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New York mayor confers with White House ahead of expected Tyre Nichols protests



With several demonstrations already in the works, Adams urged New Yorkers to express themselves peacefully.

“My message to New York is to respect the wishes of Mr. Nichols’ mother. If you need to express your anger and outrage, do so peacefully,” he said. “My message to the NYPD has been and will continue to be to exercise restraint.”

Adams said prior to his discussion with the White House, he convened a call with elected officials from across government to discuss the release of the footage.

One person familiar with the call said Police Chief Keechant Sewell urged restraint, with the aim of avoiding a repeat of the NYPD’s sometimes violent crackdown on the social justice protests of 2020. Several officials voiced support for reforms to the NYPD on the call, while Adams himself mentioned the potential for bad actors to exploit mass gatherings.

Adams came into office promising a balance between support for law enforcement and preventing overly aggressive policing that has historically afflicted communities of color. The protests planned for Friday evening could prove a major test of that balancing act.

“I have stated over and over again that we have a sacred covenant. Our officers must follow the law and be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “Otherwise there is no law.”



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Jan. 6 rioter who maced Brian Sicknick sentenced to 80 months



Dozens of members of the Capitol Police turned out to witness Khater’s sentencing and remained for the entire four-hour hearing. Among them: Caroline Edwards, who was sprayed by Khater moments after Sicknick. Edwards delivered a courtroom statement describing “survivor’s guilt” for being unable to assist Sicknick because she, too, was incapacitated. Members of Sicknick’s family, including his longtime partner Sandra Garza, delivered scathing victim impact statements directed at Khater.

A medical examiner found that Sicknick’s death was the result of natural causes — two strokes that occurred in the evening of Jan. 6 resulting in his death the next day. But Sicknick’s family made clear they viewed Khater as culpable for his death, combined with the stress of the riot.

The hearing also laid bare how a series of mace attacks on Capitol Police officers early in the riot that day helped lead to the collapse of the police line and the breach of the Capitol building.

Prosecutors played footage showing that Khater’s attack caused not only the three injured officers to flee the outnumbered police line but several others to help guide them to safety while they were blinded by the spray. Prosecutors showed video of Sicknick pacing alone on a Capitol terrace, struggling to regain his sight and his balance. While he paces, a slew of other officers, also maced by the mob, joined him on the terrace, also struggling to return to action.

Five minutes after Khater’s spray attack, prosecutors noted, the police line collapsed and rioters reached the foot of the Capitol.

Hogan’s sentence was one of the harshest handed down to Jan. 6 defendants — far more than the sentence of time served sought by Khater, who has already served 22 months in pretrial detention – but it fell short of the 90 months sought by the government. Hogan said that was partly to account for what he described as inhumane conditions of the Washington, D.C., jail, which Hogan called a “disgrace.” The jail has been plagued by allegations of substandard living conditions and a pattern of mistreatment by corrections officials that have, at times, drawn rebukes from federal judges.

Hogan faulted Khater for refusing to directly apologize to Edwards or for the injuries he caused to Sicknick and others that day. Khater responded that he hadn’t made a more direct apology following the advice of his lawyers, and because he had recently been served with a civil lawsuit related to his actions.

Khater’s codefendant, George Tanios, was sentenced Friday to five months time served for his actions. He purchased and carried the spray used by Khater but took no part in the assaults.



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Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire


But Stepanek’s involvement is also likely to rankle some Republican activists. State committee members were clamoring for a change in party leadership after a disastrous election in which the GOP’s slate of hard-right, pro-Trump congressional candidates got pummeled and the party lost seats in the state Legislature. Stepanek was expected to face a challenger for party chair before he decided not to seek a third term.

And it will do little to quell concern among some of Trump’s former allies in the state about the seriousness of his operation as he mounts his third bid for the White House.

Associates from Trump’s past campaigns have expressed frustration with what they describe as lackluster — or nonexistent — communication since his November launch. At least one key ally was left in the dark about the former president’s visit this weekend, his first trip back to the state since 2020.

And while Trump will likely lock in some old supporters during his visit, others are holding off on recommitting as they wait to see how the Republican primary develops.

Interviews with 16 former Trump aides and allies, veteran presidential campaign operatives and current and former party officials revealed heavy interest among Republican operatives and activists in his biggest potential rival — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

And a University of New Hampshire survey released this week showed the Florida governor with a 12-point lead over Trump among likely New Hampshire GOP primary voters — despite DeSantis not setting foot in the state in recent months. Younger operatives in particular expressed an eagerness to be scooped up by DeSantis, whom they see as the next big thing.

“President Trump starts the [New Hampshire] primary season as a frontrunner but his standing isn’t what it once was,” veteran New Hampshire consultant Jim Merrill said. “There is curiosity among voters and operatives alike to check out the potential field.”

Ron to the Rescue, a pro-DeSantis super PAC formed after the midterms to boost the governor if he runs for president, is also setting up shop at the New Hampshire GOP’s meeting Saturday. The PAC has been planning to attend the event for a couple of months — long before Trump was set to deliver the keynote — to hand out DeSantis-themed swag like hats and koozies and to sign up in-state volunteers to support its effort.

Trump’s last-minute appearance “really throws this intriguing dynamic into the whole event,” John Thomas, a GOP consultant who founded the PAC, said in an interview.

Other potential contenders are also drawing interest — and have spent years cutting into Trump’s advantages in New Hampshire. Former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.N. ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have become fixtures in the state after making several visits each the past two years. Former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has also made the trek north to “Politics & Eggs” at St. Anselm, a prerequisite stop for would-be presidential hopefuls. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) has headlined multiple party fundraisers over the years.

The state’s popular four-term governor, Chris Sununu, is a wildcard. Sununu hasn’t ruled out a presidential bid and has been acting like someone who’s gearing up to run, though several seasoned operatives in the state doubt he’ll go for it after declining to run for Senate last year.

The interviews with Republicans highlight the steep hurdles ahead for Trump in New Hampshire. Despite his pedigree as former president and de facto leader of the GOP, nothing will be handed to him.

Some Republicans see Trump’s early trip as a sign the former president expects a crowded primary — and is willing to compete. Though the former president has been absent from the state since 2020, he still has time to assemble a team and organize his campaign, especially with other competitors taking their time getting in.

On Saturday, he’ll speak directly to a few hundred GOP activists in a high school auditorium — in contrast to the arena-size crowds he commanded in the run-up to the 2020 election. Trump will then head to South Carolina for another smaller-scale event.

“This shows me that one, he’s going to work to win this nomination and two, he’s not taking it for granted,” longtime New Hampshire Republican consultant Mike Dennehy said.

Republicans have been waiting for Trump to emerge from Mar-a-Lago after keeping an uncharacteristically low profile since his fall announcement.

His lack of infrastructure buildup in New Hampshire had concerned some Republicans who worked on his previous campaigns. His New Hampshire trip wasn’t added to his schedule until Monday, nearly two weeks after aides announced plans for an event in South Carolina.

Joshua Whitehouse, who served as Trump’s New Hampshire coalitions director in 2016 and went on to work in his administration, said in an interview that the former president’s “grassroots are still there” but that the “main gap is staffing and infrastructure.”

“Once he puts those ducks in a row, he can be smooth sailing,” Whitehouse said.



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‘I have no enemies, at least’: Where Santos really stands in the House GOP



“To my knowledge, hardly any of the New York members speak with him,” said first-term Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.), the first GOP member to call for Santos to resign. “There’s really nothing to speak about. He’s a totally untrustworthy individual who has broken the public’s trust … He’s become an embarrassment. He’s become a joke.”

Santos himself demurred when POLITICO asked about his standing in the conference: “I’m not gonna say they’re all my friends … I have no enemies at least,” he said, adding he has “confidantes” but noting it is “too soon” in his term for “special relationships.” He quipped that he’s in more of a “relationship” with the political press.

His status as a man on an island could prove politically risky, particularly if the consequences of his apparent fabrications continue to pile up and prompt more resignation calls. For the moment, Santos’ biggest ally may be the speaker who needs his vote in a slim majority, even though Kevin McCarthy’s famous freshman has done little but cause PR problems.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) agreed, when asked, that most House Republicans are keeping their distance from Santos.

“A number one thing in this town is, people don’t like being criticized for what they do. They really don’t like answering questions about what somebody else has done,” Armstrong said. “If nothing but out of political expedience, people are gonna avoid him.”

Santos tends to flash a smile as he bounces around the Capitol halls, often encircled by an aggressive barrage of news cameras and persistent press questions. This week he took the practice of catering to the spotlight rather literally,laying out Chick-fil-A and Dunkin’ Donuts for the reporters waiting outside his office.

Few of his colleagues expect that glare to dim quickly. Asked whether Santos’ seat on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee would cast a brighter light on a typically wonky panel, Chair Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) laughed and replied: “The Science Committee in recent times has a reputation for being a rather calm, focused, some people almost would say sedate existence. We’re gonna get livened up.”

Lucas projected little concern about Santos becoming a distraction to his committee, observing that “every member has strengths, every member has weaknesses” and adding that he would have to “figure out, in this particular case, what those are, and work with it.”

But other Republicans are less copacetic about the Santos Show that’s taking shape this Congress. Those who saw his ascension as a blatant manipulation of the party apparatus, from the National Republican Congressional Committee to the staffers on his campaign payroll, are particularly alarmed that he’s managing to hang on despite lacking major allies.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former NRCC chair, said that “I don’t know what he told” the campaign arm, but “if he deceived them, he deceived our conference. … You always have to be sensitive to who are going to be your candidates.”

Two Republicans close to Santos’ team say they, too, were completely in the dark about his fabrications, recalling that he often mentioned stories unprompted that later proved inaccurate, such as his claims to have played volleyball for Baruch College.

“This was not an inside job. We were all duped here,” said one of the Republicans close to Santos’ team, before referring to a famed con woman who inspired a Netflix TV series: “We got Anna Delvey’d.”

Santos’ campaign had assembled its own opposition file to review the candidate’s vulnerabilities, according to these two Republicans, both of whom were briefed on its contents. They said the file included parking tickets, details about his ex-wife and questions about his education — but that Santos was quick to explain away the questions about his schooling, attributing them at times to recording errors based on multiple names he had used and to his frequent moves.

At one frenetic point in the campaign, according to the two Republicans, Santos declared to a room of aides that he needed a moment to collect himself because he had just learned that his cancer had returned — he’s asserted a brain tumor occasionally in the past but avoided follow-up questions about it. His team immediately pulled back their demand to express support, underscoring what both Republicans close to his team referred to as a genuinely high level of kindness between the candidate and his staff.

But the issue of his cancer faded from the conversation on the trail almost as quickly as it materialized.

One of the Republicans close to his team said that some donors have urged Santos to stay in office amid the GOP’s thin margins and the reality that his district would be tough for another Republican to win.

Santos’ office did not respond to a request for comment about his health claims or questions about the internal opposition file.

Weeks before the first reports brought Santos’ misrepresentations to light, the House GOP was already catching on to his future pariah status. After then-Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) finished giving GOP members-elect a Capitol tour in November, Davis remarked in an interview that Santos would trigger the next Congress’ first special election.

Now that Santos is a full-fledged House GOP conference member, fellow Republican lawmakers are tied to his falsehoods as they push for accountability and transparency in their pending oversight of the Biden administration. And they’re not certain whether he has any path to redemption inside the party.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” one House Republican said, speaking candidly about Santos’ standing on condition of anonymity. “I think it’s just going to depend on what [the] Ethics [committee] and [the Justice Department] find.”

Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), themselves at odds during McCarthy’s speakership battle, have stuck up for Santos in public by arguing that he should receive committee assignments. The Floridian, who got a taste of ostracism during a federal sex trafficking probe that ensnared him before he was cleared last year, told CNN earlier this month that Santos shouldn’t be “subject to shunning” by his colleagues.

Asked why he would defend Santos, Gaetz spoke on principle, saying that his colleague “represents 700,000-plus people … if they voted for him and sent him here, they don’t deserve to have their representative ignored on substance.”

That doesn’t quite mean Santos is considered a friend. When that question came up, Gaetz cheekily replied: “We take all sinners on my row.”

Santos, for his part, brushed off the calls for him to resign, arguing that “everybody’s entitled to their opinion and to their prerogative, but at the end of the day, we’re all working here in this body.” But even if he can finish his term, his time in office may be limited to two years: He’d face an incredibly steep climb to reelection, with the Nassau County GOP and New York Conservative Party already pushing for his departure.

So for the time being, Washington might find him next seeking relationships across the aisle. Santos also said in an interview that he “can’t wait to start talking to Democrats.”





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Unlike Trump Appointees, Biden Officials Are In Big Demand In the Private Sector


Though it varies wildly by industry and subject of expertise, he says someone looking to maximize earned income (meaning, typically, a job in law or lobbying, since corporations tend to give a large chunk of compensation via equity) would be “certainly looking at the high six figures, low seven figures for the most relevant senior officials.”

That’s quite a change from the situation a couple years ago, when several Trump administration cabinet secretaries and other bigwigs had trouble landing high-end post-government jobs and activists talked about organizing to render other administration insiders unhireable. At the time, at least some people wondered if America’s political warfare was ending the bipartisan tradition of cashing in on government experience.

It turns out that once you remove the headlines about racism, the keystone-cops spectacles, and the constant public outrage, the revolving door will still spin just fine, thank you. The reasons for the rebound range from the prosaic (a lot of Biden appointees had lengthy Washington CVs even before signing on) to the historic (they don’t have to answer for things like an insurrection, which have a way of turning off PR-conscious employers).

But Biden veterans pondering a shot at the corporate job market can also credit their good fortune to some of the things the administration did that may have rankled prospective employers in the for-profit world: Regulatory pushes around things like antitrust or green technology can create bewildering new rules. Who better to help firms navigate opportunities and pitfalls than the folks who dreamed up the rules in the first place?

D.C. headhunters jokingly refer to this period of an administration as “government draft season” — the period when a team has been in place long enough for appointees to accrue meaningful credentials, but not so long that would-be departers could be accused of abandoning the cause as it gears up for reelection. Like NCAA standouts getting ready to go pro, they start putting together their bureaucratic sizzle reels just as employers start fantasizing about what new star could get them to the next level.

Curious about the state of this odd, venerable Beltway dance, I decided to call Carr, one of government draft season’s best-regarded Jerry Maguires — a 47-year veteran of the Washington cottage industry of connecting private-sector businesses with the folks who’ve been drawing paychecks from Uncle Sam.

Over the years, Carr has worked with cabinet secretaries and high-level career people from across government — and, naturally, with the law firms and corporate HR operations and board-of-directors search committees that might engage them. (The firms, not the candidates, typically pay headhunters, which is one reason folks in the industry tend to be hesitant when it comes to dropping specific names.)

Business, Carr says, is good.

“People coming out of this administration and the Hill are desirable again,” Carr says. A lot of them had better resumes in the first place, and the administration’s success at passing major legislation has added some luster. “There are quality people, and they’ll come back to the private sector now.”

This might be a departure from the last group, but it’s not particularly new — companies look to assemble bipartisan teams, hedge against the future, and navigate tricky agencies. What does change from era to era is just which sorts of government expertise are in highest demand. People with experience at Treasury or the SEC are perpetually in demand. Given the news of the past few years, it’s no surprise that healthcare experts are also going to be sought after.

And then there are areas that have been a particular subject of action in the administration, like antitrust or green technology. “Areas like transportation are swinging back to a level of importance — not paramount, but looking at the problems of the airlines, for instance, someone coming out of the FAA or the Department of Transportation is going to have options,” Carr tells me. “Same in areas like environment. This goes back to the regulatory aggressiveness of the administration in areas like environment and natural resources.”

“A current example is, international business regulation is high on the administration’s list. Think about things like export controls and anti-boycott,” newly prominent due to the sweeping sanctions against Russia. “So if you’re an international company or looking to work globally, particularly in the technology space, you now have all kinds of issues related to export control. Areas that were relevant prior to Ukraine are now front and center.”

It’s not all about the bureaucratic equivalent of bulldog prosecutors hanging out a shingle and taking on mobsters as clients. “It’s also to find where the money is,” Carr says. “So the infrastructure bill passed. The money for that is starting to flow. How do you tap into that?”

Washington, of course, has changed a great deal since Carr first got into the game in the 1970s — a much wealthier city, with a much more baroque industry of consultants and experts. Carr says the size of a raise a top official can expect on leaving government has gone up significantly over the years. But he says it’s less a function of government veterans being in higher demand (they’ve always been sought after) than a function of wage inflation at the top end of corporate America. Big shots who have zero government experience and get hired at companies or law firms in Dallas or Chicago are also getting paid a lot better than their counterparts were in the 1970s or 1980s.

If the resilience of the fed-to-corporate pipeline is a good sign for the capital’s troubled economy, what is it for the country? Just when you feel relieved about having a government full of folks that someone wants to hire, you remember that the perception of coziness between regulator and regulated is one reason anti-Washington politics has consumed America,

What’s interesting about being a Washington headhunter, though, is that so much of the task can be about creating a job for someone, rather than filling an existing one — a process that can feel exhilaratingly creative to mid- and late-career types contemplating a jump out of government. Carr winds up in the middle of these conversations since officials often can’t be talking to companies about jobs — but can, in theory, blue-sky with consultants about the kind of work that would make them happy. Companies, he says, are less interested in someone who can make trains run on time than someone who can tell them where to lay track.

“We’re the only people I think, who take people on and represent them as if we’re their personal agent,” he says. “When we’re on that side of the equation, probably 85 percent of the time, they go into a position that was created for them or restructured to fit.”

One story he tells involves a senior official who worked on anti-money laundering efforts — an area that generated a degree of angst in the banking world. As they talked about possibilities, the official mentioned out of the blue that a number of auto dealerships had gotten in money-laundering trouble due to bad guys buying cars with dubiously procured cash. Carr worked the phones and it turned out that this was news to a lot of executives in Detroit. The official wound up creating a niche advising carmakers on how to not inadvertently violate money laundering laws.

Cabinet members may bank on their name recognition securing them a coveted board slot or CEO offer. But this represents a kind of fantasy for the bureaucratic everyman or everywoman — the realization that your narrow expertise can be a productive business.

“It’s like being a doctor at a cocktail party, right?” says Carr. “A lot of people want to talk to you. It’s, ‘What should I do when I grow up?’ ‘What could I do that would make me more fulfilled?’”



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As Santos digs in, both parties ramp up campaign plans for his demise


“We’re preparing because that should be a Democratic seat. And we’re going to make sure that whoever gets the Democratic line is in a position to win,” said Rep. Greg Meeks (D-N.Y.), a Queens party boss. “We have no shortage of individuals that could run and win. That seat will go back into the Democratic column.”

Both parties have begun drumming up a wish list of potential contenders to run for the Nassau County-based seat in 2024 — or sooner. While Republicans are hamstrung on the national level by Santos’ status as a sitting member, intense jockeying has kicked off among local officials. Some of the GOP’s possible prospects include an Ethiopian Jewish refugee-turned county legislator; a state senator who just ousted a sitting Democrat; and a gay woman who spent decades with the New York Police Department.

House Democrats have been even more aggressive behind the scenes, desperate to flip the seat back after a humiliating 2022 showing. Several sitting members have begun phoning possible candidates, including their onetime colleague, former Rep. Tom Suozzi. (He declined a run last November in favor of a failed gubernatorial bid.) Another local official, a Nassau County legislator, has already declared, while others could join, including several candidates who have previously run for the seat.

Democratic optimism isn’t misplaced. They’ve controlled the turf since it was created in 2012, losing it only last November in a Republican surge, propelled by voter angst over rising crime, that reddened the length of Long Island — from its New York City commuter neighborhoods to the ritzy Hamptons. And Joe Biden’s party will be even more favored next year, in a presidential cycle; he carried the seat by 9 points in 2020, and no Republican besides Santos has won there since the seat was created.

Multiple Democrats began making calls even before Santos was sworn in, shortly after the New York Times penned the first major story on his fabulism in late December. Lawmakers across the Democratic caucus have since made entreaties to Suozzi, who left Congress last year, though he has mostly been noncommittal about running for the seat, according to multiple people who have spoken with him.

Some of those Democrats wager that Suozzi would be more likely to run for a special election — if one were to happen — than seek a full term in the seat. Suozzi, when reached by POLITICO, said he had no comment on his plans, though he has drawn attention for a Jan. 3 New York Times op-ed calling for Santos to be removed from office.

There is also chatter about Robert Zimmerman, the Democrat who lost to Santos in November. Zimmerman is interested in running in a special election and would consider a 2024 run, according to a person close to him. (The Zimmerman-Santos race marked Congress’ first general election race between two openly gay candidates.) While Zimmerman has faced some local criticism for failing to dig into his GOP opponent’s fabricated resume, others have blamed those missteps and lack of resources on party leaders.

“When you look at the people, they’ll want to vote for somebody they know,” Meeks said, pointing to Zimmerman, Suozzi and “several others that have shown interest.”

Other possible candidates include Anna Kaplan, an Iranian Jewish refugee who recently lost a state Senate seat, as well as Jon Kaiman and Josh Lafazan, local legislators. Kaplan, Kaiman and Lafazan have all made bids for the seat in past cycles.

Lafazan, who has filed for the seat, told POLITICO he is not yet entertaining questions about the race: “I currently serve as Nassau County Legislator, and fully intend on serving my term and running for re-election in this position. That is the only election I am thinking about.”

Santos has refused to resign and has not made clear whether or not he will run for a second term in 2024, a decision that complicates the decision-making of national Republicans. The National Republican Congressional Committee does not move against incumbents, nor does the Congressional Leadership Fund, a big-spending super PAC closely aligned with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

But that might not matter thanks to Long Island’s machine-like politics, where local organizations are dominant and often act as a clearinghouse, interviewing potential contenders and working to unify the party. The Nassau County GOP has disavowed Santos and vowed to field a different candidate. (Should Santos decide to mount another run, the county party can stymie him further by denying him support in helping him gather the large number of signatures required to get on the ballot in New York State.)

“The Nassau County Republican Committee, and our chairman has made it very clear that George is not welcome in our party,” said Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a fellow first-term Long Island Republican who flipped a seat adjacent to Santos’. “And he is not going to be the nominee of the Nassau County GOP in two years.”

The Nassau County GOP’s open hostility to Santos gave local Republicans cover to begin considering possible new standard bearers. Among the names floating in Republican circles: state Sen. Jack Martins; Andrea Catsimatidis, the daughter of billionaire radio host and businessman John Catsimatidis; Elaine Phillips, Nassau County comptroller and former New York state senator; and Alison Esposito, the openly gay 2022 lieutenant governor nominee who spent decades in the NYPD.

Yet another Republican to watch: Mazi Melesa Pilip, a Nassau County legislator and Ethiopian Jew who was airlifted to Israel during Operation Solomon. She married an American and later moved to the United States.

While all six of Santos’ fellow GOP freshmen in the New York delegation have demanded he step aside, party leaders have sidestepped the topic of a possible resignation amid a chaotic few weeks running the House chamber. Those resignation calls have mostly stayed within the Empire State delegation, though at least one more Republican, Rep. Max Miller of Ohio, has also joined in.

And McCarthy stressed to fellow Republicans this week that Santos would remain on committees until or unless he is charged with a crime. Whether that happens remains to be seen, with both federal and local officials probing his long record of fabrications.

The list of Santos probes is lengthy: A federal investigation led by the U.S. attorney’s office in New York is looking into his financial matters, while the district attorney’s offices in Nassau County and in Queens are doing their own work, as is the state attorney general. The House Ethics Committee is also reviewing a complaint filed by a pair of Democrats, though that panel has not disclosed any separate investigation.

Campaign finance inquiries can take years to yield an indictment, and members often continue serving in Congress while federal prosecutors compile a case.

For example, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (D-Neb.) was indicted in October 2021 for alleged straw donations that were solicited in 2016. He resigned in March after being convicted of multiple felonies.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.



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The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics



Cartoon Carousel

Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are hundreds of cartoons that entertain and enrage readers of all political stripes. Here’s an offering of the best of this week’s crop, picked fresh off the Toonosphere. Edited by Matt Wuerker.



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Opinion | Russia’s Bloody Sledgehammer



The administration is of course right that Wagner is engaged in a range of criminal enterprises. There is speculation that its costly siege of the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut is motivated by a desire to control salt and gypsum mines in the area. It has also embraced far-right extremism, with links to a white supremacist organization — the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) — that the U.S. already designates as a terrorist group. But if you consider the range and severity of Wagner’s activities — mass murder, rape and torture; using terror to subjugate civilian populations; control of territory; looting of natural resources; enlistment of foreign fighters; sophisticated, Hollywood-style propaganda glorifying the group and Russia — it presents much more of a global threat than the average criminal racket.

Branding Wagner as a transnational criminal organization is mainly a symbolic move. Because Wagner and some of its associates — including Prigozhin himself — are already subject to economic sanctions, the Biden administration’s designation offers no new meaningful tools for actually fighting the group.

But if the group were also to be designated a foreign terrorist organization, the U.S. and its allies would be equipped with a much more robust set of tools to starve Prigozhin and his henchmen of resources and halt Wagner’s rampage of destruction.

As we saw in the successful international effort to vanquish ISIS, designating a foreign terrorist group under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act would bring into play one of the most powerful economic tools that the U.S. government has: a criminal statute that would make it illegal to provide “material support” to the Wagner Group. Due to the extra-territorial nature of the statute, such a designation would substantially hamper Wagner’s operations by putting foreign individuals, companies and countries on notice that doing business with the organization means risking prosecution in the United States.

Several legal and counterterrorism experts have already weighed in that the Wagner Group meets the legal definition of a foreign terrorist organization: a foreign organization, engaged in terror and presenting a threat to the national security of the United States. Members of Congress agree. So why the half measure?

One answer may be a reluctance to further antagonize the Kremlin, which enjoys close ties to Wagner and has come to rely on the group’s mercenaries. But surely such a designation would be less of an irritant than the weapons Washington is sending to arm Ukraine. It would also fall short of the more aggressive proposal offered by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Russia itself be designated a state sponsor of terrorism, which would bring with it a host of complications.

Another concern may be the checkered history of “material support” prosecutions in counterterrorism cases. The many excesses of the post-9/11 era mean that this sort of expansive tool has been reviled, with ample justification, by human rights and humanitarian groups. As we have seen with ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Yemen’s Houthis (whose terrorist designation was withdrawn), when a terrorist group has de facto control of territory — as Wagner currently does in the Central African Republic — there can be a chilling effect preventing humanitarian organizations from providing aid and other support, leading to disastrous humanitarian consequences.

But just because a powerful instrument of foreign policy has been used in an overly broad manner in the past does not mean that it should be jettisoned altogether. Last year, the Treasury Department issued a slate of general licenses to authorize ongoing transactions with individuals or entities subject to sanctions, provided that they are engaged in a range of humanitarian activities. If the Wagner Group is designated a foreign terrorist organization, it will be critical to implement these measures in a way that chokes off the group’s resources and frustrates its activities without visiting collateral damage on already vulnerable populations. This means that the Department of Justice should commit to not pursuing “material support” prosecutions against humanitarian actors.

One reason for ISIS’ eventual defeat in Syria and Iraq was the collective efforts of the 85-member strong Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS. This alliance collaborated to cut off the group’s finances, combat its propaganda and reduce the flow of foreign fighters to its territories. A coalition to combat Wagner could focus on the same three pillars. Given Wagner’s continued expansion in Africa, it is critical that such an effort include African states.

With the prospect of a spring offensive by Russia looming, it is time to step up pressure on this vicious fighting force that is prolonging the Ukraine conflict and destabilizing wide swaths of Africa. It requires a truly international effort to stop an ascendant transnational threat, and the U.S. should start by utilizing the most robust economic tool it has, designating the Wagner Group a foreign terrorist organization.



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Kemp declares state of emergency in Georgia over ‘Cop City’ protests



Police allege that Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, 26, shot first, although activists who were present during the raid dispute authorities’ version of events. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, the officers involved were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting.

Teran’s death sparked global protests against police violence, as activists held vigils from Akron, Ohio, to Kurdistan. Atlanta protests turned violent Saturday, with protesters throwing rocks at the skyscraper that houses the Atlanta Police Foundation and setting fire to a police cruiser.

In his State of the State address on Wednesday, Kemp decried the protesters as “out-of-state rioters” who “tried to bring violence to the streets of our capital city.” He said it was “just the latest example of why here in Georgia, we’ll always back the blue.”

Kemp called out the National Guard to guard the state Capitol, the governor’s mansion and other public facilities during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 and kept them mobilized and providing security at the Capitol well into 2021.

Since the summer of 2021, Defend the Atlanta Forest protesters have engaged in extended tree-sits, rallies, and other forms of resistance against the development of over 380 acres of forest land to build a mock city and tactical training ground for police.

Standoffs between protesters and police have escalated recently, with protesters throwing Molotov cocktails at officers and police employing tear gas and rubber bullets to remove protesters from treehouse encampments. Since December, a dozen protesters have been charged with domestic terrorism under a state law that can carry up to a 35-year prison term.

Activists argue that the construction of the training complex would exacerbate police violence against the predominantly Black and brown communities in the county and perpetuate environmental racism due to chemical runoff from weapons testing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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