Briefs: Congress nears impeachment vote
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Poised to impeach, the House sped ahead with plans to oust President Donald Trump from office, warning he is a threat to democracy and pushing the vice president and Cabinet to act even more quickly in an extraordinary effort to remove Trump in the final days of his presidency.
Trump faces a single charge — "incitement of insurrection" — after the deadly Capitol riot in an impeachment resolution that the House will begin debating Wednesday.
At the same time, the FBI warned ominously Monday of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Jan. 20. In a dark foreshadowing, the Washington Monument was closed to the public amid the threats of disruption. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf abruptly resigned.
It all added up to stunning final moments for Trump's presidency as Democrats and a growing number of Republicans declare he is unfit for office and could do more damage after inciting a mob that violently ransacked the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday.
"President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government," reads the four-page impeachment bill.
FBI warns of plans for nationwide armed protests next week
WASHINGTON — The FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington, D.C., in the days leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, stoking fears of more bloodshed after last week's deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.
An internal FBI bulletin warned, as of Sunday, that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.
"Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January," the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
The FBI issued at least one other bulletin — they go out to law enforcement nationwide on the topic — before the riots last week. On Dec. 29, it warned of the potential for armed demonstrators targeting legislatures, the second official said.
"While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, the FBI is supporting our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety in the communities we serve," the bureau said in a statement. "Our efforts are focused on identifying, investigating, and disrupting individuals that are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity."
Analysis: Trump abdicating in the job he fought to retain
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's days in office are numbered. But he's already stopped doing much of his job.
In the last three weeks, a bomb went off in a major city and the president said nothing about it. The coronavirus surged to horrifying new levels of illness and death in the U.S. without Trump acknowledging the awful milestones. A violent mob incited by the president's own words chanted for Mike Pence's lynching at the U.S. Capitol and Trump made no effort to reach out to his vice president.
Trump only belatedly ordered flags flown at half-staff to honor an officer who gave his life defending the Capitol, and couldn't be bothered to describe the officer's actions.
The transgressions, big and small — of norms, of leadership, of human decency — cast a pall over his final days in office, and, in the view of even close advisers speaking privately, have indelibly stained his legacy. A half-dozen current administration officials expressed dismay at the president's action's in recent weeks, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they are still working for Trump.
"Even after losing the election, President Trump had the opportunity to leave the White House with his head held high, celebrating achievements like the COVID-19 vaccine, progress in the Middle East, and the vibrant pre-pandemic economy fueled by tax reform," said GOP operative Michael Steel, a onetime aide to former House Speaker John Boehner.
Law enforcement: We'll be ready for Joe Biden's inauguration
WASHINGTON — This time, they'll be ready.
The inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden will be held on the same risers in the same spot at the U.S. Capitol where a violent, pro-Trump mob descended last week. But the two events aren't even comparable from a security standpoint, said Michael Plati, U.S. Secret Service special agent in charge, who is leading the inauguration security.
The inauguration is designated as a "national special security event," which clears the way for communication, funding and preparation between multiple agencies in Washington, like the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and District-area police. Other such events are the State of the Union, the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
Last week's rally turned violent siege was viewed as a free speech event in the days before, despite multiple warnings about the potential for violence from right-wing extremist groups. Egged on by President Donald Trump and his repeated attempts to delegitimize Biden's win, the violent mob marched from the White House to the Capitol, where they occupied the building for hours to try to stop lawmakers from certifying Biden's win. Five people died, including a police officer. Two explosive devices were found, but they did not go off.
"I don't want to use the expression that we're comparing apples to oranges," Plati said, but the event is planned over a year with contingencies, and they anticipate the possibility of extreme violence.
Bodies pile up at crematorium in Germany's virus hot spot
MEISSEN, Germany — The caskets are stacked three high in the Meissen crematorium's somber memorial hall, piled up in empty offices and stored in hallways. Many are sealed with plastic wrapping, others are labeled "infection risk," "urgent" or simply "COVID."
A surge of coronavirus deaths in this corner of eastern Germany has boosted business for crematorium manager Joerg Schaldach and his staff, but nobody is celebrating.
"The situation is a little bit tense for us at the moment," Schaldach said as another undertaker's van pulled up outside.
The crematorium would typically have 70 to 100 caskets on site at this time of year, when the flu season takes its toll on the elderly.
"It's normal for more people to die in winter than in summer," said Schaldach. "That's always been the case."
Going big: US dispensing shots at stadiums and fairgrounds
The U.S. is entering the second month of the biggest vaccination drive in history with a major expansion of the campaign, opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people.
After a frustratingly slow rollout involving primarily health care workers and nursing home residents, states are moving on to the next phase before the first one is complete, making COVID-19 shots available to such groups as senior citizens, teachers, bus drivers, police officers and firefighters.
Emily Alexander, a fourth-grade teacher in hard-hit Arizona, got vaccinated in a round-the-clock, drive-thru operation that opened Monday at the suburban Phoenix stadium where the NFL's Arizona Cardinals play. She said she hopes it means she can be reunited in person with her students and colleagues before the end of the year.
"I miss the kids so much," the 37-year-old Alexander said. "I'm really looking forward to seeing them and their families, being able to hug them. That has just been so tough."
Similarly, in Britain, where a more contagious variant of the virus is raging out of control and deaths are soaring, seven large-scale vaccination sites opened Monday at such places as a big convention center in London, a racecourse in Surrey and a tennis and soccer complex in Manchester.
Leading human rights group calls Israel an 'apartheid' state
JERUSALEM — A leading Israeli human rights group has begun describing both Israel and its control of the Palestinian territories as a single "apartheid" regime, using an explosive term that the country's leaders and their supporters vehemently reject.
In a report released Tuesday, B'Tselem says that while Palestinians live under different forms of Israeli control in the occupied West Bank, blockaded Gaza, annexed east Jerusalem and within Israel itself, they have fewer rights than Jews in the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
"One of the key points in our analysis is that this is a single geopolitical area ruled by one government," said B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad. "This is not democracy plus occupation. This is apartheid between the river and the sea."
That a respected Israeli organization is adopting a term long seen as taboo even by many critics of Israel points to a broader shift in the debate as its half-century occupation of war-won lands drags on and hopes for a two-state solution fade.
Peter Beinart, a prominent Jewish-American critic of Israel, caused a similar stir last year when he came out in favor of a single binational state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians. B'Tselem does not take a position on whether there should be one state or two.
The power of words in crisis: Who hits mark, and who misses?
WASHINGTON — In moments of crisis, of war and terror, of loss and mourning, American leaders have sought to utter words to match the moment in hope that the power of oratory can bring order to chaos and despair.
Lincoln at Gettysburg. Franklin Roosevelt during the Depression and World War II. Reagan after the Challenger disaster. Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing. George W. Bush with a bullhorn at Ground Zero in 2001 and Barack Obama after the slaughter of congregants at a South Carolina church.
Each time, the speakers, Republican and Democrat, extemporaneously or with a script, managed to sound notes that brought at least a temporary sense of national unity and purpose.
"I really think there is something at the very core of our humanity that only words can satisfy," said Wayne Fields, author of "Union of Words: A History of Presidential Eloquence," and a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. "Almost as much as our need to be touched in the most desperate of circumstances is our need to be spoken to. Public despair in particular has to be literally addressed, I think, if it is to be overcome, must be articulated and then transcended."
In the aftermath of a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, a cathedral of democracy, President Donald Trump did not meet that prescription. He scaled the walls of false equivalency and descended into the canyons of conspiracy.
Probe highlights Vatican legal system's limited protections
VATICAN CITY — A criminal investigation into a Vatican real estate investment is exposing weaknesses in the city state's judicial system and a lack of some basic protections for those accused — highlighting the incompatibility of the Holy See's procedures with European norms.
The Vatican has never been a democracy, but the incongruity of a government that is a moral authority on the global stage and yet an absolute monarchy is becoming increasingly evident. The pope is supreme judge, legislator and executive, who holds the ultimate power to hire and fire officials, judges and prosecutors and make and waive laws and regulations.
One longtime papal adviser who quit all his Holy See consulting roles to protest what he considered grave human rights violations in the probe of the 350 million-euro London real estate investment spelled out his reasoning in emails to the Vatican's No. 2 official that were obtained by The Associated Press.
If nothing is done, wrote Marc Odendall, "the Holy See will no longer be able to integrate itself in the system of civilized countries and will return to a universe reserved to totalitarian states."
The investigation burst into public awareness on Oct. 1, 2019, when the pope's bodyguards raided the Vatican secretariat of state — the offices of the central government of the Holy See — and the Vatican's financial watchdog authority, known as AIF. Pope Francis personally authorized the raids after a trusted ally alerted Vatican prosecutors of suspicions about the investment.
Volkswagen triples electric car sales ahead of climate rules
FRANKFURT, Germany — Europe's push into electric cars is gathering speed — despite the pandemic.
Automaker Volkswagen tripled sales of battery-only cars in 2020 as its new electric compact ID.3 came on the market ahead of tough new European Union limits on auto emissions. And Germany, long a laggard in adopting electric vehicles, saw more people buy electrics in December than opted for previously dominant diesel vehicles.
Those are early signs of what will likely be an upcoming year of increasing market share for electric cars as EU regulations drive their adoption, despite the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic that has caused the overall car market to shrink.
Volkswagen said Tuesday its namesake brand sold 134,000 battery-powered cars last year, up from 45,000 in 2019.
Including hybrids, which combine an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, sales of electrified cars reached 212,000, up from 82,000 in 2019.
Volkswagen's announcement comes as the auto industry association in Germany reports that one in four cars sold in the country in December had an electric motor, uptake that was supported by incentives as part of the government stimulus package during the COVID-19 recession.
The uptake of electric vehicles has been slower in the United States, where regulatory pressure has been weaker and where gasoline costs as little as $2 per gallon, depending on the region. That compares to 1.30 euros per liter of gas, or $6 per gallon in Germany, much of which is taxes.