• FDA Approves Booster Vaccines for Immunocompromised as Delta Rages Across the Country

    Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/Sipa USA)/AP

    The US Food and Drug Administration authorized a third dose of the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for immunocompromised people, such as solid organ transplant recipients, the agency announced Thursday.

    “The country has entered yet another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FDA is especially cognizant that immunocompromised people are particularly at risk for severe disease,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, said in a statement. “After a thorough review of the available data, the FDA determined that this small, vulnerable group may benefit from a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna Vaccines.” The New York Times reported that an estimated 3 percent of Americans would fall under this designation for a variety of reasons.

    Woodcock said non-immunocompromised people who are full vaccinated “are adequately protected and do not need an additional dose” at this time, but that the FDA is “actively engaged in a science-based, rigorous process with our federal partners to consider whether an additional dose may be needed in the future.”

    The news comes as the Delta variant of COVID-19 makes its march through communities across the country, and hospitals in places such as Texas and Florida reach or exceed covid-related hospitalization rates not seen since last fall. The Florida Hospital Association reported earlier this week that 68 percent of hospitals there expect to reach a “critical staffing shortage,” the Palm Beach Post reported Friday, with pre-pandemic medical staff shortages having been exacerbated by the pandemic. That, combined with the recent surge in cases, has “dozens” of hospitals there stopping elective surgeries, the paper reported.

    Since the start of the pandemic last year, over 619,000 Americans have died from the disease. As the Delta variant spreads throughout the country, the US is now averaging an additional 616 deaths per day as of August 12, a 92 percent increase from two weeks ago. Cases have also rose precipitously, averaging 125,894 per day, a 76 percent increase. And while increases in cases are more worrisome in areas of the country with lower vaccination rates, as Delta rages areas of the country that were successfully on getting their populations vaccinated are also becoming hotspots for infection.

  • It Sure Looks Like Marjorie Taylor Greene Is About to Get Permanently Banned From Twitter

    Zach D Roberts/ZUMA

    Twitter has suspended Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for one week after the first-term representative from Georgia falsely claimed COVID-19 vaccines were “failing” and ineffective at stopping the spread of the virus, violating the company’s rules on spreading COVID misinformation. 

    This marks Greene’s fourth strike from the platform since she arrived in Congress, an impressive feat built upon a record interwoven with conspiracy theories, racism, and misinformation. According to Twitter’s policy on medical information, Greene’s next violation would get her permanently suspended from the platform. Judging from her seeming inability to refrain from spreading misinformation and her history of being generally awful both online and off, a permanent ban seems like a safe bet.

    If that happens, and boy does it seem like it will, Greene will be stripped of yet another significant perch from which she’s spread her brand of hate and falsehoods. In February, the House voted to remove her committee assignments after debate over her social media posts supporting hateful conspiracy theories and the execution of prominent Democrats. Greene’s summer tour with Rep. Matt Gaetz, the Florida congressman under investigation for having sex with a minor and paying prostitutes, has also run into problems with multiple venues canceling their appearances in response to complaints.

    So, with the Delta variant ravaging communities across the country and medical disinformation still kneecapping efforts to boost vaccination rates, let’s look forward to something that seems all but inevitable: The coming ban of one of the loudest misinformed mouthpieces out there.

  • Former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne Gets Sued for Pushing Election Lies

    Patrick Byrne speaks at a Washington rally of Trump supporters the night of January 5, 2021.Bryan Smith/Zuma

    Dominion, the voting equipment vendor at the heart of some of the most sensational and debunked conspiracies holding that the 2020 was stolen from former President Donald Trump, filed a trio of defamation lawsuits Tuesday targeting two conservative media outlets and Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock.com. 

    The suits bring the total number of suits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against prominent propagators of such conspiracies to seven, according to the Wall Street Journal: It had already sued Fox News, former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, Mike Lindell, and former Trump attorney Sidney Powell.

    Byrne has established himself as one of driving forces of misinformation and disinformation about the 2020 election, pouring his money into the effort. The America Project, his nonprofit, reportedly provided $3.25 million to the organization behind the “audit” in Maricopa County, Arizona, and has produced a book and a movie, The Deep Rig, laying out his case. Dominion’s lawyers also allege that Byrne provided a private jet to a team that traveled to Michigan to produce a widely debunked and error-ridden report on alleged election rigging in that state.

    The suit against Byrne alleges that he decided months before the 2020 election that it would be stolen and, after the election, “manufactured and promoted fake evidence to convince the world…of a massive international conspiracy among China, Venezuelan and Spanish companies, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, prominent Republicans, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Dominion.”

    When it comes to Byrne’s motivations, Dominion’s lawsuit focuses on how he could gain financially by attacking their company. Byrne has reportedly invested more than $200 million in blockchain technology, including, Dominion’s lawyers allege, with companies looking to profit from promoting its use in smartphone voting.

    The company’s suits seek $1.6 billion in damages from all three parties, plus additional money to pay for security and “expenses incurred combatting the disinformation campaign.”

    “Between the imminent release of the Maricopa Audit, and Mike Lindell’s current activities in South Dakota, Dominion Voting is about to have a very difficult week,” Byrne told Mother Jones in response to a request for comment on the lawsuit. “They are simply doing this as a distraction.”

    The suits were filed the same day that Lindell—whose company MyPillow Inc. has counter-sued Dominion—planned to launch his so-called “Cyber Symposium.” The online event was organized by Lindell and other conspiracists who say they can prove Trump’s election victory was stolen as part of the kind of sprawling international conspiracy that Byrne has helped propagate. The event was apparently delayed due to technical glitches. Lindell blamed them on an “attack” from unnamed forces.

    This post has been updated to include comment from Patrick Byrne.

  • The Senate Finally Passed an Infrastructure Bill. Here Comes the Hard Part.

    Chuck Schumer

    Rod Lamkey/CNP/ZUMA

    The Senate passed an infrastructure bill on Tuesday morning that would invest $1 trillion to rebuild the country’s aging utilities and transportation systems. The bill was backed by every Senate Democrat, and gained support from 19 Republicans. The passage ends months of rocky negotiations between a bipartisan group of senators and delivers a victory to President Joe Biden, who campaigned on restoring the art of bipartisan dealmaking to the Oval Office.

    But the road to enacting Biden’s economic vision is far from over. The bill’s passage in the Senate merely sends it over to the House, kicking off what promises to be a long, tempestuous process that will test Democrats’ narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress—and ultimately determine just how ambitious Biden’s promised economic transformation will be.

    The bill sets aside money to repair roads and bridges, replace remaining lead pipes, reinvigorate mass transit, and boost electric vehicles. It also would invest in new public works projects, such as a network of electric car charging stations and a massive expansion of the nation’s broadband access. The slate of projected work is expected to create millions of new jobs over the next decade. The legislation marks the largest investment in public works in nearly a decade, but it still falls far short of the $4 trillion economic vision the White House proposed earlier this year. The eventual bipartisan deal proved particularly disappointing to progressive lawmakers, who already viewed the White House’s initial proposals as a down payment on the massive investments they deem necessary to remedy the nation’s crises.

    Congress’ left flank bit their typically unreserved tongues early in the first weeks of the bipartisan talks, an effort to “give a little space” to negotiations because “we understand there are some Senate Democrats who need to see that,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told me in June. But as months wore on, patience wore thin. Anxiety reached a pitch last month as early details of the bipartisan senators’ framework trickled out. Key Democratic priorities would be significantly downsized in the Senate’s deal—and progressive priorities would be all but absent.

    Such cuts were necessary to attract support from both sides of the Senate’s evenly divided aisles, but could cause problems in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) oversees her own narrow majority. When the deal was first announced, Pelosi promised that her chamber would only put the infrastructure proposal to a vote if it is accompanied by a budget reconciliation bill—legislation that only requires a simple majority to pass in the Senate and can therefore pass with only Democratic votes. It would thus serve as the vehicle for whatever eligible pieces of her party’s agenda that had fallen to the cutting room floor.

    And that’s where the turbulent next phase begins. Much of the attention over the following weeks will turn to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, which offers Democrats their best hope for salvaging what they can of the ambitious agenda Biden put forth earlier this year. “Progressives don’t give a fuck about the bipartisan deal,” one aide to a progressive House member tells me, emphasizing that the left flank will be agitating for more spending for key social investments—such as major investments in environmental justice and home care for the disabled and elderly.

    The White House is highly attuned to its fragile majority, and has taken care to assuage concerns from all facets of the House’s ideologically diverse caucus—including progressives, who have become increasingly vocal in their threats to tank deals they deem insufficient. “While there may be a couple of senators that are saying that they’re going to vote ‘no’ if certain things don’t happen, that is also true of any number of members in the House,” Jayapal told reporters last Tuesday.

    But centrist lawmakers have their own complaints. Rep. Josh Gotteheimer, the leader of the centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, told the New York Times that Pelosi “should bring this once-in-a-century bipartisan legislation to the floor for a stand-alone vote as quickly as possible.” Moderate Democrats are less enthusiastic about the massive spending the left is thirsting for in its Democrats-only bill, and the failure to deliver a timely bipartisan package will be its own source of anger for that faction as the midterms loom. Gotteheimer and five of his fellow House moderates formalized that opinion in a new letter that demands the speaker hold a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill “as soon as the Senate completes its work.” At least two centrist House lawmakers have said they won’t vote for any Democrat-only reconciliation bill at all. 

    It is finally, at long last, Infrastructure Week, and the Senate has defeated the odds to drag a massive, bipartisan investment over the finish line. But there’s no guarantee that this process has a happy ending. If not, Biden’s and Democrats’ legacies are on the line. 

  • Top US Health Official: It’s Time for Vaccine Mandates

    A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine from a nurse at ''Labor of Love,'' a COVID-19 vaccination event set up in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Federation of Labor office in Los Angeles. Ringo Chiu/AP

    As the nation enters a brutal fourth wave of COVID cases and deaths, with infection levels unseen since last winter, National Institute of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday that it may be time for mandatory vaccinations—a remark that will likely inspire backlash from Republicans who have viewed mandates as an infringement on personal rights.

    “For me, as a non-political person, as a physician, as a scientist, the compelling case for vaccines for everybody is right there in front of you. Just look at the data,” Collins told host George Stephanopoulos. “And certainly, I celebrate when I see businesses deciding that they’re going to mandate that for their employees…I think we ought to use every public health tool that we can when people are dying.”

    As my colleague Nathalie Baptiste recently noted, the United States currently faces a dilemma in which vaccine uptake, especially in Southern states, has slowed—while hospitalizations, particularly among unvaccinated people, have spiked. Just 50 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated so far. But many Republican leaders have been wary of forcing their constituents to get the shot. The Huffington Post reported that at least 16 states have barred vaccine mandates to some extent. On NBC’s Meet the Press, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called for vaccine mandates on Sunday, even as other unions have resisted such mandates.

    When asked during the ABC interview whether vaccine mandates can make a difference, Collins let out a sigh and laughed. “I understand how that can sometimes set off all kinds of resistance,” Collins said. “Why is it that a mandate about vaccine or wearing a mask suddenly becomes a statement about your political party? We never should have let that happen.”

  • The First Guilty Pleas Come Down in January 6 Insurrection Cases

    Insurection

    Mark Finkenstaedt/ZUMA

    The first of more than 100 people charged with assaulting a police officer during the January 6 insurrection have plead guilty. Scott Fairlamb and Devlyn Thompson are now facing three to five years in prison for their participation in the insurrection at the US Capitol.

    On January 6, hundreds of supporters of then-president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to stop the counting of the electoral votes that would formally declare Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 election. In the weeks leading up to the attack, Trump had been trying to overturn his loss by spreading lies about wide scale fraud. During the attack, Trump failed to tell his supporters to go home, instead choosing to further inflame violence by tweeting. When the rioters were finally cleared, five people were dead including one police officer. Trump was banned from Twitter and impeached for the second time

    Now, hundreds of people have been charged with crimes ranging from assault to trespassing. Fairlamb, who is from New Jersey, admitted to shoving and punching a Washington, DC police officer. “Are you an American? Act like it!” he can be heard shouting in video footage. According to court documents, Fairlamb also kicked down a door leading to the Senate side of the Capitol complex and posted videos of himself screaming about storming the Capitol on social media. “Even among other rioters, the defendant’s aggression stood out,” US District Judge Royce Lamberth said about Fairlamb. 

    Thompson, from Washington, admitted to striking a police officer with a baton as the cop pepper sprayed the insurrectionists. Assistant US Attorney Tejpal Chawla said Thompson was “at the front lines of the most dangerous violence at the Capitol.” Both men will be formally sentenced on September 27. These guilty pleas are just the beginning. There are 165 people total charged with assaulting a police officer, 50 of them with a weapon.

  • Happy Friday: Biden Extended Student Debt Relief Through January

    Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram/Getty

    As my co-worker wrote in Slack, Thank gawwwwd. The Biden administration announced on Friday that it will extend student debt relief until the end of January.

    This action is a reprieve for the 42.9 million people—roughly one in seven US residents—who currently have federal student debt. Payments toward federal student loans and interest have been suspended since the passage of the CARES Act in March 2020—as have collection actions on defaulted loans and negative credit reporting related to student loan repayment. Pandemic-related student debt relief was set to expire next month, on September 30. Now, that deadline is pushed to January 31, 2022. (The Washington Post has a handy guide for what to do when the debt relief expires.)

    In a statement, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona called this the “final extension.” “The payment pause has been a lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency,” Cardona said. “As our nation’s economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment.”

    Several prominent Democrats are demanding more. “The payment pause has saved the average borrower hundreds of dollars per month, allowing them to invest in their futures and support their families’ needs,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said in a joint statement after the extension announcement. “While this temporary relief is welcome, it doesn’t go far enough. Our broken student loan system continues to exacerbate racial wealth gaps and hold back our entire economy. We continue to call on the administration to use its existing executive authority to cancel $50,000 of student debt.”

  • With a New Criminal Complaint, Cuomo’s Legal Exposure Is Growing

    Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty

    A former staffer who says New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo groped her breast without consent has filed a criminal complaint against the governor with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, according to reports in the New York Post and other outlets on Friday. The new filing significantly escalates Cuomo’s legal exposure; the sheriff’s office is now investigating. If the complaint is substantiated, Albany Sheriff Craig Apple told the Post, Cuomo could be arrested.

    The woman—known as “Executive Assistant #1” in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ bombshell report—is one of 11 victims of sexual harassment or other misconduct whose claims have already been investigated and substantiated by lawyers contracted by James’ office. That report found that the governor’s behavior included “unwelcome and nonconsensual touching,” as well as “numerous offensive comments of a suggestive and sexual nature that created a hostile work environment for women.” Not only did the governor break federal and state laws prohibiting sexual harassment, the report concluded, his response to allegations of sexual harassment from one woman, Lindsey Boylan, involved illegal retaliation.

    Up till now, none of the women victimized by Cuomo have opted to make a criminal complaint—instead seeking justice and accountability though other means, like speaking out publicly, calling for his impeachment, and preparing a civil lawsuit against him. The experience of Executive Assistant #1, who has not been publicly identified, was revealed in March after a supervisor noticed her becoming emotional while Cuomo gave a press conference denying some of the first sexual harassment allegations made against him.

    According to James’ report, Cuomo had been treating his assistant inappropriately since late 2019—hugging and kissing her, touching and grabbing her butt, and asking if she’d cheat on her husband or help find him a girlfriend. In November 2020, after the assistant was called to the Executive Mansion to help with a minor technical issue, Cuomo slammed the door, slid his hand up her shirt, and groped her without consent. “At that moment it was so quick and he didn’t say anything and I just remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh my God,'” the assistant told investigators. “I feel like I was being taken advantage of and at that moment that’s when I thought to myself okay, I can’t tell anyone.”

    Legal experts interviewed by the New York Times said the Cuomo’s behavior constitutes forcible touching, a misdemeanor. 

    The Albany County Sheriff’s Office has reported the complaint to Albany County District Attorney David Soares, according to the Post. Soares is one of four district attorneys around the state who have opened criminal probes into Cuomo’s behavior in the wake of James’ report.

    Meanwhile, Cuomo could soon be in another legal battle, this one civil. A lawyer for Lindsey Boylan—whose confidential personnel files were leaked by Cuomo and his staff after she came forward about governor’s harassment—said Thursday that she would be pursuing a lawsuit against the Cuomo and his aides, claiming retaliation. Cuomo has denied all allegations of retaliation, as well as sexual harassment and misconduct.

    In a particularly gutting confluence of these women’s stories, Executive Assistant #1 was enlisted to search for Wite-Out to remove some names from Boylan’s personnel files. “I would be in the room when they were actively trying to discredit her,” she told investigators. “They were actively trying to portray a different story of it. Trying to make her seem like she was crazy.” Her fear of reprisal if she reported what Cuomo did to her only grew as she witnessed the campaign to smear Boylan. Seeing that, she told investigators, dissuaded her from reporting the governor’s misconduct. “I was going to take this to the grave,” she decided.

    Now, while Albany County authorities investigate her complaint and deliberate on whether to bring criminal charges against the governor, the New York State Assembly is wrapping up an impeachment probe. Cuomo’s legal team has a deadline of August 13 to provide additional evidence in his defense. In addition to the many former Cuomo allies—from President Joe Biden to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—who have called for the governor to resign, Cuomo has also lost support from perhaps the most crucial figure in his last-ditch attempt to hold on to power: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who controls the impeachment proceedings.

    “After our conference this afternoon to discuss the Attorney General’s report concerning sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo, it is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office,” Heastie said in a statement on Tuesday. “Once we receive all relevant documents and evidence from the Attorney General, we will move expeditiously and look to conclude our impeachment investigation as quickly as possible.”

    This piece has been updated.

  • Hundreds of Thousands Are Expected at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Starting Today—Last Year’s COVID Spread Be Damned

    Michael Ciaglo/Getty

    While the Delta variant continues to drive new COVID outbreaks and hospital bed shortages around the country, an estimated 700,000 people are expected to pack into a small South Dakota town this week for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—a 10-day bacchanal of bikers from around the country and the world. 

    During last year’s rally—one of the largest public gatherings held in the first part of the pandemic—the virus spread from body to body as attendees expressed defiance at COVID restrictions by packing into bars, music venues, and restaurants. Almost none wore masks. The event, CDC researchers wrote in a study published this summer, had “many characteristics of a superspreading event: large crowds, high intensity of contact between people, potential for highly infectious individuals traveling from hotspots, and events in poorly ventilated indoor environments.” Contact tracers identified 463 attendees and 163 secondary and tertiary contacts who got COVID as a result of the rally—including 17 people hospitalized and one who died.

    But these numbers underestimate the rally’s true impact on viral spread nationally, CDC researchers concluded, because attendees with mild or asymptomatic illness may not have been tested. On the other hand, an analysis by a group of economists, while not peer reviewed, gives an idea of the upper limit of Sturgis’ impact. Their study, which analyzed anonymized cell phone location data and COVID case rates by county, estimated that last year’s rally was responsible for more than 266,000 new COVID cases nationwide. “The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the economists wrote. (Read a critique of their conclusions here.) 

    The CDC researchers, meanwhile, implied in their recent paper that this year’s rally should be postponed. “Recent modeling suggests that interventions such as postponing voluntary, mass events may be the most viable option to maintain epidemic control in an unvaccinated population,” they wrote. If postponement was “not an option,” the researchers continued, they recommended public messaging on the risks the event posed for unvaccinated people; mitigation strategies like masking, distancing, and quarantining; and mass COVID testing during and after the event. 

    While rally organizers will reportedly offer free masks, coronavirus tests, and hand sanitizer, there will be not be a screening process to ensure attendees have been vaccinated or tested negative recently for the coronavirus. “There’s a risk associated with everything that we do in life,” tweeted the state’s Republican governor Kristi Noem, who will participate in a charity ride. “Bikers get that better than anyone.” 

    Over the past 14 days, the county that is home to Sturgis has seen an uptick in COVID cases and hospitalizations, while the vaccination rate remains far below the national average. 

    The rally starts Friday.

  • Andrew Cuomo Is Relying on an Old, Sexist Lie About Sexual Assault Survivors

    Brendan McDermid/Pool/Getty

    Tucked amid the nauseating revelations contained in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ 165-page report on sexual harassment by Gov. Andrew Cuomo was a particularly striking line. Defending himself against allegations from Charlotte Bennett—a former staffer who had previously disclosed to the governor that she had survived sexual violence—Cuomo argued that because of Bennett’s experience as a survivor, she “processed what she heard through her own filter” and that “it was often not what was said and not what was meant.”

    In other words, the governor was claiming that experiencing sexual violence made Bennett oversensitive and out of touch with reality, to the point that she heard things he never said.

    The idea that survivors of sexual violence are delusional or ill-equipped to identify boundary violations and abusive behavior—a permutation of the old sexist trope of the “hysterical woman”—crops up pretty regularly. In 2018, the Washington Post banned a national politics reporter, Felicia Sonmez, from reporting on sexual misconduct after she identified herself as a sexual assault survivor. According to a lawsuit Sonmez filed last month against the paper and its top editors, one of the reasons she was given for the ban was that her very decision to identify herself as a survivor made her an advocate, and thus an unreliable journalist, on the topic of sexual violence.

    In another recent example, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez faced ridicule from the right when she disclosed during a livestream in the wake of 1/6 that she was a survivor of sexual assault. Ocasio-Cortez had been tapping into her past experience to more fully describe her fear while rioters stormed the Capitol complex, and to explain how lawmakers who insisted on moving on after the riot were using “the tactics of abusers.” Yet critics accused her of gratuitously invoking trauma and fabricating parts of her experience with the Capitol riot.

    Ocasio-Cortez, in her disclosure, was making an implicit argument: That having experience with abuse makes her more competent at identifying it. In any other context, this is a no-brainer. But it’s an authority our culture denies to survivors of sexual violence.

    This inconsistency is not lost on Bennett, who on Tuesday night gave a point-by-point rebuttal of Cuomo’s defenses in an interview with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell.

    “The governor admitted that he asked you questions that he doesn’t normally ask people because you told him you were a survivor of sexual assault,” O’Donnell said. “Do you think he’s gaslighting you?”

    “Absolutely,” Bennett replied. “He’s trying to justify himself by making me out to be someone who can’t tell the difference between sexual harassment and mentorship.”

    Not only is it easy for the governor to justify his behavior to the public by citing generational and cultural differences, Bennett argued, it was also easy for Cuomo to use Bennett’s background as a survivor to claim that she had misinterpreted him.

    “I am not confused,” she said. “It is not confusing. I am living in reality.”

    That reality has now been meticulously documented by James, whose report relies not only on Bennett’s testimony but on contemporaneous text messages and interviews with other state employees who worked in proximity to the governor. According to James’ findings, Cuomo made numerous “inappropriate comments” to Bennett, including:

    (1) telling Ms. Bennett, in talking about potential girlfriends for him, that he would be willing to date someone who was as young as 22 years old (he knew Ms. Bennett was 25 at the time);

    (2) asking her whether she had been with older men;

    (3) saying to her during the pandemic that he was “lonely” and “wanted to be touched”;

    (4) asking whether Ms. Bennett was monogamous;

    (5) telling Ms. Bennett, after she told him that she was considering getting a tattoo for her birthday, that if she decided to get a tattoo, she should get it on her butt, where it could not be seen;

    (6) asking whether she had any piercings other than her ears; and

    (7) saying that he wanted to ride his motorcycle into the mountains with a woman.

    Now it’s up to the New York State Assembly, and its speaker, Carl Heastie, to respond to that reality.

    Watch Bennett’s interview here.

  • You Know Evictions Are Coming When Court Deputies Get Vaccinated En Masse

    Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) leads a protest against the eviction moratorium's expiration at the US Capitol.Jose Luis Magana/AP

    In New Orleans, court deputies are gearing up to evict tenants from their homes after the federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend. Yesterday, local officials announced a new preparation requirement: All of the deputies tasked with enforcing these evictions must get vaccinated in the next two weeks.  

    Constable Edwin M. Shorty Jr, who oversees law enforcement for one of the city’s courts, told a local TV station that he expected the courts to be at capacity in the coming weeks. The vaccine mandate, he said, would ensure the safety of the deputies conducting evictions, while also reducing the risk of COVID transmission to members of the public.

    The nationwide eviction moratorium that expired over the weekend was put in place shortly after the start of the pandemic—when unemployment began to hit historic highs during COVID lockdowns that shuttered businesses, and poverty rates started to spike. The Centers for Disease Control enacted the moratorium specifically because mass evictions pushing families into homelessness or couch-surfing would pose a grave health risk, fueling further spread of COVID infections.

    Now it appears that New Orleans is trying to insulate its deputies from infection, while subjecting tenants to these exact health risks as the Delta variant is surging. And the evictions will take place as only 37 percent of Louisiana residents are fully vaccinated, and as COVID-19 cases in New Orleans are on the rise: Over the weekend, the city’s mayor restored the city’s mask mandate after emergency medical responders told her that the case numbers had gotten so high that EMS could not keep up with the volume of 911 calls.

    Meanwhile, several members of Congress have been camped out on the steps of the US Capitol since this weekend, pushing to reconvene the House, which is currently on recess, to pass eviction protections. The Biden administration has also called on Congress to enact a new eviction ban, saying that the administration doesn’t have the legal authority to enact an eviction ban on its own, after the Supreme Court signaled in a June decision that further extensions by the CDC would be unlawful.

    “We have to reconvene the House and vote to reinstate the eviction moratorium to put an end to the eviction emergency,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who is leading the action at the Capitol steps. “11 million lives and livelihoods are on the line.”

  • DOJ: Russian Hackers Had Access to Top US Prosecutors’ Emails

    AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

    Russian hackers broke into email accounts in 27 US attorneys’ offices over the course of seven months in 2020, the US Department of Justice announced Friday. It had been previously reported that multiple US federal government agencies had been breached through a third-party IT contractor called SolarWinds, including the Department of Justice. But on Friday the department offered more detail, including the districts where one or more employees’ email accounts were accessed.

    While every US attorney could make the case that their office handles sensitive case work, Friday’s update included offices that deal with some of the most complex financial and international criminal prosecutions, including the Southern District of New York, the Western District of Pennsylvania, and the Eastern District of Virginia. The Southern District of New York, for example, has handled past prosecutions related to former President Donald J. Trump, and is reportedly investigating Trump ally and former attorney Rudy Giuliani related to his efforts in Ukraine and his dealings with Russian figures to dig up dirt on President Biden and his family.

    “The Department is responding to this incident as if the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) group responsible for the SolarWinds breach had access to all email communications and attachments” within the breached accounts between May 7, 2020, and December 27, 2020, the agency said in a statement. This includes “all sent, received, and stored emails and attachments found within those accounts during that time.” Especially hard hit were the Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Districts of New York, where “at least 80 percent” of employees’ email accounts were breached, the agency said.

    “APT” is cybersecurity industry and intelligence jargon for a group or groups belonging to or backed by a nation state which gain access to and maintain a presence over a period of time and carry out reconnaissance, espionage, sabotage, or other missions. In this case, the US government has formally accused the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service of being behind the attacks, a charge the Russian government has denied. In April the Biden administration announced sanctions on the Russian government over the attack.

    Jennifer Rodgers, a lecturer at Columbia Law School and a former federal prosecutor in New York, told the Associated Press that these kinds of emails frequently contain all sorts of sensitive information such as case strategy discussions and names of confidential informants.

  • Brazil’s 13-Year-Old Skateboard Phenom Rayssa Leal Is Hands Down the Best Part of the Olympics So Far

    Brazilian skateboarder Rayssa Leal at the Tokyo Olympic Games.Kyodonews/ZUMA

    Rayssa Leal was only 7 when she went viral. In early September 2015, millions of people watched the video of the then-7-year-old skateboarder, dressed in a bright blue fairy costume, fall twice before triumphantly landing a heelflip. One of them was skateboarding legend Tony Hawk: 

    Fast-forward to 2021 and the Olympics in Japan, and Leal, now 13, has just become Brazil’s youngest-ever Olympic medalist, winning second place in the women’s street skateboarding competition. 

    I grew up in Brazil and lived in Rio until recently and I can confirm that Leal, who was born in Imperatriz in the northeastern state of Maranhão, is an absolute sensation back home. The sport is making its Olympic debut this year, and in the early Monday hours, Brazilians tuned in to cheer “one of the stars at the Tokyo Games” as she won the country’s second silver—joining fellow Brazilian skater Kevin Hoefler—and third overall medal in Japan. Leal scored 14.64 points and finished just a spot behind another 13-year-old prodigy, Japan’s Momiji Nishiya, who earned 15.26 points. The hug and fist bump between the two girls after the results came in might have been the best moment of these Olympics so far: 

    Despite her youth, Leal has quite an impressive resume. She started skating when she was 6. In 2019, at the age of 11, she became the youngest skater to win a women’s final at the Street Skateboarding League World Tour event in Los Angeles and made it to second place in the world ranking. A year later, she received a nomination for the Laureus Award, the equivalent of the Oscars for sports. 

    “I’m living a dream,” she wrote to her 4.6 million followers on Instagram just days before this week’s final. She also thanked Hawk for introducing her to the world of skateboarding. 

    Leal could be seen cheerfully performing viral TikTok dance challenges in between rounds of tricks, until her effortless execution in the final competitive round. After the final, she celebrated her victory with even more dancing alongside a fellow competitor, the equally charismatic Margie Didal from the Philippines.  

    Across social media in Brazil, the phrase “I believe in fairies” is trending. In a fractured country struggling to resurface from a ravaging pandemic amid a seemingly never-ending political crisis, Leal emerges as a rare source of consensus and pride. She has been hailed as someone all Brazilians can gather around, support, and be inspired by. She’s the best Brazil has and a much-needed reminder of everything the country can aspire to. One popular singer praised Leal for rescuing the country’s flag from a denier government. “‘Once upon a time there was a girl who loved her skateboard and had a dream.’ And so begins a true Fairy Tale that made all Brazilians smile today,” soccer legend Pelé wrote in a post. “You are truly a ‘Fairy’, which makes us believe that even the most difficult dreams can come true.” 

  • Cleveland’s Baseball Team Changes Name to Guardians

    The Guardians of Traffic sculptures at the east end of the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland Mark Duncan/AP

    Meet the new guardians of the Great Lakes.

    The Cleveland Indians announced on Friday they would become the Cleveland Guardians following the 2021 baseball season, after Native American groups decried their name and logo as racist.  

    The news was announced in a video narrated by none other than (California native) Tom Hanks.

    The new name refers to the famous Hope Memorial Bridge over the Cuyahoga River just outside the ballpark, which features eight giant figures representing the Guardians of Traffic.

    The Indians announced they were considering a name-change last summer during the public reckoning over racism following the murder of George Floyd.

    “Hearing firsthand the stories and experiences of Native American people, we gained a deep understanding of how tribal communities feel about the team name and the detrimental effects it has on them,” team owner Paul Dolan said in a statement in December. “We also spoke to local civic leaders who represent diverse populations in our city and who highlighted the negative impact our team name has on our broader population and on under-represented groups across our community.”

    Cleveland was famous as the first team in the American League to integrate. In 1947, owner Bill Veeck hired Larry Doby, a Black player, only a few months after Jackie Robinson broke through with the Brooklyn Dodgers. The next year, Cleveland won the league with Doby and the legendary Black pitcher Satchel Paige—who made his Major League debut at age 42 with Cleveland in 1948 after spending his career in the Negro Leagues. Cleveland still has not won a World Series since then.

    Some Republicans immediately tried to turn this name change into their latest front in the culture wars, with Sen. Ted Cruz tweeting “Why does MLB hate Indians,” seemingly missing the entire point of the name change, and then ludicrously suggesting that Boston would be forced to abandon being called the Celtics.

    The Washington Football Team has yet to choose a new name.

  • A Running List of the Petty Tyranny at the Olympics

    Beatrice Masilingi, Sha’Carri Richardson and Ona CarbonellMother Jones illustration; Getty; ZUMA Press

    As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the globe, and the cost of the Tokyo Olympics skyrockets, the International Olympic Committee and its satellite arms are busying themselves by cracking down on dress codes, recreational drug use, and peaceful protests—you know, the important stuff.

    We’re keeping track of its inane policing:

    • Namibia’s National Olympic Committee disqualifies 18-year-old athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi from running the women’s 400-meter race due to testosterone levels that the committee said were too high to let them compete. (In sex-testing athletes, “people are overdetermining testosterone’s effects in ways that don’t fit with what we know scientifically,” Stanford bioethicist Katrina Karkazis told us in 2016.)
    • Sha’Carri Richardson, a US favorite for the women’s 100-meter sprint, is caught with pot in her system and suspended for 30 days—meaning she won’t be able to compete in the event in Tokyo. Writes Mother Jones‘ Nathalie Baptiste: “Did smoking a little weed give her any kind of unfair advantage? No. Did she break the law? No. Richardson smoked in Oregon, where adults are legally allowed to partake. Simply put, it’s an archaic rule and, of course, it impacts vulnerable women.”
    • Soul Cap, a company that makes headwear specifically for more voluminous hair types, is rejected by the International Swimming Federation (FINA), meaning Black swimmers can’t use its caps at the Olympics. (FINA later said it is “reviewing” its decision.)
    • Spanish synchronized swimmer Ona Carbonell’s son Kai, who is still breastfeeding, is forbidden from staying in Tokyo’s Olympic Village with his mother (and source of critical sustenance) during the Games.

    • The International Olympic Committee and Tokyo organizers ban their social media teams from posting photos of any athletes taking a knee in protest before an event, even though the IOC recently relaxed its rules to allow acts of protest inside  Olympic venues—except if it is targeted, disruptive, or happens on the podium.
    • Australian showjumper Jamie Kermond is banned from the country’s Olympic team after testing positive for cocaine. Kermond, who was set to make his Olympic debut, stated he’d indulged recreationally one time. Cocaine falls under the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances, a sprawling and idiotic exercise in authoritarian control whose only virtue is that it introduced the world to the hilariously monikered Dick Pound.

    Top image credit: Mother Jones illustration; Joel Marklund/Bildbyran via ZUMA Press; Patrick Smith/Getty Images; Clive Rose/Getty Images

  • I Am Simply Asking if Ashton Kutcher Is a CIA Asset

    Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    John Krasinski, it gives me no pleasure to inform you that there is a new stereotypically attractive white guy in Hollywood who very publicly loves the Central Intelligence Agency. Ashton Kutcher is coming for you.

    You’re thinking, “the bonehead from ‘That ’70s Show‘ is a CIA asset? The guy who sat on a stool and scared the shit out of celebrities before popping out and cooly telling them ‘you’ve been Punk’d’?”

    The thought never crossed my mind about Kutcher’s relation to the security state until today when I stumbled onto an Instagram post of two screenshots from his Twitter. The tweets:

    From 2009: “spent the afternoon picking the brain of a former CIA guy. It really makes you wonder if anything you come in contact w/ is not manipulated.”

    From 2018: “Just sending out a morning shout to the men and woman of the intelligence community that keep us safe and protect our country. #gratitude #ty,” with a photo of a haggard pic of Kutcher drinking his morning joe out of a CIA mug.

    OK. What’s going on here? I went to Twitter and saw a separate Kutcher video had gone viral. In it, Kutcher explains how TikTok might actually (at least partially) be a Chinese psyop to influence the minds of Americans. (TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.) 

    “If I’m China and I want to think about a problem in that area of the world, specifically a naval problem in that area of the world, in the South China Sea, I would probably want to use TikTok to influence the minds of Americans in an anti-U.S. propaganda, anti-Taiwanese propaganda effort,” Kutcher said on American Optimist, the podcast of venture capitalist and Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale, “to make any kind of war from the United States extraordinarily unpopular in order to defend the South China Sea.”

    There is a tremendous meta-irony in Kutcher, a famous and well-liked celebrity, talking about the Chinese government using entertainment to influence American sentiment about geopolitics, as he talks about geopolitics.

    Maybe he just reads the Economist a lot and has become a hawkish foreign policy guy as a hobby. I don’t know, but it’s weird. So, as a professional journalist, I tried to ask him about it.

    “Does Ashton do any work with the CIA or other U.S. national security agencies/does he want to?” I wrote in one of the most stupid but justified emails I’ve ever sent in my life to the PR company that represents Kutcher, K21. I haven’t heard anything back yet, and I don’t think I will.

    Google was obviously not much more helpful than K21 but I still found an article that is in the weird matrix of Ashton Kutcher’s fascination with the CIA and American geopolitical interests.

    In 2018, on the red carpet for the premiere of “The Spy Who Dumped Me” an ET reporter asked Mila Kunis, whose ex-boyfriend ends up being a spy, about how she’d react if she found out Ashton Kutcher was a spy.

    “I’d be like, ‘I knew it!'” she responded. “I wouldn’t put it past him…He also has multiple jobs, like, not everything adds up where I’m like, ‘What do you really do? What is this office you claim to go to, and why is there many different locations of this office?”

    Maybe Kunis wanted to give an interesting answer as she promoted her new movie (this is likely), or maybe she was using a reverse psychology deflection (this is unlikely). Who’s to say?

    Maybe you’re wondering “If Kutcher was a CIA asset wouldn’t he want to be secretive about it?” You clearly haven’t lived in D.C. if you think that. People who probably work in the intelligence community in D.C. desperately want you to know that they do while being cagey about it. The “tell me you’re [x] without telling me you’re [x]” meme format was potentially accidentally created by some 26-year-old intelligence analyst in Arlington who was workshopping ways to get Tinder dates without getting in trouble at work.

    You know you’ve come across one when you meet and they, in a very practiced but somehow slightly giddy voice, tell you the work in “the government” with no further explanation when you ask. No one just says they work in “the government” without specifying unless they work in intel, which is the point.

    So yes, Kutcher would act like this if he was a CIA asset. If you think the CIA is cool enough to shill for, you’re going to think it’s cool enough to be associated with, even if you can’t officially be. You’re going to desperately want to be associated. The other explanation is that he just wants people to think this, which is just as (maybe more) likely.

    Either way, I don’t know. I’m just asking the questions—specifically about if Ashton Kutcher is an asset of the CIA.

  • I Can’t Stop Staring at This Siberian Mosquito Tornado

    Take a look, if you dare:

    Exceptionally heavy rains, the kind that are sometimes linked to human-created climate change, can create new wet areas where mosquitos lay eggs and bring about frightening swarms after hatching. But according to the Twitter account of the Siberian Times, a highly followable English-language content creator from Russia’s far east, what you’re seeing here—roughly 1 gazillion male insects circling and looking for females—is typical Siberian summer fare.

    And while I’m no entomologist, the size of the swarm suggests these bugs have a long, successful record of finding and mating with each other.

  • Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene Can’t Find Anyone Willing to Host Their California Rally

    Rep. Matt Gaetz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene address a rally on May 7 in The Villages, Florida. Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

    Two of the most controversial Republican members of Congress, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, were planning to hold a California rally this evening. The trouble is that venues keep canceling on them. 

    On Saturday, after two other venues had backed out, the M3 Live Anaheim Event Center also scrapped its plans to host the pair, hours before the “America First” rally was scheduled to start.

    The Pacific Hills Banquet & Event Center in Laguna Hills and the Riverside Convention Center had already canceled the event after receiving a deluge of complaints. 

    Gaetz is currently under investigation for allegedly having sex with a minor and paying prostitutes. Greene was stripped of her committee assignments earlier this year following her promotion of conspiracy theories and apparently of violence against political opponents.

    Gaetz and Greene have been hosting “America First” rallies around the country for the past two months. Gaetz told Politico that the rallies would target the “radical left” and focus on “ending America’s forever-wars, fixing the border Joe Biden broke on day one, prioritizing Americans, not illegal migrants, reshoring industries sold to foreign adversaries, ensuring real election integrity, and taking on the threat of the Chinese Communist Party.” 

  • Chicago Banker Convicted of Paying Paul Manafort Bribes to Influence Trump

    AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

    A federal jury in Manhattan convicted Chicago banker Stephen Calk of bribing Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort by approving risky loans for Manafort in exchange for his assistance in getting Calk an administration job.

    Manafort oversaw Trump’s campaign from June to August 2016, stepping down after it was revealed he may have received off-the-books payments from a deposed Ukrainian president with close ties to Russia. But after being bounced from that position, Manafort remained on friendly terms with many Trump campaign officials—and maintained influence within Trump circles. Throughout the campaign, Manafort was struggling financially, but despite being arguably a bad risk, he was able to secure $16 million in loans from The Federal Savings Bank, which Calk ran. Prosecutors showed there was a quid pro quo: Manafort got those loans and lobbied Trump transition officials, including Anthony Scaramucci, to find Calk a job in the Trump administration.

    Calk’s attorneys argued that he had done nothing wrong and that it was the wheeling-and-dealing Manafort who had committed the crimes by lying to Calk’s bank about his finances. But Calk was convicted on one count of bribery and a related conspiracy charge. He faces up to 35 years in federal prison. Manafort himself was convicted on a number of money laundering and tax fraud charges in 2018. A jury hung on the question of whether he had committed bank fraud during his interactions with The Federal Savings Bank. Trump pardoned Manafort shortly before leaving office.

    During Calk’s trial, prosecutors demonstrated that Calk had pushed his bank to give Manafort the loans, while pressing Manafort to help him join Trump’s inner circle of advisers on the campaign and later the administration. Within days of the bank approving the first set of loans to Manafort, Manafort had Calk appointed to the Trump campaign’s council of economic advisers. On election night 2016, Calk texted Manafort about the status of another loan he had requested. Manafort subsequently leaned on Trump transition officials to consider Calk for a position.

    One of the prosecution’s star witnesses was New York City financier Anthony Scaramucci, who advised the Trump transition and briefly served in Trump’s White House in 2017. He described how Manafort had approached him after the election and promoted Calk as a good choice for an administration job. Scaramucci said Manafort never mentioned that there was a financial relationship between him and Calk. Scaramucci testified that Calk pestered him for weeks with text messages asking for updates on Calk’s status as potential presidential appointee. 

    Calk never was appointed to an administration job. He will be sentenced in January. 

  • Texas Dems to Biden, Congress: Show the Same Courage We’ve Shown to Protect Voting Rights

    J. Scott Applewhite/AP

    Texas House Democrats—who fled the state in a bold move to halt the advancement of a sweeping voter suppression bill—urged the White House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday to pass federal voting rights legislation. 

    At a press conference Tuesday in Washington, DC, the group of Democrats specifically called on Biden and Congress to demonstrate “the same courage” they had shown by traveling to the nation’s capital during a special legislative session that had been called by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has since threatened to arrest the more than 50 Democrats who fled. As they did in a statement confirming their plans to boycott the session before hopping aboard two private planes on Monday, the group once again hailed both the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act as examples of model legislation for protecting voting rights at the federal level and implored Congress to pass them.

    “We were quite literally forced to move and leave the state of Texas,” Texas Rep. Rhetta Bowers said in a press conference flanked by some of her fellow state Democrats. “We also know that we are living right now on borrowed time in Texas. And we can’t stay here indefinitely, to run out the clock, to stop Republican anti-voter bills.” Bowers said that although Texas Democrats would use “everything in our power to fight back,” they ultimately needed Congress to act with the same urgency. 

    “We are not going to buckle to the ‘big lie’ in the state of Texas—the ‘big lie’ that has resulted in anti-democratic legislation throughout the United States,” Rep. Rafael Anchia added.

    Abbott on Monday vowed to arrest the Democrats that had walked out on the session, thus denying the state’s House of Representatives the two-thirds quorum required to conduct official state business. In recent weeks, Texas Republicans, led by Abbott, have aggressively pushed to enact a sweeping set of bills that seek to ban drive-through and 24-hour voting, add new ID requirements for mail voting, and prohibit election officials from proactively sending out absentee ballot request forms.

    “As soon as they come back in the state of Texas, they will be arrested, they will be cabined inside the Texas Capitol until they get their job done,” Abbott threatened on Monday. Other Republicans in the state blasted their Democratic counterparts for staging a publicity stunt.

    Tuesday’s press conference came hours ahead of President Biden’s much-anticipated speech on voting rights in Philadelphia, where he’ll make a forceful condemnation of Republican efforts to enact voter suppression laws. His message, however, is not expected to include support for ending the Senate’s filibuster rules, which advocates say stand in the way of passing meaningful protections for voting rights.