By Chantelle A. Gyamfi
Below are last week's topics of interest broken down into Entertainment, Arts, Sports, Media, and General News
Grammys Chief Calls Her Removal Retaliation for Exposing "Boys' Club"
Deborah Dugan, the suspended chief of the Recording Academy, the organization behind the Grammy Awards, said in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that she had been removed as retaliation for uncovering a range of misconduct at the Academy, including sexual harassment, improper voting procedures, and conflicts of interest among Academy board members. Dugan's 44-page complaint details her clash with a number of powerful men at the Recording Academy during her tenure of just five months. Her accusations also represent an indictment of the Academy itself, which has struggled to reform its reputation after coming under harsh criticism for its poor record recognizing women and people of color in the major categories.
Dugan + Grammys At War Following Bullying Accusations
After just five months on the job, when Dugan was abruptly placed on leave, Recording Academy went into code-red chaos on the eve of the 62nd annual Grammys. The Academy said that Dugan was accused of bullying behavior by an assistant and then sought a $22 million payout to go quietly, a charge Dugan denied. She fired back with a 44-page complaint to the EEOC (see above). Her brutal portrait of the Recording Academy as a chummy cabal of men with expense accounts, conspiring to line their pockets on the backs of musicians, harass women at will and cover it all up, seemed to confirm many people's cynical fears about the music industry and the Grammys in particular, which have long been criticized as out of touch and lacking transparency.
Weinstein's Lawyers Say Accusers "Bragged" About Having Sex with Him
A day before opening arguments in his rape trial, Harvey Weinstein's lawyers offered a first glimpse of their plan to undermine his accusers' credibility - a trove of emails to demonstrate that some of the women allegedly assaulted by Weinstein later bragged about having an affair with him. Damon Cheronis, one of Weinstein's defense lawyers, said that the team will point to dozens of "loving emails" between the once-powerful movie producer and his accusers to suggest the sexual encounters were consensual.
"Sopranos" Actress Testifies Against Weinstein
Annabella Sciorra, an actress most known for her role in "The Sopranos", testified in excruciating detail about the night she said she was attacked by Weinstein. "I was trying to get him off me," Sciorra told the jury, "I was punching him, kicking him." However, Weinstein held her down, she said, adding: "He got on top of me and he raped me." Sciorra is the first of several women set to testify.
Rosie Perez Backs Up Sciorra's Testimony at Weinstein Trial
Actress Rosie Perez told jurors that, decades ago, fellow actress Sciorra "swore me never to tell" that she was attacked by Weinstein. Perez testified that during a phone call, "She [Sciorra] said, 'I think I was raped,'" At the time, Sciorra could not, or would not, name her attacker. Instead, she broke into tears and said, "I can't, I can't, I can't," and she hung up the phone, according to Perez. However, in another call a few months later, Perez added, Sciorra finally identified the man she claimed had assaulted her: It was Weinstein.
Cuba Gooding Jr. to Face Two More Women
Judge Curtis Farber of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan has ruled that two additional women who have accused actor Cuba Gooding Jr. of unwanted sexual touching will be allowed to testify in his groping trial, giving prosecutors the chance to argue that the actor has exhibited similar behavior for years. The two witnesses are a woman who accused Gooding of grabbing her backside and licking her neck at a hotel bar in New York in 2013, and another woman who told prosecutors that the actor groped and forcibly kissed her at a bar in California in 2018. Gooding has been charged with groping three women and prosecutors have argued that admitting older allegations as evidence in the case will help prove that more recent stories of unwanted touching were not merely accidental or otherwise innocent gestures.
Hallmark TV Chief Leaves After Dispute Over Same-Sex Wedding Ad
Bill Abbott, Hallmark's top television executive, is leaving the company weeks after the Hallmark Channel faced extreme backlash over its decision to pull commercials that featured a same-sex wedding. In December, after pressure from conservative group One Million Moms, the Hallmark Channel removed four commercials that showed brides kissing at the altar. Most of the ads in the series, for the wedding planning website Zola, featured a female couple along with heterosexual couples. One of the others focused on only the lesbian couple. The commercials caught the attention of One Million Moms, which published a petition urging the network to "please reconsider airing commercials with same-sex couples and please do not add L.G.B.T. movies to the Hallmark Channel." The petition went on to claim that such content "goes against Christian and conservative values that are important to your primary audience," and said that Hallmark would "lose viewers if you cave" to the L.G.B.T. "agenda." Hallmark pulled the commercial not long afterward, saying that the lesbian wedding scene violated the company's policy against showing "public displays of affection." In response, Zola said that it would pull its advertising from Hallmark. Days later, the network called the decision to drop the commercials a "wrong decision" and apologized for "the hurt it has unintentionally caused."
U.S. Cracks Down on Counterfeits in a Warning Shot to China
The Trump administration is moving swiftly to ensure that China is keeping its promises to protect American intellectual property, ratcheting up searches for counterfeit goods at ports and increasing pressure on e-commerce companies like Amazon to halt online sales of Chinese knockoffs. The initiative serves as a warning to China, which this month reached a partial trade agreement with the United States, that the administration will aggressively monitor Beijing's commitments.
Chinese Heritage Art Likely Destroyed in Fire
Much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America may have been ruined after a fire broke out at a building in Chinatown where its acquisitions were stored. "One hundred percent of the museum's collection, other than what is on view," said Nancy Yao Maasbach, the president of the museum. She said that the collection was one of a kind and that she was "just distraught" after receiving the news.
Hype Over Novel on Migrants Turns into Backlash for Author
Jeanine Cummins's novel, American Dirt, is receiving widespread attention. The story about migrants fleeing violence is a hit with booksellers, but critics have called it "trauma porn" that exploits another country's pain. Cummins has said she hoped the novel would drive discussions about immigration policy, and open "a back door into a bigger conversation about who we want to be as a country." While American Dirt has certainly ignited a vigorous conversation, it's hardly the one the author and publisher intended.
Experts Authenticate Painting Found in Wall
The Gustav Klimt work "Portrait of a Lady" that had gone missing from the Ricci Oddi museum in Piacenza in 1997, and was found in the museum walls last month, has been authenticated. X-rays of the painting were key to its authentication, said Jonathan Papamarenghi, a councilor in Piacenza, in a telephone interview. The X-rays showed that another portrait of a woman was underneath the painting, as had been expected, and it had the museum's stamp on it as well.
Will Stolen Masks Ever be Returned??
The Benin Bronzes, some of Africa's greatest treasures, were looted in 1897. After a chance encounter, two men made it their mission to return them. In 2004, Steve Dunstone and Timothy Awoyemi were on a boat taking part in a journey through Nigeria, organized through the Police Expedition Society, and had reached the small town of Agenebode. In the back of the crowd, Awoyemi, who was born in Britain and grew up in Nigeria, noticed two men holding what looked like political placards and just as the boat was about to push off, one of the men suddenly clambered down toward it and handed Dunstone a note. The note read: "Please help return the Benin Bronzes." At the time, he didn't know what it meant. Yet that note was the beginning of a 10-year mission that would take Dunstone and Awoyemi from Nigeria to Britain and back again, involve the grandson of one of the British soldiers responsible for the looting, and see the pair embroiled in a debate about how to right the wrongs of the colonial past that has drawn in politicians, diplomats, historians and even a royal family.
Art Experts Warn of Surge in Fake Prints
In Basel, the Swiss authorities are prosecuting a local art expert who they say sold hundreds of fake prints that he passed off online as the work of Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, and others over 10 years. Since the dawn of the internet, the problem of phony art being sold has only grown, experts say, and the primary coin of the forgery realm has long been the fake print, which is relatively easy to create, often difficult to detect, and typically priced low enough to attract undiscriminating novice buyers. The problem seems to be escalating, according to law enforcement officials in the United States and Europe. "In the last few years we have confiscated hundreds of fakes that forgers and dealers said were by Lichtenstein, Georg Baselitz, Picasso, and others, that came from Italy, Spain, and Portugal," said Elena Spahic, an officer with the Bavarian Police in Munich who specializes in art forgery. E-commerce and improvements in photomechanical reproduction techniques have made it easier for forgers to produce and sell deceptive fake prints.
Maya Moore to Skip Another Season in Protest for Criminal Justice Reform
Maya Moore, the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) Minnesota Lynx star regarded as one of the greats of the sport, will sit out for a second straight season and remove herself from contention for the Olympics so she can continue to push for criminal justice reform and the release of Jonathan Irons, a man she believes is innocent of the crime for which he was sentenced to prison. Irons is serving a 50-year sentence after being convicted of burglary and assaulting a homeowner with a gun when he was 16. Moore shocked women's basketball last winter when she announced that she was taking a season off to support Irons as he appealed his conviction. Only 29 years old at the time and still in her prime, she left the door open for a return to the Olympics this summer in Tokyo and the WNBA, where she has led the Lynx to four championships since her rookie season in 2011. Her decision to take a second year off is a blow to women's basketball. Moore's haul of Olympic gold medals from the 2012 and 2016 Summer Games, WNBA titles, and her leadership of two undefeated championship teams at the University of Connecticut qualify her as one of the greatest winners that basketball has ever known.
National Hockey League Gives Women Show - But No $$
At a time when hockey participation among male Canadians is in decline, the National Hockey League (NHL) hopes to capitalize on the rapid growth the game is experiencing among girls and women. According to U.S.A. Hockey data, participation in girls' and women's hockey in the United States has grown by 34% in the past decade, swelling in 2018-19 to more than 83,000 players. In Canada, that number was almost 87,000 in 2017-18, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation. As a result, the NHL will introduce two new events at its All-Star skills competition. One involves its players attempting trick shots from an elevated platform in the stands. The other is a three-on-three exhibition featuring top women's players, which, the NHL hopes, will be received as less of a novelty. Yet instead of paying the competitors, the NHL plans to pay three-on-three participants appearance fees. The NHL has also announced it will donate $100,000 to girls' hockey organizations.
Major League Baseball to Sponsor U.S. Softball Team
Major League Baseball (MLB) has announced an agreement to become presenting sponsor of the women's "Stand Beside Her" tour, a slate of exhibition games leading up to the Olympic tournament from July 22-28. "We're both bat and ball sports. Even though we're not the same sport, there are so many similarities that you just can't ignore," said Kim Ng, MLB's senior vice president for baseball operations. "It was important for us to make sure that they have this acknowledgment and recognition of their ability and their talent."
Senate Puts Limits on Trial Coverage
Journalists are up in arms about new restrictions on their movement inside the Capitol, which they say prevent them from easily interviewing lawmakers about the proceedings. The rules, negotiated by Republican Senate leadership, cause confusion among reporters and the Capitol Police expected to enforce them. Even sedate C-SPAN is aggrieved, calling on the Senate to allow its television crews to document the trial, instead of the government-controlled cameras that -- as was the case during Bill Clinton's trial 21 years ago -- will limit what viewers see and hear inside the Senate chamber.
Pompeo Denounces Media + Journalist
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo escalated his clash with a respected National Public Radio journalist, lashing out at her and what he called the "unhinged" news media in an extraordinary statement. A day earlier, he abruptly ended an interview with her and delivered what the news outlet described as a profanity-laced rant.
British Broadcasting Corporation Chief to Leave
Tony Hall, director general of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), announced his resignation after 7 years of leadership. In a statement, Hall said that he would resign this summer to become chairman of the National Gallery, an unexpected announcement that made no mention of the gender pay-gap scandal that has dogged the BBC in recent years.
Brazil Accuses Investigative Reporter of Cyber Crimes
American journalist Glenn Greenwald has been charged by federal prosecutors in Brazil with cybercrimes for his role in bringing to light cellphone messages that have embarrassed prosecutors and tarnished the image of an anticorruption task force. In a criminal complaint, prosecutors in the capital, Brasília, accused Greenwald of being part of a "criminal organization" that hacked into the cellphones of several prosecutors and other public officials last year. The news organization Greenwald co-founded, The Intercept Brazil, published articles based on the leaked cellphone messages that raised questions about the integrity and the motives of key members of Brazil's justice system. The criminal case has set off alarms over press freedoms in Brazil during the Bolsonaro era.
Trump's Impeachment Defense Argues No Crime + No Case
As President Trump's impeachment trial opened, his lawyers emphasized a striking argument: Even if he did abuse his powers in an attempt to bully Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election on his behalf, it would not matter, because the House of Representatives never accused him of committing an ordinary crime. Their argument is widely disputed. It cuts against the consensus among Constitutional scholars that impeachment exists to remove officials who abuse power.
McConnell Seeks to Make Impeachment Trial Speedy
Senator Mitch McConnell sought to deflect charges that he was trying to stack the deck in favor of Trump in the impeachment trial by repeating that he was merely replicating the Senate's only modern precedent: the 1999 trial of President Bill Clinton. "What was good enough for President Clinton in an impeachment trial should have been good enough for President Trump," he told reporters this month, as Democrats pressed him to include a new guarantee for witnesses and documents. "And all we are doing here is saying we are going to get started in exactly the same way that 100 senators agreed to 20 years ago." However, when McConnell finally released a draft of his resolution, less than 24 hours before the Senate was expected to consider it, there were several meaningful differences from the rules that governed Clinton's impeachment, some of which were in line with Trump's preferences and his legal team's strategy. Like in the Clinton trial, the Democratic House impeachment managers and Trump's defense lawyers had up to 24 hours to argue their respective cases for and against conviction on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. In 1999, the Senate imposed no additional limit on how the time was used. McConnell's proposal stated that each side must complete its work within two days, meaning in the fastest possible scenario, the Senate could vote to convict or acquit by the end of January.
Republicans Block Subpoenas for New Evidence as Impeachment Trial Begins
A divided Senate began the Trump impeachment trial in utter acrimony, as Republicans blocked Democrats' efforts to subpoena witnesses and documents related to Ukraine and moderate Republicans forced last-minute changes to rules that had been tailored to Trump's wishes. In a series of party-line votes punctuating 12 hours of debate, Senate Republicans turned back every attempt by Democrats to subpoena documents from the White House, State Department, and other agencies, as well as testimony from White House officials that could shed light on the core charges against Trump.
Parnas Asks That Barr Step Away from The Case
Lawyers for Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who was involved in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of Trump, asked Attorney General William P. Barr disqualify himself from overseeing his criminal case because he has too many conflicts of interest. Parnas, who was charged in October with violating federal campaign finance laws, has instead requested that a special prosecutor be appointed to handle his case.
Parnas Says He Has Recording of Trump Calling for Ambassador's Firing
Parnas also said that he had turned over to congressional Democrats a recording from 2018 of the president ordering the removal of Marie L. Yovanovitch as the United States ambassador to Ukraine. The recording emerged as Democrats continued to press the Senate to call more witnesses and seek additional evidence for the trial.
Trump Accused of Trying to Cheat in 2020 Election
The House Democratic impeachment managers began formal arguments in the Senate trial, presenting a meticulous and scathing case for convicting Trump and removing him from office on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House prosecutor, took the lectern in the chamber as senators sat silently preparing to weigh Trump's fate. He accused Trump of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine for help "to cheat" in the 2020 presidential election.
Trump Removes Obama-Era Pollution Controls
The Trump administration finalized a rule to strip away environmental protections for streams, wetlands, and groundwater, handing a victory to farmers, fossil fuel producers, and real estate developers who claimed that Obama-era rules had shackled them with onerous and unnecessary burdens.
Envrironmental Protection Agency Will Let Cities Dump More Raw Sewage into Rivers for Years to Come
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made it easier for cities to keep dumping raw sewage into rivers by letting them delay or otherwise change federally imposed fixes to their sewer systems, according to interviews with local officials, water utilities, and their lobbyists. Cities have long complained about the cost of meeting federal requirements to upgrade aging sewer systems, many of which release untreated waste directly into waterways during heavy rains -- a problem that climate change worsens as rainstorms intensify. These complaints have gained new traction with the Trump administration, which has been more willing to renegotiate the agreements that dictate how, and how quickly, cities must overhaul their sewers.
Secret Domestic Terrorism Investigation Reveals Neo-Nazi Group Recruiting Efforts
A secret domestic terrorism investigation revealed that a violent neo-Nazi group called "The Base" was recruiting cells across the United States. The Base illustrates what law enforcement officials and extremism experts describe as an expanding threat, particularly from adherents who cluster in small cells organized under the auspices of a larger group that spreads violent ideology. Experts who have studied the Base say that it seems to have followed the model of Al Qaeda and other violent Islamic groups in working to radicalize independent cells or even lone wolves who would be inspired to plot their own attacks. They describe the Base as an "accelerationist" organization, seeking to speed the collapse of the country and give rise to a state of its own in the Pacific Northwest by killing minorities, particularly African-Americans and Jews.
Trump Targets "Birth Tourism", Limiting Visas for Pregnant Women
Trump's administration rolled out a new rule that aims to limit "birth tourism" by women who enter the United States on tourist visas with the intention of obtaining citizenship for their babies born on American soil. Under the State Department regulation, pregnant women applying for visitor visas could be required to prove they have a specific reason for travel beyond giving birth, such as a medical necessity. A State Department official said that U.S. officials will not ask all female visa applicants if they are pregnant, or intend to become pregnant, but instead will only raise the issue if they have "a specific articulable reason" to believe the sole purpose of the U.S. visit is to give birth.
Religious School Choice Case May Yield Landmark Supreme Court Decision
A potential landmark education case before the Supreme Court has pulled in heavy hitters on both sides of the school choice debate who are trying to shape a ruling that could end decades of wrangling over school vouchers and religious education. Oral arguments in the case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, have attracted briefs from the Justice Department - which hopes that the Court will bolster the administration's marquee education issue: Public funding for private schools - and Democratic state governments, school boards and teachers' unions - who argue that a ruling in favor of a disbanded voucher program in Montana could open the floodgates for publicly funded religious education while draining traditional public schools.
Supreme Court Will Not Rule Quickly on Obamacare Appeal
The Supreme Court rejected a request from Democratic state officials and the House of Representatives to quickly consider whether to hear an appeal of a decision with the potential to wipe out the entire Affordable Care Act. The move means that the Court will almost certainly not hear the case in its current term, which ends in June. Democrats consider healthcare a winning issue, and wanted the Court to act quickly to keep the fate of the Affordable Care Act in the public eye during the presidential election. In the meantime, the law remains almost entirely intact, but faces an uncertain future.
Psychologist Admits to Waterboarding Guantanamo Bay Detainees
James E. Mitchell, a psychologist working as a contractor for the CIA, had helped develop what was euphemistically known as "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- a program of torture. Mitchell, amongst others, is set to testify about the use of those "enhanced interrogation techniques" in 2002, where he and others waterboarded detainees suspected of being Al Qaeda operatives who might have had information that could save American lives.
Climate Change Takes Center Stage at World Economic Forum
While climate change was at the top of the list of priorities at the World Economic Forum even before the bushfires broke out in Australia, it has now become a primary focus as those fires -- preceded by others in California -- along with rising sea levels, flooding, and supercharged storms, are putting more pressure on the politicians, business executives, financiers, thought leaders, and others who attend to show they are part of the solution to one of the world's most pressing challenges.
Mnuchin Takes Jab at Greta Thunberg
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dismissed criticisms by the climate activist Greta Thunberg, saying that she lacked the expertise to call for a complete divestment from the fossil fuel industry. "After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us," he said at a press briefing at the World Economic Forum. Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who has led demonstrations around the world, spoke at the forum and urged business leaders to stop investing in fossil fuels immediately. "I wonder, what will you tell your children was the reason to fail and leave them facing the climate chaos you knowingly brought upon them?", she said. When asked about her statements, Mnuchin responded: "Is she the chief economist? Who is she? I'm confused."
World Leaders Gather to Mark Holocaust
Dozens of presidents, premiers, and potentates descended upon Israel in an extraordinary show of collective resolve to fight anti-Semitism. The gathering in Jerusalem, timed ahead of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, was orchestrated to focus even more on the present day, with anti-Jewish violence and rhetoric spreading across Europe and North America.
Trump Tells Anti-Abortion Marchers, "Unborn Children Have Never Had a Stronger Defender in the White House"
Demonstrators flooded the National Mall in anticipation of an historic moment for the anti-choice movement: the first sitting president to address the annual March for Life in person. Trump did not disappoint them: "Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House," he told the crowd of religious-school groups and anti-choice activists who packed the mall to hear him speak. Previous Republican presidents who opposed choice sent video messages or delegated surrogates to speak on their behalves at the march.
Trump Administration Threatens California Over Abortion
The Trump administration is threatening to withhold federal money from California if the state does not drop its requirement that private insurers cover abortions. In an announcement on the morning of the March for Life, the high-profile annual anti-abortion rights demonstration, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would give California 30 days to commit to lifting the requirement. If California does not do so, the administration said that it will take steps to cut off money from one or more federal funding streams.
Cities Prepare for the Worst as Trump's Food Stamp Cuts Near
Come April, able-bodied adults without children may lose their food stamps if they do not immediately find work. By the administration's own estimates, nearly 700,000 people across the country will be dropped from the food-stamp rolls.
Conservative States Want $$ to Start Preparing for "Disaster" - But Just Don't Call It Climate Change
The Trump administration is set to distribute billions of dollars to coastal states mainly in the South to help steel them against natural disasters worsened by climate change; but there's a catch: States that qualify must first explain why they need the money, prompting officials to get creative in their proposals, tiptoeing around the phrases "climate change" and "global warming".
Sheldon Silver's Corruption Conviction Partly Overturned
In 2018, Sheldon Silver, a Democrat from Manhattan's Lower East Side, had been sentenced to seven years in prison for accepting nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking official actions in separate schemes on behalf of a cancer researcher, Robert N. Taub of Columbia University, and two real estate developers. In its unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld Silver's conviction in the real estate scheme and a separate money-laundering count, but overturned his conviction related to his arrangement with Taub.
Puerto Rico Botches Aid Delivery
A man in Puerto Rico walked into a huge warehouse and livestreamed a shocking discovery: Cases of bottled water still encased in plastic, pallets of new diapers, baby formula and wipes, boxes of wrapped tarpaulins, portable stoves, and propane gas - unused emergency aid sat gathering dust in a government property in the city of Ponce, in southern Puerto Rico, as thousands of people prepared to spend their third week sleeping outside to stay safe as a swarm of earthquakes continued to assail the island. There were no signs of emergency workers or any effort to distribute the disaster supplies. The video immediately exploded on social media. Infuriated Puerto Ricans showed up at the warehouse to demand an explanation, jeer at government officials, and take some of the supplies. Gov. Wanda Vázquez, faced with the biggest crisis of her tenure, fired Puerto Rico's chief of emergency management, temporarily handed the reins of the agency over to the National Guard, and ordered an investigation into why the supplies had not been given to people in need.
Gov. Cuomo Wants to Cut New York's Medicaid Costs
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled plans to seek billions of dollars in savings from what he described as the primary culprit: runaway Medicaid spending. New York's enormous Medicaid bill is a result of both its size -- with more than six million New Yorkers enrolled -- and generous array of benefits, resulting in an inexorable rise in costs. Medicaid, a state and federal program that provides health care to low-income residents, accounted for a third of the state's projected $6.1 billion budget gap. In releasing his 2021 executive budget proposal, Cuomo promised to address that gap by reconvening a Medicaid Redesign Team -- first empaneled in 2011, when hr took office and faced a $10 billion projected deficit -- to identify $2.5 billion in savings, suggesting that New York City, in particular, would need to rein in costs.
New York City's "Train Daddy" Subway Chief Resigns
Andy Byford arrived two years ago to turn around the city's failing subway, making such significant progress that earned him the nickname "train daddy". Last week, Byford resigned, sowing doubt about the future of extensive plans that are intended to modernize the nation's largest subway system after he increasingly clashed with the one official who has the final say over the subways, Gov. Cuomo.
Local Prosecutor in Washington D.C. Sues Trump Inaugural Committee
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine filed suit against Trump's Inaugural Committee, accusing the organization of wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in violation of a local law prohibiting self-dealing by nonprofit organizations. Racine said that the committee, which organized Trump's January 2017 inaugural celebration, vastly overpaid to use ballrooms and meeting rooms at the Trump International Hotel near the White House. For example, the hotel charged the committee $175,000 to use a ballroom that another nonprofit group had just rented for $5,000, according to the complaint, filed in Superior Court in Washington D.C. The complaint also alleges that the committee paid at least $300,000 for a private hotel reception for 1,200 guests to honor Ivanka Trump, the president's oldest daughter, and her brothers, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, overriding the concerns of some staffers who argued that the expenditure violated spending rules.
Mississippi Prison Reports More Killings
Prison officials in Mississippi reported that two inmates were beaten to death at the state penitentiary in Parchman, coming after a burst of violence across the state that left five inmates dead and underscored the troubles facing a correctional system the new governor has called a "catastrophe." Parchman, a maximum-security prison notorious for its harsh conditions, has been on lockdown since a gang-fueled spate of violence and disorder several weeks ago. Critics have urged federal officials to investigate conditions that they have condemned as unconstitutional and inhumane, and 29 inmates filed a lawsuit last week against state officials, casting the recent killings as the "culmination of years of severe understaffing and neglect."
When Banking While Black Goes Wrong
Sauntore Thomas, a black man from Detroit, had a victory over profiling when he settled a race discrimination case against his former employer. However, when he tried to deposit the money at his TCF Bank, he was questioned and met with resistance that escalated with a call to the police and what amounted to a claim of racial discrimination against the bank. The lawsuit calls it "banking while black." After the assistant branch manager called the police, Thomas was questioned by two Livonia Police Department officers in the lobby for about an hour. His lawyer, Deborah Gordon, says that he was also accused of fraud, even after she texted screenshots of documents showing that he had just won the funds from the settlement.
Former Chief of Wells Fargo Fined
John Stumpf, the former chief executive of Wells Fargo, was fined $17.5 million -- the largest individual fine in the history of the bank's main federal regulator -- for his role in a toxic sales culture that foisted unwanted products and sham bank accounts on millions of customers. In addition, as part of settlements with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Stumpf agreed to a lifetime ban from the banking industry.
Analysis Ties Hacking of Bezos' Phone to Saudi Leader's Account
A forensic analysis of Amazon chief Jeff Bezos' cellphone found with "medium to high confidence" that the device was hacked after he received a video from a WhatsApp account reportedly belonging to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. After Bezos received the video over WhatsApp in 2018, his phone began sending unusually large volumes of data, according to a report summing up investigators' findings. The investigators believed that Prince Mohammed was used as a conduit because the message would not raise suspicions if it came from him.
Twitter to A.I. Company: Stop Using Our Data!
A startup A.I. company that has licensed its powerful facial recognition technology to hundreds of law enforcement agencies is facing attacks by Twitter. Twitter sent a letter to the company, Clearview AI, demanding that it stop taking photos and any other data from the social media website "for any reason" and delete any data that it previously collected. The cease-and-desist letter accused Clearview of violating Twitter's policies.
Google Wants You to Pay if You Want to Use Its Data
Facing an increasing number of requests for its users' information, Google began charging law enforcement and other government agencies this month for legal demands seeking data, such as emails, location tracking information, and search queries. Google's fees range from $45 for a subpoena and $60 for a wiretap to $245 for a search warrant, and various fees for other legal requests. A spokesman for Google said the fees were intended in part to help offset the costs of complying with warrants and subpoenas.
Britain Unveils Privacy Protection Plans for Children
Britain unveiled sweeping new online protections for children, issuing expansive rules despite widespread objections from a number of tech companies and trade groups. The rules will require social networks, gaming apps, connected toys, and other online services that are likely to be used by people under 18 to overhaul how they handle those users' personal information. In particular, they will require platforms like YouTube and Instagram to turn on the highest possible privacy settings by default for minors, and turn off by default data-mining practices, like targeted advertising and location tracking for children in the country. The new rules are the most comprehensive protections to arise from heightened global concern that popular online services exploit children's information, suggest inappropriate content to them and fail to protect them from sexual predators. The British children's protections far outstrip narrower rules in the United States, which apply only to online services aimed at children under 13.
London Police Will Start Using Face ID
London's police department said that it would begin using facial recognition to spot criminal suspects with video cameras as they walk the streets, adopting a level of surveillance that is rare outside of China. The decision is a major development in the use of a technology that has set off a worldwide debate about the balance between security and privacy. Police departments contend that the software gives them a way to catch criminals who may otherwise avoid detection. Critics say that the technology is an invasion of privacy, has spotty accuracy, and is being introduced without adequate public discussion.
U.N. Court Orders Myanmar to Protect Rohingya Muslims
The International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled that Myanmar must take action to protect Rohingya Muslims, who have been killed and driven from their homes in what the country's accusers call a campaign of genocide. The court said that Myanmar must "take all measures within its power" to prevent its military or others from carrying out genocidal acts against the Rohingya, who it said faced "real and imminent risk."
Putin Outlines Political Overhaul, Including Possible Post for Himself
Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has submitted several constitutional amendments that empower a previously toothless advisory council as a powerful policy arbiter, setting up what could be a future role for himself as Russia's long-term paramount leader. The sudden changes have spawned a host of theories about what Putin is up to and why he is moving so fast to reshape a political order largely unchanged for more than quarter of a century.
Iran Covers Up Missile Attack on Ukrainian Jetliner
A Revolutionary Guards officer spotted what he thought was an unidentified aircraft near Tehran's international airport - Iran had just fired a barrage of ballistic missiles at American forces, the country was on high alert for an American counterattack, and the Iranian military was warning of incoming cruise missiles. The officer tried to reach the command center for authorization to shoot but couldn't get through. Then, with just seconds to decide whether to pull the trigger, he fired an antiaircraft missile. Then another. The plane, which turned out to be a Ukrainian jetliner with 176 people on board, crashed and exploded in a ball of fire. For days, they refused to tell even President Hassan Rouhani, whose government was publicly denying that the plane had been shot down. When they finally told him, he gave them an ultimatum: come clean or he would resign. Only then, 72 hours after the plane crashed, did Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, step in and order the government to acknowledge its fatal mistake.
China Says That New Virus Can Be Spread by Humans
A top Chinese government-appointed expert says that Coronavirus, the mysterious respiratory illness, can be transmitted by humans, heightening concern about the outbreak. The authorities had previously said the deadly virus seemed capable of spreading only from animals to humans. The World Health Organization announced that it was convening an emergency meeting "to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it."
Coronavirus Outbreak Tests China's Leadership
Facing growing pressure to contain a deadly viral outbreak that has spread halfway around the world, China's ruling Communist Party raced to confront the disease, slapping restrictions on the city where it started and warning that anyone who hides infections will be "forever nailed to history's pillar of shame." The response by the Chinese leadership, which has come under intensifying criticism that it has been slow to acknowledge the severity of the outbreak, came as fatalities from the disease rose rapidly and global financial markets were rattled by the possibility of a pandemic emanating from the world's most populous country during the Lunar New Year -- Asia's heaviest travel season.
Already, cases of the pneumonia-like virus have been found in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States. Airports in Atlanta and Chicago said they would screen passengers from Wuhan, joining airports in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and cities around the world in doing so. North Korea temporarily closed its borders to foreign tours, the vast majority of them from China.
China Says That It Will Ban Plastics That Pollute Its Land and Water
The Chinese government has introduced measures to drastically cut the amount of disposable plastic items that often become a hazard and an eyesore in the country, even deep in the countryside and in the oceans. Among the new guidelines are bans on the import of plastic waste and the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags in major cities by the end of this year. Other sources of plastic garbage will be banned in Beijing, Shanghai, and wealthy coastal provinces by the end of 2022, and that rule will extend nationwide by late 2025.
Russia is Using Twitter Trolls to Jolt South America
Following a rash of protests across South American countries, State Department analysts have found that Russian-linked Twitter accounts sought to sow confusion in South American nations. Analysts say that the accounts are part of an influence campaign, the latest evidence of a global disinformation war that is more insidious and efficient than traditional propaganda of years past.
Chinese City Uses Facial Recognition to Shame Pajama Wearers
When officials in an eastern Chinese city were told to root out "uncivilized behavior," they were given a powerful tool to carry out their mission: facial recognition software. Among their top targets? People wearing pajamas in public. The urban management department of Suzhou has sparked outrage online after it published surveillance photos taken by street cameras of seven residents wearing pajamas in public along with parts of their names, government identification numbers and the locations where their "uncivilized behavior" had taken place.