A Spy For An Eye
August 12, 2021
The Good News
- Artificial Intelligence may diagnose dementia in a day (BBC)
- Hemp milk claims to be the greenest yet – but is it any good? (Guardian)
“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.” — Barack Obama
Infra Long Road Ahead
The process is painfully slow and incredibly arduous, but Congressional Democrats and Independents who vote with the caucus continue to inch their way forward to make President Biden’s vision to “Build America Back Better” happen.
In uncommon bipartisan cooperation — and over shrill objections by former president Trump — the Senate voted Tuesday 69-30 to approve a $1 trillion ‘hard’ infrastructure package focusing primarily on transportation, utilities, and pollution cleanup. The bill now moves to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said it will not be taken up until accompanied by the $3.5 trillion ‘social’ or ‘soft’ infrastructure bill that faces unanimous Republican opposition.
The Progressive wing of the party was adamant about expanding the country’s social safety net to include spending that helps working families, like paid family and medical leave, child care, free public education, Medicare expansion, and aggressive tackling of climate change. It would require making the wealthiest corporations and Americans “pay their fair share.” Knowing the Republican opposition they would face, the Dems decided early on to bifurcate the two priorities. The more costly part of the total $4.5 trillion infrastructure package would utilize a fast-track procedure known as budget reconciliation, allowing the caucus to pass it on a straight party-line vote and avoid a GOP filibuster.
Immediately after Tuesday’s bipartisan vote on hard infrastructure, the Senate turned to the next phase of the process. They engaged in a marathon “vote-a-rama.” After more than 14 hours of debate on a myriad of amendments, the bill’s framework was finally adopted just before 4 a.m. Wednesday by a 50-49 vote. The blueprint will be used for committees in both houses to follow in fleshing out their parts of the funding legislation. Representatives in the House will return early from their scheduled summer vacation the week of August 23 to begin work, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hopes to have legislation written by September 15.
It’s still a very rocky road ahead. There are intra-party disagreements to overcome, specifically with conservative Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az). Then there’s the little issue of raising the nation’s borrowing limit — it must be increased by October 1 to avoid defaulting. In a speech on the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) gave a preview of how that battle might go when he said: “So let me make something perfectly clear: If [Democrats] don’t want or need our input, they won’t get our help with the debt limit increase that these reckless plans will require.” (NYT, NBC News, NPR)
Governor By Day, Warrior By Night
- Salima Mazari, 40, is one of only three female district governors in Afghanistan. She’s been in the job for just over three years. Since July, she’s been meeting with the commanders of her security forces every day as the Taliban attacks across the country increase. Mazari’s job means not only managing the day-to-day bureaucracy, but also organizing military operations. She’s known for her hands-on military-style leadership.
- “Sometimes I’m in the office in Charkint, and other times I have to pick up a gun and join the battle,” she says. Her district once had a population of more than 200,000 people, but war and the resulting poverty have displaced huge numbers of people; she represents only about 30,000 now. Mazari feels Charkint is considered a second-grade district, and her task is made harder as she fights corruption within the Afghan bureaucracy. “We lack basic facilities such as access to healthcare. To manage security, we should have at least seven police ranger cars, two Humvees equipped with light and heavy weaponry. However, we have far fewer resources, even though we’ve requested them from the central government many times. My pleas have gone unheard,” she says.
- Yet her leadership style is working, even as renewed Taliban violence sweeps the country. She says with pride that so far the Taliban has been kept out of Charkint. But she has a stern warning for all Afghans: “If we don’t fight now against the extremist ideologies and the groups that force them on us, we will lose our chance to defeat them. They will succeed. They will brainwash society into accepting their agenda.” (Guardian)
A Spy For An Eye
- Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese tech giant Huawei and daughter of the company’s billionaire founder, was arrested on December 1, 2018, in Canada over allegations Huawei violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. She has been held under house arrest in Vancouver and still faces extradition to the U.S. At the time, it was feared her case threatened to ramp up tensions between the U.S. and China.
- Sure enough, almost immediately after Meng’s arrest, two Canadian businessmen, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were detained in Beijing and charged with espionage. Spavor was a Beijing-based businessman who regularly traveled to North Korea. Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat who worked for the International Crisis Group. Chinese officials have never disclosed any evidence against Spavor or Kovrig, or information relating to their trials, which were held behind closed doors in March.
- On Wednesday, over two years after being arrested, a Chinese court said Spavor had been found guilty of spying and illegally providing state secrets to foreign countries; he was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The court also said Spavor would be deported, but didn’t specify whether it would be before or after he served his prison sentence. Kovrig was accused of “stealing sensitive information and intelligence through contacts in China since 2017,” but authorities have yet to announce Kovrig’s verdict or sentencing. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Fleeing fighting in north, Afghans crowd into Kabul’s parks (Politico)
- German police arrest Briton on suspicion of spying for Russia (Guardian)
- Poland’s coalition under threat as parliament votes on media bill (Guardian)
- In Iran, slow vaccinations fuel anger in unending pandemic (AP)
- David Cameron personally promoted Greensill to investors (BBC)
- Populism hasn’t boosted Zambia’s democracy. (WaPo, $)
That’s All She Vote
- Senate GOP members weren’t able to block the Democrats’ party-line vote on the infrastructure blueprint, but they were able to block the effort to put Republicans on the record as opposing a voting rights and elections protection bill known as the For the People Act. Democrats have been trying for months to move forward on the sweeping set of electoral reforms that would increase voting rights and election security, while stemming the flow of special interest money into campaigns. Dems argue the legislation is a necessary counter to state-level efforts to restrict voting access; Republicans say it’s a partisan power grab and a federal overreach. However, as of July 14, 18 states have passed 30 new laws making it harder to vote.
- Texas already has some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country, but the Republican-controlled legislature and Governor Greg Abbott (R) are still trying to pass more. Abbott called a special session after the regular session ended without Republicans getting a restrictive omnibus bill passed. In the July special session, a majority of Democratic lawmakers flew to Washington D.C. to deny the quorum needed to conduct business and to try drumming up support for the For the People Act. After that special session ended, Abbott called a second special session beginning Saturday, August 7.
- Sunday evening, an Austin district judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking the arrest of the out-of-state Democrats. Two days later, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court voided the lower court order and ruled the Democrats could be arrested and taken to the House chamber. That same day the speaker of the Texas House signed 52 arrest warrants for the absent Democrats. On Wednesday, the civil warrants were served at the Democrats’ Austin offices. Most of the Dems remain absent and defiant, but they acknowledge they can’t block passage of the bill forever. (CNN, Texas Tribune)
- Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) has a medical degree and should know better. Public health experts are nearly unanimous in saying masks work to limit the spread of the Coronavirus, but the Libertarian eye doctor just keeps claiming masks are useless. On Tuesday, YouTube removed a video Paul posted for the second time in which he disputed the effectiveness of wearing masks; he was suspended from publishing for a week. A representative said the video violated the company’s policy on COVID-19 medical misinformation.
- Last week, YouTube removed from Paul’s channel a Newsmax interview in which the senator said that there’s “no value” in wearing masks. Paul tweeted his latest suspension was a “badge of honor” and blamed “left-wing cretins at YouTube” while linking to an alternative site to watch the video. Also on Tuesday, Twitter suspended Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga) for a week, after she posted that the FDA should not give coronavirus vaccines full approval, and that the vaccines were “failing.” (NYT)
Additional USA News
- Former criminal justice college professor accused of setting fires near Dixie Fire (CBS)
- Arizona lawmaker resigns after arrest in child sex abuse case (NBC)
- LGBTQ Group Human Rights Campaign Investigates Its President Over Cuomo Ties (NPR)
- Pacific Northwest braces for another multiday heat wave (AP)
- Tropical Storm Fred could hit Florida, perhaps as hurricane, forecasters say (CBS)
- Matthew Coleman Allegedly “Enlightened By QAnon” Charged (BuzzFeed)
Floating Into Society
He just wanted to be left alone. For 30 years, David Lidstone, known as “River Dave,” lived as a hermit in a cabin he built in the New Hampshire woods, alongside the Merrimack River. And even though the 81-year-old had been ordered off the property, which wasn’t legally his, River Dave would probably still be in his cabin if it hadn’t burned down last week.
The property was undeveloped and had been owned by the same family since 1963. The family member who owned it most recently was 86-year-old Leonard Giles of South Burlington, Vermont, and he wanted Lidstone off the property. River Dave claimed a prior owner in the family promised him he could live there, but he didn’t have anything in writing to prove it.
On July 15, Lidstone was jailed for civil contempt. On August 4, he represented himself in a hearing, and both sides agreed to arrange for him to collect his cats and chickens and remaining possessions on the site. But shortly thereafter the cabin burned down. The fire chief said he wasn’t ruling out arson, but said it could have been an accident caused by a representative of Giles, who had started demolishing the cabin while Lidstone was in court.
River Dave has remained pretty unflappable about the whole thing. He told reporters he probably couldn’t go back to being a hermit anyway, because “society is not going to allow it.” He explained that over the years he’d built relationships that just kept expanding. “Maybe the things I’ve been trying to avoid are the things that I really need in life,” he said. People all over have offered to help, and he’s got a support system in place. So, River Dave, we want you to know it’s never too late to make positive changes in life. (AP News)
- How to Make Remote Learning Work for Your Children (Wired)
- Dixie fire generates fire whirl, pyrocumulonimbus cloud (LAT, $)
- Hit songs rely on increasing “harmonic surprise” to hook listeners, study finds (Ars Technica)
- ‘They rake in profits – everyone else suffers’: US workers lose out as big chicken gets bigger (Guardian)
- If You Want to Tackle Climate Change, Start With Methane (Wired)
- Giant, Dragon-Like, Flying Reptile Fossil Discovered in Australia (Smithsonian)
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