The Full Belmonte, 2/2/21
100% Pure News. Distilled.
“Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday delivered a scathing rebuke of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s actions and defended Rep. Liz Cheney’s decision to vote to impeach former president Donald Trump, weighing in for the first time on the criticism facing both lawmakers.
The statements together are both an unusual venture from a Senate leader onto the other chamber’s turf and an unmistakable signal to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that, for the party’s sake, he must sideline extremists such as Greene (R-Ga.) and maintain a place for traditional Republicans such as Cheney (R-Wyo.).
On Wednesday morning, House Republicans will hold a conference-wide meeting during which the actions of both lawmakers are expected to be discussed.
‘Loony lies and conspiracy theories are cancer for the Republican Party and our country,’ McConnell said. ‘Somebody who’s suggested that perhaps no airplane hit the Pentagon on 9/11, that horrifying school shootings were pre-staged, and that the Clintons crashed JFK Jr.’s airplane is not living in reality. This has nothing to do with the challenges facing American families or the robust debates on substance that can strengthen our party.’
Greene responded Monday night on Twitter. ‘The real cancer for the Republican Party is weak Republicans who only know how to lose gracefully,’ she said. ‘This is why we are losing our country.’
In a separate statement, McConnell did name Cheney, describing the No. 3 House Republican as ‘a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them.’
‘She is an important leader in our party and in our nation,’ McConnell said in the statement, first reported by CNN. ‘I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation.’
At Wednesday’s meeting, House Republicans are expected to debate whether to oust Cheney from her spot as the No. 3 member of their party’s leadership in the chamber.
In the weeks since her vote to impeach Trump on the charge of incitement of insurrection, Cheney has also faced a backlash from Trump allies, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who spoke at an anti-Cheney rally in Wyoming last week.” Read more at Washington Post
“Vaccine distribution in the US will ‘get better very quickly,’ Dr. Anthony Fauci says. With the Biden administration’s recent purchase of 200 million additional doses, the President says there will now be enough doses to fully vaccinate 300 million people by the end of the summer -- almost the entire US population. Though vaccine efforts are improving, officials are still in a race against those coronavirus variants. Fauci says people who have had Covid-19, and thus have some measure of immunity, may get reinfected if variants become dominant. Meanwhile, Japan is planning to extend its state of emergency as case numbers rise. Despite worsening conditions, the country’s 2020 Olympics president says the games, postponed from last year and set for this summer, will go on no matter what.” Read at CNN
“The White House is pushing to make rapid-turnaround virus tests available. The federal government will buy 8.5 million at-home nasal-swab tests that don’t require a prescription.” Read more at New York Times
“The number of new cases in the U.S. continued to decline yesterday, to a daily average of 146,000 over the past seven days. That’s down nearly 45 percent from the peak, on Jan. 8.” Read more at New York Times
“A federal judge on Monday vacated the Trump administration rule limiting which scientific studies the Environmental Protection Agency can use in crafting public health protections, overturning one of the last major actions taken by the agencybefore President Biden took office.
The ruling by Judge Brian Morris, chief judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, Great Falls, marked a victory for environmental groups and public health advocates. Just two weeks before Biden’s inauguration, EPA finalized a rule requiring researchers to disclose the raw data involved in their public health studies before the agency could rely upon their conclusions.
The rule, which was made effective immediately, would assign less weight to studies built on medical histories and other confidential data from human subjects where the underlying information was not revealed. That sort of research — including dose-response studies, which evaluate how much a person’s exposure to a substance increases the risk of harm — have been used for decades to justify EPA regulations.” Read more at Washington Post
“Biden to set up task force to reunite immigrant families separated at the border. The executive order is one of several on immigration that the president is expected to sign today, setting in motion a process the administration hopes will reverse a number of border policies and restrictions on legal immigration.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Republican senators in the Oval Office yesterday. Doug Mills/The New York Times
“Senate Democrats are laying the groundwork for passing parts of President Biden’s coronavirus relief plan without any Republican votes using a procedural shortcut known as budget reconciliation. This could take up to a month, which would allow for further bipartisan negotiations while leaving the door open for a unilateral deal. Biden spoke with some Republicans yesterdayabout their counterproposal to his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, but it’s clear Democrats don’t think the GOP alternative is viable. Among the differences, the GOP plan would mean about 29 million fewer Americans would get a stimulus payment. Here’s a breakdown of where each plan stands on items like school openings and state and small business aid.” Read more at CNN
“Myanmar lawmakers say army guarding them in government housing after military coup; Biden threatens sanctions
Hundreds of lawmakers from Myanmar’s Parliament are still confined inside government housing in the country’s capital, a day after the military staged a coup and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate and de facto government leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The takeover came the morning that lawmakers from all of the country had gathered in the capital for the opening of the new parliamentary session and followed days of worry that a coup was coming.
One lawmakers told the AP that he and about 400 parliament members were able to speak with each another inside the compound and communicate with their constituencies by phone, but were not allowed to leave. The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.
Military Junta Back in Charge: The man installed by army leaders as Myanmar's new president is best known for his role in the crackdown on 2007 pro-democracy protests. Myint Swe was the army-appointed vice president who was elevated after the military arrested civilian leaders and declared a one-year state of emergency. But while Myint Swe is president, the real power lies with the country's top military commander, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. He has been commander of the armed forces since 2011 and is due to retire soon, clearing the way for him to take a civilian leadership role if the junta holds an election as promised, Elaine Kurtenbach and Victoria Milko report.
U.S. Sanctions: President Joe Biden threatened new sanctions on Myanmar, calling the coup a ‘direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and rule of law.’ Myanmar has been a Western democracy promotion project for decades and had been a symbol of some success. But over the past several years, there have been growing concerns about its backsliding into authoritarianism. Global opprobrium toward Suu Kyi has been acute over her resistance to rein in or condemn brutal massacres and the forced exodus of Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese army. Matthew Lee reports.” Read more at AP
“State-run media in Russia has downplayed the nationwide demonstrations seeking the release of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who faces a court hearing today that may jail him for years, as small and claim that they show the failure of those opposed to the government.
But the Kremlin appears rattled. Tens of thousands on Sunday once again filled the streets across the vast country, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a ''czar'' and a ''thief.''
Two weekends of nationwide rallies and thousands of arrests is the largest outpouring of discontent in Russia in years. Navalny’s team said the turnout demonstrated “overwhelming nationwide support” for the Kremlin's fiercest critic.
His allies called for protesters to come to the courthouse today in Moscow, from where Daria Litvinova and Vladimir Isachenkov report. Police have cordoned off the area.
Navalny, an anti-corruption investigator, was arrested Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have denied the charge.
Russia’s penitentiary service alleges that Navalny, while ill in Germany, violated the probation of his suspended sentence from a 2014 money-laundering conviction that he rejects as politically motivated.
Today, the Simonovsky District Court in Moscow will consider its request to turn his 3 1/2-year suspended sentence into one he must serve in prison.
That in turn could fuel more nationwide protests against the Kremlin.” Read more at AP
“Biden's Democracy Challenge: The president is facing two critical tests of whether the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol has damaged America’s own convoluted standing as a beacon for democracy. Protests in Russia and a military coup in Myanmar come as American credibility on the world stage is the lowest in recent memory after last month’s storming of the Capitol by a pro-Donald Trump mob looking to stop the certification of Biden’s victory. That adds to the weight on Biden as he seeks to fulfill a pledge to dramatically reposition the U.S. as a global leader following four years of foreign policy driven by Trump's “America First” mantra, Aamer Madhani reports.” Read more at AP
“Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday. The 42-year-old officer died after he was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during the hours-long fight for control of the Capitol after it was violently breached by an angry mob that aimed to stop the counting of Electoral College votes for then-President-elect Joe Biden. The tradition of using the Capitol Rotunda to pay tribute to distinguished Americans began in 1852, but historically that honor has been given to military officers and elected officials who have ‘lain in state.’ More recently, Congress has allowed pre-eminent citizens to ‘lie in honor.’ A ceremonial arrival will take place Tuesday, and several private viewings will commence before a congressional tribute and departure ceremony is held. Sicknick will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.” Read more at USA Today
“On Tuesday, House Democrats who are prosecuting former President Donald Trump in the Senate impeachment trial are scheduled to file written arguments in the case. The House filing will outline the case against Trump on a charge of inciting insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, a violent incident that resulted in five deaths. The lawyers on Trump's team are expected to use an argument at his trial that is already supported by the majority of Senate Republicans in charge of his fate: That the trial is unconstitutional because Trump is no longer the commander in chief. Trump is due on Tuesday to issue an official answer to the House's impeachment article charging him with inciting an insurrection, a filing that could offer some insight into the former president's defense strategy when the trial starts Feb. 9. A conviction would require at least 67 votes from the Senate.” Read more at USA Today
“U.S. Teachers: The pandemic has cut instruction time in America's schools by as much as half, and many middle school and high school teachers have given up on covering all the material they normally do. Instead, they are cutting lessons. English teachers are deciding which books to skip. History teachers are condensing units. Science teachers are often doing without experiments. Certain topics must be taught because they will appear on important exams. But teachers are largely on their own to make difficult choices on what to prioritize and what to sacrifice, Michael Melia reports.” Read more at AP
“Italy Reopening: Much of Italy is gingerly reopening from pre-Christmas closures. The Vatican Museums welcomed a trickle of visitors to the Sistine Chapel and locals ordered their cappuccinos at outdoor tables for the first time in weeks. While many European countries remain in hard lockdowns amid surging infections and virus variants, most Italian regions graduated to the coveted ‘yellow’ category of risk.
But Italy is by no means out of the woods. The country is averaging around 12,000-15,000 new confirmed cases and 300-600 COVID-19 deaths each day. But it appears to have avoided the severe post-Christmas surges in Britain and elsewhere thanks to tightened restrictions over the holidays. Trisha Thomas and Elisa Colella report from Rome.” Read more at AP
“Tanzania’s health ministry says it has no plans to accept COVID-19 vaccines, just days after the president of the country of 60 million people expressed doubts about the vaccines without offering evidence. The East African government has been widely criticized for its approach to the pandemic.” Read more at AP
“Jim Justice, the Republican governor of West Virginia, called for a ‘big’ coronavirus stimulus bill to ‘get people taken care of.’ His stance could give the state’s moderate Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, cover to support an ambitious package.” Read more at New York Times
“The Biden administration will free up billions of dollars to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and guard against future storms.” Read more at New York Times
“Firsthand accounts accuse Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck last year, of using similar tactics on other detainees.” Read more at New York Times
“In a video talking about the Capitol riot, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she was a sexual assault survivor. ‘When we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other,’ she said.” Read more at New York Times
“The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to postpone oral arguments in significant cases regarding former President Trump's border wall plans. One of Biden’s first actions in office was to halt border wall construction while the government reviews how the wall’s construction was funded. Biden's team is also moving to pause lawsuits launched under Trump that were intended to acquire private land for wall construction. In another unraveling of Trump-era policy, Biden has frozen two controversial health care regulations. Though aimed at reducing drug costs, both have been found by critics to increase costs or make distribution harder.” Read more at CNN
“The anti-vaccine protest that temporarily cut off access to a mass vaccination site at Dodger Stadium was organized on Facebook through a page that promotes debunked claims about the coronavirus pandemic, masks and immunization.
The Facebook page, ‘Shop Mask Free Los Angeles,’ issued a call last week to gather Saturday at the baseball park. Health authorities have been administering shots to as many as 8,000 people a day at the site, one of the largest vaccination centers in the country. Such venues form a critical component of the effort to corral the pandemic, which has lashed Los Angeles County so brutally in recent weeks that oxygen for patients has been in short supply.
The online activity illustrates the extent to which Facebook remains a critical organizing tool of the anti-vaccine movement, despitethe company’s repeated vows to curb coronavirusmisinformation and its assurance that it has removed more than 12 million pieces of such content. It also shows how social networking services could foster more confrontational tactics by those committed to false ideas about the dangers of immunization as the mass vaccination effort ramps up.” Read more at Washington Post
“The actor Evan Rachel Wood accused the rock star Marilyn Manson of abuse. Several other women have made similar accusations against Manson.” Read more at New York Times
“Lives Lived: Jamie Tarses had an eye for TV hits (‘Friends,’ ‘Mad About You’). At 32, she became the president of entertainment at ABC, the first woman to become a network’s top programmer. Tarses died at 56.
Dustin Diamond played Screech Powers, a sweet-natured, geeky underdog, on the NBC high school sitcom ‘Saved by the Bell’ from 1989 to 1992. Diamond died at 44.
Hal Holbrook carved out an acting career in television and film but achieved his widest acclaim onstage, playing Mark Twain in a one-man show for decades. Holbrook died at 95.” Read more at New York Times
“The federal government that Donald Trump inherited was aging. The Civil Service system hadn’t been updated in decades. Many workers were nearing retirement. The computers were old, too.
And then Trump set about weakening the Civil Service and slashing many agencies, publicly deriding the government’s own workforce as “the deep state.”
Now President Biden must reckon with these problems, amid national crises that demand the coordination of the federal government.
‘Our government has suffered literally decades of rust,’ said Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that seeks to make government more effective. ‘And then someone came in with a sledgehammer.’
Of core Cabinet-level agencies, all but five shrank under Trump. By 2020, there were 300 fewer federal employees at the Department of Education than when Trump arrived. There were 4,900 fewer at the Department of the Interior, and 1,800 fewer at the Department of Labor.
The vast majority of employees left the Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, after Trump officials abruptly relocated that office from Washington to the Kansas City, Mo., area. The Office of Personnel Management, whose duties include enforcing the nonpartisan nature of the Civil Service, was not abolished as Trump proposed, but it shrank substantially as some of its functions scattered to other agencies.
These cuts don’t add up to the sweeping contraction of government that Trump and his top officials had hoped for. Congress stymied many of the president’s proposed budget cuts. And because the Department of Veterans Affairs in particular continued to grow — a trend supported by politicians in both parties and veterans’ organizations — the total civilian federal workforce is now 4 percent larger than four years ago.
In sheer numbers, particularly for domestic-focused agencies like the departments of Education and of Housing and Urban Development, Trump didn’t drive as much attrition as across-the-board budget caps known as sequestration did. Those caps, enacted in a 2011 budget deal between President Obama and a Republican-led Congress and primarily taking effect between 2013 and 2017, led to hiring freezes and unfilled positions.
But researchers, union officials, and federal workers say Trump’s politicization of normally neutral positions and frequent criticism of his own bureaucracy hurt the public’s faith in government, the morale of employees who remain, and the prospects that a new generation will enter public service.” Read more at Boston Globe
“Baseball's Opening Day will remain April 1 — and the schedule will be a full 162 games — after players rejected a plan to delay spring training by more than a month due to COVID.” [Axios] Read more at AP
“10 — The maximum number of people currently allowed at public gatherings in Israel. Authorities have had trouble getting the country's ultraorthodox community to comply with the rule. This past weekend, thousands of ultraorthodox Jews, many without masks, attended two funerals of famous rabbis who died from the coronavirus. In Israel, which is aiming to vaccinate most of its population by the end of next month, ultraorthodox Jews make up about 12% of the population but account for nearly one-third of the country’s coronavirus infections and have been vaccinated at lower rates than other Israelis.” Read more at Wall Street Journal
“Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has helped elect two allies to the top jobs in both houses of Congress, a success that is expected to help help him blunt a campaign by protesters who have been calling for the right-wing leader to be impeached. Any impeachment move would have to start in the lower house. Analysts say Bolsonaro still faces a tough road. He abandoned his own party shortly after being elected president and has struggled to find support for his policies in a complicated congressional landscape of many parties.” Read more at AP
“Parts of northern New England are waiting their turn to be pummeled by a heavy winter storm. Residents of the New York City region are digging out from under piles of snow that has shut down public transport, forced flights to be canceled and closed coronavirus vaccination sites. The National Weather Service said a foot or more could be on the ground in New England by the time the snow finally tapers off in the northernmost states by Wednesday evening. The lumbering storm dropped more than 13 inches of snow in Manhattan’s Central Park and as much as 16 inches in northern New Jersey.” Read more at AP
“The eyes of a pandemic-stressed nation will turn to western Pennsylvania on Tuesday to see if Punxsutawney Phil, the world's most famous groundhog, predicts an early spring or six more weeks of winter . According to legend, if it's sunny and Phil sees his shadow, the scared groundhog returns to his burrow and bleak winter resumes. But there's hope: Tuesday's forecast calls for cloudy conditions, meaning Phil will probably not see his shadow and, thus, an early spring will be the result. As with everything else during the pandemic, there will be no in-person guests at this year's festivities, but the event will be streamed live on Groundhog.org. “ Read more at USA Today