US politics live updates: Donald Trump speaks at border wall as FBI warns of ‘hundreds’ of cases to come from Capitol attacks



Joint Chiefs of Staff issue statement condemning violence, confirming Biden’s election

For those not super familiar with the US military, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are the absolute top dogs from all of the various arms of the US military. The kind of generals with more medals than chest to pin it on you see sat around big rounds tables in Hollywood movies when they’re discussing how Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum will save the earth from an alien invasion.

Today they’ve issued a letter calling what happened on January 6 a “direct attack on the US Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process”.

“We witness actions inside the Capitol building that were inconsistent with the rule of law. The rights of freedom of speech and assembly do not give anyone the right to violence, sedition and insurrection,” the letter says.

The statement also has this paragraph:

“On January 20, 2021, in accordance with the constitution, confirmed by the states and the courts, and certified by Congress, President-elect Biden will be inaugurated and will become our 46th Command in Chief.”

Apologies for the quality of the letter, but you can see the full statement below.

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Paddington eatery Lucio’s to auction off famous wall art


Two hundred works spanning the restaurant’s 37-year history will be auctioned by Bonhams on February 28, a month after the restaurant serves its last meal on January 29.

While the auction catalogue has yet to be finalised, Luke Sciberras’ The Kitchen of the Golden Era, for example, is valued at between $2000-$4000.

In a statement issued on behalf of Bonham, Galletto said food and art were like the “air that I breathe”.

“I grew up in the family restaurant in Italy where we had an art gallery, so it has always been in my blood,” he said. “It is very important for me personally and, also, I think for our customers as well. The combination of great food, great service and great art on the walls is, in my view, one of the best dining experiences you can imagine.”

Among the art on display in the restaurant is a collection of 15 plates designed and styled by artist friends to celebrate 15 years of being in Paddington. They have been added to over the years by names including Sciberras, John Beard, Tim Storrier and Elisabeth Cummings.

The relationship between patron and artist was often mutually creative. In 2009 Garry Shead and Adrienne Levenson’s portrait of the proprietor entitled The Soffritto of Lucio was a finalist for the Archibald Prize. In the same year, the artists put the finishing touches to a large mosaic version of one of Shead’s Kangaroo paintings that was installed streetside by the restaurant’s entrance.

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In 1999, former restaurant critic Leo Schofield described Lucio’s as the closest thing to a “salon” in Sydney.

“Everyone knows Lucio’s. Everyone loves Lucio’s… Hither are drawn tycoons, the shakers and the shaken, budding plutocrats, fading stars. But most of all artists. Any good salon needs a peppering of creative types, and they have always seemed attracted to this spot. It is a happy place,” he wrote.

It wasn’t only artists who were drawn to the restaurant’s traditional Italian specialties. Paul Keating, Malcolm Turnbull, and former Crown Resorts chairman John Alexander have been diners as have Al Pacino and Billy Crystal, Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison, and opera singer Jose Carreras.

The Gallettos’ son and daughter, Matteo and Michela, are now looking to spearhead the family tradition at another larger location.

“I’d like to go to another old building with charm, somewhere in the east,” Galletto told this masthead last year. “I’m really proud of what Sydney has become. When I arrived here, it wasn’t always easy to find a great place to eat. Now we have nothing to envy of the rest of the world.”

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Trump administration forced U.S. attorney in Georgia to step down: Wall Street Journal


White House officials pushed Atlanta’s top federal prosecutor to resign before Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs because President Trump was upset he wasn’t doing enough to investigate the president’s unproven claims of election fraud, people familiar with the matter said.

A senior Justice Department official, at the behest of the White House, called the Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak late on the night of Jan. 3. In that call the official said Trump was furious there was no investigation related to election fraud and that the president wanted to fire Mr. Pak, the people said.

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How the Trump border wall sapped a desert oasis dry



A newly built section of the US-Mexico border wall lines the entire southern edge of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona, where a crucial spring system was drawn up for construction. (Jerry Glaser/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol/)

Amidst the towering saguaro and pronged organ pipe cacti of southern Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, a 30-foot-tall fence snakes through the vegetation, shadowed by a barren strip of land that’s been carved into the mountainsides. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a flurry of activity in these borderlands, particularly in the area’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. In the last months of the Trump administration, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) construction crew has been dynamiting and drilling their way through nature refuges and cultural relics to make room for the new border wall. A 30-mile-long spine of steel poles filled with concrete now chokes the monument’s southern edge. Mixing the raw materials for this structure requires a lot of water—some 84,000 gallons a day, by CBP’s own estimates—a dwindling resource that’s being siphoned from the already arid landscape.

The 450 miles of border wall in sections of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have already required more than 971,000 tons of concrete, according to CBP. (About 10 percent of that called for new construction; the rest replaced existing structures.) The demand for water, alongside historic droughts in the West, has had a colossal impact on the surrounding ecology of largely public and tribal lands across the Southwest, which scientists and Indigenous communities fear may take years, if not decades, to reverse.

In 2019 wall contractors began relocating saguaro cacti out of the construction zone on the behest of the Department of Homeland Security.

In 2019 wall contractors began relocating saguaro cacti out of the construction zone on the behest of the Department of Homeland Security. (Jerry Glaser/U.S. Customs and Border Patrol/)

Near Quitobaquito Springs, located in Organ Pipe, only 600 feet from the border, locals have documented CBP diverting water from the same aquifer that feeds the springs. “Contractors have pumped tens of millions of gallons from a deep aquifer that has what hydrologists call ‘fossil water,’” explains Randy Serraglio, who monitors endangered species and their habitats for the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation nonprofit. “It’s water that was laid down thousands of years ago. The aquifer is not easily replenished by the scant rainfall we get now, so the damage is essentially permanent.” Once around 2 feet deep and covering up to half an acre, hydrologists and ecologists estimate the pond at Quitobaquito dropped 15 inches during the summer of 2020, and the spring’s flow reached an historic low of 5.5 gallons per minute this past July.

The ecological impacts may be severe. The Quitobaquito pupfish and Sonoyta mud turtle, both classified as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), reside in the spring and nowhere else in the country.

Quitobaquito Springs is a small but deep network that naturally replenishes a pond at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It's also a religious site for the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Quitobaquito Springs is a small but deep network that naturally replenishes a pond at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It’s also a religious site for the Tohono O’odham Nation. (National Park Service/)

Almost 300 miles away at the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, in the Sky Islands region of southern Arizona, the boggy marshes, tumbling waterfalls, and tree-lined riverbanks of the lush 2,369-acre wetland provide a green oasis within the dry Chihuahuan Desert, thanks to the Río Yaqui watershed.

“A big part of the wall cuts through the heart of the region, which is home to jaguar, ocelot, black bears, mountain lions, and more” says Louise Misztal, executive director of the Sky Island Alliance, a science nonprofit that works to preserve the forested mountains in the borderlands.

Because animals migrate to areas that historically provide them with a water resource, such as the San Bernardino Refuge’s natural ponds, nearby CBP drilling is of particular concern to Misztal, who’s worked as a biologist in the state for more than a decade.

With new wells 8 miles from the spring, which pumps water to ground level, necessary water pressure has dropped during construction. USFWS officials have resorted to manmade pumps to help the pressure return to normal.

Water in several ponds at the refuge—home to endangered fish and rare butterflies, hummingbirds, and bats—dropped to an extremely low level, then disappeared completely, according to USFWS documents leaked to the Center for Biological Diversity in summer of 2020. Citing data gathered between November 2019 and June 2020, USFWS employees warned of the impact of drilling groundwater from wells within a 5-mile radius of the refuge, but the warnings went unheeded.

CBP contractors drew millions of gallons of groundwater from a well just 1.5 miles from the site. As soon as CBP began removing huge amounts of groundwater from the aquifer, the pressure in the system began to fail, “exactly as predicted by scientists,” Serraglio says. “Some ponds dried up and endangered fish and plants, such as the Yaqui catfish and Yaqui beautiful shiner, were killed.”

The threat extends to rivers, too. A segment of the wall has been constructed through the San Pedro River in Arizona, changing the waterway’s hydrology. “There’s not a lot of surface river,” Misztal explains. “Up until now it was a free-flowing river, but they’ve put in a bridge and infrastructure.” The extent of the impact on fish species—such as the endangered Gila chub, the speckled dace, and the Sonora sucker—is not yet entirely clear, Misztal adds, but it will without a doubt change migration and spawning habits. In addition, wildlife that depend on the river as a resource may find their water source has dried up. Monsoons typically recharge low-flowing sections during the summer, but the water may no longer fill up as it once did.

What’s more, the wall construction extends through a region that’s facing its worst drought for 1,200 years due to climate change. Arizona, specifically, has seen record-low rainfalls and snowmelt, and experienced more triple-digit temperatures than in any other year. “Springs and streams are already critically stressed in many places, so the massive pumping is even more damaging,” Serraglio says.

A spokesperson for CBP says that the agency “regularly consults” with tribal governments and wildlife departments to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources. “Regarding water resources, CBP continues to coordinate with federal land-managing agencies to monitor and evaluate potential groundwater impacts potentially associated with border-wall-system construction,” they added.

However, the Real ID Act of 2005 allows the Department of Homeland Security to supersede existing laws, including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and an executive order which requires consultation of tribal governments.

At Quitobaquito Springs, for instance, wall engineers pulled a noticeable amount of water from the O’odham Nation’s sacred pond and also blew up Monument Hill, a site containing some 10,000-year-old artifacts of Apache warriors.

“Construction unearthed pieces of body remains of our ancestors, which now have to be reburied,” says Christina Bell Andrews, district chairwoman of Hia-Ced, a subset of the O’odham Nation.

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Serraglio contends that we don’t yet know the full damage of tapping natural wells and drilling new ones. “The situations at San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge in far Southeast Arizona and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southwest Arizona are probably the most egregious, but there are others,” he adds.

Both Serraglio and Misztal agree the incoming Biden administration needs to take immediate action to survey the damage that’s been done, and prioritize restoration to reverse the damage caused by wall construction. Andrews is co-authoring a letter requesting immediate action. “Joe Biden can stop the construction on Day One, and he must do that,” Serraglio says. “Every day that he waits, this tragedy will continue to unfold in the borderland.”

Biden told reporters last August he would not build “another foot” of border wall, but has yet to address the damage already done. Whatever his plans, Andrews emphasizes the importance of consulting with the O’odham people in how to remedy the destruction. The Trump administration has already secured more wall contracts, largely in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, complicating Biden’s plan to stop construction.

One way to bring back the ecological and hydrological balance of the borderlands would be to restore the San Pedro River to its original free-flowing state, Misztal says. But in terms of replenishing the springs, she doesn’t know if there’s an easy fix. “Some resources will be changed forever,” she says. “At Quitobaquito, the groundwater is extremely old, and the next 10 years of rain aren’t going to be enough to restore it.” And, although she adds that nature is resilient, the future of the desert’s water sources is less certain.



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A big beautiful wall – Pakistan has fenced itself off from Afghanistan | Asia




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Ben Simmons, triple-double record, John Wall, James Harden, Dante Exum shuts down Trae Young


The Philadelphia 76ers have maintained a 5-1 start with a 127-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets with Ben Simmons claiming his first triple-double of the season.

Simmons has put up 29 triple-doubles in his regular season career and is racing up the leaderboard in record time, taking just 223 games to reach the mark.

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While Dallas Mavericks wunderkind Luka Doncic is looking to eclipse Simmons’ record with 25 in his 138 game career so far, it’s a stunning record for the Australian.

Only Magic Johnson, who took 186 games and brought his 29th up in 1982, and Oscar Robertson, who did it in 74 games by 1961, have more triple-doubles in less time than Simmons.

Only Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic have more triple-doubles than Simmons since the Aussie started his career, but since Magic, Simmons 223 games beats Jokic’s 310 games, Grant Hill’s 336 games, Jason Kidd’s 372 and LeBron James with 556 games.

Westbrook took 570 games to get 29 triple doubles but exploded after that and has now tallied 150 in his career.

Simmons said the 76ers are developing into a handful for any team.

“You see the way we’ve been playing, we like to move the ball, share it, it doesn’t matter who gets the ball in the game in terms of the points, but when we play like that it’s tough,” he said.

He added that the addition of shooters at the perimeter has helped the side with all the players buying in.

Simmons had 15 points 12 rebounds and 11 assists while Joel Embiid added 19 points and 14 boards, while Tobias Harris’ 24 points and Seth Curry’s 21 were the pick of the 76ers.

Simmons is getting the relationship going with his new teammates as well with Curry dishing a no look alley-oop to Simmons for a dunk.

Before the game, Simmons gave the credit all to new coach Doc Rivers who has freed him up to play as he likes.

Rivers has been dismissive of any of the talk around Simmons’ jump shot this season and despite hitting a three in his last game, has said it doesn’t matter.

“I think that’s the good thing with Doc, he allows me to make the right reads,” Simmons said.

“He’s gonna tell me if there’s a certain spot he thinks I should get to. If I don’t do something whether it’s cut or slash, or just spacing-wise. I think I have that freedom.”

WALL DOES IT WITHOUT HARDEN

John Wall delivered a game-high 28 points as the Houston Rockets won their second straight game over the Sacramento Kings 102-94, despite playing without NBA all-star James Harden.

Eric Gordon replaced Harden and scored 21 points, while Christian Wood finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Rockets, who also beat the Kings 122-119 on New Year’s Eve.

‘‘I just put in a lot of hard work and dedication to get to this point,” Wall said. ‘‘I couldn’t ask for a better start to be 2-0 in my first two games.”

It will give Rockets fans some joy knowing the side could be OK without Harden as the trade talk continues.

Harden had 33 points in the New Year’s Eve game but was a late scratch Saturday. The disgruntled American, who has asked for a trade, sat out with a sore ankle, although he has not been placed on the injury list.

Without Harden, Wall carried the offensive load for the Rockets. He had missed their first two games of the new season because of COVID-19 restrictions and was out all of last season because of injuries.

Sterling Brown came off the bench to score 11 points in the win. Rockets coach Stephen Silas said he is pleasantly surprised with the immediate impact from Wall.

“Whatever expectations I had, he’s obviously exceeded them,” he said.

The Rockets seized their first double-digit lead of the game, 92-81, early in the fourth quarter when David Nwaba and Gordon drained back to back threes.

The Kings got to 92-83 with just over eight minutes left, but then cold shooting and turnovers resulted in them going scoreless for five minutes.

De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 23 points, while Buddy Hield chipped in 17 points in the loss.

AFP

DANTE EXUM COMES UP BIG

The Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young is one of the NBA’s most exciting talents but Aussie star Dante Exum has shown how to shut the young gun down.

His Cleveland Cavaliers are fourth in the Eastern Conference having a 4-2 record but claimed a massive scalp against the Hawks.

While Exum had just six points and five rebounds in 35 minutes on the floor, the 96-91 win was set up as he shut down Young.

Young averages 28.2 points for the season as well as 8.3 assists but he was kept to 16 points and 10 assists.

Cleveland even had to battle back from 15 points down halfway through the third quarter, before outscoring the Hawks 26-17 to come over the top of the Hawks.

Cavs star Larry Nance Jr. was blown away by the team’s defence.

“They put up 35 on us in the first quarter and then for the rest of the three quarters of the game, for 36 minutes of basketball, we held them to 53 points,” he said. “That’s unheard of. That’s unheard of. Like we keep saying, that’s what we gotta hang our hats on every night. If you play defence, there’s no game you’re out of.”

But social media was behind Exum’s performance.



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Wall Street to kick out Chinese telecom giants


The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) said it will delist three Chinese telecommunications firms based on claimed links with its military



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Wall St hits record high after Trump signs US fiscal aid bill


The S&P 1500 airlines index added 2.2% as carriers are set to receive $15 billion in addition payroll assistance under the new government aid.

Cruise operators Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, Carnival Corp and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd also rose between 3.3% and 4.3%.

Trading volumes are expected to be thin in the final week of the year that has historically been a seasonally strong period for equities.

After a sharp recovery from a coronavirus crash in March, the S&P 500 is on track to rise more than 15% this year on the back of a loose monetary policy, high liquidity and a COVID-19 vaccine program.

Democrats in the US Congress on Monday will put to vote a proposal for higher pandemic relief payments for Americans, although it appears unlikely to gain traction in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Fuelling a global appetite for risk, Britain and European Union clinched a lean post-Brexit trade deal on Thursday, while the launch of a mass COVID-19 vaccination drive in Europe over the weekend added to the upbeat mood.

Reuters



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