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Updated: 13 hours 46 min ago

Smartmatic sues Mike Lindell for defamation, saying he is 'crazy like a fox' and alleging he 'intentionally stoked the fires of xenophobia and party-divide for the noble purpose of selling his pillows'

14 hours 4 min ago
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is facing yet another lawsuit. Voting machine company Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit against the pillow CEO on Tuesday, alleging that he pushed conspiracy theories to sell pillows.
  • Voting company Smartmatic filed a defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell on Tuesday.
  • "Crazy like a fox. Mike Lindell knows exactly what he is doing, and it is dangerous," Smartmatic said.
  • Smartmatic claims Lindell is pushing conspiracy theories to seize a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to sell pillows.

Voting machine company Smartmatic filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and the company, alleging that he spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election to sell pillows. 

"Crazy like a fox. Mike Lindell knows exactly what he is doing, and it is dangerous," Smartmatic alleges in its lawsuit, which includes Lindell's company, MyPillow, as one of the defendants.

The voting machine company sued both Lindell and MyPillow for defamation and deceptive trade practices. Smartmatic is asking for an unspecified amount of monetary compensation and for Lindell to retract claims he made that they and other voting machine companies switched votes from former President Donald Trump to President Joe Biden in 2020.

"He knows voting machines did not switch votes from former President Trump to now-President Biden. These facts do not matter to Mr. Lindell because he knows he can sell," reads Smartmatic's lawsuit. "He knows he can sell a preconceived story about voting machines stealing democracy by stealing votes from a president who is incredibly popular with millions of Americans. And, of course, Mr. Lindell — 'the MyPillow Guy' — knows he needs to sell pillows to keep and increase his fortune." 

In its filing, the voting machine company further alleged that Lindell was taking advantage of a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to make money by pushing baseless voter fraud claims.

"Mr. Lindell intentionally stoked the fires of xenophobia and party-divide for the noble purpose of selling his pillows," read Smartmatic's complaint, adding that the MyPillow brand was placed "conveniently" and "strategically" during Lindell's media appearances. 

"Mr. Lindell's message was as dangerous as it was factually inaccurate," Smartmatic continued. 

When reached for comment on Tuesday night, Lindell told Insider that he was "excited" about the Smartmatic lawsuit because it would allow him to present evidence that he says he has on them.

"They're guilty. They've attacked us and were part of the biggest crime in history against our country. And they're going to all go to prison," Lindell told Insider when asked for comment about Smartmatic's lawsuit against him. "The reason I'm going after Smartmatic and Dominion is because they helped commit one of the biggest crimes against the American people, and my grandchildren deserve a future in this country." 

"It's kind of hilarious when I've lost over $80 million from the box stores, retailers, and shopping channels dropping me. And I poured over $30 million into this election crimes that these guys committed and Smartmatic helped commit," Lindell told Insider. "Also, I was selling pillows long before the election."

Lindell previously told Insider that he had spent more than $25 million on voter-fraud claims, adding that the breakdown included $10 million that he said he spent building Frank Speech, the social media platform from which he broadcasts nightly.  

This lawsuit is the latest in a string of legal troubles for the pillow CEO. He is also facing a lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. The company filed a defamation suit against Lindell for $1.3 billion, and MyPillow is counter-suing Dominion for $1.6 billion.

Read the original article on Business Insider

January 6 committee obtains phone records of Eric Trump and his brother's fiancé, Kimberly Guilfoyle, through subpoenas

14 hours 31 min ago
Eric Trump speaks with Donald Trump Jr's fiancé Kimberly Guilfoyle during a "Keep Iowa Great" press conference in Des Moines, IA, on February 3, 2020.
  • Both Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle spoke at Donald Trump's rally preceding the Capitol riot.
  • Phone records obtained by the committee contain logs of texts, as well as incoming and outgoing calls.
  • Guilfoyle claimed in texts that she raised $3 million for the rally, according to ProPublica.

Phone records of Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle have been obtained by the select House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, marking the first time the panel has issued subpoenas to family members of former President Donald Trump, CNN reported.

On Tueday, CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel broke the story to "The Situation Room" anchor Wolf Blitzer. 

"As far as we know, this is the first time the committee has issued a subpoena targeting one of the Trump children, and it really underscores just how aggressive the committee is willing to be in its investigation," Gangel said.

Obtained from communication companies, the records disclose logs of incoming and outgoing calls, as well as their time, length, and date, according to CNN. The records also contain a log of text messages but do not disclose their content.

Both Eric Trump and Guilfoyle, who is engaged to Donald Trump Jr., spoke at a January 6 rally held by Donald Trump hours before the Capitol riot and made baseless claims about the 2020 election being stolen. Guilfoyle, a fundraiser for the former president, claimed in text messages two days prior that she raised $3 million for the rally, according to a ProPublica report.

The announcement follows the issuance of additional subpoenas on Tuesday to other members of Donald Trump's inner circle, including Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, and Boris Epshteyn.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The White House is setting up a plan to give out free N95 masks through pharmacies and community sites, a new report says

15 hours 1 min ago
A medical assistant wears an N95 mask on January 4, 2022.
  • President Joe Biden's administration plans to give out free N95s, Politico reported. 
  • The White House is expected to announce the plan on Wednesday. 
  • According to Politico, the masks will be given out at pharmacies and community sites. 

The White House plans to announce an initiative to distribute hundreds of millions of free N95 masks through pharmacies and community sites on Wednesday, Politico reported. 

President Joe Biden's administration will use masks from the government's Strategic National Stockpile, three sources familiar with the initiative told Politico. 

The initiative comes at a time when public health experts are urging Americans to swap their cloth masks for the more protective N95s in light of the more transmissible Omicron variant. 

"While all masks and respirators provide some level of protection, properly fitted respirators provide the highest level of protection," according to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued Friday

Dawn O'Connell, assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services' Preparedness and Response division, said there were 737 million N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile, according to the Politico report.

The effort is meant to help Americans access affordable and safe masks — something the Biden administration has been lobbied on in recent weeks, Politico reported. 

The White House has also required private health insurance companies to cover the cost of up to eight at-home COVID-19 tests a month for each covered individual. Additionally, on Tuesday, the government launched a site where each American household could order four free at-home COVID-19 rapid tests. The program is expected to launch on Wednesday. 

The White House did not respond to Insider's email request for comment. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

3 Florida men were arrested in connection with Capitol riot, including former underwear model accused of throwing a traffic cone at police officers

16 hours 35 min ago
Alan Fischer is seen at the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
  • Three Florida men were arrested last week in connection with the Capitol riot.
  • Prosecutors say one man threw chairs at police officers, while another man deployed pepper spray.
  • The third man was carrying a sledgehammer throughout the day, according to charging documents.

Three Florida men were arrested last week in connection to the Capitol riot, including a former underwear model accused of throwing chairs and a traffic cone at police officers, as well as two men accused of carrying pepper spray.

The men — Alan "AJ" Fischer III, 28, of Tampa; Zachary Johnson, 33, of St. Petersburg, and Dion Rajewski, 61, of Largo — face a slate of charges related to the siege, including civil disorder, disorderly conduct, and engaging in physical violence. Fischer and Johnson are also charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers with a dangerous weapon.

All three men were arrested Thursday, though Johnson and Rajewski are charged together in a federal indictment separate from Fischer.

Prosecutors say Fischer joined members of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to march to the Capitol on January 6. Security footage from the scene shows Fischer pushing against law enforcement officers on the West side of the Capitol with a mob of other rioters, according to charging documents. Fischer was also caught on camera displaying a hand gesture associated with the Proud Boys, prosecutors said.

Later in the afternoon, investigators said security footage shots Fischer picked up an orange traffic cone and a chair and walked toward an area outside the Capitol where law enforcement officers were stationed. Moments later, he threw the traffic cone and the chair toward officers, prosecutors said.

Less than two minutes later, security footage shows Fischer walking back towards the area with a pole in his hand, which he then threw at the line of authorities. According to charging documents, Fischer returned once again, this time with another chair, which he also threw toward officers standing nearby.

Online sleuths previously identified Fischer, in part, by matching photos of him at the riot with a past picture of him modeling underwear on a catwalk. 

—#SeditionHunters (@SeditionHunters) January 14, 2022


An attorney for Fischer told Insider that he would pleading not guilty to all charges.

Johnson and Rajewski are both accused of possessing pepper spray during the riot, which prosecutors said Johnson used against police officers. Investigators also said Johnson was armed with a sledgehammer throughout the day. A judge on Friday released both men on a $50,000 signature bond each, and ordered Johnson placed on home detention, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Both men will also be required to forfeit any firearms they own and cannot travel without permission, the outlet reported. 

Neither Rajewski, nor Johnson immediately responded to Insider's request for comment. 

More than 750 people have been arrested in connection to the Capitol riot and more than 175 have pleaded guilty. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

Inside the secretive training that US Green Berets give to troops who may have to take on Russia or China

16 hours 42 min ago
US Army Special Forces soldiers and Nepalese soldiers practice evacuating casualties in Nepal, February 18, 2020.
  • US special-operations troops have for decades deployed overseas to train partners.
  • Such training makes those partners better fighters and helps establish long-term relationships.
  • Foreign internal defense, as it is known, is one of the most important special-ops mission, a US Green Beret said.

In October, news reports highlighted the presence of US special operators in Taiwan, training their local counterparts on the skills necessary to fend off a Chinese invasion.

But this is nothing new. Indeed, US special-operations units have been working in scores of countries for decades, teaching local units how to become better fighters and win conflicts.

This military diplomacy strengthens US presence worldwide and creates valuable alliances and partnerships that can be leveraged in a time of need.

A US soldier trains a Chadian soldier during an exercise, in Chad, February 22, 2015.

The roughly 70,000 members and supporting troops attached to US Special Operations Command and its more secretive subunit Joint Special Operations Command have global responsibilities and can conduct a wide range of mission sets.

An Army Ranger platoon may conduct a direct-action operation to take down an Al Qaeda target in Iraq. A Marine Raider team may do a strategic-reconnaissance mission to observe an Al Shabaab outpost in Kenya and gather intelligence. Army Green Berets may conduct an unconventional-warfare operation by linking up with local guerrillas to take on Taliban fighters.

But one of the least known but most promising mission sets in the US Special Operations Command's arsenal is foreign internal defense.

Teaching others how to fightAn instructor explains patrol procedures to Iraqi special-operations soldiers during foreign internal defense training in central Iraq, August 19, 2019.

The Department of Defense defines foreign internal defense as civilian and military agencies of one government participating in any "action programs taken by another government or other designated organization to free and protect its society from subversion, lawlessness, and insurgency."

"Foreign internal defense is one of the important tools in our toolbox, and that is why we place so much focus on it," a Green Beret assigned to a National Guard unit told Insider.

When conducting foreign internal defense, special operators link up with foreign military forces and train them, the idea being that it's easier and a better use of resources to teach a foreign force to fight for itself.

"There is a specific reason why the Q course leans heavily on the foreign internal defense skill set," the Green Beret added, referring to the Special Forces Qualification Course.

Soldiers at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School speak with indigenous role players during training, June 16, 2021.

"On top of the tactical component, we learn how to transmit knowledge very well. This is where the cultural and linguist training" that Green Berets receive "really shines," the Green Beret said. "I may think I am the best SUT [small-unit tactics] instructor out there, but if I can't transmit that knowledge succinctly and effectively, then I am no real instructor."

When US trainers speak the language and know the customs of the host-nation force, "then it is way easier to bond with him and make him understand what you are teaching," the Green Beret added.

With the instruction provided through foreign internal defense, US special operators can reduce or eliminate the assistance partner forces would need in the event of a conflict.

That instruction can range from basic small-unit tactics to advanced close-quarters battle, among many other skills, "but the goal is always to enable [host nation] forces to conduct their own unilateral operations. If we don't have that end-goal in mind, then we will be there forever," said the National Guard Green Beret.

Building long-term relationshipsLithuanian troops and US Army Special Forces soldiers conduct mission planning during an exercise, September 8, 2018.

Foreign internal defense is also about building long-term relationships with foreign militaries or even specific units.

"FID can establish and refine capabilities. It is a very diverse mission set that can address different needs and truly be a force-multiplier. In many ways, FID is the first line of defense," a former Army Special Forces officer told Insider.

"FID also has an interesting evolutionary aspect," the former officer said. "We can go in a country and establish a special-operations or conventional unit and go back there a few years later and train them up on a specific insertion capability," such as combat diving or free-fall parachuting.

"In a lot of ways, FID never ends, and we often end up building successful longterm partnerships with some units," said the former officer, who like the National Guard Green Beret was not authorized to speak to the press. "But we get something out of it too. Years or decades after, when we revisit X country, they are now experienced, and they get to teach us stuff too. FID can be a mutually beneficial arrangement that increases our experience and combat effectiveness in the long-term."

Although foreign internal defense is a specialty of Army Green Berets, the intense operational demand created by the global war on terror forced other units — which were competing for deployment opportunities and funding — to put more emphasis on that mission set.

Even the most elite special-mission units, such as Delta Force and the unit formerly known as SEAL Team 6, have had to do foreign internal defense on occasion as a way to get missions.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Progressives want to unseat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, and Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Latino and veteran, is emerging as a favorite

16 hours 50 min ago
Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego, is a Harvard educated Marine Corp combat veteran whose political future is being watched closely.
  • Democrats are furious at Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Some want to draft a primary challenger.
  • Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona is frequently mentioned as a 2024 challenger.
  • Gallego has not said if he's running for Senate but has been a vocal critic of Sinema recently.

Growing Democratic frustration at Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has led progressives in her home state to clamor for a primary challenger to take her on from the left. And one particular name keeps popping up on her critics' wish lists: Rep. Ruben Gallego.

Gallego, a Marine who was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent the reliably blue Phoenix area, is not exactly quashing rumors of a challenge. He was hard to miss on cable news on January 14, when "Primary Sinema" rhetoric reached a frenzy shortly after her speech on the Senate floor declaring she wouldn't nix the filibuster. In an appearance on CNN, Gallego left the door wide open for a run for higher office. In fact, he was already on the attack.

"I've known Senator Sinema since we were both in our mid-20s and starting out in politics here in Arizona," Gallego said. "The only consistency about Senator Sinema's roles and positions is inconsistency."

"2024 is a long time from now. I'm focusing on 2022. I never say no to the future," he said. But, he added, "I think at this point right now she is really disappointing a lot of Arizonans."

Sinema has stood firm against her party in refusing to vote to end the filibuster, which would help pave the way for Democrats to pass two high-priority voting-rights bills. The senator said she believed removing the filibuster would worsen partisanship in an already divided chamber.

On Tuesday, Emily's List, one of the largest pro-woman, pro-choice PACs in the country said it was withdrawing support for Sinema over her refusal to support changes to the filibuster that would allow Democrats to pass voting rights legislation.

With Sinema not up for re-election until 2024, a primary challenger may not emerge for some time. But progressives are already taking the prospect seriously. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, told reporters at the Capitol he was open to primary challenges against his colleagues who did not support ending the filibuster. 

—Christian Hall (@christianjhall) January 18, 2022


A spokesman for Gallego said in an email to Insider that the lawmaker will keep listening to Arizonans and fighting for "democratic values today, tomorrow, and no matter what position" he holds.

"As Rep. Gallego has said before, he never rules anything out, but right now he is focused on running for re-election to the House and helping hold a Democratic majority there," the spokesperson said.

Gallego joined the Marines after college and found himself deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Lima Company, which experienced many casualties in combat, including Gallego's best friend. In 2021, the congressman released a book about his experience, "They Called Us 'Lucky': The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War's Hardest Hit Unit.

Gallego has held public office for more than a decade in his home state. He was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010 and became assistant minority leader in 2012. He won his bid for Congress in 2014 to represent Arizona's 7th district. 

Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist working to boost Latino candidates and one of Gallego's most vocal backers, said he believed the congressman's military experience would make him one of the most viable challengers to Sinema in 2024.

"Arizona is a special place with lots of Latinos, lots of moderates," said Rocha. "You need a unique candidate."

Rocha launched the "Run, Ruben, Run" campaign to raise money for Gallego should he jump into the race, although he would not disclose how much money the group had raised. Two other groups, the Primary Sinema Project and the Primary Sinema Pledge, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars but have not yet backed a candidate.

Rocha said that Gallego could "easily" beat Sinema in a primary, but winning a general election in a truly purple state like Arizona requires someone who could appeal to conservatives. 

Democrats are the smallest number of registered voters in Arizona, with just 1,372,884 registered as of October 2021, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's office. They lag behind the state's 1,504,990 registered Republican voters and the 1,435,129  who identify as "Other". But the state has a large and growing Latino population and went for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in 2020.

"There's not any other progressive in the state of Arizona who could get Republicans and moderates to vote for him in great numbers," Rocha said. "No one else could do that except a Latino combat veteran who has served his country in uniform."

Sinema's office did not respond to Insider's request for comment. She's not up for re-election until 2024 and in politics, a lot can happen in two years. But for now, Sinema maintains a more conservative stance than fellow Democrats in Congress. 

Democrats, who hadn't held a Senate seat in Arizona since 1995 until Sinema defeated a Republican incumbent Martha McSally in 2018, would need someone who can appeal to voters in a state that Joe Biden won with thin margins.

"Arizona is not a blue state. We should be clear on that," said Steven Slugocki, former chairman of the Maricopa County Democrats, and said he would support Gallego in a primary. "The challenge of going against a sitting senator is that she is very popular with independents. She has shown she can win this state. She has a history of winning elections in a very tough state."

Gallego backers acknowledge it won't be easy to unseat Sinema.

"However, if there is somebody who could do it," Slugocki said, "I think Ruben would be a very strong, viable alternative that quite a bit of people would get behind."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Pro-choice PAC Emily's List will cease support for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema over voting rights: 'She will find herself standing alone in the next election'

16 hours 57 min ago
Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
  • A prominent pro-choice political action committee said it will stop supporting Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
  • Emily's Choice issued a statement slamming the senator for blocking voting rights legislation.
  • The group warned that Sinema will "find herself standing alone" in her next election. 

One of the largest pro-woman, pro-choice PACS in the country has pulled its support for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema over the Arizona lawmaker's refusal to support changes to the filibuster that would allow Democrats to pass voting rights legislation.

The president of Emily's List, a political action committee focused on electing Democratic pro-choice women, announced Tuesday the organization plans to no longer support Sinema in future elections.

"Right now, Sen. Sinema's decision to reject the voice of allies, partners, and constituents who believe the importance of voting rights outweighs that of an arcane process means she will find herself standing alone in the next election," Laphonza Butler wrote in a statement.

The announcement comes days after Sinema effectively killed President Joe Biden's push to pass legislation that would protect voting rights across the country. Doing so would have required every single Democrat in the 50-50 Senate to vote in favor of overhauling the filibuster, but Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia – two moderate Democrats who have long been opposed to gutting the Senate rule – reaffirmed their resistance last week.

"While I continue to support these bills, I will not support separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country," Sinema said in a Thursday floor speech. 

In Tuesday's statement from Emily's List, Butler said the group contributed to Sinema's 2018 campaign but has not funded her since she was elected. The organization added that it has lobbied Sinema to support voting rights legislation in the Senate ahead of the impending 2022 elections.

"So far those concerns have not been addressed," Butler wrote.

The organization said the country has reached an inflection point in the fight for both voting rights and reproductive freedom and emphasized the necessity of "free and fair elections" in their push to elect pro-choice Democrat women.

"So, we want to make it clear: If Sen. Sinema can not support a path forward for the passage of this legislation, we believe she undermines the foundations of our democracy, her own path to victory and also the mission of Emily's List, and we will be unable to endorse her moving forward," Butler wrote.

A spokesperson for Sinema did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

In the aftermath of her Thursday floor speech, Sinema has faced an onslaught of criticism from progressives and voting rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr.'s family, who called on the Arizona lawmaker to "ensure that the Jim Crow filibuster does not stand in the way" of voting rights. 

Her critics are fundraising off her speech and looking for a challenger to primary her in 2024, with Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego, emerging as a favorite.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A Pacific volcano erupted with an explosive force more than 600 times the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, scientists said

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 00:30
Eruption of the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai off Tonga.
  • An underwater volcano erupted on January 15, covering Tongan islands with ash and causing a major tsunami, NPR reported
  • Scientists say the eruption may be the loudest since Krakatau, which killed thousands in 1883.
  • The volcano blast had an explosive yield of around 10 megatons, scientists said.

An underwater volcano forcefully erupted near the Pacific island nation of Tonga on Saturday with a powerful blast that was heard thousands of miles away in Alaska. Scientists said that it was likely one of the loudest events on the planet in the past 100 years, NPR reported.

"This might be the loudest eruption since [the eruption of the Indonesian volcano] Krakatau in 1883," US Geological Survey geophysicist Michael Poland told NPR.

The eruption was so powerful it destroyed an island and triggered a tsunami. To measure its force, scientists used a scale also used to assess the blast yield of nuclear weapons.

James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told NPR that they came up "with a number that's around 10 megatons of TNT equivalent."

With an estimated explosive yield of 10 megatons of TNT equivalent, the volcano blast was equivalent to the force of roughly 667 "Little Boy" atomic bombs.

—US StormWatch (@US_Stormwatch) January 15, 2022

"Little Boy" was the nickname assigned to the first of only two nuclear weapons ever used in combat. The bomb was a highly-enriched uranium bomb that was dropped from a B-29 Superfortress bomber, exploded in the air with an estimated force of 15,000 tons of TNT, and leveled Hiroshima, Japan.

Throughout the Cold War, the US, alongside the Soviet Union, tested far more powerful nuclear weapons. The most powerful nuclear weapon the US ever tested was Castle Bravo, which detonated with a force of 15 megatons on March 1, 1954.

—NASAEarthdata (@NASAEarthData) January 18, 2022

In the wake of the blast, Tonga's 170 islands were covered in ash, including the airport at the capital city, Nuku'alofa, which is preventing relief flights from landing, NPR reported

Communication with the islands reportedly remain problematic due to underwater cable damage negatively impacting both international and inter-island calls.

A satellite image shows the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano before its main eruption.

The Tongan government has confirmed that along with many injuries, at least three people were killed in this event, specifically a British national, a 65-year-old woman from Mango island, and a 49-year-old man from Nomuka island.

Tsunami waves up to 15 meters ravaged Togatapu, the nation's main island, as well as the 'Eua and Ha'apai islands. All homes were destroyed on Mango island, the government report continued, also noting extensive damage on Fonoifua and Nomuka islands. 

A view through the window of a New Zealand Defence Force P-3K2 Orion surveillance flight shows heavy ash fall over Nomuka in Tonga.

Despite its massive force and destruction, the eruption was relatively small, USGS scientist Poland told NPR. Other explosions can expel ash for hours – like the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo – but this eruption spewed ash for less than 60 minutes, NPR reported.

"It had an outsized impact, well beyond the area that you would have expected if this had been completely above water," he told the outlet. "That's the thing that's just a head scratcher."

Read the original article on Business Insider

Virgin Galactic says that remarks by its chairman Chamath Palihapitiya that 'nobody cares' about the Uyghur genocide 'do not reflect' the company's views

Wed, 01/19/2022 - 00:07
Chamath Palihapitiya, Founder and CEO of Social Capital, presents during the 2018 Sohn Investment Conference in New York City, U.S., April 23, 2018.
  • Chamath Palihapitiya said on a recent podcast "nobody cares" about China's Uyghur genocide.
  • Virgin Galactic, where he is chairman, told The New York Post his remarks "do not reflect" the company's views.
  • The Golden State Warriors, of which Palihapitiya owns a minority stake, also distanced itself from his comments.

Virgin Galactic has spoken out disavowing recent remarks from its chairman, venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya, saying he didn't care about the Uyghur genocide in China.

In a statement Tuesday, a company spokesperson told Insider, "Virgin Galactic believes that every human being is entitled to fundamental human rights. Chamath Palihapitiya's comments do not reflect the views of Virgin Galactic and he does not speak on behalf of the company."

The New York Post previously reported Virgin Galactic's response to Palihapitiya's remarks.

Palihapitiya said on a recent episode of the "All-In" podcast, which he co-hosts, that "nobody cares about what's happening" to Uyghur Muslims in the country.

"You bring it up because you really care, and I think that's nice that you care; the rest of us don't care," Palihapitiya said while discussing human rights with his co-hosts. "I'm telling you a very hard, ugly truth. Of all the things that I care about, yes, it is below my line."

"If you're asking me, do I care about a segment of a class of people in another country? Not until we can take care of ourselves will I prioritize them over us," he added.

Human Rights Watch has estimated China is arbitrarily detaining as many as 1 million Uyghurs, an ethnic minority group whose people are predominantly Muslim, in the region of Xinjiang. In a report last year, the human rights organization said China's treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang amounted to "crimes against humanity" and included torture, labor camps, and forced sterilization.

The Golden State Warriors, of which Palihapitiya owns a minority stake, also tried to distance itself from Palihapitiya following his remarks.

"As a limited investor who has no day-to-day operating functions with the Warriors, Mr. Palihapitiya does not speak on behalf of our franchise, and his views certainly don't reflect those of our organization," the basketball team said in a tweet on Monday.

After drawing backlash, Palihapitiya tweeted to offer "clarifying comments" but stopped short of apologizing for his remarks.

"In re-listening to this week's podcast, I recognize that I come across as lacking empathy," he said. "I acknowledge that entirely. As a refugee, my family fled a country with its own set of human rights issues so this is something that is very much a part of my lived experience. To be clear, my belief is that human rights matter, whether in China, the United States, or elsewhere."

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January 6 select committee subpoenas Trump lawyers including Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 23:49
Members of then-President Donald Trump's legal team (left to right), former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Jenna Ellis, attend a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, DC, on November 19, 2020.
  • The select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol riot subpoenaed four Trump-aligned lawyers.
  • The panel wants documents and testimony from Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, and Boris Epshteyn.
  • Chairman Bennie Thompson said the lawyers pushed nonsense election fraud claims.

The select House panel investigating the January 6 Capitol riot on Tuesday subpoenaed four lawyers who were closely involved with then President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

The committee subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell, and Boris Epshteyn.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the bipartisan panel, said in a statement that the four lawyers "advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes."

The committee's announcement of the subpoenas also laid out why lawmakers are interested in talking to the four lawyers.

Giuliani "actively promoted claims of election fraud" on Trump's behalf "and sought to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results," the statement said. The former New York mayor was also in direct contact with Trump at the time and spoke to lawmakers "regarding strategies for delaying or overturning the results of the 2020 election."

Ellis, meanwhile, wrote two memos outlining far-fetched legal theories for how then Vice President Mike Pence could reject certain Electoral College votes and throw the election to Trump.

Powell spearheaded a number of failed lawsuits that sought to overturn or nullify the election results in battleground states that Joe Biden won. She also "actively promoted claims of election fraud on behalf of former President Trump" in both the lawsuits she filed and in her media appearances, the select committee said in its statement.

And Epshteyn is said to have attended a number of meetings at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, which were led by Giuliani and focused on installing Trump in the White House for a second term despite the fact that he lost the election to Biden.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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Bernie Sanders says he would support primary challengers to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema if they continue to oppose scrapping filibuster

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 23:48
Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Bernie Sanders at the Capitol on July 29, 2020.
  • Bernie Sanders said he's open to supporting primary challengers to Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.
  • The moderate duo have been stalling Democrats' agenda for months and oppose changing the filibuster.
  • "They're gonna have to go home and explain to their constituents," Sanders said.

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont opened the door on Tuesday to support primary challengers to Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin when both come up for reelection in 2024. 

Speaking with reporters ahead of a caucus meeting, Sanders said the stakes for changing the Senate filibuster rules — which require 60 votes to end debate and thus currently gives Senate Republicans the power to block major pieces of legislation — are high.

"What's at stake is the future of American democracy," said Sanders. "And the fact that all over this country, Republican governors and legislators are moving aggressively to suppress the vote and to impose extreme gerrymandering, among many other things."

"Anybody who believes in American democracy has got to vote to enable us to go forward with 50 votes to suspend the filibuster, at least on this vote," he added.

Democrats are pushing reforms to the Senate filibuster to ensure passage of major voting rights legislation, and are expected to vote on a rules change to return to the so-called talking filibuster. Both Manchin and Sinema, however, have made their opposition clear to lowering the current 60-vote threshold to end debate on legislation. And Manchin opposes making changes to the senate's rules along party lines. 

Sanders left it up to voters when asked by Punchbowl News what he thought about potential primary challenges for the duo, and any other senators who oppose changing filibuster rules.

"There's a very good chance that people in those states— it's up to the people in those states but it's not just even the voting rights," he said. Asked whether he himself would support a primary challenger, Sanders answered in the affirmative without elaborating further.

"Well, yeah, I would," he said.

Progressive Democrats are increasingly looking for a candidate to challenge Sinema in 2024 following her reaffirmation of her opposition to changing Senate filibuster rules last week, with Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona emerging as a strong potential primary contender. Another shoe dropped for Sinema on Tuesday when EMILY's List, a group that backs pro-choice Democrats for office, said it would not endorse Sinema for reelection in 2024 if she continued to oppose filibuster reforms. 

As for Manchin, he said at a press conference outside his office on Tuesday that he doesn't mind the prospect of a challenger.

"Bring it on," he said when asked about the idea.

Manchin, who represents a deeply conservative state, easily defeated a progressive primary challenger, Paula Jean Swearengin, in 2018 with nearly 70% of the vote. Swearengin, whose run against Manchin was featured in the 2019 documentary "Knock Down the House," was endorsed by groups including Justice Democrats and The People for Bernie Sanders (though not Sanders himself). 

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also notably did not unequivocally oppose backing primary challengers to Manchin and Sinema when asked about the idea when taking questions from reporters on Tuesday evening. 

"I'm not getting into the politics," Schumer said, shaking his head in dismay at the question. "This is a substantive, serious issue." 

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The feds asked about Trump's role in the January 6 attack, according to a Capitol rioter's latest court filing

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 23:12
A composite image showing Straka in 2018 (R) and a screenshot sent to the FBI, allegedly showing him at the Capitol riot.
  • A Capitol rioter said DOJ was focused on establishing an 'organized conspiracy' with Trump.
  • Brandon Straka spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally the day before joining the January 6 attack.
  • DOJ said Straka used his public profile to promote his involvement in the Capitol siege.

Federal investigators focused their questioning of a high-profile Capitol rioter on establishing an "organized conspiracy" between former President Donald Trump and his political allies to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden's electoral victory, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.

The assertion marked a rare mention — in the thousands of pages of court filings connected to the January 6 attack — of the Justice Department asking questions about a potential conspiracy involving Trump to interfere with the peaceful handoff of power. It came in a court filing from a defense lawyer representing Brandon Straka, a New York City hairstylist who is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday for his role in the January 6, 2021, breach of the Capitol.

Straka's lawyer, Bilal Essayli, wrote in the 14-page court filing that his client's cooperation with federal investigators included voluntarily submitting to three government interviews.

"During the interviews the government was focused on establishing an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president, to disrupt the Joint Session of Congress on January 6," Essayli wrote, while adding that Straka had "answered all questions truthfully and denied the existence of any such plot."

The attorney also asserted that the FBI had found no evidence of a centralized effort to interfere with the peaceful handoff of power, citing an August 2021 Reuters story with the headline, "Exclusive: FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was coordinated – sources."

A spokesperson for the US attorney's office in Washington, DC, declined to comment. Essayli did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Essayli's filing came nearly two weeks after Attorney General Merrick Garland, on the eve of the first anniversary of the Capitol attack, said the Justice Department was "committed to holding all January 6th perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law — whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy."

President Donald Trump arrives at the "Stop The Steal" Rally on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC.Trump-appointed judge to sentence January 6 rioter

Straka pleaded guilty in October to a single disorderly conduct charge stemming from his role in the Capitol attack that left five dead and more than 100 police officers injured. He also spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally in Washington and on January 7 posted a nearly hour-long video recounting his role in the Capitol siege, according to an FBI affidavit.

"The plan was always to go to the Capitol. We were going to march from that event … to the Capitol, and there was going to be another rally. I was one of the speakers slated to speak at the Capitol," Straka said in the video.

More than 700 people have been charged in the year since the Capitol breach, but Straka is among the few speakers at pro-Trump events leading up to the attack who has faced prosecution so far.

The special House committee investigating the January 6 attack has also taken an interest in Straka. The panel named him in a request to the National Archives seeking records from the Trump White House.

Tuesday's submission from Straka's lawyer came in response to the Justice Department's recommendation that he receive a sentence including four months of home detention and three years of probation.  DOJ argued that its recommendation should be handed down because Straka is a social media influencer with a "significant public profile," which prosecutors said he used to promote his conduct on January 6.

Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, is set to sentence Straka on Thursday. His attorney argues Straka should receive a sentence with a brief term of house arrest and community service.

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Tom Cotton says Warriors co-owner should be forced to sell his stake in the NBA team following his comments that 'nobody cares about' the Uyghur genocide in China

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 23:10
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
  • Tom Cotton wants a Warriors co-owner forced out after he said that people don't really care about atrocities against Uyghur Muslims in China.
  • Chamath Palihapitiya has clarified his comments, but he has not issued a full apology.
  • Republicans have assailed the NBA over how it manages its relationship with China.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, called on the NBA to force Warriors co-owner Chamath Palihapitiya to sell his stake in the franchise following Palihapitiya's recent comments that "nobody cares about what's happening" to Uyghur Muslims in China.

"The NBA has investigated owners and forced a sale after outrageous comments before, and it even moved the All-Star game to protest a North Carolina law saying boys and girls shouldn't use the same bathroom," Cotton said in a statement. "The league will prove itself greedy, spineless, and hypocritical if it doesn't force Palihapitiya to sell his interest in the Warriors."

Palihapitiya, a billionaire investor who owns a 10% stake in the franchise, said during an episode of the "All-In" podcast that he was telling a "very hard ugly truth" about how little people care about how Chinese authorities are treating Uyghur Muslims. Human Rights Watch and other international watchdogs have documented repeated atrocities against Uyghurs, including forced labor, sexual violence, torture, and murder. Beijing, which has a history of not being truthful about its human rights record, has denied any such claims.

After an immense backlash, Palihapitiya clarified his remarks but stopped short of a full apology.

Cotton's demands lean on aggressive actions the league has made before against ownership. The league charged Clippers Owner Donald Sterling with damaging his reputation in 2014 after a series of racist comments, including some directed at Lakers legend Magic Johnson. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling, who had owned the team for decades, from the league and set in motion a process that forced the team's sale.

The NBA also moved its 2017 all-star game out of North Carolina after the state passed a controversial bill that limited transgender people's use of public restrooms. The professional basketball league was far from the only entity to distance itself from the state.

Top players and league officials view China as a key market for the game's future. The NBA's relationship with China became an intense focus for GOP lawmakers in 2019 after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for protesters in Hong Kong.

President Biden signed into law last year bipartisan legislation that bans the import of products made by Chinese companies in the region where atrocities against Uyghurs are being committed. 

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CEO Brian Chesky says he's now 'living on Airbnb,' and that half of bookings on the platform are for a week or longer

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 23:03
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky
  • Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, said he is now living on the platform.
  • "I'll be coming back to San Francisco often, but for now my home will be an Airbnb somewhere," he tweeted.
  • More Airbnb users are extending their stays beyond a week, some up to three months.

Brian Chesky is taking his show on the road.

"Starting today, I'm living on Airbnb," the CEO said in a tweet thread on Tuesday.

"This week I'm in Atlanta. I'll be coming back to San Francisco often, but for now my home will be an Airbnb somewhere," he added.

In his thread, Chesky said that the pandemic and the rise of remote work has allowed millions of people to live and work from anywhere.

He highlighted company data from the past year showing that half of the nights booked on Airbnb's platform were for stays longer than a week, roughly a fifth of nights booked were for stays of longer than a month, and about 100,000 Airbnb users booked stays of three months or longer.

"This trend is kind of like a decentralization of living, and it's changing the identity of travel," he said.

Chesky also said that his journeys will help the company better understand the customer experience and make improvements, a la Undercover Boss.

Last summer, the company rolled out new options for the digital nomad set, including a tool to verify internet speeds and an option to reserve bookings up to a year in advance.

"In 2022, I think the biggest trend in travel will be people spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time," Chesky said.

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In a first, a Tesla driver is facing felony charges for a fatal Autopilot crash

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 22:50
Tesla's Autopilot system has come under fire from federal regulators over safety concerns.
  • A Tesla driver was charged with manslaughter following a crash involving Autopilot, the AP reports
  • It appears to be the first time a fatal Autopilot crash has led to felony charges for the driver. 
  • Tesla's driver-assistance features are under intense scrutiny by federal safety regulators. 

A Tesla driver in California was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter after crashing into another car and killing two people while his car was on Autopilot, the Associated Press first reported on Tuesday.

It appears to be the first time a driver using semi-automated driving technology has been charged with a felony in relation to a deadly crash, the AP said. State prosecutors filed charges against the driver, Kevin George Aziz Riad, in October, court records show, though detailed documents were only recently released.

The deadly events unfolded in a Los Angeles suburb in December 2019, when Riad's Model S sedan left the freeway, ran a red light, and crashed into a Honda Civic, the AP said, citing police reports. Two of the Civic's occupants were killed, and their families are suing Tesla and Riad separately from the criminal charges, the AP reported.

Riad has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for February 23, court documents show. According to the AP, prosecutors did not mention Autopilot, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed the technology was engaged during the crash. 

The charges come amid intense scrutiny of Autopilot, Tesla's advanced driver-assistance system that uses an array of cameras to maintain a vehicle's speed, follow curves in the road, and keep a set distance to the car ahead.

Autopilot doesn't make vehicles autonomous — no commercially available technology does — and critics say it's too easy to abuse by not paying attention to the road. Safety advocates have also said Tesla's branding of Autopilot and a more advanced feature, Full Self-Driving, is misleading and overstates their capabilities. 

NHTSA has long investigated Autopilot's shortcomings. It's currently looking into a dozen crashes where Teslas with driver-assistance features switched on barreled into stopped emergency vehicles. The family of a 15-year-old boy who was killed when a Tesla crashed into his family's pickup truck is suing the electric automaker, alleging that Autopilot was partially to blame. 

Tesla did not respond to Insider or the AP's request for comment. The company says that drivers need to pay full attention when Autopilot is engaged and maintains that the technology makes roads safer

Do you have a story to share about your experience with Tesla Autopilot or other driver-assistance technology? Contact this reporter at tlevin@insider.com

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Microsoft is quietly bringing in billions from its Netflix-like Game Pass service as subscribers top 25 million

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 22:39
  • Microsoft's subscription gaming service, Xbox Game Pass, has over 25 million subscribers.
  • At a minimum of $10 per month, Microsoft is bringing in a quarter billion dollars every month.
  • If subscriber numbers stay flat, Microsoft is on track to bring in approximately $4 billion on Game Pass in 2022.

Microsoft's video game subscription service, Xbox Game Pass, has hit another milestone: It now has over 25 million monthly subscribers.

That's 7 million more monthly subscribers than the company reported a year ago in January 2021.

With a minimum subscription price of $10 per month, Microsoft is pulling in roughly $250 million every month from its video game subscription service. At that pace, Xbox Game Pass subscriptions are positioned to make approximately $4 billion between now and January 2023.

Game Pass has been so successful with video game players because the service offers access to a large library of games on Xbox and PC platforms for a comparatively low amount of money: Monthly plans cost only $10 or $15. At that price, the subscription is worth paying even if just one game you want is on the service.

There are a few exceptions: Introductory subscriptions cost $1 for the first month, and Microsoft has offered discounted pricing in the past for subscriptions. 

Even with those caveats, it's clear that Game Pass is a highly lucrative revenue stream for Microsoft — and it helps explain why the company was willing to shell out tens of billions of dollars on acquiring major game publishers like Zenimax Media and a planned acquisition of Activision valued at around $68.7 billion.

Soon after the acquisition of Zenimax Media closed, Microsoft added major games from its library to Game Pass — franchises like "DOOM" and "Wolfenstein," among others.

The Activision deal appears to be setting up for the same play: "We will offer as many Activision Blizzard games as we can within Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass, both new titles and games from Activision Blizzard's incredible catalog," Xbox head Phil Spencer said on Tuesday morning upon announcing the Activision deal, along with the updated subscriber numbers.

In the not-so-distant future, major franchises like "Call of Duty" and "Overwatch" are headed to the already popular subscription service.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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Jim Obergefell, of the landmark Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, is running for office in Ohio

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 22:26
Jim Obergefell on March 6, 2015.
  • Jim Obergefell is running as a Democrat for the 89th Ohio House District seat. 
  • Obergefell was the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case that determined states must recognize same-sex marriages.
  • The District 89 seat is currently held by D.J. Swearingen, a Republican who has held office since 2019.

The plaintiff of the landmark Supreme Court case on gay marriage is running for state office. 

Jim Obergefell from Obergefell v. Hodges – the 2015 case that determined all states must recognize same-sex marriages – is running as a Democrat for the Ohio House of Representatives District 89 seat.

"With unwavering values and the experience it takes to be an effective advocate, I want to fight for Erie and Ottawa Counties. I am asking for your vote to be your State Representative at the Ohio Statehouse," Obergefell, said in a statement announcing his run on Tuesday morning. 

—Jim Obergefell (@JimObergefell) January 18, 2022


The District 89 seat is currently held by D.J. Swearingen, a Republican who has held office since 2019. In 2020, Swearingen beat his Democratic opponent by nearly 15 percentage points. The majority-white district, which borders Lake Erie, has been represented by Republicans since 2015. 

The specific lines of the district may change after the Ohio State Supreme Court struck down the GOP-drawn state legislative maps. The court also tossed the state's GOP-biased congressional district map as well. 

Obergefell's monumental Supreme Court win began with a tragedy when his husband, John Arthur, died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 2013.

Obergefell and Arthur had wed earlier that year on the tarmac of an airport in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal. After Arthur's death, Ohio refused to list Obergefell as the spouse on Arthur's death certificate, resulting in Obergefell's victorious lawsuit. 

After the win, he penned an emotional letter that was released by the White House. 

"I can finally relax knowing that Ohio can never erase our marriage from John's death certificate, and my husband can now truly rest in peace," Obergefell wrote. 

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Nasdaq falls nearly 3% as US stocks plummet on interest rate worries

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 22:20
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on March 20, 2020 in New York City.

US stocks plunged on Tuesday as Treasury yields jumped on investor fears of the Federal Reserve's schedule for tightening monetary policy.   

The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 was down nearly 3%, dragged by mega-cap giants from Meta (formerly Facebook) to Tesla. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped to its lowest this year while the S&P 500 also tumbled, with 10 out of 11 industry groups closing in the red. 

The 10-year Treasury yield rose to 1.87% — its highest level since January 2020 — up from Friday's 1.771%. Bond yields move inversely to prices.  

Here's where US indexes stood after the 4:00 p.m. ET close on Tuesday:

Stock markets have been roiled in early 2022 by expectations that the Fed will repeatedly hike rates and start reducing its balance sheet, bringing an end to the central bank's massive support of the US economy through the pandemic. Tech stocks, in particular, which have largely benefitted from a low-interest-rate environment, have started to feel the pressure.

"The Fed has engineered a massive hawkish pivot, contributing to an increase in volatility recently," Jeff Buchbinder, equity strategist at LPL Financial, said in a Tuesday note. But he explained this turbulence is normal. 

"Stocks have historically performed well leading up to and after the first rate hike of a cycle, with significant upside before eventual bull market tops," Buchbinder said. "Bottom line, even with rate hikes coming soon, we think this economic cycle and bull market have quite a bit left in the tank."

Still, the S&P 500 could see a further 10% decline if it breaks below 4,546, a key support level that it is fast approaching, Katie Stockton of Fairlead Strategies said. The benchmark needs to hold this crucial support to prevent further downside.  

Microsoft agreed to acquire Activision Blizzard for $69 billion in an all-cash transaction. Shares of Activision soared as much as 38% while shares of Microsoft fell about 2%. 

Joining the rally were other video-game stocks. Electronic Arts and Ubisoft surged by roughly 7% each. Roblox rallied more than 2% while "Grand Theft Auto" maker Take-Two — which reached a deal last week to buy Zynga — tacked on 5%. 

Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, fell as much as nearly 9% after missing estimates for its fourth-quarter earnings report. Banks kicked off the earnings season last Friday. 

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin extended its losses to continue trading below $42,000 as the risk-off sentiment hurting tech stocks weighs on crypto. Ethereum, the second-largest digital asset, was also trading lower to $3,111.

Oil prices surpassed their highest levels since 2014 in the wake of a deadly oil tanker attack in the Middle East that stoked supply concerns.

West Texas Intermediate crude oil rose as much as 2.49% to $85.91 per barrel. Brent crude, oil's international benchmark, jumped as much as 1.73% to $87.98 per barrel.

Gold slipped 0.28% to $1,814.27 per ounce. 

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Top advisor says Biden's team 'underestimated' disinformation and political opposition to its pandemic plans

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 22:07
President Joe Biden speaks during his COVID-19 response during a Jan. 13 speech on the White House campus.
  • The White House has a mixed record on its management of the pandemic, a report found.
  • One top advisor said the White House underestimated the amount of political opposition they would face.
  • "Everyone had a failure to anticipate delta and omicron, the administration included," another offered.

President Biden's top pandemic advisor says the administration didn't anticipate how much disinformation and sheer political opposition would undermine the federal pandemic response.

"[W]e underestimated in that original strategy … the amount of disinformation and the fact that people would actually stand in the way of the pandemic response for political or other motivation,"  White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told The Washington Post.

The Post, in a lengthy examination of Biden's track record against the pandemic, found that the White House has both succeeded and struggled to implement much of its original 200-page COVID-19 plan. Officials and healthcare providers credit the White House for a vaccination campaign that has led at least 250 million Americans to receive at least one dose of the shot. But advisors say a novel and ever-changing virus combined at times with a lack of preparation has also undermined their efforts

"This is a good plan overcome by events," Andy Slavitt, who was the head of Biden's vaccine rollout, told The Post. "Everyone had a failure to anticipate delta and omicron, the administration included."

Health officials are especially concerned about the state of the global vaccination effort. According to Oxford's Our World in Data project, less than 5% of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated versus 71% of people in high-income nations. But addressing this vast disparity poses some thorny questions when the virus continues to spread domestically

"It's been difficult to get the White House to focus on improving vaccinations in Malawi, when the president is getting calls about overflowing hospitals in Missouri," one unnamed official told The Post.

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UK MPs criticize 'distracted' Biden for reluctance to support Ukraine ahead of potential invasion by Russia

Tue, 01/18/2022 - 21:57
President Joe Biden.
  • Joe Biden's focus on domestic policy is leaving a 'vacuum' of leadership, UK MPs told Insider.
  • It came as the UK shipped weapons to Ukraine ahead of a possible invasion from Russia.
  • British lawmakers characterized other nations' responses as "supine" in comparison.

British MPs criticized a "distracted" Joe Biden for the deteriorating situation on the border of Ukraine, as a Russian invasion appeared increasingly likely. 

In recent weeks Ukraine has urged the likes of the US, UK, and Germany to provide military aid to help counter the buildup of Russian troops at its border

While the UK has sent anti-tank weapons and a small number of British troops. Biden has so far ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine. He too has sent weaponry, though the main focus on the White House has been economic sanctions.

Several MPs told Insider they believed the US President's focus on domestic policy and the Indo-Pacific caused a "vacuum" in global leadership that "has been taken advantage of" by Russia's President.

One Conservative MP, who only spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Biden had "taken his eye off the ball."

The MP also suggested that the 79-year-old may be too old for so demanding a job, asking: "Would you want your dad with his finger on the button?"

Others did not attack Biden's age, but did suggest his inaction was causing the situation to deteriorate.

Tobias Ellwood MP, a former defence minister who served as an officer in the British Army, said Biden's insular approach was one of several "different planets that are aligning here, leading us to instability and potential conflicts".

Ellwood, who is chairman of the House of Commons defence committee, said Washington under Biden has shown a "distracted and somewhat risk-averse" attitude towards geopolitics. He drew a link between the US stance on Ukraine and what he called the "very short-sighted" decision to pull out of Afghanistan, leading to its takeover by the Taliban.

"Somebody has to lead the West, and at the moment we are rudderless," he said.

"We are in for a very dangerous few years. I am not sure you could find anybody who thinks global civility is going to increase over the next few years rather than decrease."

Ellwood claimed that the US exit from Afghanistan "sent a message across the world" that the West is no longer up for the fight, which was being picked up by Russia, China and Iran.

"Ukraine is just a pawn in a bigger game," he said.

Another MP, who also requested anonymity, said the "vacuum" led to a feeling that "the reins would be passed over to the UK" when it came to dealing with Russia and Eastern Europe.

He added that some in the US had "raised an eyebrow" at the UK's plans to target the Indo-Pacific region, as "the US felt the UK needed to take care of its own backyard".

Ellwood — who has long sought a more robust role for Britain in world affairs — argued such ambitions were being thwarted by domestic problems in the UK.

He pointed to the "partygate" scandal engulfing UK politics, in which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been left fighting for his political life by reports that he and his team held parties despite lockdown rules forbidding them.

"We are at the centre of a storm here, but we forget this is being watched across the world," he told Insider. "It is unpleasant to see our stock diminish as we go through this troubled chapter."

Asked if he thought the troubles in Britain would embolden Putin, Ellwood replied: "Absolutely right — how could you possibly muster the support to stand up to Putin, when the Prime Minister is struggling to command authority within his own party?

"It will be a factor, knowing that Britain – which might assume greater leadership at a moment of international crisis – will not have the appetite to do so."

Bob Seely, MP for the Isle of Wight, said "Western complacency" had contributed to the situation. Seely said both the US and EU had been "supine", resulting in a "lack of leadership in the Western world".

Seely also painted a bleak picture of how Russia could respond to economic sanctions, predicting an increase in cyber warfare, assets of Western firms in Russia being seized, and "maybe some more assassinations." 

"Russia has a broad tool box," Seely told Insider. "Putin will want to fight back."

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