• Biden Says He’ll Deploy 5,000 Troops to Afghanistan for “Orderly and Safe Drawdown”

    Afghan soldiers prepare for landing on board a UH-60 during a resupply flight for an outpost in the Shah Wali Kot district north of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty

    After committing to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden backpedaled slightly on Saturday, saying in a statement that he would deploy 5,000 additional troops to the country in response to the “risk from the Taliban advance.”

    In his statement, Biden noted that despite the troop deployment, he still intended to end the American presence in the country. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me,” he said. He called the effort part of an “orderly and safe drawdown.”

    Biden’s announcement comes after the Taliban took over swaths of the country after the U.S.’s withdrawal in the country. The group now controls about half of the country’s provincial capitals, and Axios reports that the Biden administration is preparing for a fall of Kabul. The U.S., U.K., Germany, and other countries have said that they would evacuate much of their diplomatic staff in the country as the Taliban gains more territory. 

    Biden announced the troop deployment amid a list of four other items related to the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, which include directing Secretary of State Tony Blinken to “support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement,” and conveying to Taliban representatives in Doha that “any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response.”

    “Over our country’s 20 years at war in Afghanistan, America has sent its finest young men and women, invested nearly $1 trillion dollars, trained over 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police, equipped them with state-of-the- art military equipment, and maintained their air force as a part of the longest war in U.S. history,” Biden said in his statement. “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.”

  • Hundreds Killed in a 7.2 Magnitude Earthquake in Haiti, Says Civil Protection Agency

    Sacred Heart church is damaged after an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti on Saturday. AP Photo/Delot Jean

    On  Saturday morning, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, days before a tropical storm is expected to hit the country. At least 227 are dead and thousands are injured, the country’s civil protection agency says. The earthquake’s epicenter was 78 miles west of Haiti’s capital, Port Au-Prince said the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Prime Minister Ariel Henry said that all government resources possible would be directed at helping victims, and announced a one-month state of emergency. Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s director of civil protection, told the AP that search and rescue teams will be deployed to the affected areas.

    President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were briefed on the earthquake this morning, according to ABC News. Biden authorized an immediate U.S. response and tasked USAID Director Samantha Power with coordinating the efforts.

    People stand outside the residence of the Catholic bishop after it was damaged by an earthquake in Les Cayes, Haiti on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021.

    AP Photo/Delot Jean

    Haiti was previously hit by a 5.9 earthquake in 2018 that killed over a dozen people and in 2010, endured a 7.1 earthquake that killed an estimated 200,000. Some experts believe that while the impact of the earthquake will be tragic, it won’t be quite as bad as 2010, despite having a slightly higher magnitude, because the epicenter is further from Port-au-Prince. 

    Tropical Storm Grace is expected to reach Haiti between late Monday night and early on Tuesday.

    This post has been updated to reflect further reporting by local agencies of the number of people killed in the earthquake.

  • “Bar Rescue” Host and Laura Ingraham Discuss Cutting Unemployment Aid to Make Workers “Hungry” Like an “Obedient Dog”

    Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

    Jon Taffer, the host of the reality show Bar Rescue, has got a plan to stop the ongoing crisis of people not wanting to work crap jobs for low pay in the restaurant and service industry—turn workers into “hungry dog[s].”

    Speaking to Laura Ingraham on Fox News, Taffer—a Nightclub Hall of Fame inductee!—jumped off the idea of slashing unemployment benefits (part of a package of aid in response to COVID-19 that brought about a record drop in poverty) as an incentive to, as Ingraham noted, make people “hungry.”

    Ingraham backtracked and said not “physical hunger,” without clarifying what else she could mean.

    But then Taffer forged ahead with this:

    I have a friend in the military who trains military dogs, Laura. And they only feed a military dog at night. Because a hungry dog is an obedient dog. Well, if we’re not causing people to be hungry to work then we’re providing them with all the meals they need sitting at home. I’m completely with you Laura. These benefits make absolutely no sense to us.

    The Bar Rescue host later apologized.

    I want to sincerely apologize for using a terrible analogy in reference to the unemployment situation,” Taffer said a day after the interview on Twitter. “My comment was an unfortunate attempt to express a desire for our lives to return to normal. I recognize this has been a challenging year for everyone, and I am eager for the hospitality industry to come back stronger than ever.”

    Taffer himself benefited from government assistance during the pandemic, receiving roughly $61,000 dollars worth of Paycheck Protection Program loans.

    Some businesses in the US including restaurants have had trouble finding enough employees to be fully staffed after laying off workers during the initial heights of the pandemic in 2020. But restaurant workers have said that they believe there’s only a wage shortage, not a labor shortage. Many businesses that pay living wages say that they’re not having trouble finding employees to meet their staffing needs.

  • Biden Administration Promises to Help School Districts That Defy DeSantis’ Mask Mandate Ban

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

    The Biden Administration is offering a helping hand to school districts that are fed up with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ handling of COVID-19.

    In a Friday letter to DeSantis and Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona offered financial assistance to schools in the state implementing their own mask mandates to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

    On July 30, DeSantis announced an executive order banning school districts from imposing mask mandates for students. As punishment for defiance, DeSantis said that he would strip pay for teachers and administrators in Florida schools instituting masked mandates. Then, he backpedaled. DeSantis admitted that he could take away teacher salaries. Instead, the governor warned of “consequences.” And he began to call for financial penalties for defying his order.

    Cardona wrote in response that he was “deeply concerned about Florida’s July 30 Executive Order prohibiting school districts from adopting universal masking policies,” a policy that breaks from Center for Disease Control recommendations.

    Some schools in the state had moved forward with mask mandates despite DeSantis’s threats. Cardona wrote that the Department of Education, “stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.”

    “We are eager to partner with [Florida’s Department of Education] on any efforts to further our shared goals of protecting the health and safety of students and educators,” Cardona continued. “If FL DOE does not wish to pursue such an approach, the Department will continue to work directly with the school districts and educators that serve Florida’s students.”

    In a statement to Politico on Friday evening, DeSantis’ spokeswoman Christina Pushaw criticized the White House for the move, saying that it shouldn’t be spending money “on the salaries of superintendents and elected politicians, who don’t believe that parents have a right to choose what’s best for their children, than on Florida’s students, which is what these funds should be used for.”

    Earlier on Friday Florida’s Board of Education had met to consider sanctioning leaders in Alachua and Broward counties over their mask mandates. Within the past several weeks, three educators in Broward county died from coronavirus complications.

    The state had received on $7 billion from the American Rescue Plan for schools. Ninety percent of which was set aside for school districts. 

    Florida has hit all time coronavirus case and hospitalization records in the past weeks. Deaths from the virus steadily climbed back, too. The state is averaging upwards of 160 deaths per day. Some hospitals have started “stacking patients in hallways” to accommodate the surging amount of people who need care.

  • We’re Not Going to the Moon Anytime Soon, But Joe Biden Won’t Kill Trump’s Dream

    JNeil Armstrong/Nasa/Atlas Archive/UPPA via ZUMA Press

    There are some troubling policies and practices from the Trump years that President Joe Biden has chosen to carry forward, even as he’s aggressively worked to undo others. In at least one case, though, there’s an unrealistic and expensive Trump-era goal that Biden is pushing forward with, even in opposition to his own experts: A 2024 human landing on the moon.

    That’s according to a new piece published Friday by Marina Koren in The Atlantic. Koren convincingly argues that the proposed lunar landing in late 2024—which the Trump administration saw, at least partially, as a political feather for Trump’s cap, along with the creation of Space Force—is clearly behind schedule. Delays in the development in the modern redesign of the spacesuit, along with budget overruns coupled with budget shortfalls, may make the 2024 “no longer a realistic target,” Steve Jurcyzk, the acting NASA administrator in February, told Ars Technica. As such, Koren argues, the Biden administration “could slough off the 2024 goal easily enough.”

    Instead, the administration is pushing forward with the 2024 goal, even if “it’s a stretch” and “a challenge,” according to current Administrator Bill Nelson.

    Koren points out that Biden has plenty to deal with—the pandemic, infrastructure, climate change—and noted in an earlier piece that 2018 polling found the public preferred that NASA’s main focus be climate research. In 2019 just 8 percent of Americans said a moon landing should be the agency’s top priority, with a majority supporting climate research and national security-related missions.

    Perhaps the answer has more to do with national security than national pride. On the same day that Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva to discuss election meddling, human rights, and ransomware, the Chinese government was showing off its success in getting its new space station operational. Former Vice President Mike Pence said in 2019 that there was a new “space race” afoot akin to the 1960s, “and the stakes are even higher.”

    Even still, NASA’s internal investigator said this week that the 2024 landing is “not feasible.” Koren reported that a NASA spokesperson said that the budget and timeline for the mission are being evaluated and that the agency “will provide an update later this year.” Safety is a priority, the spokesperson said, “and NASA will put humans on the moon when it is safe to do so.”

  • A Small Group of Moderate Democrats Threaten to Derail Their Party’s Legacy

    Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

    A group of nine House Democrats hailing from the caucus’ more moderate wing is threatening to block a $3.5 trillion spending package until their chamber first passes the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill. The move jeopardizes the White House’s ambitious economic agenda and runs counter to the desires of both the president and congressional leadership.

    The lawmakers announced their pledge in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday, which was first reported by the New York Times. “The country is clamoring for infrastructure investment and commonsense, bipartisan solutions,” it reads. “We will not consider voting for a budget resolution until the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the House and is signed into law.” Nearly all of the nine signatories, led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), are members of the business-friendly Blue Dog Coalition.

    The centrist lawmakers’ demands run counter to the order of operations Pelosi proposed when the White House announced the bipartisan infrastructure deal in June. The House, Pelosi said, would not take up that package until it passed the reconciliation bill, a measure that could pass the Senate with just Democratic votes and has become the center for the party’s wider ambitions such as climate change legislation and child care. She reiterated that plan during a call with fellow Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday. “I’m not freelancing,” Pelosi said, according to Politico. “This is the consensus of the caucus.”

    The strategy appeased progressive House members, who had threatened their own rebellion if Democrats did not put their full weight behind a party-line spending bill, one that stands as the party’s last chance to make good on their ambitions before the 2022 midterms. But it also preserved much of the White House’s $4 trillion economic vision that aimed to invest not only in jobs and infrastructure but also social programs such as child care and education. To pass both together, in order words, is to ensure Biden’s legacy.

    The letter makes formal a brewing tension that has upended House Democrats’ familiar intraparty dynamics. After the party regained control of the House in the 2018 midterms, Pelosi found herself at odds with her caucus’s left-flank, helmed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and her fellow “Squad” members. Democrats had owed their newfound majority to moderate lawmakers who flipped House seats, and much of House Democrats’ agenda during those two years hewed close to the center.

    But that was before Biden, who won the Democratic primary with a centrist pitch, faced a once-in-a-generation pandemic and absorbed the popular line items of progressives’ wish lists into his platform as the party’s nominee. The White House formalized those ideas into a pair of economic proposals, the American Jobs and Families Plans. The line items with bipartisan appeal found their way into the infrastructure deal. The rest were sorted into the $3.5 trillion economic package—which also includes tax hikes on the rich.

    The sorts of programs and revenue raisers in the budget bill are typically anathemas to the business-friendly Democrats who signed Friday’s letter. The letter, notably, makes no promises that the signers will vote for the $3.5 trillion budget package, even if their demands to take up the infrastructure bill are met.

    As I reported earlier this week, despite his image as a centrist dealmaker, it’s actually been the more moderate members of his party who have proven to be a thorn in Biden’s side this year. “On matters of style, Biden sees himself in the moderates,” I wrote, “preferring across-the-aisle dealmaking to partisan warfare. But he’s unwilling to put that style ahead of substance in pursuit of his legacy—a legacy that, for now, is more closely aligned with his party’s left flank.”

    Pelosi has led her caucus with an iron fist, bending the ideologically sprawling coalition into submission in service of proving Democrats can get things done. She’s done so by cutting deals—and by cutting down vocal outliers on an as-needed basis. “That’s like, five people,” she said scoffing at the Squad’s influence in 2019. Whether Pelosi will reprise that dismissiveness for her caucus’s right flank is yet to be seen.

  • FDA Approves Booster Vaccines for Immunocompromised as Delta Rages Across the Country

    Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)/AP

    The US Food and Drug Administration authorized a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people, such as solid organ transplant recipients, the agency announced Thursday.

    “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.” The New York Times reported that an estimated 3 percent of Americans would fall under this designation for a variety of reasons.

    Woodcock said non-immunocompromised people who are full vaccinated “are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose” at this time, but that the FDA is “actively engaged in a science-based, rigorous process with our federal partners to consider whether an additional dose may be needed in the future.”

    The news comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 makes its march through communities across the country, and hospitals in places such as Texas and Florida reach or exceed covid-related hospitalization rates not seen since last fall. The Florida Hospital Association reported earlier this week that 68 percent of hospitals there expect to reach a “critical staffing shortage,” the Palm Beach Post reported Friday, with pre-pandemic medical staff shortages having been exacerbated by the pandemic. That, combined with the recent surge in cases, has “dozens” of hospitals there stopping elective surgeries, the paper reported.

    Since the start of the pandemic last year, over 619,000 Americans have died from the disease. As the Delta variant spreads throughout the country, the US is now averaging an additional 616 deaths per day as of August 12, a 92 percent increase from two weeks ago. Cases have also rose precipitously, averaging 125,894 per day, a 76 percent increase. And while increases in cases are more worrisome in areas of the country with lower vaccination rates, as Delta rages areas of the country that were successfully on getting their populations vaccinated are also becoming hotspots for infection.

  • It Sure Looks Like Marjorie Taylor Greene Is About to Get Permanently Banned From Twitter

    Zach D Roberts/ZUMA

    Twitter has suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for one week after the first-term representative from Georgia falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were “failing” and ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus, violating the company’s rules on spreading COVID misinformation. 

    This marks Greene’s fourth strike from the platform since she arrived in Congress, an impressive feat built upon a record interwoven with conspiracy theories, racism, and misinformation. According to Twitter’s policy on medical information, Greene’s next violation would get her permanently suspended from the platform. Judging from her seeming inability to refrain from spreading misinformation and her history of being generally awful both online and off, a permanent ban seems like a safe bet.

    If that happens, and boy does it seem like it will, Greene will be stripped of yet another significant perch from which she’s spread her brand of hate and falsehoods. In February, the House voted to remove her committee assignments after debate over her social media posts supporting hateful conspiracy theories and the execution of prominent Democrats. Greene’s summer tour with Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman under investigation for having sex with a minor and paying prostitutes, has also run into problems with multiple venues canceling their appearances in response to complaints.

    So, with the Delta variant ravaging communities across the country and medical disinformation still kneecapping efforts to boost vaccination rates, let’s look forward to something that seems all but inevitable: The coming ban of one of the loudest misinformed mouthpieces out there.

  • Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne Gets Sued for Pushing Election Lies

    Patrick Byrne speaks at a Washington rally of Trump supporters the night of January 5, 2021.Bryan Smith/Zuma

    Dominion, the voting equipment vendor at the heart of some of the most sensational and debunked conspiracies holding that the 2020 was stolen from former President Donald Trump, filed a trio of defamation lawsuits Tuesday targeting two conservative media outlets and Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. 

    The suits bring the total number of suits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against prominent propagators of such conspiracies to seven, according to the Wall Street Journal: It had already sued Fox News, former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

    Byrne has established himself as one of driving forces of misinformation and disinformation about the 2020 election, pouring his money into the effort. The America Project, his nonprofit, reportedly provided $3.25 million to the organization behind the “audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, and has produced a book and a movie, The Deep Rig, laying out his case. Dominion’s lawyers also allege that Byrne provided a private jet to a team that traveled to Michigan to produce a widely debunked and error-ridden report on alleged election rigging in that state.

    The suit against Byrne alleges that he decided months before the 2020 election that it would be stolen and, after the election, “manufactured and promoted fake evidence to convince the world…of a massive international conspiracy among China, Venezuelan and Spanish companies, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prominent Republicans, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Dominion.”

    When it comes to Byrne’s motivations, Dominion’s lawsuit focuses on how he could gain financially by attacking their company. Byrne has reportedly invested more than $200 million in blockchain technology, including, Dominion’s lawyers allege, with companies looking to profit from promoting its use in smartphone voting.

    The company’s suits seek $1.6 billion in damages from all three parties, plus additional money to pay for security and “expenses incurred combatting the disinformation campaign.”

    “Between the imminent release of the Maricopa Audit, and Mike Lindell’s current activities in South Dakota, Dominion Voting is about to have a very difficult week,” Byrne told Mother Jones in response to a request for comment on the lawsuit. “They are simply doing this as a distraction.”

    The suits were filed the same day that Lindell—whose company MyPillow Inc. has counter-sued Dominion—planned to launch his so-called “Cyber Symposium.” The online event was organized by Lindell and other conspiracists who say they can prove Trump’s election victory was stolen as part of the kind of sprawling international conspiracy that Byrne has helped propagate. The event was apparently delayed due to technical glitches. Lindell blamed them on an “attack” from unnamed forces.

    This post has been updated to include comment from Patrick Byrne.

  • The Senate Finally Passed an Infrastructure Bill. Here Comes the Hard Part.

    Chuck Schumer

    Rod Lamkey/CNP/ZUMA

    The Senate passed an infrastructure bill on Tuesday morning that would invest $1 trillion to rebuild the country’s aging utilities and transportation systems. The bill was backed by every Senate Democrat, and gained support from 19 Republicans. The passage ends months of rocky negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and delivers a victory to President Joe Biden, who campaigned on restoring the art of bipartisan dealmaking to the Oval Office.

    But the road to enacting Biden’s economic vision is far from over. The bill’s passage in the Senate merely sends it over to the House, kicking off what promises to be a long, tempestuous process that will test Democrats’ narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress—and ultimately determine just how ambitious Biden’s promised economic transformation will be.

    The bill sets aside money to repair roads and bridges, replace remaining lead pipes, reinvigorate mass transit, and boost electric vehicles. It also would invest in new public works projects, such as a network of electric car charging stations and a massive expansion of the nation’s broadband access. The slate of projected work is expected to create millions of new jobs over the next decade. The legislation marks the largest investment in public works in nearly a decade, but it still falls far short of the $4 trillion economic vision the White House proposed earlier this year. The eventual bipartisan deal proved particularly disappointing to progressive lawmakers, who already viewed the White House’s initial proposals as a down payment on the massive investments they deem necessary to remedy the nation’s crises.

    Congress’ left flank bit their typically unreserved tongues early in the first weeks of the bipartisan talks, an effort to “give a little space” to negotiations because “we understand there are some Senate Democrats who need to see that,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told me in June. But as months wore on, patience wore thin. Anxiety reached a pitch last month as early details of the bipartisan senators’ framework trickled out. Key Democratic priorities would be significantly downsized in the Senate’s deal—and progressive priorities would be all but absent.

    Such cuts were necessary to attract support from both sides of the Senate’s evenly divided aisles, but could cause problems in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) oversees her own narrow majority. When the deal was first announced, Pelosi promised that her chamber would only put the infrastructure proposal to a vote if it is accompanied by a budget reconciliation bill—legislation that only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate and can therefore pass with only Democratic votes. It would thus serve as the vehicle for whatever eligible pieces of her party’s agenda that had fallen to the cutting room floor.

    And that’s where the turbulent next phase begins. Much of the attention over the following weeks will turn to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which offers Democrats their best hope for salvaging what they can of the ambitious agenda Biden put forth earlier this year. “Progressives don’t give a fuck about the bipartisan deal,” one aide to a progressive House member tells me, emphasizing that the left flank will be agitating for more spending for key social investments—such as major investments in environmental justice and home care for the disabled and elderly.

    The White House is highly attuned to its fragile majority, and has taken care to assuage concerns from all facets of the House’s ideologically diverse caucus—including progressives, who have become increasingly vocal in their threats to tank deals they deem insufficient. “While there may be a couple of senators that are saying that they’re going to vote ‘no’ if certain things don’t happen, that is also true of any number of members in the House,” Jayapal told reporters last Tuesday.

    But centrist lawmakers have their own complaints. Rep. Josh Gotteheimer, the leader of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, told the New York Times that Pelosi “should bring this once-in-a-century bipartisan legislation to the floor for a stand-alone vote as quickly as possible.” Moderate Democrats are less enthusiastic about the massive spending the left is thirsting for in its Democrats-only bill, and the failure to deliver a timely bipartisan package will be its own source of anger for that faction as the midterms loom. Gotteheimer and five of his fellow House moderates formalized that opinion in a new letter that demands the speaker hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill “as soon as the Senate completes its work.” At least two centrist House lawmakers have said they won’t vote for any Democrat-only reconciliation bill at all. 

    It is finally, at long last, Infrastructure Week, and the Senate has defeated the odds to drag a massive, bipartisan investment over the finish line. But there’s no guarantee that this process has a happy ending. If not, Biden’s and Democrats’ legacies are on the line. 

  • Top US Health Official: It’s Time for Vaccine Mandates

    A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse at ''Labor of Love,'' a COVID-19 vaccination event set up in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor office in Los Angeles. Ringo Chiu/AP

    As the nation enters a brutal fourth wave of COVID cases and deaths, with infection levels unseen since last winter, National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that it may be time for mandatory vaccinations—a remark that will likely inspire backlash from Republicans who have viewed mandates as an infringement on personal rights.

    “For me, as a non-political person, as a physician, as a scientist, the compelling case for vaccines for everybody is right there in front of you. Just look at the data,” Collins told host George Stephanopoulos. “And certainly, I celebrate when I see businesses deciding that they’re going to mandate that for their employees…I think we ought to use every public health tool that we can when people are dying.”

    As my colleague Nathalie Baptiste recently noted, the United States currently faces a dilemma in which vaccine uptake, especially in Southern states, has slowed—while hospitalizations, particularly among unvaccinated people, have spiked. Just 50 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated so far. But many Republican leaders have been wary of forcing their constituents to get the shot. The Huffington Post reported that at least 16 states have barred vaccine mandates to some extent. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called for vaccine mandates on Sunday, even as other unions have resisted such mandates.

    When asked during the ABC interview whether vaccine mandates can make a difference, Collins let out a sigh and laughed. “I understand how that can sometimes set off all kinds of resistance,” Collins said. “Why is it that a mandate about vaccine or wearing a mask suddenly becomes a statement about your political party? We never should have let that happen.”

  • The First Guilty Pleas Come Down in January 6 Insurrection Cases

    Insurection

    Mark Finkenstaedt/ZUMA

    The first of more than 100 people charged with assaulting a police officer during the January 6 insurrection have plead guilty. Scott Fairlamb and Devlyn Thompson are now facing three to five years in prison for their participation in the insurrection at the US Capitol.

    On January 6, hundreds of supporters of then-president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would formally declare Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election. In the weeks leading up to the attack, Trump had been trying to overturn his loss by spreading lies about wide scale fraud. During the attack, Trump failed to tell his supporters to go home, instead choosing to further inflame violence by tweeting. When the rioters were finally cleared, five people were dead including one police officer. Trump was banned from Twitter and impeached for the second time

    Now, hundreds of people have been charged with crimes ranging from assault to trespassing. Fairlamb, who is from New Jersey, admitted to shoving and punching a Washington, DC police officer. “Are you an American? Act like it!” he can be heard shouting in video footage. According to court documents, Fairlamb also kicked down a door leading to the Senate side of the Capitol complex and posted videos of himself screaming about storming the Capitol on social media. “Even among other rioters, the defendant’s aggression stood out,” US District Judge Royce Lamberth said about Fairlamb. 

    Thompson, from Washington, admitted to striking a police officer with a baton as the cop pepper sprayed the insurrectionists. Assistant US Attorney Tejpal Chawla said Thompson was “at the front lines of the most dangerous violence at the Capitol.” Both men will be formally sentenced on September 27. These guilty pleas are just the beginning. There are 165 people total charged with assaulting a police officer, 50 of them with a weapon.

  • Happy Friday: Biden Extended Student Debt Relief Through January

    Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty

    As my co-worker wrote in Slack, Thank gawwwwd. The Biden administration announced on Friday that it will extend student debt relief until the end of January.

    This action is a reprieve for the 42.9 million people—roughly one in seven US residents—who currently have federal student debt. Payments toward federal student loans and interest have been suspended since the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020—as have collection actions on defaulted loans and negative credit reporting related to student loan repayment. Pandemic-related student debt relief was set to expire next month, on September 30. Now, that deadline is pushed to January 31, 2022. (The Washington Post has a handy guide for what to do when the debt relief expires.)

    In a statement, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called this the “final extension.” “The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” Cardona said. “As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment.”

    Several prominent Democrats are demanding more. “The payment pause has saved the average borrower hundreds of dollars per month, allowing them to invest in their futures and support their families’ needs,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said in a joint statement after the extension announcement. “While this temporary relief is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough. Our broken student loan system continues to exacerbate racial wealth gaps and hold back our entire economy. We continue to call on the administration to use its existing executive authority to cancel $50,000 of student debt.”

  • With a New Criminal Complaint, Cuomo’s Legal Exposure Is Growing

    Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty

    A former staffer who says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo groped her breast without consent has filed a criminal complaint against the governor with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, according to reports in the New York Post and other outlets on Friday. The new filing significantly escalates Cuomo’s legal exposure; the sheriff’s office is now investigating. If the complaint is substantiated, Albany Sheriff Craig Apple told the Post, Cuomo could be arrested.

    The woman—known as “Executive Assistant #1” in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report—is one of 11 victims of sexual harassment or other misconduct whose claims have already been investigated and substantiated by lawyers contracted by James’ office. That report found that the governor’s behavior included “unwelcome and nonconsensual touching,” as well as “numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.” Not only did the governor break federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment, the report concluded, his response to allegations of sexual harassment from one woman, Lindsey Boylan, involved illegal retaliation.

    Up till now, none of the women victimized by Cuomo have opted to make a criminal complaint—instead seeking justice and accountability though other means, like speaking out publicly, calling for his impeachment, and preparing a civil lawsuit against him. The experience of Executive Assistant #1, who has not been publicly identified, was revealed in March after a supervisor noticed her becoming emotional while Cuomo gave a press conference denying some of the first sexual harassment allegations made against him.

    According to James’ report, Cuomo had been treating his assistant inappropriately since late 2019—hugging and kissing her, touching and grabbing her butt, and asking if she’d cheat on her husband or help find him a girlfriend. In November 2020, after the assistant was called to the Executive Mansion to help with a minor technical issue, Cuomo slammed the door, slid his hand up her shirt, and groped her without consent. “At that moment it was so quick and he didn’t say anything and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God,'” the assistant told investigators. “I feel like I was being taken advantage of and at that moment that’s when I thought to myself okay, I can’t tell anyone.”

    Legal experts interviewed by the New York Times said the Cuomo’s behavior constitutes forcible touching, a misdemeanor. 

    The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has reported the complaint to Albany County District Attorney David Soares, according to the Post. Soares is one of four district attorneys around the state who have opened criminal probes into Cuomo’s behavior in the wake of James’ report.

    Meanwhile, Cuomo could soon be in another legal battle, this one civil. A lawyer for Lindsey Boylan—whose confidential personnel files were leaked by Cuomo and his staff after she came forward about governor’s harassment—said Thursday that she would be pursuing a lawsuit against the Cuomo and his aides, claiming retaliation. Cuomo has denied all allegations of retaliation, as well as sexual harassment and misconduct.

    In a particularly gutting confluence of these women’s stories, Executive Assistant #1 was enlisted to search for Wite-Out to remove some names from Boylan’s personnel files. “I would be in the room when they were actively trying to discredit her,” she told investigators. “They were actively trying to portray a different story of it. Trying to make her seem like she was crazy.” Her fear of reprisal if she reported what Cuomo did to her only grew as she witnessed the campaign to smear Boylan. Seeing that, she told investigators, dissuaded her from reporting the governor’s misconduct. “I was going to take this to the grave,” she decided.

    Now, while Albany County authorities investigate her complaint and deliberate on whether to bring criminal charges against the governor, the New York State Assembly is wrapping up an impeachment probe. Cuomo’s legal team has a deadline of August 13 to provide additional evidence in his defense. In addition to the many former Cuomo allies—from President Joe Biden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who have called for the governor to resign, Cuomo has also lost support from perhaps the most crucial figure in his last-ditch attempt to hold on to power: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who controls the impeachment proceedings.

    “After our conference this afternoon to discuss the Attorney General’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office,” Heastie said in a statement on Tuesday. “Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the Attorney General, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.”

    This piece has been updated.

  • Hundreds of Thousands Are Expected at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Starting Today—Last Year’s COVID Spread Be Damned

    Michael Ciaglo/Getty

    While the Delta variant continues to drive new COVID outbreaks and hospital bed shortages around the country, an estimated 700,000 people are expected to pack into a small South Dakota town this week for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—a 10-day bacchanal of bikers from around the country and the world. 

    During last year’s rally—one of the largest public gatherings held in the first part of the pandemic—the virus spread from body to body as attendees expressed defiance at COVID restrictions by packing into bars, music venues, and restaurants. Almost none wore masks. The event, CDC researchers wrote in a study published this summer, had “many characteristics of a superspreading event: large crowds, high intensity of contact between people, potential for highly infectious individuals traveling from hotspots, and events in poorly ventilated indoor environments.” Contact tracers identified 463 attendees and 163 secondary and tertiary contacts who got COVID as a result of the rally—including 17 people hospitalized and one who died.

    But these numbers underestimate the rally’s true impact on viral spread nationally, CDC researchers concluded, because attendees with mild or asymptomatic illness may not have been tested. On the other hand, an analysis by a group of economists, while not peer reviewed, gives an idea of the upper limit of Sturgis’ impact. Their study, which analyzed anonymized cell phone location data and COVID case rates by county, estimated that last year’s rally was responsible for more than 266,000 new COVID cases nationwide. “The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the economists wrote. (Read a critique of their conclusions here.) 

    The CDC researchers, meanwhile, implied in their recent paper that this year’s rally should be postponed. “Recent modeling suggests that interventions such as postponing voluntary, mass events may be the most viable option to maintain epidemic control in an unvaccinated population,” they wrote. If postponement was “not an option,” the researchers continued, they recommended public messaging on the risks the event posed for unvaccinated people; mitigation strategies like masking, distancing, and quarantining; and mass COVID testing during and after the event. 

    While rally organizers will reportedly offer free masks, coronavirus tests, and hand sanitizer, there will be not be a screening process to ensure attendees have been vaccinated or tested negative recently for the coronavirus. “There’s a risk associated with everything that we do in life,” tweeted the state’s Republican governor Kristi Noem, who will participate in a charity ride. “Bikers get that better than anyone.” 

    Over the past 14 days, the county that is home to Sturgis has seen an uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations, while the vaccination rate remains far below the national average. 

    The rally starts Friday.

  • Andrew Cuomo Is Relying on an Old, Sexist Lie About Sexual Assault Survivors

    Brendan McDermid/Pool/Getty

    Tucked amid the nauseating revelations contained in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ 165-page report on sexual harassment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a particularly striking line. Defending himself against allegations from Charlotte Bennett—a former staffer who had previously disclosed to the governor that she had survived sexual violence—Cuomo argued that because of Bennett’s experience as a survivor, she “processed what she heard through her own filter” and that “it was often not what was said and not what was meant.”

    In other words, the governor was claiming that experiencing sexual violence made Bennett oversensitive and out of touch with reality, to the point that she heard things he never said.

    The idea that survivors of sexual violence are delusional or ill-equipped to identify boundary violations and abusive behavior—a permutation of the old sexist trope of the “hysterical woman”—crops up pretty regularly. In 2018, the Washington Post banned a national politics reporter, Felicia Sonmez, from reporting on sexual misconduct after she identified herself as a sexual assault survivor. According to a lawsuit Sonmez filed last month against the paper and its top editors, one of the reasons she was given for the ban was that her very decision to identify herself as a survivor made her an advocate, and thus an unreliable journalist, on the topic of sexual violence.

    In another recent example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faced ridicule from the right when she disclosed during a livestream in the wake of 1/6 that she was a survivor of sexual assault. Ocasio-Cortez had been tapping into her past experience to more fully describe her fear while rioters stormed the Capitol complex, and to explain how lawmakers who insisted on moving on after the riot were using “the tactics of abusers.” Yet critics accused her of gratuitously invoking trauma and fabricating parts of her experience with the Capitol riot.

    Ocasio-Cortez, in her disclosure, was making an implicit argument: That having experience with abuse makes her more competent at identifying it. In any other context, this is a no-brainer. But it’s an authority our culture denies to survivors of sexual violence.

    This inconsistency is not lost on Bennett, who on Tuesday night gave a point-by-point rebuttal of Cuomo’s defenses in an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.

    “The governor admitted that he asked you questions that he doesn’t normally ask people because you told him you were a survivor of sexual assault,” O’Donnell said. “Do you think he’s gaslighting you?”

    “Absolutely,” Bennett replied. “He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship.”

    Not only is it easy for the governor to justify his behavior to the public by citing generational and cultural differences, Bennett argued, it was also easy for Cuomo to use Bennett’s background as a survivor to claim that she had misinterpreted him.

    “I am not confused,” she said. “It is not confusing. I am living in reality.”

    That reality has now been meticulously documented by James, whose report relies not only on Bennett’s testimony but on contemporaneous text messages and interviews with other state employees who worked in proximity to the governor. According to James’ findings, Cuomo made numerous “inappropriate comments” to Bennett, including:

    (1) telling Ms. Bennett, in talking about potential girlfriends for him, that he would be willing to date someone who was as young as 22 years old (he knew Ms. Bennett was 25 at the time);

    (2) asking her whether she had been with older men;

    (3) saying to her during the pandemic that he was “lonely” and “wanted to be touched”;

    (4) asking whether Ms. Bennett was monogamous;

    (5) telling Ms. Bennett, after she told him that she was considering getting a tattoo for her birthday, that if she decided to get a tattoo, she should get it on her butt, where it could not be seen;

    (6) asking whether she had any piercings other than her ears; and

    (7) saying that he wanted to ride his motorcycle into the mountains with a woman.

    Now it’s up to the New York State Assembly, and its speaker, Carl Heastie, to respond to that reality.

    Watch Bennett’s interview here.

  • You Know Evictions Are Coming When Court Deputies Get Vaccinated En Masse

    Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) leads a protest against the eviction moratorium's expiration at the US Capitol.Jose Luis Magana/AP

    In New Orleans, court deputies are gearing up to evict tenants from their homes after the federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend. Yesterday, local officials announced a new preparation requirement: All of the deputies tasked with enforcing these evictions must get vaccinated in the next two weeks.  

    Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr, who oversees law enforcement for one of the city’s courts, told a local TV station that he expected the courts to be at capacity in the coming weeks. The vaccine mandate, he said, would ensure the safety of the deputies conducting evictions, while also reducing the risk of COVID transmission to members of the public.

    The nationwide eviction moratorium that expired over the weekend was put in place shortly after the start of the pandemic—when unemployment began to hit historic highs during COVID lockdowns that shuttered businesses, and poverty rates started to spike. The Centers for Disease Control enacted the moratorium specifically because mass evictions pushing families into homelessness or couch-surfing would pose a grave health risk, fueling further spread of COVID infections.

    Now it appears that New Orleans is trying to insulate its deputies from infection, while subjecting tenants to these exact health risks as the Delta variant is surging. And the evictions will take place as only 37 percent of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated, and as COVID-19 cases in New Orleans are on the rise: Over the weekend, the city’s mayor restored the city’s mask mandate after emergency medical responders told her that the case numbers had gotten so high that EMS could not keep up with the volume of 911 calls.

    Meanwhile, several members of Congress have been camped out on the steps of the US Capitol since this weekend, pushing to reconvene the House, which is currently on recess, to pass eviction protections. The Biden administration has also called on Congress to enact a new eviction ban, saying that the administration doesn’t have the legal authority to enact an eviction ban on its own, after the Supreme Court signaled in a June decision that further extensions by the CDC would be unlawful.

    “We have to reconvene the House and vote to reinstate the eviction moratorium to put an end to the eviction emergency,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who is leading the action at the Capitol steps. “11 million lives and livelihoods are on the line.”

  • DOJ: Russian Hackers Had Access to Top US Prosecutors’ Emails

    AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    Russian hackers broke into email accounts in 27 US attorneys’ offices over the course of seven months in 2020, the US Department of Justice announced Friday. It had been previously reported that multiple US federal government agencies had been breached through a third-party IT contractor called SolarWinds, including the Department of Justice. But on Friday the department offered more detail, including the districts where one or more employees’ email accounts were accessed.

    While every US attorney could make the case that their office handles sensitive case work, Friday’s update included offices that deal with some of the most complex financial and international criminal prosecutions, including the Southern District of New York, the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Virginia. The Southern District of New York, for example, has handled past prosecutions related to former President Donald J. Trump, and is reportedly investigating Trump ally and former attorney Rudy Giuliani related to his efforts in Ukraine and his dealings with Russian figures to dig up dirt on President Biden and his family.

    “The Department is responding to this incident as if the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group responsible for the SolarWinds breach had access to all email communications and attachments” within the breached accounts between May 7, 2020, and December 27, 2020, the agency said in a statement. This includes “all sent, received, and stored emails and attachments found within those accounts during that time.” Especially hard hit were the Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, where “at least 80 percent” of employees’ email accounts were breached, the agency said.

    “APT” is cybersecurity industry and intelligence jargon for a group or groups belonging to or backed by a nation state which gain access to and maintain a presence over a period of time and carry out reconnaissance, espionage, sabotage, or other missions. In this case, the US government has formally accused the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service of being behind the attacks, a charge the Russian government has denied. In April the Biden administration announced sanctions on the Russian government over the attack.

    Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York, told the Associated Press that these kinds of emails frequently contain all sorts of sensitive information such as case strategy discussions and names of confidential informants.

  • Brazil’s 13-Year-Old Skateboard Phenom Rayssa Leal Is Hands Down the Best Part of the Olympics So Far

    Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.Kyodonews/ZUMA

    Rayssa Leal was only 7 when she went viral. In early September 2015, millions of people watched the video of the then-7-year-old skateboarder, dressed in a bright blue fairy costume, fall twice before triumphantly landing a heelflip. One of them was skateboarding legend Tony Hawk: 

    Fast-forward to 2021 and the Olympics in Japan, and Leal, now 13, has just become Brazil’s youngest-ever Olympic medalist, winning second place in the women’s street skateboarding competition. 

    I grew up in Brazil and lived in Rio until recently and I can confirm that Leal, who was born in Imperatriz in the northeastern state of Maranhão, is an absolute sensation back home. The sport is making its Olympic debut this year, and in the early Monday hours, Brazilians tuned in to cheer “one of the stars at the Tokyo Games” as she won the country’s second silver—joining fellow Brazilian skater Kevin Hoefler—and third overall medal in Japan. Leal scored 14.64 points and finished just a spot behind another 13-year-old prodigy, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, who earned 15.26 points. The hug and fist bump between the two girls after the results came in might have been the best moment of these Olympics so far: 

    Despite her youth, Leal has quite an impressive resume. She started skating when she was 6. In 2019, at the age of 11, she became the youngest skater to win a women’s final at the Street Skateboarding League World Tour event in Los Angeles and made it to second place in the world ranking. A year later, she received a nomination for the Laureus Award, the equivalent of the Oscars for sports. 

    “I’m living a dream,” she wrote to her 4.6 million followers on Instagram just days before this week’s final. She also thanked Hawk for introducing her to the world of skateboarding. 

    Leal could be seen cheerfully performing viral TikTok dance challenges in between rounds of tricks, until her effortless execution in the final competitive round. After the final, she celebrated her victory with even more dancing alongside a fellow competitor, the equally charismatic Margie Didal from the Philippines.  

    Across social media in Brazil, the phrase “I believe in fairies” is trending. In a fractured country struggling to resurface from a ravaging pandemic amid a seemingly never-ending political crisis, Leal emerges as a rare source of consensus and pride. She has been hailed as someone all Brazilians can gather around, support, and be inspired by. She’s the best Brazil has and a much-needed reminder of everything the country can aspire to. One popular singer praised Leal for rescuing the country’s flag from a denier government. “‘Once upon a time there was a girl who loved her skateboard and had a dream.’ And so begins a true Fairy Tale that made all Brazilians smile today,” soccer legend Pelé wrote in a post. “You are truly a ‘Fairy’, which makes us believe that even the most difficult dreams can come true.” 

  • Cleveland’s Baseball Team Changes Name to Guardians

    The Guardians of Traffic sculptures at the east end of the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland Mark Duncan/AP

    Meet the new guardians of the Great Lakes.

    The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday they would become the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season, after Native American groups decried their name and logo as racist.  

    The news was announced in a video narrated by none other than (California native) Tom Hanks.

    The new name refers to the famous Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River just outside the ballpark, which features eight giant figures representing the Guardians of Traffic.

    The Indians announced they were considering a name-change last summer during the public reckoning over racism following the murder of George Floyd.

    “Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” team owner Paul Dolan said in a statement in December. “We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”

    Cleveland was famous as the first team in the American League to integrate. In 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired Larry Doby, a Black player, only a few months after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year, Cleveland won the league with Doby and the legendary Black pitcher Satchel Paige—who made his Major League debut at age 42 with Cleveland in 1948 after spending his career in the Negro Leagues. Cleveland still has not won a World Series since then.

    Some Republicans immediately tried to turn this name change into their latest front in the culture wars, with Sen. Ted Cruz tweeting “Why does MLB hate Indians,” seemingly missing the entire point of the name change, and then ludicrously suggesting that Boston would be forced to abandon being called the Celtics.

    The Washington Football Team has yet to choose a new name.