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Thursday, Dec 08th

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Pandemic relief fraud report says online financial company CEOs, family got rich

Paycheck protection program

A congressional subcommittee issued its final report Thursday about financial fraud supercharged by online lending during the pandemic, which alleged executives and their families enriched themselves through government relief programs.

Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, focused much of the 130-page report on Womply and Blueacorn, both of which emerged as major players that fused tech and financing to speed up lending through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Womply had no lending experience before COVID-19 and Blueacorn did not exist, yet together the companies captured more than $3 billion in fees – eclipsing their direct competitors.

The startups are not banks but worked as middlemen, marketing to struggling businesses and quickly approving loans with partner banks, backed by the Small Business Administration. The companies make their money through a government-paid fee for facilitating the loans.

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Biden urged to threaten Israel weapons halt over far-right concerns

Ben Gvir, leader of Pwer Party in Israel

Two former senior US diplomats have made a highly unusual call for the Biden administration to cut weapons supplies to Israel if the incoming far-right government uses them to annex Palestinian land, expel Arabs or finally kill off the diminishing possibility of a Palestinian state.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel under George W Bush, and Aaron David Miller, a US Middle East peace negotiator during several administrations, have called for what they described as an “unprecedented and controversial” break from America’s largely unconditional military and diplomatic support for Israel if “the most extreme government in the history of the state” pursues the stated aims of some of its members.

The pair warn that these could include “efforts to change the status of the West Bank”, in effect a warning against partial or wholesale annexation of Palestinian land to Israel. They also warned against increased use of force against Arabs in the occupied territories and Israel by incoming ministers who have espoused openly racist views, escalating settlement construction, and moves “to build infrastructure for settlers that is designed to foreclose the possibility of a two-state solution”.

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Democrats Are Now In Possession Of 6 Years Of Donald Trump’s Tax Returns

House has Trump tax returns

The House Ways & Means Committee is now in possession of six years of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns after a three-year battle to obtain them.

The committee received the documents from the Treasury Department on Wednesday after the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s final appeal on Nov. 22, according to the Treasury Department.

“Treasury has complied with last week’s court decision,” a Treasury official said.

The receipt of Trump’s tax returns brings to a close a three-year legal fight that began when Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) asked the Treasury Department to hand over the then-president’s tax returns under a law that allows congressional tax-writing committees to obtain tax returns for its investigations.

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Garland holds briefing on conviction of Oath Keeper leader for seditious conspiracy

Garland holds briefingThe seditious conspiracy convictions of Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and another leader in the far-right extremist group show that jurors are willing to hold accountable not just the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, but those who schemed to subvert the 2020 election.

Tuesday’s verdict, while not a total win for the Justice Department, gives momentum to investigators just as the newly named special counsel ramps up his probe into key aspects of the insurrection fueled by President Donald Trump’s lies of a stolen election.

As Democrats call for charges to be brought against Trump and the House committee investigating the insurrection weighs making a criminal referral to the Justice Department, the Oath Keepers verdict may embolden investigators to build cases against other major players behind the push to keep Trump in power.

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US gun death rate hits 30-year high with female fatalities rising faster than men’s

Gun deaths in US

The US gun death rate last year hit its highest mark in nearly 30 years and the rate among women has been growing faster than that of men, according to a new study.

The increase among women – most dramatically, in Black women – is playing a tragic and under-recognized role in a tally that skews overwhelmingly male, researchers said.

“Women can get lost in the discussion because so many of the fatalities are men,” said one the authors, Dr Eric Fleegler of Harvard Medical School.

Among Black women, the rate of firearm-related homicides more than tripled since 2010 and the rate of gun-related suicides more than doubled since 2015, Fleegler and his co-authors wrote in the paper published by JAMA Network Open.

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U.S. House votes to block rail strike, mandate paid sick leave

US House votes to block rail strikeThe U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to approve a bill to block a potentially crippling railroad strike and to mandate paid sick time for rail workers.

Lawmakers voted 290 to 137 to impose a tentative contract deal reached in September on a dozen unions representing 115,000 workers after President Joe Biden warned of the catastrophic impact of a rail stoppage that could begin as early as Dec. 9.

The House separately voted 221 to 207 to give seven days of paid sick leave to railroad employees, but that faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Democrats and some Republicans have expressed outrage over the lack of paid short-term sick leave for railroad workers.

"We know much more needs to be done for railroad workers," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said ahead of the votes. "No one should be at risk of losing his or her job by staying home when sick, needing to see a doctor or getting lifesaving surgery."

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Mohammed bin Salman accused of attempt to ‘manipulate’ US court system

Mohammed bin Salman

A lawyer for Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, has accused Mohammed bin Salman of engaging in an unprecedented and blatant attempt to “manipulate” the US court system in order to “secure impunity” after allegedly ordering the 2018 murder of the journalist.

In a blistering 10-page legal filing, lawyer Keith Harper, who represents Cengiz and the pro-democracy group Dawn in a US civil case against the Saudi crown prince, urged Judge John Bates to reject a controversial suggestion by the Biden administration that Prince Mohammed be granted sovereign immunity in the case.

Harper said that while it was customary for judges to defer to the executive branch on judgments of whether foreign leaders should be granted head-of-state immunity, this case “differs fundamentally” because – he said – Saudis had engaged in a legal manoeuvre that had no precedent “in the history of international law”.

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Man Arrested After Allegedly Assaulting Officers With Pole During Capitol Attack

Man arrested after alleegedy assaulting COp on Jan6

An Indiana man accused of assaulting law enforcement officers with a flagpole during last year’s deadly Capitol insurrection has been arrested on felony charges, the Justice Department announced Monday.

Federal agents linked Dale Huttle, 61, of Crown Point to the Jan. 6, 2021, violence through photos and phone records, according to a newly unsealed criminal complaint. He was taken into custody on Nov. 9 but has been released ahead of pending court hearings in Washington, D.C.

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Hakeem Jeffries Elected To Lead House Dems' Next Generation

Hakeem Jeffries elected new House Minority LeaderEmboldened House Democrats ushered in a new generation of leaders on Wednesday with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries elected to be the first Black American to head a major political party in Congress as long-serving Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her team step aside next year.

Showing rare party unity after their midterm election losses, the House Democrats moved seamlessly from one history-making leader to another, choosing the 52-year-old New Yorker, who has vowed to “get things done,” even after Republicans won control of the chamber. The closed-door vote was unanimous, by acclamation.

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