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First Thing | Biden mulls Belarus sanctions


Good morning

The parents of Raman Pratasevich, the opposition blogger arrested from the commercial Ryanair airplane that the Belarus president personally ordered his military to scramble a Mig-29 fighter to intercept, are calling upon the international community to help free him.

“Please save him. They’re going to kill him in there,” Natalia Pratasevich, the blogger’s mother, told Agence France-Presse from her home in Poland. His father said in Pratasevich’s appearance on the country’s television news, Pratasevich seemed to have bruises on his face and neck, and to be missing some teeth.

  • US sanctions against Belarus “in play” Joe Biden said yesterday that sanctions against Belarus were “in play” but declined to comment further. “I don’t want to speculate until we get it done,” he said.

  • “Everything he does is loud” Raman Pratasevich, who was born a year after President Alexander Lukashenko first came to power in 1994, was the former editor of the influential Telegram channels Nexta and Nexta Live. His friends and family described him as a funny and energetic fighter for justice.

  • First appearance of girlfriend Sofia Sapega, Pratasevich’s Russian girlfriend, confessed on video on Tuesday night to editing a Telegram channel that releases personal information about Belarusian police officers. Like Pratasevich, her family believes she made the confession under duress.

  • Russia careful in its alliance As Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko, prepares to address Belarus’s parliament on Wednesday – the first such address since the arrests – the country’s remaining ally, Russia, appears wary in its support.

George Floyd family urges Biden to pass police reform bill

Thousands gather in US cities mark one year anniversary of George Floyd's death  – video
Thousands gather in US cities mark one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death – video

On the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, his family met with Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris at the White House, where they spoke with them about the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The bill, which passed in the House of Representatives in March but is stalled in the Senate, would end qualified immunity, which shields officers from legal action by victims and families for alleged civil rights violations.

Biden, who had set a deadline for the legislation for the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder, reiterated his commitment to the bill’s passage. “We have to act. We face an inflection point,” he said in a statement.

  • Thousands gathered to mark the anniversary across the country In Minneapolis, where Floyd drew his last breaths, the city celebrated Floyd’s life less than a mile from where the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of all three counts of his murder.

  • “It changed me” The teen who filmed Floyd’s murder on her cellphone – video that was instrumental in helping start the racial reckoning that swept the globe last summer – spoke about the lasting trauma and grief she experienced. “It made me realize how dangerous it is to be Black in America,” she wrote on Facebook.

New York convenes a grand jury into Trump’s business dealings

After a lengthy, two-year investigation that involved the prolonged legal battle to obtain Donald Trump’s tax records, New York prosecutors have convened a special grand jury to consider the evidence, a signal that they could soon seek charges against the former president and his business enterprise.

The investigation looked into a variety of matters such as hush-money payments paid to women on Trump’s behalf, property valuations and employee compensation, and includes scrutiny of Trump’s relationship with his lenders; a land donation he made to qualify for an income tax deduction; and tax write-offs his company claimed on millions of dollars in consulting fees it paid.

Outrage over Majorie Taylor Greene’s likening of Covid rules to Nazi treatment of Jews

Republicans and Democrats have come together to condemn the far-right Georgia congresswoman and QAnon conspiracy touter for her comments. “Marjorie is wrong, and her intentional decision to compare the horrors of the Holocaust with wearing masks is appalling,” said Republican leader in the House, Kevin McCarthy, though as with any controversy involving Greene, he stopped short of taking disciplinary action against her.

She later went on to thank a Twitter user who called McCarthy a “moron” and a “feckless cunt” for comparing Covid rules to the Holocaust (she deleted the tweet after six minutes).

In other news …

  • White men are a minority. Yet they still dominate US politics White men make up 30% of the population but represent 62% of officeholders – dominating both chambers of Congress, 42 state legislatures, statewide roles and local-level roles across the country.

  • Amazon shareholders to call on retailer to disclose how much of its plastic packaging ends up in the environment Shareholders are prepared to vote today on a resolution that would call on Amazon to disclose its plastic footprint. This comes after a report found that the online retailer generated 210,000 tonnes of packaging that ended up in oceans.

  • John Cena apologizes to China for calling Taiwan a country China, the world’s biggest movie market, sees Taiwan an integral part of its own territory. So when John Cena told a Taiwanese broadcaster that Taiwan would be the “first country” to watch his next film, the latest in the Fast and the Furious franchise, Chinese fans were upset and Cena was “very sorry”.

  • Andrew Yang’s wife expresses outrage over “tourist” cartoon “I can’t believe my eyes,” Evelyn Yang said. “To publish this racist disfiguration of Andrew Yang as a tourist, in NYC where I was born, where Andrew has lived for 25 years, where our boys were born, where 16% of us are Asian and anti-Asian hate is up 900%.”

Andrew Yang and his wife Evelyn.
Andrew Yang and his wife Evelyn. Photograph: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Rex/Shutterstock

Stat of the day: The number of cases of psychological trauma arising from a disaster can exceed physical injury cases by 40 to one

The climate crisis is damaging the mental health of hundreds of millions of people worldwide, with heatwaves increasing rates of suicide and trauma from various disasters leading to post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression. The issue, though, is that little is known of the hidden costs of climate crisis-related mental health: Researchers from Imperial College London found that less than 1% of 54,000 medical research papers that mentioned climate change from 2010-20 mentioned mental health.

Don’t miss this: A ranger stumbles upon one of the largest fossil finds in California history

Horses with three toes, 8ft-long beardogs, camels with giraffe-like necks, miniature elephants. These are among some of the prehistoric animals that scientists have found so far after a water district ranger made the discovery of a lifetime one day last summer on the eastern rim of California’s Central Valley.

Last Thing: Some fun facts about billions of cicadas swarming the country

An STD makes them sex-mad, but also makes their genitals fall off. Male cicadas can get confused by David Attenborough snapping his fingers. They will pee on you.

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