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Turns out, it’s the kind of public service that Garland has always wanted to do — even if it includes math

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Most people know Judge Merrick Garland for what didn’t happen to him. Five years ago, the Senate never acted on his nomination to the Supreme Court.

This week, that will change, as a new chapter begins in Garland’s lifelong commitment to public service. Garland, 68, will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday as President Biden’s pick to serve as attorney general. This time, few obstacles stand in his path to confirmation. But the institution he’s likely to join operates largely in a state of shock.

The Justice Department is still reeling from political scandals from the Trump years — and racing to neutralize the threat from homegrown, violent extremists who participated in the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Over a legal career that spans 44 years, Garland has confronted those kinds of problems before. It’s one of the many reasons the White House selected him to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
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“Having a well respected judge as attorney general will help get the department out of the quagmire of partisan politics that many people think it devolved to under President Trump and Attorney General [William] Barr,” said Georgetown University law professor Paul Butler.

Early years and a Hollywood inspiration

After clerking for Justice William Brennan on the Supreme Court, Garland took a job as an adviser in President Jimmy Carter’s Justice Department. In those years after Watergate, department leaders struggled to separate partisan influence from law enforcement and establish new boundaries for the FBI. Some of the biggest investigations of that era, in which Garland played a bit part, later found their way onto movie screens.

“American Hustle, about the Abscam case; Argo, about the exfiltration of hostages in Iran; and most important, the Miracle on Ice, which was about the Lake Placid Olympics, where I did work on the security for the Olympics,” Garland recalled to an audience at his alma mater, Harvard Law School, in 2016.

Garland told former Harvard Law dean Martha Minow he didn’t start out with his mindset on the law. Rather, he wanted to help people, one on one, so he planned to become a doctor. But his collision with chemistry and math spun him toward the legal profession, where he’s searched to build that sort of direct connection ever since.

In 2016, Judge Merrick Garland was President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Five years later, he is President Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Justice. Above, Garland stands with Obama and Biden in the Rose Garden after being introduced as Obama’s nominee.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

In the mid-1980s, Garland became a rising star at the Arnold & Porter law firm in Washington, D.C. Unusual among his peers, he made time for a young college graduate, Randy Thompson, who worked in the firm’s copy center too. Thompson said Garland reviewed one of his papers, photocopied it and rearranged the paragraphs.

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“That was the beginning of, in essence, him becoming a writing coach for me, and it was just extraordinary experience and he became my coach, eventually my mentor, and 30-something years later, a friend,” Thompson said.

Eventually, Garland wrote him a reference for law school, attended his graduation and has kept in touch ever since. Thompson said Garland is still a little old school, still humble and still looking to help.

“The only thing that really has changed about him, and I guess me as well, is the color of our hair,” he said with a laugh.

A return to government

Garland spent several years at the firm, before a judge advised him that he was “wasting his life” and he should rejoin the government instead. He took that advice, and by the early 1990s, Garland was prosecuting a violent gang that terrorized people in a public housing project and helping advance a case against D.C.’s then-mayor, Marion Barry, on drug charges.

Back inside Justice Department headquarters, Garland became the man to see for the hardest problems. On April 19, 1995, a truck bomb tore apart the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people. Former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick remembers watching that day, with Garland at her side.

Texas and California may be worlds apart in their politics and climate policies, but they have something in common: Extreme weather crashed their power grids and left people stranded in the dark.

The two sprawling, politically potent states have devoted massive sums to their power networks over the past two decades — California to produce huge amounts of wind and solar energy, Texas to create an efficient, go-it-alone electricity market built on gas, coal, nuclear and wind. But neither could keep the lights on in the face of the type of brutal weather that scientists call a taste of a changing climate.

That presents both an opportunity and a challenge for President Joe Biden, potentially aiding his efforts to draw support from lawmakers and states for his multitrillion-dollar proposals to harden the nation’s energy infrastructure to withstand climate change. But he’s already facing entrenched resistance to his pledges to shift the nation to renewable energy by 2035 — including from fossil fuel advocates who have sought to scapegoat wind and solar for the energy woes in both states.

The catastrophe this week in Texas left more than 4 million people in the dark and the cold, and even more without clean water, when a rare blast of Arctic air drove temperatures down, freezing both natural gas plants and wind turbines.

Texas “planned more for heatwaves than for ice storms,” said Dan Reicher, who worked in the Clinton administration’s Energy Department on renewable energy and is now at Stanford University. And the onus now is on figuring out how to prevent a repeat — a tricky situation given the independence of Texas’ grid and sharp opposition from Republicans there to linking up to other states and giving federal regulators oversight of its power system.

So far, the Biden administration has shown little sign of pushing its agenda on Texas, which already leads the nation in wind power. But Congress is eyeing hearings to look at this week’s power failures, which are likely to put a spotlight on the state’s grid.

“How much and how far does the Biden administration want to dig into this from the broader federal perspective? And that remains to be seen,” Reicher said.

Though scientists haven’t definitively tied climate change to the polar vortex that sent temperatures plummeting this week, evidence is starting to show that years of rising temperatures in the Arctic may be playing a role in altering the path of the jet stream that fed the frigid winds into the southern states.

“The way I think about it is you’re opening the door to the freezer,” said Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University.

And while Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler said the link to climate change hadn’t been settled, it’s undeniable that climate change is fueling more “tail risk” events that were once considered rare. And both Texas and California, which suffered both a devastating heat wave and record wildfires last year, present important questions for how to safeguard critical infrastructure in a warmer world.

“It’s kind of the insurance question,” Dessler said. “How much do you pay for insurance and take the chance that you’ll never use it, versus not having insurance and then getting wiped out?”

California has been experiencing the effects of climate change on its grid for years — wildfires that threaten transmission have grown in size and duration, heat waves have increased in intensity and duration, and droughts in the Northwest are restricting crucial supplies of hydropower. In response to mounting liabilities from wildfire damages, which forced utility Pacific Gas & Electric Company into bankruptcy in 2019, the state’s utilities have increasingly been shutting off transmission lines during wind storms in order to reduce the likelihood of sparking blazes.

In an effort to reduce carbon emissions and bring more power generation in-state, California set aggressive renewable targets, increasing the amount of solar capacity on its grid in the past decade to 27 gigawatts in 2019, more than one-third of the nation’s solar output, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. And to balance its grid, it’s helped build an 11-state power market that enables it to export excess solar power during the day and draw in electricity from other sources after sunset.

But August’s unplanned blackouts — the state’s first since the energy crisis of 2000-2001 — underscored other weaknesses in California’s grid. A state analysis of the failures that shut off power for 490,000 customers for two hours one night and 320,000 customers for less time another night, pinned blame on the historic West-wide heat wave, which saw demand surge and limited the amount of power California could import from other states. But it also pointed to the state’s high proportion of renewables, which see their electricity output drop sharply as the sun goes down, requiring other power plants to ramp up quickly — and which they were unable to do that week.

Like California, Texas suffered from an energy shortage at a key moment: In the space of an hour early Monday morning, 30 gigawatts of generation — one quarter of the state’s entire capacity — dropped off the grid just as a deep freeze drove demand up to levels usually only seen in summer. That led to several days of blackouts affecting 4.4 million Texas customers.
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Texas’ problems may stem partly from its an open market rules that differ from markets in other regions around the country, many of which require a “capacity market” where power producers commit to keep their plants available years in the future. When the cold snap descended on the state, curbing shipments of natural gas and freezing wind turbines, several power plants that could have helped fill the gap were off line for maintenance.

And the state also failed to heed the warnings from a report on a similar freeze in 2011, which called for insulating generators to protect against the cold — a costly fix, but one that could have mitigated the outages.

Experts say increasing the connections around the country that allow power to move long distances could help prevent future blackouts.

Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy program at Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment, said both Texas and California could benefit from greater coordination with their neighbors — and Biden can help with that.

“There’s a shared dilemma between our situations, and it relates to how to take account of the weather extremes associated with climate change,” he said. “In both situations, the real world exceeded, by a large margin, the planned-for extreme case.”

Texas has resisted that strategy, and by refusing to cross state lines, the state has kept federal regulators away from its power grid. That’s left it on its own when resources fail to meet demand — as they nearly have several times in recent years when summer heat pushed the system to its limits.

“There’s a lot of finger pointing by politicians in Texas right now, but there’s some very painful lessons for them in terms of the way their market is run,” said V. John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies. “One of the weaknesses of Texas is they’re not connected very well to any other part of the country.”

While the immediate focus there is restoring power across the state, some have started to look ahead to how the grid can prepare for the future.

“The one common element from the California situation and what appears to be the case in Texas, is weather,” Richard Glick, chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told reporters Thursday. “All the experts tell us this type of wild unanticipated weather is going to happen much more frequently than has happened in the past. It’s incumbent on us and others to ensure the grid is more resilient against those particular extreme weather events.”

Glick questioned whether Texas should continue its go-it-alone approach, noting that nearby states with access to generation over transmission lines managed to recover more quickly from the deep freeze, including much of the upper Midwest and even El Paso and Lubbock, Texas, which operate outside Texas’ primary network. That Midwest power network is managed by grid operators linked to the rest of the country and suffered rolling blackouts on Monday and Tuesday, but largely recovered by Wednesday.

Power grid experts have called for a massive build-out of transmission lines for decades to ensure that energy supply problems those suffered by California and Texas suffered could be alleviated by supplanting supplies from downed power plants with electricity from other parts of the country, or even from Canada and Mexico. That’s an approach the Biden administration is likely to try to take, but they’ll need to come up with a way to driving the billions or trillions of spending needed and figure out how to clear away the bureaucratic problems that have slowed the process for decades.

“The problem is not that transmission providers are looking for handouts,” said Larry Gasteiger, executive director of WIRES, a transmission builders association. “If the transmission [needs are] identified and put into a transmission plan, we’ll build it. Two real areas that are stumbling blocks for getting more transmission infrastructure built: One is permitting and siting, the other is cost allocation. Who pays for it.”

Green groups generally agree that more transmission is needed — linking rural areas with lots of sun and wind with population centers will be key to decarbonizing the grid — but they don’t think more wires will be the end of the process. Instead, they point to new technologies, like developing “microgrids” that are less reliant on distant power supplies and rolling out batteries that can store power for when it’s needed.

“First and foremost, we need to recognize, we probably can’t prevent every outage of this kind that we’re probably going to be seeing over the next 30 years,” said Mark Dyson, a principal for electric power with the clean energy think tank Rocky Mount Institute. “It’s well past time to recognize a fundamental vulnerability of the power system and take advantage of where we are now with digital technologies, more distributed technology, storage, and flexibility and deal with the root cause and not play whack a mole with these large scale systems.”

Republicans are unlikely to embrace an infrastructure bill laden with green energy incentives, such as the one Biden plans. But some conservatives argue that the bill could do a lot to make the energy grid more resilient to weather events.

“It looks like an infrastructure bill is likely to move and it will include energy provisions,” said former Republican FERC Commissioner Bernard McNamee, now a partner at the law firm of McGuire Woods.

“He basically said while watching children being pulled out of the wreckage, that he had to go,” Gorelick said. “He really wanted to go. We both had young children at the time and what we saw on those screens was so affecting.”

Garland would soon travel to the site of the most deadly domestic terror plot in American history. He oversaw the search warrants, protected the chain of evidence and insisted that reporters have access to court proceedings.

“We wanted somebody who could make sure that the investigation was done by the book and that any indictment was bulletproof,” Gorelick said.

In this April 27, 1995, photo, Merrick Garland speaks to the media following a hearing for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Garland was assigned to the case because “we wanted somebody who could make sure that the investigation was done by the book and that any indictment was bulletproof,” said former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.
Rick Bowmer/AP

Prosecutors later convicted Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols for their role in that bombing.

Former prosecutor Beth Wilkinson says Garland played an important role in other confrontations with extremists in those years, including a lengthy 1996 standoff with the heavily armed Montana Freemen. The Justice Department and the FBI were eager to avoid a repeat of deadly incidents in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, only a few years earlier.

“One of the examples I can think of is sometimes when there were these stand downs where there would be, you know, arrest warrants for someone or there would be some kind of controversy between people who were challenging the federal government, Merrick’s first instinct wasn’t to go in and arrest everyone,” Wilkinson said. “It was to try — along with the FBI — to see if those disputes could be resolved.”

Wilkinson said the FBI went on to arrest the men in the Montana standoff months later. She credited Garland’s quick thinking and cool head with preventing what could have been a tragic outcome.

“He’s not an ideologue”

Just about the only criticism Garland’s nomination has drawn is in the area of civil rights, where his record is less robust.

“Garland is a moderate so I don’t see him as the bold and visionary leader on racial justice that some people were hoping for,” said Georgetown’s Butler. “That he’s not an ideologue is both good news and concerning for people who want an attorney general to meet this moment of national reckoning inspired by the movement for Black Lives and the killing of George Floyd.”

Former President Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, next Sunday, according to a source familiar with the matter, while former Vice President Mike Pence declined an invitation to speak at the conference, two sources told CNN.
One source said organizers still hope to change Pence’s mind about attending, while another source said Pence is planning to stay under the radar for the next six months. Politico first reported that Pence declined the invitation.
The divergence between the two former leaders, which comes as the GOP is grappling with its future in the wake of the Trump presidency, follows tensions between Trump and Pence surrounding the January 6 riot at the US Capitol and Pence’s role certifying the results of the election for President Joe Biden.

“We accept Joe Biden is the duly elected president of the United States,” former Pence chief of staff Marc Short told CNN’s Pamela Brown on “Newsroom” Saturday evening, despite Pence playing a role in perpetuating baseless election fraud theories that Trump repeatedly pushed ahead of the attack on the Capitol.
Unlike Trump, Pence attended Biden’s inauguration in Washington, DC, last month — after skipping Trump’s farewell ceremony.
Short said Saturday that Trump and Pence “departed amicably” and that they’ve spoken since.
The source familiar with Trump’s plans to attend CPAC, who is also familiar with the former President’s speech, told CNN on Saturday that “he’ll be talking about the future of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.”
“Also look for the 45th President to take on President Biden’s disastrous amnesty and border policies,” the source added.
The speaking engagement would mark Trump’s first public appearance following his departure from the White House last month and comes as senior Republicans are split over how to treat the former President, with his loyalists paying him visits recently in Florida.
One of Trump’s campaign managers, Brad Parscale, met with the former President at his club in Mar-a-Lago this week for a lengthy meeting, according to a source familiar. Utah Sen. Mike Lee is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago Saturday night, according to another source familiar, a potential sign of more visits to come.
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican, met privately with Trump on Tuesday at Mar-a-Lago, CNN reported, the day before Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed never to do so.
The simmering feud between Trump and McConnell has escalated in recent days, raising questions about whether the two can ever work together for the future of the GOP.
Trump went after McConnell in a lengthy statement released Tuesday night after McConnell harshly criticized the former President from the Senate floor last Saturday and in an op-ed on Monday in the Wall Street Journal, despite voting to acquit Trump in his second impeachment trial.
In his Tuesday statement, Trump vowed to endorse candidates in Senate primaries who espouse his world view — something that could lead to a clash with McConnell’s preferred candidates as the seven-term senator pushes Republicans whom he believes stand the best chance of winning in next year’s midterm elections.
That tension underscores the divide among top Republicans over how to navigate the party post-Trump. Unlike McConnell, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy went down to South Florida after the January 6 attack on the Capitol to meet with Trump and later proclaim unity with him in trying to take back the House in 2022.

But McCarthy leads a conference where a majority of members are strongly supportive of Trump — unlike Senate Republicans, who are split over the former President and where some top leaders are eager to move past him and focus instead on uniting the party around ideas, not a person.

Butler said he thinks Garland will take his cues on racial justice from the White House. And, he said, the civil rights community will be cheered by other members of the leadership team Biden has announced for the Justice Department, including civil rights advocate Vanita Gupta, nominated to be associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke, to lead the department’s civil rights division.
Advocates Push For Resurrection Of DOJ Civil Rights Division Under Biden
Politics
Advocates Push For Resurrection Of DOJ Civil Rights Division Under Biden
For Civil Rights Chief, Fighting For The Outsider Is Deeply Personal
Politics
For Civil Rights Chief, Fighting For The Outsider Is Deeply Personal

Wade Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Garland is up to the task. But Henderson said it’s a big one.

“The next attorney general, for example, has to do everything in his or her power to fight for voting rights, police reform, criminal justice reform and LGBTQ equality,” he said.

Protecting employees

For the past 24 years, Garland has been a federal judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In that role, Garland doesn’t have much of a chance to share his personal views.

Carolyn Lerner, who once headed the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and now serves as chief D.C. Circuit mediator, said Garland took an early and important lead to update policies that protect employees from sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct.

“I think it’s very clear that Judge Garland cares a lot about these issues and he really wants employees to be happy and comfortable in the workplace and when he was chief judge he took his responsibility to these employees very seriously,” Lerner said.

Lerner said Garland wants to continue another of his projects at the Justice Department: tutoring sessions with a young public school student.

This year, the judge is working with an 11-year-old boy and his twin sister. Their mom, Andrea Tucker, said Garland plays math games with them on Zoom, sometimes joined by his wife.

“He makes it so interactive for them and so much fun and they can’t get enough of it,” Tucker said.

Turns out, it’s the kind of public service that Garland has always wanted to do — even if it includes math.

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How Anti-Abortion Laws Could Affect Affordable U.S. Health Care

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ACROSS AMERICA — Only a handful of weeks into the 2021 legislative session, the ongoing policy wars against abortion and the facilities that provide them are already heating up in several states across the country.

It’s been nearly a half-century since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its landmark ruling in the case of Roe v. Wade, which granted women a constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Yet in the decades since that ruling, states have spent significant time battling its provisions.

From 2011 to 2017, 32 U.S. states enacted a total of 394 restrictions, most of which regulate or limit when, under what circumstances, and even if a woman may obtain an abortion.

This year is shaping up to be no different.

Since the start of the 2021 legislative season in January, more than 140 anti-abortion bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country, according to Rachel Sussman, vice president of state policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The end result: a tangled web of abortion policy that lawmakers continue to spin, and a significant reduction in women’s access to abortion services.

“Over the past decade, there has been a jolt towards harmful, politically motivated abortion restrictions from politicians across the country,” Sussman said.

Yet nearly a year into the coronavirus pandemic, many have lost more than just access to an abortion clinic.

They’ve lost a vital lifeline to a suite of medical services that prevent unwanted pregnancies, provide life-saving diagnoses and help stop the spread of communicable diseases.

Ultimately, much of the legislation has further pushed basic health care out of reach, especially for people with low incomes, and those living in rural or minority communities.
Lawmakers Battle A Declining Issue

The legislative push comes as the number of women receiving the procedure is declining.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows abortions declined 22 percent over a decade, to nearly 620,000 in 2018 — or 11.3 per every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

While it reflects slightly different data, a 2019 report by the Guttmacher Institute underscores the CDC’s findings. Report authors also took their research a step further, suggesting that legislation is not the key driver of the decline in abortions. Instead, they cited a broader decline in pregnancies, and said it was likely a result of increased access to birth control since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2011.

“What’s true is that increasing people’s access to affordable and effective methods of birth control leads to fewer abortions,” Sussman said.

Despite the decrease, abortion foes continue to target health care facilities that provide these services.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of clinics providing abortion in the United States declined by about 4 percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The decrease seems low, yet some areas of the country were hit harder than others.

During the same period, the South saw a net decline of 50 clinics, with 25 in Texas alone. The Midwest lost 33 clinics, including nine each in Iowa, Michigan and Ohio. Seven clinics shuttered in Western states.

By contrast, Northeast states added 59 clinics, mostly in New Jersey and New York.

The South and the Midwest also had the largest share of new abortion restrictions during that period — nearly 86 percent of total enacted restrictions were in those two regions.

Today, five states — Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia — have only one remaining abortion provider each.

Despite the election of Democratic President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, 29 states currently have legislatures where anti-abortion politicians hold the majority, according to Sussman. Of the legislation introduced this session, 40 percent involves a form of abortion ban.

Kansas is an extreme example. There, voters will decide in 2022 whether the state’s constitution protects abortion rights under a ballot measure approved by the state Senate.

And in South Carolina, a bill that would ban abortion before most people even know they’re pregnant was fast-tracked through the state’s Legislature only to be blocked by a federal judge a day after it went into effect.

“Politicians are wasting no time attacking access to sexual and reproductive health care,” Sussman said. “Some are still doing everything they can to take control of our bodies, lives and futures.”
Who Stands To Lose Most

Perhaps the most notable provider of sexual health and reproductive services, Planned Parenthood has more than 49 affiliates that operate 600 health care centers across the nation. Annually, the organization provides sexual and reproductive health services to more than 2.4 million people, 39 percent of whom are people of color.

Of those, more than 541,000 patients identify as Latino and 395,000 as Black. More than 297,000 male patients also receive services. Finally, Planned Parenthood also provides gender-affirming hormone therapy for transgender patients in 31 states.

In 2018, of Planned Parenthood patients who reported their income, nearly 75 percent were living at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — the equivalent of $37,650 a year for a family of four.

“Patients don’t come to us to make a political statement,” Sussman of Planned Parenthood said. “They come to get compassionate, expert care and education.”

Still, Planned Parenthood has frequently been the target of both state and federal lawmakers.

In 2019, Planned Parenthood dropped out of a $260 million federal family planning program rather than comply with what it called a “gag rule” imposed by the Trump administration on abortion referrals.

The order would have prohibited health clinics from receiving federal funds under Title X if abortions were performed at the facility or if specialists referred patients to centers where they could get an abortion. The administration made the call despite the Hyde Amendment which, passed in 1976, prohibits federal funding from directly paying for abortions.

While some states stepped in to cover the lost funding, others did not.

In total, providers in 34 states were forced out of the program, according to Planned Parenthood, prompting more than 1.5 million people across the country to lose access to Title X-supported services such as affordable birth control and sexually transmitted infection testing.

According to the organization’s 2018-19 annual report, abortions comprised only 4 percent of Planned Parenthood’s provided services, while sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment comprised 50 percent, contraception made up 26 percent, and 13 percent was attributed to other women’s health services such as well-woman exams and prenatal care.

Many of those who lost access to these crucial services were likely women of color. According to a 2018 fact sheet by the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, women of color make up more than half, and Latinas more than a third, of all Title X patients.

“People don’t turn to politicians for advice about cancer screenings or STI treatment,” Sussman said. “The bottom line is that Planned Parenthood has been around for over 100 years, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Anti-Abortion Groups Keep Fighting

While Planned Parenthood is gearing up to challenge several pieces of 2021 legislation, anti-abortion groups are lauding the efforts already being made by lawmakers this session.

National Right to Life, a federation with 50 state affiliates and more than 3,000 local affiliates, was founded in 1968 with the goal of creating a national organization to deal with life issues on the federal level. The organization’s oldest affiliate, Virginia Society for Human Life, was founded in 1967.

While National Right For Life is most known for its stance against abortion, the organization also provides education and lobbies on legislation pertaining to other life issues such as infanticide, assisted suicide and euthanasia.

While the organization works at a national level, its affiliates provide support, testimony and other help to states regarding anti-abortion legislation.

National Right To Life is also looking ahead to 2021, and leaders are anticipating “significant challenges” at the federal level, according to spokesperson Laura Echevarria.

Among them is the possible certification of the 1972 Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In January 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the amendment, which guarantees equal rights for women. The vote followed ratifications by Nevada in 2017 and Illinois in 2018 after four decades of inactivity.

Hurdles remain in the path of the amendment’s certification, however. The ratification deadlines that Congress set after it approved the amendment have lapsed, and five states have acted to rescind their prior approval.

The Equal Rights Amendment has come under fire by anti-abortion proponents, some of whom claim that it would require taxpayer-funded abortions. Since only women can have abortions, any restrictions on the procedure could be deemed unconstitutional under the amendment.

“Everyone knows this renewed effort isn’t about women’s rights,” the office of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said in a February 2020 report by Politico, summarizing the message sent by the GOP caucus. “It’s about eliminating federal and state life protections and ushering in an era of taxpayer funding of abortion.”

While the certification of the amendment ultimately passed in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, it was dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Following the 2020 election, Democrats now hold a razor-thin majority in the Senate.

“We see the right to life as the leading human rights issue of our day,” Echevarria said. “Without abortion-neutralizing language, the Equal Rights Amendment would be used to expand abortion on demand. We’ve seen this happen in states that use the same language in state ERAs.”

When it comes to how anti-abortion legislation might affect access to free and low-cost health care, Echevarria said that National Right To Life typically doesn’t take a stance on health care issues unless it’s somehow related to taxpayer funding of abortion or health care plans that are forced to cover abortions.

If a woman is in need of such health care, Echevarria recommended she seek out one of more than 2,700 pregnancy centers across the United States that provide free services to women in need, most of which are manned primarily by volunteers and financially supported with private funds from individuals, religious organizations and businesses.

In recent years, states and the federal government have increasingly touted these as an alternative or safety net for women. Many have even shifted money toward them and away from other facilities such as Planned Parenthood, which typically provides a wider range of services.

According to Echevarria, these centers often work with local agencies to help women find housing, health care, jobs and even transportation. They also provide formula, maternity and baby clothes, diapers and other essentials free of charge.

The downside is that, in some cases, services at these “crisis pregnancy centers” can come with strings attached.

An investigation by Vox found that at some, prenatal and other free services were only for available if patients took parenting workshops or classes, some of which had a religious component.

Some women told Vox they found the required instruction troubling, with one saying of a parenting video, “it hurt me.”

A 2018 publication by the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics also called crisis pregnancy centers “legal, but unethical” that pass themselves off as legitimate clinics but are exempt from the regulatory oversight that applies to other health care facilities.

“They strive to give the impression that they are clinical centers, offering legitimate medical services and advice, yet they are exempt from regulatory, licensure, and credentialing oversight that apply to health care facilities. “Because the religious ideology of these centers’ owners and employees takes priority over the health and well-being of the women seeking care at these centers, women do not receive comprehensive, accurate, evidence-based clinical information about all available options,” the report says. “Although crisis pregnancy centers enjoy First Amendment rights protections, their propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health.”

According to Echevarria, the services provided at most private centers are usually grounded in a right-to-life ideology and, as a result, are often condemned by abortion-rights activists.

“Many women who have had an abortion feel that if they had someone in their corner saying that they could raise a child and finish college or raise a child and pursue employment opportunities, then they would have given birth and kept their child,” Echevarria said. “Pregnancy centers can provide this real-world support.”

 

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Stephen King Says DeSantis Used Vaccines For ‘Political Gain

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SARASOTA, FL — Horror writer Stephen King, a part-time Sarasota resident, slammed Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis on Twitter for using the state’s vaccine distribution for “political gain.”

DeSantis has been accused of favoring wealthy Floridians after a recent state-run pop-up vaccination event in Lakewood Ranch targeted two of the wealthiest ZIP codes in Manatee County.

“It seems possible — likely, even — that Ron DeSantis provided rich, Republican-leaning communities like Lakewood Ranch with priority vaccinations for political gain,” King tweeted Monday morning.

Around 3,000 doses were administered at the vaccine clinic, which was held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch Wednesday through Friday.

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DeSantis was visibly irritated when questioned by reporters about the clinic at a Feb. 16 news conference in Lakewood Ranch, threatening to take away the county’s allotment of vaccine doses if residents were unhappy about the pop-up event.

“If Manatee County doesn’t like us doing this,” DeSantis said, “then we are totally fine putting this in counties that want it. We’re totally happy to do that. Anyone that’s saying that, let us know if you want us to send it Sarasota or Charlotte or Pasco or wherever, let us know — we’re happy to do it.”

Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who helped organized the clinic, is also under fire for the event. She hand-picked the District 5 ZIP codes targeted by the vaccination pop-up and also directed the county’s Public Safety Director Jacob Sauer to create a VIP list – which included herself; Lakewood Ranch president CEO and his father, Lawrence Jensen; and her former neighbors, Robert and Marie Keehn – to receive vaccine appointments during the event.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce, is also among those calling out DeSantis for the exclusive vaccination event, calling it “wrong and potentially illegal” on Twitter.

“Vaccines are a public health resource – not a luxury based on political connections,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Elected officials shouldn’t be abusing their power to put themselves and their friends ahead of the public. This is why people don’t trust the system.”

 

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There is … no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain or indeed a Zero Covid World and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has set out a four-step roadmap to take England out of its Covid-19 lockdown. The country has been in full national lockdown since January 4, after a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus was discovered in southeast England.

All being well, Johnson’s government is hopeful that most of the economy will be able to open before the end of June. As he announced the plan on Monday, the Prime Minister stressed that the four steps would be decided by “data not dates,” and emphasized that they would be subject to change. Downing Street officials were keen to explain that this caution was in order to avoid future restrictions that would further damage the economy.

“There is … no credible route to a Zero Covid Britain or indeed a Zero Covid World and we cannot persist indefinitely with restrictions that debilitate our economy, our physical and mental well-being, and the life chances of our children,” Johnson said. “This roadmap should be cautious but also irreversible.”

Johnson told lawmakers that step one would begin on March 8, as schools finally reopen across England, as well as the return of limited outdoor social interaction, such as sitting on a park bench with one other person. Step one will also have a second phase on March 29, where further restrictions will be lifted, allowing groups of six to meet outside and two households to mix.

Boris Johnson’s government is ‘gaslighting’ Britain about the realities of Brexit, critics say
Boris Johnson’s government is ‘gaslighting’ Britain about the realities of Brexit, critics say

The lifting of measures will take place with a minimum five-week gap, the Prime Minister said, allowing four weeks for the government to gather the appropriate data and one week to alert the public and sectors involved.

The speed at which England will exit lockdown will be set against four key tests: how the vaccine rollout is going; how vaccines are affecting hospitalizations and deaths; that infection rates are staying low; and that new variants not undermining the other three criteria.

Step two, which would happen no earlier than April 12, will see the return of non-essential retail, such as hairdressers, gyms, museums, zoos and theme parks. Social contact rules will remain in place for indoor activities, meaning that they can only be attended by the members of own household.

Crucially, the hospitality sector will also be allowed to reopen at this point. Pubs and restaurants will only be allowed to serve groups of six or two households outside, however. Downing Street said that there would be no curfews or restrictions on what customers would be able to order after heavy criticism last summer.

Aurora police officers did not have a legal basis to force Elijah McClain to stop walking, to frisk him or to use a chokehold on him, an independent investigation commissioned by the city found.

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The initial investigation into the incident led by the department’s detectives in the Major Crimes Unit was also deeply flawed, the investigators found. The detectives failed to ask basic, critical questions of the officers involved in McClain’s death and instead “the questions frequently appeared designed to elicit specific exonerating ‘magic language’ found in court rulings,” the report states.

The report from the detectives was relied upon by the department’s force review board as well as the 17th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, both of which cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

“In addition, the report of the Major Crime Unit stretched the record to exonerate the officers rather than present a neutral version of the facts,” the investigators wrote.

“It is hard to imagine any other persons involved in a fatal incident being interviewed as these officers were,” the investigators continued.

Aurora city officials on Monday morning released the 157-page report on the death of McClain at the hands of city police and paramedics. The city hired a panel of investigators to examine the officers’ and paramedics’ decision and make policy recommendations “to lessen the chance of another tragedy like this one from happening again,” the report states.

Recommendations from the panel include overhauling the police department’s accountability system and review policy, training and practice regarding arrest standards and use of force.

“The body worn camera audio, limited video, and Major Crime’s interviews with the officers tell two contrasting stories,” the report states. “The officers’ statements on the scene and in subsequent recorded interviews suggest a violent and relentless struggle. The limited video, and the audio from the body worn cameras, reveal Mr. McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself, and pleading with the officers.”

The investigators also found that Aurora paramedics failed to properly examine McClain before injecting him with 500 milligrams of the sedative ketamine — a dose based on a “grossly inaccurate” estimation of McClain’s weight. Paramedics estimated he weighed 190 pounds but he actually weighed closer to 140 pounds.

“Aurora Fire appears to have accepted the officers’ impression that Mr. McClain had excited delirium without corroborating that impression through meaningful observation or diagnostic examination of Mr. McClain,” the investigators wrote.

The external consultants hired to conduct the investigation delivered their findings to Aurora’s city government on Monday morning — the first findings made public from several ongoing investigations into the incident that are taking place at every level of government.

Aurora government leaders commissioned the investigation on July 20 as McClain’s 2019 death drew international attention. Widespread protests of police brutality against Black people exploded in the summer of 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and dozens of protests and vigils have been held in McClain’s name.

The investigation included a review of the city’s relevant policies, procedures and practices, including how police and fire personnel interact with people, their use of force, their use of the sedative ketamine and how the city reviews incidents. The investigators’ request to interview the officers and paramedics involved was declined, however.

The investigation was led by Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Smith previously led the section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division that conducted the investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri, police department following the death of Michael Brown.

The Aurora City Council is scheduled to discuss the report’s findings at a special meeting at 5 p.m. Monday. The public can watch the meeting at AuroraTV.org or on Comcast Channels 8/880 in Aurora.

The results of the city-initiated investigation are the first to be made public out of several ongoing investigations into McClain’s death. The Colorado Attorney General’s Office has asked a grand jury to look at the case and see if any criminal charges are warranted and the U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating whether officers violated McClain’s civil rights.

McClain’s family also has filed a federal lawsuit against Aurora.

Three Aurora police officers detained McClain on Aug. 24, 2019, after receiving a 911 call about a suspicious person. When McClain refused to stop walking, the officers took him to the ground, choked him and handcuffed him before a paramedic injected McClain with ketamine, a powerful sedative.

McClain suffered cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital, where he was later declared brain dead. He was taken off life support on Aug. 30, 2019. McClain wasn’t suspected of a crime.

The Adams County coroner ruled the cause of McClain’s death to be undetermined and the district attorney for the 17th Judicial District found the three police officers who violently detained him were not criminally liable. A review of the incident by the police department found the three officers did not violate any policies and they were not disciplined. Both the police chief and the district attorney who made those decisions have since left their positions.
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One of the officers involved in McClain’s death, Jason Rosenblatt, was later fired by the department’s next chief for replying “haha” to a texted photo showing other Aurora police officers re-enacting one of the chokeholds used on McClain at his memorial site.

The other two officers remained employed by the department, though in jobs that are not public-facing. Officer Randy Roedema is assigned to the forensic services unit and Officer Nathan Woodyard is assigned to the electronic support section, a department spokesman said.

Smith is the second person commissioned by the city to investigate McClain’s death. City Manager Jim Twombly first hired a former police officer turned lawyer to complete the review, but the city canceled the contract after city councilmembers raised concerns that the lawyer’s investigation would be biased by his past law enforcement experience.

A misdemeanor charge has been dropped against a Black man who was arrested last week for walking home on a street during a snowstorm in Texas.

Rodney Reese, 18, was arrested Feb. 16 in Plano and charged with being a pedestrian in the roadway, news outlets reported.

Police said officers received a call about a Black man seen stumbling along in the middle of the snowy street wearing a short-sleeved shirt and were sent to perform a wellness check.

Police released body camera footage of the encounter on Facebook on Friday. In the video, police are seen following Reese and repeatedly asking him where he is going and if he was OK, to which he replies that he is fine and he is on his way home.

Reese told KDFW-TV that he was walking home from his job at a Walmart and didn’t stop for the officers because he didn’t need their help.

Officers continued to follow Reese for about two minutes before stopping him, telling him they were “doing an investigation” and informing him that he was being detained.

Reese replied “no” and continued walking, but was stopped again. In the video, a brief scuffle is seen as officers attempted to handcuff Reese, who can be heard asking to be released.

According to the Facebook post, the arresting officer noted that Reese resisted arrest but chose not to charge him.

Plano Police Chief Ed Drain told KDFW-TV that the charge was dropped against Reese because the arrest wasn’t consistent with why officers were called to investigate.

“They should’ve taken him home, is where he should’ve gone,” Drain said.

Drain backed his officers, stating that at the time of the arrest they didn’t know Reese’s age, where he worked or where he lived.

Drain also said he doesn’t believe race was a factor in the arrest, but added that he “can’t get inside people’s heads.”

Reese said, however, that he believes the call that brought officers to the scene and his subsequent arrest were based on the color of his skin.

Step three, which will be in place no sooner than May 17, will remove most social distancing rules. Groups of up to 30 will be able to meet outdoors in a public space or private garden. Pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve indoors, though the rule of six will apply. Indoor entertainment will also be allowed to resume, with venues allowed to host up to 1,000 people. Spectators will be allowed to return to live outdoor sports, with up to 10,000 allowed to attend the largest venues, such as Wembley Stadium.

UK study finds one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces risk of infection by 72%
UK study finds one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduces risk of infection by 72%

Finally, step four, which will happen no sooner than June 12, will see the removal of most social restrictions and the return of nightclubs. Personal life events like weddings will have no limitations if things go well. In the weeks and months leading up to step four, the government will carry out reviews on large outdoor events, such as music festivals.

The government will look at controversial measures such as Covid certification for people who test negative or have been vaccinated. International travel will not return until at least May 17 and travel between the UK’s four nations will be discussed between the devolved governments.
The measures, while welcomed by most, will be deemed slow and in some cases controversial, so Johnson is likely to meet resistance from his own Conservative lawmakers when they come before a vote in Parliament.

The news comes as the UK’s vaccine rollout continues to lead the rest of Europe, while scientific research indicates that vaccinations lower the risk of hospitalization up to 94%.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, the University of Strathclyde and Public health Scotland examined data from people who had received the first dose of the either the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccine.

The data showed that four weeks after having the shot, the risk of being admitted to hospitals had been reduced by up to 85% and 94% respectively, according to UK news agency PA Media. As of Monday morning, the UK has given first doses to 17.5 million people, while the speed at which it can vaccinate is increasing.

Also on Monday, Public Health England published the results of its Siren Study, which showed that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease.”
The research, which was carried out on healthcare workers aged under the age of 65, found that one dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks, while two vaccine doses reduced the risk of infection by 85%.

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