Posts made in August 2021

Missing in action: The baffling disappearance of the go-to lawyer for Capitol riot defendants

September 1, 2021

The mysterious disappearance of the lawyer, John Pierce, began on last Tuesday, August 24, prosecutors say, when he missed a hearing for one of the many cases in which he is representing a defendant in the Capitol riot investigation. The young associate who took his place said that Pierce had a “conflict.” At the time, no one seemed to give it much mind, according to a report by The New York Times.

But in the days that followed, Pierce—who is defending more cases connected to the riot than any other lawyer nationwide—missed additional hearings, and the details of his decampment started changing.

On Wednesday, his associate told a judge in one case that Pierce had gotten COVID-19 and was in the hospital on a ventilator—but only after telling a prosecutor in another case that Pierce had been in a car accident. That same evening, a different associate told a reporter that Pierce had, in fact, been hospitalized, but was getting care for “dehydration and exhaustion.”

Finally, on Monday, August 30—after Pierce had still failed to reappear—the government got involved. Federal prosecutors issued letters to several judges in 17 Capitol riot cases, informing them that no one in the Justice Department had heard from Pierce in a week and that “multiple” phone numbers for his law firm appeared to have been disconnected.

His criminal cases had come to a “standstill,” the prosecutors said, endangering the rights of his clients. If Pierce did not surface soon, they added, somethin —although it was not clear what—would have to be done.

The New York Times tried to reach Mr. Pierce several times by text and phone in recent days, but he did not respond.

Pierce’s unexplained absence was the only latest twist in his outsized role in defending those accused of participating in the Capitol attack. His clients — among them members of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia — have stood out not only for their number, but also for the scorched-earth battle that he has vowed to wage on their behalf.

A self-described pro-Trump populist, Pierce has promised, for example, to force the government to give him video footage of the Capitol for several days before and after January 6, and has said he will demand information about every police officer working at the building that day. He also has vowed to subpoena hostile witnesses such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi—ostensibly to learn what she may have known about security at the Capitol before the attack.

Without citing evidence, Pierce has said he intends to implicate the F.B.I. and the intelligence community by showing that the riot was something like a grand act of entrapment or an inside job. He has often talked about his cases with a conspiratorial zeal, painting himself as something like a lonely legal warrior out to save his clients from an overreaching government.

“I’m like Gerard Butler in ‘300,’” Pierce said in an interview before dropping out of sight, comparing himself to the action star who played a Spartan king. “I’m in the hot gates at Thermopylae, holding the pass against the million-man Persian army.”

While the government has not yet weighed in on the merits on his claims, prosecutors did express concern in their letters filed on Monday about the young associate, Ryan Joseph Marshall, who has been standing in for Pierce at the hearings he has missed.

For one thing, Marshall is not a licensed lawyer, prosecutors said, and has taken actions on behalf of clients “that he is not permitted” to take. Moreover, they went on, it remains unclear if and when Marshall will be able to get his law license—given that he is under indictment in two criminal cases accusing him of corruption, theft and fraud in Pennsylvania.

Pierce’s situation is not his first encounter with personal and professional setbacks. Last year, his law firm nearly collapsed in a swirl of debts and resignations. Then his most prominent client, Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man charged with murder at a racial justice protest in Wisconsin last year, fired him in a highly public spat that included allegations that a charity arranged for the defense had engaged in financial improprieties.

His work in the Capitol cases began just after the attack when he took several members of the far-right nationalist group, the Proud Boys, as clients. He also has been hired by L. Brent Bozell IV, the son of a prominent conservative commentator, as well as by a Florida pastor and a Minnesota pub worker.

In recent weeks, however, at least two clients have fired Pierce, complaining that he seemed unresponsive and appeared at times to be unversed in the details of their cases. Last week, the wife of yet another client, Kenneth Harrelson, a member of the Oath Keepers from Florida, sent a letter to her friends and associates, complaining that her husband was having “issues” getting Mr. Pierce “to do his job.”

Such complaints have come atop concerns that the sheer number of Pierce’s clients has exposed him to accusations of conflict of interest. He is, for example, representing both James Cusick Jr., the Florida pastor; as well as Cusick’s son Case. Both are charged with breaching the Capitol with another of his clients, David J. Lesperance, a member of the Cusicks’ church.

In a separate case, Mr. Pierce has been hired by another father-and-son pair, Kevin and Nathaniel Tuck, two former Florida police officers who have been charged in an indictment with a Florida Proud Boy he also represents.

However, all of that only can only come to pass if he returns to court—and the government seems worried that might never happen.

“Unfortunately, it seems that Mr. Pierce may be hospitalized and unable to communicate,” prosecutors wrote on Monday, “and it is unclear when Mr. Pierce will recover.”

Research contact: @nytimes

Progressives led by AOC call for Biden to replace Fed Chair Powell

September 1, 2021

Progressive Democrats, including New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on President Joe Biden to give the Federal Reserve a sweeping makeover by replacing Jerome Powell as chairman, CNN reports.

“We urge President Biden to reimagine a Federal Reserve focused on eliminating climate risk and advancing racial and economic justice,” the lawmakers said in a statement released on Tuesday morning, August 31.

In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, the statement was issued Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Mondaire Jones of New York, and Chuy Garcia of Illinois—all members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Powell, a Republican and former investment banker, was nominated to lead the powerful Federal Reserve by former President Donald Trump in 2017, who later sharply criticized his handpicked chairman.

Powell’s term as chair expires in February, and the White House has not said whether he will be reappointed.

According to CNN, under Powell, the Fed wasted little time responding forcefully to the economic fallout from the pandemic in March 2020. Economists have credited the Fed’s historic actions with helping to prevent a full-blown depression and financial crisis in the United States.

The Fed is tasked by Congress to maximize the number of American jobs while keeping inflation low. Although the Democrats in the statement credited the Powell-led Fed with making changes to how it approaches its goal of full employment, they voiced concern over his track record on the climate crisis and regulation.

“Under his leadership, the Federal Reserve has taken very little action to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system,” the lawmakers said in the statement.

However, the Fed did join an international network of global financial regulators focused on climate change in late 2020. In June, Powell warned that the climate crisis poses “profound challenges for the global economy and certainly the financial system.”

The AOC-led statement also criticized the Fed for “weakening” financial regulations enacted after the Great Recession, including capital and liquidity requirements, stress tests and the Volcker Rule. Powell has previously disputed the argument that the Fed has weakened regulations.

The Fed chair is appointed by the president. The term lasts four years. Looking for continuity, former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama reappointed Fed chairs that were appointed by previous presidents, both of whom were Republicans. But Trump did not reappoint Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who was appointed by Obama.

A White House official told CNN on Tuesday that when it comes to appointing Fed officials, Biden “will appoint the candidates who[m] he thinks will be the most effective in implementing monetary policy.”

The Federal Reserve declined to comment.

Research contact: @CNN

‘Putting on the dog’: Chihuahua beauty pageant gets more than 800 costumed participants

August 31, 2021

Some Chihuahuas were just born to be stars. That much became apparent during the Miss ChihuahuaTown beauty pageant, at which more than 800 of the tiny dogs modeled their best outfits, according to South West News Service (SWNS) – a British news agency.

The pageant was hosted by ChihuahuaTown Events, an event organizer that puts together “fun festivals” dedicated to the toy breed.

Proud Chihuahua owners from all over the United Kingdom attended the event at the Yardley Youth Football Club in Towcester, Northamptonshire, with their costumed pooches.

A black-and-brown short-haired Chihuahua named Twiglet won the Miss ChihuahuaTown crown at the August 22 pageant with her pink pompom dress, which fell in line with the event’s “Summer Fun” theme.

Meanwhile, Fox News reports, the top prize in the pageant’s “fancy dress” category went to a Chihuahua and Dachshund mix named Chiweenie Beanie, who donned a clown costume complete with a rainbow wig, red nose, sunglasses and party hat.

Other Chihuahua pageant participants also dazzled attendees with dog-size ball gowns, fluffy feathers, and patriotic outfits.

“It was crazy. People make these costumes and hand sew them for their dogs,” photographer Sue Thatcher, 69, told SWNS.

ChihuahuaTown was founded in 2017 and has been hosting festival events that are popular among Chihuahua owners.

The company’s owner, Kerry Brooks, told Fox News that ChihuahuaTown festivals remain the “biggest” organized event she and her team operate. 

Another event is already in the works for the holiday season, which will be called “Chi’mas.”

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

Slinky seeks a new jingle after 75 years with a National Slinky Day campaign

August 31, 2021

This month, children’s consumer goods leader Just Play, based in Boca Raton, Florida, has launched a new jingle for  Slinky, the original walking spring toy—and is inviting others to join in by creating their own remixes. Content creators are encouraged to follow @originally_slinky and create their own #SlinkyRemix.

Introduced in tandem with National Slinky Day on August 30, the new interactive campaign remixes the original Slinky jingle across social platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, leveraging influencers to get the word out and drive participation.

This initiative kicks off Just Play’s partnership with Philadelphia-based  creative agency Red Tettemer O’Connell + Partners (RTO+P).

“National Slinky Day is the perfect time to bring this iconic brand to a new generation in a fresh, relevant way,” said Geoffrey Greenberg, co-president of Just Play, in a company press release, adding, “Slinky truly is the original fidget toy and has long been an inspiration for creativity and innovation since its invention by Richard and Betty James in 1945. We’re excited to see where today’s content creators will take it.”

The campaign launches y with a 30-second video across social platforms. The clip mashes up old archival footage with new imagery of adults playing with Slinkys. The post directs consumers to Slinkys SoundCloud page, where they can access original Slinky jingle elements to create their own remix. Anyone who posts a new Slinky sound with #SlinkyRemix and tags the brand (@original_slinky) could win a Slinky Swag Pack, containing Slinkys and gear. Plus, one jingle will be featured in a national advertising campaign and win the ultimate Slinky prize package.

Slinky debuted in 1945 at Gimbels Department Store in Philadelphia and sustained popularity throughout the rest of the 20th century. When it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000, more than 250 million had been sold to date.

esearch contact: @JustPlayToys

Climate groups launch $1M ad campaign aimed at flipping six battleground Republican seats

August 31, 2021

Two groups pushing for action against climate change are launching a nearly $1 million ad campaign on Tuesday, August 31.The media blitz will use the growing threat of wildfires and extreme weather to try to persuade moderate voters to reject a handful of battleground Republicans in California and Florida, CQ Roll Call reports.

The campaign from Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters is aimed at a handful of House districts that flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2020. The messages target voters whom the groups think can be persuaded to flip the seats back.

“We know that the public is seeing the impact of the climate crisis here and now,” said Matt Gravatt, Climate Power’s managing director for campaigns and politics. “In these districts, they are seeing extreme heat, drought, wildfires. This is an issue that is front-of-mind. They are living through it every day.”

Climate Power is a strategic communications and paid media operation founded by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, League of Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club.

The investment comes as Democrats are trying to line up public support for  trillions of dollars in federal spending that they say will include the most significant climate action in the country’s history. Proposals to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions are in the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill and a package lawmakers will begin drafting next week to spend as much as $3.5 trillion on Biden priorities.

According to Roll Call, most Republican lawmakers remain unconvinced that the government should spend nearly as much as Democrats have proposed to address climate change—and they raise concerns that tough new rules in the United States will put domestic firms at a disadvantage in competition with companies in countries with less stringent rules.

GOP lawmakers in both chambers voted unanimously against the budget resolution that sets a framework for the $3.5 trillion package and will allow the Senate, which is split 50-50 between the parties, to take it up without needing the 60 votes normally required to end a filibuster on legislation.

Democrats are betting that a summer of extreme weather events and grim forecasts about the planet’s future will help turn public opinion their way, in spite of forces that are largely lined up against them heading into the midterms. 

One of the ads—which will air in Fresno and Bakersfield targeting California Representative David Valadao, features images of blazing hillsides; smoldering forests; and an expanse of parched, cracked soil.

“Our families are facing a crisis,” the narrator says. “Extreme weather is forcing families to leave their homes, abandon small businesses, suffer through record-breaking heat waves. But David Valadao turned his back on us.” The text “Voting against the Build Back Better plan” flashes across the screen.

Similar ads will air on television in the Los Angeles and Miami markets, targeting GOP Representatives Mike Garcia and Maria Elvira Salazar, in the next two weeks. Overall, the groups expect to spend $450,000 on television ads.

They also are launching $520,000 in digital ads, on sites such as Facebook and Google, targeting Valadao, Garcia and Salazar; as well as California Representatives Young Kim and Michelle Steel, and Florida Representative Carlos Gimenez. Aside from Gimenez, each of them represents a district that backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump in November, by margins ranging from less than 2 points for Steel to nearly 11 points for Valadao, according to Daily Kos Elections.

Republicans need to flip a net of five seats next year to take control of the House.

Research contact: @rollcall

Australian farmer herds sheep to form a heart in honor of his late aunt

August 30, 2021

Recently, an Australian farmer herded his sheep into a huge,” heartfelt” valentine shape—photographed from above by a drone—in order to pay tribute to his aunt after she died, People magazine reports.

Indeed, Ben Jackson recently lost his aunt Debby, according to the BBC—but he was prevented from attending her funeral by COVID-19 restrictions Down Under. Jackson was 400km (248 miles) away in New South Wales when his Aunt Debby lost her two-year cancer battle in Queensland—and regulations forbade him from travelling to Brisbane to be present at her last rites.

So, in an effort to participate and show his love, Jackson posted a video on social media on Tuesday, August 24. In it a drone captures the moment when hundreds of his sheep are released into a pasture to form a huge heart by following a trail of grain laid out for them.

Jackson told the BBC it took a few attempts to form the heart and that he got the exact pattern down after a “bit of guesswork.” 

“There was no way I could get up there and see her, say cheerio, or go to the funeral,” he told the outlet, “So I felt hopeless, helpless—I didn’t really know what to do. But because I was doing a bit of feeding already, I just decided to do a massive heart in the ground, which in all earnest, pales in comparison to hers.”

The farmer’s family received the video ahead of Aunt Debby’s funeral and played the sweet clip at the service while Jackson watched on through a live stream.

Jackson told BBC he had done other “sheep artworks” in the past and his aunt, an “incredibly giving” woman, was a fan of the animals’ designs. The video of Jackson’s tribute to his aunt has gone viral since the clip appeared on Twitter.

“She would be proud as punch to see so many people smiling and enjoying the heart I’ve made for her,” he said. “It’s just love. Love’s sensational.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Jackson shared that he started experimenting with shapes and spelling out his favorite bands’ names by leaving trails of feed for his sheep amid Australia’s drought last year.

“It certainly lifted my spirits back in the drought,” he told the outlet.

Speaking about the reaction people have had on social media to the sheep shape, the farmer said, “This heart that I’ve done for my auntie, it certainly seems like it’s had a bit of an effect across Australia. Maybe we all just need to give ourselves a big virtual hug.”

Research contact: @people

Peloton subpoenaed by DOJ, DHS for documents, information related to treadmill injuries

August 30, 2021

Peloton has been subpoenaed by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, which are asking for documents and information regarding injuries experienced on its fitness equipment, the company said on Friday, August 27.

The New York City-based fitness company said it was being investigated for injuries associated with its Tread+ treadmill in papers filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday. The SEC said it’s also investigating Peloton’s public disclosures of injuries associated with its products, Fox Business reports.

Peloton issued a voluntary recall of its Tread and Tread+ treadmill products in May after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued an “urgent warning” after one child was killed and citing multiple incidents of “small children and a pet being injured beneath the machines.”

Peloton initially pushed back at the consumer watchdog agency’s warning. Peloton said Friday it was also named in several lawsuits related to the recalls.  Peloton did not immediately return Fox Business’ request for comment.

The news comes after the connected fitness company announced on Thursday, August 26, that it would cut the price of its original spin bike by hundreds of dollars from $1,895 to $1,495.

Research contact: @FoxBusiness

Afghan crowds return to Kabul airport after blasts as America warns of further attacks

August 30, 2021

On Friday, August 27, hundreds of Afghans picked their way, through the carnage left behind by the previous day’s deadly suicide bombings outside Kabul airport in a last-ditch effort to flee the country, as the United States. and its allies rushed to complete their final evacuation flights, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The official Afghan death toll from the attack, claimed by Islamic State, was expected to rise above the current figure of 90. One hospital alone, the Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital in central Kabul, said it had received the bodies of 145 people killed.

The United States, which lost 13 members of its armed services, vowed a retaliatory strike against Islamic State’s local offshoot, known as ISIS-K.

On Friday, the Taliban, which has been manning checkpoints around the airport, criticized Washington for lax security that it said opened the way for the bombers. The Taliban have for years fought the Islamic State as the two Islamist militant groups have battled for supremacy in Afghanistan.

“The incident did not happen in an area controlled by the Islamic Emirate,” as the Taliban refer to themselves, said Habib Samangani, a member of the Taliban’s cultural commission. “That area is controlled by the Americans. We blame the Americans for it.”

amangani said Taliban intelligence officials were investigating the attack, but that the probe was still at a “preliminary stage.”

Marine Corps Geeral. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, said in a press briefing Thursday after the explosions that the threat from Islamic State, along with “other active threat streams,” remained.

“We believe it is their desire to continue these attacks and we expect those attacks to continue,” he said.

Thursday’s violence appears to have sped up the pace of evacuations from Kabul airport, with the U.K. saying it would finish flights on Friday morning. Other countries expressed regret that they wouldn’t be able to airlift all citizens and Afghans who worked with their forces and embassies.

As crowds queued up in the street outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in the early morning, dozens of Afghan men waded through open sewers lining the street to get closer to the gates.

“There was still blood and pieces of flesh and torn-off clothes on the ground,”  29-year-old man who lives near Kabul airport told the Journal. “People stepped on it trying to get to the airport.”

The crowd was smaller than it appeared to be on Thursday—with many apparently wary in the wake of the attack.

Later Friday, rumors spread of another explosion, sending people running away from the airport in all directions, leaving only Taliban fighters guarding the gates, according to a shopkeeper in the area. Taliban militants have since prevented would-be evacuees from getting near the airport, several witnesses said.

President Biden in a speech Thursday evening said he had instructed his military commanders to develop response plans to the attack.

“We will hunt you down and make you pay,” Biden said, adding that U.S. evacuations would continue despite the attack, and that efforts to extract Americans who want out of Afghanistan would continue beyond an August 31 deadline he set for withdrawing the last remaining American troops.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials and activists stepped up efforts to get as many Westerners and Afghans out of the country as they could. In recent days, access to the airport had been impeded by Taliban checkpoints and bureaucracy at the airport, leaving several evacuation flights to take off with significant numbers of empty seats.

Americans held tense negotiations with Taliban leaders to get approval to bring busloads of Afghans to the airport for flights to places such as Ukraine and Albania.

Research contact: @WSJ

 

Like falling off a log? Viral milk crate challenge on TikTok is denounced by orthopedists

August 26, 2021

The latest challenge to take the Internet by storm involves precariously stacked milk crates, balance—and some painful falls, The Guardian reports.

To complete the challenge, which recently started on TikTok, participants face a set of milk crates piled up in the shape of a pyramid—and attempt to climb to the top and then back down again without toppling over.

As videos of people falling painfully go viral on social media and rack up millions of views, doctors across the US are coming out to warn people of the dangerous injuries that can occur.

“It’s perhaps even worse than falling from a ladder,” Shawn Anthony, an orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City told The Washington Post this week, adding, “It’s very difficult to brace yourself from the falls I’ve seen in these videos. They’re putting their joints at an even higher risk for injury.”

With many hospitals nationwide already overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients and running short on space and staff, health departments are urging people to reconsider their choices before taking on the challenge.

George Gantsoudes, a Virginia-based orthopedic surgeon, wrote on Twitter: “The orthopaedic surgeries required to fix problems caused by this may fall under the umbrella of ‘elective surgeries’.”

On Monday, the Baltimore city health department tweeted: “With COVID-19 hospitalizations rising around the country, please check with your local hospital to see if they have a bed available for you, before attempting the #milkcratechallenge.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also weighed in on the challenge after comedian Conan O’Brien  joked about how he needed federal officials to grant permission to the challenge before attempting it—playing off the FDA’s approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week.

“Waiting for FDA approval before I take the Milk Crate Challenge,” O’Brien tweeted on Monday. The FDA responded shortly after, writing: “Although we regulate milk, we can’t recommend you try that. Perhaps enjoy a nice glass of 2% and return all those crates to the grocery store?”

The milk crate challenge is the latest of a slew of dares that have gone viral on TikTok. In recent months, the video-sharing platform has seen a rise of dangerous challenge—among them, the blackout challenge, which encouraged young people to hold their breath until they passed out, and the Benadryl challenge, which challenged young people to intentionally consume large amounts of the antihistamine to induce hallucinations.

In a statement about the most recent challenge, a TikTok spokesperson said: “TikTok prohibits content that promotes or glorifies dangerous acts, and we remove videos and redirect searches to our community guidelines to discourage such content. We encourage everyone to exercise caution in their behavior whether online or offline.”

Research contact: @guardian