The Holocaust as an underlying condition

By Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin, Washington Post

In Israel, the pandemic takes an emotional toll on survivors of Nazi atrocities.

HAIFA, Israel — For 10 grinding months, Shimon Sabag has worked to keep the coronavirus from devastating one of Israel’s most vulnerable populations: the dwindling number of Holocaust survivors living out their final years in the Jewish state.

Now he’s worried about the pandemic endgame.

“This is the moment of truth,” Sabag said of the nail-biting contest between an exploding resurgence of covid-19 cases and Israel’s aggressive vaccination program. “Holocaust survivors see the finish line, but emotionally they are collapsing.”

In this hilly port city that is home to the country’s largest population of survivors, Sabag runs Yad Rosa, one of several private charities straining to ensure that lives that began in one mass tragedy don’t end in another.

Shimon Sabag founded Yad Rosa 20 years ago. The charity has been transformed by the pandemic. (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)

Israel’s remaining 192,000 registered survivors are a community both revered and neglected. A quarter live below the poverty line, and the underfunding of programs meant to help them is a chronic scandal made worse by the country’s political and budget paralysis of recent years. A government report in October showed that only 30 percent of funds allocated for survivors had been delivered because of bureaucratic red tape.

The first Israeli to die of covid-19 was an 88-year-old Hungarian who had hidden out as an adolescent after his father was taken to Nazi Germany’s Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Since then about 5,300 survivors have been infected and 900 have died, according to government figures. But beyond the physical toll, this population of survivors — elderly, often isolated and haunted by memories — is uniquely at risk. The sudden closing of the country has made for a year of crisis for many of them.

“I haven’t been able to breathe the air for months,” Jenya Rosenstein, 85, said by phone from the cramped Tel Aviv apartment that now reminds her of Mogilev-Podolsk, the transit camp in Ukraine where she was beaten and burned as a child. “It is like I’m back in prison.”

Survivors have been eligible for the early rounds of Israel’s vaccine program, but many required special assistance to reach the inoculation centers. Yad Rosa’s staff drove 1,800 survivors to get their shot in just two weeks.

As Israel waits for immunity to build and the infection rate to wane, advocates worry that survivors are at the end of their emotional ropes.

Shutov, a Yad Rosa manager, delivers food to Holocaust survivor Yelena Samueleno, 92. (Corinna Kern for The Washington Post)

Recent research shows that while many survivors — a resilient group almost by definition — are holding up well, others are suffering higher rates of post-traumatic stress, loneliness and fear than the general population. A Bar-Ilan University study says that survivors who experienced tuberculosis, dysentery and other diseases that were rampant in the concentration camps are the most likely to be feeling anguish after months of isolation and watching their televisions repeat dire updates about the growing global death count.

“They’re returning back to memories of the ghetto, of the camps, of death,” said Isabella Greenberg, a psychiatrist specializing in the treatment of survivors who is seeing a spike of psychoses and cognitive decline among her patients. “Some of my patients feel that this is like Auschwitz.”

For Sabag, the pandemic has transformed the survivors’ support network he founded and has run in Haifa for 20 years. Yad Rosa maintains a complex of apartment buildings for about 100 survivors in central Haifa. Before the virus, it ran a common dining hall and social events that included a yearly beauty contest. The staff handed out 130 meals a day to survivors in the surrounding community.

When Israel’s first national lockdown was imposed in March, all the social contact ended. Foreign health aides fled the country, leaving patients with no help. Even those survivors strong enough to venture out were afraid of being infected on a bus or in a grocery store.

The panicked calls started immediately.

“They crashed our phones,” Sabag said in his new call center on a recent morning, recounting the chaos of the past months amid a cacophony of conversation and shouted consultations. “Coronavirus taught us to change quickly.”

The group dispatched a mobile dentistry van and began providing rides to doctor’s appointments for survivors afraid of riding the bus. The small call center staffed by 40 volunteers began to phone thousands of survivors a day, providing a moment of human contact and checking on their needs for food and medicine.

With layoffs and school closures across Israel came a flood of volunteers. Idled contractors built food bank storage and did household repairs in survivors’ homes. Students were recruited to pay regular visits — distanced and masked — to “adopted” survivors. One student spotted a utility cutoff notice unopened on a table, and Yad Rosa was able to pay the bill.

Yad Rosa doubled, then quintupled, its capacity. With emergency funding from the New York-based Bnai Zion Foundation and other donors, the charity hired a caterer and began delivering more than 1,000, and now 2,000, frozen meals a day to apartments and senior centers around the city.

Paid contractors, along with volunteers from the army and police and ultra-Orthodox Jews who do community service in lieu of enlisting in the military, now make 4,500 phone calls a day, Sabag said. Clients who are sick or in emotional distress are called more than once.

When someone on the call list doesn’t respond, operators try a neighbor or family member, if there is one. If that doesn’t work, they dispatch a staffer on one of a fleet of scooters to check on the person. Staffers often find a senior who has fallen or needs emergency care.

On one wall of the call center, a widescreen monitor showed one such response unfolding in real time. A woman had called to say she was nearly out of food. Half an hour later, a staffer zipped through the city on a scooter, his ride captured on his body camera in dizzying high definition. It relayed his arrival at an apartment and the shaky gratitude of an elderly woman when he carried in a box of food: 14 frozen meals (chicken schnitzel, couscous, green beans) and 10 cans of tomatoes, spinach and other vegetables.

Yad Rosa staffers peered at the screen, checking the cluttered room for safety hazards or other potential signs of trouble. “This is a way for the whole office to see into their homes,” Sabag said.

Yad Rosa has also installed cameras in 120 homes, part of a pilot program for remote elder care that Sabag says could be rolled out to 30 new survivor support centers in Israel.

“What they’re doing is taking the technological advances that we’re using in many parts of our lives and using it to help the most vulnerable,” said Ari Lamm, CEO of the Bnai Zion Foundation, which supports Yad Rosa’s expansion plans.

So far, none of the Holocaust survivors who live in Yad Rosa housing have died of covid-19, although two others living in the surrounding community have.

For many, the hardest part is simply hanging on.

Renate Kaufmann, who opened her door to a Yad Rosa volunteer bringing a requested wheelchair, has been cooped up for months. The 83-year-old is eager to emerge but willing to wait, a lesson in patience she said she learned during two years of living in secret rooms and cramped hiding spaces in Nazi Germany.

“Who is safe?” she asked. “There is no safe place in this world.”

Russian parliament OKs New START nuclear treaty extension

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian lawmakers on Wednesday quickly approved the extension of the last remaining nuclear Russia-U.S. arms control treaty, a fast-track action that comes just days before it’s due to expire.

Both houses of parliament voted unanimously to extend the New START treaty for five years, a day after a phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin said they agreed to complete the necessary extension procedures in the next few days.

Speaking via video link to the World Economic Forum’s virtual meeting, Putin hailed the decision to extend the treaty as “a step in the right direction,” but warned of rising global rivalries and threats of new conflicts.

The pact’s extension doesn’t require congressional approval in the U.S., but Russian lawmakers must ratify the move and Putin has to sign the relevant bill into law.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told lawmakers that the extension will be validated by exchanging diplomatic notes once all the procedures are completed.

The upper house speaker, Valentina Matvienko, said after the vote that the decision to extend the pact shows that Russia and the U.S. can reach agreements on major issues despite the tensions between them.

New START expires on Feb. 5. After taking office last week, Biden proposed extending the treaty for five years, and the Kremlin quickly welcomed the offer.

The treaty, signed in 2010 by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

Biden indicated during the campaign that he favored the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as U.S. vice president.

Russia has long proposed prolonging the pact without any conditions or changes, but the Trump administration waited until last year to start talks and made the extension contingent on a set of demands. The talks stalled, and months of bargaining have failed to narrow differences.

The negotiations were also marred by tensions between Russia and the United States, which have been fueled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other irritants.

After both Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 2019, New START is the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries.

Earlier this month, Russia announced that it would follow the U.S. in pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed surveillance flights over military facilities, to help build trust and transparency between Russia and the West.

Before the Biden administration took office, Russia always had offered to extend New START for five years — a possibility that was envisaged by the pact at the time it was signed. But President Donald Trump charged that it put the U.S. at a disadvantage. Trump initially insisted that China be added to the treaty, an idea that Beijing bluntly dismissed.

The Trump administration then proposed to extend New START for just one year and also sought to expand it to include limits on battlefield nuclear weapons.

Arms control advocates hailed the treaty’s extension as a boost to global security and urged Russia and the U.S. to start negotiating follow-up agreements.

Ryabkov said that Russia will count its Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle along with other Russian nuclear weapons under the treaty limits.

The Russian military has said the Avangard is capable of flying 27 times faster than the speed of sound and could make sharp maneuvers on its way to a target to bypass missile defense systems. It has been fitted to a few existing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles instead of older type warheads, and in the future could be fitted to the Sarmat, a prospective intercontinental ballistic missile now under development.

Ryabkov said that Russia is ready to sit down for talks on prospective arms cuts, noting that they should also involve non-nuclear precision weapons with strategic range.

US terrorism alert warns of politically motivated violence

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin Wednesday warning of the lingering potential for violence from people motivated by antigovernment sentiment after President Joe Biden’s election, suggesting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional attacks.

The department did not cite any specific plots, but pointed to “a heightened threat environment across the United States” that it believes “will persist” for weeks after Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.

It is not uncommon for the federal government to warn local law enforcement through bulletins about the prospect for violence tied to a particular event or date, such as July 4.

But this particular bulletin, issued through the department’s National Terrorism Advisory System, is notable because it effectively places the Biden administration into the politically charged debate over how to describe or characterize acts motivated by political ideology, and suggests it regards violence like the kind that overwhelmed the Capitol as akin to terrorism.

The bulletin is an indication that national security officials see a connective thread between different episodes of violence in the last year motivated by anti-government grievances, including over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and police use of force. The document singles out crimes motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, such as the 2019 rampage targeting Hispanics in El Paso, Texas, as well as the threat posed by extremists motivated by foreign terror groups.

A DHS statement that accompanied the bulletin noted the potential for violence from “a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors.”

“Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence,” the bulletin said.

The alert comes at a tense time following the riot at the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the presidential election. Authorities are concerned that extremists may attack other symbols of government or people whose political views they oppose.

“The domestic terrorism attack on our Capitol earlier this month shined a light on a threat that has been right in front of our faces for years,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. “I am glad to see that DHS fully recognizes the threat posed by violent, right-wing extremists and is taking efforts to communicate that threat to the American people.”

The alert was issued by acting Homeland Security Secretary David Pekoske. Biden’s nominee for the Cabinet post, Alejandro Mayorkas, has not been confirmed by the Senate.

Two former homeland security secretaries, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, called on the Senate to confirm Mayorkas so he can start working with the FBI and other agencies and deal with the threat posed by domestic extremists, among other issues.

Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, said attacks by far-right, domestic extremists are not new but that deaths attributed to them in recent years in the U.S. have exceeded those linked to jihadists such as al-Qaida. “We have to be candid and face what the real risk is,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

Federal authorities have charged more than 150 people in the Capitol siege, including some with links to right-wing extremist groups such as the Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers.

The Justice Department announced charges Wednesday against 43-year Ian Rogers, a California man found with five pipe bombs during a search of his business this month who had a sticker associated with the Three Percenters on his vehicle. His lawyer told his hometown newspaper, The Napa Valley Register, that he is a “very well-respected small business owner, father, and family man” who does not belong to any violent organizations.

SoHo Karen flees to California: Cheerleader, 22, grabs McDonald’s in a face shield near her family home after she ‘assaulted a black boy, 14, thinking he stole her iPhone’ in NYC

The woman dubbed ‘Soho Karen’ – Miya Ponsetto – has been seen for the first time since being named as the person who assaulted a 14-year-old black boy at a New York City hotel in a row over a phone.

By Ruth Styles For Dailymail.com and Alan Butterfield For Dailymail.com

  • The woman dubbed ‘Soho Karen’ – 22-year-old Miya Ponsetto – has been seen for the first time 
  • She was named as the woman who assaulted a 14-year-old black boy at a New York City hotel in a row over a phone
  • Seen in exclusive DailyMail.com photos, she was seen making a quick trip to McDonald’s in Fillmore, California  
  • The 22-year-old has been laying low at her family’s $389,000 home in the small town of Piru, a small farming town approximately 30 miles north of LA 
  • Despite facing potential assault and attempted robbery charges in New York,  she appeared relaxed and was smiling broadly as she grabbed her orde 
  • On Thursday, DailyMail.com obtained police reports and court records bearing her name 
  • The records show Ponsetto was arrested on February 28, 2020, for public intoxication in Beverly Hills 
  • Ponsetto was arrested again near Calabasas for drunk driving on May 28 
  • New York City police have been searching for ‘SoHo Karen’ after she was filmed attacking Keyon Harrold Jr at the Arlo Hotel on Saturday 
  • The woman falsely accused Harrold Jr of stealing her iPhone, which was returned to her by an Uber driver moments after the scuffle
  • The boy’s family and civil rights attorney Ben Crump are calling for charges 
  • Police have not officially named her but sources confirmed it is Ponsetto 

Seen in exclusive DailyMail.com photos, the 22-year-old made a quick trip to a McDonald’s in Fillmore, California – her first outing since being unmasked as the woman who accosted Keyon Harrold Jr at the Arlo Hotel last weekend.

The 22-year-old has been laying low at her family’s $389,000 home in the small town of Piru, a small farming town approximately 30 miles north of LA.

Yesterday, her mother Nicole, 42, became angry when asked about her daughter and ordered a DailyMail.com reporter off the property while insisting she was not there.

But earlier today, a black-clad Ponsetto was seen leaving the home and heading to McDonald’s in a black Range Rover SUV.

And despite facing potential assault and attempted robbery charges in New York, the 22-year-old appeared relaxed and was smiling broadly as she grabbed her order.

Ponsetto’s reappearance comes a day after DailyMail.com revealed that she is also facing court proceedings in LA after being arrested for being intoxicated in public by Beverly Hills PD in February.

Her mother Nicole was also collared along with her on the same charge and hit with an additional count of assaulting a police officer.

Both women are due in court for a hearing on the case on January 28.

Ponsetto was arrested for a second time in May and charged with four counts of DUI. Court records show she pled guilty in September and faces a sentencing hearing on January 14.

The 22-year-old’s legal problems now look set to increase, with the NYPD considering bringing charges against her over the December 26 incident.

Cops confirmed on Tuesday that they are looking at a variety of options, including assault, grand larceny and attempted robbery.

Ponsetto shot to infamy after Keyon Jr’s father, Grammy-winning jazz artist Keyon Harrold, posted a video of the 22-year-old grabbing at the child while repeatedly accusing him of snatching her phone.

He captioned it: ‘On Saturday, December 26, the woman in this video falsely accused an innocent 14-year-old teenager of stealing her cellphone,’ Harrison tweeted.

‘She then proceeded to physically attack him and fled the location before police officers arrived on scene.’

A second video released by the NYPD shows Ponsetto, who was swiftly dubbed Soho Karen, running at the child and grabbing at his waist.

Moments after the video ended, an Uber driver arrived with Ponsetto’s phone, which she had left in the vehicle.

Harrold, along with Keyon’s mother Kat Rodriguez and civil rights attorney Ben Crump are now urging officials to bring charges against her over the incident.

Ponsetto has denied assaulting Keyon and on Thursday, provided a rambling 20-minute phone interview to CNN.

In it, she claimed she was assaulted during the altercation with Keyon Sr. and his son, though failed to provide further details, including who allegedly assaulted her.

Her allegation has not been corroborated by investigators or any witnesses to the December 26 incident.

On Tuesday, NYPD confirmed they had identified the woman and may charge her with assault, grand larceny or attempted robbery.

The boy’s famous father, mother Kat Rodriguez and civil rights attorney Ben Crump are urging officials to bring charges against her over the incident.

The new footagereleased by NYPD casts new light on Saturday’s events in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel in Manhattan.  

It shows four people – the woman identified as Ponsetto, Keyon, Keyon Jr. and another individual standing at the bottom of the stairs in the lobby.

Keyon Jr. starts to walk away in the direction of the hotel doors. 

At this point, the woman runs and grabs the 14-year-old around the waist, latching onto him as the boy’s father runs after them.

They pass through the automatic doors in the lobby as the boy tries to shake her off, turning around as she appears to tackle him to the ground.

A close-up of the woman’s face is shown with ‘wanted’ emblazoned across it as the police urge anyone with information about the woman’s whereabouts to contact the NYPD.

‘On Saturday, December 26, the woman in this video falsely accused an innocent 14-year-old teenager of stealing her cellphone,’ Harrison tweeted. 

‘She then proceeded to physically attack him and fled the location before police officers arrived on scene.’  

After she eventually agreed to provide evidence to the network to support the claim, the woman, who lives out of state, reportedly stopped replying to CNN’s messages and calls. 

According to the woman – whose name was withheld by the network – the incident was spurred when she first demanded to see the hotel’s surveillance footage to try to pinpoint who may have taken her phone. 

After the request was denied, she reportedly then cornered someone else in the lobby to ’empty their pockets’, before turning her attention to Keyon Jr. 

‘That’s when everything got a little more serious,’ she said.  

It’s currently unclear when the alleged assault was purported to take place. The woman also provided additional information of events preceding and unrelated to the incident, which CNN said it has so far been unable to verify. 

Speaking out about her concerns over the possibility of facing charges, she said: ‘Of course I worry. That’s not who I am. I actually … try very hard to make sure that I am always doing the right thing.’

The woman added she is willing to cooperate with any police investigation, but says she has not yet been contacted by investigators, nor has she reached out herself. 

Harrold and Keyon Jr.’s mother, Kat Rodriguez, staged a rally in Manhattan on Wednesday alongside their attorney Ben Crump and Reverend Al Sharpton.

‘When I saw this story, I thought about how I was one of those kids whose father never took him anywhere for Christmas, never had brunch with my father,’ Sharpton said. 

‘And for this black man to take his black son, put him in a hotel during a pandemic, and spend Christmas with him, raising him, and to be assaulted because of the color of their skin, I wanted to stand with this man and this woman who provided for their son, and they’re being criminalized for it. The arrogance and audacity of this woman.’ 

Harrold added that had he not come down into the lobby with his son when he did, something ‘could have gone very wrong.’

‘The idea of trauma goes above any charge that we may have…I bring my son places where he shouldn’t have to deal with injustices and shouldn’t have to be profiled,’ he said.

An emotional Rodriguez also spoke during the rally, taking her opportunity to let it be known she is unhappy with the way the hotel handled the situation, and also called on ‘SoHo Karen’ to be charged with assault.

‘All that we are asking is for the police to do the right thing, for the DA to do the right thing, to charge this woman with assault of a minor,’ she said. 

‘To the hotel, which I’m equally angry at, you are trained to use those tools. I called the hotel right after it happened, and I gave them a chance to make it right, and they didn’t. You know when they made it right? When my tribe, my community spoke up.

‘It breaks my heart that this is happening to our son. This incident could have been avoided in so many ways,’ she said. 

Crump, meanwhile, called the incident an example of ‘racial injustice’ – an all-too common narrative that ‘needs to change’.

‘Can you imagine what the narrative would have been if Keyon Harrold had not videoed the incident on his cellphone?’ Crump asked the crowd.  

Keyon Harrold Sr. then played a trumpet rendition of ‘America the Beautiful’ and ‘We Shall Overcome,’ drawing applause and a few tears, according to ABC7.  

No decision has yet been made by either the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office or the NYPD as to whether the woman will be charged. 

Keyon Sr first shared footage of the incident on Instagram, writing that he and his son had left their room to get breakfast when they came into contact with the woman in the lobby. He said the woman had been staying at the hotel but had checked out three days earlier. 

It’s unclear what happened in the moments before he started filming, but in the video, the woman can be heard screaming at Keyon Jr., telling him to show her his phone. 

The one-minute-long video shows the woman and the hotel manager in the lobby with Harrold recording on his cell phone. 

‘This is my phone,’ Harrold’s son, who is not seen in the footage, is heard telling the woman and the manager.

‘You don’t have to explain nothing to her,’ Harrold tells his son.

The woman then points to the phone and tells the manager that the case is the same one that she has.

‘That’s mine,’ she tells the manager. She then tells the manager: ‘Get it back.’

Harrold responds to the woman, saying: ‘Are you kidding me? You feel like there’s only one iPhone made in the world?’

When the woman asks Harrold to see the phone, he replies: ‘No, get a life.’

Harrold then tells the woman that she should use the Find My app, which helps locate missing Apple devices.

The woman then tells Harrold that the Find My app can only be accessed through the phone.

The video then shows the manager approach Harrold’s son asking him to see the phone.

‘No, you can’t,’ Harrold tells the manager.

‘I’m the manager of the hotel,’ the manager tells Harrold, who replies: ‘I don’t care!’

During the exchange, the woman continues to encourage the manager to retrieve what she believes is her iPhone.

Harrold tries to plead his case, saying it wasn’t plausible that his son would have someone else’s phone since he just got to the lobby from the elevator.

‘Didn’t you see me just come downstairs out of the f***ing elevator?’ Harrold tells the manager.

The manager protests, saying: ‘I’m trying to help.’

Harrold replies: ‘My son has nothing to do with her.’

The woman once again repeats her demand to see the phone, saying: ‘No, he’s not leaving. Show me the proof.’

Harrold refuses and begins to walk away from the lobby toward what appear to be the elevators.

‘You better get on,’ Harrold tells the woman.

The woman, who appears to be highly distressed, walks toward Harrold and his son, saying: ‘No, I’m not letting him walk away with my phone.’

While the video is not clear, the woman appears to lunge toward Harrold and his son.

In the next frame, she is seen on the ground as the manager helps her back to her feet.

‘No, please get my phone back,’ the woman begs the manager.

The video clip ends with the woman once again approaching Harrold in an attempt to get the phone.

The Trumpeter said he suffered slight injuries in the incident though his son was not harmed. 

Keyon Jr. spoke alongside his father to ABC on Tuesday, telling the network he’s still ‘shell shocked’ over what happened. 

‘I don’t know what would have happened if my dad wasn’t there. These past few days, still kind of shell-shocked, but I’m hanging in there.

‘For me I was confused because I had never seen that lady ever and I didn’t know what to do in the moment. That’s why I was happy to have my dad here to help me,’ he said.   

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor De Blasio on Twitter called the incident ‘racism. Plain and simple.’

‘It would be horrific at any age, but it’s especially offensive that it happened to a child,’ he wrote. ‘To Keyon Harrold Jr. and his family: I am so sorry this happened to you.’

Amid the fallout, Arlo Hotels has also apologized for its role in the incident, saying its workers could have done better to ‘de-escalate the dispute.’

‘We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo hotel,’ a company statement said. 

‘In investigating the incident further, we’ve learned that the manager on duty promptly called the police regarding the woman’s conduct and that hotel security intervened to prevent further violence …. No Arlo guest – or any person – should be subject to this kind of behavior.’

Famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump is leading the charge of outrage against the woman’s actions, and also called out the hotel for ’empowering’ her accusations by asking Harrold’s son to prove his innocence.

‘As this year of racial awareness is drawing to a close, it’s deeply troubling that incidents like this one, in which a Black child is viewed as and treated like a criminal, continue to happen,’ Crump said in a statement.

‘We strongly urge Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. to bring assault and battery charges against this woman to send the message that hateful, racially motivated behavior is unacceptable,’ Crump added. ‘This is what it will take to drive change. We also call for a civil rights investigation into the Arlo Hotel for its implicit bias in its treatment of Keyon.’ 

Each year 1,000 Pakistani girls forcibly converted to Islam

KARACHI, Pakistan, Associated Press (AP)

Neha loved the hymns that filled her church with music. But she lost the chance to sing them last year when, at the age of 14, she was forcibly converted from Christianity to Islam and married to a 45-year-old man with children twice her age.

She tells her story in a voice so low it occasionally fades away. She all but disappears as she wraps a blue scarf tightly around her face and head. Neha’s husband is in jail now facing charges of rape for the underage marriage, but she is in hiding, afraid after security guards confiscated a pistol from his brother in court.

“He brought the gun to shoot me,” said Neha, whose last name The Associated Press is not using for her safety.

Neha is one of nearly 1,000 girls from religious minorities who are forced to convert to Islam in Pakistan each year, largely to pave the way for marriages that are under the legal age and non-consensual. Human rights activists say the practice has accelerated during lockdowns against the coronavirus, when girls are out of school and more visible, bride traffickers are more active on the Internet and families are more in debt.

The U.S. State Department this month declared Pakistan “a country of particular concern” for violations of religious freedoms — a designation the Pakistani government rejects. The declaration was based in part on an appraisal by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that underage girls in the minority Hindu, Christian, and Sikh communities were “kidnapped for forced conversion to Islam… forcibly married and subjected to rape.”

While most of the converted girls are impoverished Hindus from southern Sindh province, two new cases involving Christians, including Neha’s, have roiled the country in recent months.

The girls generally are kidnapped by complicit acquaintances and relatives or men looking for brides. Sometimes they are taken by powerful landlords as payment for outstanding debts by their farmhand parents, and police often look the other way. Once converted, the girls are quickly married off, often to older men or to their abductors, according to the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Forced conversions thrive unchecked on a money-making web that involves Islamic clerics who solemnize the marriages, magistrates who legalize the unions and corrupt local police who aid the culprits by refusing to investigate or sabotaging investigations, say child protection activists.

One activist, Jibran Nasir, called the network a “mafia” that preys on non-Muslim girls because they are the most vulnerable and the easiest targets “for older men with pedophilia urges.”

The goal is to secure virginal brides rather than to seek new converts to Islam. Minorities make up just 3.6 percent of Pakistan’s 220 million people and often are the target of discrimination. Those who report forced conversions, for example, can be targeted with charges of blasphemy.

In the feudal Kashmore region of southern Sindh province, 13-year-old Sonia Kumari was kidnapped, and a day later police told her parents she had converted from Hinduism to Islam. Her mother pleaded for her return in a video widely viewed on the internet: “For the sake of God, the Quran, whatever you believe, please return my daughter, she was forcibly taken from our home.”

But a Hindu activist, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of repercussions from powerful landlords, said she received a letter that the family was forced to write. The letter claimed the 13-year-old had willingly converted and wed a 36-year-old who was already married with two children.

The parents have given up.

Arzoo Raja was 13 when she disappeared from her home in central Karachi. The Christian girl’s parents reported her missing and pleaded with police to find her. Two days later, officers reported back that she had been converted to Islam and was married to their 40-year-old Muslim neighbor.

In Sindh province, the age of consent for marriage is 18 years old. Arzoo’s marriage certificate said she was 19.

The cleric who performed Arzoo’s marriage, Qasi Ahmed Mufti Jaan Raheemi, was later implicated in at least three other underage marriages. Despite facing an outstanding arrest warrant for solemnizing Arzoo’s marriage, he continued his practice in his ramshackle office above a wholesale rice market in downtown Karachi.

When an Associated Press reporter arrived at his office, Raheemi fled down a side stair, according to a fellow cleric, Mullah Kaifat Ullah, one of a half-dozen clerics who also performs marriages in the complex. He said another cleric is already in jail for marrying children.

While Ullah said he only marries girls 18 and above, he argued that “under Islamic law a girl’s wedding at the age of 14 or 15 is fine.”

Arzoo’s mother, Rita Raja, said police ignored the family’s appeals until one day she was videotaped outside the court sobbing and pleading for her daughter to be returned. The video went viral, creating a social media storm in Pakistan and prompting the authorities to step in.

“For 10 days, the parents were languishing between the police station and government authorities and different political parties,” Nasir, the activist, said. “They were not being given any time… until it went viral. That is the real unfortunate thing over here.”

Authorities have stepped in and arrested Arzoo’s husband, but her mother said her daughter still refuses to come home. Raja said she is afraid of her husband’s family.

The girl who loved hymns, Neha, said she was tricked into the marriage by a favorite aunt, who told Neha to accompany her to the hospital to see her sick son. Her aunt, Sandas Baloch, had converted to Islam years before and lived with her husband in the same apartment building as Neha’s family.

“All Mama asked when we left was ’when will you be back?’” remembered Neha.

Instead of going to the hospital, she was taken to the home of her aunt’s in-laws and told she would marry her aunt’s 45-year-old brother-in-law.

“I told her I can’t, I am too young and I don’t want to. He is old,” Neha said. “She slapped me and locked me up in a room.”

Neha told of being taken before two men, one who was to be her husband and the other who recorded her marriage. They said she was 19. She said she was too frightened to speak because her aunt threatened to harm her two-year-old brother if she refused to marry.

She learned of her conversion only when she was told to sign the marriage certificate with her new name — Fatima.

For a week she was locked in one room. Her new husband came to her on the first night. Tears stained her blue scarf as she remembered it:

“I screamed and cried all night. I have images in my mind I can’t scratch out,” said Neha. “I hate him.”

His elder daughter brought her food each day, and Neha begged for help to escape. Although the woman was frightened of her father, she relented a week after the marriage, bringing the underage bride a burqa — the all-covering garment worn by some Muslim women — and 500 rupees (about $3). Neha fled.

But when she arrived home, Neha found her family had turned against her.

“I went home and I cried to my Mama about my aunt, what she said and the threats. But she didn’t want me anymore,” said Neha.

Her parents feared what her new husband might do to them, Neha said. Further, the prospects of marriage for a girl in conservative Pakistan who has been raped or married before are slim, and human rights activists say they often are seen as a burden.

Neha’s family, including her aunt, all refused to talk to the AP. Her husband’s lawyer, Mohammad Saleem, insisted that she married and converted voluntarily.

Neha found protection at a Christian church in Karachi, living on the compound with the pastor’s family, who say the girl still wakes screaming in the night. She hopes to go back to school one day but is still distraught.

“At the beginning my nightmares were every night, but now it is just sometimes when I remember and inside I am shaking,” she said. “Before I wanted to be a lawyer, but now I don’t know what I will do. Even my mama doesn’t want me now.”

Chilling video captures Russian dancer killed by masked assassin

By Yaron Steinbuch, NY Post

A 30-year-old accomplished Russian dancer was gunned down in Moscow in what is being investigated as a “contract killing” after reportedly having an affair with a wealthy politician, according to a report.

Natalia Pronina — who won international dance competitions, including in the UK — was shot twice in the chest by the masked assassin outside her apartment building near the Akademicheskaya train station, East2West News reported.

She was targeted as she returned home from a choreography session, according to the news outlet.

Chilling surveillance footage captured the moment the striking brunette saw her killer approach from the shadows before he opened fire from close range.

He dropped the gun and fled, according to local reports. The video has not helped investigators track down the shooter, police sources said.

Pronina was rushed to a hospital, where she underwent surgery, but died two hours later, East2West News reported.

“She had no enemies, I can say with absolute certainty,” her friend Valeria told the tabloid daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. “Only one of her admirers could be behind this because of jealousy.”

A former dancing colleague, Anzhelika, said that “Natasha not only danced beautifully, she is a real beauty. Men always clung to her and it is possible that one of the rejected fans could have killed her.”

Another theory being investigated is that the former nightclub performer had an affair with a wealthy politician whose wife discovered the secret relationship, according to East2West.

The husband, believed to be a member of parliament, was trained in martial arts, according to the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

“They had been dating until this summer, when the MP’s wife learned about the affair,” according to the report, which said the dancer had faced “threats” from the wife.

The masked killer — dressed in a hoodie and wearing glasses — used a non-lethal self-defense gun that was redesigned to fire real bullets for the hit, according to East2West.

Pronina’s boyfriend Alexander Kravchenko, 33, has denied any involvement in the murder and said he was working in Yalta in the Crimea at the time, the Sun reported.

He also claimed she had a stalker and separately that she had a £6,000 — about $8,000 — debt that she had to repay.

Pronina, a “master of sport” in ballroom dancing, formed her own team to perform at VIP parties and elite clubs, including striptease, the outlet reported.

Anzhelika said her former colleague “was not the type who dreams of a white dress and a bunch of kids.”

“Her work was her life. She earned well, she could afford a lot,” she said.

“Last year, she definitely traveled four times to Milan, where she also had fans. But this year, due to the pandemic, she did not fly anywhere,” she added.

Loujain al-Hathloul: Saudi woman activist jailed for five years

Reuters

Loujain al-Hathloul was detained in 2018

A prominent Saudi female activist, who campaigned for women’s right to drive, has been sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, has already been in a maximum security prison for two and a half years.

She and other activists were detained in 2018 on charges including contacts with organisations hostile to Saudi Arabia.

International human rights groups have repeatedly called for her release.

But on Monday, the country’s Specialised Criminal Court, which was set up to try terrorism cases, convicted her of various charges including trying to harm national security and advance a foreign agenda.

It sentenced her to five years and eight months in prison. Two years and ten months of the sentence are said to have been suspended.

She and her family have denied all charges. They have also said that she has been tortured in jail – accusations the court dismissed.

• Saudi Arabia’s human rights problems that won’t go away

• Activist ‘offered freedom if she denies torture’

• How Saudi’s ‘new direction’ is changing life for women like me

Hathloul was detained just weeks before Saudi women were finally allowed to drive in 2018 – the cause she championed.

Saudi officials insist her detention has nothing to do with that issue.

Saudi women hit the road

Hathloul’s family says she was held incommunicado for three months following her arrest, and that she was subjected to electric shocks, whippings, and sexual harassment. They also allege that she was offered freedom if she agreed to say she was not tortured.

Human rights experts have said her trial did not meet international standards.

In November, Amnesty International condemned her transfer to the Specialised Criminal Court, saying it exposed “the brutality and hypocrisy” of Saudi authorities.

The case is seen as further damaging the reputation of Saudi Arabia’s controversial de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known as MBS.

He has led a programme of reforms, including lifting the ban on women driving, in a bid to open up the conservative kingdom to investment.

But he has also been condemned for the continued crackdown on rights activists, as well as the Saudi authorities’ role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Loujain Al-Hathloul is now even more famous for her incarceration than she was for her bold activism in the campaign for the right to drive.

She has come to symbolise the human rights abuses that stubbornly cast a long shadow over Saudi Arabia’s drive for economic and social reform – while it keeps an increasingly tight rein on political dissent.

When Joe Biden takes over as US president, he is expected to take a tougher stance on human rights violations.

But Saudi officials insist they will continue to chart their own course. The Kingdom believes its role as the world’s top oil exporter and regional power player matter to the international community above all else.

Al-Hathloul’s sentence, including years of suspended and already-served time, mean she and other activists could be freed in the new year.

That may help ease pressure on a Kingdom, which also does not want to be seen as bending to the dictates of others.

From royal splits to PR crises, Queen Elizabeth had a rough 2020. But the pandemic gave her renewed relevance.

By Max Foster and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

London (CNN) — 2020 was a tumultuous year for most people, and that’s no less true for Queen Elizabeth II.

Britain’s monarch has long occupied two roles — one as the head of the state and nation, the other as the head of her own family — and over the past 12 months she has been forced to confront crises on both fronts.

Here’s a look back at one of the Queen’s most challenging years to date.

A rocky start

The new year was barely underway when Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced to the world — and the rest of the family — they were quitting their roles as senior royals.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex said in a bombshell statement on their official Instagram account on January 8 they hoped to continue supporting the monarch but wanted to seek financial autonomy. The pair credited the Queen with providing the encouragement “particularly over the last few years” that led them to make such a dramatic announcement.

But CNN understands conversations over the couple’s future were already underway and the Queen was “disappointed” that her grandson had opted to reveal as much publicly. The monarch had explicitly told Harry to continue negotiations privately and was said to been left “upset.”

Prince Harry and Meghan depart Canada House on January 7 in London, England.”

Prince Harry and Meghan depart Canada House on January 7 in London, England.

Harry and Meghan had hoped to carve out a role the establishment had never seen before, a hybrid position where they would choose which formal positions they would keep and which they would leave behind while they developed their own private income streams and independence. It’s clear they also felt unsupported and unprotected by the palace machinery against what they felt was a constant barrage of media abuse and lies.

Related: Harry and Meghan’s decision to step back has been on the cards for some time

But royal roles are in the gift of the monarch, and the Sussexes’ “half-in, half-out” model wasn’t seen as workable. The Queen was left in the uncomfortable predicament of trying to give her beloved grandson what he wanted without compromising the institution. It was perhaps the most delicate moment for the British monarchy since the aftermath of Diana’s death in 1997.

The situation culminated in a crisis summit at her Sandringham residence where she was joined by the heir to the throne Prince Charles, his elder son Prince William and Harry. In a statement after the meeting, the Queen said Harry, Meghan and their son Archie would “always be much loved members of my family.”

“I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” she said. “I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.”

The terms of the split stipulated that while the pair would always remain part of the family, they would no longer use their HRH titles; they would receive financial assistance from Charles, and could supplement their income with appropriate opportunities.

Harry’s frustration over the result was evident. “It brings me great sadness that it has come to this. The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly,” he told a charity event in London in late January.

“Our hope was to continue serving the Queen, the Commonwealth, and my military associations, but without public funding. Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible.”

By the end of March, Harry and Meghan’s transition out of their royal roles was complete. The current arrangements are due to be reviewed by the Sussexes and the rest of the family in March.

It was a dramatic start to the year, but arguably left the monarchy in a stronger position. The Crown can modernize as much as it likes, but ultimately it’s built on a hierarchy, and the direct line of succession — Elizabeth, Charles and William — showed a united front.

Related: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s media empire expands with Spotify podcast deal

Charles catches Covid-19

Having settled the family drama, the Queen was immediately presented with one the biggest crises she’s ever faced as head of nation — keeping everyone united as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the country went into an uncomfortable lockdown.

As Covid-19 spread through the UK, she was prevented from doing what she does best when her busy diary of public engagements was suddenly curtailed. She made the decision to relocate from Buckingham Palace in London to form a bubble in Windsor with Prince Philip and key staff “as a sensible precaution.”

Prince Charles is seen on a monitor as he speaks during the opening of the “NHS Nightingale” field hospital, at the ExCeL London exhibition center, in London on April 3.

Those words rang true days later, when Prince Charles announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Prince of Wales was said to have had only mild symptoms and is otherwise in good health, but the mere fact that the 71-year-old was unwell emphasized to all how the virus did not discriminate.

William also caught Covid-19 in the spring, but only revealed it later in the year, telling an “observer” that he opted not to go public with his diagnosis because “there were important things going on and I didn’t want to worry anyone.” His decision to initially withhold news of his illness from the public sparked some criticism.

Related: Why wasn’t the UK public told about Prince William’s Covid diagnosis?

Royal resilience

As cases and deaths from the virus across the UK started to spiral in April, so too did criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic. In co-ordination with Downing Street, the Queen agreed to address the nation in a televised speech.

“I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all,” the Queen said in early April.

The Queen seldom makes national addresses, save for Christmas and when a new Parliament is installed. The moment was a somber but reassuring acknowledgment of the hardships society was facing. News channels the world over — including CNN — broke in as the pre-recorded video was broadcast to the UK and the 54 nations of the Commonwealth.

In the speech, she drew on her first broadcast alongside her sister Princess Margaret in 1940 to relay that the nation and those watching would overcome the current crisis.

“We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do,” she said, while also thanking frontline healthcare professionals.

Royal expert and historian Kate Williams said the speech sounded a note of hope that many Britons needed to hear in that moment.

“It’s so rare that she gives an address [and] the address she gave was so striking,” Williams said. “It was dark days when everyone was very isolated, [and] couldn’t go out at all … it was a quite brilliantly delivered speech.”

That optimistic sentiment — which she would echo in other 2020 speeches marking events like Easter and the 75th anniversary of VE Day — reasserted her role as a hands-on leader and set the tone for how she and her family would conduct themselves for the remainder of the year. After imploring the public to remain at home, the royal family transitioned from walkabouts to video calls, embracing a new work-from-home life like millions of other Britons.

“We all knew Brexit was coming, but Covid is what we didn’t see coming … the Queen feels it’s her job to lead by example and to hold leaders to account,” Williams said. “I don’t think it’s been easy for her not being able to have face-to-face meetings with the Prime Minister — that’s what she prefers.

“This is one of the great crises of recent British history. More people have died than in the Blitz. It is like the war. I don’t think that she thought she was going to have a quiet few years in her 90s but … a lot of what she’s seen are political crises and diplomatic conflicts and conflicts, and this is very different. It cannot be solved by getting people together around a table.”

A new normal

The Queen would not reopen the royal diary of engagements until July 17, when she knighted Captain Thomas Moore — the 100-year-old World War II veteran who had raised millions for the UK’s National Health Service. Hours earlier, she had attended a private wedding ceremony for her granddaughter Princess Beatrice. And as the spring wave finally abated, members of the royal family resumed socially distanced engagements with the public at foodbanks, hospitals and businesses hit by the pandemic.

Williams said it has always been very important to the Queen to be there for the public and it will have been hard for her that Covid has limited her movements. She says the Queen knows for monarchy to work “it needs to be seen.”

“It’s part of the contract it has with the people. It doesn’t work if you just sit in the palace,” she added. “Monarchy has had to completely reinvent in the same way that businesses have had to.”

It hasn’t been a year entirely untainted by scandal: lingering questions remain over Prince Andrew’s relationship with the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein. The Queen never said anything publicly about the matter, but she made a major statement in accepting what was billed as Andrew’s decision to step back from public duties. The move came in the wake of Andrew’s disastrous interview with the BBC in late 2019, when he denied having sex with an underage girl and said he had seen nothing suspicious when he was around Epstein, a convicted pedophile. It would have been a painful decision for both Andrew and his mother but ultimately one that again she felt was right for the institution.

The latter part of the year also saw the family face several other challenges.

In October, the Queen undertook her first public engagement since the spring lockdown — a visit to Porton Down science park in southern England with William. But she was criticized by some for not wearing a mask despite a resurgence in the virus. In response, Buckingham Palace said the Queen had chosen to forego a mask after consulting her own medics and scientists at the military research facility. Social distancing guidelines were in place at the event and everyone the British monarch met had tested negative for the virus. A month later, she appeared in a mask for the first time at a commemorative ceremony in London.

The Queen during a ceremony in Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the burial of the Unknown Warrior on November 4.

The latest installment of “The Crown” brought a fresh flurry of international interest to palace gates in November. The fourth season of the Netflix drama heralded the arrival of Princess Diana, and painted Charles as a petulant prince and cruel husband. Critics said the portrayal of Charles — along with a number of other scenes — was inaccurate, and it prompted a call from one UK government official for Netflix to tack an extra disclaimer onto each episode of series.

“It’s a beautifully produced work of fiction, so as with other TV productions, Netflix should be very clear at the beginning it is just that,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the UK’s Mail on Sunday. “Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact.” Netflix refused to add the warning to the show.

And in December, several family members were accused of breaking coronavirus regulations. In pictures published by The Mail Online, William and his family appeared to be walking alongside his uncle Prince Edward and his family during an outing to a Christmas-themed woodland walk. The photographs seemingly contravened England virus rules, which limits outdoor gatherings to just six people.

The Queen and members of the royal family gave thanks to local volunteers and key workers for their work in helping others during the coronavirus pandemic and over Christmas at Windsor Castle on December 8.

Like millions of Britons, the monarch sacrificed the traditional holiday festivities with her family at Sandringham. Instead, for the first time in 33 years, she remained at Windsor with 99-year-old Prince Philip.

The situation is a fitting way to end the year, according to royal historian Williams. “It’s unprecedented for them to be spending it just the two of them. Even in the war, [Christmas] was a big family time,” she said.

The Queen acknowledged what a sad and unusual festive season it would be for many in her annual Christmas speech, assuring those missing out on time with loved ones, and whose only wish was for “a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand,” that “you are not alone.”

This year has seen the world grapple with something nobody could have predicted 12 months ago. For the Queen’s part, she has reaffirmed her position as the unifier-in-chief for family, and for nation.

At a time in her life when she might be expected to step back, the Queen has shown she is still in charge, even as she delegates more duties to Charles and William. Any rumors that she plans to abdicate and handover the crown have been quashed for another year.

Trump signs coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law after lengthy delay

By Kevin Liptak, Kate Bennett, Tami Luhby, Kaitlan Collins, Jason Hoffman, Phil Mattingly and Jeremy Diamond, CNN

(CNN) — President Donald Trump signed the massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law Sunday night, averting a government shutdown that was set to begin on Tuesday, and extending billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to millions.

Trump’s signature of the $900 billion Covid relief package extends unemployment benefits for millions of jobless gig-workers and independent contractors, as well as the long-term unemployed.

The estimated 12 million people in two key pandemic unemployment programs, who were facing their last payment this weekend, will now receive benefits for another 11 weeks. Plus, all those collecting jobless payments will receive a $300 weekly federal boost through mid-March.

When will you get a second stimulus check?”

However, because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. And the $300 federal enhancement may only last 10 weeks instead of 11 weeks for most folks. That’s because states can’t provide benefits for weeks that start before programs are authorized, but the legislation calls for the extra payments to end on March 14.

Also, because Congress waited until late December to strike a deal, those in the two pandemic unemployment programs will likely experience a break in payments of several weeks while state agencies reprogram their computers. But the benefits are retroactive.

The Covid-19 relief legislation was passed by Congress on Monday and was flown to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to await Trump’s signature. But after sitting on the sidelines during the negotiations, Trump emerged with an eleventh-hour complaint that a separate provision in the deal, which the President’s own White House helped broker, would only provide up to $600 in direct payments. Trump wanted to send out $2,000 checks. Trump also took umbrage with certain items that were actually from the omnibus spending package and which he had requested in his annual budget to Congress.

Trump signaled in a statement Sunday night that he signed the coronavirus relief bill only after securing a commitment for the Senate to consider legislation to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, did not reference that commitment in his own statement Sunday night praising the President for signing the relief bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had seized on Trump’s call for $2,000 checks last week and brought to the floor a standalone bill that would have boosted the amount for relief checks on Thursday. House Republicans, however, objected to the bill over deficit concerns.

The Democratic-led House is set to vote on the expansion of the direct payments on Monday.

Calling the President’s signing of the relief bill “welcome news” for Americans whose benefits had lapsed, Pelosi said in a statement Sunday that Trump should “immediately call” on Republicans “to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000.”

Here’s what’s in the second stimulus package.

Trump also claimed that the Senate will consider legislation that “repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud,” though it is not clear what that legislation would be. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in November’s election.

Trump last week vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act — which passed both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities — in part because of his frustration over Section 230, a law that shields internet companies from liability for what is posted on their websites by them or third parties. The House is expected to act Monday to override Trump’s veto. But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has suggested many Republicans won’t vote to override Trump’s veto, despite having voted for the bill itself, so it’s unclear if the override attempt will be successful or if the veto will stand.

Trump also said in his Sunday statement that he would submit a request for Congress to cut specific spending items in the Covid relief and government funding package, a nod to his litany of complaints about foreign aid. But that request, beyond freezing new spending on the specified items for a period of 45 days, will have no meaningful effect. Trump will be out of office before Congress could act on any of his requests.

Unemployment benefits and eviction protections extended

Trump chooses chaos with delayed signature of Covid relief bill

The relief package extends two programs that were part of the historic expansion of the nation’s unemployment system that Congress enacted as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act in late March.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program allowed independent contractors, the self-employed, freelancers and gig workers to qualify for up to 39 weeks of payments. It also opened up the program to those who can’t work because of the pandemic, including if they or family members are ill or quarantining or if their children’s schools are closed.

And the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program provided an additional 13 weeks of federally paid benefits to those who run out of state payments, which typically last 26 weeks. The programs technically would have expired on December 31.

The third CARES Act measure — an extra $600 a week in federal payments — expired at the end of July.

The new stimulus deal extends the two pandemic programs for up to 11 weeks. Each closes to new applicants on March 14, but continues through April 5 for existing claimants who have not yet reached the maximum number of weeks.

The relief package also extends eviction protection to January 31 and provides $25 billion in rental assistance for those who lost their sources of income during the pandemic.

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order halting some evictions was set to expire at the end of the year. Since the order does not cancel or freeze rent, all of a tenant’s back rent would have been due January 1 if the moratorium had been allowed to expire. Without rent relief or an extension of the protection, many struggling renters would again face eviction.

An estimated 9.2 million renters who have lost employment income during the pandemic are behind on rent, or 23% of such renters, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

A lengthy delay

Trump signed the bill almost a week after calling it a “disgrace” and demanding Congress amend the legislation. Trump’s complaints came only after Congress passed the bill with a veto-proof majority and after the President stood on the sidelines during weeks of negotiations.

Aides had prepared for the President to sign the bill as early as Christmas Eve, when it arrived at Mar-a-Lago for his signature. But the plan was scrapped at the last minute, two sources with knowledge of the circumstances told CNN.

In anticipation of the signing, the smaller of Mar-a-Lago’s two ballrooms was prepped for a 7 p.m. ceremony, complete with a desk and chair for Trump to sit, and his customary pens at the ready, according to the source.

However, as the hour approached, aides were informed the President would not be signing the relief bill that evening. One source told CNN that Trump had “changed his mind.”

The country, Congress and many of Trump’s closest aides and advisers had remained in the dark as to what he intended to do. He had not offered any clarity since posting the video objecting to the bill on Tuesday night.

When a deal was struck between congressional leaders, Trump’s aides had signed off believing the President was on board, though two officials previously told CNN they did not believe he was walked through the package in detail.

In fact, throughout his video message asking Congress to amend it, Trump railed against several provisions that were part of the omnibus spending bill, not the Covid relief bill.

“It is called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” the President said at one point.

While the omnibus spending bill — which appropriates money for all the federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year — was combined with the stimulus deal, funds allocated to the omnibus bill don’t mean less is available for the Covid relief bill.

Still, the President had publicly maintained his opposition to the legislation — leaving small business support, jobless benefits and relief checks for millions of Americans in limbo.

You can now get Scotch whisky KitKats — but only in Japan

By Rob Picheta, CNN

(CNN) — Nestlé has launched an elaborate new line of KitKats in Japan, using chocolate aged for six months in whisky barrels in Scotland.

The gourmet bars are available only for the winter season in the country, and use cacao nibs shipped over from Islay — home to a number of ancient distilleries.

The company says the new bar is “a bitter chocolate for adults that lets consumers enjoy a hint of refined whisky aroma and taste.”

The Scottish island of Islay is home to several ancient distilleries.

“During the 180-day period, whisky barrels are manually rotated at a pace of once a week and this puts all of the cacao nibs in the barrel into contact with the whisky barrel’s interior,” the company said.

The bars are only available online in whisky-loving Japan and from KitKat’s speciality Chocolatory shops, located in a handful of Japanese cities, at a price of 300 yen ($2.90).

The chocolate was aged under the supervision of Japanese chef Yasumasa Takagi, the company said.

Production on some of Scotland’s world-renowned whisky islands has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with travel to the locations being sealed off and bars and restaurants across the UK closed in response to the virus.

In 2019, the country exported 1.3 billion bottles to 175 markets around the world, bringing in £4.9 billion ($6.5 billion) to its economy.

Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig are all produced on Islay, with production of each whisky lined up on a narrow two-mile stretch of coastal road on Islay’s southern shore.

But the entire island was sealed off during the British lockdown earlier this year; the only ferries that arrived were delivering supplies, and the only people allowed off-island were those with medical emergencies.