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Consumer confidence takes a hit in November

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Consumer confidence takes a hit in November

WASHINGTON — U.S. consumer confidence fell to a nine-month low in November, clipped by rising prices and concern about the coronavirus.

The Conference Board reported Tuesday that its consumer confidence index dropped to a reading of 109.5, down from 111.6 in October. It was the lowest reading since the index stood at 95.2 in February.

The survey was completed on Nov. 19 and does not include omicron, a new variant of the coronavirus that has begun to spread with few answers about the damage it might do to the U.S. and global economies.

Even before the omicron variant appeared, consumer optimism was being tested by price spikes across the board, particularly for gasoline and food.

The Conference Board’s present situation index, which measures consumers’ assessment of current business and labor conditions, fell to 142.5, down from 145.5 in October. The expectations index, based the outlook for income, business and labor market conditions, fell to 87.6 in November from 89.0 in October.

The board said concerns about rising prices and to a lesser degree, lingering worries about the delta variant, were the primary drivers of the November decline.

But economists believe rising prices and any jolt from the omicron variant will not have a major impact on holiday spending this year, something that can have a sizable impact on the U.S. economy.

Nancy Vanden Houten, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, said she expected the omicron variant would have only a “moderate negative impact on growth.” She is looking for the overall economy to expand at an annual rate of 7.9% in the current quarter ending in December, a big improvement from the lackluster 2.1% GDP gain in the July-September quarter.

The decline in the Conference Board confidence index followed an even bigger drop reported last week in the University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment, which fell in November to a decade-low of 7.4, compared to a final October reading of 71.7.

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Smartmatic voting company sues Mike Lindell and MyPillow over election claims

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Smartmatic voting company sues Mike Lindell and MyPillow over election claims

“Crazy like a fox. Mike Lindell knows exactly what he is doing, and it is dangerous.”

Those are the first words of a federal defamation lawsuit filed this week in Minneapolis against Lindell and his Minnesota company, MyPillow, by Smartmatic, a voting technology company Lindell has often targeted with false conspiracy theories around the 2020 presidential election.

The lawsuit is similar to a $1.3 billion suit filed last year by Dominion Voting Systems against Lindell, who has continued to promote or stand by his claims that the election was “stolen” from former President Donald Trump without credible evidence and often after the claims have been disproven or discredited by fellow Republicans or courts.

Those falsehoods, spread across the internet, have taken root in some quarters of the Republican Party, and according to the lawsuit, they’ve damaged the reputation and actual value of Smartmatic, an international elections company that saw its value plummet from $3 billion to $1 billion. The complaint doesn’t provide specifics, but suggests that Smartmatic is losing out on government elections contracts as a result of Lindell’s repeated statements, which it states are demonstrably false.

In its own words, Smartmatic, which was founded in Florida following the notorious failings of punch-card ballots in the 2000 presidential election there, played a “small, non-controversial role” in the 2020 general election, the complaint, filed Tuesday, states. While the company has operated in more than 25 countries, its only involvement in the U.S. general election of 2020 was in Los Angeles County, Calif.

The lawsuit alleges Lindell knows his claims are false — a potentially important claim in a court case — although it doesn’t appear to present any direct evidence. Like the Dominion suit, Smartmatic accuses Lindell of peddling his theories for money.

LINDELL RESPONDS

Lindell, who was banned from Twitter a year ago for his baseless election claims, has suggested, among other notions, that Smartmatic machines were hacked by China to change voting results in every state.

He has not provided credible evidence, although he insists he has.

Lindell’s pugnaciousness is well-know among those who have followed the man, a 60-year-old Mankato native who recovered from gambling and cocaine addictions and founded MyPillow in 2004, earning the moniker “the MyPillow guy.”

In a telephone interview Thursday with the Pioneer Press, Lindell stood by his claims and said he welcomed the lawsuit. He criticized this reporter, the Pioneer Press, a number of Republicans who have debunked various elements of what has become known as “the big lie,” and judges who has reviewed election claims (“not one judge has ever looked at the facts”). No judge has concluded that any state’s election results were inaccurate.

Lindell said that Trump won Minnesota by 65,000 votes, when in fact he lost by 233,012, and said that Minnesota needed to switch to paper ballots.

When this reporter informed him that every Minnesota ballot is paper, he responded: “You are dead wrong. They’re all machines. How naïve are you?”

Lindell’s legal sagas could have impacts in Minnesota politics.

Lindell, a Trump loyalist, has toyed with the idea of running for Minnesota governor, but on Thursday reiterated that he no longer plans to.

MyPillow’s general counsel, Doug Wardlow, is seeking the Republican nomination to run for state attorney general in hopes or a rematch against Democrat Keith Ellison, who defeated Wardlow in 2018.

Lindell said Wardlow had no involvement in his election-related claims, and pointed the Pioneer Press to a different law firm that has handled his other cases, according to court records. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful, and Wardlow couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.

SUIT: LINDELL IN IT FOR MONEY

Lindell’s claims have led to several lawsuits. After Dominion sued him, he sued Dominion and Smartmatic, for $1.6 billion, claiming they were the ones defaming him. Smarmatic has also sued Sydney Powell, a former member of Trump’s legal team.

Smartmatic’s suit filed this week against Lindell seeks both compensatory and punitive damages.

Beyond that, it seeks to repudiate Lindell, demanding he be required to “fully and completely” retract his “false statements,” which the suit alleges are part of a “brilliant” scheme to make money.”

The lawsuit states:

“Mr. Lindell knows Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the 2020 election for President and Vice President of the United States. He knows the election was not rigged, fixed, or stolen. He knows voting machines did not switch votes from former President Trump to now President Biden. These facts do not matter to Mr. Lindell because he knows he can sell. Mr. Lindell knows he can sell xenophobia. He knows he can sell conspiracy theory. He knows he can sell a preconceived story about voting machines stealing democracy by stealing votes from a president who is incredibly popular with millions of Americans. And, of course, Mr. Lindell — “the MyPillow Guy” — knows he needs to sell pillows to keep and increase his fortune. …

“But enough is enough. The country will sleep better at night knowing the judicial system holds people like Mr. Lindell accountable for spreading disinformation that deceives and harms others.”

READ THE COMPLAINT

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100%: Chief medical officer says all US Olympians vaccinated

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100%: Chief medical officer says all US Olympians vaccinated

ASPEN, Colo. — The U.S. Olympic team’s top doctor says all of the 200-plus athletes heading to Beijing for the Winter Games next month are fully vaccinated, and not a single one asked for a medical exemption.

Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Finnoff told The Associated Press the 21-day quarantine period the IOC is requiring for unvaccinated participants, combined with the education the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee provided, “really resonated with the athletes.”

“Vaccination is sort of the foundation of our COVID mitigation protocol,” Finnoff said Thursday.

In September, the USOPC introduced a policy requiring U.S. athletes to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 1 unless they had a medical exemption. About a month later, the IOC put out guidelines calling for full vaccinations or a three-week quarantine period upon entering China.

Heading into Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year, Finnoff estimated that 100 of the more than 600 Americans competing weren’t vaccinated.

The U.S. will finalize the members of the winter team this week. It is expected to include about 240 athletes. Qualifying for the Paralympics is still ongoing, but Finnoff said so far, the USOPC hasn’t received requests for exemptions from potential Paralympians.

The USOPC has been organizing testing and flights for the athletes, many of whom will go to Beijing on charter flights. All need two negative tests — one within 96 hours of their flight to China, and another within 72.

The federation is holding more informational meetings with athletes over the next week, at which it will reiterate the requirement of athletes to adhere to the host country’s laws when considering any type of protest or demonstration.

Earlier this week, a group of human rights activists urged athletes not to criticize China for fear they could be prosecuted.

“Certainly, the culture and laws of China are distinct from ours,” CEO Sarah Hirshland said. “And we have a duty and an obligation to make sure that they’re well informed. At the same time we need to assure them that they’ve got a robust support team behind them along the way.”

With reports swirling that personal information could be compromised online in China, the USOPC joined some other countries in telling athletes to bring burner phones if possible.

Hirshland called NBC’s decision earlier this week to not send on-air reporters to cover the games a case of the network doing “the right business continuity planning” to ensure they can deliver complete coverage to the United States.

Not surprisingly, Hirshland would not commit to a medals prediction. She did point out that the U.S. heads into the games with 11 athletes who are ranked No. 1 in their respective disciplines. That includes Mikaela Shiffrin in the Alpine World Cup overall standings and Red Gerard in the World Snowboard Points list for slopestyle.

The U.S. won 23 medals at the Pyeongchang Olympics, good for fourth on the medals table.

“You add the potential for COVID and we face the same reality as we did going into Tokyo, unsure what the starting lines will look like,” Hirshland said. “But we’re not in a distinct situation from the rest of the world. We’re all facing the same challenges.”

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Jury in federal trial in Floyd killing appears mostly white

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Jury in federal trial in Floyd killing appears mostly white

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A jury of 18 people who appeared mostly white was picked Thursday for the federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s killing, a case that the judge told potential jurors has “absolutely nothing” to do with race.

The jurors chosen to hear the case against former Officers Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Kueng appeared to include one Asian among the 12 jurors who would deliberate if no alternates are needed, and a second person of Asian descent among the six alternates, with all others appearing white. The court declined to provide demographic information.

Thao, who is Hmong American; Lane, who is white; and Kueng, who is Black, are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority as Derek Chauvin, who is white, used his knee to pin the Black man to the street. The videotaped killing triggered worldwide protests, violence and a reexamination of racism and policing. Opening statements are scheduled for Monday.

The single day of jury selection was remarkably rapid compared with Chauvin’s trial on state charges, where the process took more than two weeks. The apparent jury makeup would also sharply contrast with Chauvin’s jury, which was half white and half nonwhite.

Responding to a potential juror who said he wasn’t sure he could be impartial “due to my color,” U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson sought to reassure him and other jurors in the pool.

“There is absolutely nothing about the subject of religion, race or ethnicity that’s involved in this case,” Magnuson said.

The man, an immigrant who appeared to be Black, was later dismissed.

Two legal experts said Magnuson’s remark was accurate from a legal perspective. They noted the officers aren’t accused of targeting Floyd because he was Black, but rather of depriving him of his constitutional rights.

“It is true that it has nothing to do with race in the framework of the law and facts,” Joe Daly, an emeritus professor at Mitchell Hamline Law School, said. “But from what I can see it has almost everything to do with race. It has to do with what we know about how police enforce minor crimes against African Americans, how police have acted toward African Americans, minority people.”

Mike Brandt, a local defense attorney not connected with the case, said Floyd’s killing “was kind of the tipping point of unarmed Black men being killed at the hands of police. It had everything to do with race.”

The jury pool was selected from throughout the state — much more conservative and less diverse than the Minneapolis area from which the jury for Chauvin’s state trial was drawn. That jury convicted Chauvin of murder and manslaughter. He later pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.

Three of the jurors who will deliberate at the federal trial and one of the alternates are from Hennepin County, where Minneapolis is located.

Scholars and legal experts have increasingly advocated for greater jury diversity, not just in race but also by gender and socioeconomic background. They say jurors who share the same background are unlikely to have their biases and preconceptions questioned during deliberations.

“If I was (prosecuting this case), I would want a jury made up of Black jurors,” Brandt said. “If I’m representing these cops, I would prefer a white jury, which is what they have here.”

The three officers face a separate state trial, scheduled for June 13, on charges of aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter.

Legal experts say the federal trial will be more complicated because prosecutors must prove the officers willfully violated Floyd’s constitutional rights — unreasonably seizing him and depriving him of liberty without due process.

Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes while Floyd was facedown, handcuffed and gasping for air. Kueng knelt on Floyd’s back and Lane held down his legs. Thao kept bystanders from intervening.

A statement from attorneys for the Floyd family Thursday said bystander video showed that the three officers “directly contributed to (Floyd’s) death and failed to intervene to stop the senseless murder.”

Magnuson, who questioned potential jurors, stressed repeatedly that Chauvin’s cases should not influence the proceedings. Magnuson told jurors he was “harping and harping and harping” because state and federal law are different and he wanted to ensure they could be objective.

Federal prosecutors face a high legal standard to show that an officer willfully deprived someone of their constitutional rights. Essentially, prosecutors must prove that the officers knew what they were doing was wrong, but did it anyway.

Kueng, Lane and Thao are all charged with willfully depriving Floyd of the right to be free from an officer’s deliberate indifference to his medical needs. The indictment says the three men saw Floyd needed medical care and failed to help him.

Thao and Kueng are also charged with a second count alleging they willfully violated Floyd’s right to be free from unreasonable seizure by not stopping Chauvin as he knelt on Floyd’s neck. It’s not clear why Lane is not mentioned in that count, but evidence shows he asked twice whether Floyd should be rolled on his side.

Both counts allege the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.

Such federal civil rights violations are punishable by up to life in prison or even death, but federal sentencing guidelines indicate the officers would get much less if convicted.

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