The Full Belmonte, 3/6/21

100% Pure News. Distilled.

“A fiery speech and last-ditch effort by Bernie Sanders to secure a place for a federal minimum wage hike in the $1.9tn coronavirus relief package appeared as good as doomed on Friday, following a day that saw the flagship legislation hit grinding delays in the Senate.

Senate leaders and moderate Democratic senator Joe Manchin struck a deal late on Friday over emergency jobless benefits, breaking a nine-hour logjam.

The compromise, announced by the West Virginia lawmaker and a Democratic aide, cleared the way for the Senate to begin a climactic, marathon series of votes and, eventually, approval of the sweeping legislation.

The Senate next faced votes on a pile of amendments, mostly on Republican proposals that were virtually certain to fail. More significantly, the jobless benefits agreement suggested it was just a matter of time until the Senate passes the bill. That would send it back to the House, which was expected to give it final congressional approval before whisking it to Biden for his signature.

Shortly before midnight, the Senate began to take up the amendments in rapid-fire fashion. Republicans mainly aimed to force Democrats into politically awkward votes. It was unclear how long the ‘vote-a-rama’ would last.

By daybreak on Saturday, senators had worked through about a dozen amendments, including one from Senator Susan Collins of Maine to swap in Republican centrists’ $650bn alternative proposal, which Biden panned as inadequate. That and other amendments failed, including one from Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, on the Keystone XL pipeline.

One proposal that did pass, from Maggie Hassan, a New Hampshire Democrat, would require schools, within 30 days of receiving money from the bill, to develop publicly available plans for in-person instruction. It appeared designed to fend off Republican criticisms that Biden’s package does not do enough to swiftly reopen schools….

The overall bill, aimed at battling the killer virus and nursing the staggered economy back to health, will provide direct payments of up to $1,400 to most Americans. There is also money for Covid-19 vaccines and testing, aid to state and local governments, help for schools and the airline industry, tax breaks for lower-earners and families with children, and subsidies for health insurance.

Despite deep political polarization and staunch Republican opposition, the legislation has garnered broad public appeal. Apoll by Monmouth University found 62% of Americans approved, including more than three in 10 Republicans.

That is something Republicans hope to erode by portraying the bill as too big and representing wasteful spending for a pandemic that’s almost over. Biden and federal health experts this week, however, told states rushing to ditch mask mandates and reopen businesses completely the move was premature and they risked creating a fourth deadly surge.” Read more at The Guardian

  • “Hiring accelerated as restaurants and other hospitality businesses reopened and coronavirus cases eased, with U.S. employers adding nearly 550,000 jobs in the first two months of the year.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

  • Congress' Investigation Into Insurrection Continues

    “Two hearings this week gave us a bit more information on what, exactly, led to the security breakdown ahead of the deadly Capitol insurrection. FBI Director Chris Wray testified on Tuesday, debunking right-wing conspiracy theories that fake Trump supporters or ‘antifa’ were behind the insurrection. 

    He defended the FBI's report from the Norfolk field office on Jan. 5 warning of potential violence at the Capitol as ‘more than just an email.’ Wray said the missive was shared on a law enforcement database and delivered as part of an in-person briefing. Wray also provided a look at how law enforcement is categorizing the alleged Capitol rioters.

    At a separate hearing on Wednesday, military and intelligence officials testified on the sequence of events that led to the insurrection getting so out of hand. D.C. National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. William Walker delivered a stunning piece of information during his opening remarks: It took more than three hours to get approval for the National Guard to deploy to respond to the Capitol insurrection.

    Walker also said that senior military officials were concerned about the ‘optics’ of having a militarized response to the Capitol unrest, especially after coming under intense criticism for the heavy-handed approach used over the summer during racial justice protests.” Read more at Talking Points Memo

  • “Federico Klein, a Trump appointee who was still employed at the State Department on Jan. 6, attacked police at the U.S. Capitol with a riot shield stolen from officers at the site and egged on the crowd of insurrectionists, according to criminal complaint documents filed by the FBI and published by The New York Times. The former official, who was taken into custody Thursday in Virginia, was said to be seen in a YouTube video yelling ‘We need fresh people, need fresh people!’ to others storming the building as police strained to hold back the crowd. Klein was identified by people who saw the FBI social-media campaign with photos of rioters at the Capitol, the FBI said, adding that he still had top-secret clearance for his work in the office of Brazilian and Southern Cone Affairs until his resignation on Jan. 19.

    Klein, who also worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, is the first member of the Trump administration to face charges from the attempted insurrection, though it is unclear what specific allegations he faces. More than 300 people have been charged in connection with the storming of the Capitol that followed a speech by Trump where he flogged the false claim that he had won the November 2020 election.” Read more at POLITICO

  • “WASHINGTON — A member of the far-right nationalist Proud Boys was in communication with a person associated with the White House in the days just before the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, according to a law enforcement official briefed on the investigation.

    Location, cellular and call record data revealed a call tying a Proud Boys member to the Trump White House, the official said. The F.B.I. has not determined what they discussed, and the official would not reveal the names of either party.

    The connection revealed by the communications data comes as the F.B.I. intensifies its investigation of contacts among far-right extremists, Trump White House associates and conservative members of Congress in the days before the attack.

    The same data has revealed no evidence of communications between the rioters and members of Congress during the deadly attack, the official said. That undercuts Democratic allegations that some Republican lawmakers were active participants that day.” Read more at New York Times

  • Cuomo's Problems Pile Up

    The once-untouchable New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) suddenly finds himself fending off multiple scandals.

    On Monday night, a third woman came forward to accuse Cuomo of sexual misconduct, after two former aides accused the governor of sexual harassment in the workplace. On Thursday night, the New York Times and others reported that Cuomo aides had rewritten a report from state health officials to downplay the number of COVID-19 deaths in state nursing homes.

    Also on Thursday evening, Charlotte Bennett, one of Cuomo's former aides who has accused the governor of sexual harassment, gave her first TV interview. ‘The fact is that he was sexually harassing me, and he has not apologized for sexually harassing me. And he can’t even use my name,’ Bennett told CBS News' Norah O'Donnell. To catch up on the swirling scandals, read Zoë Richards' story on Cuomo's very bad week. Read more at Talking Points Memo

    “WASHINGTON — Pressure is building on President Biden, a longtime backer of traditional Washington rules, to do away with the filibuster and other procedures, as Democrats press him to seize what could be a fleeting moment of power to enact a progressive agenda.

    Liberals have long pushed for sweeping changes like expanding the Supreme Court, ending the electoral college, and banning gerrymandering. But as Biden faces a critical stretch of his presidency, even moderate Democrats are urging more immediate changes — particularly rewriting the filibuster, so that at the very least fewer bills need 60 votes to pass the Senate.

    Democrats increasingly worry that popular pieces of Biden’s agenda will hit a wall in the Senate, including his plans for climate change, immigration, gun control, voting rights, and LGBT protections. Failing to enact them, they fear, could be a political disaster for Democrats as well as a substantive one. Read more at Boston Globe

  • “Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are reportedly not on good terms—but their respective allies can’t agree on who is to blame. According to CNN, Kushner, once Trump’s ever-present chief adviser, was not part of the team that helped the former president plan out his political comeback at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, and sources told the network that the two men have fallen out. Some who spoke with CNN said the tiff was started by Trump, who has reportedly been telling his inner circle that he’s furious with Kushner over the election loss. Others said that Kushner is trying to create distance between himself and Trump since the disgraceful events of his final month in office. ‘Right now, he’s just checked out of politics,’ one person told CNN. Another source familiar with Kushner’s plans reportedly remarked: ‘The drama of politics wore him down. Eventually, Trump wears everyone down.’” Read more at CNN

  • “Louisiana State University, one of the most prominent institutions in the South and a powerhouse of college sports, failed to prevent abuse or harassment by some of its athletes and its onetime football coach or sufficiently investigate accusations against them, according to two reports released this week.

    Although the coach, Les Miles, was fired more than four years ago for his poor on-field record and was later hired by the University of Kansas, investigators found in a 2013 report that was made public only on Thursday that he had acted improperly toward at least one female student who worked for the L.S.U. athletic department.

    Then on Friday, hours before Kansas said it had placed Miles on leave, a more sweeping 148-page account documented a long record of errors, missteps and secrecy around misconduct allegations across L.S.U. The report, prepared by a law firm that L.S.U. hired last year after USA Today detailed accusations against former athletes, prompted the university to suspend two athletics executives without pay.” Read more at New York Times

  • “Interior Department staffers churned out dozens of drilling permits despite an order for upper-level review. The US Postal Service spurned green alternatives and bought tens of thousands of gasoline-powered vehicles. And across the government, Donald Trump loyalists remain in influential positions.

    President Biden is being defied by his own government as his ambitious plans to undo four years of Trump run into a harsh reality: The government lumbers on, slow to turn course even after an election. Cumbersome bureaucracy threatens his agenda on everything from fighting climate change to ending the coronavirus pandemic.” Read more at Boston Globe

  • Biden’s Quiet Style Belies Ambitions Beyond Undoing Trump Legacy
    He pours over briefing books, he doesn’t tweet and he requires masks: Biden couldn’t be more different from Trump. And as Jennifer Epstein reports, his unobtrusive style belies his desire to dramatically reshape the country beyond undoing Trump’s agenda or reviving Barack Obama’s.” Read more at Bloomberg

  • DID MAIL-IN VOTING BOOST BIDEN? The presidential-election results left the impression that mail-in voting increased turnout and propelled President Biden to victory. But the reality is that voting by mail didn’t do either, Stanford researchers say in a new paper based on the latest data. That finding is notable because mail-in voting has become a controversial topic as many state legislatures debate restricting its use in future elections.

    But much of the debate around voting by mail misunderstands the actual impact of the policy, according to the paper. In states where voting by mail was a new option, many voters used it. Turnout was high in 2020, but it didn’t increase significantly more in states that expanded voting by mail versus other states, the researchers found.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

  • “The scary question that leagues like the NBA, NFL and MLB  faced as they returned to play over the past year was how prevalent heart damage would be among players who tested positive for Covid-19. They now have an encouraging answer: It’s rare. 

    A new study on the topic in JAMA Cardiology is based on the screening of 789 professional athletes who tested positive for Covid-19 between May and October in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, the National Hockey League, National Football League, and the men’s and women’s National Basketball Association. 

    The paper shows that 0.6% of those athletes ultimately had findings suggestive of inflammatory heart disease. Five athletes were held out of competition because of their cardiac results. Three had myocarditis, which is heart inflammation, and two had pericarditis, which is swelling of the tissue that surrounds the heart. All had had moderate cases of Covid.

    The findings suggest that long-term heart complications in non-severe Covid cases are unlikely—and that sports leagues are still likely to continue with cardiac screenings during the pandemic.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

  • “A cyberattack on Microsoft's Outlook email software is believed to have infected tens of thousands of businesses, government offices and schools in the U.S., according to people briefed on the matter.

    Many of those victims of the attack, which Microsoft has said was carried out by a network of suspected Chinese hackers, appear to be small businesses and state and local governments. Estimates of total world-wide victims were approximate and ranged broadly as of Friday. Tens of thousands of customers appear to have been affected, but that number could be larger, the people said. It could be higher than 250,000, one person said.

    The hackers have been exploiting a series of four flaws in Microsoft’s Exchange software to break into email accounts and read messages without authorization, and to install unauthorized software, the company said. Those flaws are known as zero days among cybersecurity professionals because they relied on previously undisclosed software bugs, suggesting a high degree of sophistication by the hackers.” Read more at Wall Street Journal

  • China Abandons 24-Year Experiment With Open Hong Kong Elections
    For almost a quarter of a century, Hong Kong stood as the one place under Beijing’s rule with open elections. Iain Marlow and Kari Lindberglook into how a landslide loss just over a year ago may have finally convinced China to end the experiment in democracy.” Read more at Bloomberg

  • “The United States has officially sanctioned one of Ukraine’s richest men for corruption—a man whose name was repeatedly mentioned throughout the first impeachment saga of former President Donald Trump. Ihor Kolomoisky is considered to be Ukraine’s most powerful figure outside of government and he was a key patron in the rise of President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a statement released Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote: ‘I am announcing the public designation of oligarch and former Ukrainian public official Ihor Kolomoisky due to his involvement in significant corruption.’ The designation relates to Kolomoisky’s alleged corrupt practices when he was governor of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast region in 2015, but Blinken said he was also concerned about Kolomoisky’s ‘current and ongoing efforts’ to ‘undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions.’ The State Department said the designation extends to Kolomoisky’s family, meaning that they are all now ineligible to enter the United States.” Read more at Reuters

  • “Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has spent the entire pandemic downplaying its seriousness, with dire consequences. Now, with the second-highest death toll in the world and fresh surges in both cases and deaths, he’s told Brazilians to hurry up and get over it. ‘Stop whining,’ the president said at an event. ‘How long are you going to keep crying about it? How much longer will you stay at home and close everything? No one can stand it anymore. We regret the deaths, again, but we need a solution.’ His comments came a day after Brazil saw a record rise in deaths over a 24-hour period, with 1,910 people losing their lives. A further 75,102 cases of coronavirus were reported the same day. According to BBC News, the explosion in cases has been blamed on the spread of a variant of the coronavirus thought to have originated in the city of Manaus. Read more at BBC

    "LONDON (AP) — The timing couldn’t be worse for Harry and Meghan.

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will finally get the chance to tell the story behind their departure from royal duties directly to the public on Sunday, when their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey is broadcast.

    But back home in Britain, events have conspired to overshadow the tale of a prince and his American bride. On top of the pandemic and record economic slump, Prince Philip, Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather, has been hospitalized for almost three weeks and is now recovering from a heart procedure….

    Though it is the choice of CBS when to air its pre-recorded interview, critics are already lining up to deride it as a brand-building exercise by the pair, who left Britain saying they wanted to live a normal life but have been accused of continuing to use their royal status to open doors and make money.” Read more at Boston Globe

  • “Amanda Gorman, the poet who won acclaim for her performance at Joe Biden’s inauguration, has told of being followed home and accosted by a security guard who allegedly claimed she looked suspicious.

    She said the incident, on Friday night, was emblematic of ‘the reality of black girls’ in the US, in which ‘one day you’re called an icon’ but the next day considered a threat. Read more at The Guardian

  • “Alexi McCammond, a political reporter at Axios, will be the next editor in chief of Teen Vogue, Condé Nast announced Friday.

    Ms. McCammond, 27, made her name covering the 2018 midterm elections and Joseph R. Biden’s presidential campaign for Axios, a site known for its punchy Beltway coverage. She has also been a frequent contributor to NBC and MSNBC. In her new role, she will lead the Teen Vogue team across digital, video and social media. She starts on March 24.

    The appointment of Ms. McCammond to the top Teen Vogue job suggests that the publication, which stopped publishing regular print issues in 2017, will continue to be a venue for political reporting and commentary, in addition to its coverage of fashion, beauty and culture. Teen Vogue expanded its purview during the political rise of Donald J. Trump, winning plaudits for essays like Lauren Duca’s ‘Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America’ in 2016.

    Ms. McCammond succeeds Lindsay Peoples Wagner, the editor in chief of Teen Vogue since 2018, who in January was appointed to the top job at New York Magazine’s style website, The Cut. Anna Wintour, the global editorial director of Vogue and Condé Nast’s chief content officer, said in a statement that Ms. McCammond had ‘the powerful curiosity and confidence that embodies the best of our next generation of leaders.’” Read more at New York Times

  • “The BBC has issued an apology and started an investigation after airing an interview with a man who posed as Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

    The network said in a statement that the unidentified man was interviewed on the ‘Newshour’ radio program last Friday, adding that the appearance appeared to have been a ‘deliberate hoax.’” Read more at New York Times

    Two views of Dalatias licha, or the kitefin shark, during daylight, top, and its luminescent pattern, bottom.
    Two views of Dalatias licha, or the kitefin shark, during daylight, top, and its luminescent pattern, bottom.Credit...Jerome Mallefet/National Fund for Scientific Research, Catholic University of Louvain

    “As they prowl the oceans, sharks aren’t just hunting. Some of them are glowing. And now researchers have identified the largest glow-in-the-dark species with a spine — on land or sea — that has ever been found.

    A study published last week in Frontiers in Marine Science established that kitefin sharks — a species that grows to almost six feet in length — emits blue-green light. The scientists who led the monthlong expedition in waters off the coast of New Zealand also expanded the scientific understanding of what makes several species of tiny, deep-swimming lantern sharks glow.

    The study was led by Jérôme Mallefet at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, a scientist who has built his career studying bioluminescent marine life. His recent collaboration with researchers there and at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Wellington, New Zealand, piggybacked on an annual survey conducted off the New Zealand coast. That project trawled depths as far down as 2,600 feet to document numbers of hoki, a white-fleshed fish that supports New Zealand’s largest commercial fishery.

    As the survey netted fish, Dr. Mallefet and colleagues would scan the catch for sharks, which were able to survive the drastic pressure change because of their lack of swim bladders. Live sharks were transferred to tanks in a dark, cold room where the team photographed them, including the kitefin shark’s spectacular luminosity. Once photographed alive, specimens of the three shark species were euthanized, with samples of skin dissected, allowing the researchers to examine their flashlight-like luminous organs.

    Tiny lantern sharks were already known to be luminous tricksters. Blue-green bioluminescent organs on their belly help them blend in with bluish light from above, so they can avoid detection by larger predators while possibly illuminating shrimp and squid on the sea floor — their dinner table. A glowing undercarriage also advertises reproductive organs to mates. As multipurpose masters, Dr. Mallefet calls lantern sharks MacGyvers of light.” Read more at New York Times

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