The Pentagon has placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert to potentially deploy to Eastern Europe over concerns Russia may soon invade Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO allies have accused Russia of amassing 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, but Russia has denied it’s planning an invasion. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke Monday.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “And we have a sacred obligation to support the security of our eastern flank countries. I think it’s important to remember who the aggressor is here. It is not the United States. It is not these eastern flank countries. It is Russia, who has tens of thousands of troops on the border of Ukraine.”
This comes as other NATO nations are planning to send additional troops, ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe. On Monday, the Kremlin accused the United States and NATO of escalating tension in the region. Meanwhile, negotiations to resolve the crisis are ongoing, with officials from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany scheduled to meet in Paris on Wednesday.
The United States reported more than 2,100 COVID-19 deaths on Monday, even as daily cases and hospitalizations continued to decline from record highs set earlier this month. Here in New York, a judge ruled Monday that Governor Kathy Hochul’s statewide mask mandate for all indoor public places was enacted unlawfully and is now void. Supreme Court Justice Thomas Rademacher ruled that only lawmakers — rather than the governor or health officials — had the authority to enact the mask mandate. New York’s Department of Health is planning an appeal.
In Virginia, seven school districts have filed suit to block Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s executive order making masks optional in schools.
On Monday, the first of 400 million free N95 masks for the public began arriving at U.S. pharmacies, after the Biden administration ordered them delivered from the Strategic National Stockpile.
Burkina Faso’s army leaders say they have deposed President Roch Kaboré, suspended the Constitution, dissolved parliament and closed the nation’s borders. In a broadcast on state television on Monday, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba was introduced as Burkina Faso’s new leader. The African Union condemned the coup, as did leaders of the United Nations.
Stéphane Dujarric: “The secretary-general strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms. He calls on the coup leaders to lay down their arms and to ensure the protection of the physical integrity of the president and of the institutions of Burkina Faso.”
In Guatemala, five former paramilitary soldiers have been convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to decades in prison for sexually assaulting dozens of Indigenous Achí women in the 1980s. The historic ruling comes after years of advocacy by survivors and supporters. The women weren’t able to file criminal complaints of the atrocities until 2011. It then took over a decade for the former members of the so-called Civil Self-Defense Patrol to stand trial earlier this month. The patrol was made up of several armed groups, recruited by Guatemala’s U.S.-backed army. Survivors said the soldiers rounded up all the men in their village and disappeared them before raping and assaulting the women. One of the survivors who testified at the trial was only 12 years old when she was raped.
In Mexico, another journalist has been assassinated in the northern border city of Tijuana. Lourdes Maldonado López is the third journalist killed in Mexico this month. She was found fatally shot inside a car Sunday. In 2019, Maldonado went to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s daily morning news conference and pleaded for his help because she feared for her life. This is one of Maldonado’s friends and colleagues.
Octavio Favela: “The mechanism for the protection of journalists should have had a patrol car patrolling permanently outside of Lourdes’s home, and they didn’t do it. How is it possible that someone can come to kill a person that needs to be protected? The murderer comes, waits for her, then leaves, just like that. How is that possible?”
In Turkey, prominent journalist Sedef Kabas has been jailed while she awaits trial on charges of allegedly insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kabas was detained Saturday after she tweeted a proverb that translates as: “When the ox climbs to the palace, he does not become a king, but the palace becomes a barn.” Kabas is being held at a prison in Istanbul. The law on insulting the president carries a sentence of between one and four years. Tens of thousands of people have been charged and sentenced over the so-called crime during Erdogan’s presidency.
London’s police commissioner has launched an investigation into breaches of COVID-19 lockdown rules at U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence. The announcement came after ITV News reported Johnson attended an indoor birthday party during the first lockdown in June of 2020. It’s the latest in a string of revelations that Johnson repeatedly flouted the strict lockdown rules that he ordered for the rest of the country. This is Keir Starmer, head of the opposition Labour Party.
Keir Starmer: “This is yet more evidence that we’ve got a prime minister who believes that the rules that he made don’t apply to him. And so we’ve got a prime minister and a government that spend their whole time mopping up sleaze and deceit.”
In Georgia, a judge has granted a request by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis to convene a special grand jury to investigate former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Willis has said she will decide whether to bring criminal charges against Trump during the first half of this year. A key piece of evidence has already been made public: On January 2, 2021, Trump asked Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s margin of victory in Georgia.
President Donald Trump: “So, look, all I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have, because we won the state.”
Last year, Willis said Trump could face criminal charges including solicitation of election fraud, conspiracy and racketeering.
Virginia’s new Republican attorney general has fired the top attorney for the University of Virginia — a move condemned by Democrats as political retribution. The attorney, Timothy Heaphy, serves as the top staff investigator for the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection.
Racial justice advocates are condemning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to hear challenges against the use of affirmative action in college admissions. The cases against Harvard and the University of North Carolina were brought by the conservative group Students for Fair Admissions, founded by the right-wing legal strategist Edward Blum. Though the Supreme Court has previously upheld affirmative action — most recently in 2016 — advocates fear the court’s conservative majority could strike down racial justice policies that have allowed Black and other students of color to have equal access to higher education. The case will be heard in the Supreme Court’s next session, which begins in October.
In labor news, some 8,400 unionized King Soopers grocery workers have ended a 10-day strike after members approved a new contract. The three-year agreement with the Kroger-owned grocery chain brings workers better healthcare and pension benefits, tougher workplace safety measures and wage increases of up to $5 per hour. Three-quarters of Kroger employees recently surveyed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union reported they face food insecurity.
Attorneys general from three states and the District of Columbia have filed suit against Google, alleging the tech giant deceived customers over their ability to protect their privacy through Google account settings. The lawsuit charges Google has for years deployed software tricks to continuously track a user’s location — even when customers thought they’d opted out by turning off the “Location History” setting in Google’s software.
In Iowa, prosecutors have dismissed a second case against Matt Johnson, an animal rights activist who released footage of hundreds of pigs being euthanized at two Iowa pork facilities in early 2020. Johnson is a member of the group Direct Action Everywhere. He secretly recorded video of pigs being killed at two pork plants owned by Iowa Select Farms, a major pork producer. The company was unable to send the pigs to slaughterhouses that were closed due to the pandemic, so they killed the pigs by shutting down ventilation in their barns and overheating them.
In December of 2020, Matt Johnson made headlines when he posed as the CEO of the pork giant Smithfield Foods and appeared on the Fox Business channel.
Matt Johnson: “Our industry poses a serious threat in effectively bringing on the next pandemic, with CDC data showing that three of four infectious diseases come from animals. And the conditions inside of our farms can sometimes be Petri dishes for new diseases. Hog farming also causes immense harm to our air and waterways.”
Afterwards, Fox Business realized they’d been “punked.”