A Follow Gesture
December 8, 2021
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“Democracy must be built through open societies that share information. When there is information, there is enlightenment. When there is debate, there are solutions. When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.” – Atifete Jahjaga
In President Biden’s first foreign policy address in February, he spoke of his intention to return the U.S. to a position of global leadership to confront authoritarian forces led by China and Russia. In August, the White House announced the president would be convening a first-of-its-kind Democracy Summit in early December. The official statement said the summit’s purpose is “to demonstrate that democracies can deliver by improving the lives of their own people and by addressing the greatest problems facing the wider world.”
A “week of actions” was promised ahead of the two-day virtual meeting beginning Thursday. The administration announced Monday a first-ever United States Strategy on Countering Corruption. The strategy aims to tackle illicit finance and corruption, including new regulations against those who abuse the U.S. real estate market to hide their wealth. The White House also announced that, due to China’s record of human rights violations, no U.S. government officials would attend the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
On Tuesday, the Treasury Department announced it was imposing sanctions on over a dozen people and entities in Iran, Syria, and Uganda for their connections to serious human rights abuses and repressive acts, including chemical weapon attacks on civilians. The action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and bars Americans from dealing with them. Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave a statement saying the administration is “committed to using its full range of tools to counter serious human rights abuse and repressive acts across the world.” He added that the designations include individuals previously sanctioned by the E.U., bringing the U.S. into “closer alignment with allies and partners, reflecting our shared commitment to promoting democracy and respect for human rights.”
The State Department’s selection process for the 110 countries participating in this inaugural Democracy Summit has been scrutinized. Some invitees have undisputed democratic credentials, and some of those omitted are clearly authoritarian, but many countries fall into a murky middle area. China and Russia were obviously going to be omitted. Hungary, a member of the E.U., and Turkey, a NATO ally, didn’t make the cut, and neither did Egypt. But Pakistan and the Philippines did, and by the State Department’s own account, both are responsible for “unlawful or arbitrary killings” and other serious human rights violations.
The selections definitely rankled some uninvited government leaders, who claimed Biden wanted to penalize those who were close to the prior administration. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that “an invitation is not a stamp of approval on their approach to democracy — nor is exclusion a stamp of…disapproval.” However, one thing is sure: Taiwan’s invitation to participate just rubs a lot more salt into China’s diplomatic wounds. (whitehouse.gov, Politico, Reuters, state.gov, WaPo)
Chile Warming Up To Equality
- On Tuesday, after a years-long legal battle, Chile’s Congress passed a law to legalize same-sex marriage. It’s a milestone for the conservative South American nation and culminates a process that began in 2007 when then-President Michelle Bachelet pushed Congress to pass a same-sex law.
- Chile is now poised to join 30 other Latin American countries where same-sex marriage is legal, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. The vote comes right before a consequential election on December 19.
- Chileans will be choosing between progressive Gabriel Boric and social conservative Jose Antonio Kast, a practicing Catholic. The two offer wildly different visions for the country’s future. Chile’s current president Sebastian Pinera, who will leave office in March, backs the bill and is expected to sign it into law. (NBC News, HRC)
Spreading Holiday Cheer & A Deadly Virus
- Sixty-eight doctors and nurses working in the intensive care unit at the University Regional Hospital in Malaga on Spain’s southern Mediterranean coast tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a Christmas party.
- All reportedly had antigen tests or their third booster vaccinations before attending the party on December 1. Those infected are only showing mild symptoms, but health authorities in Andalusia are recommending staff at other public and private hospitals not attend Christmas parties.
- Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned people to remain vigilant against the virus over Christmas. “We must not lower our guard,” he told journalists in Madrid. Authorities have confirmed five cases of the Omicron variant, four of them in Spain’s Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the western Mediterranean Sea. (CNN)
Additional World News
- Whistleblower: As Afghanistan fell, UK abandoned supporters (AP)
- Gambia police disperse protesters contesting president’s re-election (Reuters)
- Police clash with protesters in Brussels at demonstration over Covid-19 measures (CNN)
- Austria’s third leader in two months takes office mid-lockdown (Reuters)
- Can Germany’s New Chancellor Revive the Left in Europe? (NYT, $)
- Uyghur organizations applaud the U.S. diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics (NPR)
- Tension in Nagaland after botched encounter by Indian army (WaPo, $)
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A Stumbling Block
- A Trump-appointed federal judge in Georgia issued a nationwide injunction Tuesday against a vaccine mandate for federal contractors, ruling that President Biden probably exceeded his authority by imposing the requirement in an executive order. R. Stan Baker temporarily blocked implementation of the order after a lawsuit was filed by numerous states and a trade group.
- Plaintiffs argued that letting the mandate take effect on January 4 would cause “irreparable injury” to workers who could be forced out of their jobs. Tuesday’s decision is the latest in a string of rulings hampering the administration’s efforts to force more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Last week, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services from enforcing its mandate for health care workers, while a federal judge in Kentucky blocked the administration from enforcing the mandate for government contractors in three states. In early November, a federal appeals court issued a stay freezing the administration’s efforts to require that workers at U.S. companies with at least 100 employees be vaccinated. (NBC News)
A Follow Gesture
- Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), who constantly jumped through hoops to do the previous president’s bidding, announced Monday he’ll leave the House by the end of the year to become the CEO of Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG). Trump started his new social media venture last February and raised over a billion dollars from a group of unidentified investors before going public in October. The bulk of the money came from a merger with Digital World Acquisition Corp (DWAC), which is currently being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Nunes served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee when Republicans were in the majority, and also led the efforts to discredit the FBI’s Russia investigation and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. He was also an outspoken defender of Trump during the ex-president’s first impeachment. Trump awarded Nunes the Medal of Freedom in early January. The soon-to-be CEO has always boasted of being a dairy farmer, and has no apparent prior experience either in the tech industry or as an executive. (CNN, Reuters, NBC News, CNBC)
Additional USA News
- Most voters back abortion rights but are not swayed by threat to Roe, poll finds (Politico)
- Biden Expected to Offer Warnings and Alternatives in Call With Putin (NYT, $)
- Hawaii faces life-threatening flooding after some areas of the state see more than a foot of rain in 48 hours (CNN)
- Manchin and Sinema get star billing in Pa. Senate race (Politico)
- Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, whose tenure included George Floyd’s murder, will retire in January (CNN)
- David Neal Cox confessed to killing sister-in-law Felicia Cox before execution in Mississippi (WaPo, $)
- Biden calls on Congress to pass his Build Back Better bill to lower drug costs (NPR)
A Sad Chapter In History
- Republican Matt Krause is a five-term member of the Texas House of Representatives from a district that includes most of Ft. Worth. Krause, a candidate for attorney general in the 2022 election, chairs the House General Investigating Committee. According to an October 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune, Krause notified the Texas Education Agency that he was “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content” of the type of books they have in their libraries, particularly if the books pertain to race or sexuality or “make students feel discomfort.”
- Krause’s letter provided a 16-page list of 850 books; he wanted school officials to search their campuses for copies of the books on the list and answer questions, including how many copies of the books they have, how much money was spent on the books, where on campus the books were located, and any other information on any other book not on the list that violates state law against “critical race theory.” Krause’s list of titles includes fiction and non-fiction, bestsellers and award winners, anything dealing with issues like race, racial equality, gender equality, identity, and sexual orientation, as well as topics like teen sexuality, pregnancy, and abortion.
- On Tuesday, the North East Independent School District in San Antonio said it had determined its libraries contained 414 books on the list and the books had been removed from their shelves “out of an abundance of caution” and would be reviewed to “ensure they did not have any obscene or vulgar material in them.” The good news is we don’t think the books are being burned just yet. (Texas Tribune, NBC News)
- How QAnon hijacked Hollywood stories to spread conspiracies (LAT, $)
- In major change, UAE workweek to be Monday through Friday (ABC)
- US billionaire surrenders $70m of stolen art (Guardian)
- Your Very First Fisher-Price Phone Now Works With Bluetooth (Wired)
- China’s lunar rover spots mysterious “hut” on far side of moon (CBS)
- Some Cancer Studies Fail to Replicate. That Might Be OK (Wired)
- Mesmerizing photos of this year’s only total solar eclipse show a rare crescent sunrise over Antarctica (Yahoo)
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