republicans clearly have no interest in working with him on anything, Biden still has to continue offering bipartisan solutions. Otherwise, Republicans may be able to convince voters in the middle that Biden is overreaching.

It’s why, while the COVID relief package was being put together, Biden had to spend the entire time publicly reaching out to Senate Republicans and offering them the opportunity to compromise. It’s just part of the game that has to be played.

bill palmer report logo headerBut on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, right, made the curious move of simply announcing that there will be no Senate Republican votes for Biden’s infrastructure bill. Well okay then. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on air, this means that Biden doesn’t have to mitch mcconnell elevator getty croppedwaste time making bipartisan overtures to the Republicans when it comes to this bill. If the Republicans later try to argue to voters that Biden didn’t offer to work with them, Biden can simply point back to McConnell’s statement about refusing to work with Biden on it.

It’s unclear what Mitch McConnell’s strategy is here. He’s always been corrupt and dishonest, but he’s usually savvier than this. This comes amid reports from various major news outlets that McConnell is considering retiring early. Has he simply checked out? In any case, he unwittingly did Biden and the Democrats a favor on this one.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. added 916,000 jobs in March, biggest gain in months, Eli Rosenberg, April 2, 2021. The March data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is a sign that the economy is beginning to heal as more people receive a coronavirus vaccine and the $1,400 stimulus checks boost spending.

us labor department logoThe unemployment rate edged down to 6 percent from 6.2 percent in February, according to the monthly report, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report comes a year after the pandemic threw the U.S. economy into a tailspin.

joe biden kamala harris campaign shotThe labor market recovered about 12 million of the 22 million jobs lost in the first two months of the pandemic by October. But pace of the recovery slowed through the winter as the virus surged through the holidays and into the New Year.

But the March data — the largest number of jobs added since August and the third straight month of growth — may signal a turning point. The survey was taken the week of March 12th, the same week that the stimulus package passed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate was signed into law by President Biden.

Previous stories:

  • New York Times, What’s in Biden’s Infrastructure Plan? Alicia Parlapiano, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). See how the $2 trillion in proposed spending breaks down. On Wednesday, President Biden is expected to announce his $2 trillion plan to shore up the nation’s infrastructure and create jobs. The sprawling proposal would be paid for with 15 years of higher taxes on corporations. Here’s how the spending breaks down.

 

U.S. Governance, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, Some wealthy hospital systems ended up even richer, thanks to federal bailouts, Jordan Rau and Christine Spolar, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Poorer hospitals — many serving rural and minority populations — got a tinier slice of the pie and ended the year with deficits, downgrades of their bond ratings and bleak fiscal futures, financial records show.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. high court clears way for Charlottesville to remove statue of Robert E. Lee, Gregory S. Schneider, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The ruling appears to make it easier for localities around the state to remove Civil War memorials.

The Charlottesville City Council voted to take down both the Lee and a nearby statue of Stonewall Jackson shortly after the rally in which white supremacists defended Confederate iconography, with one of them driving his car through a crowd of counterprotesters and killing a young woman.

But several local residents sued to prevent the statues from coming down. They argued that a state law passed in 1997 prohibited localities from removing Confederate war memorials.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What a scorching John Boehner book excerpt says about today’s GOP, Paul Waldman, right, April 2, 2021. Former speaker of the House paul waldmanJohn A. Boehner (R-Ohio) was nothing if not colorful, and in an upcoming memoir, he has some scores to settle. Among other things he uses the phrase “total moron” to describe members of his own party and calls Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) the “head lunatic” of GOP extremists.

In On the House: A Washington Memoir, Boehner also highlights something important about the nature of power within the Republican Party: how it worked when he was its leader in Congress, in the Trump years that followed and today. Sometimes that power has been exercised to the party’s great political benefit, while at other times — like right now — it threatens to consume the GOP.

Boehner describes a revealing 2011 exchange with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), far-right bomb-thrower and future presidential candidate, who demanded a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee; he rebuffed her:

Her response to me was calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, then I’ll just have to go talk to Sean Hannity and everybody at Fox,” she said, “and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and everybody else on the radio, and tell them that this is how John Boehner is treating the people who made it possible for the Republicans to take back the House.”

I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now.

She was right, of course.

john boehner official portraitBoehner describes the evolution of conservative media between the early 1990s and the Obama years as a descent into “Looneyville,” but what really changed was the nature of the relationship between that media and the Republican Party.

In those earlier years, conservative media amplified the GOP’s ideas, spreading them to a wide audience and converting people to the conservative cause. But over time, the media tail came to wag the political dog.

What Boehner really shows us is how the world we live in now came to be. Today, conservative media isn’t just a locus of power on the right. Its own needs, preferences and incentives set the party’s agenda to a greater extent than ever.

That’s why so many of the key voices in the Republican Party today are concerned not primarily but entirely with their next media appearance, rather than the work of lawmaking. While there have always been “show horses” in Congress, the party is now oriented almost entirely toward whatever keeps the Fox viewers from changing the channel.

So while Democrats pass trillions of dollars in new spending, Republicans spend all their time whining about “cancel culture” and trying to make life miserable for transgender kids. Instead of conservative media amplifying the party’s message, it’s the other way around.

ny times logoNew York Times, An Accidental Disclosure Exposes a $1 Billion Tax Fight With Bristol Myers, Jesse Drucker, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The I.R.S. believes the American drugmaker used an abusive offshore scheme to avoid federal taxes.

Almost nine years ago, Bristol Myers Squibb filed paperwork in Ireland to create a new offshore subsidiary. By moving Bristol Myers’s profits through the subsidiary, the American drugmaker could substantially reduce its U.S. tax bill.

Years later, the Internal Revenue Service got wind of the arrangement, which it condemned as an “abusive” tax shelter. The move by Bristol Myers, the I.R.S. concluded, would cheat the United States out of about $1.4 billion in taxes.

That is a lot of money, even for a large company like Bristol Myers. But the dispute remained secret. The company, which denies wrongdoing, didn’t tell its investors that the U.S. government was claiming more than $1 billion in unpaid taxes. The I.R.S. didn’t make any public filings about it.

And then, ever so briefly last spring, the dispute became public. It was an accident, and almost no one noticed. The episode provided a fleeting glimpse into something that is common but rarely seen up close and that the Biden administration hopes to discourage: multinational companies, with the help of elite law and accounting firms and with only belated scrutiny from the I.R.S., dodging billions of dollars in taxes.

Then, in an instant, all traces of the fight — and of Bristol Myers’s allegedly abusive arrangement — vanished from public view.

 

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, Plant that ruined vaccine doses had prior FDA violations, Jon Swaine and Christopher Rowland, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). A federal investigator’s report last year detailed problems he found at Emergent BioSolutions’ Baltimore facility, including deficiencies in a measure intended to “prevent contamination or mix-ups.” In April last year, an investigator from the Food and Drug Administration reported problems he had discovered at a Baltimore plant operated by Emergent fda logoBioSolutions, a major supplier of vaccines to the federal government.

Some employees had not been properly trained. Records were not adequately secured. Established testing procedures were not being followed. And a measure intended to “prevent contamination or mix-ups” was found to be deficient.

johnson johnson logoSoon after the inspection, Emergent’s Baltimore plant was given an important role in Operation Warp Speed, the government’s program to rapidly produce vaccines to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Emergent was awarded $628 million by the government and also secured deals totaling more than $740 million with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca to produce coronavirus vaccines for both companies at the Baltimore site.

astrazeneca logoIt emerged on Wednesday that a batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine was recently contaminated with AstraZeneca ingredients at the Emergent plant, as two federal officials described the problem, in a mix-up that spoiled enough raw vaccine for up to 15 million doses.

The FDA report was dated April 20, less than six weeks before Emergent’s Warp Speed award was announced on June 1.

washington post logoWashington Post, 101.8 million vaccinated, as of April 2, 2021, is the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 38.1 of the eligible population,16 and older and 30.7 % of the total population. See about your state.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: April 2, 2021, with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 130,337,218, Deaths: 2,842,850
U.S. Cases:     31,246,420, Deaths:   566,616
Brazil Cases:   12,842,717, Deaths:   325,559

washington post logoWashington Post, Surprise jump pushes weekly jobless claims back above 700,000, Hannah Denham, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). The increase was a surprise after last week’s tally set a pandemic-era low, another sign of the unpredictable path that economic recovery has taken since the coronavirus crisis took hold.

 

U.S. Insurrection, Courts, Regulation

Palmer Report, Opinion: Donald Trump suddenly has a nondisclosure agreement problem, Suzanne Shatto, April 2, 2021. In another blow to the method that Donald djt hands up mouth open CustomTrump uses to do business, a federal judge has struck down one of Donald Trump’s non-disclosure agreements.

Although U. S. District Court Judge Paul Gardephe’s ruling avoided the constitutional issues of the use of non-disclosure agreements in political campaigns, he said that the broad, boilerplate language that the campaign used in these agreements was so vague that the agreement was invalid under New York contract bill palmer report logo headerlaw. “As to the scope of the provision, it is — as a practical matter — unlimited. … Accordingly, Campaign employees are not free to speak about anything concerning the Campaign,” wrote Gardephe. “The non-disclosure provision is thus much broader than what the Campaign asserts is necessary to protect its legitimate interests, and, therefore, is not reasonable.”

Gardephe’s 36-page decision said a non-disparagement clause in the agreement was similarly flawed: “The Campaign’s past efforts to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions demonstrate that it is not operating in good faith to protect what it has identified as legitimate interests,” the judge added. “The evidence before the Court instead demonstrates that the Campaign has repeatedly sought to enforce the non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions to suppress speech that it finds detrimental to its interests.”

Gardephe issued this ruling in a case brought by Jessica Denson, a Hispanic outreach director for Trump in 2016. Jessica Denton accused the campaign of sex discrimination in another litigation.

washington post logoWashington Post, Oath Keepers founder, associates exchanged 19 calls from start of Jan. 6 riot through breach, prosecutors allege, Spencer S. Hsu, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). An new indictment adds two more people to a conspiracy case that now has 12 defendants. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes has not been charged.

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, his deputy and three members who guarded Roger Stone exchanged nearly 20 phone calls over three hours on Jan. 6, coinciding with the first assault on police barricades protecting the U.S. Capitol and spanning the time the three members breached the building, prosecutors charged Thursday.

In a new indictment adding previously charged Stone guards Joshua James, 33, of Arab, Ala., and Roberto Minuta, 36, of Prosper, Tex., to an Oath Keepers conspiracy case that now has 12 defendants, prosecutors bluntly laid a path to Rhodes and a person they said he put in charge of his group’s operations that day.

Prosecutors identified that individual only as “Person 10.” Rhodes in interviews has said he tapped a former Army explosives expert and Blackwater contractor nicknamed “Whip” as on-the-ground team leader.

Neither Rhodes nor Person 10, who has not been publicly identified, has been charged or accused of wrongdoing. Efforts by The Washington Post to reach a person matching Rhodes’s description of “Whip” were unsuccessful. The 12 co-defendants face charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, which carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

James, Minuta and two others have not entered pleas, while eight have pleaded not guilty.

 

World News

washington post logoWashington Post, The reason many Guatemalans are coming to the border? A profound hunger crisis, Kevin Sieff, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Chronic childhood malnutrition doubled in Guatemala 2020. In areas from which migrants are coming, the rates are higher than anywhere in the world.

The team of nutritionists looked at 11-month-old Dilcia Cajbon, her ribs visible through her skin, and they knew immediately.

“Severe acute malnutrition,” said Stefany Martinez, the leader of the UNICEF team, as the child was lifted onto a scale.

Like many in this rural stretch of Guatemala, Dilcia’s family was down to one meal a day. Storms had flooded the nearby palm plantation, the biggest source of local employment. To eke out what little the family had to eat, Dilcia’s mother had held off on giving her youngest child solid food.

As more and more Central American families arrive at the United States’ southern border, the municipality of Panzós offers a stark illustration of the deepening food crisis that is contributing to the new wave of migration.

What’s causing the migrant surge at the U.S. border? Poverty, violence and new hope under Biden.

So far this year, more unaccompanied minors processed by immigration agents are from Guatemala than any other country. Analysts and U.S. officials refer obliquely to “poverty” as an underlying cause of that influx. But often the reason is far more specific: hunger.

Guatemala now has the sixth-highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. The number of acute cases in children, according to one new Guatemalan government study, doubled between 2019 and 2020.

The crisis was caused in part by failed harvests linked to climate change, a string of natural disasters and a nearly nonexistent official response. Supply-chain disruptions then led to a spike in prices. The cost of beans in Guatemala went up 19.6 percent last year, according to the World Food Program.

washington post logoWashington Post, Maria Butina, Russian who conspired to infiltrate U.S. groups, visits Navalny in jail, with video cameras in tow, Robyn Dixon, April 2, 2021 (print ed.). Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, right, on a hunger strike after being denied medical care, has been hoping for a visit from a doctor. Instead he got a alexey navalny 2017less welcome visitor Thursday: Maria Butina, the Russian agent convicted and jailed for conspiring to infiltrate political organizations in the United States without registering with authorities.

According to a post by Navalny’s team on his Twitter account, Butina, left, was reporting for the Kremlin-funded RT television network, formerly Russia Today.

maria butina headshotNavalny is in Penal Colony No. 2, near Vladimir, 112 miles east of Moscow, where he says guards wake him up eight times a night and have punished him for numerous infractions. Among them: getting up 10 minutes early, wearing a T-shirt to meet his lawyer, declining to watch a video lecture and refusing to do morning exercises.

“Instead of a doctor, Butina, a wretched propagandist from RT channel, arrived today accompanied by video cameras,” said a post Thursday on Navalny’s Twitter account. She was “shouting that this is the best and most comfortable prison.”

The account said Navalny lectured her for 15 minutes in front of the other prisoners, calling her “a parasite and a servant of thieves.”

Posts on Navalny’s social media are made in his name by members of his team since he has no access to the Internet.

Discipline in Penal Colony No. 2 is enforced by prisoners called “activists” who cooperate with prison authorities and report infractions, often in return for privileges or reduced sentences.

According to Navalny’s Twitter feed, Butina concluded her visit by interviewing “activists who told her how good everything is.

 

 

April 1

Top Headlines

  • matt gaetz o CustomMatt Gaetz Scandal Probe
  • Voter Supression In Georgia
  • Chauvin Murder Trial
  • Biden Infrastructure Plan

 

Matt Gaetz Scandal Probe

 

Voter Supression In Georgia

 

Chauvin Murder Trial

 

Biden Infrastructure Plan

 

More On U.S. Governance, Politics

 

Trump Team: Profiteering On Pandemic?

 

Virus Victims, Responses

U.S. Insurrection, Courts, Regulation

 

World News

 

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  • Matt Gaetz Scandal Probe

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: Justice Dept. Inquiry Into Matt Gaetz Said to Be Focused on Cash Paid to Women, Katie Benner and Michael S. Schmidt, April 1, 2021. The congressman and a former official in Florida sent money to the women using cash apps, receipts showed. Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, was first elected to the House in 2016 at the age of 34 and cast himself as a die-hard Trump supporter.

A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.

joel greenberg seminole county tax collectorInvestigators believe Joel Greenberg, left, the former tax collector in Seminole County, Fla., who was indicted last year on a federal sex trafficking charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel and allowances, according to three people with knowledge of the encounters.

Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Mr. Gaetz, who also had sex with them, the people said.

Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), Investigative Commentary: Indicted Gaetz sex trafficking accomplice inherited Jeffrey Epstein blackmail duties, Wayne Madsen, left (author of 18 books and former Navy intelligence officer. @WMRDC), wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallApril 1, 2021. WMR has learned from sources close to the federal prosecution of disgraced Seminole County, Florida Tax Collector Joel M. wayne madesen report logoGreenberg, indicted in Orlando last year for the sexual trafficking of a 14-year old girl, inherited some of the political blackmail duties previously assigned by Israeli intelligence to the late Palm Beach, Florida resident Jeffrey Epstein.

Greenberg has been identified as a partner of U.S. Representative Matt Gaetz, who is currently the target of a federal grand jury in Orlando for sexually trafficking a 17-year old girl.

CNNCNN, Gaetz showed nude photos of women he said he’d slept with to lawmakers, sources tell CNN, Jeremy Herb, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles, April 1, 2021. Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican being investigated by the Justice Department over sex trafficking allegations, made a name for himself when he arrived on Capitol Hill as a conservative firebrand on TV and staunch defender of then-President Donald Trump.

Behind the scenes, Gaetz gained a reputation in Congress over his relationships with women and bragging about his sexual escapades to his colleagues, multiple sources told CNN.

Gaetz allegedly showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the sources told CNN, including while on the House floor. The sources, including two people directly shown the material, said Gaetz displayed the images of women on his phone and talked about having sex with them. One of the videos showed a naked woman with a hula hoop, according to one source.

“It was a point of pride,” one of the sources said of Gaetz.

Gaetz, 38, who was elected to Congress in 2016, has been at the center of a number of controversies in his four-plus years in Congress. But he’s now embroiled in easily his biggest scandal yet, after the Justice Department began investigating him in the final months of the Trump administration under then-Attorney General William Barr as part of a larger investigation into another Florida politician. Federal investigators are examining whether Gaetz engaged in a relationship with a woman that began when she was 17 years old and whether his involvement with other young women broke federal sex trafficking and prostitution laws, two people briefed on the matter said.

Gaetz has denied the allegations, saying “no part of the allegations against me are true,” and he claimed Tuesday that he was the victim of an extortion plot, which the FBI is separately investigating.

“Over the past several weeks my family and I have been victims of an organized criminal extortion involving a former DOJ official seeking $25 million while threatening to smear my name. We have been cooperating with federal authorities in this matter and my father has even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals,” Gaetz said in a statement.

Gaetz and a spokesperson for Gaetz did not respond to requests for comment on the images and videos he allegedly showed to lawmakers.
After the DOJ investigation into Gaetz surfaced this week, there were a handful of Republicans in Congress who defended him, speaking out on his behalf, including both Rep. Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. But many House Republicans stayed quiet.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday there were “serious implications” involving the DOJ allegations, adding that he would remove Gaetz from the Judiciary Committee if they were proven true.

“I haven’t heard anything from the DOJ or others, but I will deal with it if anything comes to be true” McCarthy said in response to a question from CNN at a town hall event in Iowa.

Gaetz made a name for himself on conservative television soon upon his arrival to Congress in 2017, where he’s often been a thorn in the side of House Republican leadership while aligning himself closely with the Freedom Caucus and Trump during his presidency. Gaetz has been a constant presence on both Newsmax and Fox News — much more than any typical rank-and-file House member — and he turned to Fox soon after the allegations surfaced Tuesday.

At one point during Gaetz’s first term, staff for then-House Speaker Paul Ryan held a short meeting with Gaetz in the Capitol, where they had a discussion with Gaetz about acting professionally while in Congress, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting. One source said the conversation wasn’t tied to a specific incident. Ryan didn’t directly have a conversation with Gaetz.

Gaetz’s spokesperson denied that he was ever reprimanded by Ryan or his staff. “That did not happen, no meeting with the speaker or his staff,” the spokesperson said.

Hours before the news broke Tuesday of the investigation involving Gaetz, Axios reported he was considering leaving Congress for a job at the conservative television station Newsmax.

New York Post, Meet Ginger Luckey, Matt Gaetz’s fiancée amid sex trafficking probe, Gabrielle Fonrouge, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz — who’s reportedly facing a federal criminal probe for allegedly enticing a minor to travel for sex — is engaged to 26-year-old Ginger Luckey, a Harvard business school student who lives in California.

Gaetz — who has strenuously denied the new allegations — met Luckey in March 2020 at a fundraiser at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

She later told the Daily Mail she’d been “dragged” to the event by her mother, but about nine months later, she agreed to marry the congressman after he popped the question on Dec. 30, 2020, at the same place they met during a holiday celebration at the resort.

“It was actually ‘duh,’” Luckey told the outlet of what she said when Gaetz proposed.

“It didn’t come as a surprise, I had sort of seen it coming.”

Luckey’s brother is Palmer Luckey, who founded the virtual reality company Oculus VR before selling it to Facebook for about $2 billion in 2014.

While she and Gaetz are based on opposite sides of the US, Luckey told the Mail her job went totally remote last March at the start of the pandemic so she spent time “traveling with him everywhere” and said she is the lawmaker’s “travel buddy.”

The suit also alleged that several medical school professors failed to report the harassment for investigation after the social worker confided in them.
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washington post logoWashington Post, Gaetz investigation complicated by overture to his father about ex-FBI agent who went missing, Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Rep. Matt Gaetz, right, a Florida Republican known for his fierce allegiance to former president Donald Trump, had been under Justice Department investigation for months for a possible sex crime when two men approached his father with a proposal, people familiar with the matter said.

matt gaetz o CustomThe men had learned of the investigation, they wrote to Don Gaetz, and wanted to offer an opportunity to help his son, the people said. He could give a huge sum of money to fund their effort to locate Robert A. Levinson — the longest-held American hostage in Iran, whose family has said they were told he is dead. If the operation was a success, he would win public favor and help alleviate Matt Gaetz’s legal woes.

But Don Gaetz, a prominent Florida Republican who once led the state Senate, viewed the communication suspiciously, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe a continuing and politically sensitive probe. The investigation into Matt Gaetz’s alleged crime — he is suspected of having sex with a 17-year-old girl, as well as funding her travel — was not public knowledge. Fearing his family was being extorted, Don Gaetz contacted the FBI.

Justice Department log circularThe messy political drama has in some ways diverted attention from a grim reality for the congressman. He remains under investigation for possible sex crimes, leaving him vulnerable to potentially serious legal jeopardy.

The men who approached Gaetz’s father, people familiar with the matter said, had no apparent connection to the sex crimes investigation of his son, other than having somehow learned about it before it was publicly reported. But when news of law enforcement’s interest in Gaetz surfaced Tuesday, the congressman asserted that the allegation was “rooted in an extortion effort against my family for $25 million,” and he identified by name a former federal prosecutor who he said was part of the effort.

While the Justice Department investigates possible sex crimes, the FBI is separately examining whether the request to his father about Levinson might constitute extortion, with Gaetz and his family as possible victims. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.

The Washington Examiner on Wednesday published a text message and a document that purports to outline the proposal to Don Gaetz.

The materials show that Bob Kent, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, told the former Florida lawmaker in a mid-March text he had a plan that could make Gaetz’s “future legal and political problems go away,” and claimed that Levinson was still alive.

The next day, according to the Examiner, the analyst met with Don Gaetz and gave him a proposal, titled “Project Homecoming,” which made specific claims about the sex-crimes investigation and other lurid allegations against Matt Gaetz, and proposed a plan to make the case go away.

robert levinson“Our strategy for Congressman Gaetz to mitigate his legal, and political, troubles would be for him, or someone else, to arrange for the funds required to obtain the immediate release of Robert Levinson (shown in three photos at right) from captivity in Iran,” the proposal said. “In exchange for the funds being arranged, and upon release of Robert Levinson, Congressman Gaetz shall be given credit for facilitating the release of Mr. Levinson.”

Substantiating criminal charges in the extortion probe could be difficult, people familiar with the matter said, noting that, when the two men — who have not been identified — first contacted Don Gaetz, they did not explicitly threaten to expose the congressman unless they were paid. Even if investigators do come to believe there was an attempt to extort the Gaetz family, it appears connected to the sex-crimes investigation only because the men involved discovered it and used it as leverage for personal purposes, people familiar with the matter said.

Don Gaetz and a spokesman for Matt Gaetz did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday. The congressman has not been charged with any crimes and has insisted he did nothing wrong.

Beyond his potential legal problems, Gaetz faces the prospect of political blowback. Lawmakers in both parties took a wait-and-see approach or remained quiet on the issue.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that Gaetz would be removed from the Judiciary Committee if the allegations he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her travel prove to be true. Federal child sex trafficking laws are implicated when the victim is less than 18 years old.

“Those are serious implications,” McCarthy said during an appearance on Fox News. “If it comes out to be true, yes, we would remove him if that was the case. Right now, Matt Gaetz says it’s not true, and we don’t have any information.”

Gaetz has told associates he is contemplating leaving Congress early, possibly for a position at Newsmax. Brian Peterson, a Newsmax spokesman, declined to comment on any discussion between Gaetz and the network, saying, “Newsmax doesn’t comment on possible talent negotiations or plans the network may have been underway. But a person familiar with the deliberations said that Gaetz and Newsmax were talking, and Gaetz was interested in a possible role at the conservative media outlet, but Newsmax had not extended him an offer.

david mcgee resizedGaetz said in a statement Tuesday night that his family had been cooperating with federal authorities in the extortion probe and that his father had “even been wearing a wire at the FBI’s direction to catch these criminals.” In an interview on Fox News, he identified one person he claimed was involved in the effort: David McGee, left, a former federal prosecutor in Florida now at the firm Beggs & Lane.

Tucker Carlson denies Gaetz claim that he met witness in FBI probes: ‘One of the weirdest interviews I’ve ever conducted’

McGee has long represented the Levinson family in their more than a decade-long quest to find the FBI agent. In an interview Tuesday night, he said Don Gaetz “called me and asked to talk to me,” though would only say of their talk, “It is a pleasant conversation of a dad concerned about his son, and the trouble his son was in.” McGee disputed that he was part of an effort to extort Gaetz or that he was connected to the Justice Department’s investigation of possible sex trafficking by the congressman.

The initial communications to Don Gaetz referencing Levinson’s case came from Kent and a Florida developer named Stephen Alford, according to the Examiner and a person familiar with the matter. According to court records and local media reports, Alford has previously been convicted in local and federal fraud cases and spent significant time in prison.

Alford and Kent did not return messages seeking comment. McGee appeared to have had at least broad knowledge of the men’s interaction with Don Gaetz, people familiar with the matter said.

“It’s a blatant attempt to distract from the fact that he’s under investigation for sex trafficking of minors,” McGee said Tuesday night of the congressman’s allegations against him, adding, “I have no connection with that case at all, other than, one of a thousand people who have heard the rumors.”

McGee declined to comment Wednesday, but his firm issued a statement saying the congressman’s allegation was “false and defamatory.”

It is not clear how the men came to know about the investigation into Gaetz. Their proposal makes many claims, some of which seem to indicate specific, insider knowledge, that could not immediately be confirmed.

Levinson’s case has long vexed his family and the U.S. government. The retired FBI agent disappeared under murky circumstances in March 2007 while on Kish Island, a tourist spot off the coast of Iran, during an unauthorized trip for the CIA to gather intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program. He was not spotted publicly again, and was last viewed alive in a 2010 hostage video.

The State Department and the Justice Department had offered a combined reward of $25 million for information on Levinson, and officials repeatedly pressed Iran on the matter. But last year, the government concluded he was dead, and the FBI briefed the family on the evidence they had found pointing to that result.

According to “Missing Man,” a 2016 book about the Levinson case by former New York Times reporter Barry Meier, McGee befriended Levinson when the lawyer was working as a federal prosecutor in Florida and Levinson was serving as an FBI agent.

By 2005, they had both left government for the private sector — Levinson as a private investigator and McGee as a defense attorney. Meier reported that Levinson sought legal advice from McGee when a federal prosecutor began asking questions about about his relationship with a man who was one of his sources and allegedly involved in cigarette smuggling. Levinson denied involvement but told McGee he feared indictment, the book reports.

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  • Voter Supression In Georgia

 washington post logoWashington Post, Companies struggle with pressure to take stand on Georgia voting bill, Todd C. Frankel, Jena McGregor, Candace Buckner and Steven Zeitchik, April 1, 2021. Faced with growing expectations from the public and workers on some issues, corporate leaders have found themselves forced into positions on topics they’d probably prefer to avoid.

Companies are finding it increasingly difficult to stay on the sidelines of the nation’s social and political debates after a year of intense protests that led many firms to declare their support for racial justice and opposition to attempts to overturn the presidential election.

georgia mapBut as major corporations speaking out about Georgia’s controversial voting law discovered this week, deciding when to step in, how far to go and whether to follow up with actions, can be fraught.

On Fox News Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) compared early-voting rules in Georgia to other states and defended the measure. “They’re not going to get back on board because they’ve been pressured by their board of directors, who have been pressured by these activists. And there’s nothing I can do about that.”

He also said: “They’ll have to answer to their shareholders. There’s a lot of people that work for them and have done business with them who are very upset,” and said that “We are not going to back down when we have a bill that expands the opportunity for people to vote on the weekends in Georgia.”

After initially mild criticism of Georgia’s the measure, which was signed into law last week, companies scrambled to issue more forceful statements. James Quincey, the CEO of Coca-Cola, described the bill as “wrong” and “a step backward.” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian offered up an abrupt change in tone, calling the legislation “unacceptable” and contrary to the company’s values.

Those statements won guarded praise from activists — as well as calls for more concrete action. “Delta’s statement finally tells the truth — even if it’s late,” Nsé Ufot, head of the activist group New Georgia Project Action Fund, said in a statement.

But companies have struggled with growing expectations from the public and employees that they take stands on important social issues, forcing corporate leaders into positions on issues they’d probably prefer to avoid, from Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the national anthem to the “bathroom bills” that targeted transgender people to President Donald Trump’s statements about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden enters Ga. boycott battle by voicing support for moving All-Star Game, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., April 1, 2021. The president’s remarks put him on a tightrope between defending Americans’ right to vote and calling for a boycott that could kneecap people and businesses emerging from the pandemic.

joe biden black background resized serious filePresident Biden has called Georgia’s new slate of voting rules “a blatant attack on the right to vote, the Constitution and good conscience” and “un-American.” Later, he declared it “Jim Crow on steroids.”

But until Wednesday night, Biden had not weighed in on what people who agree with him should do about the new Georgia policies, which critics say will disenfranchise mostly minority voters.

major league baseball mlb logoIn an interview aired on ESPN, Biden said he would “strongly support” players who believe Major League Baseball should move the summer All-Star Game from Truist Stadium, the home of the Atlanta Braves — a site eight miles from where Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the new election measures into law.

The remarks put Biden on a tightrope between defending Americans’ right to vote and calling for a controversial boycott that could kneecap people and businesses emerging from the coronavirus pandemic. It’s also risky ground for a president who campaigned on his ability to attract both conservatives and liberals to voting booths, and who has resisted Republican efforts to link him to the most extreme members of his own party.

 

delta logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Explaining Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s belated support for democracy, Jennifer Rubin, right, April 1, 2021. In a 180-degree about-face, Delta jennifer rubin new headshotAir Lines decided that, on second thought, suppressing the vote in Georgia is a bad idea.

Axios reports: “Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian condemned Georgia’s new election law as ‘unacceptable’ in a memo circulated to staff on Wednesday, claiming that the ‘entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie’ about widespread voter fraud in 2020.” Less than a week ago, Bastian had declared that the bill “improved considerably during the legislative process.”

It is ironic that at a time when taxpayers are sending billions to airlines and other companies to sustain them through the recession, so few businesses pay heed to the obligations of corporate citizenship. (They are more than willing to take subsidized loans from taxpayers, but ask them to increase corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure that benefits all Americans — companies included — and many of them throw a fit.)

Coca-Cola also had a change of heart.

It is not hard to figure out why these companies reversed course. Public outrage from African Americans around the country, and perhaps the threat of boycotts, seemed to have had their desired effect. Moreover, 72 African American executives signed on to a public letter demanding that corporate America stand behind democracy.

How did giant corporations — especially those that have been so attuned to issues such as last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ rights and climate change — get this so wrong? One explanation is the lack of diversity at the heads of major companies. There are four African American CEOs among the Fortune 500. No wonder they “missed” this.

greg palast logo

Truthout, Investigation: Hidden Horrors in the Georgia Vote Law, Greg Palast, right, April 1, 2021. When we first reported that handing a slice of pizza to a voter waiting greg palast hsthree hours in a line is now a felony in Georgia, other media ate it up (forgive me my puns). It’s easy to understand the cruelty of plantation-minded Georgia Republicans making Black folk suffer from hunger and thirst in lines the GOP deliberately made long by closing polling stations in minority precincts.

But there are greater horrors than pizza prohibition hidden in the 95 pages of Georgia’s new anti-voting law.

Donald Trump infamously demanded the Georgia Secretary of State “find 11,780” votes. The MAGA mafia in the Georgia legislature found 364,541 votes to cancel, that is, voters whose ballots would be blocked from the count in the next election.

georgia mapTo understand how this mass attack on citizens will work, we have to go back to December 21, just before the Georgia Senate run-offs, when True the Vote, a Texas group founded by Tea Party crusader Catherine Engelbrecht, challenged the right of 364,541 Georgians to cast ballots. You read that number right: more than a third of a million voters almost lost their vote.

Almost. County elections boards, facing threats by the ACLU and Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, rejected the challenges, noting that the numbers were too huge to be credible. One voter can challenge another if they have personal knowledge that the other voter is a fraud. The local shills used by the Texas group knew nothing of those they challenged.

The new law specifically authorizes unlimited challenges. And Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State has gleefully invited True the Vote to attack voter rolls. (For more on Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, whom voting rights lawyer Gerald Griggs calls the “Vote Suppressor in Chief,” see my brad raffenspergerreport for Democracy Now!).

But won’t those same county boards kick any new absurd challenges? The MAGA mob in the Legislature has got that covered. Under the new law, the State Board of Elections can remove a county board if it doesn’t, in the State’s opinion, rule properly on these challenges.

brian kemp CustomAnd who will make up the State Board? The new law hands over the board to the GOP leaders of the Legislature plus a representative of Republican Governor Brian Kemp, left, infamous for his own manipulations of the voter rolls which gave him the gubernatorial race against Stacey Abrams.

The True the Vote challenges, officially backed by the Republican Party, centered on Atlanta counties heavy with voters of color. Voting rights attorney Barbara Arnwine, founder of Transformative Justice Coalition and co-plaintiff with Black Voters Matter, warns that the new state board will have the authority to remove the local board and override local decisions.

Where the heck did True the Vote’s Engelbrecht, a self-described “housewife” in Texas, get the dollars to mount this multi-county attack on Georgians?

In 2016, our investigator Zach D. Roberts confronted Engelbrecht, right, with her funding by the Koch Brothers, which she didn’t deny. ProPublica traced their lucre to catherine engelbrecht zach d roberts resizedthe Bradley Foundation which our team exposed as the funders of attempts to wrongly purge Black voters in Milwaukee.

Don’t discount True the Vote. The lawyer who is leading their attack in Georgia is James Bopp Jr. who argued for Citizens United in the Supreme Court case that opened the door to the money poisoning of elections.

That’s the money. But their challenge list supposedly came from the US Post Office’s National Change of Address registry.

us mail logoSounds official. Sounds legit. It isn’t. In 2017 and 2018, Brian Kemp, then both Secretary of State and candidate for Governor, used a similar list to remove hundreds of thousands of voters on the grounds they had moved out of Georgia.

The Palast Investigative Fund, working for Salon, hired the nation’s top experts in the use of postal files and found that Kemp’s list was as phony as a three dollar bill. Kemp also claimed he relied on the Post Office, but the experts found Kemp had wrongly barred 340,355 from the polls.

One of the voters we located, accused of illegally registering from a former address: 92-year-old Christine Jordan, cousin of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. I was with her when she was bounced from the polls.

Stacey Abrams cited our story in declaring she’d been cheated out of victory. And cheated she was.

In 2020, the ACLU released a new report by the Palast Investigative Fund in which we identified, by name and address, another 198,351 Georgians wrongly removed. Black Voters Matter sued in federal court to reverse the removals.

Crucially, Black Voters Matter, working with the Hispanic rights group Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, used postcards, billboards, phone calls and publicity to re-register the victims we identified. The result: Georgia’s voters, not the purge, chose the President and Senate.

That didn’t make Trump nor his MAGA maniacs in the Legislature happy.

And the federal case (in which I testified for Black Voters Matter) has won a grudging agreement from the state that Georgia must follow the complex process in federal law meant stop the removal of innocent voters.

But now, innocents beware.

Avoiding Federal law – or breaking it?

True the Vote is crowing that Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger has virtually invited them to challenge more voters.

While the press has made much of his war with Trump, Raffensperger is very much a partisan Republican hack, one of the most vicious suppression experts I’ve encountered in my long career.

Now he has openly stated that he can use True the Vote’s challenge trickery to avoid the strictures of federal law. True the Vote’s press release quotes Raffensperger:

“I’ve said since Election Day that I must follow the law in the execution of our elections, and I’ve also encouraged Georgians to report any suspected problems for my office to investigate,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “Though federal law restricts our ability to update our voter registration lists, the Elector Challenge is a vehicle under our law to ensure voter integrity.”

In other words, while Raffensperger must follow federal law, he claims that True the Vote doesn’t have to, and he can merrily accept True the Vote’s challenges.

Federal law: 

• prohibits states removing voters within 90 days of a federal election;
• requires that voters challenged for supposedly living out-of-state must be sent a postcard, months before an election, allowing the voter to halt their removal.
• requires the Postal change-of-address information come from a Post Office licensed source, not “Joe’s Purges-R-Us.”

But Raffensperger is saying that if True the Vote gives voters no notice, uses a bogus unlicensed list, and demands that voters be removed without notice just days before the election, that’s perfectly fine, a way to sidestep federal protection.

And if a county elections board finds True the Vote’s methods biased, wrong and illegal, as they have so far, the new partisan state board can simply overrule the county.

In other words, to hell with federal law. The state can’t commit the crime, but the state can simply adopt the illegal process used by this Koch-moneyed operation.

True the Vote claims their purge operation doesn’t threaten rights because the counties will have to send each challenged voter a letter allowing them to show up to a hearing to defend their registration or ballot.

But, as Arnwine told me, almost no one will take a day from work to show up to a courtroom-style hearing to prove they are who they are. And some challenges can occur after a voter has cast a mail-in ballot.

raphael warnockSen. Raphael Warnock, left, is already campaigning to hold his seat in 2022. He is expected to be on the ballot with Stacey Abrams running for “re-election” as Governor. Clearly, the GOP believes they can’t trust Georgia’s voters to choose their Senator and Governor. Rather, they are counting on Jim Crow to “true the vote.”

We are back in federal court in Atlanta with Black Voters Matter, Latino activists SVREP, the Transformative Justice Coalition and others and we will now take on Georgia’s new anti-voting bill.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosFor eight years, the Palast Investigative Fund has been digging into the deep files of the Georgia’s officials.

But we couldn’t have done it without your support.

Every time I think I can move on from Georgia, Georgia’s MAGA-nauts come up with some new Jim Crow horror. Please make your tax-deductible donation now.

And our investigations are spreading wide from Georgia to North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and beyond. There is no other journalistic organization with our 20 years experience, expertise and record of accomplishment in investigating and exposing voter suppression.

Our team is already flying South. Everything is at stake.

And I truly thank all those who have kept us alive with your support through this non-stop struggle to save the vote.

Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy” and “Billionaires & Ballot Bandits,” out as major non-fiction movie: “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Case of the Stolen Election,” available on Amazon and Amazon Prime.

 

 

george floyd derek chauvin

George Floyd, above left, and former police officer Derek Chauvin, whose trial began Monday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Chauvin should not have knelt on Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, former sergeant testifies, Holly Bailey and Hannah Knowles, April 1, 2021. Derek Chauvin failed to immediately tell a supervisor that he had been kneeling on George Floyd’s neck while restraining him, former sergeant David Pleoger said.

Derek Chauvin should not have knelt on George Floyd’s neck after he stopped resisting, a former supervisor testified Thursday.

Chauvin also did not immediately tell the supervisor that he had knelt on Floyd’s neck while restraining him during a police investigation — waiting more than 30 minutes until he stood outside the hospital emergency room where Floyd remained unresponsive to disclose the information.

David Pleoger, who was a supervisor in the city’s 3rd Precinct on May 25, 2020, testified that he called Chauvin after getting a call from a concerned 911 dispatcher who was watching a city security camera and saw police holding Floyd on the ground.

“She called to say she didn’t mean to be a snitch, but she’d seen something while viewing a camera that she thought was concerning,” said Pleoger, a retired sergeant.

In a phone conversation partially captured by Chauvin’s body-worn camera, the officer is heard telling Pleoger that the officers “just had to hold the guy down.”

“He was going crazy … wouldn’t go back in the squad,” Chauvin said just before he shut off his body camera.

Pleoger testified that he told Chauvin to turn off his camera — which is allowed for a private conversation — and that the call continued, with Chauvin saying Floyd was “combative.”

Pleoger then went to the scene to investigate.

The former supervisor testified that Chauvin didn’t tell him in that phone conversation or later when he arrived at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the intersection where Floyd died, that he had used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground. He said Chauvin told him Floyd had suffered “a medical emergency” while he was being restrained, which led to him being taken away by ambulance.

 

george floyd derek chauvin Custom

George Floyd, above left, and former police officer Derek Chauvin, whose trial began Monday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: George Floyd’s girlfriend says he’d had covid, recalls shared opioid addiction, Staff Reports, April 1, 2021. Paramedic testifies not seeing ‘any breathing or movement’ from Floyd when he arrived; Floyd family lawyers say they expect defense to cast Floyd’s character, addiction struggles in negative light.

ny times logoNew York Times, Clerk Who Questioned $20 Bill Watched Floyd Arrest With Guilt, John Eligon, Shaila Dewan, Tim Arango and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs
April 1, 2021 (print ed.). During the third day of Derek Chauvin’s trial, witness after witness agonized over whether they could have done anything to stop what would eventually happen to George Floyd.

He chatted with a store clerk about playing football. He grabbed a banana off a shelf, flipped through a wad of cash, and hugged and exchanged pleasantries with a woman, laughing with his hand on her back.

In surveillance footage played for the first time in a Minneapolis courtroom on Wednesday, the world got to see George Floyd as it never had before: He was just another customer in a corner store that he liked to frequent.

Within half an hour, Mr. Floyd would be handcuffed and face down on the pavement outside of Cup Foods, calling out for his mother as a police officer pressed his knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck. Roughly two hours after he walked into the store he was dead.

On the third day of testimony in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer charged with murdering Mr. Floyd, a clearer picture emerged of the events preceding Mr. Floyd’s death, with witness after witness agonizing over whether they could have done anything to stop what would soon unfold.

The 19-year-old clerk who served Mr. Floyd at the corner store that day wondered whether the death was his fault because he had reported that Mr. Floyd used a fake $20 bill. A 61-year-old man who saw the police pinning Mr. Floyd to the ground shook his head and held back tears as a video of the brutal arrest played. He collapsed on the witness stand, sobbing. “I can’t help but feel helpless,” said the man, Charles McMillian. “I don’t have a mama either, but I understand him.”

Mr. Floyd’s death last May left a trail of agony for the people who were part of the unfolding tragedy — the weight of what they had witnessed plain to see in the form of tears, long pauses and deep breaths during their testimony.

It all began casually at the corner store. In the surveillance footage, Mr. Floyd is seen pacing the aisles, speaking with other customers and workers. He goes from one end to the next, accidentally knocks over a banana and puts it back, and then makes his way to the tobacco section at the front of the store.

At the counter, Mr. Floyd can be seen offering the teenage clerk, Christopher Martin, a $20 bill in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. Mr. Martin said he quickly realized the bill was counterfeit; the blue pigmentation gave it away, he testified. For one brief moment, Mr. Martin thought to let it go and put it on his own tab — the store’s policy was that fake money would be deducted from the paycheck of the employee who accepted it, he said. But then he changed his mind.

During the third day of Derek Chauvin’s trial, witnesses agonized over whether they could have stopped what eventually happened to George Floyd.
Here are takeaways from Day 3 of the trial.

washington post logoWashington Post, Derek Chauvin defends restraint of George Floyd in newly disclosed body-cam video, saying he was ‘probably on something,’ Holly Bailey, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Body-camera footage from former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was presented in multiple clips as evidence in his trial on March 31.

In newly released body-camera footage, Derek Chauvin defends his treatment of George Floyd to a bystander, saying Floyd “was probably on something” and needed to be under “control.”

Chauvin’s comments, to witness Charles McMillian, are the first time the former Minneapolis police officer is known to have offered any hint of what he was thinking as he kept his knee on the Black man’s neck for over nine minutes on Memorial Day 2020. The footage, played by the prosecution during Chauvin’s murder trial Wednesday, came from the body camera he was wearing as he and two other officers restrained Floyd.

Chauvin’s body camera was knocked off during a struggle to place Floyd in a police car, capturing only audio of the incident. But the jury was shown a conversation between Chauvin and McMillian, a witness who confronted the White officer about his treatment of Floyd, that was captured as he was putting his camera back on.

The video showed McMillian, a 61-year-old Black man who had urged Floyd to cooperate with the police, telling Chauvin he didn’t “respect” how the officer had treated Floyd, who had just been taken from the scene by ambulance. “That’s one person’s opinion,” Chauvin replied, as the video showed him getting back into the passenger seat of his squad car.

“We’ve got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy,” Chauvin added, as McMillian stood outside the car window speaking to the officer. “It looks like he’s probably on something.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Chauvin Trial Updates: Day 4 of Derek Chauvin Trial to Bring More Details on Floyd’s Death, Staff reports, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Jurors enter the fourth day with a newfound understanding of what happened the day George Floyd died, thanks to footage and testimony.

Mr. Floyd’s final hours and the aftermath of his fatal encounter with police officers are being reconstructed with the help of previously unseen video footage and witness testimony.

 

  • Biden Infrastructure Plan

 joe biden flag profile uncredited palmer

washington post logoWashington Post, White House unveils $2 trillion infrastructure and climate plan, setting up giant battle over size and cost of government, Jeff Stein, Juliet Eilperin, Michael Laris and Tony Romm, April 1, 2021. Ahead of speech in Pittsburgh, Biden administration releases sprawling effort to revamp U.S. transit, broadband, housing and more.

The White House’s unveiling of a $2 trillion jobs, infrastructure and green energy proposal to reshape the U.S. economy met a chorus of opposition late Wednesday, with Republicans panning it as a partisan wish-list, some liberals challenging it as not sufficient to combat climate change and business groups rejecting its proposed tax hikes.

transportation dept logoUnder what the administration calls the American Jobs Plan, President Biden aims to tackle some of the nation’s most pressing problems — from climate change to decaying water systems to the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

In a speech Wednesday afternoon at the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America Pittsburgh Training Center, Biden pitched his plan as a transformative effort to overhaul the nation’s economy. He called it the most significant federal jobs investment since World War II, saying it would put hundreds of thousands of electricians and laborers to work laying miles of electrical grid and capping hundreds of oil wells. He said the plan’s research funding would make America the global leader in emerging sectors such as battery technology, biotechnology and clean energy.

“This is not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race,” in the 1950s and ’60s, Biden said.

“We have to move now. I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years people will look back and say, ‘This was the moment America won the future.’ ”

ny times logoNew York Times, What’s in Biden’s Infrastructure Plan? Alicia Parlapiano, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). See how the $2 trillion in proposed spending breaks down. On Wednesday, President Biden is expected to announce his $2 trillion plan to shore up the nation’s infrastructure and create jobs. The sprawling proposal would be paid for with 15 years of higher taxes on corporations. Here’s how the spending breaks down:

Transportation: Among the proposals: Modernize 20,000 miles of highways and roads; repair 10,000 bridges; and, by 2030, build a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers.

Buildings and Utilities: One of the largest investments includes more than $200 billion in tax credits and grants to improve and build affordable housing.

Jobs and Innovation: The plan goes beyond physical infrastructure, proposing more than $500 billion to invest in the manufacturing sector, worker training and research and development.

In-Home Care: The plan also includes $400 billion to expand access to caregiving for those who are older and those with disabilities, and to improve pay and benefits for caregivers.

 

U.S. Governance, Politics

ny times logoNew York Times, President Biden holds his first cabinet meeting. Here’s the latest on Washington, Staff Reports, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden’s infrastructure proposal calls for spending in a variety of areas, including transportation, energy and housing, making a number of his cabinet members well positioned to help sell the plan in the coming months.

  • Biden joins calls for M.L.B. to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta.
  • Analysis: Biden is using his ‘infrastructure week’ to argue that government can do big things that the private sector cannot.
  • That spotty Wi-Fi? Biden’s infrastructure plan includes $100 billion to fix it.
  • Billions in new Obamacare benefits are now available on Healthcare.gov.
  • Unemployment claims rose slightly last week.

President Biden is set to hold his first cabinet meeting on Thursday, convening his administration’s top officials for an in-person gathering at the White House a day after he rolled out his $2 trillion infrastructure plan.

The afternoon meeting comes just over 10 weeks into Mr. Biden’s presidency, a period in which the Senate confirmed all of his cabinet secretaries and almost all of his nominees to other cabinet-level positions. It will be held in the East Room, rather than the Cabinet Room, to allow for social distancing.

Among the topics slated for discussion are Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that was passed in March, called the American Rescue Plan, as well as his newly released infrastructure plan, called the American Jobs Plan.

Karine Jean-Pierre, a White House spokeswoman, said the meeting would address “working together to continue implementing and communicating about the American Rescue Plan” as well as “the role cabinet members will play in advocating for the American Jobs Plan.”

Mr. Biden’s infrastructure proposal calls for spending in a variety of areas — including transportation, energy and housing — making a number of his cabinet members well positioned to help sell the plan in the coming months.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Tax Plan Challenges G.O.P. Formula for Economic Growth, Patricia Cohen, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). President Biden sees public spending, rather than relying on businesses to turn tax cuts into investment, as the key to competitiveness.

When President Donald J. Trump and a Republican Congress rewrote the tax code in 2017, most of the benefits went to the wealthiest Americans, with lower rates on businesses and on profits from investments. The guiding principle, proponents argued, was that cutting taxes on corporations and investors would encourage businesses to expand, creating more jobs and generating more wealth for everyone.

By contrast, the animating idea behind the tax plan put forward by the Biden administration on Wednesday is that the best way to increase America’s competitiveness and foster economic growth is to raise corporate taxes to finance huge investments in transportation, broadband, utilities and more.

The Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers all welcomed the idea of pumping money into repairing and building the nation’s infrastructure, but recoiled at raising corporate taxes to do so.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden’s Pitch Is That Tackling Climate Change Will Create Jobs, Coral Davenport, Noam Scheiber and Lisa Friedman, Updated April 1, 2021. For President Biden, a $2 trillion infrastructure plan is about creating union jobs in wind and solar power, and road- and bridge-building. He faces skepticism. Some workers don’t see how skills honed over decades in industries like fossil fuels would translate in a clean-energy future.

In 2017, as Donald J. Trump was announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the largest global effort to attack planetary warming, he declared, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

On Wednesday, President Biden traveled to Pittsburgh to try to make the opposite case: that the workers Mr. Trump was appealing to have more to gain from combating climate change than to lose.

It is going to be a tough bet. To Mr. Biden, a $2 trillion infrastructure plan is about creating union jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, in wind and solar power, electric cars and road- and bridge-building. Even those more basic infrastructure projects would have a climate angle: the new roads and bridges would be built to withstand the high waters and brutal storms of a changing climate.

“I am a union guy. I support unions, unions built the middle class. It is about time you start to get a piece of the action,” Mr. Biden said in Pittsburgh.

He promised “good paying jobs” for “American workers” making “American products.”

That is not a new pitch. For decades, Democrats have insisted “jobs versus the environment” is a false choice. But in the scale of his proposal and the audacity of his promises, Mr. Biden may be laying his political future on that idea.

He faces a lot of skepticism. He faces a lot of skepticism.

In Michigan, a state critical to the president’s political future, autoworkers know it takes fewer of them to build an electric car. Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat whose vote could again decide the package’s fate, understands coal miners in his state would earn considerably less putting up wind turbines.

And in Pennsylvania, which put Mr. Biden over the top in November, and then hosted his speech on Wednesday, some union workers don’t see how skills honed over decades in fossil fuel industries would translate in a clean-energy future.

“They keep saying, ‘We’re going to transition you into solar jobs.’ That’s not how it works,” said Shawn Steffee, a leader of the Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh. “We build power plants, petrochemical plants and maintain steel mills.”

washington post logoWashington Post, EPA purges 40 outside experts picked by Trump from advisory panels, Dino Grandoni, April 1, 2021 (print ed.).  The Biden administration says it needs to restore trust in the agency by “resetting” membership on two key science advisory panels.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, left, will purge more than 40 outside experts appointed by President Donald Trump from two key Michael Reganadvisory panels, a move he says will help restore the role of science at the agency and reduce the heavy influence of industry over environmental regulations.

The unusual decision, announced Wednesday, will sweep away outside researchers picked under the previous administration whose expert advice helped the agency craft regulations related to air pollution, fracking and other issues.

Critics say that under Trump, membership of the two panels — the EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) and Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) — tilted too heavily toward regulated industries and their positions sometimes contradicted scientific consensus.

The Biden administration said the move is one of several to reestablish scientific integrity across the federal government after what it characterizes as a concerted effort under the previous president to sideline or interfere with research on climate change, the novel coronavirus and other issues.

washington post logoWashington Post, Va. high court clears way for Charlottesville to remove statue of Robert E. Lee, Gregory S. Schneider, April 1, 2021. The ruling appears to make it easier for localities around the state to remove Civil War memorials.

The Charlottesville City Council voted to take down both the Lee and a nearby statue of Stonewall Jackson shortly after the rally in which white supremacists defended Confederate iconography, with one of them driving his car through a crowd of counterprotesters and killing a young woman.

But several local residents sued to prevent the statues from coming down. They argued that a state law passed in 1997 prohibited localities from removing Confederate war memorials.

Hill Reporter, Commentary: The Demise of Rolling Stone: How A Legendary Magazine Sold Out to Trump and the Saudis, Tara Dublin, April 1, 2021. Rolling Stone magazine was once a shining beacon of rebellion. Devoted to telling the truth about its subjects, the publication has often caused controversy throughout its more than fifty years.

But in more recent years, the magazine has seen its share of bad publicity in light of bad decision making, which led to the ultimate bad decision: Rolling Stone was sold to the son of Trump-backing multimillionaire Roger Penske, Jay Penske. Jay is a high-profile GOP donor who fired tenured and experienced journalists, then hired hacks to write tabloid level pieces that leaned so far to the right, he was awarded a Presidential Medal from the former guy himself.

One member of Penske’s stable is Seth Hettena, a freelance journalist who encouraged people to donate to Trump in 2016 and whose tweets have emerged showing he’s against a living wage and also mocked the SEIU for fighting for $15 an hour. Hettena is a journalist who is also known for going after the likes of Erik Prince and Blackwater. One might infer that Hettena now appears corrupted by the very forces he once sought to investigate.

Hettena recently contacted MeidasTouch, the PAC founded by the Meiselas Brothers, with a list of accusations he was about to write in an article specifically crafted to defame them. Hettena demanded an explanation, but MeidasTouch simply tweeted a reply. And now Hettena’s attempts to smear and silence a group who are clearly seen as a threat to Republicans has just backfired, as the spotlight is now not just on him, but the practices of his boss and his son, Jay Penske, who now runs the magazine.

Jay Penske lives the millionaire playboy lifestyle, with a supermodel wife and a lot of wealthy friends. He was once arrested with his brother in Nantucket for assaulting a woman and urinating on her.

But the most compelling thing about Jay Penske is that both he and his father have close ties to the Saudis. Jay Penske took $200 million from a Saudi Arabian government-backed company, SRMG, but has neither explained the loan nor the relationship. And Penske Media Corporation, which employs hundreds of journalists at Variety, Deadline, The Robb Report, WWD and others as well as Rolling Stone, has never publicly addressed the investment tie to the regime, either to defend or explain it.

But Rolling Stone did report that Mohammed Bin-Salman (MBS), who is directly connected to the murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, acquired a $500 million stake in LiveNation, the biggest producer of live events and concerts in America, via the Saudia Arabian Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Seeing as Jay Penske was seen partying with MBS and others aboard his yacht immediately after Khashoggi’s murder, it’s assumed that some or possibly all of the $200 million Jay Penske received was from MBS as well.

Jay was also in the Oval Office the day his father Roger was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the former guy.

So what we have is a smear campaign written by a freelance journalist who hates unions but is writing for a publication owned by a Trump shill who parties with the Saudis. Both Rolling Stone and Hettena are also now targeting the vendors who work with MeidasTouch.

Trump Team: Profiteering On Pandemic?

peter navarro white house image

washington post logoWashington Post, Navarro warned Trump of virus supply shortage, then pursued his own deals, Dan Diamond, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). White House trade adviser Peter Navarro urged the president to invest in ingredients for drugs, virus tests and other supplies. When he was ignored, he pursued $1 billion in “haphazard” contracts, according to documents released by Democrats.

A top adviser privately urged President Donald Trump to acquire critical medical supplies in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak — and after the warning was ignored, pursued his own ad hoc strategy that committed more than $1 billion in federal funds and has since prompted multiple probes, according to newly released documents from congressional investigators.

USTR seal Custom 2Peter Navarro, who served as Trump’s trade adviser, warned the president on March 1, 2020, to “MOVE IN ‘TRUMP TIME’” to invest in ingredients for drugs, handheld coronavirus tests and other supplies to fight the virus, according to a memo obtained by the House’s select subcommittee on the coronavirus outbreak. Navarro also said that he’d been trying to acquire more protective gear like masks, critiquing the administration’s pace.

“There is NO downside risk to taking swift actions as an insurance policy against what may be a very serious public health emergency. If the covid-19 crisis quickly recedes, the only thing we will have been guilty of is prudence,” Navarro wrote to the president. At the time, there were about 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States and just two deaths linked to the outbreak.

fda logoBut after Trump ignored Navarro’s recommendations, the trade adviser embarked on his own strategy to acquire supplies with little oversight, Democrats said. Navarro subsequently steered a $765 million loan to Eastman Kodak to produce ingredients for generic drugs, a $354 million sole-source contract for pharmaceutical ingredients to a start-up called Phlow, and a $96 million sole-source contract for powered respirators and filters from AirBoss Defense Group.

The administration’s loan to Kodak, which had never previously manufactured drugs and is best known for its former photography business, was paused last year amid probes by multiple congressional committees. House investigators also learned that Kodak executives had warned federal officials in March 2020 that the company would need a waiver from the Food and Drug Administration’s current good manufacturing practices — federal standards intended to ensure that firms have the necessary equipment, facilities and other components needed to produce safe and effective drugs.

Meanwhile, leaders of Phlow — a company that had never previously manufactured drugs and was only incorporated in January 2020 — strategized with Navarro’s office on its proposal to produce pharmaceutical ingredients in Virginia. Company leaders had previously won Navarro’s favor by making the argument the United States was too dependent on Chinese manufacturing — a big concern of Navarro’s. The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA) subsequently awarded a $354 million contract to the firm with an additional $458 million in contract options, amid pressure from Navarro, who urged jack keaneofficials to “please move this puppy in Trump time.”

House investigators also obtained documents where retired Gen. Jack Keane (shown in a file photo from his military career), a Trump ally who was a paid AirBoss consultant, touted the company to Navarro on March 22, 2020, and helped arrange an immediate conversation between its leaders and White House officials. The company the next day submitted a $96.4 million proposal, and Navarro assured AirBoss leaders to “consider it done.” Navarro’s team subsequently pressured the Federal Emergency james clyburnManagement Agency to finalize an updated version of the contract within a week.

Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), right, the subcommittee chair, on Wednesday urged Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other senior officials to release further information about Navarro’s arrangements. Clyburn said his prior requests had been stalled by the Trump administration last year and he raised questions about other contracts that he said Navarro may have been involved in.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump gave drugmakers a late win on prescription drug prices. Democrats want Biden to roll it back, Christopher Rowland, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). The move set off howls from health advocates who say the plan would eliminate one of the few impediments to sky-high drug prices.

Two weeks before President Donald Trump left office, his administration bestowed a parting gift on the U.S. prescription drug industry. It proposed a rule to block the government from citing exorbitant prices to seize control of a drug’s production.

The rule, drawn up by a division of the Commerce Department, would settle a long-running battle over when government is justified in exercising “march in” rights over taxpayer-supported government inventions. The 40-year-old Bayh-Dole law gives the government power to grant a license to another manufacturer if a company is not making a government-sponsored invention available to the public on “reasonable terms.”

The government has never used the extraordinary power, regardless of which party has held the White House. But it has remained a battleground in Washington debates over the high prices of prescription drugs.

Under industry pressure and to the dismay of patient advocates, the Trump administration on Jan. 4 set in motion a plan to end the debate. Its proposed rule, which could become final in as little as a few months, would narrow the circumstances under which march-in rights could be deployed. The definition of “reasonable terms” would never apply to the price of a drug, no matter how high, under the Trump rule.

Democrats in Congress and health advocates say the proposed rule would eliminate one of the few impediments to sky-high drug prices in the United States. The nonprofit groups Knowledge Ecology International and Public Citizen, as well as several activist organizations with big email lists of grass-roots supporters, are demanding that President Biden’s administration reverse the Trump move.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group, has not yet submitted a comment on the proposed rule. The comment period closes April 5. In 2019, urging the Commerce Department to take this step, it said the move is needed to clarify the intent of the 1980 law.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will have to decide whether to overturn the Trump action or make it final. Groups against the rule have used the official comment period to organize submissions of thousands of cookie-cutter messages from individual citizens denouncing the proposed restriction and calling on Raimondo to reverse the plan.

Virus Victims, Responses

washington post logoWashington Post, 97.6 million vaccinated, as of April 1, 2021 (print ed.), is the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, covering 36.5 of the eligible population,16 and older and 29.4 % of the total population. See about your state.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Worldometer, World & U.S. Coronavirus Case Totals (updated: April 1, 2021, with some governments reporting slightly lower numbers than the totals here):

World Cases: 129,625,649, Deaths: 2,830,882
U.S. Cases:     31,167,777, Deaths:   565,266
Brazil Cases:   12,753,258, Deaths:   321,886

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Vaccines Roll Out, but Rising Cases Bring Alarming Reminder, Staff Reports, With all adults in the U.S. soon eligible for vaccination, the path out of the pandemic is clear. But it is a road lined with danger, as surging hospitalizations in Michigan demonstrate.

In Spain, visitors from abroad face fewer restrictions than residents, underlining the challenge to balance public health and the economy. Here’s the latest on Covid-19.

  • Biden says it’s ‘a mistake’ for the Texas Rangers to allow a capacity crowd on Opening Day.
  • Italy pushes back as health care workers shun vaccination.
  • Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is delayed by a U.S. factory mixup.
  • Hungary, despite having one of the world’s worst per capita death rates, plans to ease restrictions.
  • A memorial in paint: 150,000 hearts for the lives lost to Covid-19 in Britain.

 

U.S. Insurrection, Courts, Regulation

ny times logoNew York Times, N.Y. Seeks Trump Insider’s Records, in Apparent Bid to Gain Cooperation, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum, Jonah E. Bromwich and Maggie Haberman, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). State prosecutors in Manhattan subpoenaed the personal bank records of the Trump Organization’s longtime C.F.O. and are scrutinizing gifts he received from the former president.

allen weisselberg croppedState prosecutors in Manhattan investigating former President Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization have subpoenaed the personal bank records of the company’s chief financial officer and are questioning gifts he and his family received from Mr. Trump, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

In recent weeks, the prosecutors have trained their focus on the executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, in what appears to be a determined effort to gain his cooperation. Mr. Weisselberg, who has not been accused of wrongdoing, has overseen the Trump Organization’s finances for decades and may hold the key to any possible criminal case in New York against the former president and his family business.

Prosecutors working for the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., are examining, among other things, whether Mr. Trump and the company falsely manipulated property values to obtain loans and tax benefits.

It is unclear whether Mr. Weisselberg would cooperate with the investigation and neither his lawyer, Mary E. Mulligan, nor Mr. Vance’s office would comment. But if a review of his personal finances were to uncover possible wrongdoing, prosecutors could then use that information to press Mr. Weisselberg to guide them through the inner workings of the company. The 73-year-old accountant began his career working for Mr. Trump’s father.

daily beast logoDaily Beast, Oath Keepers Stormed the Capitol in Stolen Golf Carts: Indictment, Rachel Olding, April 1, 2021. As they prepared to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, members of the Oath Keepers militia “prepared themselves for battle” by donning ballistic vests, goggles, helmets, radios and camo gear, prosecutors say. But some members picked unusual vehicles to transport them to the battlefront: stolen golf carts.

In a superseding indictment that accuses several Oath Keepers of conspiring together to breach the Capitol, prosecutors say Robert Minuta, Joshua James, and other militia members swerved around police cars as they rode two stolen buggies towards the Capitol.

“Patriots are storming the Capitol building, there’s violence against patriots by the D.C. police; so we’re en route in a grand theft auto golf cart to the Capitol building right now,” Minuta said, according to the indictment. “It’s literally going down right now…. fucking war in the street.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Four killed, including child, in shooting at Southern California office building, police say, Meghann Cuniff and Teo Armus, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Police in Orange, Calif., said one additional victim was in critical condition. A suspect was taken into custody.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What the hardworking women at massage businesses do for the people who know them best, Arthur Tam, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Arthur Tam is a journalist based in the United States and a former editor at Time Out Hong Kong and Cedar Hong Kong.

As a teenager, I frequently complained about muscle aches. My mother’s immediate instinct was to set up weekly appointments for me to see Alice — a plump, middle-aged Taiwanese acupressurist and qi gong practitioner with bearlike strength and a full head of grey hair. Her long, peppery locks, I was told, were the result of years of lending her qi — her life force — to heal others.

I didn’t believe much in this Chinese philosophy of qi transfer, but nevertheless, Alice worked her magic on me. When she first pressed her hands deep into my muscles, I felt an initial jolt of pain. But then the pain turned into relief and my spirit revitalized. In borrowing some of her strength, I regained mine. Afterward, Alice would sometimes put me in a rice vinegar steam bath to soothe my body and flush out any remaining toxins from my muscles. I ended up smelling like a pickle, but the results were worth it.

Alice was a true entrepreneur. She started her business in her home in the San Gabriel Valley in California, and operated it there until her clientele grew. She became so sought after that she moved her practice into an office space and was able to afford a house for her nephews, who had come to the United States to study. Her own son would go into the family trade and take on additional clients his mother didn’t have time for. It was the American dream: a grandmother transcending her limited English to use her knowledge and experience in a way that benefited herself, her family and her community.

That’s what I want people to think about when they contemplate Asian-owned massage businesses and Asian massage workers. And that’s why when I read about the Atlanta spa shootings and learned about the identity of the victims, I felt the anguish of a crucial connection severed.

Like Alice, these hardworking women, matriarchs and providers, channeled their immigrant grit and determination in their unglamorous workplace.

But that wasn’t the story that initially emerged in the media, in part because the alleged killer spoke about his motivation before all of his victims’ families had been informed and their names released to the public. Because the alleged shooter described himself as having a “sex addiction” and described the businesses he targeted as a source of temptation, too many people assumed that the businesses he targeted were vice-ridden dens.

While it is true that two of the spas were targeted in police prostitution stings, the last such arrest happened in 2013. Jumping to the conclusion that Asian-owned spas provide cover for sex work not only ignores studies that suggest workers are sexually victimized by customers, but reflects the double standards immigrants face all too often.

 

World News

washington post logoWashington Post, Venezuelan offensive sends thousands fleeing to Colombia, recharging one of the world’s worst refugee crises, Steven Grattan, Anthony Faiola and Ana Vanessa Herrero, April 1, 2021. A new campaign by the Venezuelan military near the country’s lawless western border is sparking a surge of refugees, with thousands defying the spiking pandemic to pack into makeshift shelters and tent settlements in this Colombian town.

The sudden outflow is amplifying a renewed wave of Venezuelan refugees and migrants — the world’s second-largest group of internationally venezuela flag waving customdisplaced people — from the broken socialist state. Concern is also rising about mounting tensions between the left-wing Venezuelan and right-wing Colombian governments, which are blaming each other for the uptick in violence in Venezuela’s western Apure state.

The Venezuelan military launched a campaign two weeks ago against a rogue faction of Colombian guerrillas in this jungle region along the Arauca River. The guerrillas, known as the 10th Front, appear to have run afoul of the government in Caracas, which allegedly has had long-standing profit-sharing and protection deals with other leftist fighters in the area engaged in narco-trafficking and extortion.

washington post logoWashington Post, Jailed Russian opposition leader Navalny declares hunger strike, Robyn Dixon, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny declared a hunger strike Wednesday after unsuccessful attempts to get medical care for severe back pain, according to an Instagram post in his name.

alexey navalny 2017Navalny, right, survived an August assassination attempt with a chemical weapon that the U.S. State Department blames on Russian security agencies, but he was jailed when he flew back to Russia in January after treatment in Germany.

He was sentenced to 2½ years in prison for breaching parole conditions in a 2014 fraud case, partly because he failed to report to authorities while under treatment in Germany.

Navalny last week requested painkilling injections for back pain and a right leg so numb that he says it barely supports his weight.

“I have the right to call a doctor and get medicine. Neither of which I am given, stupidly,” the Wednesday post said. It said the numbness was moving to his left leg.

Russian FlagThe Kremlin has declined to comment on Navalny’s complaints, calling it a matter for prison authorities.

The post said he was lying in his cell on his bed on a hunger strike, in what he called a major violation of prison rules. He was reading the Bible, the only book made available to him in prison.

The post said was also being “tortured by sleep deprivation,” roused eight times every night by a guard shining a torch in his face to supposedly ensure he has not absconded.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hong Kong court finds pro-democracy activists, most over 60, guilty of unauthorized assembly, Shibani Mahtani and Theodora Yu, April 1, 2021. The democracy activists, including 82-year-old Martin Lee, could now be jailed for up to five years.

the dragnet closes around almost the entirety of the city’s opposition.

China FlagThe seven convicted include Martin Lee, an 82-year-old barrister who helped launch Hong Kong’s main opposition party in the 1990s, and Lee Cheuk-yan, 64, who backed the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and helped organize a yearly vigil for it in the city. Two others had already pleaded guilty.

Their ability to live freely and continue their activism has for years been a bellwether of Hong Kong’s relative autonomy from mainland China, which Beijing has moved to crush with staggering speed and intensity.

The activists, some of whom are former legislators, face up to five years in prison. Many are also defendants in other cases, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who has also been charged under Beijing’s new national security law and denied bail.

 

U.S. Media News

washington post logoWashington Post, One of QAnon’s most widely quoted critics reveals his real name. Hint: It’s not Travis View, Craig Timberg, April 1, 2021 (print ed.). QAnon Anonymous co-host, riding a wave of newfound fame, acknowledges he was using a pseudonym all along.

On a live stream of “QAnon Anonymous” last week, co-host Travis View did something he had never done before — told listeners his real name. It is Logan Strain.

The 38-year-old husband, father and professional skeptic from Southern California had catapulted himself from obscure digital marketer to widely quoted expert on QAnon — the extreme ideology that helped fuel the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and other violence — in the span of three years.

Driving this change was an increasingly popular podcast reaching more than 100,000 listeners and earning more than $60,000 a month. A related live stream on Twitch, which is where he publicly revealed his real name for the first time on Thursday, only added to that audience — and profit — for Strain and the show’s other two co-hosts.

But Strain’s use of a professional pseudonym has complicated this success story.

The Washington Post, which like other news organizations quoted him several times offering analysis of QAnon, was not aware that the Travis View persona was an invention, created for the anything-goes world of the Internet in 2017. Strain also used the name in real-world events, including for a panel discussion on online radicalization hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, in February, and a separate event for the group in 2019.

Experts in journalistic ethics said Strain’s use of a pseudonym created complex ethical issues for the news organizations that quoted him.

Pseudonyms are not unusual in coverage of literature, the arts and entertainment. Rapper and actor Ice Cube, for example, was born O’Shea Jackson. Filmmaker Woody Allen was Allan Stewart Konigsberg. Judy Garland was Frances Ethel Gumm.

But news organizations have a duty to be clear with their readers, experts said, while also using authentic identifiers of subjects and sources to hold them accountable for their representations in news articles. Experts also said news organizations sometimes have legitimate reasons for using pseudonyms — to protect the safety of subjects or their families, for example — but it’s hard to assess such issues if they are unaware that a commentator in a story is using a fake name.

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court sides with Facebook in class-action dispute over robo-texts, Robert Barnes, April 1, 2021. The Supreme Court on Thursday facebook logosided with Facebook in a complaint about unwanted text messages and dismissed Florida’s long-running claim that Georgia’s upstream consumption of river water ruined the oyster industry in the Florida Panhandle.

In a third unanimous decision, the court said the Federal Communications Commission complied with the law in its rules easing limits on the ownership of local television and radio stations.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court in the Facebook case, saying a 1991 federal ban on robocalls did not cover Facebook’s system of sending text messages to inform that someone had logged into an account from an unknown device or browser.

The court was interpreting the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which Sotomayor said was passed to govern the then-recent technology that “infamously” allowed companies to make calls “using artificial or prerecorded voices, obviating the need for live human callers.”

 

 

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