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Far-Right Republicans Introduce Fringe Bill To Fire Fauci

Washington (AFP) - Several Republican lawmakers, eager to blame a US government official for the response to the coronavirus pandemic, introduced a bill Tuesday to fire Anthony Fauci, the face of American efforts to combat Covid-19. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene led a handful of colleagues in announcing the so-called Fire Fauci Act, which would reduce the famed infectious disease expert's government salary to zero and require the Senate to confirm someone to fill his position. Fauci, who has advised seven US presidents, had become a trusted figure in the government's Covid-19 response, ...

Federal Reserve Expected To Maintain Low Rates Despite Rising Prices

Washington (AFP) - Even in the face of rising inflation, the lackluster progress on restoring jobs lost during the pandemic means the US Federal Reserve is unlikely to budge on monetary policy when it meets next week. Central bank chief Jerome Powell has made it clear the Fed will hold the line on its massive bond buying program and rock-bottom lending rates until data reflect lasting improvement in employment across all economic strata. But the recent surge in inflation in the world's largest economy is ramping up the pressure on policymakers to begin to pull back on stimulus programs. Hints ...

US Recovers Over Half Of Ransom Paid To Colonial Pipeline Hackers

Washington (AFP) - The US Justice Department announced Monday that it had recovered more than half of the $4.4 million paid by Colonial Pipeline to Russia-based ransomware extortionists Darkside, who had forced the shutdown of a major US fuel network. "Today, we turned the tables on Darkside by going after the entire ecosystem that fuels ransomware and digital extortion attacks, including criminal proceeds in the form of digital currency," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. The seizure came one month after the group gave the US government a security scare by breaking into the computer s...

Interior Department Halts Oil Drilling In Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Washington (AFP) - US President Joe Biden's administration announced Tuesday it was halting petroleum development activity in the Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reversing a move by former president Donald Trump to allow drilling. The Interior Department said it was notifying firms of the freeze, pending a comprehensive environmental review that will determine whether leases in the area known as ANWR should be "reaffirmed, voided or subject to additional mitigation measures," the agency said in a statement. The announcement deals a blow to the long-contested quest of oil companies to...

Trump Guilty Of 'Egging On' Capitol Riot, Says Facebook Oversight Panel Co-Chair

Washington (AFP) - Donald Trump encouraged the Capitol rioters and so earned his Facebook ban, but the social media giant's rules are in "shambles" and need fixing, the co-chair of the network's oversight panel said Sunday. The panel agreed just days ago that Facebook was right to oust the ex-president for his comments regarding the deadly January 6 rampage, though it sidestepped an overall decision on whether he will ever be allowed back. "He issued these statements which were just egging on -- with perfunctory asking for peace -- but mostly he was just egging them on to continue," oversight ...

Biden Says Systemic Racism Is A 'Stain On Our Nation's Soul'

Washington (AFP) - President Joe Biden called systemic racism a "stain on our nation's soul" in a televised address to the nation Tuesday after a white former police officer was convicted of murdering a Black man during an arrest. Biden spoke out after a jury in Minneapolis found Derek Chauvin guilty of intentionally suffocating handcuffed George Floyd as he lay defenseless, with the officer's knee pressing on his neck for more than nine minutes. The president called for "confronting head on systemic racism and the racial disparities that exist in policing and our cri...

Alabama Could Welcome Amazon's First Union In The US As Monday Deadline Looms

Birmingham -- Poor and conservative, the state of Alabama seemed like the perfect place for companies to do business without having to deal with labor unions. That is, until a handful of Amazon employees stood up to the world's richest person and demanded representation at the bargaining table. It comes to a head this week: Monday is the deadline for employees at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama to vote on establishing the first union on US soil at the massive tech company. The case is being closely watched because it could pave the way for further unionization in the United...

'Put Me In Jail': Fierce Vaccine Resistance By Far-Right Republicans

Martinsburg (United States) (AFP) - Patients stream steadily into the Covid vaccine center that Todd Engle can almost touch from his West Virginia backyard. But like scores of other Republican voters, force would likely be required to get a dose into his arm. Many of the party's millions of supporters are among the nation's most vaccine-skeptical people, which experts see as a dangerous barrier to finally taming the virus that has killed more than 540,000 in the United States. "If they try to make me get it, they're just going to (have to) put me in jail," the 58-year-old Engle told AFP from t...

Trump And Giuliani Sued For Capitol Attack Under 'Ku Klux Klan Act'

Washington (AFP) - A senior Democratic congressman sued former president Donald Trump Tuesday, accusing him of violating the 19th century "Ku Klux Klan Act" by supporting the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Bennie Thompson accused Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers of violating the 1871 act by supporting efforts to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the new US president. Thompson, who is Black and the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, cited a law originally created to protect the rights of African Americans after t...

Train Carrying Toxic Chemicals Derails, Catches Fire In Tennessee

By AFP

Washington — A train carrying toxic chemicals derailed in Tennessee and caught fire, prompting a large-scale evacuation, firefighters said Thursday.

The train derailed near Maryville, close to the city of Knoxville, carrying acrylonitrile, a flammable, toxic compound that poses respiratory risks, firefighter Kermit Easterling said.

Some 5,000 residents are being evacuated, and firefighters are going door to door wearing breathing equipment to get people away from the fire, he said.

Firefighters are not battling the flames because of the dangers of acrylonitrile, and hazmat — hazardous material — teams have been called in to access the situation.

The train, which is also carrying containers of liquid petroleum gas, derailed just before midnight Wednesday, Easterling said.

There have been no reports of injuries, and a shelter has been set up at a local school for evacuated residents, the firefighter said.

File Photo: Freight Train Near Nashville Union Station, Reading Tom via Flickr 

New York Escaped Convict Shot Dead By Police: Reports

New York (AFP) – One of two convicts who escaped from a maximum-security New York prison was shot dead by police Friday after three weeks on the run, according to media reports.

Richard Matt, 49, was killed by law enforcement and his fellow escapee David Sweat, 35, was still being pursued by police, CNN reported.

The shooting took place in Franklin County in upstate New York, where police had focused search efforts after several reports the men had been spotted in the area.

The inmates used power tools to cut their way out of their cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility before dawn on June 6 in a spectacular prison break, triggering an intense weeks-long manhunt in the state.

Authorities said earlier Friday the pair might have been heading toward Canada, and warned border guards to be on alert.

The hunt was centered in an area about 50 miles from the prison and roughly 30 miles from the border with Canada.

Screenshot via

This story is breaking and is being updated.

Rupert Murdoch Setting Exit From Media Empire

New York (AFP) – Rupert Murdoch will step down as chief executive of his media-entertainment conglomerate 21st Century Fox and hand the job to his son James, his news channel said Thursday.

Fox News confirmed the succession plan shortly after other media reports, starting with CNBC television.

The 84-year-old tycoon will remain executive chairman of the group with his other son Lachlan as co-chairman in the move.

No timetable was given, but CNBC said the change would take place later this year or in early 2016.

The New York Times said the board would take up the transition plan next week.

The company did not immediately respond to an AFP query on the report.

James Murdoch, 42, will take over day to day management at Fox, working “in tandem with his 43-year-old brother Lachlan and his father,” according to CNBC.

Fox News, the cable channel which competes with CNN and MSNBC, will continue to be run by its president Roger Ailes, “reporting directly to Rupert Murdoch,” according to the network.

The company — which includes the Fox Hollywood studios and a range of television entities — was created two years ago when Murdoch broke off the struggling publishing operations of his News Corp. empire from the faster-growing media and entertainment operations.

Rupert Murdoch and his family remained in control of both companies after the split. The Australian-born Murdoch is executive chairman at News Corp. with his son Lachlan listed as co-chairman.

At Fox, Murdoch holds the title of chairman and chief executive, with Chase Carey president and chief operating officer and James Murdoch the co-chief operating officer.

According to CNBC, Carey was expected to step down from his role while remaining an adviser to the company.

Rupert Murdoch has spent a lifetime building his News Corp empire from a single Australian newspaper he inherited.

He moved to London where his purchase of the weekly News of the World in 1969 gave him a high-profile foothold in the British market. He went on to buy The Sun, a daily which he turned into a popular and big-selling tabloid.

The success of his London-based newspapers helped finance his 1981 purchase of The Times and Sunday Times, both prestigious broadsheets, in an acquisition that met with intense opposition from parts of Britain’s establishment.

He relocated to the United States where more bold acquisitions followed and where he became a naturalized US citizen in 1985.

The empire came under pressure in recent years from the slump in newspaper revenues, and a scandal in Britain which led to the shutdown of News of the World after the revelation the tabloid hacked into the phones of a murdered teenager and the families of dead soldiers.

The split in 2013 was aimed at “unlocking value” in the print and entertainment operations.

In the latest quarter, Fox reported net income of $975 million on revenues of $6.5 billion. The company includes the Fox studios in Hollywood and a global array of cable and broadcasting operations, including the Fox television entities, National Geographic Channels and local television stations, along with a stake in the Sky satellite television service.

News Corp — which also owns Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones — for the same period reported a profit of $23 million on $2 billion in revenues.

Fox shares fell 0.76 percent to $32.60 on the news.

File Photo: Rupert Murdoch, pictured on July 17, 2014, is preparing to step down as chief executive of the media-entertainment conglomerate 21st Century Fox and hand the job to his son James, CNBC television reports. (AFP/File / Jason Reed)

This post has been updated.

At Last, ‘Pharoah’ Rules As 12th Triple Crown Winner

New York (AFP) – American Pharoah ended American racing’s 37-year Triple Crown drought, romping to victory in the Belmont Stakes.

The sweet-striding bay colt, ridden by Victor Espinoza and trained by Bob Baffert, added the 1 1/2-mile Belmont to his Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins to become the 12th horse to sweep all three — and the first since Affirmed in 1978.

Since then 13 horses had claimed the first two jewels of the Triple Crown only to be undone by the Belmont.

That list of near-misses included three horses trained by Baffert and two ridden by Espinoza.

“Thirty-seven years,” Baffert said. “I’m part of this but you know what, that little horse, he deserved it. He’s a great horse.”

Espinoza could hardly believe it as he cantered his mount toward the winner’s circle to delirious cheers from a crowd of 90,000.

“Wow! Wow!” Espinoza said. “It’s just an amazing thing. He’s just an amazing horse!”

His mount broke slowly from the gate, but responded quickly as Espinoza took him straight to the lead.

He stayed in front the rest of the way, the first favorite to win the Belmont since Afleet Alex in 2005.

“I’m thinking about my parents,” an emotional Baffert said as he made his way to the winner’s circle, surrounded by his family. “I wish they were alive to see this.”

The 62-year-old trainer has known Triple Crown heartbreak, having saddled Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) for Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins, only to see them fall short in the Belmont.

“I was really getting to dislike this trophy. It’s caused me a lot of misery,” Baffert said as he accepted it.

Espinoza was aboard War Emblem for that failed Triple try in 2002, and he had another Triple Crown chance go awry at the Belmont on California Chrome last year.

This time, Espinoza said, he knew at the first turn that Pharoah wouldn’t let him down.

“He broke a step slow, but in two jumps I was in the lead,” said Espinoza, who was in full control of the pace.

“Steady, steady all the way round, it was the best feeling ever across the first turn,” he said.

Godolphin-owned Frosted, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by Joel Rosario, made a move heading into the final straight, but American Pharoah pulled away remorselessly to beat him by 5 1/2-lengths.

Keen Ice, trained by Dale Romans and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, was third.

It was a seventh straight win in eight career starts for American Pharoah, who captured his three Triple Crown victories in varying style.

He ground down the opposition in the Kentucky Derby to win by a length, while in the Preakness he shrugged off a driving rainstorm and muddy track to go wire to wire and win by seven lengths.

While the field of eight was the smallest in the Belmont since 2007, over the course of the three Triple Crown races American Pharoah defeated a total of 31 challengers — second most behind the 32 beaten by War Admiral in 1937.

The son of Pioneerof the Nile, known for his short tail and kind demeanor, inscribed his mis-spelled name among the Thoroughbred greats.

American Pharoah ended a record Triple Crown drought. The previous record gap was 25 years, from Citation in 1948 to Secretariat in 1973.

The 70s proved a golden age for the elusive feat, with Secretariat followed by Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in ’78.

Then the long winter set in and the difficulty of winning three races at three different circuits in just five weeks began to seem insurmountable.

An increasing focus by breeders on speed over stamina had the 1 1/2-mile Belmont looking an ever more daunting task for modern Thoroughbreds.

Some wondered if the feat first achieved by Sir Barton in 1919 would ever be seen again.

“I was here in town, I was listening to every news station and people were saying, ‘Well, you know, it never happens,'” Baffert said.

“But there’s something about this horse. He just brought it every time, and he’s just enjoyment to be around.”

Ahmed Zayat, the Egyptian-born entrepreneur who bred and owns American Pharoah, said it was a victory for horse racing fans — a group steadily dwindling in the United States.

But more importantly it was a proof of American Pharoah’s quality.

“I can sit here for hours and praise the brilliant job that Bob, Victor, and team have done,” he said.

“But at this juncture it’s about the defining of the greatness of American Pharoah.”

Photo: American Pharoah, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 147th Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park on June 6, 2015 in Elmont, New York. (AFP / Timothy A. Clary)

Congress Curbs NSA Surveillance, Sends Bill To Obama

Washington (AFP) – The Senate passed landmark legislation Tuesday that ends the government’s bulk telephone data dragnet, reining in the most controversial surveillance program since the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

The House of Representatives has already passed the measure, which also reauthorizes key national security programs that had lapsed early this week. With the Senate rejecting Republican attempts to modify the bill, it now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Photo: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell heads to to his office at the US Capitol on June 1, 2015 in Washington, DC (Getty/AFP / Chip Somodevilla)

This story is breaking and is being updated.

Blatter Wins FIFA Vote Amid Corruption Storm

Zurich (AFP) – Sepp Blatter won the FIFA presidency for a fifth time Friday after his challenger Prince Ali bin al Hussein withdrew just before a scheduled second round.

The veteran Swiss powerbroker fell seven votes short of the required 140 majority in the first round of voting.

Just before the second round was about to start the Jordanian prince, a FIFA vice president who had campaigned on the need for reform, withdrew thanking those “brave enough” to vote for him.

Blatter, 79, has been FIFA’s president since 1998 and has defied European calls to stand down as corruption scandals tarnish the multi-billion dollar body’s image.

Photo: AFP / Fabrice Coffrini

U.S. Removes Cuba From Terror Blacklist

Washington (AFP) – The United States removed Cuba from its blacklist as a state sponsor of terrorism Friday, in a landmark move aimed at paving the way towards normalizing ties frozen for half a century.

President Barack Obama had notified Congress earlier this year that he intended to remove Havana from the list, giving lawmakers 45 days to object, which elapsed Friday.

Now Secretary of State John Kerry “has made the final decision to rescind Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, effective today, May 29, 2015,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The rescission of Cuba’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism reflects our assessment that Cuba meets the statutory criteria for rescission,” the statement said.

“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a state sponsor of terrorism designation.”

The decision means that Cuba will now have better access to U.S. banking facilities and American aid, as well as removing an international stigma which it has long contended was groundless and unfair.

In a ground-breaking move, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed in December to restore relations frozen for five decades.

So far teams from the two countries have met four times seeking to work out the terms for re-opening their embassies, which would be the first step towards normalizing ties.

Officials say the talks have made progress, but nothing concrete was announced at the last round, held in Washington a week ago.

The communist authorities in Havana have been particularly angered by US democracy programs and have so far not met demands that American diplomats be allowed to meet freely with dissidents.

The island is still subject to a U.S. trade embargo put in place in 1962, which Obama has called on Congress to lift.

Havana has also found a bank willing to do business with it on American soil, removing another key hurdle.

Friday’s decision means only Iran, Sudan and Syria remain on the State Department’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

Photo: Day Donaldson via Flickr