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The war in Ukraine: Questions and answers

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WASHINGTON – It’s been three weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine, causing countless deaths and widespread destruction and generating the greatest refugee flow in Europe since World War II.
Russia’s unprovoked attack unified Europe and NATO and prompted unprecedented sanctions aimed at crippling the Russian economy and forcing Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table.
Here are some questions and answers about the conflict.

When did the war start?
On the morning of Feb. 24, while the United Nations Security Council was holding an emergency session, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a pre-recorded video announcing a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

He had declared war without saying the words. Artillery barrages and airstrikes rained on Ukraine as Russian soldiers and equipment began to move across the border from the north, east and south.

Russia had been assembling forces on the Ukrainian border since early December 2021.


But this is only the latest and most drastic escalation in a conflict, overlooked by most of the world, that has been ongoing since 2014.

In the early months of that year, the Ukrainian people ousted then-President Victor Yanukovych after he unilaterally decided to create closer ties with Russia instead of signing a treaty with the
European Union that the parliament had overwhelmingly supported.

Yanukovych fled Ukraine during what is called the Maidan Revolution. Russia viewed the revolution as an illegal coup and took the opportunity to annex the Crimean Peninsula and start a proxy war in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of Ukraine.

The fighting in the two provinces between the Ukrainian Army and Russian-backed separatists came to be known as the Donbas War, a relatively low-level conflict that nevertheless has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 14,000 people.

What is Russia and Ukraine’s history?
Ukraine and Russia have a long, intertwined history. Many Ukrainian families have blood relatives in Russia and vice versa. The two peoples share religious beliefs and cultural traditions.

Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, was the founding seat of Kievan Rus’ from the 9th to the 13th century – the predecessor of the Russian tsarist empire.

In its later history, Ukraine was alternately part of the Russian Empire, an independent country and then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Ukraine declared itself an independent country in August of 1991. The Soviet Union collapsed in December of that same year. The Russian Federation, the successor to the Soviet Union, has viewed Ukraine as within its sphere of influence ever since.

What is NATO?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a political and military alliance among 30 European and North American countries.

It was founded in 1949 to counter the expanding influence of the Soviet Union after the end of World War II. After the fall of the USSR, former Warsaw Pact states such as Poland and Hungary joined NATO, thus shrinking the Russian sphere of influence.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member country is to be treated as an attack on every member country, binding every signatory to come to the defense of the attacked. This includes responses ranging from conventional military forces up to the use of nuclear weapons.

President Joe Biden has promised to “defend every inch” of NATO territory should Russia expand the scope of the conflict. He has also repeatedly stated that neither the United States nor NATO will send soldiers to fight on Ukraine’s behalf.

Three NATO members – the United States, the United Kingdom and France – are recognized nuclear weapon states.

Is Ukraine a NATO member state?
Ukraine is not a NATO member state but has been forging stronger ties with the organization since the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and the beginning of the Donbas War.

United States special forces and military units of other NATO members have trained the Ukrainian Army.

A 2014 poll showed that nearly 50% of the Ukrainian public supported joining NATO. That percentage jumped up to about 69% in a 2020 poll. At the same time, Ukraine’s president began talks with NATO to join the alliance.

The expansion of NATO influence is one of the reasons Putin cited as justification for the invasion of Ukraine.

In the early days of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked NATO to grant emergency membership to his country. On March 15, he announced Ukraine will no longer seek NATO membership.

However, Zelenskyy on Feb. 28 signed the application for Ukraine to become an European Union member state. An overwhelming majority of EU members voted to advance Ukraine’s application, but full integration into the EU will take some time.

What has been the international response to the invasion?
The international response has largely followed the United States’ lead. According to a March 11 White House statement, over 30 countries have levied sanctions against Russia, including Switzerland, which traditionally maintained neutrality in international conflicts.

Germany halted the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea gas pipeline, which would have doubled the inflow of Russian gas into the country.

Collectively, the international community cut key Russian banks off from the SWIFT system, preventing those entities from making or receiving international payments.

The United States and other NATO countries have also been providing arms to Ukraine in the form of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.

Several NATO countries have shown interest in expanding their own military capabilities as they aid Ukraine. Both Germany and Poland have signed deals to buy American F-35 fighter jets and in mid-February the State Department approved a contract for Poland to buy 250 Abrams tanks.

The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to pass a non-binding resolution to condemn Russia’s invasion.

What effects are the sanctions having?
Since the first round of sanctions was imposed, the Russian ruble has severely depreciated in value. One U.S. dollar was worth the equivalent of about 120 rubles as of March 15.
Russia’s stock exchange has remained closed since the start of the invasion.

An International Monetary Fund official said that Russia defaulting on its sovereign debt is no longer “improbable.”

The sanctions target Putin and the oligarchs closest to him. Their assets, like private yacht and condo penthouses, are being seized and they are unable to leave Russia as all Russian planes have been banned from U.S. and EU airspace.

Private companies and athletic organizations have been moving their businesses out of Russia.

The Formula 1 racing championship canceled its Sochi Grand Prix. Numerous global firms, including McDonalds, Exxon, Ford Motor Co., Airbnb, Disney and Ikea, have suspended business in Russia.

What countries support Russia?
Despite the near-universal international condemnation of Russia, a handful of countries have stood behind Russia. Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria all voted against the UN resolution.

Belarus allowed Russian forces to attack Ukraine from its territory.

China has remained on the sidelines of this conflict, walking a tightrope between the United States and Russia. While China has yet to publicly criticize Russia, it has called for hostilities to cease and peace talks to begin.

What is the status of the war?
It has been 20 days since the beginning of the Russian invasion and Ukraine has been holding its own. The Russian advance has stalled in many places, according to U.S. and international military and intelligence officials.

The quick lightning strikes Russian forces attempted in the early days of the war to either seize or destroy key objectives largely failed. The Russians still have not gained air superiority.

The anti-armor and anti-air missiles supplied to Ukraine by NATO countries have been extremely effective.

The exact number of Russian losses is hard to say with any accuracy, as reports vary wildly. The latest estimates from U.S. officials report Russia has lost up to 6,000 soldiers. As of March 16, Kyiv estimates over 13,800 Russian soldiers have been killed. And 430 tanks and 84 planes have been disabled. Little information has been published about Ukrainian losses.

The Russian military has been plagued by logistical, supply and strategic issues, according to western military analysts.

Undamaged Russian tanks have been found abandoned in fields because they ran out of fuel. Russian soldiers have reportedly been begging for food from Ukrainians. A picture of a Russian ration pack showed it had expired in 2015.

The Russians have seemingly changed their strategy from achieving military objectives to attempting to force submission through the general destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Residential neighborhoods, hospitals and utility providers have been targeted with weapons like cluster bombs – a type of munition whose use has been deemed a war crime because of their potential to cause widespread and indiscriminate casualties.

Who is Russia sending to fight?
Before the invasion began, the United States estimated Russia had amassed up to 190,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border, along with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, anti-aircraft defenses and all the necessary logistical support, including fuel and blood for field hospitals.

Since the invasion began, videos of captured Russian soldiers have been surfacing on social media. While unverified, the individual videos do share similar narratives.

The soldiers are often young men who claim to be conscripts. Many say they were told they were on training missions and weren’t told they were being sent to fight in Ukraine. Others say they were told the Ukrainians wanted the Russians to “liberate” them and expected to be welcomed with open arms.

The Russian government previously said there were no conscripts fighting in Ukraine. On March 9, the Kremlin acknowledged there were conscripts in Ukraine.

U.S. officials have recently said that Russia is recruiting mercenaries from countries like Syria and Libya. Estimates range up to 40,000 fighters.

What do Russian citizens think about the war?
Tens of thousands of Russian citizens have been protesting the war since its beginning in every major Russian city and around the world. Citizens, athletes and even a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin have called for an end to the war.

The protests have been so widespread that Putin felt the need to criminalize repeated protesting and police have been diligently enforcing the law.

Videos of police in full riot gear dragging away protesters have plastered social media feeds. A 77-year-old woman who lived through the siege of Leningrad during the second world war was arrested for protesting the war.

Nearly all independent media in Russia has been shut down and social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been blocked by Russian authorities.

Who is fighting for Ukraine?
The Ukrainian regular Army numbered around 200,000 active personnel in 2016, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies. That made it the second largest army in Europe at the time, with Russia wielding the largest number of conventional forces.

At the time, the Ukrainian Army had been fighting Russian-backed separatists for two years and had undertaken a modernization program to bring its equipment in line with NATO standards by 2020.

An accurate count of the current number of personnel in the Ukrainian armed forces is hard to come by.

In the months leading up to the invasion, thousands of civilians enlisted in the army and even more received training in basic weapons handling. Videos of civilians making Molotov cocktails and home-brewed napalm have surfaced on social media.

In late February, Ukraine announced that males aged 18 to 60 would not be permitted to leave the country as long as martial law remained in effect.
Zelenskyy welcomed foreign nationals to fight for his country. According to Kyiv, over 20,000 personnel have enlisted in the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. These numbers have yet to be independently verified.

What are Ukrainian civilians doing?
Apart from those who have taken up arms, many Ukrainian civilians have sought shelter in their home cities.

In 2020, Ukraine had an estimated population of 44 million. On March 15, the International Organization for Migration – a UN agency – said more than 3 million people had fled the conflict to neighboring countries. This number includes foreign nationals living in Ukraine.

The UN Human Rights Office said on March 15 that at least 726 Ukrainian civilians have been confirmed dead and 1,174 have been injured. Other estimates are higher.

What is a NATO no-fly zone?
Zelenskyy asked NATO in early March to impose a no-fly zone over Ukrainian airspace. Since then it has become a popular talking point for media outlets and politicians.

Biden and other NATO leaders have repeatedly stated that NATO will not implement a no-fly zone, stating that it would cause an escalation in tensions between Russia and the alliance and a direct military confrontation could lead to World War III.

A no-fly zone means the military effectively closes an airspace with the threat of or use of force.

A NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine would mean Russian war planes would not be allowed to fly over Ukraine and thus prevented from conducting air strikes on military and civilian targets.

By RYAN WHITE
Capital News Service

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New House Democratic leaders look ahead to being in the minority in January

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Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York (center), Katherine Clark of Massachusetts (right), and Pete Aguilar of California, the new Democratic House leadership, held a press conference on Tuesday to discuss their future plans for the party. (Courtney Cohn/Capital News Service)

 

WASHINGTON — As Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy struggles to gain support to become speaker, Democrats have rallied around their new leaders, Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar, after the dust settled from the 2022 midterm election.

“It’s all wine and roses right now…because we are coming off a historic over-performance in terms of the House of Representatives,” Jeffries, who will be the first Black man to lead the House Democrats in January and represents New York’s 8th District, told reporters Tuesday.

As minority leader, Jeffries will be tasked with uniting the progressives and moderates of the party, who have clashed over policies in the past.


Specifically, “the squad” – progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; Cori Bush of Missouri, and Jamaal Bowman of New York – have been vocal in their criticisms of the moderate sector of the party.

Jeffries said that it should not be difficult to find a level of unity among them.

“At the end of the day, what unites us is our genuine, authentic commitment to putting people over politics, to fighting for lower costs for better-paying jobs for safer communities, defending democracy, fighting for freedom, protecting the public interest and showing economic opportunity in every corner of America,” Jeffries said.

Another question many observers have is how the new Democratic leadership will work to bridge the gap with Republicans dominated by pro-Trump and far-right ideologues.

The House Republicans are struggling to coalesce around a leader. McCarthy is believed to be short of the 218 votes he needs to become speaker, largely because a handful of the most conservative members of his caucus have vowed to oppose him.

McCarthy’s path to the speakership may have been further complicated on Tuesday when Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, announced he would challenge McCarthy for the top post. Biggs called McCarthy “a creature of the establishment status quo.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 38% of Americans believe that partisan relations in Congress will worsen.

“We are genuinely interested in trying to find common ground with the other side of the aisle to advance priorities that make life better for everyday Americans,” Jeffries said.

However, common ground may be difficult since Democrats have continued to bash the Republican Party’s recent push for abortion bans and refusals to condemn those endangering democracy.

“There is an essential question facing Republicans. Do they have an affirmative vision for our country? Or is their only plan to divide us, suspend our Constitution, and roll the clock back on liberty?” said Clark, the incoming minority whip.
Former President Donald Trump posted on TruthSocial on Saturday that “a Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution.” The post about terminating the Constitution has sowed even deeper divisions between the two parties, and Democrats continue to criticize those GOP colleagues who have not yet condemned Trump’s statement.

“It should not be that complicated to denounce the former president,” Jeffries said.

Democrats also doubt that a Republican House can pass legislation raising the debt ceiling and keep the government open.

“We also talked about the importance of preventing a GOP-led government shutdown,” said Pete Aguilar, the incoming House Democratic Caucus chairman.

Jeffries and other party leaders, including President Joe Biden, have specifically been targeting the MAGA wing of the GOP. party.

“The notion that extreme MAGA Republicans would threaten to default on our nation’s debt for the first time in American history in order to blow up Social Security and Medicare is stunning. It’s catastrophic,” Jeffries said.

 

By COURTNEY COHN
Capital News Service

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Late vote count topples five conservative school board candidates in Maryland

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Five socially conservative school board candidates in Maryland who were leading just after Election Night ended up losing when the counting of mail-in and provisional ballots was concluded this week.

Those changes meant that 20 of the 41 socially conservative candidates identified by Capital News Service came out ahead in their races, down from 25 right after last month’s election, according to unofficial results posted on the Maryland Board of Elections website.

Still, nearly half of the conservative board candidates ended up ahead in a state where a Democrat, Wes Moore, won the gubernatorial election by 20 points to become Maryland’s first Black governor.

Conservatives won school board races throughout much of the state, with the largest number elected in Wicomico County, followed by Harford, Baltimore, Carroll, and Washington counties.


But the five social conservatives who fell behind after mail-in and provisional ballots were counted were:
• Dennis Barry, who lost in Harford County’s District B to Wade Sewell.
• Tanya Tyo, who lost in Harford County’s District E to Carol Pitt Bruce.
• James Miller, who lost in Carroll County to Patricia Ann Dorsey.
• Cindy Rose, who lost the last open board seat in Frederick County to Dean Rose.
• John Abbott, who lost in Worcester County’s District 1 to Bill Buchanan.

An earlier version of this story indicated that 25 socially conservative candidates appeared headed to victory. But that was before the final count of mail-in and provisional ballots, which had to be done after Election Day under Maryland state law.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a measure that would have allowed the earlier counting of mail-in ballots. As a result, some Maryland counties didn’t report final results until this week.

The Local News Network at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism identified the conservative candidates by coding their responses to a Capital News Service survey on important issues in the campaign. The Local News Network also scoured the social media of the candidates who did not respond, as well as media coverage of the races and endorsements by conservative organizations, to identify other conservative candidates.

While school board elections are nonpartisan, the conservative candidates’ platforms focused on what they called a fight for parents’ rights in schooling. The conservative candidates often raise the sort of concerns that Maggie Litz Domanowski, a candidate who won her race in Baltimore County’s District 3, mentioned in an interview.

She wants schools to focus on basic subjects and avoid anything students ought to learn at home.

“We need to let our parents do the moral guiding,” she said. “My kids are my kids, and I don’t want someone teaching them a moral or anything about sexuality before I have a chance to teach it to them.”

Domanowski also said parents should have full access to school curricula.

“If it needs to be hidden, then why does it need to be taught?” she asked.

Not surprisingly, the right-leaning candidates saw the most success in conservative parts of Maryland.

Overall, they found seats on the school boards of 14 counties across the state, ranging from Garrett County in western Maryland to Worcester County on the Eastern Shore.

But social conservatives weren’t even on the ballot in three of the state’s largest population centers: Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County.

In Frederick County, a conservative “Education Not Indoctrination” slate campaigned on taking a close look at the district’s curriculum.

“School boards have been abdicating their responsibilities and duties to do what is best for a child’s education,” Cindy Rose, an Education Not Indoctrination slate member who lost her bid for a school board seat in Frederick County, said in response to a CNS survey. “There is too much focus on emotions, sexuality, racial division, and political activism. I want to remove all of that from the classroom. These are family topics of discussion, not government school discussions.”

Four board members were elected in Frederick County, with only one from the Education Not Indoctrination slate: Nancy Allen.

One of the other winning candidates, Rae Gallagher, said she didn’t share the concerns of the Education Not Indoctrination slate regarding the district’s curriculum as well as the books available in school libraries. Now, though, she said it is time for board members on opposite sides of those issues to get past their differences.

“I think any of us who are on the board or in elected positions have to be really aware of some of the polarizing discussions that happened throughout the election cycle,” Gallagher said in an interview. “And we have to work together and be able to listen to all of those views. … But ultimately, for the board, we must come together and make the best decisions for our schools and our kids.”

In Wicomico County, four candidates ran on an Education Not Indoctrination slate, and two of them won: Susan Beauchamp and Kristin Hazel. So did conservative candidate John Palmer, who wrote in the Capital News Service survey that he has “deep concerns about the way U.S. history is being changed and deleted by the woke movement.”

An incumbent, Palmer finished more than 18 percentage points ahead of Jake Blank, an Education Not Indoctrination candidate.

Leonard Arvi, a more progressive candidate, trailed Beauchamp by more than 32 percentage points in Wicomico’s District 3 race.

In an interview, Arvi said that moderate voices on the board will outnumber the three conservatives elected this week. Arvi also noted that most of the district’s funding comes from the state, as do the parameters of the schools’ curriculum, thereby limiting the board’s power.

“I think most of the candidates are moderate once they go on the board because the board itself does not have a lot of leeways,” Arvi said.

Michael Guessford, a conservative candidate who joined the Washington County school board in 2018 and won his reelection Tuesday, credited the COVID-19 pandemic with getting more parents to take a closer look at what was happening in local schools.

“Once [parents and grandparents] started seeing the curriculum that is being taught in our schools … they’re finally stepping up,” Guessford said in an interview. “They’re saying: ‘Whoa, whoa, let’s get back to teaching the basics. We don’t need all these other clubs. We don’t need all this other rhetoric in our schools right now.’”

In the Capital News Service survey, Guessford indicated that he wanted a committee of parents to review all books present in school libraries.

But other candidates are wary of allowing parents to have too much control over what’s happening in the schools. Among those candidates is Samay Singh Kindra, who fell three points short of his opponent, Brenda Hatcher-Savoy, in Baltimore County’s District 4.

“I think that it’s hard to address parental rights as a topic because that encompasses a lot,” he said in an interview. For some people, “that means more transparency with the board of education in terms of just being communicative. For others, that means parents getting a say directly over the curriculum of every subject, and that’s something that, obviously, I’m not in favor of. We have a board of education in the school system for a reason.”

 

By JENNA BLOOM and DANIELLE HODES
Capital News Service

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Little appetite for Manchin permitting bill in congressional lame-duck session

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Among the items on Congress’ lengthy to-do list by the end of the year is U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s proposal to speed up the federal government’s permitting process that certifies energy projects do not harm the environment.

But the bill, which was a condition of the centrist West Virginia Democrat’s support for his party’s larger climate, health care, and taxes measure earlier this year, may still not have the support it needs to pass, with progressive Democrats concerned about the effects on environmental protections.

Failing to pass a bill this year would be a disappointment to Manchin and his allies in the oil, gas, and coal sectors, who have pushed for years to loosen federal permitting requirements. Some renewable energy advocates also say that federal permitting must be reformed for wind and solar technology to reach their highest potential.

But it would be welcome news for environmental advocates, who say the bill would weaken a fundamental environmental law that protects communities from pollution while providing little in the way of new renewable energy capacity.


Congress is expected to be in session through much of December before adjourning for a new session in January, and a split government as Republicans take over the House with a slim majority.

“It’s a pretty tight calendar, and they have a lot they have to do,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the Manchin bill, speaking of the lame-duck session of Congress. “So, do you spend a lot of time on a piece of legislation that is very deeply divisive?”

Environmental justice concerns

Environmental groups, including those in the environmental justice movement that seeks to protect marginalized communities from exposure to pollution, have opposed the bill from the start.

The measure would put time limits on environmental reviews and restrict communities’ power to challenge agency decisions in court.

“Senator Manchin’s legislation is a harbinger for the permanent silencing of environmental justice communities in the permitting process, while also eviscerating the rights to due process in a court of law should they deem it necessary to protect their communities from harm,” 70 environmental justice organizations said in a Nov. 15 letter to President Joe Biden.

The letter was distributed Monday by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a progressive Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee and has vocally opposed the Manchin bill.

Kaine says Mountain Valley Pipeline provision in Manchin bill ‘could open the door to serious abuse and even corruption’

The Manchin bill targets requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, demanding that environmental reviews of major projects be completed within two years and all others within one.

Those time limits don’t actually weaken the requirements of the law, but an artificial timeline without additional resources to complete reviews could lead to agencies cutting corners, said Aaron Weiss, the deputy director of the conservation group Center for Western Priorities.

“And when agencies cut corners on NEPA reviews, that’s how they get tied up in court for years,” Weiss said. “So the irony of at least the last Manchin proposal that we saw is it didn’t seem like it would actually do much to streamline NEPA reviews and, if anything, that it could backfire.”

A major sticking point in the Manchin bill is its provision approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said earlier this year that he opposed the bill because of that section. The pipeline should go through standard environmental reviews, he said.

Green energy

The permitting bill was part of a deal Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made with Manchin to secure his support for Democrats’ major climate, health care, and taxes bill, which provided $370 billion in clean energy spending.

Schumer said at the time he didn’t love the idea of weakening environmental statutes, but it was a necessary concession to Manchin to pass the larger bill. He also said that reforms could speed up clean energy projects.

“In terms of the permitting reform, I didn’t like it, but it was something that Sen. Manchin wanted,” he said in a press conference immediately following Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in August. “We modified it some, and, in fact, it has some very good things for the environment. It’s going to make permitting easier for clean energy.”

But that argument hasn’t caught on completely, as environmental advocates oppose trading away longstanding federal protections for permitting changes that would help both clean energy and fossil fuel production.

“It is pretty naïve to think that if we gut NEPA that the bigger winner would somehow be renewable energy,” said Hartl of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“I think (renewable energy) transmission is important,” said Lisa Frank, the executive director of the Washington office of the environmental group Environment America. “But we don’t see it as this do-or-die moment that we have to pass something by December or a clean energy future is wrecked.”

Prospects yet this year

There are indications Manchin and Schumer are continuing to work to appease the bill’s opponents and pass it this year, likely as an attachment to either a government funding bill or the annual defense authorization.

The White House is supportive. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during the Nov. 10 White House daily briefing that the defense bill should include Manchin’s permitting proposal.

But the permitting bill remains without critical support in Washington.

“As you saw when we tried it last time, there weren’t enough Republican votes,” Schumer told reporters Tuesday. “I’m working with Sen. Manchin to see what we can get done.”

Despite Schumer’s blessing, rank-and-file Democrats, especially on the House side, have largely not endorsed it.

Progressives have well-documented concerns about the bill. Neither progressives nor Republicans have given any indication that they are changing their positions. Grijalva, in the  Monday letter, reaffirmed his opposition.

Republicans, in theory, should favor a proposal to streamline federal permits. Some Republicans have railed for years at the red tape that slows down and increases the cost of infrastructure building.

A more conclusive victory for Republicans in the midterms may have brought Democrats and environmental groups back to the negotiating table this year to try to hash out a deal — especially on clean energy transmission — before the less environmentally conscious GOP takes over in January, Hartl said.

But with a slim, single-digit majority in the House, Republican Leader and presumptive next House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may be unable to corral votes on a permitting bill, and progressives appear more willing to take their chances.

“The odds of Republican dysfunction and inability to function are extremely high in the next Congress,” Hartl said.

Still, Manchin and Schumer have pulled off surprises before. Most recently, Manchin insisted this summer he was still working on a climate bill that he could support, even as his colleagues in Congress and many other observers blamed his ambivalence for tanking the chances of any legislation to address climate.

He and Schumer emerged within weeks with a deal for a major bill.

An individual close to Manchin said in late November that the senator “continues to look for ways to pass it by the end of the year.”

But given the packed agenda — funding the government, authorizing annual military spending, perhaps raising the debt ceiling, and passing a bill to clarify how the Electoral College works — Democrats may prefer to stick to items they agree on, Hartl said.

 

by Jacob Fischler, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Wildlife Center of Virginia serves Thanksgiving meals for dozens of wild animals

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Photo / The Wildlife Center of Virginia

Staff at The Wildlife Center of Virginia are checking ingredients and updating their guest list. Currently, the Center’s veterinary and rehabilitation teams are expecting to provide care, and species-specific meals, for approximately 98 animals on Thanksgiving Day. A sampling of which species are currently being cared for at the Center, including information on their histories, treatments, and plans of care, can be found at wildlifecenter.org/critter-corner/current-patients or through links featured on the organization’s homepage at wildlifecenter.org.

On November 24, the Center anticipates to be caring for approximately 77 patients and 21 education animals. Wildlife rehabilitators will be preparing and delivering meals, as well as cleaning enclosures and updating patient records. Compared to the summer months when the Center had nearly 300 patients to serve on a daily basis, a guest list of 98 will be comparatively “easy” to handle.

Turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce aren’t on the Wildlife Center menus – instead of a traditional family-style Thanksgiving meal, the Wildlife Center crew will make dozens of species-specific diets, which cater to each species’ needs and each patient’s particular desires.


While the rehabilitation staff are busy in the kitchen, Center veterinarians will provide medical care for patients in need – distributing and administering medications, cleaning wounds and changing bandages, completing daily checks, and other medical procedures – and remain ready for any new patients that might arrive. New patient admissions are always a possibility, any day of the year. By the time the staff go home to their Thanksgiving dinners, all 98 animals will be fed, watered, and cared for.

The Center is able to provide quality healthcare to wild animals in need through the generosity and support of caring individuals. We send our supporters and friends our best wishes for a wonderful holiday. Our patients are thankful for their support… and we are too!

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Looking at the NFL’s history of concussion failure after Tagovailoa scare

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Earlier this season, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa took two major hits to the head within four days, prompting questions about the NFL’s commitment to their concussion protocol.

Tagovailoa sustained an injury against the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 after being shoved, falling backward, and bouncing his head off the turf.

He stumbled as he got to his feet, with teammates supporting him until he was taken back to the locker room for evaluation.

The Dolphins tweeted that he was questionable to return with a head injury, but he returned for the second half.


Four days later, Tagovailoa started against the Cincinnati Bengals and was subsequently slammed to the turf, sustaining a frightening concussion.

Viewers watched in horror as he raised his locked-up hands in front of his face. Tagovailoa suffered the “fencing response,” one of the body’s responses to brain trauma where the arms go into an unnatural position, according to Healthline.

The incident was severe enough to spark revisions to the NFL’s concussion protocol and created “Tua’s Rule.” The new revision states that ataxia, poor muscle control that can result from injury, is grounds for immediate removal from the game.

A doctor, who remains unnamed, was let go from the Dolphins in the wake of the scare.

According to CBS, John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens head coach, was astonished by what he saw Tagovailoa endure.

During a high stake playoff game versus the Buffalo Bills in January 2021, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson left the game with a concussion.

The Ravens did not score for the rest of the game, but when asked about the situation in the press conference after the season-ending loss, Harbaugh said, “I’m not frustrated at all. He was in the concussion protocol. He had a concussion and was ruled out with a concussion. That’s where it stands.”

Some have pointed to Jackson being taken out as a team prioritizing concussion protocol in even more serious games than Tagovailoa’s Week 4 match-up.

While sustained concussions have been down since the pandemic, concerns are still being raised about the failure of the concussion protocol.

Recently, eyes have fallen on the injury rate in special teams, the members of a team who are on the field during kicking plays. ESPN reported before the 2022-23 season that one in six concussions occur within special teams despite their plays only making up 17% of a game.

Given the high injury rates, the NFL is funding technologies to help lower the rate of concussions in practices but has no active intent to deploy them in the game.

After receiving $20,000 in funding from a competition that promotes safety innovation in the NFL, Guardian Caps were used by every NFL team before the start of this season.

The cap is Guardian Sport’s soft-shell helmet cover created with the purpose of minimizing the risk of concussions in practices after the founders realized that changing the “look and sound” of the sport is something that players and fans alike would not want. In response, Guardian Sports created an easily detachable cap for practices.

The padding on the helmet helps absorb the impact from a collision, potentially saving players from head trauma.

The NFL reported that all offensive linemen, tight ends, and linebackers were required to use the caps until the second preseason game.

Usage of the cap saw a 50 percent reduction in concussions compared to the average rate in 2018, 2019, and 2021.

The NFL tweeted, saying, “The Guardian Cap results in at least a 10% reduction in the severity of impact if one player is wearing it, and at least a 20% reduction in impact if two players in a collision are wearing it.”

However, the caps have not been received well by many players who used them at training camps. Notably, J.J. Watt, three-time NFL defensive player of the year, expressed his displeasure.

ESPN reported that Watt joked about being fined for how much he expressed distaste with the caps. He felt off balance wearing it and said it made him feel like a bobblehead.

The consequences of not taking any preventative measures for concussions are dire, and the use of Guardian Caps alone may not be enough to help players in the long run.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by repetitive head trauma, has been found in 99 percent of donated brains of NFL players.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation says that behavioral symptoms linked to CTE can begin in a patient’s 20s. Commonly reported symptoms to include impulse control problems, aggression, mood swings, depression, paranoia, and anxiety.

Symptoms tend to worsen over time and give way to cognitive issues like confusion, impaired judgment, and dementia. Players face the risk of premature death while the disease continues to degenerate their brains.

One of the head researchers of CTE, Doctor Ann McKee, stressed that the numbers from this study should not be used to estimate the number of overall patients due to the studied brains all coming from symptomatic individuals.

However, CBS reported that the NFL expects 6,000 of 20,000 retired players to one day suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia.

No treatment for CTE exists.

 

The frightening number of potential cognitive issues caused by playing in the league prompted a $1 billion settlement, but black retired players struggled to qualify for dementia-related payouts due to racial bias.

“Race-norming” was used in the dementia testing, assuming that black players would have lower baseline scores. The profiling complicated the process for retired players to show they had a substantial decline in their mental state, according to The Washington Post.

Despite steps being taken by the NFL and the National Football League Players Association to begin addressing the dangers of head trauma and CTE, well over 1,600 players have been concussed since the 2015-16 season.

 

Dr. McKee stressed the importance of the NFL accepting and combatting their high concussion rate to PBS, saying, “The NFL concentrating on concussions means that athletes at the college level, the high school level, and hopefully at the Pop Warner level are going to pay attention to concussions, too.”

By Matthew Wynn
Capital News Service

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House GOP lawmakers say they will probe Hunter Biden

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In January, Rep. James Comer, R-Kentucky, will become chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. He told reporters Thursday that the panel would be investigating the business activities of Hunter Biden, son of President Joe Biden. (Nolan Clancy/Capital News Service)

 

WASHINGTON – Reps. On Thursday, James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio set the focus of the soon-to-be Republican-led House oversight and judiciary committees on an investigation of President Joe Biden and his family.

As the new 118th Congress takes shape and prepares to take office in January, the House will flip narrowly to Republican control, in turn giving the party the chairmanships of committees for the first time since the 115th Congress in 2019.

Comer is expected to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Jordan likely will be chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The pair, flanked by other Republican committee members, spoke at a press conference about the alleged international dealings of the president’s son Hunter Biden and how they implicated the president.


“This is an investigation of Joe Biden, the President of the United States, and why he lied to the American people about his knowledge and participation in his family’s international business schemes,” Comer said.

A spokeswoman for the House Democrats, Nelly Decker, told CNN the GOP’s targeting of the Bidens was politically motivated.

“Now that former President Trump is running for office again, House Republicans’ top priority is attacking President Biden and his family in a desperate attempt to return Mr. Trump to power,” Decker said.

More broadly, the future committee heads said they would prioritize investigating activities they consider overreaching by the federal government.

Jordan said the judiciary panel would target what it deems to be political within the Justice Department, keying in on specific actions that he said interfered with U.S. elections in the past.

Jordan alleged that the FBI spied on former President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016 and went on to speculate that the bureau’s raid of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in August was an attempt to influence the most recent election.

“Maybe it’d be nice if the FBI and the Justice Department just stayed out of it and let we, the people, decide who we think should represent us, who we think should lead us?” Jordan asked rhetorically. “That’s supposed to be how America works.”

On the oversight side, Comer said the committee had obtained two Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) from banks that involved members of the Biden family. SARs are filed by financial institutions to report known or suspected violations of law, according to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.

“We’re going to do a lot of investigations. We’re going to do a lot of probing,” Comer said. “We’re focused on waste, fraud, and abuse, and there’s no shortage of that in this federal government; let me assure you that.”

Republicans on the oversight panel published an interim staff report entitled “A President Compromised: The Biden Family Investigation,” a 31-page document that included screenshots of emails, SARs, and articles that alleged corrupt dealings.

Most of the evidence presented was allegedly obtained from Hunter’s laptop, which was said to be recovered from a Wilmington, Delaware, repair shop in 2020.

A Justice Department investigation led by the U.S. attorney in Wilmington began in 2018 and remains open, but no charges have been brought against Hunter or the president thus far.

Neither Comer nor Jordan responded when asked about the possibility of an attempt to impeach Biden in the House.

“You’re going to be presented with something you haven’t been used to over the past four years: evidence,” Comer said.

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