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US 'concerned' Russia preparing for an invasion in Ukraine - as it happened

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During her White House briefing today, Jen Psaki also addressed the situation in Ukraine, as fears intensify over a potential Russian invasion.

US officials have now accused the Kremlin of planning a false flag operation to justify an invasion, despite recent efforts to deescalate tensions in the region.

"We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives," Psaki said.

ABC News (@ABC)

"We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes, should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives," White House press sec. Psaki says at briefing. https://t.co/UElvJTWtvq pic.twitter.com/AFsPtOapfY

January 14, 2022

7.55pm EST 19:55

Politics recap

That's it from us today.

Here's what happened:

See you again next week!

Updated at 8.04pm EST

7.40pm EST 19:40

Joe Biden has appointed actress Star Jones to serve on the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. The agency is in charge of identifying monuments, cemeteries, and historic buildings in Eastern and Central Europe that are associated with US heritage.

From Deadline's story on the appointment: "Biden also appointed six others to the commission, including G Jonathan Greenwald, Nicole Mavis Isaac, Nancy Kaufman, Michael Marquardt, Maureen Pikarski and Bill Shaheen.

The commission was set up to ensure that such sites - historically important for populations impacted by Nazism and communism - are preserved."

Jones is also scheduled to replace Faith Jenkins as the judge on the television show Divorce Court this fall.

Updated at 8.05pm EST

7.30pm EST 19:30

States ask judge to reconsider antitrust case against Facebook

More than 40 states have appealed a judge's decision to throw out an antitrust lawsuit against Facebook, The New York Times is reporting.

Last June, Judge James E Boasberg dismissed the lawsuit because it was filed too long after Facebook made the acquisitions that are in question in the complaint.

In their appeal, the states attorneys generals, led by New York's Letitia James, argue that they should have more latitude than private individuals when it comes to limitations on filing lawsuits. They also said it was in the public interest to pursue the case against the social media giant.

The lawsuit scrutinizes Facebook's acquisition of photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The lawsuit alleges the acquisitions were predatory and were done in order to crush competition and that Facebook further worked to harm competitors, including video-sharing platform Vine, by cutting off their access to data and tools on Facebook's platform.

Read more here.

Updated at 7.33pm EST

7.06pm EST 19:06

DirecTV is dropping conservative news channel, One America News Network, according to Bloomberg News. The network is known for spreading misinformation and was one of Trump's favorite channels during his presidency. DirecTV notified OANN owner Herring Networks Inc. that it would not carry the channel once the contract is up in early April, according to the Bloomberg report. It's a major blow to OANN, oh which DirecTV is the largest distributor.

From the story: "The channel is still carried on Verizon FiOS and smaller pay-TV providers, according to its website. The broadcast can also be streamed via an online-TV service called KlowdTV. OANN has never been carried by Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. or Dish Network Corp., three other major providers.

DirecTV, which is owned by AT&T Inc. and TPG via a joint venture, has offered OANN to customers since April 2017 after Herring Networks won a lawsuit that forced the satellite-TV provider to carry the channels."

You can read more here.

Updated at 7.21pm EST

6.36pm EST 18:36

Lawsuit alleges Facebook and Google CEOs approved deal on ad manipulation

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were allegedly aware of and approved a deal to collaborate on the potential manipulation of advertising sales, according to newly unredacted documents that were filed as part of a state attorneys general-led lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit was first filed in December 2020 and claimed Google misled publishers and advertisers alike about the price and process of advertising auctions. At that time, many documents and parts of the lawsuit were redacted but have since become accessible to the public as a result of multiple court rulings.

While the lawsuit is not new, details about how much both companies' C-Suite was aware of and whether they approved the coordination between Facebook and Google had not been known previously.

According to the AP, the lawsuit indicates that in a 2018 email thread Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, called the collaboration between the companies " a big deal strategically". Zuckerberg was included on that and other threads discussing the deal, the lawsuit says.

Both Google and Facebook have seen increased scrutiny over potentially monopolistic practices from both regulators and other players in the market. In this case, the lawsuit alleges Google maintained control over the advertising sales market - a market that it dominates - by inflating the price of advertisements for brands and suppressing competition from other advertising exchanges.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the complaint alleges "Google pocketed the difference between what it told publishers and advertisers that an ad cost and used the pool of money to manipulate future auctions to expand its digital monopoly." The documents further cite internal messages in which Google employees said it was like they were using "insider information" to grow the business.

If Pichai is found to have personally approved the deal, he may be found to be complicit in the expansion of Google's monopoly over the advertising market through manipulation. A Google spokesperson told the AP that while the deal was not a secret, it was inaccurate Pichai approved it.

"We sign hundreds of agreements every year that don't require CEO approval, and this was no different," the spokesperson said.

Updated at 6.38pm EST

6.00pm EST 18:00

A Republican bill to ban the teaching of "divisive concepts" in schools in Virginia ran into ridicule when among historical events deemed suitable for study, it described a nonexistent debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Lincoln did engage in a series of historic debates hinged on the issue of slavery, in the Illinois Senate campaign of 1858. But he did so against Stephen Douglas, a senator who had ties to slavery, and not against Douglass, the great campaigner for the abolition of slavery who was once enslaved himself.

The Virginia bill was sponsored by Wren Williams, a freshman Republican sent to Richmond in a tumultuous November election.

History has become a divisive concept in states across the US, as rightwingers spread alarm about the teaching of race issues. In November, the winning candidate for governor in Virginia, the Republican Glenn Youngkin, made history a wedge issue in his win over the Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.

Youngkin seized upon critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society - but which is not taught in Virginia schools.

The elementary error in Williams's bill attracted national attention, including from the Washington Post. However, reports that the bill had been withdrawn were in error, a spokesperson for the politician said on Friday.

The spokesperson also provided to the Guardian a statement from the Virginia division of legislative services, which said the error "was inserted at the drafting level, following receipt of a historically accurate request from the office of Delegate Wren Williams".

Williams told Townhall.com he was "frustrated" but realised "mistakes happen".

Nonetheless, many were happy to point out the error.

"New rule," wrote Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor. "If you don't know the difference between Frederick Douglass and Stephen Douglas, you don't get to tell anyone else what to teach."

Sidney Blumenthal, a Guardian contributor and Lincoln biographer, pointed out that Lincoln and Douglass did meet three times when Lincoln was president, from 1861 to 1865 and through a civil war that ended with slavery abolished.

Blumenthal also offered a way in which students in Virginia and elsewhere might use Douglass's life and work to examine divisive concepts today.

Speaking after two centrist Democrats sank Joe Biden's push for voting rights reform, Blumenthal said: "Frederick Douglass's great cause became that of voting rights.

"If there is any debate that is going on now, it is not between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is between Frederick Douglass and all the Republican senators who refuse to support voting rights - and Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema too."

For further reading, here's Ibram X Kendi on why Frederick Douglass matters:

Updated at 6.57pm EST

5.29pm EST 17:29

An anti-abortion group that had an advertisement signed and endorsed by Amy Coney Barrett before she became a supreme court justice has been accused of encouraging the harassment of doctors, according to my colleague Stephanie Kirchgaessner.

Here's more from her story:

An Indiana group whose anti-abortion campaign was endorsed in a signed advertisement by Amy Coney Barrett before she became a supreme court justice, keeps a published list of abortion providers and their place of work on its website, in what some experts say is an invitation to harass and intimidate the doctors and their staff.

In one case, court records show, a doctor whose name was published by the group, which is called Right to Life Michiana, was warned by the FBI of a kidnapping threat that had been made online against her daughter.

The threat prompted the doctor to temporarily stop providing abortion services at the Whole Woman's Health Care clinic in South Bend, which is also named on the Michiana group's website. The doctor said in the court document that the clinic regularly attracts large gatherings of protesters, who she feared could identify her.

Barrett signed a two-page advertisement in 2006, while she was working as a professor at Notre Dame, that stated that those who signed "oppose abortion on demand and defend the right to life from fertilization to natural death". The second page of the ad called Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, "barbaric".

The advertisement, which was published in the South Bend Tribune and signed by hundreds of people, was sponsored by a group called St Joseph County Right to Life, which merged with another anti-abortion group in 2020 and is now called Right to Life Michiana.

The supreme court is expected to rule this year on challenges to Roe v Wade that many court experts expect will gut the rights of women in the US to obtain legal abortions. In arguments before the court, Barrett - who has said her personal views do not affect her legal judgment - argued that passage of safe haven laws, which allow parents to relinquish their newborns at hospitals or other designated centers without the threat of legal consequences, had in effect given women options outside of abortion for those who did not want to become parents.

During her 2020 confirmation hearing, Barrett said she had signed the advertisement as a private citizen, while she was making her way out of church, and had not recalled signing it until it became public following a report in the Guardian.

"It was consistent with the views of my church," she said, in response to senators' questions about the statement. She later added: "I do see as distinct my personal, moral, religious views and my task of applying the law as a judge."

Updated at 6.41pm EST

5.13pm EST 17:13

Johana here, reporting in from San Francisco.

The founder of far-right militia group the Oathkeepers pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy this afternoon. Elmer Stewart Rhodes was arrested on Thursday in Texas and charged with conspiring with 10 others to oppose the transfer of presidential power by force.

David Goins (@dgoins)

NOW: Stewart Rhodes, founder of far-right Oath Keepers militia group, entered a not guilty plea to seditious conspiracy in a Plano federal courtroom on Friday.

His attorneys will argue for his release from custody in a hearing on Thursday.

He faces 20yrs in prison. @NBCDFW pic.twitter.com/spGJXyqXX7

January 14, 2022

As my colleague Sergio Olmos reported, unsealed court documents have revealed evidence of an armed plot as well as detailed tactical pre-planning that included "the creation of rapid-response teams of armed militia members, the deployment of tactical gear and the stockpiling of weapons".

More from Sergio's reporting:

The Oath Keepers even discussed a naval operation to ferry in guns to the militia. One Oath Keeper, Thomas Caldwell, asked fellow members if anyone had a boat that could handle crossing the Potomac River. "If we had someone standing by at a dock ramp (one near the Pentagon for sure) we could have our Quick Response Team with the heavy weapons standing by, quickly load them and ferry them across the river to our waiting arms," the documents quoted him as saying.

Rhodes went on a buying spree in the days leading up to the attack, spending more than $20,000 on guns and equipment for the attack. In December, Rhodes bought two pairs of night-vision goggles and a weapons sight for about $7,000 and shipped them to Virginia. In January he spent another $5,000 on a shotgun, scope, magazine, sights, optics, a bipod, a mount, a case of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies. Two days later he spent $6,000 more, and then about $4,500 the next day.

In group chats, the Oath Keepers discussed how their quick reaction force (QRF) teams would set up at the Comfort Inn in Ballston Arlington, Virginia, to "use as its base of operations for January 6, 2021". They reserved three rooms; one was occupied by the so-called North Carolina "QRF" team while Arizona and Florida "QRF teams" stayed in the two others. They used the hotel rooms to store firearms and ammunition.

Updated at 5.32pm EST

5.01pm EST 17:01

Today so far

That's it from me today. My west coast colleague, Johana Bhuiyan, will take over the blog for the next few hours.

Here's where the day stands so far:

Johana will have more coming up, so stay tuned.

Updated at 5.05pm EST

4.39pm EST 16:39

Pence attacks Democrats' voting rights bill as 'federal power grab'

Mike Pence has penned a Washington Post op-ed attacking Democrats' voting rights bill as a "federal power grab over our state elections".

The former vice-president opened the op-ed by reflecting on the January 6 insurrection, which he witnessed firsthand. Pence was at the Capitol that day to preside over the congressional certification of Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election.

"Now that the anniversary of Jan. 6 has come and gone, some of us who lived through that tragic day in 2021 are getting a clearer picture of what was and is at stake," Pence writes.

"On Jan. 6, an angry mob ransacked the Capitol, largely to try to get Congress and me, as the president of the Senate, to use federal authority to overturn results of the presidential election that had been certified by all 50 states."

But Pence then makes an argument that is certain to outrage Democrats; the Republican asserts that the dozens of voting restrictions recently approved by state legislatures are an effort to "restore confidence in the integrity of our elections while ensuring access to voting".

"Despite this steady progress of state-based reforms, now come President Biden and Senate Democrats with plans to use the memory of Jan. 6 to attempt another federal power grab over our state elections and drive a wedge further into our divided nation," Pence writes.

In 2021, 19 states passed 34 laws restricting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Voting rights advocates warn that the restrictions disproportionately impact people of color, and experts say the laws threaten to inject partisan bias into election systems.

4.02pm EST 16:02

The Biden administration's announcement on delivering free at-home Covid tests starting 19 January underscores the current difficulty of finding affordable at-home Covid-19 tests.

The Guardian's Carly Olsen wrote about price gouging happening across the country for rapid at-home Covid tests:

With at-home Covid tests running scarce during the Omicron surge, the price gouging has begun, and everyone from restaurants to pet food stores appear to be trying to cash in.

Recent reporting by Vice found a Manhattan deli advertised an Abbott BinaxNOW rapid test (retail: $24) on the Seamless delivery app for $80. Meanwhile, an online-only pet store, Pet Foods by Village Farm, offered to deliver the same type of test for $50, and a liquor store was selling a "Covid fighter pack", including rapid tests and hand sanitizer, for more than $100.

There have been reports across the country of vendors charging double or triple the normal costs of at-home Covid tests. One New York restaurant worker paid $180 for four test kits, the Los Angeles Times reported. And a Covid testing site in San Francisco's Mission district is reportedly charging between $99 and $250 for rapid tests.

Authorities have warned that this is a growing problem. In a December statement, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, encouraged people to report price hikes. "Fraudsters are on notice that if they attempt to price gouge during this new surge, we will not hesitate to take action," she said, adding that her office had already seen reports of test kits "being unlawfully sold for more than $40 and up to $70 per package".

Read the full article here.

Updated at 4.40pm EST

3.36pm EST 15:36

Biden administration will start shipping free at-home Covid tests next week

The Biden administration will begin shipping free at-home Covid tests starting next week, following an announcement earlier last week that the tests would become more widely available amid the Omicron surge.


Biden admin to start offering free at-home Covid tests on Jan. 19 https://t.co/koIrIOHKr9

January 14, 2022

The tests will be available through a government website starting on 19 January, though receiving the tests could take longer. Shipping for the at-home tests typically takes "seven to 12 days" according to senior official in the Biden administration. Additionally, households will only able to order four tests at a time.

Here's more background on at-home test availability according to a piece from Politco:

A senior administration official told reporters the government has 420 million tests under contract and tens of millions already in its possession. Officials are finalizing contracts for the 80 million tests remaining out of an initial order of 500 million. The effort to procure and distribute the tests will have a total cost of about $4 billion.

Asked if the government can meet demand as soon as the website goes live, the senior administration official said the Biden administration is confident "that we can meet all of our timelines and get these to all Americans that want them."

Read the full piece here.

Updated at 4.41pm EST

3.12pm EST 15:12

Following the Ohio Supreme Court's decision to strike the state's new congressional districts on Friday, questions remain about what the next steps are for the legislative maps.

Here's an article from Jessie Balmert of the Columbus Dispatch that breaks down the next steps following the court's decision:

Now, the commission has 10 days to get back together, craft new maps and approve them. If the maps receive bipartisan support from two Democrats and at least two Republicans, they could last for 10 years. If they are passed along party lines again, they would last for four years.

The Ohio Supreme Court, in its 4-3 decision, made clear that the commission must follow all of the voter-approved changes to the Ohio Constitution to curb gerrymandering. That includes Section 6, which required the commission to attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans.

Justice Melody Stewart, writing for the majority, defined Ohio's statewide preferences as about 54% of voters preferring GOP candidates and about 46% preferring Democratic candidates over the past decade.

"The commission is required to attempt to draw a plan in which the statewide proportion of Republican-leaning districts to Democratic-leaning districts closely corresponds to those percentages," she wrote.

Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said he hasn't yet read the decision himself. "Our lawyers are trying to figure out what it will take for us to comply with whatever it is that the court ordered."

Read the full article here.

Updated at 4.41pm EST

2.51pm EST 14:51

The Ohio supreme court ordered the state's general assembly to redraw more maps that complied with the partisan fairness requirements in the Ohio constitution. It also denounced the consequences of gerrymandering.

"Gerrymandering is the antithetical perversion of representative democracy. It is an abuse of power," Justice Michael Donnelly, a Democrat. "Its singular allure is that it locks in the controlling party's political power while locking out any other party or executive office from serving as a check and balance to power."

"When the dealer stacks the deck in advance, the house usually wins," he also wrote. "That perhaps explains how a party that generally musters no more than 55 percent of the statewide popular vote is positioned to reliably win anywhere from 75 percent to 80 percent of the seats in the Ohio congressional delegation. By any rational measure, that skewed result just does not add up."

Ohio Republicans had insisted that the districts they drew were competitive, but the majority of justices said that requirement appears nowhere in the constitution.

Updated at 3.05pm EST

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