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School board group in Pennsylvania quits national association for suggesting angry parents are ‘domestic terrorists’

Pennsylvania state’s association of school boards has voted to leave the national federation for such governing bodies, saying the “final straw” was a letter to President Joe Biden that likened parents to “domestic terrorists.”

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) told members in a memo sent earlier this week that its directors had voted unanimously to withdraw from the National School Boards Association (NSBA). The state group has had a number of concerns about the NSBA’s direction in recent years, and the letter to Biden cemented the decision to quit the federation.  

“This misguided approach has made our work and that of many school boards more difficult,” PSBA said.

The most recent national controversy surrounding a letter to President Biden suggesting that some parents should be considered domestic terrorists was the final straw.

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FILE PHOTO. © Getty Images / Joanne Rathe
American parents questioning masks, transgender beliefs, and critical race theory in schools are not ‘domestic terrorists’

The state group added that NSBA’s call for federal intervention against parents who are irate over school curriculums and policies has “fomented more disputes and cast partisanship on our work on behalf of school directors.” PSBA said it seeks to “find common ground” and support all school boards, “no matter their politics.”

Now is not the time for more politics and posturing. It is the time for solutions to the many challenges facing education.

The NSBA letter to Biden, which was sent late last month, resulted in the US Department of Justice responding just a week later by announcing that the FBI would be investigating threats against school officials and staffers. NSBA executive director Chip Slaven praised the swift federal crackdown as “a strong message to individuals with violent intent who are focused on causing chaos, disrupting public schools and driving wedges between school boards and the parents, students and communities they serve.”

The trade group’s letter encouraged the Biden administration to investigate and classify the “heinous actions” of parents who allegedly threatened school officials as a form of “domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

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Protesters outside LCPS board meeting in Ashburn, Virginia on October 12. ©AFP / Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / Arrest of Scott Smith on June 22. ©REUTERS / Evelyn Hockstein
Loudoun County family to sue public schools over ‘negligence’ in daughter’s alleged restroom rape by ‘gender-fluid predator’

School board meetings across the US in recent months have featured calls for resignations and demands that curriculums be reformed after parents realized that in many cases, children are being taught that white people are racist oppressors and non-white people are victims of systemic racism. Parents also challenged curriculums that they considered anti-American, as well as such policies as teaching about gender identity as early as kindergarten. Allowing transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice also has been contentious.

A parent in Loudoun County, Virginia, was tackled by police and arrested after an emotional outburst at a school board meeting in June. That parent, Scott Smith, now plans to sue school officials for mishandling and allegedly trying to cover up the rape of his daughter by a 14-year-old male student who exploited the district’s gender-affirmation policies to access the girls’ restroom. The same “gender fluid” student allegedly raped another girl after being transferred to another Loudoun County school. 

Smith accused the Loudoun County School Board of smearing him as a dangerous troublemaker for political reasons, and he said the coverup gave the alleged rapist an opportunity to victimize another young girl.

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FILE PHOTO: Angry parents and community members protest after a Loudoun County School Board meeting was halted by the school board because the crowd refused to quiet down, in Ashburn, Virginia, June 22, 2021. © REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
Parent power is fighting back in the US as new group Fight For Schools battles to stop kids being taught CRT & trans issues

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Man arrested for allegedly raping woman on commuter train in Philadelphia as other passengers watched, did nothing

Police are decrying an incident in which they say passengers on a crowded Philadelphia commuter train stood by and did not even call 911 while a woman was assaulted and raped by a 35-year-old man in plain view.

The alleged attack reportedly occurred around 11 p.m. on Wednesday as a Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) train traveled from Philadelphia to neighboring suburb Upper Darby. SEPTA said one of its employees eventually saw the rape in progress and called police, enabling officers to apprehend the partially clothed suspect, later identified as Fiston Ngoy, near the victim.

Upper Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt said the incident was caught on surveillance video, giving investigators ample evidence to charge Ngoy with assault and rape. The footage also showed other passengers witnessing the entire attack and doing nothing to help the victim.

“It’s disturbing,” Bernhardt told local NBC News affiliate WCAU-TV on Friday. I’m shocked. I have no words for it. I just can’t imagine seeing what you were seeing through your own eyes, and seeing what this woman was going through, that no one would step in and help her.”

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Law enforcement officers investigate a crime scene near the border between the Morgan Park and West Pullman neighborhoods on July 7, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. © Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty Images
Confronted with the fact their policies are ruining US cities and killing thousands, Dems give the usual reply: ‘Shut up, racist!’

Bernhardt said in a separate interview there were many bystanders present during the rape who could have intervened. “Somebody should have done something,” he told CBS News affiliate KYW-TV. “It speaks to where we are in society. Who would allow something like that to take place?”

Police are trying to identify people who were on the train at the time of the assault to gather information on what they witnessed. SEPTA said the rape may have been stopped sooner if a rider had called 911. “SEPTA urges anyone who observes a crime being committed or any dangerous situation occurring to report it,” agency spokesman Andrew Busch said in a statement.

A Fox News report suggested that some passengers not only did nothing to help the woman who was being raped, but also recorded the incident on their phones.

The unidentified victim was hospitalized for treatment of her injuries after the attack. Police said Ngoy didn’t know the woman. He has been unable to post bail so far and remains in jail.

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Spectators watch the annual Independence Day fireworks display outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia on July 4, 2021
Philadelphia July 4th revelers sprayed with about 100 BULLETS during fireworks show as major US cities again hit by gun violence

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Regime-change hawk John Bolton says Russia is making ‘BIG MISTAKE’ by getting closer with China rather than Western powers

Former US National Security Advisor John Bolton told RT’s Going Underground that Moscow has chosen the wrong strategic path by building stronger ties with Beijing instead of mending relations with the US and Western Europe.

“I think Russia’s greatest security lies in moving West, not moving East,” Bolton said in an interview that aired in full on Saturday. He added that it’s not in Russia’s long-term interest to ally closely with China, saying, “By splitting away from the potential for closer relations with the West that we had after the collapse of the Soviet Union, I think we’ve lost a lot of time and opportunity.”

Dismissing RT host Afshin Rattansi’s suggestion that US and NATO policies were pushing Russia into the arms of China, the former advisor to then-President Donald Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin had chosen to work more closely with Beijing.

“And I think it’s a big mistake for Russia,” Bolton argued. “I think Russia’s got a lot of oil that it’s happy to sell to China, it’s got strategic weapons that it’s happy to sell to China, but I think Russia’s making a very bad decision by casting its lot in the future – for the rest of this century, potentially – with China.”

Choosing China over the Western powers may put Moscow in danger of eventually losing control over much of Russia’s territory east of the Urals, Bolton said. “You’ve got a country with a huge population and not many natural resources south of Russia with, in that part, a lot of natural resources and very few people.” 

That doesn’t speak long-term strategic stability from the Russian point of view, and I would just urge people in Russia who are thinking about this issue to think long and hard before they get too close to China.

Bolton blamed US reluctance to negotiate a new arms control agreement with Russia on China’s rise as a major nuclear power. He said that during the Cold War, such deals were essentially a “bipolar negotiation” between the US and Russia, even though a few other countries had some nukes.

“Today, we read in the newspapers from commercial satellites overhead of Chinese construction of hundreds of new ballistic silos, which are obviously being excavated to put in nuclear warheads,” Bolton said. “China’s capabilities in the nuclear field are expanding enormously… If we’re going to have new strategic weapons negotiations with Russia, China has to be included. It makes no sense whatsoever to pretend that we’re still living in the Cold War, bipolar nuclear era.”

Bolton blasted both Trump and President Joe Biden for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, which he said made America less secure by increasing the risk of the Central Asian country again being used as a base for terrorist operations. “There’s potential for congregating terrorists from anarchic areas around the world to a more hospitable government in Afghanistan,” he said. “I think it’s something that we should all be worried about.”

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©REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
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Bolton added that European Union countries have been hasty in resuming humanitarian-aid funding in Afghanistan, a move they may come to regret if it becomes clear that the Taliban is “still a terrorist group, as they seem to be.”

He asserted that the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan increases the likelihood that Islamic extremists will seize control of neighboring Pakistan and its nuclear weapons arsenal. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan “could provide aid and comfort to radicals in Pakistan – Pakistani Taliban itself, other terrorist groups that the Pakistani government created – along with extremists in the Inter-Services intelligence directorate and other parts of the Pakistani military,” Bolton said.

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(L) Pakistan's nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile Shaheen II, Hatf VI. © Reuters / Stringer Pakistan;(R) John R. Bolton, 27th United States National Security Advisor. © Wikipedia
The Taliban won’t get its hands on Pakistan’s nukes… John Bolton’s alarmism is just his desperate bid to stay relevant

That risk was among the arguments that Bolton made for keeping US troops in Afghanistan before Trump fired him as national security advisor in September 2019. “Obviously, that was not persuasive to Donald Trump and wouldn’t have been persuasive to Joe Biden,” he said.

Bolton dismissed the notion that US military interventions in such countries as Iraq and Syria had led to the rise of terrorist groups. He argued that the power vacuum created in Iraq when then-President Barack Obama withdrew US troops in 2011 allowed Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) to mushroom up. He added that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons against his own people necessitated a US military response, although he admitted that missile strikes hadn’t deterred the regime.

“It was evidence that the danger of the anarchy we saw in Syria – with the presence of Iranian forces, Hezbollah coming over from Lebanon to support the Assad regime, the accumulation of terrorist forces in and around Idlib -- was a compelling reason to keep US and NATO forces in northeastern Syria, which was another place Trump wanted to withdraw from,” Bolton said. “This was part of the complex dealing within the Trump administration to maintain stability, which was in US interest, rather than withdraw and see a return to terrorist control or Iranian-backed control.”

Bolton, who also called for the US to overthrow Iran’s government by fomenting an uprising against the Tehran regime, emphasized that Washington’s strikes on Syria were preceded by warnings to Russian military forces in the country.  “We understood fully – and I think that’s what Mattis was saying – that if we were not careful, there might be collateral damage, which we didn’t want. This was not in any sense aimed at Russia. It was aimed at the Assad regime.”

Bolton, who was US ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 to 2006, defended the decision to strike Syria without UN backing. “I think the organization is gridlocked and its political institutions largely a failure. If we’d gone to the Security Council, we almost certainly would have faced a Russian and Chinese veto... Neither the British nor the French thought there was any need for Security Council approval, so I think we were well within our rights to conduct the strike without reference to the Security Council.”

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The long-time war hawk defended Washington’s sanctions against countries such as Iran and Venezuela, despite estimates suggesting that those actions resulted in thousands of deaths. He said it wasn’t in the interest of the US or the Venezuelan people for Trump to treat Nicolas Maduro as the South American country’s legitimate president. Trump hinted last year that he was having second thoughts about recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s leader and that he would consider meeting with Maduro.

“Trump had a feeling for authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin, Erdogan, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un,” Bolton said. “Maduro was just part of that group of people, and I think [Trump] decided ultimately on his own that he didn’t want to do it.”

Watch Afshin Rattansi’s full interview with John Bolton on RT.com, as well as on YouTube.

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Pentagon offers unspecified ‘condolence payments’ for 7 Afghan children & aid worker murdered in botched drone strike

The US military is offering “condolence payments” to a family in Afghanistan after a badly planned drone strike killed 10 civilians, including seven children, in the country’s capital in August, though did not provide any numbers.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby revealed the offer on Friday, stating that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a “commitment” to the Akhmadi family for compensation following the August 29 drone strike, “including offering ex gratia condolence payments” and State Department assistance in relocating family members to the United States.

The offer was raised during a virtual meeting between Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl and Dr. Steven Kwon, who employed one of the Akhmadis killed in the strike at his US-based aid organization, Nutrition & Education International, long active in Afghanistan.

“Kahl noted that the strike was a tragic mistake and that Mr. Zemari Akhmadi and others who were killed were innocent victims who bore no blame and were not affiliated with ISIS-K or threats to US forces,” Kirby went on.

The Pentagon initially deemed the strike a success, claiming to have killed an Islamic State militant planning attacks on American troops in Kabul, with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley even calling it “righteous.” However, thanks in large part to a New York Times investigation that raised serious questions about the military’s narrative about the drone strike, officials were soon forced to admit the operation failed to take a single terrorist off the battlefield and instead massacred an innocent family. 

READ MORE: ‘They attacked us & killed our children’: Grieving Afghan fathers demand fair investigation of US drone strike in Kabul (VIDEO)

The misidentified main target of the attack, Zemari Akhmadi, was employed as an aid worker with Nutrition & Education International for years, the Times investigation revealed. He was killed as he pulled into his driveway outside his home, with the Pentagon originally claiming he was seen loading explosives into the vehicle earlier in the day. The Times, however, obtained security footage showing Akhmadi loading jugs of water into his vehicle, suggesting the military may have mistaken them for bombs.

Among the youngest of the victims were Malika Akhmadi and Sumaya Yousoufi, both two years old, who were reportedly gathered with family at the Kabul home for a celebration. 

“They say ISIS-K lived in this house. In this house, were these children members of Islamic State?” Sumaya’s father, Jamshid Yousoufi, said in an interview with RT last month.

Malika’s dad, Emal, also recalled his last time seeing his daughter in another sit-down with RT. “On the morning of the bombing, she came and kissed me, and said: ‘Good morning, Father.’ It was our last meeting. I will never see her again,” he said, adding that no amount of money could possibly make up for his family’s loss. 

No one can compensate us. If you give us all the money in the world, it will not be enough. It’s not possible. They can’t compensate for the murder of a child, and there is no remedy for this loss.

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Wreckage of the US drone strike that killed Zemari Ahmadi and nine others, including seven children © Global Look Press / Saifurahman Safi
Pentagon feigns concern over civilian-killing Afghan drone strike…after 20 years of indiscriminately mowing down the innocent

While the Pentagon was more or less compelled to admit the August 29 operation was a failure – the last officially acknowledged strike in the longest war in American history – it follows countless similar incidents throughout the conflict. Though the Pentagon had long been opaque with its casualty reporting, last year it issued a first-of-its-kind report to Congress outlining other condolence payments made in 2019. During that year, 65 payments were made in Afghanistan, six in Iraq and none anywhere else.

The military did not disclose the amounts it would pay out to the Akhmadi family. However, previous condolence payments have been criticized as paltry in the past, with relatives of victims in one strike in Kunduz in 2015 receiving just $6,000. Civilians wounded in the same operation were paid $3,000.

“The money is obviously not enough compared to the life of my daughter,” said Abdul Ghadir, who was compensated $6,000 after his 12-year-old girl was killed in the Kunduz strike.

I had no other choice but to accept what they gave me.

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FILE PHOTO. Afghanistan. © AFP / Wakil Kohsar
Pentagon admits 23 civilian deaths by US military operations in 2020 – far fewer than claimed by NGOs

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‘Multiple people’ shot during high school football game in Alabama, causing spectators & players to flee in panic (VIDEOS)

Several people were wounded after shots rang out during a high school football matchup in Mobile, Alabama, according to local police, who noted that one person was rushed to the hospital with “life-threatening” injuries.

Spectators and players were seen fleeing after the shooting at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile on Friday night, with the chaotic scene captured in videos making the rounds online. Details about the incident remain sparse, though police have confirmed several people had been taken in for treatment, including one victim with serious wounds.

“Multiple injuries have been reported, and those victims have been transported to the hospital. One individual has been transferred to the hospital with a life-threatening injury,” the Mobile Police Department said in a statement to a local reporter.

The shooting erupted around 10pm local time during a bout between two high schools in the area, Williamson and Vigor, according to a Mobile ABC affiliate. Another regional outlet, WKRG, confirmed that at least four were shot.

While metal detectors were installed at the same stadium after another shooting during a high school game in 2019 that left nine people injured, it is unclear how the gun made it in on Friday. One witness, Miskia Barnes, raised that question to WKRG during a brief interview after the latest incident.

“It’s just a shame that you can’t come to a high school football game without this kind of nonsense. What I’m worried about and what I’m wondering – how they even got inside with guns. How did they get inside?” Barnes asked, adding “It’s horrible.”

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© AFP / Brendan Smialowski
At least 10 teenagers injured after gunfire erupts at high school football game in Alabama

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Chicago’s mayor & police union duel in court over Covid-19 vaccine mandate as gun violence continues to careen out of control

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s battle with the city’s police union over her Covid-19 vaccine mandate has escalated, with both sides suing each other in a dispute that may hinder efforts to fight rampant violent crime.

The city on Thursday filed a complaint against the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and its president, John Catanzara, for encouraging officers to ignore the vaccine mandate, including Friday’s deadline to report their inoculation status. The FOP shot back on Friday with a lawsuit of its own, demanding that the issue be settled in arbitration and alleging that Lightfoot failed to properly negotiate her vaccine order with the union.

“As Chicago’s mayor, I cannot and will not stand idly by while the rhetoric of conspiracy theorists threatens the health and safety of Chicago’s residents and first responders,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “President Catanzara has time and again deliberately misled our police officers by lying about the requirements of the policy and falsely claiming that there will be no repercussions if officers are insubordinate and refuse to follow a city and department directive or order.”

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A Chicago resident wearing a face mask in the colors of the city's flag waits to get the Covid-19 vaccine in this February 13, 2021 file photo.
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Lightfoot suggested that the union is encouraging an unlawful strike, but Catanzara said no such walkout has been proposed. He argued that it’s the city that’s threatening to deplete an already understaffed police force by suspending or firing officers who don’t comply with the mayor’s vaccine order.

“Everything from this mayor is a dictatorship,” Catanzara said in a Fox News interview. “This is all about policy from the top. There was no public outcry for this policy to take effect. She just decided she was going to do it and push it on the entire city work force across the board.”

The union chief added that the Chicago Police Department is already operating with 1,000 vacant positions because it’s unable to recruit new officers amid surging crime. About half of officers haven’t been vaccinated against Covid-19, he said, and many of those who chose to get the shots oppose the mandate and the reporting requirement on principle.

“They cannot get anybody to go into the police academy, and yet here she is vilifying the police yet again in a city that has over 185 expressway shootings this year alone, over 280 kids shot this year alone, and she acts like there’s nothing else going on but this Covid,” Catanzara said.

READ MORE: As Chicagoans keep getting shot, mayor Lightfoot doubles down on racist media policy of talking only to non-white reporters

The city’s lawsuit alleged that the FOP is trying to force Lightfoot’s administration to comply with the union’s “extortionate demands” or leave Chicago without enough police on the streets.

Unless the court intervenes, the complaint said, “the city will be faced with an unlawful and untenable Hobson’s choice: either exempt the FOP membership from complying with reasonable and necessary directives needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic... or be left without a police force sufficient to keep the peace and combat the pandemic of violent crime plaguing the city.”

More than 3,400 people were shot, including 616 fatally, in Chicago in this year’s first nine months. Murders are running about 4% ahead of 2020’s torrid pace and have already exceeded the full-year totals for 2018 and 2019, according to police data. The city had 89 homicides in September alone, the highest total for that month in nearly three decades. 

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker – who, like Lightfoot, is a Democrat – offered on Thursday to send state National Guard troops to Chicago if the vaccine standoff results in a shortage of police officers.

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Armed activist shot by Kyle Rittenhouse during Kenosha riot sues city, county & police for ‘conspiring with vigilantes’

Gage Grosskreutz, one of the armed activists shot by Kyle Rittenhouse during last year’s riots in Kenosha, is blaming the authorities and police in the Wisconsin city for his injuries and is seeking monetary compensation.

In the lawsuit filed on Thursday in the US District Court in Milwaukee, Grosskreutz argued that Kenosha law enforcement officers deliberately “conspired” with “white nationalist militia persons,” which led to Rittenhouse injuring him and killing two others.

Grosskreutz alleged that local authorities essentially deputized Rittenhouse and other “vigilantes,” allowing them to patrol the streets and “shoot and kill innocent citizens.”

Kenosha’s city and county governments, as well as police and sheriff’s department officers, were named as defendants in the suit. Ironically, Grosskreutz didn’t sue the teenager who shot him. 

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The case stems from several days of rioting in August 2020, after Kenosha police shot and injured Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man with warrants pending for alleged sexual assault and other crimes. Blake was armed with a knife at the time, but major media outlets claimed he had been unarmed.

Rittenhouse, then 17, was among counter-protesters who had come to Kenosha in what they called an attempt to protect people and prevent looting and arson. Rioters eventually got into confrontations with Rittenhouse and other armed citizens. At one point, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum, who spent prison time for sexually assaulting five young boys, was caught on video repeatedly daring someone to “shoot me, ni**a.” Rosenbaum is later seen chasing Rittenhouse and trying to take his rifle away, at which point the teen shot and killed him.

Rittenhouse then ran toward a line of police down the street, but tripped and fell as a mob chased him and shouted for him to be beaten. One of the pursuers, Anthony Huber, a 26-year-old man with a history of domestic violence, hit Rittenhouse with a skateboard and was fatally shot as he tried to take his gun.

Then came Grosskreutz, who backed away after seeing Huber shot but then rushed Rittenhouse again. Video footage of the incident shows him holding a pistol in his right hand even after being shot in the bicep.

Kenosha authorities charged Rittenhouse with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of Huber and Rosenbaum, as well as attempted murder of Grosskreutz. He also faces two charges for reckless endangerment, reckless homicide and the possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor – as he was underage when he fired the rifle. His attorneys have argued he acted in self-defense. His trial is scheduled to begin November 1.

Grosskreutz’s lawsuit argued that Rittenhouse was given preferential treatment by police on account of his race.

“If a black child had shot three citizens with an assault rifle and was seen walking away from the scene of the shooting with the assault rifle in hand, while other citizens yelled he was an active shooter, he would have been shot dead,” the lawsuit said, adding that police supported the armed vigilantes because of their “systemic, racially discriminatory policies and practices.”

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FILE PHOTO: An individual believed to be Kyle Rittenhouse walks towards police vehicles moments after two fatal shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
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Although the lawsuit condemned Rittenhouse as a “white nationalist,” there has been no evidence reported to suggest that the teenager is racist or was racially motivated. His family has even sued Joe Biden’s presidential campaign for falsely tarring Rittenhouse as a white supremacist last year.

Grosskreutz, whose rap sheet included a charge of “armed while intoxicated,” reportedly said after the Kenosha incident that his only regret was not “emptying the entire mag” of his pistol into Rittenhouse. The activist is a member of The People’s Revolution Milwaukee, a social justice group that has demanded police reforms, including a slashing of law enforcement budgets and a requirement that all officers earn college degrees in such fields as “Africology” or “Latinx Studies.”

While some observers cheered on Grosskreutz’s lawsuit, saying they hope he gets a big payoff, others argued that he alone is to blame for getting himself shot. 

“This is the guy who pretended to be a medic, then pulled a gun and attempted to murder Kyle Rittenhouse,” one commenter said on Twitter. “The only thing due to him is a prison cell.”

“Stumpy tried to enter a quick draw competition and lost. End of story. He deserves nothing,” said another critic.

Still another Twitter user agreed, saying “this guy was drawing a gun on someone who had already drawn a bigger gun.” He added that Grosskreutz is lucky to be alive and should “shut his crybaby mouth and worry about improving his decision-making skills.”

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(L) © REUTERS/Yuri Gripas;  (R) © Pool via REUTERS/Nam Y. Huh//File Photo
'Protection of white supremacy': AOC leads liberal outrage after Kenosha shooter Rittenhouse released on bail

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Vax-A-Million fail? Vaccine lotteries across 19 states had near ‘zero’ effect on immunization rates, new study finds

Covid-19 ‘vaccine lottery’ schemes across 19 states had no noticeable effect on vaccination rates and may have squandered millions in tax dollars, according to newly published research that suggests the programs were a major flop.

Published in the JAMA medical journal on Friday, the pre-print study by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver showed that the links between vaccine lottery announcements and inoculation rates were “very small in magnitude” and “statistically indistinguishable from zero.”

“No statistically significant association was detected between a cash-drawing announcement and the number of vaccinations before or after the announcement date, a period that included announcements of lottery winners for most lottery states,” said the study, which has yet to be peer reviewed.

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While previous studies have reviewed individual lotteries, the research published on Friday looked at all 19 lottery programs collectively, comparing vaccination rates in those states before and after their announcements to other states that did not implement similar incentives. 

It noted, however, that the lackluster outcomes may have been driven, in part, by “vaccine misinformation,” as well as poorly crafted “messaging” by state governments, and observed that lotteries “may be less effective than incentives that pay with certainty.”

Ohio became the first state to roll out a lottery incentive program to encourage vaccinations in May, unveiling a $1 million cash drawing for randomly selected vaccine recipients over the age of 18 and educational scholarships to those in younger age groups. Ultimately, 26 states would follow suit and attempt some type of incentive program – including Washington’s more out-there ‘Joints for Jabs’ campaign, which offered free pot to residents – with 19 implementing cash drawings. 

While the Ohio state government initially touted the scheme as a resounding success, claiming it helped to boost vaccinations by 28% among Ohioans aged 16 and older, a study published in July suggested the results were overstated. The research found no evidence that the lottery was “associated with increased rates of adult Covid-19 vaccinations,” and, to the contrary, observed a greater decline in vaccination rates in Ohio compared to the rest of the country following the state’s May 12 announcement.

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California attempted the country’s largest vaccine lottery to date in late May, offering $116 million in cash prizes for its Vax for the Win initiative, which also included free tickets to Six Flags amusement parks and other giveaways. The effort proved a major flop, with seven-day averages for first-dose vaccinations declining by 65% after it was unveiled. Similar programs in New York and West Virginia also failed to produce results despite pouring millions of dollars into prizes.

Though other states continue to claim success with their cash giveaways, the JAMA study, as well as previous research, indicate that such programs have effectively made “zero difference,” according to Andrew Friedson, one of the study’s lead authors. 

“Drawings were not, by any means, an informative vaccine promotional strategy,” Friedson told Forbes. “It is highly possible that putting funds toward clear and complete messaging on vaccination would have been far more effective, such as awareness campaigns or more aggressive countermeasures against misinformation.”

Vaccinations in the US have declined since their daily high of 3.6 million doses in April, dropping to fewer than 2 million doses per day by the following month, despite efforts by state governments to combat those trends. To date, around 66.5% of Americans aged 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, or around 188.5 million people, according to the CDC.

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Netflix fires black pregnant woman who organized walkout protest against Dave Chappelle comedy special

One of the organizers of a walkout protest planned by Netflix employees over Dave Chappelle’s new comedy special and its alleged transphobia has reportedly been fired.

The woman, who did not identify herself out of fear of harassment, told The Verge she was fired on suspicion of leaking internal metric data on Chappelle’s ‘The Closer’ special to the press. Netflix does not typically share such data, which could include viewership numbers, as well as the costs of the production and talent. 

“All these white people are going around talking to the press and speaking publicly on Twitter and the only person who gets fired is the Black person who was quiet the entire time,” the former employee, whom The Verge notes is black and pregnant, said. “That’s absurd, and just further shows that Black trans people are the ones being targeted in this conversation.”

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Comedian Dave Chappelle. © AFP / Kevin Winter
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The employee claims they had only spoken internally about the metrics and it was to raise them as a point of concern to others. 

Netflix confirmed the firing, but had a different story, putting blame for the leak on the employee in question.

“We understand this employee may have been motivated by disappointment and hurt with Netflix, but maintaining a culture of trust and transparency is core to our company,” they said in a statement about the dismissal. 

Critics have defended the fired employee on social media and blasted the company as “transphobic.”

Chappelle’s comedy special has been a popular title for Netflix and celebrated by the comedian’s massive fanbase, but trans activists have attempted to label it “dangerous” due to points where Chappelle addresses the trans movement. Though he says nothing directly hateful or against trans people, Chappelle refers to gender as a “fact,” saying everyone was birthed from a woman. Chappelle’s comments on the trans movement and woke culture in his special have enraged critics, some of whom are employed by Netflix.

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The company suspended software engineer Terra Field after she attended a meeting she wasn’t invited to in an attempt to further express her concerns after having already posted a Twitter thread criticizing her employer and the comedy special. 

Chappelle has been cavalier about the entire ordeal, continuing to tour around the country and waving off social media controversies.

Netflix has stood by the special. Though they released a statement supportive of protesting employees, the company said they do not agree that Chappelle’s content can lead to real-world harm. 

The walkout by employees is planned for October 20.

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Parkland school shooter plans to plead guilty, but could still face death penalty for killing 17 people

Nikolas Cruz, the gunman who confessed to killing 14 students and three staffers at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, plans to plead guilty to all of the murders in a case that sparked a major US gun control campaign.

Lawyers for Cruz, 23, told Broward County Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Friday that their client will enter his guilty plea next Wednesday. Cruz will plead guilty to 17 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deadliest high school shooting in US history.

Unlike many plea agreements in the US legal system, Cruz’s admission of guilt will come with no concessions from prosecutors, who are still seeking the death penalty against him. During the sentencing phase of the case, a jury will decide whether to recommend giving Cruz the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Cruz pleaded guilty on Friday to four counts in connection with his attack on a jail guard in November 2018, nine months after the shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. His lawyers had long offered a guilty plea to the murder charges if he would be sentenced to life in prison, but prosecutors have steadfastly pressed for the death penalty.

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Appearing pale and thin, Cruz wore glasses, a mask, khaki pants and a sweater to Friday’s hearing. He answered, “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” as the judge asked him questions about his competency and his understanding of the charges to which he was pleading.

The case has already been pending for more than three and a half years, partly on delays related to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as arguments over the use of evidence and language at his trial. For instance, Scherer ruled last month that Cruz can’t be called derogatory terms such as ‘animal’ or ‘that thing’, but prosecutors will be able to refer to him as a ‘school shooter’, ‘killer’ or ‘murderer’.

The Parkland shooting, which also left 17 people injured, gave rise to March for Our Lives, a gun control group founded by student activists. While the response to the massacre has focused largely on pressing for tougher gun laws, little has been done about the failures by law enforcement and school administrators to prevent the murders.

For instance, the FBI and Broward County Sheriff’s Department failed to investigate tips about Cruz’s emotional state following his mother’s death in November 2017. The then-sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson, the school’s resource officer, allegedly hid behind a wall after the shooting started rather than entering the building and confronting the gunman.

Cruz’s disciplinary problems when he was a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas were so severe that at one point he was prohibited from carrying a backpack because staffers feared that he would use the bag to conceal a weapon. He was expelled in 2017 for disciplinary violations, including fighting.

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He later posted videos online threatening to commit acts of violence, in some cases identifying the Parkland school as his target. In one video, Cruz said he would be “the next school shooter of 2018.” He was arrested about an hour after the attack and admitted to being the shooter.

Parents of the Parkland victims have expressed frustration at the slowness of the legal proceedings in Cruz’s case. Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the shooting, told the Associated Press on Friday that he wants to see Cruz executed. “Death by lethal injection seems too peaceful to me,” he said. “I’d rather see a hanging in a public square.”

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