February 20, 2019

On Tuesday, lawyers representing Kentucky high school student Nicholas Sandmann and his parents filed a federal defamation lawsuit against The Washington Post, seeking $250 million in damages. Why $250 million? That's what Amazon founder Jeff Bezos paid for the Post in 2013. The lawsuit accuses the Post of publishing "no less than six false and defamatory articles" on a standoff in Washington, D.C., last month between Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High classmates, a group called the Black Israelites, and Native American advocate Nathan Phillips.

Among the Post's allegedly defamatory actions was quoting a statement from the Covington Catholic dioceses criticizing the students, reporting that Phillips said he felt threatened and heard the students chant "build the wall," describing Sandmann's facial expression as "a relentless smirk," and printing the "gist" that Sandmann "assaulted and/or physically intimidated Phillips" and "instigated a confrontation with Phillips and subsequently engaged in racist conduct."

Over three days in January, "the Post engaged in a modern-day form of McCarthyism by competing with CNN and NBC, among others, to claim leadership of a mainstream and social media mob of bullies which attacked, vilified, and threatened Nicholas Sandmann, an innocent secondary school child," the complaint alleges. "The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters of the president." The lawsuit was not filed to "further a political agenda," Sandmann's lawyers added.

One of the questions the court will decide is whether Sandmann was a private figure or a limited-purpose public figure who participated in a public march and sought publicity on his own, Jon Fleischaker, general counsel for the Kentucky Press Association, told The Cincinnati Enquirer. And Sandmann's lawyers will have to cite verifiable facts, not opinions. "We are reviewing a copy of the lawsuit, and we plan to mount a vigorous defense," said Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly. Peter Weber

January 28, 2019

On Sunday, the Treasury Department lifted sanctions on three companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including the world's No. 2 aluminum company, Rusal. Deripaska is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former associated of Paul Manafort, President Trump's jailed former campaign chairman. Deripaska himself will remain under sanctions, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said, and his companies have "agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations." Along with Rusal, the sanctions were lifted on En+ Group and EuroSibEnergo.

The House voted overwhelmingly to block the Treasury from lifting the sanctions on Deripaska's companies, with 136 Republicans joining the Democrats, but the bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate, even though 11 Republicans voted in favor. "This represents just one more step in undermining the sanctions law, which President Trump has obstructed at every opportunity, while Russian aggression remains unabated," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Last week, The New York Times reported that the Treasury agreement actually helps Deripaska financially.

As part of the negotiated settlement, Deripaska agreed to cede control of all the companies, and on Sunday, En+ — the parent company of Rusal and EuroSibEnergo — announced seven new independent board directors, including Christopher Burnham, chairman of Cambridge Global Capital LLC and a member of Trump’s presidential transition team at the State Department. Rusal also said its chairman, Jean-Pierre Thomas, has resigned. Peter Weber

January 2, 2019

On Tuesday, more than three dozen pharmaceutical companies raised prices on hundreds of drugs in the U.S., and Allergan led the way, raising prices on 27 medicines by just under 10 percent, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing an analysis from Rx Savings Solutions. The average increase in drug list prices was 6.3 percent, and both brand-name drugmakers like Allergan and generics makers like Hikma Pharmaceuticals raised prices well above inflation. Allergan raised prices on about half its drugs, including the Alzheimer's medication Namenda, and Hikma increased prices for morphine, the anesthetic ketamine, and enalaprilat, a drug-pressure drug, the Journal notes.

There is increasing political pressure to tamp down pharmaceutical price hikes, but "the reason it can keep happening is there is no market check, no person or entity to bring reason to determining drug prices," said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions, which sells software to companies and health plans to help them find the cheapest medicines.

House Democrats are expected to put pressure on drugmakers this year, and the Trump administration has proposed making pharmaceutical companies state their list prices in TV ads. Pfizer announced that it was freezing drug price increases over the summer in response to pressure from the Trump administration, but it will go back to raising prices on 41 of its drugs later this month, the Journal notes. Peter Weber

December 31, 2018

In a late-Friday ruling on Dec. 14, U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor in Fort Worth ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, siding with a group of Republican state attorneys general. On Sunday, O'Connor wrote that he stands by his decision that ObamaCare must be ended nationwide because of the zeroed-out individual mandate, but he is staying his ruling because "many everyday Americans would ... face great uncertainty" if it went into effect before appellate courts and possibly the Supreme Court weighed in. Most legal scholars expect O'Connor's ruling to be overturned, though he does have his boosters, too. Peter Weber

December 11, 2018

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 87 to 13 to approve a farm bill that will cost $867 billion over 10 years, legalize the production of hemp, expands farm subsidies to the extended family of farmers, permanently funds farmers markets and farmer-training programs, and doesn't add work requirements to receive food stamps, as House Republicans had wanted. The bill has the backing of President Trump, and it's expected to pass the House in the next week. The legislation will give a boost to farmers harmed by Trump's trade wars, especially with China.

Some Senate Republicans opposed the farm bill because of the extension of some agriculture subsidies to the nieces, nephews, and cousins of farmers, even those who don't work directly on the farm. House Republicans championed this measure, arguing it would encourage more people to become involved in farming. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron will make his first public comments on a month of "yellow vest" protests in Paris and other cities in a nationally televised address Monday night. The protests started in opposition to a fuel tax Macron's government had scheduled, but they've since transformed into a movement mobilized against his economic policies, many viewed as tilted toward the wealthy. Macron's decision to scrap the fuel tax did not dampen a fourth weekend protest on Saturday, where about 1,000 of the 136,000 yellow vest protesters were arrested and 71 people injured in Paris. Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday that Macron "will know how to find the path to the hearts of the French," but there is no "magic wand" to resolve the growing list of yellow vest demands. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

Lawmakers are considering a wide range of legislation in the final days of the current Congress, but the only bills they need to pass are the seven remaining spending measures to keep the federal government running past a current deadline of Dec. 21. The most contentious of the remaining spending bills is for the Department of Homeland Security, with President Trump demanding $5 billion for his proposed border wall and Democrats saying no. Trump is set to meet with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — likely the incoming House speaker — and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday to discuss the impasse. Democrats say that, based on Trump's past reneging on legislative deals, they have low expectations for the talks. Peter Weber

October 5, 2018

French police have opened an investigation into the whereabouts of Meng Hongwei, the head of the international police agency Interpol, after his wife reported him missing Friday during a trip to China. Meng, 64, traveled to his home country on Sept. 29, and his wife told French police at Interpol's Lyon headquarters she hasn't heard from his since. He was elected president of Interpol in November 2016 and his term runs until 2020. Meng has held several positions in China, including vice minister of public security and director of anti-narcotics and anti-terrorism offices. Interpol's main purpose is to give police forces in different countries a way to alert their peers about wanted suspects. Peter Weber

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