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Department of Homeland Security orders all employees to mask up and distance, regardless of vaccination status


The Department of Homeland Security has announced that its employees will have to wear masks and socially distance indoors, regardless of their vaccination status. The order comes after the CDC recommended indoor masking again.

“Beginning today, all employees, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask indoors & physically distance,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced on Wednesday.

The DHS is the federal government’s third-largest cabinet department, employing more than 240,000 people.

The order comes a day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised their earlier guidance and recommended that the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike wear masks indoors in areas where Covid-19 transmission is high. President Joe Biden announced shortly afterwards that a vaccine mandate for federal workers is “under consideration right now,” amid media reports that such a mandate will be announced later this week.

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On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first government department to require its employees – albeit only those who work in a medical capacity – to get vaccinated. The White House previously avoided recommending mandatory inoculation in the workplace, but the Justice Department concluded earlier this week that federal law does not prohibit vaccine mandates by either public or private employers.

Though mandatory vaccination appears to be imminent, its effect on the spread of the coronavirus remains to be seen. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky defended the new mask guidance on Tuesday by stating that officials believe vaccinated people infected with the delta variant of the coronavirus can still spread it to others, and may carry higher levels of the virus than the unvaccinated.

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New York Times reporter deletes tweets calling Trump supporters ‘enemies of the state’


New York Times reporter Katie Benner has deleted a series of tweets calling Trump supporters “enemies of the state.” Benner called the tweets “wrongly worded,” but her sentiment is largely shared by the state itself.

As a Democrat-run committee investigating the pro-Trump riot on Capitol Hill in January got underway on Tuesday, viewers were treated to garish tales of violence and tears from lawmakers who lamented the “dark day” they experienced in January. Portrayed by Republican leadership as a “sham” that “no-one will believe,” the hearing evidently worked as intended on New York Times journalist Katie Benner.

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Midway through the proceedings, Benner angrily called for the US’ national security apparatus to target supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“Today’s #January6thSelectCommittee underscores America’s current, essential natsec dilemma: Work to combat legitimate national security threats now entails calling a politician’s supporters enemies of the state,” she tweeted.

“As Americans, we believe that state power should not be used to work against a political figure or a political party. But what happens if a politician seems to threaten the state? If the politician continues to do so out of office and his entire party supports that threat?” she continued.

Benner apparently viewed Trump and his supporters as a “threat” long before January 6, as she pointed out that two impeachments and the ‘Russiagate’ investigation had left this “dilemma…unresolved.”

Benner’s tweets triggered an avalanche of criticism from the right, and she later deleted them, claiming that they had been “unclearly worded.”

Benner’s sentiment is shared by the Biden administration and its security apparatus, though they speak of “extremists” rather than “Trump supporters.” The Democratic Party and its spokespeople have painted January 6 as an “insurrection,” a “coup,” and “domestic terrorism” for the last six months, and these words have been translated into policy. The White House’s new domestic terrorism strategy, for example, focuses heavily on the supposed threat posed by the right, and lists the “attack” on the US Capitol alongside mass shootings in Pittsburgh and El Paso. The strategy promises increased funding for the Department of Homeland Security, and states that the federal government will work closer with the tech industry to combat “extremist content” and “disinformation and misinformation.”

Meanwhile, right-wingers deemed extremists are being purged from military and law enforcement ranks, participants in the January 6 riot are being detained in allegedly brutal conditions with court dates at least six months off, and the FBI is encouraging Americans to turn in family members for “homegrown violent extremism.” Concurrently, the Capitol Police – a force immune from Freedom of Information Act requests – is expanding its operations beyond Washington and purchasing military-grade surveillance equipment for use on Americans.

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Benner is not the only journalist to openly call on the state to target Trump’s supporters. ABC News has called for “cleansing the movement” Trump created, a lawyer for PBS suggested that the former president’s “stupid” supporters be sent to “re-education camps,” and former FBI assistant director turned MSNBC analyst Frank Figliuzzi has called for the arrest of pro-Trump Republicans in Congress “in order to really tackle terrorism.”

It is unclear whether Benner deleted her tweets at the direction of the Times or of her own accord. However, back in 2018 the newspaper denounced Trump for referring to journalists as “enemies of the people,” saying that such terminology could “lead to violence” against the media. At time of writing, the Times has not condemned Benner’s tweets, or warned that they could lead to violence against Trump supporters.

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Aaliyah down with Covid-19, withdraws from 2020 World Junior Meet


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian teenage water skier, Aaliyah Yoong Hanifah’s (pix) mission of slaying the World Junior Championship title has to be aborted after she tested positive for Covid-19 and decided to withdraw from the 2020 World Junior meet.

Aaliyah, who is scheduled to compete in the 2020 World Junior meet in Florida, United States from Aug 22-29 unfortunately came down with the virus earlier this week together with Hanifah Yoong, her father and coach.

The Malaysian Waterski and Wakeboard Federation (MWWF) in a statement today informed that they have decided to pull her out from the championship after consulting with National Sports Council (NSC) director-general Datuk Ahmad Shapawi Ismail.

“It’s been a real bummer and I’m definitely devastated with the outcome, I don’t think there’s much I can do about this situation and even if I recovered after quarantine and went ahead, I would not have time to prepare myself adequately,” she said in the statement today.

The 18-year-old was initially scheduled to depart for Florida on July 26 and would have had a three-week period for training before the competition, but coming down with Covid-19 and lack of proper training due to the Movement Control (to curb spread of Covid-19) over the last few months, has put paid to Aaliyah’s title aspirations.

“To be honest, I’ve not really been able to train properly since May with the MCO (Movement Control) situation, as there has been so many interruptions. I know there’s still a next time in regard to competitions but it’s still a very devastating outcome for me as I was looking forward to the World Junior title as it is the last year I am eligible for the Under-17 title,” she said.

Aaliyah has been collecting close to 9,000 points in training despite the lack of competition over the past two years but she will be overage by the next World Junior meet and can only compete in the World Under-21 Championships.

“I will aim to compete at the next World Championship that will be held next year and my objective is to win two titles at the World Under-21 Championships in 2023,” she said.

Meanwhile, Hanifah said that it is a very disappointing outcome because Aaliyah was in a state to win and the World Junior Meet title had always been her goal.

“She’s also made big sacrifices, having stopped school last year in order to focus on the World Junior meet.

“We are also sorry to the sponsors, both local and international, for being unable to compete at the world juniors. We are indeed very grateful for their support for the continuous support and hope to make amends by doing well in upcoming competitions to give them the mileage to repay their support,” added Hanifah.

Aaliyah is now waiting for her full recovery and will start her preparations for the Asian Waterski and Wakeboard Championships, scheduled for this September and to focus on her next major title which is the World Under-21 Championships in 2023. — Bernama

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Tokyo Olympics: Aaron-Wooi Yik working out plan to stop world number one


TOKYO: National men’s doubles shuttlers Aaron Chia-Soh Wooi Yik are ready to fight till they drop despite having a mountain to climb in their Tokyo Olympics quarter-final clash on Thursday (July 29).

The Malaysian world number nine will be up against Indonesia’s world number one Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo-Marcus Fernaldi Gideon.

And what makes it such a daunting task is that Aaron-Wooi Yik has never beaten the Olympic top seeds in all seven meetings since their first encounter in the 2018 Malaysia Open. The two pairs last met in the 2020 All England, with Aaron-Wooi Yik losing 17-21,19-21

Aaron said that he and Wooi Yik would work out a game plan with their coach Flandy Limpele during training today to overcome the Indonesian pair.

“To me, it doesn’t matter who we meet in the quarter-finals, be it Kevin Sanjaya Sukamuljo-Marcus Fernaldi Gideon or anyone else. We have prepared so that, whoever we are drawn against, we will do our best, fight until the end,” he said in a video clip posted on the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) Facebook page today.

Aaron-Wooi Yik marched into the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics after downing Canadians Jason Ho-Shue-Nyl Yakamura 21-15, 21-13 on Tuesday (July 27) in their final Group D match at the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza here.

Aaron was also satisfied with their overall performance at the group stage, saying: “I think we can say that we are satisfied with our performance in the group stage although we finished as runners-up… I think we did okay.” — Bernama

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Soniia’s Olympic debut ends in tatters


TOKYO: National women’s singles ace Soniia Cheah Su Ya gave it everything she had against world number six Ratchanok Intanon of Thailand, but it still wasn’t enough to prevent her from making an early exit from the Tokyo Olympics today.

Soniia, 28, who received a walkover from Hungary’s Laura Sarosi in her first Group N match on Tuesday (July 27), knew she had to beat Ratchanok to advance to the quarter-finals but she found the Thai a tough nut to crack.

Despite winning the opening game, Soniia, who is making her Olympic debut, succumbed 21-19, 18-21, 10-21 in 61 minutes at the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza here.

With the win, 2013 world champion Ratchanok has now beaten world number 35 Soniia five times since 2017.

Soniia, thus, becomes the third representative from the national badminton camp to miss out on the quarter-finals in the Tokyo Olympics after the mixed doubles and women’s doubles pairs had also failed to get past the group stage.

This was also Soniia’s fifth defeat from five outings on the international arena this season.

Meanwhile, national men’s singles ace Lee Zii Jia will resume his medal pursuit as he seeks to qualify for the quarter-finals when he takes on Frenchman Brice Leverdez in a must-win final Group M match at 8.40 pm local time (7.40 Malaysian time) today.-Bernama

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‘The most painful of recoveries’: Liberals gloat as conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder hospitalized with ‘collapsed lung’


Liberals, including a self-professed Democrat healthcare advocate, have responded to news of right-wing YouTuber Steven Crowder’s life-threatening medical condition by wishing him ill health and a “painful recovery.”

The ‘Louder with Crowder’ host received the opposite of an outpouring of support from the liberal-minded on Twitter after he announced on Tuesday that he almost died after his lung collapsed earlier this month.

“Last night took a turn for the worse. Ever actually get so close that you can physically feel death? He’s a d**k,” Crowder tweeted, adding that his condition is “fixable” and that he hopes to get better soon.

Crowder, who recently had surgery for what he called “a stupid genetic defect” causing his chest to ‘cave in’ on his heart, said last week that he had “a mild lung collapse” and noted that this setback would make his road to recovery longer than expected.

Responding to the comedian’s close call with death, many of his detractors could not contain their joy, some suggesting it was retribution for him recreating the death of George Floyd under the knee of ex-police officer Derek Chauvin for his channel. The clip saw Crowder ‘star’ as Floyd, and has sparked massive backlash online.

Former Massachusetts Democratic primary candidate and games developer Brianna Wu tweeted that although she is usually for casting political differences aside and “for showing compassion,” she “can’t help but remember” Crowder’s Floyd scene.

Among those who jumped on the Crowder-bashing train was Kendall Brown, an Oklahoma-based digital strategist and self-professed “health care advocate” who is “fighting to defeat Republican supermajorities.” Brown has amassed over 22,000 followers on Twitter and wrote an opinion piece for CNN last year, in which she attacked ex-President Donald Trump’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on chronically ill Americans. 

“In case the President and his allies have forgotten, let me remind you: elderly and chronically ill Americans are still, well, Americans. Our lives matter every bit as much as those of our healthy neighbors,” Brown wrote in the op-ed.

This time, however, Brown struck a less compassionate tone, tweeting that while she “normally” wouldn’t laugh at sick people, Crowder was an exception because of his YouTube antics. “I wish him nothing but the most painful of recoveries,” Brown added in a since-deleted tweet.

Film producer Tariq Nasheed, who is no less controversial himself when it comes to race issues, called Crowder “a white supremacist, who decided to make a living spewing anti-Black racism,” completing his vitriolic tweet with a symbol of a voodoo spirit, known as a god of war.

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Olympics-Biles spotlights mental health, Tokyo Covid cases hang over Games


TOKYO: Simone Biles’ abrupt exit from the US team event and uncertainty over the gymnast’s remaining time at the Games put the mental health of athletes under the spotlight on Wednesday as the Tokyo Olympics headed into its fifth day of events.

Biles’ decision to put her wellbeing first was met with widespread support from fans and other athletes alike on Tuesday.

“There is more to life than just gymnastics,“ Biles said, saying a focus on her well-being was her goal.

Without Biles, the American team mates surrendered gold and their title to Russian gymnasts on Tuesday.

By stepping back from the gruelling competition and speaking openly about mental health, Biles joins Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka, who took a break after she withdrew from the French Open in May.

Osaka, who lit the cauldron at the Games opening on Friday, lost out in her singles event on Tuesday and exited the Games.

The pandemic continued to hang over the Tokyo Olympics, particularly after the host city announced a record number https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/olympic-host-tokyo-asks-more-hospital-beds-covid-19-infections-rise-media-2021-07-27 of daily Covid-19 cases on Tuesday.

Though Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga shut down any possibility of cancelling the Olympics late on Tuesday, organisers are likely to remain on high alert for any breach of its bubble, where athletes and others involved in the Games avoid any public contact.

Japan’s baseball team warmed up early Wednesday under a partly cloudy sky in disaster-struck Fukushima ahead of a game with the Dominican Republic to open the six-team competition in the sport. –Reuters

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2 Colorado officers arrested after bodycam footage shows unarmed trespassing suspect CHOKED & PISTOL WHIPPED


Two police officers in Colorado have been arrested and charged after beating a suspect bloody during a trespassing call, one seen pistol whipping him over a dozen times, with the local police chief calling their acts “criminal.”

The officers, John Haubert and Francine Martinez of the Aurora Police Department, were arrested on Tuesday for a litany of offenses over a July 23 encounter with suspected trespassers, the city government said. Aurora Police Chief Vanessa Wilson played bodycam footage of the incident during a Tuesday press conference, warning the video is “very disturbing” and would “shock the conscience.” 

“What you’re going to see is going to anger you, and may even bring you to tears. I know as I watched it, I felt myself welling up with tears as well as anger,” she said, adding “We’re disgusted. We’re angry. This is not police work. We don’t train this, it’s not acceptable.”

This was not the Aurora Police Department. This was criminal.

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Officer Haubert – who struck suspect Kyle Vinson in the head and face with his service pistol “approximately 13 times,” according to Wilson – faces charges including felony menacing, second degree assault, attempted first degree assault, official misconduct and official oppression. Martinez, meanwhile, was charged for failing to stop the excessive use of force or report it to her superiors. Both have since bonded out of custody and are now on leave, the police chief said, though Martinez will continue to collect a paycheck in the meantime.

Vinson, 29, was hospitalized with contusions and required stitches after the scuffle. He is heard repeatedly pleading with the officers not to kill him in the footage, which Wilson said captured a “very despicable act” by the responding officers.

The police chief said the department received a trespassing call around 1pm on July 23. When Haubert and Martinez arrived at the scene, they saw three men sitting on the ground near their bicycles. Though Wilson noted they were initially “cooperative,” officers ran their names and found all three men had outstanding arrest warrants. When they tried to arrest one suspect, he and another man fled while Vinson remained seated, with officers quickly pinning him to the ground and ordering him to turn onto his stomach. The ensuing scuffle was captured in the bodycam footage, in which Vinson is repeatedly struck by Haubert, who is also seen choking him with one arm for about 40 seconds. The officer is heard threatening to shoot Vinson several times.

Court documents obtained by the Associated Press show that Vinson was wanted after he failed to submit urine samples, stopped attending court-ordered domestic violence counseling and failed to appear for probation meetings linked to a prior offense. Wilson noted that the man likely did not know about the warrant.

Insisting on the public’s “right to know” and the need for “transparency,” Wilson said the department is conducting an “expedited” internal probe in coordination with local prosecutors, hoping it will bring “some sort of closure” to the case. In the meantime, she urged for “peace” from residents, asking that they allow the disciplinary process to run its course. 

“As angry as you are, I need peace in this city, please. I need peace from the community members,” she said, adding “The first part of justice has been served with the officers being arrested.”

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Boxer Youness Baalla tries to bite opponent’s ear during Olmpics bout


ANKARA: Moroccan boxer Youness Baalla attempted to bite off his New Zealand opponent David Nyika’s ear during a match on Tuesday at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

According to Anadolu Agency, Baalla attempted to bite Nyika’s ear in the third and final round of the bout.

Nyika said, after the match, that it was unfortunate that the referee could not see what had happened.

“He couldn’t get my ear into his mouth. I am lucky for that,“ said Nyika, who won 5-0 and advanced to quarter-final.

The fight drew comparisons with a 1997 infamous bout between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield.

In the second heavyweight championship match between the two in the US state of Nevada, Tyson bit a part of Holyfield’s ear off and was disqualified.

Tyson’s boxing licence was revoked for 15 months after the incident.-Bernama

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Gilgamesh Dream: US confiscates Sumerian tablet stolen from Iraq & bought by Hobby Lobby


The US government has seized an ancient Sumerian cuneiform tablet that was bought by a US dealer around the time of the 2003 invasion, and later purchased by craft store chain Hobby Lobby for the Museum of the Bible in Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, the US Justice Department announced that Hobby Lobby – whose owners are devout Christians – agreed to forfeit the artifact, which contains a portion of the ancient Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world’s oldest works of literature.

“Forfeiture of the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet demonstrates the [DOJ’s] continued commitment to eliminating smuggled cultural property from the US art market,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr.

Federal agents originally seized the tablet from the Oklahoma City museum in September 2019. Hobby Lobby had acquired it in a private sale in 2014, from an auction house in London that the DOJ did not name, but which was reported to be Christie’s.

The “cultural value of this tablet that travelled the world under false provenance exceeds any monetary value,” said special agent Peter Fitzhugh of Homeland Security Investigations, which was involved in the proceedings.

The tablet is over 4,000 years old, measures approximately 6 inches by 5 inches (15 cm by 12 cm), and is inscribed in the language of Akkad.

According to a complaint filed by the DOJ on July 16, the unnamed US antiques dealer visited England “in or about 2001” to view a series of ancient cuneiform tablets in an apartment in London. The artifacts are alleged to have belonged to Jordanian coins dealer Ghassan Rihani, who died the same year.

“In or about March or April 2003” – around the time the US invaded Iraq – the dealer visited the apartment again and bought the tablet, which was said to be “encrusted with dirt and unreadable,” from a Rihani “family member.” The dealer then shipped the tablet into the US without declaring its contents and cleaned it, at which point the inscription was recognized as part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. 

In 2007, the antiquities dealer sold the tablet alongside a letter falsely claiming it had been found in a box bought at a 1981 auction. The tablet was then resold “several times” until it ended up at the auction house, at which point it was bought by Hobby Lobby and sent to the museum.

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According to Jacquelyn Kasulis, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, the DOJ intends to eventually return the “rare and ancient masterpiece of world literature to its country of origin.”

Iraqi museums suffered several looting spells in the last three decades. Nine of the country’s regional museums were targeted by looters in 1991 during the Gulf War. The rampage resulted in some 4,000 artifacts being destroyed or stolen.

Iraqi authorities have estimated that more than 35,000 items were taken from the National Museum of Iraq in Baghdad when it was sacked during the 2003 invasion. The subsequent US-backed Iraqi governments have tried to get the artifacts returned, but have seen little success. In 2014, when the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist group claimed a large portion of Iraq and Syria and looted the museum in Mosul, the US government pledged to crack down on trade in stolen artifacts, saying that the proceeds might contribute to financing terrorism.

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