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Earthquake Kills More Than 2,300 People in Turkey, Syria, as Death Toll Quickly Rises

This was the worst earthquake the two countries have seen in nearly a century.

OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images
Residents search for victims and survivors amid the rubble of collapsed buildings following an earthquake in the village of Besnia near the town of Harim, in Syria’s rebel-held northwestern Idlib province on the border with Turkey, on February 6.

The United States prepared Monday to send aid to Turkey and Syria in the wake of the worst earthquake the two countries have seen in almost a century.

The 7.8-magnitude quake occurred in the early morning near the border between the two countries, leveling swathes of towns and killing more than 2,300 people. The tremor, which was felt as far away as Greenland, was followed by more than 50 aftershocks, including a 7.5-magnitude earthquake that rattled ongoing search and rescue operations.

We stand ready to provide any and all needed assistance,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. “President Biden has directed USAID and other federal government partners to assess U.S. response options to help those most affected.”

Thousands of people are injured, and emergency responders are rushing to rescue people trapped under the rubble of buildings. Officials are unsure how many people are caught in the debris. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at least 5,300 people had been injured and more than 2,800 buildings had collapsed. He warned that he had no clue how much the death toll would rise as rescue efforts continued.

Rescuers search for victims and survivors amid the rubble of a building that collapsed in Adana, Turkey, on February 6.
Can Erok/AFP/Getty Images

To make matters worse, the region is being buffeted by biting winter weather, hindering rescue attempts and also endangering people who are now without shelter.

Many of the Turkish cities that were affected were filled with Syrian refugees who had fled the civil war in their home country. In Syria, where the war has taken a heavy toll on infrastructure, officials had to cut off natural gas and power supplies throughout the affected region. An earthquake expert at Turkey’s Academy of Sciences urged Syrian officials to check the region’s dams for cracks, which could lead to devastating flooding.

“Truthfully the situation is disastrous,” Raed Saleh, the head of Syria’s civil defense group the White Helmets, told NPR. “The hospitals are all completely full.”

“We can’t estimate the damages or know how many people have been killed.”

Other countries, including Ukraine, as well as NATO, have also sent condolences and offers of aid to Turkey and Syria.

Ron DeSantis Is Now Attacking the Orlando Philharmonic Because It Once Hosted a Drag Show

In an administrative complaint, the Florida governor accused the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation of putting on a “sexually explicit show.”

Ron DeSantis speaks at a podium
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stripped the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation of its liquor license Friday for allowing children to attend a Christmas drag show.

DeSantis, who has been cracking down on LGBTQ rights, filed an administrative complaint through the state department of business and professional regulation accusing the Philharmonic’s foundation of putting on a “sexually explicit” show where minors would be present.

The governor had previously warned any venues that hosted the touring show A Drag Queen Christmas that his administration would seek legal action against them. He has also mentioned the possibility of having child protective services investigate parents who take their children to drag shows.

Civil rights attorney Alejandra Caraballo pointed out that DeSantis couched the administrative complaint in language about morality, at one point saying that businesses that host drag shows are a “nuisance,” which is defined as something that “becomes manifestly injurious to the morals or manners of the people.” By framing drag shows as a morality law issue, Caraballo said, DeSantis strips the performances of free speech protections.

DeSantis has gone to all-out war with anything he deems “woke,” and with LGBTQ rights in particular. He enacted the state’s now infamous Don’t Say Gay law, banned transgender women from playing women’s sports, and vowed to defund diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on college campuses. He also unconstitutionally forced out Andrew Warren, a state attorney who said he would not unilaterally criminalize cases involving personal medical issues, such as abortion or trans health care.

DeSantis is also part of a larger trend of Republicans demonizing drag queens and trans people, accusing them of being pedophiles as a way to fearmonger about the LGBTQ community. Drag shows, Medicaid funding for gender-affirmative care, and even children’s hospitals have all come under attack.

What Were the Miami Police Thinking With That “Black History Month” Cop Car?

Miami police unveiled a new cop car emblazoned with the words “Black History Month” and covered in images of Africa and raised Black fists.

A black Miami police car painted in green, red, and yellow. On the side are the words "Black History Month" and several close fists raised in the air.
Screenshot/WISN TV

On Thursday, in the dawn of Black History Month and amid nationwide calls for police reform after another flashpoint of police brutality in the killing of Tyre Nichols, the Miami Police Department unveiled its latest expense: a Black History Month–inspired cop car.

The pan-African colored vehicle, adorned with images of Africa and raised Black fists, was in honor of the history and legacy of the Black police precinct—a separate station that closed in 1963—and the officers who served there, reported the Miami Herald.

Mayor Francis Suarez also used the occasion to boast a decrease in complaints made against officers in the past year.

“I’m very proud of the way our officers behave,” Suarez said, according to the Herald. “We embrace our history. We know where we came from.”

Meanwhile, Miamians are gathering on Saturday to protest the police killing of Antwon Cooper, a Black man. Officials, who have changed their story about whether Cooper was armed, shot the 34-year-old as he attempted to flee a traffic stop. Video does not indicate him carrying a weapon.

Miami’s police department, like every other’s, is rooted in a history not worth embracing. As Vice pointed out with a poignant example, in 1967, Miami Police Chief Walter Headley coined the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”—his standing orders to his officers should they face any “civil uprising.” Former President Donald Trump paid homage to that phrase in the aftermath of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments, respectively:

Indeed, one might hope that police departments everywhere would not “embrace” their history but rather shed themselves of it; after all, even if Suarez was referring specifically to the history of Black cops, the nation just witnessed five of them kill another.

Elon Musk Says Twitter Will Share Ad Revenue With People Who Pay Him

Musk announced that users will be able to share in some of the company’s ad revenue, but only if they subscribe to Twitter Blue.

Elon Musk
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elon Musk seems to be scrambling to make more money at Twitter, as the company this week unveiled a series of plans aimed to cut costs and increase ad revenue.

Musk announced Friday that Twitter will start showing ads in replies to tweets. If the original poster pays for the company’s controversial Twitter Blue subscription plan, they could share some of the ad revenue. Musk did not specify how much that share would be.

This decision came the day after Twitter announced it would get rid of its free application programming interface, or API, in favor of a “paid basic tier.” An API allows multiple separate computer systems to communicate. Twitter’s API, as explained by Wired, “allows third parties to retrieve and analyze public Twitter data, which can then be used to create programmable bots and separate applications that connect to the platform.”

Removing the free API would put a stop to bot-controlled accounts that share, say, hourly cute animal photos, but it would also end automated severe weather alerts, and throttle research and activism on the platform.

Musk also announced he would phase out Twitter’s “legacy Blue Verified” check marks. After the initial Twitter Blue rollout was flooded with disinformation, the company tried again in December with a series of color-coded checks to denote different statuses. Confusingly, both Twitter Blue subscribers and legacy verified accounts—significant accounts that had been verified pre-Musk—had blue checks.

All of these changes come just days after Twitter made its first interest payment on the $12.5 billion in debt that Musk took on when he bought the social media platform.

The Tesla CEO took the Twitter reins in late October for $44 billion, about a third of which he borrowed from a group of banks. Since taking over, he has aggressively slashed costs, including firing employees, auctioning off everything in Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters, and apparently just not paying rent.

But advertisers have also left the platform en masse, turned off by Musk’s lax approach to content moderation and apparent penchant for letting Nazis back online.

Matt Gaetz’s Brilliant Idea for the Debt Ceiling Crisis: Medicaid Work Requirements

The Florida representative wants to force people to work to get health care.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Matt Gaetz is apparently rallying his colleagues to force work requirements on people in order for them to get health care.

The Florida representative told Semafor that he’s been pitching the idea of tightening Medicaid eligibility on “able-bodied working age adults” as part of a potential deal to raise the debt ceiling. Semafor reported Gaetz has been garnering “a very positive reception” to his pitch, including from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“Work requirements are proving to be a very unifying concept with my colleagues,” Gaetz said.

Gaetz doubled down on Friday and added to his pitch, tweeting that “work requirements on means-tested programs (like Medicaid & food stamps) will curtail inflationary government spending and increase labor participation.”

On its face, these reports are concerning, given how much Gaetz and his fellow far-right colleagues have already secured from McCarthy. After dragging out the speaker vote, they were able to force him to modify the House rules package and give them highly sought-after committee seats. For Gaetz’s proposal to gain “very positive” favor with other Republicans, including McCarthy, is not a good sign.

But, realistically, this is a project most, if not all, Republicans would happily sign onto. Work requirements for social services like Medicaid have long been part of the conservative project; Gaetz is just more publicly pushing for what most of the caucus wants anyway.

As of October 2022, over 84 million people were enrolled in Medicaid, many of whom are elderly, children, pregnant, and/or low-income. Six states have held ballot measures on whether to expand Medicaid coverage; all six voted to do so, five of them being red states.

Political popularity has not stopped Republicans from persisting before, however, so the real-life stakes should not be understated. Imposing work requirements on millions of people just so they can receive health care—or even put food on the table—is draconian.

Value judgments aside, the punitive logic does not even work: A 2019 study on Arkansas’ Medicaid work requirements found 18,000 people lost health care coverage before a judge put the policy on hold, but there was no notable increase in employment. And the more problems one has to deal with—like an inability to obtain health care or medicine—the less one is able to live fully, let alone work sufficiently. So not only is the policy undesirable morally, it is not even effective economically.

YouTube Contractors Lead First Strike in Google History

The YouTube Music contractors are protesting a forced return to the office, after most of them were hired remotely to begin with.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On Friday, in Austin, Texas, over 40 YouTube Music contractors are striking in what is believed to be the first time a group of Google workers will go on strike.

The workers—who are technically employed by Cognizant, a subcontractor of Google’s parent company, Alphabet—are striking in response to an order to return to the office in Austin by February 6. They argue the mandate is an unfair labor practice as many of them cannot afford to pay for relocation (travel, childcare, and beyond) while they’re paid just $19 an hour. A majority of them were hired remotely, nearly a quarter not even based in the state.

The workers, responsible for managing music content for YouTube’s 2.1 billion monthly worldwide users, argue the forced return is an unfair labor practice and retaliation to their organizing. A supermajority of the YouTube Music workers, members of Alphabet Workers Union-CWA, filed for union recognition from the National Labor Relations Board in late October.

Workers are awaiting the NLRB to rule on their union recognition and on recognizing Alphabet and Cognizant as joint employers—forcing both companies to negotiate. The union sees the return to office order as a violation of labor law that mandates fair union voting conditions, and says workers would negotiate return to office policies after a successful union election.

As of now, the union says both companies scapegoat the other for policies like the return to work mandate, muddying the waters of which entity is actually pushing the mandate and where exactly workers can seek accountability. And while Alphabet still exercises control over companies like Cognizant, subcontracting enables them to treat workers worse.

“The result of this two-tiered system is that full-time Google employees receive dramatically higher pay benefits, while contractors are treated as second-class workers,” Music Generalist Sam Regan explained to The New Republic.

Workers attempted to express their objections on numerous occasions. They conducted a mass email campaign, collecting testimonials as to how the policy would negatively impact workers. On January 20, workers submitted a letter to Cognizant CEO Ravi Kumar, demanding that he honor his previous support for flexible work arrangements. Receiving no response, workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB. And now they are striking.

The strike joins other action from the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA nationwide. On Thursday, workers rallied outside Google’s New York City office in response to Alphabet laying off 12,000 employees. On Wednesday, Google Raters—workers who train, test, and evaluate algorithms that drive Google’s reportedly 81 percent revenue-generating search function—delivered a petition demanding better working conditions. Namely, these workers are excluded from Alphabet-wide minimum standards ($15/hour, health care, tuition reimbursement, and more). The so-called “ghost workers” driving Google’s profits behind the scene are demanding to be compensated at least to the bare minimum.

While the workers are part of an ongoing story of tech companies mistreating their workers, this incident is unique as the workers are not exactly “tech” workers. “We’re actually all musicians and music industry workers. So our culture is really built around the love for music,” Regan explained. “For me, this is the most interesting and inspiring team that I’ve ever worked with at a job. And we think that over the past three years, since we began working remotely, our team metrics have been incredible. We’ve more than proven that we’re capable of delivering excellent work at the highest level.”

The workers are holding a press conference outside the Google Austin office at 12 p.m. E.T., which can be viewed here.

“SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!”: Republicans Lose Their Minds Over Reported Chinese Spy Balloon

Defense officials say the balloon does not pose a military or physical threat, and shooting it down could injure civilians.

Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette/AP Photo
A high-altitude balloon floats over Billings, Montana, on Wednesday, February 1. The U.S. is tracking a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon that has been spotted over U.S. airspace for a couple days. The Pentagon would not confirm that the balloon in the photo is the surveillance balloon.

Republicans are lashing out at President Joe Biden, urging him to shoot down what is believed to be a Chinese spy balloon that has been spotted in U.S. airspace, a move that would be dangerous for both civilians and diplomacy.

A large white balloon was spotted over Montana earlier this week, just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken was supposed to make his first visit to Beijing. Pentagon officials identified the balloon as a Chinese surveillance tool and said it had flown over one of the three U.S. nuclear missile silo fields located near the Malmstrom Air Force Base. Blinken has now postponed his trip indefinitely even though Chinese officials said Friday that the balloon was for weather research and had simply been blown off course—a claim the U.S. rejected.

Either way, Brigadier General Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said the balloon is high enough that it will not interfere with commercial air traffic and “does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground.” He noted that there had been similar balloons over the past several years, but the United States has taken steps to make sure they were unable to collect sensitive information. A senior defense official also told the AP that the balloon has “limited” value in providing China with intel that it couldn’t collect via other means.

But by the wee hours of Friday, Republicans were already demanding a more drastic approach: shooting the balloon out of the sky. They were led by Donald Trump, who insisted on Truth Social the U.S. should “SHOOT DOWN THE BALLOON!”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy requested a briefing for the members of Congress cleared to receive classified information, slamming China’s “brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty.” Senator Marco Rubio said it was a “mistake” not to shoot the balloon down while it was over a sparsely populated area, while reported Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley said that not only should the U.S. shoot down the balloon, it should also cancel Blinken’s upcoming trip.

Biden had already considered shooting the balloon down but was strongly advised not to. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned him that doing so would create debris that could injure civilians. Even while the balloon was over low-population areas, it would have created a debris field large enough that people could have been hurt.

Blinken’s trip, which had not been publicized much, was supposed to kick off Sunday. The decision to call it off came just hours before the secretary was due to leave and came at an incredibly tense time for U.S.-Chinese relations. Beijing and Washington are locking horns over the diplomatic status of Taiwan, trade relations, and China’s human rights record. The U.S. is also frustrated with China’s tacit support for both Russia’s war on Ukraine and North Korea.

Who knows what also shooting down the balloon could set off?

This post has been updated.

Utah Could Soon Require Schools To Teach That the U.S. Economy Is Globally “Superior”

A proposed change would teach kids how the free market “made America the most free and prosperous country in the world.”

People hold a giant U.S. flag
Ronald Cortes/Getty Images

The Utah board of education is considering requiring teachers to tell students that the American economic system is “superior” to the rest of the world.

The state board is meeting all day Thursday to review budgets and changes to curriculum. One such change is to the state’s financial literacy course, which would require the course to “explain why free market systems are superior and have made America the most free and prosperous country in the world.”

This statement, proposed by Republican board member Natalie Cline, is both technically incorrect and also bordering on propaganda.

Many economists argue that the United States is actually a mixed economy, not a free market, because of corporate monopolies and the government’s ability to intervene. The U.S. also ranks twenty-seventh in the world in terms of economic freedom.

But more importantly, the sentence is incredibly hyperbolic and reeks of an attempt to brainwash people into ardent patriotism. It smacks of former President Donald Trump’s penchant for hyperbole.

It’s unfortunate, since financial literacy is a hugely important life skill that isn’t taught widely enough. Only 27 states require schools to offer similar courses.

The proposed changes are also part of a nationwide trend of states, particularly ones with Republican leadership, clamping down on “wokeness”—that is, critical and liberal thinking. One of the most egregious examples is Florida, where this week alone the president of the New College was ousted by allies of Governor Ron DeSantis and replaced with another, and DeSantis announced he intends to dismantle diversity, equity, and inclusion programs on college campuses. Also this week, the College Board watered down the curriculum for its A.P. African American studies class after facing right-wing backlash.

Cline seems to be part of this trend. She has come under fire for spreading the conspiracy that critical race theory is being taught in elementary school classrooms. In February 2021, there was an unsuccessful petition to remove her from the state board of education for calling LGBTQ children “gender-confused” and referring to the LGBTQ community and Black Lives Matter movement as “indoctrination.”

Court Rules That Domestic Abusers Can Possess Firearms

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to allow domestic abusers to have access to firearms, even if they have a restraining order filed against them.

A gun on a table (bullets in a plastic bag beside it)
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A federal court voted unanimously on Thursday to allow domestic abusers to possess firearms, even if someone filed a restraining order against them.

Striking down federal law, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of an alleged domestic abuser who was charged with illegally possessing a firearm. In February 2020, after allegedly assaulting his ex-girlfriend, the defendant had entered a civil protective order that prevented him from possessing a firearm. But since entering the agreement, he had been involved in five shootings, including shooting into the house of someone he sold narcotics to, shooting at the driver of a car in an accident he was involved in, and shooting multiple shots in the air after his friend’s credit card was declined at a Whataburger restaurant.

In an opinion teeming with fraught and puzzling logic, the court concludes that a “ban on possession of firearms is an ‘outlier[] that our ancestors would never have accepted.’” In other words, as law professor Jacob Charles puts it, because the Founding Fathers apparently didn’t care about domestic violence, neither should our modern laws.

The ruling is not only legally spurious and morally shocking but also incredibly dangerous. Studies have shown that nearly 70 percent of all mass shootings are related to domestic violence. In a country where mass shootings show no sign of slowing down, a loosening of commonsense gun laws bodes horrifyingly.

Moreover, around 4.5 million women in the United States have been threatened with a gun, and nearly one million have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions. A woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun.

“This extreme and dangerous ruling is a death sentence for women and families as domestic violence is far too often a precursor to gun violence,” said Shannon Watts, founder of anti-gun violence advocacy group Moms Demand Action. “When someone is able to secure a restraining order, we must do everything possible to keep them and their families safe—not empower the abuser with easy access to firearms.”

The case follows last year’s controversial Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol v. Bruen, where the court issued an opinion describing a new originalist standard to be applied to gun regulation cases. If the law at hand appears to have no historical connection to the years the Second and Fourteenth Amendments were ratified—1791 and 1868, respectively—then the law can be deemed unconstitutional.

As in, our society’s adapted values and ideals, let alone its technological developments, don’t matter; all that matters is what a slaveholding man who didn’t even know what a telephone was might have believed.

Bear in mind that “wife beating” was only made illegal in all states in 1920, the same year women got the right to vote.

Indeed, brutish conservative politics leads us to reject modernity and embrace tradition—regressing the nation to a time of enabling and participating in senseless violence; suppressing the teaching of the struggles Black people face; and viciously controlling the bodies of women, girls, and gender minorities.

House Members Waste Our Time and Money To Pass Bill “Denouncing the Horrors of Socialism”

A whopping 328 House members, including 109 Democrats, voted for the bill.

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

In a country ailed by the callousness of capitalism—as people are subject to a continual stream of mass shootings, ruthless police brutality, and having to resort to GoFundMe in order to pay for rent and hospital bills—members of Congress spent their workday, instead, denouncing socialism.

After Republican members on Thursday shamelessly voted to oust Representative Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, 109 Democrats joined them to pass a bill “denouncing the horrors of socialism.”

In total, 328* House members—75 percent of the chamber—participated in the farce taking place in the people’s House. The 109 Democrats, many led by the New Democrat Coalition, decided that, instead of deriding the resolution as a meaningless exercise, they’d participate in the Republican-led charade.

With an argumentative flourish that literally boiled down to “socialism bad, capitalism good,” conservative members of the House spent our taxpayer dollars to lazily bemoan socialism and glorify America, a country filled with people who deserve much better. The so-called “greatest country on earth” does not even rank in the top 25 nations in terms of economic freedom. No wonder, given that over 100 million people in the country are burdened with restrictive medical debt.

“Socialism, like the devil, does not appear with horns and a pitchfork. He masquerades as an angel of light with promises of humans flourishing, all failed, all broken. Socialism isn’t empty words, it isn’t a speech, it’s a series of actions that rob people of their freedom and concentrate power in the hands of a few in their central government,” House Budget Chairman Jodey Arrington warned. He spoke as if capitalism, in all the glory he and his colleagues threw upon it, does not in fact offer false promises and does not concentrate power in the hands of the few.

Arrington went on to attack a government program that hasn’t even happened. “There’s a whole of government assault for all the world to see on an industry: American energy,” he lamented. “And it’s being replaced with this Green New Deal—hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies, tax credits, grants,” Arrington continued, horrified at the idea of government subsidies for energy production, as if fossil fuels don’t receive billions of dollars in American subsidies every year.

“I believe our singular mission in this chamber, in this nation’s capital, is to fight for our country by preserving and protecting freedom for the next generation of Americans,” he finished. But freedom can’t come from empty promises of human flourishing.

Freedom, as The New Republic’s Michael Tomasky describes, entails “the freedom of people to reach their fullest human potential, pursue happiness, and lead lives of dignity and stability.” People can’t do that while they face bankruptcy while trying to go to school, or even the hospital; they can’t feel happy or fulfilled if their kids are constantly in fear of being shot at school, or by the police.

And if capitalism can’t even guarantee those basic freedoms, lawmakers have no business wasting their time glorifying it, or denouncing other visions for how a world can work.

* This post has been updated with the correct vote count.