Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan joins 'America's News HQ' to discuss the latest on House stimulus talks.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan joins 'America's News HQ' to discuss the latest on House stimulus talks.
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One of the first challenges Joe Biden will face as president is how to deal with Vladimir Putin, leader of the country that Biden has labelled the biggest threat to the United States. In contrast to the impetuous and inconsistent Donald Trump, Putin is generally seen as a resolute leader, who unflaggingly pursues his country's foreign policy goals, however malign. But the cases of three Americans who are currently detained in Russia belie this image of Putin, portraying instead a leader who is dysfunctionally beholden to the interests of his security services and the corrupt clans who form his power base.The case of American investor Michael Calvey, which should be decided by a Moscow court within the next few weeks, offers a particularly striking example of how Putin has allowed a corrupted legal and financial system to undermine Russia’s broader interests. Calvey, arrested along with five others in February 2019 on bogus fraud charges, founded the highly successful private equity firm Baring Vostok, which since 1994 has brought over $3.7 billion of capital into Russia. A fluent Russian-speaker with a Russian wife, Calvey always played by the rules, never criticizing Putin, and was highly respected in the Russian business community. As Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg News noted after the arrests: “Calvey became a legend in the Russian market, in part because of his reputed aversion to any kind of foul play and focus on industries and companies unlikely to attract the attention of Russia’s authorities.” Russian billionaire Leonid Boguslavsky said in an interview last week that Calvey had been his inspiration and teacher when he, Boguslavsky, was advancing his investment career in the 1990s.Americans Paul Whelan and Michael Calvey Are Not the Only ‘Hostages’ Held By The KremlinCalvey’s downfall came as a result of a 2017 merger between Vostochny Bank, in which Baring Vostok had a majority stake, and a bank called Uniastrum, owned by an avaricious 44-year-old businessman named Artem Avetisyan, who is a Putin favorite. When Avetisyan and his partners attempted to exercise an option on 9.9 percent of Vostochny Bank’s shares in 2018, Baring Vostok refused, because of evidence that assets worth billions of rubles had been withdrawn from Uniastrum Bank before the merger. Baring Vostok then filed claims of fraud against Avetisyan for 17.5 billion rubles (around $276 million) in the London International Arbitration Court.In apparent retaliation for the London lawsuit, Avetisyan’s partner Sherzod Yusupov went to the FSB in February 2019 with a claim that Calvey and five associates from Baring Vostok had defrauded Vostochny Bank of 2.5 billion rubles ($38 million at the time). According to the claim, Calvey and his colleagues had repaid a bank loan for that amount with shares from a Luxembourg company called IFTG that were worth only 600,000 rubles. In fact the transaction was approved by all the bank’s shareholders, including Avetisyan and Yusupov, and a September 2019 re-evaluation of the IFTG shares established their worth, with restrictions on them lifted, at more than 3 billion rubles. Significantly, officials from the Economic Security Department of the MVD (regular police) had earlier conducted an audit of the bank transactions that later formed the basis for the criminal case, but found no illegalities.After his arrest, which sent shockwaves throughout the Russian investment community, Calvey spent several weeks in Moscow’s notorious Matrosskaya Tishina Prison (where Sergei Magnitsky died) before being transferred to house arrest in April 2019. Two months later, a Russian arbitration court in the Far Eastern region of Amur forced Baring Vostok to sell 10 percent of Vostochny Bank stock to Finvision, a holding company owned by Avetisyan, thus awarding him and his partner Yusupov control of the bank, which has continued to show significant losses.Calvey and his partners had come up against a powerful lobby. Avetisyan, a skilled self-promoter, heads the New Business Division of the Agency for Strategic Initiatives, a Kremlin-sponsored project that puts him in regular contact with Putin, who chairs the agency’s advisory board, where Avetisyan serves. Also on the board is Putin's top economic advisor, Andrei Belousov, who in June 2020 was appointed first deputy prime minister of Russia. Although he and Avetisyan are known to have a close friendship, Belousov denied reports that he was Avetisyan’s go-between with Putin on the Calvey affair: “I have known Artem Avetisyan for a long time. He is my friend, we go to the mountains together…But over my long years of service, I have learned to separate personal and official relationships.”Also useful for Avetisyan is his close acquaintance with Dmitry Patrushev, son of former FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev, head of Putin’s National Security Council. Avetisyan served with Dmitry on the board of the Russian Agricultural Bank, which Dmitry ran prior to becoming Russian Minister of Agriculture in 2018. In addition to membership on the boards of several Russian companies, Avetisyan is a member of the FSB’s Public Advisory Council, an exclusive body that presumably gives him direct access to FSB officials.As if Avetisyan’s personal and business ties were not enough to promote his vendetta against Calvey and Baring Vostok, in June of this year, the media company bne Intellinews claimed to have obtained a tranche of letters that Avetisyan had sent to Putin, the FSB and the Russian Central Bank, in which he falsely accused Baring Vostok of a series of illegalities, including bribing a former chief of the Russian security services, Vadim Bakatin, a born-again Russian democrat who once served as adviser to the firm. Avetisyan did not respond to requests for comments about the letters.On Oct. 28, just after Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Grin approved the indictment against Calvey and his associates, Vostochny Bank and the defendants reached a settlement of their civil dispute. In exchange for a payment of 2.5 billion rubles by Baring Vostok, the bank agreed to drop the civil charges that give rise to the original criminal case. Presumably as a result of this settlement, the Supreme Court on Nov. 12, the date that the arrest orders expired, ordered the release (with some restrictions) of Calvey and the others from house arrest.Despite the hopes expressed by lawyers for Calvey, Russian legal experts doubt that the Calvey case, which is due to be heard sometime before Jan. 12, 2020, will end in an acquittal. “[Exonerating Mr. Calvey] would mean explaining to Putin the case was a mistake and nobody wants to do that,” a source who was involved in the legal negotiations said earlier this fall.According to one prominent lawyer, “in Russia, procedurally agreeing to compensate for damage does not mean that the defendant has admitted guilt. But in practice, courts and investigators often perceive it this way.” More likely is that the judge will consider the paid compensation as a mitigating factor and impose a more lenient sentence (the maximum being 10 years) so that with the time served, the defendants will be released.Barron’s recently quoted a top Russia financial analyst on the Calvey case: “This has been one of the most damaging events in Russia's economic history and has directly led to foreign investment decisions in Russia being cancelled or suspended.” Many members of the Russian business elite, including Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh and Anatoly Chubais, head of a state technology fund, have spoken out strongly in Calvey’s defense. Billionaire Boguslavsky called the prosecution of Calvey and his partners “a case of blatant injustice and cruelty” that should be stopped immediately.In fact, what happened to Calvey happens to Russian businessmen on a regular basis. Just in October, Mikhail Khabarov, first deputy chairman of Trust Bank, was arrested for large-scale fraud following a complaint by a former partner. The phenomenon of “raiding” (reiderstvo)—whereby entrepreneurs are criminally charged and forced to relinquish their assets to other businessmen, with law-enforcement officers getting a cut—has become so widespread that Putin has even complained about it publicly. But he has done nothing to stop it.In contrast to Calvey, former U.S. Marines Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed face the possibility of years behind bars in Russia. Whelan, who was arrested by the FSB in his Moscow hotel room on espionage charges in December 2018, is an unlikely CIA spy. Not only was he dishonorably discharged from the Marines in 2008 for theft, he had for years openly pursued a close friendship with a Russian, Ilya Yatsenko, who worked for the FSB. (Last week, in his first interview since his arrest, Whelan insisted that his friend Yatsenko worked for the border guard, not the FSB. Whelan was apparently unaware that the Russian border guard has been an integral part of the FSB since 2003.) After accepting a thumb drive from Yatsenko that allegedly contained FSB secrets—Whelan thought it was holiday photographs—he was tried and sentenced to 16 years in a strict regime penal colony located 300 miles east of Moscow, in Mordovia, home of the former Stalinist gulag.Reed, 29, was arrested during a May 2019 visit to Moscow to see his Russian girlfriend. After Reed got uncontrollably drunk at a party, his friends called the police because they were worried about his safety. He was later accused, with no proof, of assaulting two police officers on the way to station. (It is unclear whether the police had handcuffed Reed or had a video camera in their car.) In July of this year, Reed was sentenced to nine years imprisonment—an extremely harsh sentence by any standards. The Moscow City Court is currently considering an appeal against the sentence that Reed filed in late October. Russia’s aim in what appears to be blatant hostage-taking of these two Americans is apparently to get the U.S. to agree to a prisoner exchange for two Russians in U.S. prisons—the notorious arms trader Viktor Bout, currently serving a 25-year sentence for terrorism, and Konstantin Yaroshenko, who was sentenced in 2010 to 20 years behind bars for drug smuggling.In his recent interview with ABC from his prison camp, Whelan expressed optimism that he would soon be released as part of a swap, which his captors have suggested might happen. (This may be one reason why prison authorities allowed Whelan this unprecedented interview.) But although Trump has reportedly urged Putin to release Whelan and Reed, along with Calvey, there has been no progress. Whelan’s Russian attorney, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said in October that no decisions would be made until after the U.S. elections, so clearly the Kremlin will be recalculating its position now that Biden has been elected president.Putin has pretended to remain above the fray. In a March 2020 interview with TASS, he said of the Calvey case: “We need to proceed from our country’s legislation and the supremacy of Russian law… I cannot say if he is guilty or not until there is a well-founded [court decision].” But Putin is doubtless consulted before any key decisions are made. According to a top Putin aide, Calvey’s French partner, Philippe Delpal, was transferred from prison to house arrest in August 2019 because of upcoming talks between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron. And the release of Calvey and the other defendants from house arrests just days after U.S. presidential elections suggest that Putin might have been extending an olive branch to Biden.Russian Media Is Angry and Desperate Over Biden WinA source familiar with the Calvey case told me that “having Trump tweet or ask Putin for a favor would not be helpful.” But Biden, who has criticized Trump for not speaking out about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, has a more clear-eyed view of Putin. With Antony Blinken, a known advocate of a tough stance against Russia, as his secretary of state, Biden will be in a strong position to negotiate successfully with the Kremlin over the detained Americans. (Russia’s Kommersant reported Tuesday that foreign policy experts in Moscow have been sending each other the link to Blinken’s 2017 interview with PBS, in which he accused Putin of establishing a kleptocracy.)As former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said last April, it would set a dangerous precedent if Washington would agree to exchange either Bout or Yaroshenko for Whelan or Reed: “There’s a real asymmetry swapping an innocent American for a real convicted criminal who just happens to have Russian citizenship.” And such an exchange might encourage the FSB to engage in further entrapments of innocent foreigners in Russia.But the Biden administration would have other strategies available to address the three cases, including threatening the Kremlin with harsher economic sanctions. Although sanctions against Russia are often criticized for being ineffective, they have been a powerful tool when used in coordination with European allies. Also, in addition to Russian officials who are directly responsible for the Kremlin’s misdeeds, sanctions could target, with travel bans and asset freezing, more of those wealthy Russian businessmen who gain financially from Putin's corrupt system. Calvey’s enemy Avetisyan might be first on the list. In a 2011 interview, Avetisyan said he could not imagine living abroad because he had a strong “Russian mentality.” But that has not stopped him from acquiring over 20 million Euros worth of luxury properties in Tuscany, along with an Italian residence permit.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
CALI, Colombia—It’s called El Sindicado, or the Syndicate. Allegedly, it’s a “secret brotherhood” within Mexico’s military that also wields some control over the civilian government.How much control? Apparently enough that the cabal of elite four-star generals successfully forced the release of General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, a former national defense secretary, from U.S. custody earlier this month.Cienfuegos had been arrested on drug trafficking charges in Los Angeles on Oct. 15, and DEA agents and prosecutors had built a strong case against him based on intercepted calls and text messages from his phone. The assembled evidence revealed that El Padrino [the Godfather], as Cienfuegos was known to his underworld contacts, had helped Mexico’s H-2 cartel move thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth into the U.S. in exchange for bribes.DEA Investigators Fuming Over Dropped Case Against Mexican GeneralBut sources say the powerful cabal of retired and active-duty generals—which includes other, previous defense secretaries like Cienfuegos himself—had begun working to undermine the DEA’s case and secure El Padrino’s return to Mexico since the day of his arrest.Within hours of his capture in California, where he had been vacationing with his family, the Syndicate had sent a representative to knock on the door of current defense chief Luis Crecencia Sandoval, according to Mexico City-based news site Emeequis, which first broke the story.This cabal’s rep is identified in the Emeequis report as an officer with experience fighting the cartels in northern Mexico, as well as a close friend of Sandoval. And the message he delivered was that the highest-ranking commanders of the army “were not going to sit with their arms crossed while a foreign government tore their credibility to shreds.”Sandoval was instructed to carry this message to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (often known by the initials AMLO), and in the coming weeks similar dictums followed. The generals’ push increased after Cienfuegos was transferred to a maximum security prison in New York, and eventually turned to outright blackmail.“[The Syndicate] exerted a very strong pressure on AMLO so that he, in turn, would make Trump free Cienfuegos,” said Dr. Raúl Benítez-Manaut, a security expert with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in an interview with The Daily Beast.That pressure included threats to “return to their barracks and no longer cooperate with the United States,” Benítez-Manaut said.After initially siding with the DEA, AMLO was allegedly forced to concede by his generals. His administration communicated the threat of ending bilateral cooperation for law enforcement to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, ultimately resulting in Cienfuegos being returned to Mexican soil with all charges against him dropped. A Corrupt “Military Junta”The incident highlights how the growing militarization of Mexico’s drug war has empowered the armed forces while diminishing the authority of democratically elected officials. The army has been used to fight organized crime in Mexico since 2006, but its role increased sharply after AMLO took office in 2018.“[The Syndicate] operates like a military junta that allows for a civilian president, but they pull the strings from the shadows,” Mike Vigil, the former chief of operations for the DEA, told The Daily Beast.Soldiers are now routinely used to police shipping ports and urban centers, and even in construction projects like the new international airport in Mexico City.Vigil, who spent more than a dozen years stationed in Mexico, accused the military of “playing a role in every facet of the government.”A senior law enforcement official in Mexico, who asked that his name be withheld so he could speak freely, likened the Syndicate to a “clan of power” which Mexico’s president must “serve blindly and absolutely out of fear for a coup against him.”“The military has always behaved independently and in their interests,” the official said. “And they have a decisive influence on the president who must bow to their requests.”Mexican Military and Federal Investigators Accused of Covering Up Lost Student MassacreThe army’s growing power in Mexico has not, however, translated to victory in the cartel wars. Instead, the death toll has continued to climb over the last few years. There have already been 29,182 murders within the first 10 months of 2020—including an 8-percent spike in October—putting it on pace to be the deadliest year in the country’s history.At the same time, the military’s once sterling image has become increasingly tarnished. In recent years the armed forces have been implicated in a number of human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings. That list includes a massacre of 16 civilians in 2015 and the infamous disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero province—both of which happened under Cienfuegos’s tenure as defense minister.Dr. Robert Bunker, a research director with the strategic studies institute Futures LLC, compared Mexico’s Syndicate to Venezuela’s Cartel de los Soles, which is also said to be run by the country’s top generals.“The officer corps in authoritarian and still transitioning authoritarian militaries, of which [Mexico’s] is the latter, are corrupt and heavily profit from the illicit economy at the most senior levels,” Bunker said in an email.The army’s internal corruption is one reason U.S. law enforcement agencies prefer to work with the smaller but more elite Mexican Marines.“The marines are viewed as being less tainted and corrupted by cartel money or actively profiting from narcotics trafficking,” he said. “This is why they have traditionally been used as a ‘hunter-capture’ force to take down cartel kingpins rather than the army.” “A Poster Boy for Impunity”So what’s next for El Padrino?The AMLO administration has promised that he’ll be tried fairly in Mexico but critics remain skeptical.“I don’t believe that he will be prosecuted because Mexico has never investigated Cienfuegos, nor do they have any charges against him,” said former DEA chief Vigil. “He will be protected by the military cabal and the judiciary there is very weak.”Vigil also pointed out that even if the case does go to trial the outcome will be in doubt, as the success rate in federal prosecutions is less than 5 percent.“He will be a free man and will be a poster boy for corruption and impunity,” Vigil said. He also said that part of the Syndicate’s motivation for demanding the repatriation and avoiding a trial is so that the general can’t out co-conspirators to cop a plea.“The thousands of intercepted Blackberry communications showed that Cienfuegos was recruiting other army commanders to protect H-2’s operations as they moved tons of drugs through multiple Mexican states to the U.S. border,” said Vigil. “The army had to be very concerned that Cienfuegos would disclose names,” which would be “disastrous for the institution.”The DEA and U.S. prosecutors have made the evidence gathered in the case available to their counterparts in Mexico. But because the intercepted messages were collected by a foreign government there is no guarantee that judges will find them admissible.Futures director Bunker said there might be a kind of show trial, during which the presiding judge could just “make the case fall apart.”“I have trouble seeing Cienfuegos being convicted—even with a light sentence—since the army as an institution would be dishonored,” Bunker said.Benítez-Manaut agreed with that assessment:“In Mexico the general opinion is that the judges will help him and he will not be hit with criminal charges.”Because of their power and influence and long-standing regard in Mexican society, commanders at the highest level sometimes do see themselves as above the law. “For them it is not impunity, it is a right,” Benítez-Manaut said.Vigil agreed. “There is a different set of rules for high ranking corrupt officials. The military normally gets a stay-out-of-jail card for corruption and wholesale massacres,” he said.Another motive to quash the case could be the need for the military as a whole to preserve its image as an almost sanctified entity—one immune to the influence of narco-traffickers—lest Mexico come to be seen as a full-fledged narco state.“The Mexican army was desperate to gain the release of Cienfuegos in order to maintain the illusion that they and the government have no ties to organized crime,” Vigil said.Despite such efforts at damage control, the rift between U.S. law enforcement and the military in Mexico may be irreparable, at least for the near future.Vigil called the new-found distrust between Mexico’s security forces and the DEA a “malignant tumor” that will continue to fester.“The issue of Cienfuegos release will certainly choke the critical exchange of information between both countries,” Vigil said, “and that will only benefit the violent cartels.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
“We don’t like to talk about these things in church,” the Rev. Raphael Warnock cautioned the congregation at Atlanta’s storied Ebenezer Baptist Church in March 2010, but “I’m very convinced that if Martin Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be focused on the issue of HIV/AIDS.”He then stepped back from the pulpit, sat down at a nearby table, and in front of the church’s 1,700 congregants, swabbed his gums to take a rapid OraQuick HIV test.As Warnock campaigns in a historic U.S. Senate runoff amid the dark winter of the coronavirus pandemic, he has made addressing the virus—and its disproportionate effect on Georgia’s Black communities—a centerpiece of his run. But the 43-year-old Democrat has dedicated much of his life as a pastor and social justice activist to combatting another epidemic that has uniquely harmed Black Americans: HIV/AIDS.“Not all pastors do that,” said James Curran, a professor of epidemiology and an HIV/AIDS expert at Emory University in Atlanta. “Early on, it was a very controversial topic in churches—that’s true in Black churches, white churches, evangelical churches, Catholic churches.”Many churches didn’t want to touch the topic, Curran told The Daily Beast—or if they did, “they wanted to accept the sinner but not forgive the sin.”As the respected pastor of one of the nation’s most revered Black churches—whose pulpit King preached from—Warnock has been in a unique position to fight what he frequently calls “the unholy trinity” of silence, shame, and stigma surrounding the virus. And he has taken on that project in a city where HIV/AIDS infection remains dangerously higher than elsewhere in the U.S.Warnock’s campaign did not make him available to The Daily Beast for an interview in time for this article’s publication. But half a dozen HIV/AIDS experts and advocates in Georgia said that the reverend-turned-candidate has indeed walked the walk on preventing the disease, from dramatic gestures aimed squarely at stigma, to behind the scenes work on the finer points of policy—work that informs Warnock’s thinking on broader health inequities and the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding now.In many respects, there are clear connections between HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. Like HIV, it has devastated Black communities in the state Warnock hopes to represent in the Senate—Black Georgians accounted for 80 percent of hospitalizations due to the virus when it first hit in March, researchers from Atlanta’s Morehouse College later found.“We see in COVID the same sort of health inequities that we have seen for decades with HIV,” said Melanie Thompson, an Atlanta doctor who has worked on AIDS advocacy, research, and public policy for several decades. “If anything, COVID has magnified the existing disparities.”But the pandemic has also cut across communities of every demographic in rural Georgia, where eight hospitals have been closed down due to lack of funding over the past 10 years, something Warnock has emphasized on the campaign trail.“The virus has devastated the Black community in ways that are disproportionate,” Warnock told The American Prospect last month. “But as I move across disaffected, rural communities across Georgia, white sisters and brothers are suffering and wondering why the conversation in Washington is so disconnected from their actual lives.”Kelly Loeffler to Face Off Against Raphael Warnock for Georgia’s Senate SeatWarnock may soon get a chance to be one of 100 U.S. senators shaping policy on the COVID pandemic. But when it comes to the epidemic he’s already spent much of his life working on, few people in Georgia have had the unique kind of impact Warnock has, say those familiar with his work.“My argument is that the symbolic precedes the structural,” said Charles Stephens, an HIV/AIDS activist in Atlanta and the founder of the Counter Narrative Project, an advocacy group for Black gay men. “I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss the value of symbolism… because of the number of people he can reach, because of what he represents.”“That being said, that shouldn’t be the endpoint,” Stephens told The Daily Beast. “My hope for Rev. Warnock is that… he continues to use his platform to not only bring attention to HIV, and to inspire people to respond, but also to connect to HIV/AIDS as a racial justice issue, to look at institutional failures.”Activists say that if Warnock is elected come Jan. 5, it may be the first time ever that a freshman senator arrives in Washington already steeped in the work of HIV/AIDS advocacy. And there are signs that Warnock, if elected, would make combating HIV/AIDS a key part of his portfolio as a lawmaker: his Senate campaign website, for instance, devotes a page to LGBTQ issues and touches on funding for PrEP, an HIV prevention drug.Local HIV/AIDS advocates, like Jeff Graham, can’t remember the last time, if ever, that a U.S. Senate candidate in Georgia devoted prominent space on their platform to this issue in such a way. Graham, the director of the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Georgia, said he’d bring a unique perspective to the issue on Capitol Hill.“Frankly, even though there’s been support from U.S. senators of both parties in the past, we haven't had that sort of strong personal connection and experience of what day to day life is for people with AIDS,” he said.That connection began in Baltimore, two decades ago, when Warnock took the first head pastor job of his career, at Douglas Memorial Community Church. In the early 2000s, HIV/AIDS cases were on the rise, rising past the 10,000 mark in the city. Of all cases, nearly 90 percent were among Black men and women.“Everything I do is theologically and biblically informed,” Warnock told the Baltimore Sun in 2001, weeks before he took the reins of one of the city’s largest and most influential churches. Quoting the Old Testament prophet Hosea—”My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge”—Warnock warned that willful ignorance about HIV was hollowing out the communities that he was seeking to serve.“That is literally the case with regard to HIV/AIDS,” Warnock said at the time. “People do not know what they need to know about the virus itself, and they do not know their HIV status. If the clergy went to get tested en masse, we could create a climate where you remove the stigma.”Warnock’s passion for fighting the epidemic followed him to Atlanta, which has become a national hotspot for new infections, particularly among Black communities. Georgia ranks among the top five states for new HIV infections nationwide—it had the highest rate per capita of any state in 2018—and AIDS is the leading cause of death for Black men between the ages of 35 and 44 in the state. In 2018, Atlanta’s case rate reached such heights that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta, likened the city’s rate of infection to those in sub-Saharan Africa.Graham said that he served with Warnock on an HIV/AIDS advisory board in Atlanta, shortly after the young preacher first arrived there from Baltimore in 2005, at a time when focus centered on getting federal and state dollars toward prevention measures.In sermons, public remarks and newspaper editorials, Warnock has frequently invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to push for greater national focus on the epidemic—particularly in light of the fact that, as he noted during a special interest session on the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 2008, “as the epidemic has swung to people of color, the money has not followed.”“One can almost hear Dr. King’s voice thundering from the crypt,” Warnock wrote in a 2003 opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun in the leadup to the Iraq War. “‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’”Following in King’s example, Warnock would later take his work on combating the epidemic to those in power. In 2014, he was arrested outside the state capitol while protesting Republicans’ refusal to expand Medicaid. Three years later, he was again arrested in Washington, D.C. during a protest in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building against President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts.The budget would have slashed funding for PEPFAR—the federal program aimed at combating HIV/AIDS in the world's poorest countries—by 17 percent, and totally eliminated federal funding for AIDS education and training centers.> Atlanta @RaphaelWarnock arrested w/other ministers at U.S. Captiol while demanding fair healthcare blackclergyvoices BlackClergyUprising pic.twitter.com/ke8SC6DMjU> > — TenishaTaylorMade (@TeeTaylorMade) July 18, 2017After his arrest, he told reporters that “the national budget is not just a fiscal document, but a moral document,” and that in light of those who would suffer from the cuts to social and health services, “my getting arrested is a small price to pay.”Allies of Warnock’s also say that his focus on HIV/AIDS is inextricably linked with the issue he’s putting at the forefront of his campaign, health care. Nan Orrock, a Democratic state senator who is a friend and neighbor of Warnock’s, talked about his involvement in the years-long push to expand Medicaid in Georgia, something that he has pledged to do on the federal level if elected.A string of GOP governors in Georgia have successfully blocked the option to expand Medicaid, which would be backed by federal dollars under the Affordable Care Act, while deep-red states like Idaho and Nebraska have chosen to do so.Advocates view that as a serious obstacle to HIV/AIDS treatment in Georgia. Expanding Medicaid, said Orrock, would be “critically important in the battle to protect people from HIV infection, and to provide life-saving health services when you’re battling HIV.” Warnock’s commitment on the issue—evinced by his arrests, said Orrock—“speaks for itself.”But Warnock has also sought to work within government to address the HIV/AIDS crisis within Black communities, putting his considerable influence behind the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of AIDS Act, landmark legislation that would create targeted grants for faith-based organizations to provide HIV testing, prevention services, and community outreach.If elected, HIV/AIDS advocates hope that Warnock would become one of the Senate’s most forceful advocates for increasing funding for the disease’s prevention and treatment—particularly for the Ryan White program, a federal initiative that provides treatment for roughly half a million people with HIV, usually from the neediest populations. The program has in recent years been funded at somewhat stagnant levels, experts say, though those in Georgia note that the previous occupant of the seat Warnock is running for, former Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), was considered a reliable ally in increasing funding.In response to an inquiry from The Daily Beast, Warnock’s campaign said that working to lower the cost of HIV/AIDS treatment and prescriptions will be among his priorities in expanding health care access more generally.If he defeats Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) in the runoff, Warnock will be thrust into office as Congress and President-elect Joe Biden, in all likelihood, strive to put together a sweeping COVID-19 relief package after months of fruitless negotiations and gridlock.Observers can’t help but note how Warnock’s work on HIV/AIDS positions him as an uncommon voice on COVID-19. While the coronavirus carries with it hardly any of the social stigma of HIV, there remains distrust within the broader public, and within the Black community in particular, about treatment measures, such as a forthcoming vaccine. A Gallup poll released on Oct. 17 found that six in ten Americans would agree to take an FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine. But less than half of nonwhite Americans said they would agree.The legacy of the Tuskegee experiment, in which U.S. government public health officials studied Black men with syphilis while denying them treatment in the mid-20th century, is alive and well, said Thompson, and several Atlanta public health experts concurred that the lingering deficit of trust is very real.“I think building back that trust is not a matter of words and platitudes, it’s a matter of action,” said Thompson. “Warnock is the kind of guy who will walk the walk, put actions there that will help to rebuild trust.”Harry Heiman, a doctor and professor of public health at Georgia State University in Atlanta, agreed, saying, “if there aren't targeted strategies specific to those communities being disproportionately impacted, we’re going to fail, in the same way we're trying to overcome historical failures in HIV/AIDS.”Asked if Warnock might reprise his famous HIV test from the pulpit by taking a COVID test in front of congregants, or constituents if elected, his campaign said he will take a COVID-19 vaccine when available and recommended by medical professionals, and “in following science and trusted scientists, he will encourage others to do the same.”Still, many experts couldn’t help but imagine the visual of Warnock reprising the display that turned his HIV advocacy into headlines, and spoke to his skill as a communicator. “Think about the politics of a Senator Warnock getting a COVID vaccination on television,” said Heiman. “He understands, literally, the power of the pulpit.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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British businesses are rushing to stockpile goods just five weeks before post-Brexit customs checks come into force on Jan. 1, driving up the cost of cross-border deliveries and cutting capacity, industry sources said. Logistics companies told Reuters they have seen a surge in demand to bring goods into the country before any potential disruption in January, and customs agents report being overwhelmed by pleas for help from traders navigating new rules for the first time. "We have told our customers that the best thing you can do now is stock up, stockpile, and they're bringing in as much as they can," Jon Swallow, director of Jordon Freight, told Reuters of the changing dynamic in the last two weeks.
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