CHICAGO (Reuters) - Public labor unions and others challenging a 2013 law aimed at easing Illinois' pension burden objected on Tuesday to a fast-tracking of the state's appeal of a lower court's ruling that the law is unconstitutional. State Attorney General Lisa Madigan last week asked the Illinois Supreme Court to speed up the appeal of Sangamon County Court Judge John Belz's Nov. 21 ruling, requesting oral arguments as soon as Jan. 22 and no later than March 10. She said the move was necessary to enable Illinois' fiscal 2016 budget to incorporate about $1 billion in cost-savings under the law, or adequate spending cuts or tax increases to offset those savings. The pension reform law was supposed to go into effect on June 1 but was put on hold by Belz in May pending his ruling in five consolidated lawsuits. The state's new fiscal year begins July 1 and the legislature usually passes a budget by May 31. Opponents of the law, including a coalition of labor unions and state retiree groups, said the normal appeals process should be followed, contending that the state was relying on "a false sense of urgency." Even if the state's high court determines as early as next month that the law is constitutional, the legal battle would head back to Sangamon County Court and continue well past May 31, according to their filing. Illinois has the worst-funded state retirement system in the country, and its unfunded pension liability hit $104.6 billion at the end of fiscal 2014. No U.S. state has a lower credit rating than Illinois. The reform law, which was enacted in December 2013, reduces and suspends cost-of-living increases for pensions, raises retirement ages and limits salaries on which pensions are based. Employees contribute 1 percent less of their salaries toward pensions, while contributions from the state, which has skipped or skimped on its pension payments over the years, are enforceable through the Illinois Supreme Court. In his ruling last month, Belz rejected Illinois' arguments that pensions could be cut to protect the public welfare in an emergency, including the state's precarious financial situation. He concluded that the state could not go back on a constitutionally-protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits. (Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Paul Simao)
- The Week
Biden did not, in fact, remove Trump's 'Diet Coke button' from the Resolute Desk, White House clarifies
The new Biden administration has yet not disclosed the secrets of Area 51 or explained what the Air Force really knows about UFOs, but it did clarify, at least, the mystery of the vanished "Diet Coke button" former President Donald Trump would use to summon refreshments in the Oval Office. The usher button, as it is formally known, is not gone, even if it is no longer used to summon Diet Cokes, a White House official tells Politico. The White House official "unfortunately wouldn't say what Biden will use the button for," Politico's Daniel Lippman writes, suggesting Biden might summon Orange Gatorade and not the obvious answer, ice cream — or, let's get real, coffee. What's more, there are evidently two usher buttons in the Oval Office, one at the Resolute Desk and the other next to the chair by the fireplace, a former White House official told Politico, adding that Trump didn't actually use the Diet Coke button all that much because "he would usually just verbally ask the valets, who were around all day, for what he needed." In any case, it is not the placement of the button that matters, of course, but how you use it. And Biden will presumably know better than to order ice cream treats during a top-secret national security briefing. More stories from theweek.comSarah Huckabee Sanders' shameless campaign for governorDemocrats are getting Chuck GrassleyedBiden's reverse triangulation
- NBC News
The suspension will last at least 30 days and has been in effect since last week, YouTube said in an email.
- The Telegraph
Joe Biden challenged Vladimir Putin over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, and reports of Russian bounties on the heads of US soldiers in Afghanistan, in their first presidential phone call. Mr Biden also raised concerns about Russian "aggression" against Ukraine, and reaffirmed Washington's "strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty." The US president said he was willing to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty for five years. Kremlin officials said documents had been exchanged to extend the pact. Mr Biden also raised concerns over Russian cyber hacking, interference in US elections, and treatment of peaceful protesters. Mr Biden made clear he would "act firmly in defence of our national interest in response to malign actions by Russia," the White House said. The Kremlin said Mr Putin told Mr Biden that he supports "normalisation" of relations between their two countries. Mr Putin "noted that the normalisation of relations between Russia and the United States" would benefit "the entire international community," the Kremlin said.
- Associated Press
A group of U.N experts has criticized Sri Lanka's requirement that those who die of COVID-19 be cremated, even it goes against a family's religious beliefs, and warned that decisions based on “discrimination and aggressive nationalism” could incite hatred and violence. The experts, who are part of the Special Procedures of the U.N Human Rights Council, said in a statement Monday that rule amounts to a human rights violation. “We deplore the implementation of such public health decisions based on discrimination, aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism amounting to persecution of Muslims and other minorities in the country,” the experts said.
- National Review
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) voted in favor of a resolution declaring the impeachment trial of former President Trump “unconstitutional” on Tuesday. The point of order resolution was put forward by McConnell’s colleague from Kentucky, Rand Paul, and effectively forced Republicans to declare on the record whether they consider the impeachment trial constitutional, given that it’s taking place after Trump has left office. The resolution failed after a majority of senators voted against it, meaning the impeachment trial will go ahead as planned. However, only five Republicans voted against the resolution: Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. At the close of the impeachment trial itself, at least 17 Republican senators would need to join Democrats in order to convict Trump. “I think there will be enough support on” the point-of-order resolution “to show there’s no chance they can impeach the president,” Paul told reporters before the vote on Tuesday. “If 34 people support my resolution that this is an unconstitutional proceeding, it shows they don’t have the votes and we’re basically wasting our time.” Senator Collins said following the vote that there would be little chance of an impeachment conviction. “I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinary unlikely that the president will be convicted,” Collins told The New York Times. “Just do the math.” McConnell was reportedly pleased with the idea of impeaching Trump, after the former president incited a mob of his supporters to amass at the Capitol on January 6, though the majority leader later said publicly that he hadn’t decided whether to vote to convict. The mob breached the Capitol and forced lawmakers to evacuate, and five people died in the riots including a Capitol police officer. An impeachment conviction could allow the Senate to bar Trump from running for office again, however a number of Republican senators have come out against the impeachment push. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said it would be “arrogant” for the Senate to prevent Trump from running again. “Voters get to decide that,” Rubio told Chis Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “Who are we to tell voters who they can vote for in the future?” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas also voiced skepticism regarding the impeachment trial. “I think a lot of Americans are going to think it’s strange that the Senate is spending its time trying to convict and remove from office a man who left office a week ago,” Cotton told the Associated Press on Monday.
- NBC News
"The member in question had been advised numerous times about the requirements and had refused to be tested," the House speaker said.
- Associated Press
The patter of paws is being heard in the White House again following the arrival of President Joe Biden's dogs Champ and Major. Major burst onto the national scene late last year after Biden, then president-elect, broke his right foot while playing with the dog at their home in Wilmington, Delaware. The Bidens adopted Major in 2018 from the Delaware Humane Association.
- Yahoo News Video
A former pathologist at an Arkansas veterans’ hospital has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter in the death of a patient that he misdiagnosed.
- The Independent
‘There appeared to be no remorse,’ says Calcasieu Parish sheriff Tony Mancus
Donald Trump opened an office in Florida on Monday that will handle his duties as a former U.S. president and seek to further his administration's agenda. "The Office will be responsible for managing President Trump's correspondence, public statements, appearances, and official activities to advance the interests of the United States and to carry on the agenda of the Trump Administration through advocacy, organizing, and public activism," a statement said. The announcement came on the same day the House of Representatives delivered to the Senate an impeachment article charging Trump with inciting insurrection in a speech to supporters before the deadly attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.
- Associated Press
Chinese state media have stoked concerns about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, despite rigorous trials indicating it is safe. A government spokesperson has raised the unsubstantiated theory that the coronavirus could have emerged from a U.S. military lab, giving it more credence in China. As the ruling Communist Party faces growing questioning about China's vaccines and renewed criticism of its early COVID-19 response, it is hitting back by encouraging conspiracy theories that some experts say could cause harm.
A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily blocked a move by new U.S. President Joe Biden to halt the deportation of many immigrants for a 100-day period, a swift legal setback for his ambitious immigration agenda. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton, an appointee of former President Donald Trump in the Southern District of Texas, issued a temporary restraining order that blocks the policy nationwide for 14 days following a legal challenge by Texas. The Biden administration is expected to appeal the ruling, which halts the deportation freeze while both parties submit briefs on the matter.
- Los Angeles Times Opinion
Gov. Newsom needs to do a better job communicating California's statewide COVID restrictions with the public, and with other state officials.
- Defense News
There was a noticeable uptick in the People’s Liberation Army’s typical air activity inside Taiwan’ air defense identification zone, which usually amounts to a handful of aircraft daily.
- The Telegraph
Indian and Chinese soldiers armed with sticks and stones have brawled again along their disputed frontier, Delhi said, as the neighbours' months-long border stand-off continued. Indian security officials said there were clashes after at least 18 Chinese soldiers tried to cross into Indian-claimed territory at Naku La in Sikkim on January 20. Soldiers on both sides were carrying firearms, but did not use them. A senior Indian Army official told the Telegraph that four Indian soldiers were wounded after they challenged the Chinese PLA soldiers. All four Indian wounded had been hospitalised, and their condition was described as stable. The officer said the number of injured Chinese was “in double figures”. An official army statement gave few details, describing the clash as a minor stand-off and saying it had been "resolved by local commanders as per established protocols". The military asked journalists "to refrain from overplaying or exaggerating" the incident. Zhao Lijian, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, urged India "not to take any unilateral action that may further complicate or exacerbate the border tension." Yet an opinion piece in China's Global Times, a hawkish state-owned tabloid, said the reports were false and blamed Indian rumour-mongering. Tensions have been high since May when deadly clashes erupted high in the Karakoram mountains along the poorly defined frontier between the rivals. Both sides have mobilized tens of thousands of soldiers, artillery and fighter aircraft along the fiercely contested border known as the Line of Actual Control, or LAC, that separates Chinese and Indian-held territories from Ladakh in the west to India's eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety. May's brawl exploded into hand-to-hand combat with clubs, stones and fists on June 15 that left 20 Indian soldiers dead. China is believed to also have had casualties, but has not given any details. Indian and Chinese army commanders met for the ninth round of talks after a gap of two-and-a-half months in Ladakh on Sunday but neither side released any details of the outcome.
- Architectural Digest
Let’s get loudOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Tuesday barred the U.S. government from enforcing a 100-day deportation moratorium that is a key immigration priority of President Joe Biden. U.S. District Judge Drew Tipton issued a temporary restraining order sought by Texas, which sued on Friday against a Department of Homeland Security memo that instructed immigration agencies to pause most deportations.
Morocco's health ministry has started distributing COVID-19 vaccines across the country as it prepares to become the first African state to roll out a mass immunisation programme this week. Appointments have been made for health workers and citizens are registering online to receive the vaccine in 3,000 locations, said Ben Azouz Mohammed, head of the ministry's vaccination programme. Morocco on Friday received 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by India's Serum Institute and it expects to get 500,000 doses of vaccine from China's Sinopharm on Wednesday.
- The Independent
Newsmax said it already had enough correspondents at White House
- Architectural Digest
Everything they need to put the horrors of moving behind themOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest