And To Capital Off
January 20, 2022
The Good News
- Biden administration launches website for free at-home Covid tests a day early (Guardian)
- Hong Kong activist who coined banned independence slogan released from prison (Guardian)
“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” – Albert Ellis
Biden Off More Than He Can Chew
Voters may ignore age when ushering their presidential candidate into office, but they expect a showing of youthful strength and energy after the fact. A Politico poll in October 2020 found voters believed 77-year-old Joe Biden was “in good health” by a 19-point margin. But 13 months later a new Politico/Morning Consult poll showed only 40% of voters surveyed agreed with the statement that Biden “is in good health,” while 50% disagreed – a massive 29-point shift. The health of the White House’s messaging on how the administration is handling the public’s business isn’t faring any better. A Quinnipiac poll released last week found only 33% of Americans approve of how Biden is doing his job as president.
Clearly, Biden wanted to dispel all that angst when he confidently strode onto the East Room stage for a rare news conference Wednesday afternoon. He appeared rested and spoke firmly, calling on Americans to be patient in the fight against Covid-19, and defending his record of accomplishments despite lackluster poll numbers. “It’s been a year of challenges. But it’s also been a year of enormous progress,” Biden said. He noted that 2 million people in the U.S. were vaccinated when he was sworn in last year, compared with 210 million today. He said the nation wasn’t going to shut down, and schools “should stay open.”
The president took umbrage at the suggestion he’d bitten off more than he could chew, legislatively speaking. He bragged that he was able to get a Covid stimulus bill and an infrastructure package through Congress and into law. He did indirectly admit his ambitious Build Back Better legislation isn’t going to pass, and endorsed carving it up to get some of the more popular pieces approved. He trotted out what surely will be his message in the coming midterm elections: that despite all his efforts at bipartisanship, the only thing Republicans do is obstruct his agenda to make things better for this country. “What are they for?” he asked rhetorically. “Name one thing they are for.”
Biden got the immediate attention of everyone with even a passing knowledge of the current situation on the Ukraine border when he said: “I’m not so sure [Russian President Putin] is certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in [to Ukraine]. He has to do something.” For Biden to suggest he didn’t know Putin’s plan in terms of an invasion of eastern Ukraine, or that he believes Putin hasn’t made up his mind, seems nothing short of disingenuous. U.S. intelligence determined weeks ago that the Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive involving up to 175,000 troops as early as 2022. (Politico, Quinnipiac, CNN, WaPo)
Violence Against Journalists In Mexico
- Two journalists who dared to chronicle Mexico’s slide into drug-and-corruption-fueled violence have been murdered within a week of one another. Margarito Martínez Esquivel, a crime reporter and photographer, was shot dead outside his home in the northern city of Tijuana around noon on Monday.
- Martínez had spent over two decades documenting the border city’s security crisis; he worked with numerous international outlets, including the BBC, the Washington Post, the LA Times, and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He was the 29th Mexican journalist to be killed since the country’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took power in December 2018, promising to pacify the country.
- A week earlier, José Luis Gamboa Arenas, general director of the digital newspaper Inforegio, was fatally stabbed in the eastern state of Veracruz, another of Mexico’s most violent regions. Journalists have become so fearful of being abducted and killed that they take DIY dental impressions and leave them in the freezer at home before going out to report, so relatives can identify their remains. (Guardian, Animal Politico, Insight Crime)
And To Capital Off
- Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, is one of the world’s largest megacities, and straining under the weight of exponential growth, congestion, and pollution. It’s also the world’s fastest sinking city. Several Indonesian presidents have offered plans to move the capital elsewhere, but none has gotten as far as President Joko Widodo, who said in 2019 he wanted to move the capital to an undeveloped jungle tract in East Kalimantan, Borneo.
- On Tuesday, Indonesia’s House of Representatives approved a bill providing the legal framework for the relocation. The new capital is to be named Nusantara, a Javanese word for archipelago. The legislation details how the project will be funded and governed; the initial phase of relocation will occur between 2022 and 2024.
- Under the new law, foreign embassies and international organizations are expected to begin shifting their offices to Nusantara within a decade of the start of the relocation. No time frame for finalization has been set, but development is expected to last until 2045 and cost $32 billion. (BBC, WaPo)
Additional World News
- EU could suspend Vanuatu visa-free travel over ‘golden passports’ scheme (Guardian)
- Abu Dhabi: Why drone attacks in UAE could mark a dangerous turning point (CNN)
- UK PM Johnson under pressure amid reports of looming leadership challenge (Reuters)
- WHO: No evidence that healthy children, teens need boosters (Axios)
- China urges caution opening overseas mail after Omicron case (Reuters)
- Israeli police accused of using Pegasus spyware on domestic opponents of Netanyahu (WaPo, $)
- Taiwan pays $900,000 for ally Guatemala to lobby Washington (AP)
On The Record
- Former President Donald Trump has lost his bid to keep his White House records out of the hands of the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. The committee had demanded detailed records about Trump’s every movement and meeting on the day of the assault, including material about any plans formed in the White House or other federal agencies to derail the electoral vote by Congress.
- In an unsigned order released Wednesday, the majority of Supreme Court justices effectively rejected Trump’s claim of executive privilege and cleared the way for the National Archives to send the documents to the committee, which received them just hours later. Justice Clarence Thomas was alone in wanting to grant Trump’s application to shield the materials and deny the committee’s request for access to them. (NYT, Supreme Court)
Closing A Chapter
- The University of Michigan has agreed to a $490 million settlement to resolve hundreds of claims of sexual assault by the late Robert Anderson, a former UMich sports doctor. Anderson, who died in 2008, was a physician for the football team and other athletic programs at UMich, where he worked from 1966 until his retirement in 2003; the victims were mostly male athletes.
- Under the agreement, $460 million will be paid to the 1,050 claimants, and $30 million will be placed in reserve for any unidentified victims who come forward by July 31, 2023. Last March, the University of Southern California agreed to pay $852 million to resolve lawsuits brought by 710 women who accused ex-gynecologist George Tyndall of abusing them, and the school of trying to cover it up. That followed a 2018 settlement in which Michigan State University agreed to pay $500 million to hundreds of women sexually abused by disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. (Reuters)
Additional USA News
- Minnesota COVID-19 patient flown to Texas after judge orders doctors to keep him on ventilator (The Hill)
- US shifted from Democratic preference to Republican in 2021: Gallup (The Hill)
- Inside the Student-Led Covid Walkouts (Wired)
- Kathy Hochul Unveils Record $216 Billion Budget Plan for NY (NYT, $)
- Ex-‘New York Post’ editor alleges sexual harassment by Murdoch tabloid chief (NPR)
- Democratic Senate candidate smokes marijuana in new ad highlighting disparity and reform (ABC)
- Neil Gorsuch declines to wear mask, as bench-mate Sonia Sotomayor works from her office (CNN)
Alligators, Water Buffalo, Land Seals, Oh My!
- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a program called the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program, or SNAP (not to be confused with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The Florida Fish and Wildlife people contacted the Alligator SNAP people to help remove an 8-to-9 foot long alligator that had found its way to, and was swimming in, the wastewater holding tank at the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility. Back in 2019, state lawmakers secured $100 million to permanently clean up and close the phosphate plant, which had been leaking toxic contaminants into the waters around Port Manatee, the deepwater seaport located at the entrance to Tampa Bay, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
- Meanwhile, the California Highway Patrol had to be called in to help corral a water buffalo that was spotted standing in the middle of a road in Fresno, apparently not at all bothered by passing traffic. It did bother one driver, however, who feared for the water buffalo’s safety, even if the animal couldn’t care less. The owners were alerted, arrived at the scene, and the patrol officer, the Good Samaritan driver, and both owners were able to coax the huge wanderer, who’s as long as a swimming alligator, into a fenced-in area.
- Last week, someone in Grimsley, England spotted a seal underneath a parked car. Police were called and found the animal wandering near the center of town. One of the officers said when he approached, the seal “fled,” which is an interesting choice of words since seals travel on land at the rate of about 1.5 miles per hour. The officers followed the seal on what they called one of their “slower pursuits” until the seal reached a nearby lawyer’s office. (10TampaBay, UPI)
- Small yield of Florida oranges could mean higher juice prices (ABC)
- Microsoft to Buy Activision Blizzard in All-Cash Deal Valued at $75 Billion (WSJ)
- China’s ‘People’s Courts’ Resolve Online Disputes at Tech Firms (Wired)
- Over 100 different species made this 2,200-year-old shipwreck home, study finds (Ars Technica)
- ‘Not a colony’: Welsh council defies London to declare St David’s Day holiday (Guardian)
- Jamaica has a 4-man bobsled team heading to the Olympics — the first time in over 2 decades (CBS)