A Penny Feud
January 10, 2022
The Good News
- Jeopardy! has a new millionaire, Amy Schneider (AV Club)
- First female judge nominated for Pakistan’s supreme court (Guardian)
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” – Leo Tolstoy
“All wars are civil wars, because all men are brothers.” – François Fénelon
Kazakhstan & Effect
The Nazarbayev family and their associates have controlled Kazakhstan since the central Asian state gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country has enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, uranium, and minerals. Over three decades, the ruling elites extracted massive wealth for themselves from a system put in place in the 1990s that allowed a few families to control the oil and gas industry. Any opposition to the government of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, was swiftly tamped down, even as ordinary citizens began suffering from increasingly widespread economic hardship. Nazarbayev stepped down as president in 2019, but continued to wield power from behind the scenes as head of the security council. Current president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev promised more political freedoms and economic reforms, but has been held back by the pandemic and the tenacity of the old elite.
On January 1, Tokayev’s government lifted a price cap on fuel, setting off a sudden and steep increase in the cost of liquefied petroleum gas which most people used to run their vehicles. That move sparked public meetings in towns in western Kazakhstan, home to the country’s natural resources sector, and widespread unrest that included political grievances grew increasingly violent. Over the next few days, anti-government rioters threatened administration buildings and burned a presidential residence and the mayor’s office in the city of Almaty. Authorities restricted access to the internet and social media to impede citizens’ power to organize, and Tokayev requested Russian troops be sent in to bolster his security forces. Perhaps to appease protesters, Tokayev dismissed the Cabinet and the prime minister, and forced 81-year-old Nazarbayev to leave his position as head of the security council. But on Friday, Tokayev authorized police and the military to “shoot-to-kill” to restore order.
By Sunday, order was restored. Kazakhstan authorities said 164 people were killed, over 2,000 injured, and nearly 6,000 detained in the week-long protests – the worst unrest the country has seen since it gained independence. The 11-cent fuel price cap was put back in place in the western Mangystau Region, where the protests started, but everywhere there are long lines at gas stations. Residents struggle to buy food because shopping malls, supermarkets, cafes, and restaurants are still closed, and the internet shutdown continues.
On the other hand, vast assets belonging to the elites were never endangered or curtailed as they sat quietly nearly 4,000 miles away in the U.K. According to data released in a recent report by Chatham House, the Kazakhstani ruling class owns at least $721 million of luxury property in London and the southeast. Roughly $449 million of that luxury property is owned by the extended Nazarbayev family. (NPR, AP News, BBC, Open Democracy)
NATO-ing The Line
- There are increased concerns that Russia may invade Ukraine, which hopes to become a member of NATO. In exchange for easing tensions with Ukraine, President Putin had demanded that the 30-member military alliance halt membership plans for all countries, including Ukraine. But on Friday, U.S. and NATO officials rejected Putin’s demands that no new members be allowed into the alliance.
- Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Kremlin would have no say over who should be allowed to join the bloc, and warned against any further military intervention in Ukraine. “We’re prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression, but a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses,” Blinken told reporters.
- Under Article 10 of NATO’s foundational 1949 Washington Treaty, the organization can invite in any willing European country that can contribute to security in the North Atlantic region, as well as fulfill the obligations of membership. Blinken said Putin is well aware that NATO would not have accepted his demands. (AP News)
- Avoidance of health and safety protocols and other rowdy conduct exhibited by some 130 Canadian “influencers” caused Sunwing Airlines, Air Transat, and Air Canada to cancel the group’s return flight from Cancun on January 5. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the revelers’ irresponsible behavior a “slap in the face” to citizens and airline workers who’ve been following proper social distancing and other COVID prevention measures. He also referred to them with the French equivalent of “idiots” and “barbarians.”
- Canada’s Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos said in a briefing Friday that 27 who had managed to return home were tested for the virus, and had to show proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test, and a quarantine plan. Duclos said the Quebec police department was investigating the travelers, as well as Transport Canada, which could issue fines up to C$5,000 per offense. A 19-year-old student from Quebec, who won the trip on Instagram, said she tested positive Wednesday; she estimated about 30 others on the trip had tested positive. (BBC)
Additional World News
- India toxic gas leak kills 6 after illegal chemical dump (CNN)
- At least 200 dead in bandit attacks in northwest Nigeria (Al Jazeera)
- Ten die after Brazilian cliff collapses onto leisure boats (BBC)
- West African leaders to discuss Mali’s political crisis (Al Jazeera)
- Hong Kong suspends officials, isolates some 170 party guests (ABC)
- Egypt frees activist Ramy Shaath after he abandons nationality (Al Jazeera)
- Polish leader admits country bought powerful Israeli spyware (ABC)
Devastating Blaze In The Bronx
- A fire in a 19-story New York apartment complex in the Bronx killed 19 people Sunday; nine of those who died were 16 or younger. More than 60 people were injured and dozens were sent to area hospitals in critical condition when smoke engulfed the building.
- The fire appeared to originate from a space heater in a second- and third-floor duplex just before 11 a.m. Smoke billowed up through the 120-unit complex, aided by an open door. About 200 firefighters responded to what officials called one of the most devastating blazes in city history.
- Many residents of the building were immigrants from the West African nation of Gambia, and the fire was the second such tragedy in less than a week to underscore the vulnerabilities of those living in multifamily housing. On January 5, a fire in a crowded three-story row house in Philadelphia killed a dozen people, including eight children. (WaPo)
Ahmaud Arbery Murderers Sentenced
- Three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was out jogging when he was attacked, were sentenced on Friday. Travis McMichael, his father Gregory McMichael, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan were arrested more than two months after Arbery’s killing in a neighborhood outside Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23, 2020.
- At trial in November, the McMichaels pleaded not guilty, claiming they were conducting a citizen’s arrest and acting in self-defense because they believed Arbery had committed a crime. Bryan said he had taken no part in the actual killing. Evidence introduced at trial showed the armed men chased Arbery through the streets as he repeatedly tried to elude them.
- A jury consisting of nine white women, two white men, and one Black man found the men guilty on a raft of charges, including felony murder. Judge Timothy Walmsley sentenced the McMichaels, who never showed remorse, to life in prison without parole. Bryan, who told the judge he was remorseful for what happened, received life in prison with the possibility of parole. (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Biden’s low profile on Guantanamo rankles as prison turns 20 (AP)
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tests positive for COVID-19 (CBS)
- US Covid-19 Seven-Day Case Average Tops 700,000 (WSJ)
- US says Nord Stream 2 sanction plan by Cruz would undermine united front (Reuters)
- Rapid at-home Covid tests going for $80 in US amid the Omicron surge (Guardian)
- Storm causes flooding and landslides and shuts roads in Washington and Oregon (NPR)
- December jobs report: US economy added 199,000 jobs (CNN)
A Penny Feud
- Andreas Flaten used to work for Miles Walker, owner of A OK Walker Autoworks in Peachtree City, Georgia. After Flaten submitted his two-week notice at the auto shop, he didn’t receive his final $915 paycheck. On January 26, 2021, Flaten called the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) of the U.S. Department of Labor to report that Walker failed to pay him his last paycheck. The next day, a WHD representative called Walker concerning Flaten’s last paycheck. Walker informed the representative he had no intention of paying Flaten anything.
- Although Walker was furious that Flaten had called the WHD, he later decided he would pay Flaten the $915 dollars – in pennies. So on March 12, 2021, Walker left approximately 91,500 oily pennies on the driveway in front of Flaten’s Fayetteville, Georgia home. On top of the pile of pennies, Walker left a copy of Flaten’s paycheck, with an expletive written on the outside. After making an unholy mess on the driveway, Walker posted some really nasty stuff about his former employee on the company’s website and refused to take it down.
- So Flaten did what any aggrieved party should do: he contacted Martin Walsh, the U.S. Secretary of Labor. On December 30, 2021, Walsh filed a complaint against Walker and other connected defendants in a U.S. District Court in Georgia, for unpaid wages together with an equal amount in liquidated damages. After Walker gets through paying for legal representation to defend himself against a lawsuit from the federal government, it’s an understatement to say he’ll wish he’d just ponied up the $915 in the first place. (WaPo)
- Man in Line at Doja Cat Concert Arrested for Making Bomb Threat (Pitchfork)
- The forgotten medieval habit of ‘two sleeps’ (BBC)
- London’s Marble Arch Mound attraction to close this weekend (Guardian)
- Astronomers Discover a Strange Galaxy Without Dark Matter (Wired)
- They bought a blender. Three weeks later, their cats continue to hold (WaPo, $)
- Dogs know when you’re speaking a different language — and talking nonsense (CNN)
- Moon Cube Mystery: Chinese Rover Finds It’s Just a Rock (Yahoo)
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