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Putin Wants to Control Rap Music as Its Popularity Rises in Russia

(MOSCOW) — Alarmed by the growing popularity of rap among Russian youth, President Vladimir Putin wants cultural leaders to devise a means of controlling, rather than banning, the popular music.

Putin says “if it is impossible to stop, then we must lead it and direct it.”

But Putin said at a St. Petersburg meeting with cultural advisers Saturday that attempts to ban artists from performing will have an adverse effect and bolster their popularity.

Putin noted that “rap is based on three pillars: sex, drugs and protest.” But he is particularly concerned with drug themes prevalent in rap, saying “this is a path to the degradation of the nation.”

He said “drug propaganda” is worse than cursing.

Putin's comments come amid a crackdown on contemporary music that evoked Soviet-era censorship of the arts.

Last month, a rapper known as Husky, whose videos have garnered more than 6 million views on YouTube, was arrested after he staged an impromptu performance when his show was shut down in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar.

The 25-year-old rapper, known for his lyrics about poverty, corruption and police brutality, was preparing to take to the stage on Nov. 21 when local prosecutors warned the venue that his act had elements of what they termed “extremism.”

Husky climbed onto a car, surrounded by hundreds of fans, and chanted “I will sing my music, the most honest music!” before he was taken away by police.

On Nov. 30, rapper Gone.Fludd announced two concert cancellations, citing pressure from “every police agency you can imagine,” while the popular hip hop artist Allj cancelled his show in the Arctic city of Yakutsk after receiving threats of violence.

Other artists have been affected as well — pop sensation Monetochka and punk band Friendzona were among those who had their concerts shut down by the authorities last month.

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This story has corrected the location of the meeting to St. Petersburg, not the Kremlin.

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Local Leaders Question Baylor University Student Rape Case Handling Over Legal System Ties

(DALLAS) — The Texas judge who approved a plea deal allowing a former Baylor University student accused of rape to avoid jail time holds three degrees from Baylor. The criminal district attorney overseeing the case holds two. The prosecutor who agreed to the plea agreement graduated from Baylor law school.

Local leaders say those connections to the world's largest Baptist university cast doubt on the handling of the criminal case against ex-Phi Delta Theta president Jacob Walter Anderson, who was accused of repeatedly raping a woman outside a 2016 fraternity party.

Anderson was indicted on sexual assault charges, but the agreement allowed him to plead no contest to unlawful restraint. He must seek counseling and pay a $400 fine but will not have to register as a sex offender. His lawyers say a statement from the woman, which she read in court, is riddled with misrepresentations and distortions. Prosecutors have defended the plea deal.

The case has some similarities to that of ex-Stanford swimmer Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to six month in jail.

While community leaders in Waco said they do not believe or have proof of collusion in the Texas case, they said it shows a failure of the local legal system and reflects a larger culture where preferential treatment is given to people with status in the Baylor community.

“It seems that Waco just shoots itself in the foot just time and time again,” said Mary Duty, a lifelong resident of the Waco area and chair of the McLennan County Democratic Party.

Duty said Judge Ralph Strother, who presided in the Anderson case, was known in the community as a nice and decent man. She said the sentencing goes “completely against the grain” of his reputation and left many disappointed.

The unwelcome attention hit Baylor about two years after a sexual assault scandal surrounding the football program engulfed the school, leading to the firing of then-football coach Art Briles, resignation of the Athletic Director Ian McCaw and the demotion of the university's president, Ken Starr, who later resigned.Baylor has reached settlements with several women who say they were sexually assaulted by football players and their stories were ignored.

The local legal system also has been tarred by the handling of a 2015 shootout involving rival biker clubs and police in Waco that left nine bikers dead. McLennan County Criminal District Attorney Abel Reyna brought charges against more than a hundred bikers. He was ousted by voters in the Republican primary in March. At that time he had failed to convict anyone for the killings. He will leave office at the end of the year.

The Baylor ties run deep in Waco — a city of about 136,000 people located between Austin and Dallas bolstered by the economic impact of the university. Baylor has more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff in Texas. Nearly one of every five employed people in Waco work in education and health services, according to September figures from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mark Osler, a former Baylor law professor who left in 2010, said a county with prosecutors and judges from the same background can create a dangerous situation where bias could occur. It's better, he said, to have diversity in background and employ people not tied to Baylor.

Judge Strother completed his undergraduate degree at Baylor in 1965 and received his law degree in 1982. Strother also received a master's degree in political science from the university in 1967.

Criminal District Attorney Reyna holds two degrees from the university and graduated from the law school in 1997.

In an affidavit filed last year, Reyna's former top assistant accused him of giving preferential treatment to political supporters, dismissing criminal cases for friends and major campaign donors.

Prosecutor Hilary LaBorde, who agreed to the plea deal, graduated from the Baylor law school in 2002. LaBorde has faced criticism over an email in which she suggested jurors would take Anderson's side because there was only one alleged victim. Texas prosecutors have recognized LaBorde for her expertise in sex-crime cases and she won sexual assault convictions against two football players during the school's scandal.

LaBorde defended the plea deal in a statement, saying conflicting accounts and evidence made the original accusation difficult to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“As a prosecutor, my goal is no more victims,” she said. “I believe that is best accomplished when there is a consequence rather than an acquittal.”

Baylor student Paige Hardy, an advocate on campus for survivors of sexual abuse, said the university did the right thing in the Anderson case, expelling him after an investigation and suspending the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. But she said the outcome of the criminal case was “a slap in the face.”

“It's like, well what did we even learn from our mistakes? What did we even learn from the football scandals?” she said.

While Baylor has moved forward and improved the reporting process for sexual assault, Baylor's problems stem in part from a “toxic evangelical” narrative, Hardy said, referring to its Baptist roots.

“You have these donors and these administrators who often times don't want to address the fact that students are having sex and students are drinking,” she said.

Waco clinical psychologist Emma Wood, who used to work at the Baylor counseling center, said her clients come to her because of the sexual and spiritual trauma they've experienced at the university and at large churches in the area.

“I see a lot of trauma survivors,” said Wood, who left the university and reached a settlement with the administration over claims of discrimination and sexism. “In fact, that's the majority of my case load.”

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All California Wildfire Evacuation Orders Have Been Lifted

(PARADISE, Calif.) — All evacuation orders have been lifted in Paradise more than a month after a devastating wildfire that wiped out the Northern California town.

The fire that broke out Nov. 8 killed at least 86 people and destroyed 14,000 homes in Paradise and nearby communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

This will be the first time many residents get to see their property since fleeing the firestorm.

The Butte County health officer issued an advisory strongly urging people not to live on destroyed property until it is declared clear of hazardous waste, ash and debris. The county is providing masks, gloves and protective suits to reduce exposure to toxic materials.

Authorities also warned of an increased risk for flash flooding in the burn areas.

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The Fall of Rome and the Lessons for America

The Roman Republic inspired many of the delegates who traveled to Philadelphia to design an effective federal government for the new United States in the summer of 1787. There was good reason for this. Not only did Rome’s Republic endure for nearly 500 years, but it also offered consensus-building tools like the separation of powers, a system of checks and balances, and veto power. The Roman Republic also provided an important caution. While it had been extraordinarily successful, the Founders also knew that Rome degenerated into autocracy in the first century BC. Fearing such an outcome, Benjamin Franklin once told a concerned citizen that America would be “a Republic, if you can keep it.”

The concern that the young Republic would quickly die proved unfounded. Despite a civil war and profound regional differences, our Republic has endured for more than 200 years. But now, as the US faces a deepening political crisis, we are again looking to history to try to imagine our future. For the past two years many have turned to Germany’s Weimar Republic and other failed European states of the 1930s to understand our current political crisis. But the Roman Republic is the more relevant model. Not only is the American republic the daughter of Rome’s, but, like first century Rome, it is now an old country whose citizens know no other form of government.

Old republics like Rome differ from young ones like Weimar Germany because their citizens have learned to value the freedom, political norms, and constitutional checks that defend against a rapid descent into autocracy. Ancient Romans celebrated Brutus the elder (the man who overthrew Rome’s last king in 509 BC) and Servilius Ahala (a fifth century politician who assassinated an aspiring Roman king) in much the same way that Americans revere George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Romans were taught to expect annual elections, respect the choices voters made, and accept that elected officials would represent the interests of all Romans. Perhaps most importantly, they believed politics to be a peaceful process that required representatives to compromise with each and build broad consensuses around difficult policies. This culture kept Rome stable even as it grew into what would eventually become the world’s largest state.

The most significant danger old republics like ours face is not the sudden assault of an aspiring autocrat but the slow erosion of their cultural and institutional defenses. In Rome, this degeneration began gradually and almost imperceptibly in the middle of the second century BC. As in the US now, mid-second century Rome confronted the emergence of a huge gap between its wealthiest citizens and everyone else. During these years much of the wealth plundered from Rome’s newly conquered provinces concentrated around an emerging class of super rich families while the living standards of middle-class Romans stagnated. For more than a generation, Roman politicians tried to address the resentments that this growing inequality had created by proposing voting reforms and crafting schemes to distribute public resources to poor Romans. But most of their proposals were blocked. Then, in 133 BC, the populist politician Tiberius Gracchus proposed a modest redistribution of Italian land in an attempt to support some of Rome’s poor. As with similar laws proposed in the late 140s, Tiberius failed to build the necessary consensus to pass his proposal. Undeterred, Tiberius mobilized crowds of threatening supporters and successfully removed a magistrate from office who had threatened to veto the law—the first time in Roman history such a thing had happened. Tiberius then paid for the reform with funds traditionally controlled by his opponents in the senate. This broke another long-standing Roman political norm. While Tiberius’s supporters applauded these breaches of tradition, his opponents responded violently and murdered Tiberius before he could win re-election. This was the first act of political violence in Rome in more than 300 years.

Calm soon returned to Rome, but the lessons of 133 BC could not be unlearned. Norm breaking, violence, and even assassination had proven useful political tactics. Ambitious Romans began to adopt them with greater regularity and more sophistication. Despite the growing political dysfunction that pushed Rome into a civil war in the 80s BC and another that lasted from 49-46 BC, Romans still believed that their Republic survived. Some Romans, like Brutus the younger, imagined the Republic could be restored even after Julius Caesar had himself named perpetual dictator in 44 BC. But Brutus’s assassination of Caesar only provoked a third, much more horrifying series of civil wars in the 40s and 30s BC. These battles finally revealed to Romans what objective observers could already see. Romans had allowed their Republic to die.

The ancient Roman story offers a chilling lesson to modern Americans. The robust defenses that protect older republics slowly erode if they are not regularly reinforced. This degeneration often starts with something like a spike in wealth inequality that, if unaddressed, eventually frustrates citizens. Even so, it may still take decades before citizens turn to men like Tiberius Gracchus or Donald Trump who promise that they will do whatever is necessary to address voters’ frustrations. An old Republic can endure this type of crisis for a generation or a century. It can even emerge from this danger if politicians build a consensus around specific ways to address the concerns of their voters. But no republic is eternal. It lasts only as long as its citizens want it. This is the moment when we must again heed Franklin’s warning: Our state is a Republic—if we can keep it.

 

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President Trump Pushes for Obamacare Replacement After Texas Judge Strikes It Down

(WASHINGTON) — After a federal judge ruled that the Obama-era health overhaul was “invalid,” President Donald Trump is looking to congressional leaders to come up with a replacement even as the White House says the current law will remain in place for now.

“Get it done!” the president instructed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the likely House speaker in January.

Legal appeals are expected to reach the Supreme Court on an issue that helped propel Democrats to their new majority in the House in the recent midterm elections.

In a 55-page opinion Friday, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas ruled that last year's tax cut bill knocked the constitutional foundation from under the Affordable Care Act by eliminating a penalty for not having coverage. He wrote that the rest of the law cannot be separated from that provision and therefore was invalid.

Supporters of the law said they would appeal. “Today's misguided ruling will not deter us: Our coalition will continue to fight in court for the health and wellbeing of all Americans,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading a coalition of states defending the overhaul.

The White House applauded the ruling by O'Connor, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, and said that “pending the appeal process, the law remains in place.”

Trump tweeted that “Obamacare has been struck down as an UNCONSTITUTIONAL disaster!” and said it was not up to Congress to “pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions.”

While congressional Republicans held their silence in reaction to the ruling, Democrats said they would test the GOP's commitment to such popular provisions.

“The GOP spent all last year pretending to support people with pre-existing conditions while quietly trying to remove that support in the courts,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a tweet Saturday. “Next year, we will force votes to expose their lies.”

Pelosi said the House “will move swiftly to formally intervene in the appeals process to uphold the life-saving protections for people with pre-existing conditions and reject Republicans' effort to destroy” the law.

But Congress is unlikely to pass a new law while the case remains in the courts. Numerous high-ranking Republican lawmakers have said they did not intend to also strike down provisions such as protection for people with medical conditions when they repealed the law's fines for people who can afford coverage but remain uninsured.

Legal expert Timothy Jost, a supporter of the health law, said O'Connor's ruling would have repercussions for nearly all Americans if it stands. If the entire health law is invalidated, popular provisions that benefit Medicare beneficiaries and people with employer coverage would also be scrapped. That could include the section that allows parents to keep young adult children on their coverage until age 26.

About 20 million people have gained health insurance coverage since the law passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote. Currently, about 10 million have subsidized private insurance through the health law's insurance markets, while an estimated 12 million low-income people are covered through its Medicaid expansion.

Saturday was the sign-up deadline for 2019 private plans through HealthCare.gov. Meanwhile, a number of states are expected to move forward with Medicaid expansion after Democratic victories in the midterm elections.

If the case were to reach the Supreme Court it would mark the third time the justices consider a challenge to fundamental provisions of the law. The law's opponents lost both the first two cases.

The five justices who upheld the health law in 2012 in the first major case — Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberals — are all still serving.

Since then, public opinion on the overhaul has shifted from mostly negative to generally favorable.

Preserving the law's protections for people with medical conditions proved to be a strong argument for Democrats in the November elections. Republicans who tried to undermine those safeguards during their failed effort to repeal the health law last year were forced on the defensive and went on record saying they, too, want to make sure people with health problems can get coverage.

House Democrats are talking about passing legislation that enshrines protections for medical conditions. It's unclear what form that would take, or if the Republican-majority Senate would go along and Trump would sign it.

The GOP-led states that had sued asked O'Connor to toss out the entire law after Congress repealed the “individual mandate” penalty for going without coverage. The judge had previously ruled against other Obama-era policies.

The Trump administration weighed in, saying the government would no longer defend some core components of the law, but that others could remain, including Medicaid expansion, subsidies for private insurance and health insurance markets.

Along with the requirement to have health insurance, the administration said the parts of the law that should go included:

—the requirement that insurers must take all applicants for comprehensive coverage regardless of prior health history, including existing conditions. That includes a prohibition on insurers writing policies that exclude a particular condition — for example, a recurrence of breast cancer.

—the prohibition on insurers charging higher premiums to people with health problems.

The health insurance industry says doing away with consumer protections will destabilize a market that seems to be finding its footing, with modest premium increases and more plan choices next year.

The American Medical Association called O'Connor's ruling an “unfortunate step backward for our health system that is contrary to overwhelming public sentiment to preserve pre-existing condition protections.”

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CBS Pledges $20 Million to 18 Women’s Organizations in Wake of Les Moonves Scandal

(NEW YORK) — CBS on Friday pledged to give $20 million to 18 organizations dedicated to eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace as the network tries to recover from a scandal that led to the ouster of its top executive, Les Moonves.

The announcement comes as the network's crisis deepens, with details emerging from an ongoing investigation into Moonves' conduct and news surfacing of other instances of sexual misconduct at CBS.

In the latest revelation, CBS acknowledged that it reached a $9.5 million confidential settlement last year with actress Eliza Dushku, who said she was written off the show “Bull” in March 2017 after complaining about on-set sexual comments from its star, Michael Weatherly. Some women's rights activists called on CBS to fire Weatherly.

The funds for the grants to the 18 organizations are being deducted from severance owed to Moonves under his contract, and the company had previously said the former CEO would have a say in which groups would receive the money.

But whether Moonves, who was one of the television industry's most powerful executives, receives the remaining $120 million of his severance hinges on the investigation, which is being conducted by two outside law firms. The company has said Moonves would not be entitled to the severance if its board of directors determines he was fired for cause.

CBS said its donation to the 18 groups will go toward helping expand their work and “ties into the company's ongoing commitment to strengthening its own workplace culture.”

Among the recipients are Catalyst, a 56-year-old organization dedicated to empowering women in the workplace, and several groups that have emerged as prominent voices since the downfall last year of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which triggered an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations against powerful men across several industries.

The 18 organizations issued a joint statement praising the donations as a first step while calling on CBS to disclose the results of the Moonves investigation and the company's efforts to rectify practices that may have enabled misconduct.

“We thank CBS for these donations. We also recognize these funds are not a panacea, nor do they erase or absolve decades of bad behavior,” the groups said.

Moonves was ousted in September after the New Yorker published allegations from 12 women who said he subjected them to mistreatment that included forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted. Moonves has denied having any non-consensual sexual relationships.

Two other major figures at CBS have lost their jobs in the past year over misconduct allegations: “60 Minutes” top executive Jeff Fager, and news anchor Charlie Rose.

The New York Women's Foundation said it is receiving $2.25 million from CBS to support its “Fund for the Me Too Movement and Allies,” which is co-led by #MeToo founder Tarana Burke. The fund invests in community organizations nationwide dedicated to fighting sexual violence and harassment.

Ana Oliveira, the foundation's president and CEO, said the donation will help give survivors of sexual misconduct a voice in developing solutions. But she urged CBS to do the same within its own organization.

“Those who have lived through the issues have some of the best solutions. This is not a conversation about the perpetrators. CBS needs to do its own work there,” Oliveira said.

Other grant recipients include Time's Up, a Hollywood-based group promoting gender equity in the workplace, and Press Forward, an organization of women dedicated to fighting sexual harassment in the news industry.

Time's Up Entertainment said it will use its $500,000 from CBS to launch an initiative to increase the presence of people of color and of different social backgrounds in the entertainment industry's producing and executive ranks.

Carolyn McGourty Supple, co-founder of Press Forward, said the new funding would accelerate her group's programs, which include a partnership with the Poynter Institute to develop innovative sexual-harassment training and a study on the state of women in America's newsrooms.

She said Press Forward has been “very encouraged” by the willingness of CBS News' leadership “to engage with us.”

“We have faith that we will work side by side to make sure our newsrooms are places where journalists do their best work,” McGourty Supple said.

The entertainment business of CBS, however, is facing new outcry over the revelations about “Bull” star Weatherly, which were first reported by The New York Times.

Shaunna Thomas, executive director of the women's rights organization UltraViolet, said CBS tried to sweep “his abuse under the rug” and “must immediately move to fire Michael Weatherly.”

Melissa Silverstein, founder of the “Women and Hollywood” initiative, tweeted that she was “still wondering why” Weatherly has a job.

Neither UltraViolet nor Silverstein's group received funds from CBS.

Weatherly, who appeared on the CBS series “NCIS” for 13 years before “Bull” began in 2016, said in an email to the Times that he had apologized to Dushku after she confronted him. Weatherly's manager, Doug Wald, has not responded to Associated Press requests for additional comment.

In a September interview with the AP , Weatherly said his long history with CBS made it difficult to comment on the Moonves scandal.

“Not to get into any of the ifs, ands or buts about what is right or wrong and where it comes from,” Weatherly said then. “Professionally I owe a great part of my career to the decision-making of the higher-ups at the company. It's a complicated place to be.”

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Salt Lake City Gets Green Light to Bid for Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City got the green light to bid for the Winter Olympics — most likely for 2030 — in an attempt to bring the Games back to the city that hosted in 2002 and provided the backdrop for the U.S. winter team's ascendance into an international powerhouse.

The U.S. Olympic Committee said Friday it was selecting Utah's capital, which stood out as a predictable, slam-dunk pick in a process that also included Denver and Reno, Nevada.

With venues still in place — some of them upgraded — from the 2002 Games, Salt Lake claims it can host again at a lower cost than other candidates, which aligns with the International Olympic Committee's new blueprint for the Games.

It's almost a certain bet the bid will be for 2030, though the USOC left open the possibility of other dates. There are only two bidders for 2026: from Sweden and Italy, after voters in Calgary, Alberta, rejected a proposed bid.

USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland said Denver and Salt Lake City both presented strong cases, but that the board determined Utah was the better choice due in part to the existing venues, their proximity to each other, the city's experience hosting the games and widespread community and political support. She said it minimizes the risk.

“It is critical to ensure that we have the ability to create an incredible experience for athletes while at the same time managing sustainability and fiscal responsibility,” Hirshland said. “It was clear to us when we were there and in what they presented that Salt Lake City very much understands the practical realities of hosting a Games, but also wants and supports what they represent.”

The city's selection set off celebration at the mayor's office where local leaders who worked on the plan gathered. Since 2012, Utah has said it's ready and willing to host another Olympics.

One key hurdle for Salt Lake City will be erasing memories of the bidding scandal that marred the buildup to 2002 and resulted in several IOC members losing their positions for taking bribes.

Mitt Romney was brought in to steer the games through the scandal. The newly elected U.S. Senator for Utah told The Associated Press after the announcement that a series of processes put in place by the IOC will ensure no bribery scandal happens again.

Romney said Salt Lake City should have a great chance at winning the bid from the IOC because it has shown it can host the games without losing money. Salt Lake City ended up with a surplus after the 2002 Games, money he used to help maintain venues it will use again if it's awarded the Olympics.

“We learned how to produce the Games for the same cost as the revenue that came in,” Romney said. “We will not put a glitzy show like Sochi or Beijing, that are reported to have cost as much $50 billion. We will show the world that you can produce an Olympics without having the government writing the checks.”

In many parts of the United States, however, the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City are remembered not for the bribery scandal but for a different reason.

After never surpassing 13 medals at a Winter Games, the U.S. used home-turf advantage, an influx of new sports and the emotion of the recent Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks to capture 34 over three weeks in Utah.

In the aftermath, Park City and other mountain towns near Salt Lake City preserved and improved upon many of the venues, and continued hosting key international events. The freestyle world championships will be held in Park City in February.

Utah organizers say they could host the games for $1.35 billion, some $50 billion less than it cost in Russia for the 2014 Sochi Games, which are the most expensive games ever and stood out as a blaring warning signal that the IOC needed to streamline its bloated Olympic structure.

The exorbitant costs have changed the dynamic of Olympic bidding. In 2002, cities were trying to bribe IOC officials to award them the Olympics. These days, the IOC finds itself wanting for bidders.

The IOC normally awards Olympics seven years before they're scheduled, though that calendar has been in flux because so many cities have dropped out.

Last year, the IOC handed out the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at the same time because there were only two cities left in what began as a much bigger contest for 2024. Paris will host 2024, Los Angeles will host 2028, and if Salt Lake wins 2030, it would mark the first time since the IOC began staggering the Games two years apart, in 1994, that the same country has hosted back-to-back.

At this time, Salt Lake could be considered a favorite in a 2030 contest that hasn't really taken shape yet.

Hirshland said the USOC has the luxury of time to refine Salt Lake City's bid.

In fact, Salt Lake could still be a favorite for 2026 had it been allowed to go that route. Recently, voters in Calgary rejected that city's attempt to host, leaving Stockholm and a joint bid from Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy as the only two remaining candidates. A bid from Utah was considered, but putting it in front of the Los Angeles Olympics provided too many hurdles on the marketing side.

Rob Cohen, chair of Denver's Olympic bid committee, called it disappointing that Colorado lost out on the chance to bid but said the process prepared the city as it looks for other chances to showcase the city on the world stage.

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Justice Ginsburg Hails Immigrants as the ‘Vanguard’ to Fight Discrimination in Speech to New Citizens

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used her first public address since breaking three ribs last month to praise immigrants, saying that they play a “vital part” in cleansing the “stains” of discrimination from the country.

Ginsburg spoke at a naturalization ceremony at the National Archives for 31 new citizens hailing from 26 countries on Friday. Her remarks sharply contrasted with the President's efforts to curtail the number of immigrants entering the United States.

Standing before the original copy of the Constitution, Ginsburg acknowledged that many people, including women, people of color and Native Americans, had not always had equal access to their Constitutional rights, but that new immigrants can help to build a better future.

“The Constitution sets out the aspiration to form a more perfect union,” Ginsburg said. “While we have made huge progress, the work of perfection is far from done. Many stains remain.”

She noted that immigrants have historically been on the “vanguard” of the fight to combat discrimination, including the effort to abolish slavery.

Ginsburg also valorized the efforts of immigrants who worked hard to make their way to the country.

“We are a nation made strong by people like you: people who travelled long distances, overcame great obstacles and made tremendous sacrifices, all to provide a better life for themselves and their families,” Ginsburg said.

She noted that 20 million Americans are naturalized citizens— and that in the United States, “the founders of the U.S. proclaimed that the heart of America would be its citizens, not its rulers.”

Ginsburg noted that she is herself the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants, acknowledging the ideal that the United States can be the “land of opportunity” for all citizens.

“What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York City’s garment district and a Supreme Court Justice?” she asked. “One generation—my own life bares witness. The difference between the opportunities available to my mother and those afforded me.”

Watch her full remarks below:

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Russia Claims U.S. Unwilling to Hold Talks on Alleged Violations of the INF Treaty

(MOSCOW) — Russia wants to sit down with Pentagon officials for “open and specific” talks on alleged violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Russian Defense Ministry said Saturday.

The U.S. claims Russia is violating the INF treaty, and on Dec. 4 issued an ultimatum that Moscow come into compliance with the accord in 60 days, or else Washington will withdraw. Russia denies it's in breach of the treaty.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu sent his counterpart, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a proposal for launching a dialogue three days ago, according to a statement Saturday.

But Russia says it hasn't received any official reply from the Pentagon, which spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said proves that the U.S. is unwilling to maintain professional dialogue with Moscow on security issues.

On Friday, the Russian mission to the U.N. submitted a draft resolution calling for the international community to support the INF treaty against Washington's threat of withdrawal, warning that a collapse of the treaty could undermine nuclear arms control across the board.

Washington began sounding off on a potential Russian violation of the INF treaty under President Barack Obama.

Under President Donald Trump, those allegations have been specified and coupled with threats of unilateral withdrawal from the landmark 1987 arms agreement, which banned an entire class of ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,000 kilometers (310-3,100 miles).

The U.S. claims that a new Russian missile, designated by NATO as the SSC-8, operates in ranges forbidden by the INF treaty. Russia has strongly and routinely denied the claim, at times throwing accusations of non-compliance back at Washington.

These claims have, at times, focused on U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems in Romania and Poland. Moscow takes specific issue with the U.S. Mk-41 vertical launching system used by these missile defense installations.

The Mk-41, derived from the U.S. Navy's Aegis missile system, can launch a variety of American missiles — including the sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missile, a weapon that would be banned by INF were it deployed on a ground-based launcher.

INF not only bans ground-based intermediate-range missiles, but their launchers too. And Moscow has seized on this point to claim the U.S. is responsible for destabilizing the INF treaty.

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President Trump Says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Will Leave by End of the Year

(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who's facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will leave the administration at year's end.

Trump tweets that Zinke “accomplished much during his tenure” and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation.

Zinke, a former Republican congressman from Montana, is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promised to intensify probes into his conduct.

Zinke played a leading part in Trump's efforts to roll back environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development.

His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office. The president on Friday named budget director Mick Mulvaney as chief of staff

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