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Trump threatens to withhold aid to 2 states over expanded voting by mailPresident Trump on Wednesday threatened to halt federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over the distribution of absentee ballots in those swing states amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has left more than 90,000 Americans dead.


5/20/2020 9:53:52 AM

Cyclone swamps parts of India, Bangladesh, evacuations keep death toll downRescue teams searched for survivors in eastern India and Bangladesh on Thursday, a day after the most powerful cyclone in over a decade devastated coastal villages, tore down power lines, and left large tracts of land under water. While at least a dozen people died in the Indian state of West Bengal and ten in neighbouring Bangladesh, mass evacuations organised by authorities undoubtedly saved countless lives. Most deaths were caused by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph), and a storm surge of around five metres that inundated low-lying coastal areas when the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday.


5/21/2020 1:19:38 AM

A police officer tried to use stun gun on Ahmaud Arbery in 2017A video shows officers questioning Arbery on why he was sitting in his car at a park. "I'm trying to chill on my day off. I'm up early in the morning trying to chill," he said.


5/19/2020 12:29:00 PM

Mark Zuckerberg said he is 'worried' about China setting the agenda for tech regulationMark Zuckerberg said he thinks Western democracies have "the next five or ten years" to set tip the balance in their favor.


5/19/2020 6:21:40 AM

Andrew Cuomo is no hero. He's to blame for New York's coronavirus catastropheHis record was terrible before coronavirus, but his abysmal handling of the crisis should get him thrown out of officeAndrew Cuomo may be the most popular politician in the country. His approval ratings have hit all-time highs thanks to his Covid-19 response. Some Democrats have discussed him as a possible replacement for Joe Biden, due to Biden’s perceived weakness as a nominee. And there have even been some unfortunate tributes to Cuomo’s alleged sex appeal.All of which is bizarre, because Cuomo should be one of the most loathed officials in America right now. ProPublica recently released a report outlining catastrophic missteps by Cuomo and the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, which probably resulted in many thousands of needless coronavirus cases. ProPublica offers some appalling numbers contrasting what happened in New York with the outbreak in California. By mid-May, New York City alone had almost 20,000 deaths, while in San Francisco there had been only 35, and New York state as a whole suffered 10 times as many deaths as California.Federal failures played a role, of course, but this tragedy was absolutely due, in part, to decisions by the governor. Cuomo initially “reacted to De Blasio’s idea for closing down New York City with derision”, saying it “was dangerous” and “served only to scare people”. He said the “seasonal flu was a graver worry”. A spokesperson for Cuomo “refused to say if the governor had ever read the state’s pandemic plan”. Later, Cuomo would blame the press, including the New York Times for failing to say “Be careful, there’s a virus in China that may be in the United States?” even though the Times wrote nearly 500 stories on the virus before the state acted. Experts told ProPublica that “had New York imposed its extreme social distancing measures a week or two earlier, the death toll might have been cut by half or more”.But delay was not the only screw-up. Elderly prisoners have died of coronavirus because New York has failed to act on their medical parole requests. As Business Insider documented:“Testing was slow. Nonprofit social-service agencies that serve the most vulnerable couldn’t get answers either. And medical experts like the former CDC director Tom Frieden said ‘so many deaths could have been prevented’ had New York issued its stay-at-home order just ‘days earlier’ than it did. On March 19, when New York’s schools had already been closed, Cuomo said ‘in many ways, the fear is more dangerous than the virus.’”The governor has failed to take responsibility for the obvious failures, consistently blaming others and at one point even saying “governors don’t do pandemics”. (Actually, some governors just don’t read their state’s pandemic plans.) But much of the press has ignored this, focusing instead on Cuomo’s aesthetic presentation: his poise during press conferences, his dramatic statements about “taking responsibility” (even when he obviously hasn’t), and his invisible good looks.> Cuomo’s record was shameful long before coronavirus beganThe mask mural is yet another publicity stunt mistaken by the press as a sign of leadership. On 29 April, Cuomo unveiled a wall of handmade cloth masks that had been sent to his office by concerned citizens all over America. He called it “a self-portrait of America. You know what that spells? It spells love.” Since the arrangement of masks doesn’t form words, the mural doesn’t actually spell anything, but it is a perfect symbol of Cuomo’s leadership failures. Handmade cloth face coverings are not as effective as N95 masks, of course, but if unsuitable for healthcare workers they would still have been perfectly appropriate to distribute to New Yorkers (some of whom have been brutally arrested for not wearing masks). But Cuomo, rather than putting the needs of New Yorkers first, chose to tack hundreds of cloth masks on a wall as a monument to himself.Cuomo’s record was shameful long before coronavirus began. He enabled the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference), a group of conservative Democratic state lawmakers, in allying with the Republican minority to block progressive legislation. (Cuomo denies any role in the IDC, but that stretches credulity.) Before the pandemic, he pushed through Medicaid cuts which shut down necessary hospital space in the name of “efficiency” despite the warnings of medical professionals. And on 3 April, as 3,000 New Yorkers already lay dead from the virus and hospitals like Elmhurst in Queens were overwhelmed with cases, Cuomo forced through further Medicaid cuts, slashing $400m from hospital budgets.As the state now staggers to its feet, Cuomo has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to “reimagine education” (which almost certainly means privatization), and with the ex-Google chief Eric Schmidt to – as Naomi Klein puts it – “permanently integrat[e] technology into every aspect of civic life”. All of this has happened without the democratic input of New Yorkers, who would likely prefer that the progressive legislators they elected could govern without interference, that their hospitals have enough money to function and that billionaires don’t infiltrate and control every element of civic life.There’s something disturbing about Cuomo being hailed as the hero of the pandemic when he should rightly be one of the villains. As Business Insider notes, he is now only able to attain praise for his actions because his earlier failures made those actions necessary. He’s lauded for addressing a problem that he himself partly caused. Of course, part of this is because Donald Trump has bungled the coronavirus response even more badly, so that Cuomo – by not being a complete buffoon – looks like a capable statesman by contrast. But this is the problem: for too long, Democrats have measured their politicians by “whether they are better than Republicans”. This sets the bar very low indeed, and means that Democrats end up settling for incompetent and amoral leaders who betray progressive values again and again. * Lyta Gold is the managing editor and amusements editor of Current Affairs. Nathan Robinson is the editor of Current Affairs and a Guardian US columnist


5/20/2020 5:10:24 AM

Study: Philippines a global hot spot for online child abuseThe Philippines has emerged as a global hot spot for online child sexual exploitation, and coronavirus lockdowns that restrict millions to their homes may be worsening the abuses, a U.S. official said Thursday.


5/21/2020 2:40:58 AM

Hobby Lobby Sues Christie’s, Wants Us to Feel Sorry for ThemIn March, the Wall Street Journal ran an article about how Steve Green, the CEO of Hobby Lobby and President of Museum of the Bible, plans to return 11,500 illicit Iraqi and Egyptian artifacts currently owned by the company or museum to their countries of origin. Among this vast collection of undocumented items that the museum was voluntarily returning is the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet an ancient clay tablet that, among other things, records part of history’s oldest creation story. One detail Green left out of the story? The tablet had been seized on September 24, 2019 by the Department of Homeland Security and Homeland Security Investigations. Now, Hobby Lobby wants the $1.6 million it spent on the tablet back.On May 19, 2020 Hobby Lobby filed a lawsuit against world renowned auction house Christie’s and a dealer identified as “John Doe” alleging that both parties deceived Hobby Lobby about the legality of the sale and seeking the return of funds spent on the item, interest since 2014, and attorney fees. They acquired the item in 2014 for $1,694,000. The story, as it can be pieced together from the government’s complaint and Hobby Lobby’s filing, begins in 2001 when a dealer and unnamed cuneiform expert identified the tablet on the floor of the apartment of London based Jordanian antiquities dealer Ghassan Rihani. At the time it was unreadable and was purchased for $50,000.  The antiquities dealer brought the tablet to the U.S. where it was worked on by a then unnamed professor at Princeton. In 2007 the antiquities dealer sold the tablet to two other dealers for pretty much what he had purchased it for. When these unnamed dealers asked for provenance, the antiquities dealer used, the suit claims, a “False Provenance Letter [that] indicated that the Gilgamesh Dream Tablet was purchased at a 1981 Butterfield & Butterfield auction in San Francisco as part of lot 1503.” Why does the date matter? Because if it hadn’t legally been in the U.S. for decades, then the tablet would have been illicit. Under the UNESCO convention, items of cultural and historical interest discovered after 1970 cannot be removed from their countries of origin except under special agreement. The false provenance letter suggested that the tablet had been in the U.S. for decades.In the same year as the fake letter was acquired, the tablet was published for the first time in a reputable academic journal by Professor A. R. George, a leading expert on Assyriology who teaches at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London). According to his article, George is the same scholar who viewed the tablet in 2005. He says that he published the tablet with the permission of the owner, who wished to remain anonymous. He also notes that the “tablet has since been offered for sale by a Californian bookseller, Michael Sharpe Rare and Antiquarian Books, as item 53 in his catalogue no. 1, issued on 4 September 2007.” The article does not mention the provenance of the item, although by the time the tablet went up for sale in 2007 the faked provenance was already attached. The catalog produced by Sharpe offered it for sale with an asking price of $450,000. At this point “John Doe” bought the item from the immediate owner.The falsified provenance and George’s article certainly lent legitimacy to the project. When the item was subsequently sold via private treaty by Christie’s to Hobby Lobby in 2014, they were allegedly told about the involvement of only a few relevant parties: the faked Butterfield provenance, Michael Sharpe, and John Doe. They were not, Hobby Lobby’s suit alleges, told about the American dealer who had imported the object into the country in the early 2000s, or the exchange of hands in 2007. According to Hobby Lobby’s complaint, Georgiana Aitken, the Head of Antiquities at Christie’s London office, had made inquiries about the provenance letter from the first dealer and was told “over the telephone [that the letter] could not be verified and would not withstand the scrutiny of a public auction.” Christie's, Hobby Lobby claims, organized the private sale to Hobby Lobby when “they should have known that … [the provenance] was false.”After Hobby Lobby purchased the tablet (no later than July 2014), it was “hand-carried by an Auction House representative [the Hobby Lobby suit alleges that this was Margaret Ford] to Hobby Lobby in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma so that Hobby Lobby could avoid incurring a New York sales tax.”It is worth noting that Christie’s have facilitated many such private sales to the Green Family (Hobby Lobby) and that in some cases, for example the sale of papyri, those items turned out to be illicit and also had to be returned. Now, it seems, Hobby Lobby is mad about it.As made clear by the United States Attorney General’s complaint against the item (for legal reasons the governmental complaints are brought against objects and not people), Hobby Lobby didn’t do anything wrong. They were shown faked provenance documents. In contrast to earlier seizures of Hobby Lobby acquisitions, first reported in The Daily Beast by Joel Baden and me in 2015, the Green family were clearly and overtly deceived. Certainly, their willingness to spend large sums of money on Bible-related antiquities and their history of being cavalier about provenance helped make them a target for what Steve Green has called “unscrupulous dealers.” Allegedly, that group may now include one of the world’s most famous and highly regarded auction houses. In a statement issued to The Daily Beast after publication, a Christie’s spokesperson said, “This filing is linked to new information that has come to light regarding an unidentified dealer’s admission to government authorities that he illegally imported this item then falsified documents over a decade ago, in order to perpetrate an illegal sale and exploit the legitimate market for ancient art. Now that we are informed of this activity pre-dating Christie’s involvement, we are reviewing all representations made to us by prior owners and will reserve our rights in this matter. Assertions within the filing that suggest Christie’s had knowledge of the original fraud or illegal importation do not comport with our investigation.”There are two important things to note in this story. First is that for the past year Hobby Lobby have been conducting a media campaign to reframe themselves as “victims” of “unscrupulous buyers.” They made mistakes, they claim, but things are different now. The language they use is, as Jill Hicks-Keeton, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, has told me, oddly evocative of Christian narratives of repentance and rebaptism. Certainly, the crime and greater blame lies with the dealers, auction houses, and (allegedly) scholars who knowingly perpetrated these crimes. These dealers exploited the religious interests of a powerful evangelical family. At the same time, as early as the Summer of 2010, the Greens were warned about the dangers of buying illicit antiquities by Patty Gerstenblith, one of the country’s leading experts on the subject. As she told Chasing Aphrodite, they chose not to take her advice.The issue is not just that the Green Christian story of confession and rebirth has been told several times before (in 2012 when they replaced key figures in their organization, 2017 when the museum opened, and again this year) but that it doesn’t note that all of their changes have been brought about because of external pressure by scholars. For example, their widely publicized revelation that they own forged (and thus illicitly purchased) Dead Sea Scrolls this year obscured the fact that scholars like Årstein Justnes have been publicly calling them forgeries since 2016. We discussed this and other examples in our 2017 book Bible Nation, and yet Museum of the Bible would have you believe that their investigation was sui generis and, thus, demonstrates that the organization has changed. They do finally seem to be trying to set things right, but it’s also a carefully managed media campaign that ignores their own culpability. The more troubling thing is that the media is buying it. An April 5 article in The New York Times entirely omitted the recent revelation of the Museum’s possession of 13 fragments of papyri that were stolen from the Sackler Library at the University of Oxford and rightly belong to the Egypt Exploration Society. The article claims to represent the views of the Museum’s “toughest critics.” However, none of those who spearheaded academic criticism of the Museum were cited. One would expect to hear from Roberta Mazza, who sounded an early alarm about the illicit nature of the Green family’s papyri collection and has pursued the story since; Brent Nongbri, whose blog Variant Readings is the premiere source of information on the Greens' illicit papyrus collecting; Mark Chancey, who was the first to criticize attempts to introduce their Bible Curriculum to Oklahoma; Jill Hicks-Keeton and Cavan Concannon, co-editors of The Museum of the Bible: A Critical Introduction (Fortress, 2019); and, at risk of sounding arrogant, myself and Joel Baden, who authored the first book on the museum Bible Nation: The United States of Hobby Lobby (Princeton, 2017). None of these scholars were asked for comment. (I attempted to contact the author of the article but did not hear back). Instead the article cites only those academics and experts who have collaborated with the Museum (even if they have offered some criticism of it in the past). The Museum is doing a masterful job at being allowed to control its own press and rebaptize itself in the waters of public opinion. At no point has Steve Green, who does seem genuinely contrite, offered to repay the sizeable tax deductions Hobby Lobby received for worthless forged Dead Sea Scrolls. At risk of being too Catholic about this, what is repentance without penance?The second important thing is that while individual scholars have been instrumental in bringing the problems with Hobby Lobby’s collecting practices to light, the academy also unwittingly participates in the illicit antiquities market. Prior to the publication of Andrew George’s article, the Gilgamesh tablet traded for roughly $50,000, after his publication its value rose first to $450,000 and then to over $1.6 million. The Michael Sharpe catalog mentions George’s analysis. George’s article notes that he had presented his material at seminars at several distinguished universities. Did any of the attendees of these seminars ask where the tablet had come from? George published a tablet that had forged provenance and while there’s no suggestion that he knew it was forged or that he financially benefited, that publication was instrumental in raising the value of the item in question. For Hobby Lobby, using the skills of academics to raise the value of objects was always part of the plan. Scott Carroll, former director of the Green Collection, told me that that was part of the initial business pitch that he and Johnny Shipman had offered the Greens in 2005 and 2008. Academics would jump at the opportunity to work on these texts (for almost nothing), and the Greens would reap the financial rewards. As archaeologist Neil Brodie has said before, when academics work on unprovenanced artifacts, they raise the value of illicit antiquities. As an academic myself, I can only say that we are part of the problem.Andrew George has not returned inquiries for comment.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


5/19/2020 1:38:08 PM

Israel honours dead Chinese envoy ahead of repatriationThe body of China's ambassador to Israel, who died earlier this week, was handed to Chinese authorities in a ceremony at Israel's Ben Gurion international airport on Wednesday. The coffin was placed on a black altar surrounded by white wreaths of flowers ahead of the body's repatriation to China.


5/20/2020 5:19:00 AM

Photos show South Korean students eating and learning with plastic screens between them as schools start to reopenHigh schools reopened on Wednesday with strict new social-distancing rules to avoid new coronavirus outbreaks.


5/20/2020 7:32:24 AM

New polls show trouble for Trump and Republicans in GOP strongholdsJust-released polls contain bad news for President Trump and his Senate allies, with Joe Biden expanding the electoral map to states that have long been bastions of the Republican Party.


5/19/2020 2:05:47 PM

Democrats grill EPA chief on regulatory rollbacks during coronavirus outbreakDemocratic senators on Wednesday grilled Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler on the agency's recent moves to roll back rules and halt enforcement actions and monitoring requirements during the coronavirus outbreak, saying they would especially harm minorities. Senators pressed Wheeler on the agency's half dozen regulatory rollbacks since the coronavirus outbreak hit the United States, including for vehicle fuel efficiency standards and mercury limits from power plants. Wheeler testified before a nearly empty Senate environment and public works panel - attended by a handful of senators in person and the rest by video.


5/20/2020 1:58:01 PM

Korean ‘comfort women’ groups accused of embezzling donations for victimsA second support group for South Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II is being investigated over claims that senior officials have embezzled millions in donations that were meant for the women. A manager and six staff at the House of Sharing - a shelter for the dwindling number of former sex workers euphemistically known as “comfort women” - have claimed that around $5 million in donations has been siphoned off for unrelated projects and that the residents of the facility do not receive the care that they require. The accusations come just days after the other major support organisation for former comfort women was similarly accused of embezzling donations. Those allegations have lead to demands for an official investigation into Yoon Mee-hyang, a former head of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Ms Yoon was elected as a member of the ruling Liberal Party to the South Korean parliament in last month’s elections, but opposition parties are now claiming that the organisation and Ms Yoon personally exploited surviving comfort women and embezzled donations. Korean media have reported that Ms Yoon is suspected of pocketing donations and government subsidies and using those funds for her own purposes. One outlay that has attracted attention was the payment of more than £22,000 to a bar for an event allegedly to promote the council’s work. The operator of the bar has stated, however, that the cost of the event was only £6,440 and that it returned more than £3,500 as a donation.


5/20/2020 3:41:02 AM

China abductions: Parents find son snatched in hotel 32 years agoLi Jingzhi quit her job to search China for her son, Mao Yin, who went missing in 1988.


5/20/2020 12:19:33 AM

Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias dies at 74The noted Christianity apologist was born in India and built an international ministry based out of Atlanta. He died after a brief bout with sarcoma.


5/19/2020 12:49:04 PM

Michigan dam had repeated safety violations before floodingA hydroelectric dam that failed to hold back floodwaters this week in Michigan was the target of lengthy investigations by federal regulators, who revoked the facility's license over safety violations two years before the flooding that forced 10,000 people to evacuate their homes. Boyce Hydro Power’s history of violations lasted throughout the 14 years the company was authorized to run the nearly century-old Edenville dam, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which said it repeatedly raised concerns about the dam's ability to prevent flooding during extreme conditions because of its inadequate spillway capacity. The dam on the Tobacco and Tittabawassee rivers, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Detroit, was among several barriers overtaken Tuesday by floodwaters that chased people from communities in central Michigan.


5/20/2020 6:15:10 PM