February 25, 2021

Farmer Sadly Says ‘Wish I could Have Been Be Free to be Gay at An Earlier Age'

image captionSimon Martyn Matthews said his family's reaction to him coming out had been "brilliant"

A farmer from Cornwall who hid his sexuality for decades says he wished he had been able to "be myself" at an earlier age.

Simon Martyn Matthews, 51, was 30 before he came out and said there were no LGBT role models in farming when he was growing up. 

Speaking as part of LGBT month, he said: "It was like I would have to move away, how could I be a farmer and gay?"

The herdsman said he endured "years of anguish" over his dilemma.

image captionSimon said he wished he had some gay friends he could have talked to when younger

Mr Matthews, who farms on the Lizard Peninsula, dated girls and women when he was younger but was in his mid-20s before he realised he was gay.

"The first reaction from my family was 'We think we know what you're going to tell us,' to which I thought 'How could they? I've hidden it so well'," he said.

Mr Matthews described his family's reaction as "brilliant" but said he wished he had "been out in my early 20s".

image captionSimon said he thought he had hidden being gay "so well" when he was growing up

Mr Matthews grew up on a dairy farm and has worked at farms across Cornwall.

"I now know several of my contemporaries are gay and thought if only we'd known, it might have been a bit easier. We'd have had mates we could talk to.

"To be myself I think is the message that I would give my [younger] self. I might have saved myself a few years of anguish.

"As it happens, I'll have been married four years this year, and with my husband nearly 18 years.

"It takes time to find the right one, doesn't it?" 

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Targeted by Erdogan LGBTQ in Turkey Have Been Put on The Eye of The Storm

 Istanbul (AFP)

Murat has watched for years as LGBT people who face persecution in the Middle East have found refuge in his cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Istanbul.

Today, in the face of growing government hostility and vitriol from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the young gay man says he has just one wish: to leave.

"Before, there would be a wave of hatred and then it would calm down," said the 30-year-old computer engineer, his eyes piercing through a haze of cigarette smoke. 

"Now, it's been going on for months, turning into a tsunami."

From incendiary government minister tweets to censorship of gay characters on TV and media-led boycotts of LGBT-friendly brands, a growing animosity is suffocating Turkey's free-spirited LGBT community.

In the process, the attacks have tarnished Turkey's image as a haven of tolerance in the socially conservative Muslim world.

LGBT groups believe Erdogan is attacking their community to distract his supporters from Turkey's economic travails.

Erdogan this month unleashed a torrent of attacks against what he called "the LGBT youth", which came as sudden student protests began to rattle his 18-year rule.

The immediate cause of Erdogan's fury was a student artwork depicting Islam's holiest site in Mecca draped in the LGBT rainbow flag.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu reported the arrest of "four LGBT freaks" over the display, condemning the "degenerates" in Twitter posts that got flagged for "hateful conduct".

Erdogan later told his female supporters not to listen to "those lesbians", adding there was "no such thing" as the LGBT movement in Turkey.

- 'Dangerous game' -

"It's a hate campaign" aimed at discrediting the student protests, said Can Candan, a documentary filmmaker and professor at Bogazici University.

The top Turkish institution has been spearheading the protests after Erdogan appointed a loyalist as its rector at the start of the year.

The controversial artwork prompted officials to shut down Bogazici's LGBT club, where Candan was a faculty adviser.

"This is an extremely dangerous game, because hate speech leads to hate crime," said Candan.

Alaz Ada Yener, who chooses to identify as non-binary and is active in the LambdaIstanbul LGBT rights association, said walking the streets no longer felt safe.

"People no longer look at us as just different or original, but as traitors to the nation," Yener said.

"Those who commit a crime against LGBT people will tell themselves they have the authorities on their side."

- Steady slide -

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread.

While there are no official figures, Turkey has slid down the LGBT rights index published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

Last year, it was ranked 48th out of the 49 countries ILGA lists in its Eurasia region.

Kaos GL, one of the oldest LGBT rights groups in Turkey, last year counted more than 2,000 news articles it qualified as discriminatory -- a 40-percent jump on 2019.

Even before the Bogazici artwork scandal, the LGBT community felt like it was coming under siege.

Last year, Netflix cancelled the production of a Turkish series featuring a gay character after failing to win the government's permission to film.

In June, the French sporting goods retailer Decathlon became the target of Turkish media boycott campaign, after saying it stood in solidarity with the LGBT community.

And in April, Erdogan rallied to the defence of a top religious affairs official who linked homosexuality to the spread of diseases, amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"What he said was totally right," Erdogan said.

- 'Make us disappear' -

Some believe the attacks are a response to the strides the LGBT movement has made in Turkey, where rainbow flags are becoming a frequent presence at protests.

The government is "trying to stem the growing social acceptance of LGBT people by denigrating them," said Eylem Cagda, a sociologist who specialises in LGBT issues in Turkey.

After a spectacular Pride March in Istanbul drew 100,000 people in 2014, the government responded by banning future events in the city, citing security concerns.

The government "is trying to make us disappear from the public sphere," said LambdaIstanbul's Yener.

"They are trying to eliminate our social existence."

Murat, for his part, said he feared the government will now start adopting anti-LGBT legislation.

"We've made so much progress," he said, crushing out his cigarette. "We're going back decades." 

A Bunch of Companies Are Asking To Be Taxed to help The Environment- "Yes You read it Right"


It’s not just Texas freezing over. In Washington, some big brand names are actually volunteering to pay a tax on their products.

You read that right. The proposed fee—it’s just a concept for now—could affect a lot of stuff in your grocery cart: 
Breyer’s ice cream and Q-tips (Unilever), Pedigree dog food and Altoids (Mars Inc.), Poland Spring water (Nestle), Silk milk (Danone), and of course those Cokes and Pepsis.

All of these companies are facing a recycling crisis. As they woo sustainability-minded investors and meet the green demands of consumers, they’ve pledged to increase their use of recycled material.

So they need salvaged trash. But there’s not enough to go around. Less than a third of America’s garbage is collected and processed, and only 9 percent of plastic is recycled.

Coca-Cola Co. has said that half of its packaging will be made from recycled materials by 2030. PepsiCo aims to use 25 percent recycled material by 2025. Dozens of major brands have set similar goals.

The U.S. would have to collect 1.6 billion more pounds of plastic bottles—about 100 bottles per person—every year to deliver enough recycled material for companies to meet their targets, The Recycling Partnership estimates.

The industry coalition, which includes Unilever, Dow, and the cola kings, proposed the tax on packaging to boost the $4 billion taxpayers now spend annually on recycling programs.

A message from the American Beverage Association:
· America’s leading beverage companies are making 100% recyclable bottles and caps. The Coca-Cola Company, Keurig Dr Pepper and PepsiCo are investing in new efforts to get every bottle back, so they can be remade into new bottles. We look forward to working with Congress and the Biden Administration on improvements to our roadways, transportation systems and policies that strengthen recycling infrastructure and help reduce plastic waste in the environment.
 Learn more at EveryBottleBack.org

It’s a political about-face for the brands, which for years have rejected responsibility for the empty bottles, torn wrappers and other refuse their products leave behind.

As the companies step up, America’s fragmented recycling system is sinking deeper into chaos. China stopped accepting the world’s trash in 2018, waking the U.S. to its lack of capacity to collect, sort and process garbage. The pandemic has produced mountains of used masks, gloves and takeout food containers.

The American Chemistry Council has jumped on the tax bandwagon and AMERIPEN, a business lobby that spent a decade fighting packaging fees, now says it will support them if the money is earmarked for recycling.

The Recycling Partnership already has spent $53 million to improve local infrastructure and secured another $100 million commitment from beverage companies in 2019. But the need is in the billions of dollars, said Dylan de Thomas, vice president of external affairs.

“The industry has an evolving perspective around producer responsibility,” de Thomas said. “In the past, industry players could just say no. But that’s increasingly not an option anymore.”

—The price of post-consumer plastics keeps hitting new record highs.

Policymakers see an opening: Legislators in nine states have a coordinated effort to put plastic-makers and consumer brands on the hook. Watch for bills in Congress.

It’s a start, but nothing more yet. One of the industry’s biggest lobbying groups, the Consumer Brands Association, hasn’t thrown its weight behind a recycling fee, and companies don’t support the one federal proposal, the Break Free From Plastics Act, that would make them fund recycling.

WHIFF—President Joe Biden busted through a self-imposed deadline on Friday when the White House failed to publish a new price tag on future damage from greenhouse gases.

The president had promised—on Inauguration Day no less—that he’d deliver the interim figure, awkwardly known as the social cost of carbon, in 30 days. The White House didn’t comment on the delay, but people close to the administration say it has been bogged down by concerns over litigation and arcane policy. More on that below.

The social cost of carbon is one of the most important numbers in the climate change debate. It’s an estimate of damage that will be caused by rising temperatures in the future. The price tag Biden sets could affect activity in oil, aviation, construction, forestry, manufacturing and other industries for decades.

A high cost of carbon would make it easier for the administration to justify expensive or restrictive regulations as it works to green the economy—spend this money now, because it will cost a lot more later if we don’t. Set the price too high and the economy might not react well. It’s classic cost-benefit stuff, but big.

There’s no Goldilocks zone on this. Politically, the number will be too low and too high no matter what.

President Barack Obama’s administration was the first to set a social cost of carbon, landing on $56 for every ton of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere, adjusted for inflation.  

The nitty-gritty: Two factors could push Biden’s number higher: The discount rate and concern over high-risk, low-probability events.

The discount rate is most pressing. A lower rate implies that the value of a dollar decades from now will be about what it is today, providing an economic imperative to cut emissions quickly. Obama’s discount rate was 3 percent. President Donald Trump lowered the cost of carbon to about $8 and bumped the discount rate to 7 percent.

Trump’s figure is dead. It considered only domestic benefits, even though carbon emitted in the U.S. affects the climate globally.

And much has changed since Obama left office. The science on climate change is more robust. Our goals are more ambitious. Known-unknowns are better understood. Do we adjust the social cost of carbon to account for, say, damage caused by melting polar ice caps?

Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and economist Nicholas Stern, in a paper released last week, said the social cost of carbon should be at least $100 and raised the prospect of a negative discount rate.

The glitch: Opponents of an ambitious carbon price assert that federal procedures prevent Biden from setting a discount rate lower than 3 percent. The White House wants a high number but is on guard for lawsuits. For now, the administration is being cautious until it can go through a more formal process to set a permanent number.

“They’re trying to do the minimal change to get a better number,” Stiglitz said in an interview. “I would have been braver.” 

CORPORATE AMERICA GETS IT—The social cost of carbon is different and separate from legislative proposals to curb fossil fuels by taxing emissions. But if Biden sets a high price, it could embolden Democrats in Congress to fight for fees on businesses.

“This value has meaning in that debate,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of federal affairs at the American Chemistry Council. “It doesn’t prejudge where Congress would land, but it’s hard to ignore it.”

Hundreds of companies already price carbon—privately. Biden’s social cost of carbon, whatever it is, will have no immediate effect on business activity, but will influence it down the road. Lots of companies already use their own internal carbon pricing to inform decisions, numbers that could shift based on what government does. Simplified, a factory worth building last year might not pass muster next year if the cost of carbon is too high.

“There are many other entities that are thinking about this question of how to value the potential of their actions to control climate change,” said Kevin Rennert, director of the Social Cost of Carbon Initiative at Resources for the Future. “States do it, public utility commissions, and so on, and they will look to what the federal government has done as one potential input to the values that they use.”

More than 850 companies had internal carbon pricing in 2020, according to the CDP, a platform companies use to disclose climate data.

Companies do, and they’re setting their own internal metrics.
A NEW DIVERSITY BILL—Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Gregory Meeks, New York Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee, endorsed a Nasdaq proposal that would require listed companies to report on board diversity. The House last year passed their bill to require public companies to publish diversity data, legislation Meeks plans to reintroduce Tuesday.

  We believe these systems must: 

· Include all recyclable materials – plastic, aluminum, cardboard, paper, glass
· Be run by a non-profit with government oversight and funded by private sector fees used exclusively to operate and invest in the system
· Provide producers first access to recovered materials for making new products

We stand ready to work policymakers to advance these principles wherever producer responsibility systems are being considered. Learn more at InnovationNaturally.org/Recycling

IBM said it will get to net zero by 2030. The company is trying to tackle the growing carbon footprint of data centers.

Industrial giant 3M, maker of N-95 masks and Scotch tape, will spend $1 billion to achieve net-zero emissions from operations by 2050. 3M and other companies are fighting lawsuits over “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that have contaminated drinking water across the U.S.

3M’s pledge includes new water purification technology at manufacturing plants by the end of 2023, which will help address PFAS, agricultural runoff and other issues, 3M CEO Mike Roman told Yahoo News.

The Biden administration has promised to aggressively regulate PFAS.

MORE THAN NUGGETS—Last week we asked who would eat a lab-grown steak. Based on your responses, we’re seriously conflicted over animal welfare, corporate power and our own habits. And yes, someone did bring up soylent green.

“I’m tired of being a hypocrite, agonizing over the welfare of the mass-farmed animals, while laughing away the idea of ever becoming vegetarian,” said Dan Pourhadi, a software engineer from Chicago. “Besides, what is ‘real’ steak if not meat merely ‘cultured’ in the gross body of a cow? In that context, meat from a vat doesn’t seem so bad.”

Some readers called the cultured meat craze another example of corporations trying to dominate the global food supply at the expense of local growers.

“The lab grown meat industry is not driven by a desire to save the planet or humanity; it's driven by a desire to make money,” said Colin Anderson, owner of Eureka Compass Vegan Food in St. Paul, Minn. He suggested eating more seeds, lentils and insects.

And experts pointed out that cultured meat isn’t a realistic option for the developing world, where a cow or chicken can be a financial lifeline. Livestock emissions can be lowered with better feed and care, said Isabelle Baltenweck, head of the policy program at the International Livestock Research Institute.

Finally, one reader had this to say.

“Chickens are more than nuggets,” wrote Randall Morris, a philosophy professor with a small farm. “They seem to enjoy their lives and certainly make our lives more enjoyable.”

“I intend to continue to eat meat that once enjoyed a life,” Morris said. “To me, that life actually mattered.”

A chicken struts inside a pasture on the Francis Blake organic farm
AP Photo 

February 24, 2021

Police Had No Legal Reason To Stop Elijah McClain And Less To Kill Him


Police had no legal reason to stop Elijah McClain, a new independent review has found, the first in a series of unjustified and violent actions taken by officers that led to the 23-year-old Black man being placed in a chokehold and injected with ketamine before he died.

The investigative report, released on Monday after millions of people called for justice for McClain, also laid out concerns about the Aurora, Colorado, police department's own investigation of the officers' use of force, alleging police investigators failed to ask "basic, critical questions" and "failed to present a neutral, objective version of the facts and seemingly ignored contrary evidence." Though McClain died in August 2019, an independent investigation didn't begin until Black Lives Matter protests took place around the country in summer 2020. 

The new report, commissioned by Aurora's city council, also found officers had no legal reason to frisk or put McClain in the controversial chokehold, pointing out that none of the officers involved had suspected him of a specific crime at any point before he was wrestled to the ground.

Shortly after the report was released Monday, Sheneen McClain, McClain's mother, said in a statement that, according to the review, the city had "engaged in a sham investigation in order to exonerate its employees and hide their wrongdoing" instead of conducting a detailed investigation of her son's death.

"The independent investigation that was commissioned and paid for by Aurora makes clear what was already known: Elijah should never have been stopped by the police, never had been arrested, never have been subjected to extreme force by the police and should never have been forcibly injected with ketamine by Aurora Fire Rescue Paramedics," the statement read. "Notably, this report — with its start and unequivocal indictment of Aurora officials' conduct — is not based on new, revelatory evidence. It is based on evidence that Aurora has had in its possession all along."

McClain was stopped by police as he was walking home at around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, 2019.

According to the report, the first officer who contacted McClain, Officer Nathan Woodyard, put his hands on him within 10 seconds of first approaching him, even though there were no visible weapons and he had made no threatening gestures toward him. 

"Woodyard's decision to turn what may have been a consensual encounter with Mr. McClain into an investigatory stop — in fewer than ten seconds — did not appear to be supported by any officer's reasonable suspicion that Mr. McClain was engaged in criminal activity," according to the report. "This decision had ramifications for the rest of the encounter."

After the violent stop, during which McClain struggled to breathe, he was injected with a powerful dose of the sedative and taken to a hospital. He died there three days later.

As the Aurora Police Department investigated his death, authorities failed to ask basic questions, the independent review found.

"Instead, the questions frequently appeared designed to elicit specific exonerating 'magic language' found in court rulings," the review's three-person panel concluded, stating that the department's investigation of McClain's death "failed to present a neutral, objective version of the facts and seemingly ignored contrary evidence."

The officers' actions were also never reviewed by the department's internal affairs unit, which can only open an investigation at the request of the chief of police. A review by the department's Force Review Board was, according to the new investigation, "cursory and summary at best."

A spokesperson for a local Black Lives Matter group said the new report confirmed that McClain should never have been confronted by police in the first place.

"Results from the independent investigation in the murder of Elijah further supports what his family and community already knew," said Apryl Alexander, a community organizer and spokesperson for BLM 5280. "He was a young man trying to walk home and confronted without cause. Instead of simply talking to Elijah, physical force was used within 10 seconds—not enough time for him to even explain that he was going home. Criminalizing Black people for living their lives needs to end."  

McClain's death sparked large protests in the streets of Colorado, and more than 5 million people have signed onto a Change.org petition demanding the officers involved in the deadly stop be held accountable.

Since McClain's death, the city of Aurora and police have enacted a number of changes in policies directly linked to the Aug. 24, 2019, incident. Aurora Police have, for example, banned the use of the carotid hold used against McClain and now require police officers to "observe" before conducting a frisk of suspects.

In September, the city council also passed a moratorium calling for police to stop using ketamine as a tool to make a suspect more complaint.

According to authorities, McClain was originally stopped after police received a 911 call from someone who said they saw someone wearing a ski mask and "acting weird" and "waving his arms around."

Family members of McClain have said he wore a ski mask to stay warm because he had anemia.

Audio from body camera footage revealed McClain asked officers to let him go. And according to the report released Monday, although officers needed to have "reasonable, objective" and "articulable" suspicion to make the stop, none of them offered one during subsequent interviews.

"None of the officers articulated a crime that they thought Mr. McClain had committed, was committing, or was about to commit," according to the report.

Instead, the officers said in interviews that McClain was acting "suspicious," pointing to the ski mask and waving of his arms in an area they described as having a "high crime rate."

One officer, the report said, claimed that McClain's refusal to stop was in itself suspicious because it "was consistent with someone who 'either just committed a crime' or someone who is 'concealing something whether it be a weapon or drugs.'"

But that's not a legal reason for police to detain a person, the report noted.

The panel also wrote they were unable to find sufficient evidence that officers had a legal justification for frisking McClain, pointing out that one of the officers reported he "felt safe making an approach," and there was no suggestion he had a weapon.

Instead, officers forced McClain to the ground, and one reported that he had attempted to grab an officer's gun. Officers used a carotid hold to restrain McClain just before he passed out.

The report also noted that, in their description of their encounter with McClain, police described the 23-year-old as "struggling" and said he had "incredible strength" or "crazy strength."

"It is not clear from the record whether Mr. McClain's movements, interpreted by the officers as resisting, were attempts to escape or simply an effort, voluntary or involuntary, to avoid the painful force being applied on him, to improve his breathing, or to accommodate his vomiting," the report stated.

Audio of the encounter instead recorded McClain "crying out in pain, apologizing, vomiting, and at times sounding incoherent."

"His words were apologetic and confused, not angry or threatening," the report said. "He became increasingly plaintive and desperate as he struggled to breathe. He told officers he had his ID, that his name was Elijah McClain, and that 'I was just going home.'" 

One of the officers called dispatch saying McClain was "still fighting," but audio at the time of that transmission shows him telling the officers, "forgive me" and "you are all phenomenal, you are beautiful. Forgive me."

On Monday night, the Aurora City Council held a special meeting to go over the findings. Several members told BuzzFeed News after the session that they are pushing for a ban on ketamine in law enforcement actions and a more distinct separation between Aurora's fire and police departments. Alison Coombs, a city council member, said she also wanted to make stop-and-frisk unconstitutional, and use of force a fireable offense.

"Though council cannot call for the firing of city staff except our direct appointees, public comment made it clear that they believe the officers who wrongly stopped Elijah and all those involved in the actions leading up to his death should be fired," she said. "I urge the city manager to take these public concerns seriously and use his powers in a way that would help restore faith in our city government."

In a press conference on Tuesday morning, Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson said she acknowledged the extreme anger and grief that McClain's friends and family have endured. She apologized for their pain and ensured the community that she will continue to make changes in response to this report and other ongoing investigations examining her department's actions. So far, she said, she has instituted a force investigations unit and is changing how suspicious person calls are received and handled. She also agreed that the city should have an independent monitor.

"The bottom line is Elijah McClain should still be here today," she said. "I will hold myself as well as our officers accountable. We will evolve and we will become the police department the community can trust. I know the trust is broken and we have a long way to go."


The Law Enacted to Target The Mob (RICO) Could Be Trump’s Undoing


Anti-racketeering laws were originally written to take down the mob. Now, they’re underpinning a criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump and his allies. 

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is examining whether to apply the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as Georgia RICO, to the Trump team’s attempts to reverse his 2020 electoral defeat in the state, according to a letter Willis circulated to local state officials and an on-the-record interview she gave to The New York Times.  

The federal RICO statute—designed in 1970 to help prosecute organized crime mob bosses for illicit deeds committed by their underlings—is widely seen as too complex and convoluted for most prosecutions. Yet key differences between federal RICO and Georgia’s equivalent make the state’s version more flexible and easier to apply, lawyers say. 

Willis has her work cut out for her. For years, experienced criminal attorneys have rolled their eyes at anyone using the words “Trump” and “RICO” in the same sentence, saying non-lawyers have little idea how tricky it is to meet the elaborate requirements for building such a case. 

But Willis happens to be a Georgia RICO expert. Before the Trump investigation, she was best known for bringing a novel and high-profile racketeering case against teachers in Atlanta accused of organized cheating. 

“RICO became kind of a joke among lawyers, because everyone thinks it’s RICO, and it’s never actually RICO,” said Ryan Locke, a former public defender in Georgia. But this time, he said, “I think it’s legit.” 

A Trump spokesperson dismissed the idea that Trump did anything wrong and accused Willis of engaging in a transparent attempt to harass Trump. 

“This is simply the Democrats’ latest attempt to score political points by continuing their witch hunt against President Trump, and everybody sees through it,” spokesman Jason Miller told VICE News. 

Georgia RICO 

Willis is investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to find ways to flip the state from a loss into a victory for Trump, after President Joe Biden carried Georgia by just 11,779 votes. On January 3, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and urged him to help Trump “find” enough votes to win

The call, which included Trump, Raffensperger, Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and multiple lawyers, was tape-recorded and then leaked to the media, including the Washington Post. “All I want to do is this,” Trump told Raffensperger. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”

Trump reportedly also placed calls to Georgia’s governor, Brain Kemp, to pressure him to convince state legislators to overturn the state’s result and to the state’s attorney general, Chris Carr, in which Trump reportedly warned Carr not to interfere with legal attempts to secure Trump’s victory. 

Willis’ probe will also scrutinize a phone call placed by Trump ally Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to Raffensperger about ballot signature verification procedures, the Washington Post reported. Raffensperger told the Post that Graham appeared to be asking him to find ways to toss out legal ballots. Graham disputed that claim as “ridiculous.”  

To land a RICO case, prosecutors would need to show multiple criminal acts that were all undertaken in furtherance of the same goal, Locke said.  “RICO really comes into play in a case where someone commits a number of crimes that all lead toward one common corrupt aim,” Locke said.

The original federal RICO statute was designed to make mob bosses accountable for crimes they ordered someone else to do, by letting prosecutors brand the entire organization as an ongoing criminal enterprise. After the federal law was passed, 33 states followed suit with their own versions. Since then, the applications of Georgia’s RICO law have expanded beyond traditional organized criminal networks.  

“I always tell people when they hear the word racketeering, they think of ‘The Godfather,’” Willis told the Times. But the law can also be applied to different types of organizations besides the mafia, she said, including otherwise legitimate entity used toward illegitimate ends. “If you have various overt acts for an illegal purpose, I think you can—you may—get there.”  

“The scope of its reach has now grown so that anyone who commits two or more proscribed crimes within a 10-year period in furtherance of an ongoing enterprise can find themselves charged with a RICO violation,” according to a description of the statute written by Georgia defense lawyer Tanya Miller.  

Willis hasn’t explicitly laid out a theory of the case. But she told the Times that racketeering could apply to anyone who uses a legal entity, such as a government agency or a public office, in pursuit of breaking the law. 

Technically speaking, she’d need to find two separate crimes to make a broader racketeering charge stick. But if she does, then the Georgia RICO statute carries a hefty prison sentence of between 5 and 20 years

Before becoming DA in January, Willis was best known for leading a racketeering case against 12 public school teachers in Atlanta accused of falsifying their students’ scores on standardized tests to improve their schools’ standing. She argued that the teachers violated Georgia’s RICO law by using the school system, a “legitimate enterprise,” to engage in widespread cheating. Eleven educators were convicted.  

That verdict showed how the law could be used in a complex public corruption case, when multiple instances of criminal activity are strung together under one big RICO umbrella. In the Trump case, she’s already pointed to a range of possible infractions. 

In a letter to state officials asking them to preserve documents dated February 10, Willis laid out a series of criminal statutes she’s considering as part of the probe.  

“This investigation includes, but is not limited to, potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” she wrote. 

Grand jury subpoenas may be sent out as soon as March, Willis wrote. 

“This matter is of high priority,” she wrote. “The next Fulton County grand jury is due to convene in March, and this office will begin requesting grand jury subpoenas as necessary at that time.” 

The Pandemic President of The U.S.

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

By Mike Allen  



As he begins Month 2, President Biden is trying to build trust 

with a divided America, knowing he'll need national patience for 

an array of problems that can't be solved to suit short attention spans.

Polling shows he has a window of opportunity: In the new Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index, more than half are confident he can make 

COVID vaccines widely available and get K-12 students back to school in person. 

The catch: This confidence will only last if Americans' lives improve by Biden's big summertime verdict. The administration says the U.S. will have enough vaccine (600 million doses) to give everyone two shots by July 29. But everyone won't take it. So Biden promisesAmerica will be "approaching normalcy by the end of this year."

Data: Axios-Ipsos survey: Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios
Since October, right before the election, public opinion has reversed itself on whether the federal government has gotten better or worse at handling the pandemic, Axios managing editor David Nather writes. 

When we asked the question in late October, 26% of respondents said the federal government's handling had gotten better since the beginning of the pandemic, with 46% saying it had gotten worse.
In this week's poll, those results flipped: 45% now say the federal government's handling of the pandemic has gotten better, with 26% saying it has gotten worse.
As America marked the inconceivable toll of 500,000 dead from COVID in just over a year, Biden addressed the nation with an emotion that showed he's willing to be the face of one of history's biggest crises: 
I know that when you stare at that empty chair around the kitchen table, it brings it all back — no matter how long ago it happened — as if it just happened that moment you looked at that empty chair. ...
And the everyday things — the small things, the tiny things — 
that you miss the most. That scent when you open the closet. 
That park you go by that you used to stroll in. That movie theater
 where you met. The morning coffee you shared together. The bend in his smile. The perfect pitch to her laugh.

Biden's remarks.

February 23, 2021

Recent Student Suicides Indicates There's Much For Us and Parents to be Learning


STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- City officials acknowledged this week an alarming trend among city public school students – an increase in suicides – and said the best way to help is to get all students back in school buildings, although there is not yet a plan to make that happen.

Five public school students have taken their lives so far this year, according to several reports. There were four during the 2019-2020 school year. 

One of those five is Jasier Kelly, a 16-year-old Staten Islander who died by suicide on Feb. 4.

Jasier Kelly, 16, died by suicide on Feb. 4, according to his family. (Photo courtesy of Tyranna Harris)

Kelly’s family said he was a boy who “could brighten up a whole room by just smiling,” but the isolation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic exacerbated his mental health issues, and not being able to see friends and family and attend school made it “hard for him to function.”

Social isolation caused by the pandemic can negatively impact the mental health of children, research shows, and experts suggest that disease control measures caused by the pandemic could exacerbate children’s cognitive struggles.

Through the first months of the coronavirus outbreak, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data that indicated hospital emergency departments saw a rise in total visits from children with mental health needs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized the connection between school, in-person connections, and child mental health when asked about the increase in student suicides on the Brian Lehrer Show on Friday.

“I’m a parent and I, you know, I’m just thinking what a child must be going through, how much pain, how much confusion, how much fear leads to that moment, how many things that they need to express that aren’t being expressed because there’s no outlet, how much isolation that a child is feeling, how horrible and painful that is, and what it means in this moment, because kids have been cut off from what they need, what allows them to cope and have hope,” he said. 

Anticipating the challenges with mental health, the Department of Education (DOE) launched Bridge to School this school year, a social and emotional curriculum that would help educators address the unique needs of their students brought on by the pandemic.

But even with the additional support, the suicide rate among students is “rapidly doubling,” said School Chancellor Richard Carranza at a recent town hall, Bklyner reported.

“The fact that these kids have gone through this crisis, the trauma they’ve felt, many kids have lost loved ones. Many kids are feeling really isolated in the absence of, you know, the regular rhythms of their life,” the mayor said when asked about the Chancellor’s recent remarks earlier in the week.

“And particularly the absence of school for some of them. This is why it’s imperative we bring back school as quickly as possible,” he said.

Public high school buildings have been closed in New York City since Nov. 18, when a rising COVID-19 positivity rate led de Blasio to suspend all in-person learning.

City elementary schools began full-time in-person instruction again in December, and middle school students will return to school buildings on Feb. 25, but neither the mayor or DOE have have detailed a plan for reopening public high schools.

In fact, many high school buildings across the city are being used as COVID-19 test and vaccination sites.

The mayor said he’s “hopeful” there will be an opt-in period later this school year, however, he appears more optimistic about the 2021-2022 school year, and has said he is confident that schools will open “at full strength” in the fall.

He acknowledged that reaching children and providing mental and emotional health services through the remote model is a challenge.

One in five children struggle with mental health and approximately one in five students don’t receive the support they need, according to the DOE. 

“We’re trying to make sure that guidance counselors, social workers, principals, everyone’s thinking about if there’s a child with a mental health need that we’re speeding those services and supports to them right now. But it’s really – it’s not easy when kids aren’t in-person and that’s what’s causing so much of the problem here…” he said.

“It’s painful, but we really are trying to help every child. But the best thing we can do is just get more and more kids back in the school as quickly as possible.”


De Blasio has laid out a plan to begin offering in-school mental health screenings at some schools in the fall, and emphasized on Friday that he plans to ultimately make the offering available to all public school students.

“We’re going to do mental health screening for all the kids in New York City public schools when they come back in September,” de Blasio said.

“They will need more support,” he continued. Some of them will need a lot of support, will need to be, you know, have an opportunity to go into therapy, if that’s what’s right for them. And we have a plan to provide that for children who need it.”

With the fall school semester still more than seven months off, de Blasio called on New Yorkers to use a crisis hotline in the interim.

“If you know a child in crisis and you don’t know where to turn for mental health services, we can get that child help for free through 888-NYC-WELL,” he said.

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