new survey by the Pew Research Center found that 15 percent of prominent accounts on those seven platforms had previously been banished from others like Twitter and Facebook.

F.B.I. raid on Mar-a-Lago thrust his latest pronouncements into the eye of the political storm once again.

study of Truth Social by Media Matters for America, a left-leaning media monitoring group, examined how the platform had become a home for some of the most fringe conspiracy theories. Mr. Trump, who began posting on the platform in April, has increasingly amplified content from QAnon, the online conspiracy theory.

He has shared posts from QAnon accounts more than 130 times. QAnon believers promote a vast and complex conspiracy that centers on Mr. Trump as a leader battling a cabal of Democratic Party pedophiles. Echoes of such views reverberated through Republican election campaigns across the country during this year’s primaries.

Ms. Jankowicz, the disinformation expert, said the nation’s social and political divisions had churned the waves of disinformation.

The controversies over how best to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic deepened distrust of government and medical experts, especially among conservatives. Mr. Trump’s refusal to accept the outcome of the 2020 election led to, but did not end with, the Capitol Hill violence.

“They should have brought us together,” Ms. Jankowicz said, referring to the pandemic and the riots. “I thought perhaps they could be kind of this convening power, but they were not.”

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Elton John Performs At The White House

The White House has always had musical guests come and perform, but what is the history and strategy behind these visits?

From Wembley Stadium in London to Madison Square Garden in New York City, Sir Elton John has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world. Friday, he performed for a relatively smaller crowd: an audience of 2,000 people at the White House.  

Over the past decade, the White House has hosted a slew of musical guests.  

Artists like Jennifer Hudson, Smokey Robinson and Lin Manuel-Miranda have performed at the White House as part of the Obama administration’s celebrations of American music.  

Singer Kid Rock attended the Trump administration’s signing ceremony for the Music Modernization Act.  

And performers like Olivia Rodrigo and the K-Pop boy band BTS have spoken at the White House to advocate for the COVID-19 vaccine and to address the issue of anti-Asian hate crimes. 

David Jackson is a professor of political science at Bowling Green State University.  

“The demographics that each of the artists bring with them are demographics that the party is trying to persuade,” said Jackson.

Jackson has been researching the political influence of celebrity endorsements for the past two decades, and he’s noted that since President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, the administration’s choices for musical guests and performances can be seen as “an attempt to bring together generations.” 

Some of the performers during the 2020 Democratic National Convention included Gen Z pop star Billie Eilish, folk rock musician Stephen Stills and Broadway singer Billy Porter.  

“A celebrity endorsement’s a great thing. It gives energy, enthusiasm, helps raise money, helps persuade people, but it’s a lot more complicated than that,” he said.  

He noted that celebrity endorsements are only effective if the celebrities are familiar, likable, and credible in the eyes of fans.  

Elton John has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights and a major activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  

The British icon’s performance at the White House has been dubbed “a night when hope and history rhyme,” and honorees in attendance include “everyday history-makers” like teachers, health care professionals and LGBTQ advocates. 

Source: newsy.com

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Mexican Faith Leader Jailed For Sex Abuse; Flock Stays Loyal

Legions of Naasón Joaquín García’s followers remain loyal to him, viewing his imprisonment as a challenge that will strengthen their church.

Their spiritual leader is behind bars in California after pleading guilty to sexually abusing minors. Yet legions of followers of Naasón Joaquín García in his home base in Mexico remain fervently loyal to him, viewing his imprisonment as a challenge that will strengthen their church, La Luz del Mundo (The Light of the World), rather than weaken it.

His continued hold on his flock was evident recently at the Christian church’s main temple in Guadalajara, as thousands gathered to pray for their absent leader during their Holy Supper, the most sacred festivity for La Luz del Mundo. To gasps of surprise, Joaquín García addressed the congregation by telephone from his Los Angeles prison, where he is serving a 16-year sentence.

“I do not see the bars that separate me from you,” he told his followers. “I see your beautiful faces … because you are the children of God.”

Even outside the temple, the sound of his voice stirred emotions among dozens of devotees guarding entries to the sanctuary. Nearly all closed their eyes. Many lifted their fists. Some knelt and wept.

Near the end of the call, Joaquín García asked his followers to raise their hands and their voices to God and repeat after him: “I promise you, Lord, that whatever the suffering, I will never abandon you.”

It seems clear that many members of the church, founded in Mexico in 1926 and now active in many countries, aren’t ready to abandon Joaquín García as their “apostle” — the term used for the church’s leader. Many believe he was sent by God to preach to them and are convinced he is innocent, despite his guilty plea.

“The apostle always shows determination to move forward,” said Phares Ruiz, who traveled from El Salvador to attend the Holy Supper. “He’s firm in his convictions, and the church is firm as well in its purpose of moving forward.”

Ruiz told The Associated Press that his family has belonged to La Luz del Mundo for three generations.

Joaquín García, 53, was arrested in 2019 in California. He initially faced more than 20 charges, but most were dismissed after a plea deal with prosecutors. The church contended that prosecutors withheld or doctored evidence, and said Joaquín García pleaded guilty because he didn’t think he could get a fair trial.

“The Apostle of Jesus Christ has had no choice but to accept with much pain that the agreement presented is the best way forward to protect the church and his family,” the church said.

The home base of the church is the Guadalajara neighborhood of Hermosa Provincia, Spanish for “beautiful province.” Jericho, Bethlehem and Nazareth are among the names of roads converging on the white temple that locals call “the cake,” for its white tiers that diminish in size as they rise upward.

Congregation members in the neighborhood call each other “brother” and “sister” and take pride in helping one another. The church’s media relations office claims there is no crime in the area.

The neighborhood has cafeterias, clinics, a recreation center and a store that sells Bibles and religious-themed games for children. From the walls hang photographs of Joaquín García, smiling and wearing a tuxedo. Spanning the main street is a sculpture spelling “innocent” in Spanish.

Sara Pozos, 49, is among many in the neighborhood who believe their leader’s imprisonment has strengthened the church.

“I think it changed for the better in the sense that now we feel more united, and we feel more empowered,” she said.

“It has been a very difficult issue, of course, for him and for us,” she added. “We all suffer something in life, but one learns to know those moments where you see that God is doing something to help you, to get ahead, not to let you fall.”

Another neighborhood resident, Sailem Castillo, also said she was upbeat despite Joaquín García’s imprisonment.

“For us everything is very nice, everything continues to work,” she said. “Ministers, pastors and deacons have their same duties. They bless the bread, the wine, and do other things as if he were here, although physically he is not.”

The jailed leader is the grandson of La Luz del Mundo’s founder: Eusebio Joaquín González, a member of the military who began preaching in 1926. He’s known to church members as Aarón — a result, he said, of God asking him to change his name.

Aarón’s wife was the church’s first member. Today it claims a membership of more than 5 million in some 50 nations.

La Luz del Mundo is sometimes described as evangelical, but its members do not embrace this term. The church’s doctrine is learned from the cradle. Parents give biblical names to their children and take them to the temple at 40 days old to promise they will guide them to follow their path.

Most teachings translate into something quotidian. During services, the women sit to the right and men to the left. In some cities, people tithe more than 10% of their monthly income to the church. Biblical verses are cited to explain behavior.

Castillo, a recently married woman of 25, told AP the church advises members how “to lead a decent life,” in which women may not drink alcohol or go out on frequent dates. Like other women in Hermosa Provincia, she wears dresses and skirts that are not form-fitting, eschews makeup and earrings and wears her hair long.

The religion is “very demanding,” said Arlene M. Sánchez-Walsh, a professor of religious studies at Azusa Pacific University, a Christian institution near Los Angeles.

“It is not sufficient to say ‘I have converted’ or “I have baptized'” she said. “You have to follow certain steps to prove your loyalty.”

For some young people, these steps include memorizing songs honoring the apostle, reading the Bible before bed and not marrying someone from outside the church.

“All this goes to show that although you are part of this world, you have accepted a very particular way of life because you are Christian,” Sánchez-Walsh said.

Those born in the community are baptized at 14 because, according to the church, that lets them decide whether to reaffirm or leave the faith. Nevertheless, there are former members who say their ceremony was not optional.

Ahead of the baptism, in a ritual known as “the revivals,” children undergo days of prayer and fasting inside a temple. The revival consists of repeating “Glory to Christ” nonstop until the youths are heard speaking in tongues to testify that the Holy Spirit has entered them.

For Raquel Haifa, 43, fulfilling the revivals was a traumatizing experience that she considers abusive, because minors are not able to decline to take part.

“I did cry, because I was saying, ‘God, deliver me from this, make this time pass quickly,'” Haifa said from Texas.

Currently, journalists are not allowed to attend services or take photographs inside the church’s temples. Since Joaquín García’s arrest, La Luz del Mundo’s media relations team says it cannot make official statements on his case because litigation is ongoing.

On Sept. 8 a lawsuit was filed in California against Joaquín García and four church members alleged to be complicit in the sex abuse. The suit was filed by five women who — under the pseudonym Jane Doe — were identified as victims in the original criminal charges against him.

It accuses Joaquín García of conditioning victims, under the guise of religion, to serve him above all else, ultimately resulting in the sexual abuse over the course of several years.

The lawsuit includes detailed accounts from the five plaintiffs alleging that they were pressured by Joaquín García and his associates into performing for pornographic photo shoots, and were forced to engage in sex acts with him.

“The church weaponized the faith of their most vulnerable members,” said Jonati Joey Yedidsion, one of the lawyers handling the lawsuit. “Instead of protecting those innocent women, Naasón and the church fostered and then brutally preyed on their blind trust and allegiance in the ‘Apostle'”.

The case has been difficult for some former members who have distanced themselves from the church.

Speaking on a podcast called “I Left a Sect,” Lo-ami Salazar said Hermosa Provincia used to be her “happy place.”

“Knowing that these abuses took place there, in my happy place, in my safe place, is horrible,” she said.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Serbian Police Clash With Hooligans During Belgrade Pride March

By Associated Press
September 17, 2022

Anti-LGBTQ groups hurled stun grenades, flares and stones at Serbian police as hundreds of Pride supporters marched a few miles away.

Riot police clashed Saturday with soccer hooligans in downtown Belgrade, where a pan-European Pride march was held despite threats from anti-gay groups and an official earlier ban on the march in the traditionally conservative Balkan state.

Tensions were high in the Serbian capital as ultranationalist fans hurled stun grenades, stones and flares at a police cordon, which repelled the attack with batons and riot shields. Hundreds of Pride march supporters, meanwhile, gathered a few miles away in the pouring rain, dancing and singing their march was held on shortened route.

“We need justice and freedom,” said Goran Miletic, one of the Pride event organizers.

Darko Vojinovic / AP

Although several Pride marches have been held in Serbia in the past years, the Slavic nation that is formally seeking European Union membership appears to be sliding toward Russia and its conservative traditions.

Holding rainbow flags, hundreds of LGBTQ activists and their supporters marched through a central Belgrade area that was sealed off by police who put up metal fences and stood in cordons in full riot gear.

As the column passed by a church in central Belgrade, bells constantly tolled, reflecting the Serbian Orthodox Church’s staunch opposition to the Pride events. Participants of the march then headed to a concert.

Earlier, Serbian activists said the main reason for the march is the fight for more rights for the beleaguered LGBTQ community in Serbia, including laws that would regulate the rights of same-sex partnerships, such as inheritance, property and other issues.

Serbian police this week banned the parade, citing the risk of clashes with the far-right activists. But organizers on Saturday said they received guarantees from Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, who is a lesbian, that the event could go ahead.

Brnabic said she was proud that during “this entire week, with more then 130 (LGBTQ) events, there wasn’t a one single incident. And that really is the right image of Belgrade and Serbia.”

Brnabic said 5,200 police officers were deployed on Belgrade streets during the Pride march, 64 people were detained and 10 policemen sustained sight injuries.

A far-right party leader said Brnabic should have been arrested and charged with treason for allowing the march to be held.

The European Pride Organizers Association chose Serbia’s capital three years ago to host the annual event, hoping it would represent a major breakthrough for a Slavic country that is traditionally conservative and strongly influenced by the Orthodox Church.

EU and other Western officials, as well as rights groups, had urged populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to allow the Pride march but Vucic had claimed that police can’t cope with possible riots by right-wing groups amid the energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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D23 Expo 2022: Disney Shares Its Future By Looking Back At Its Past

This year’s D23 Expo explored plans for Disney’s future, many of which are remakes of classic originals.

For being almost a century old, Mickey Mouse looks pretty good. 

The world’s best-known mouse and tens of thousands of his biggest fans came to celebrate what made him famous: The Walt Disney Company. 

Fans from all 50 states and 43 countries, according to Disney, gathered at the D23 Expo fan convention, filled with heroes and villains to celebrate all things Disney.

“It’s a place for Disney fans, Star Wars fans, Marvel fans,” said Kiara Ortiz, Disney fan. “There’s a little bit of everything for everyone. It’s just a fun experience.”

At D23 Expo, the company was already looking ahead to 2023 and its 100th anniversary.

In the last century, Disney has grown into a global, cultural and business behemoth with movies, streaming, broadcasting, theme parks, resorts and even cruise ships.

But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. Earlier this year, Disney condemned a Florida law that critics called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. That decision angered Gov. Ron Desantis and lawmakers, who voted to revoke a special district status that Disney uses to operate like its own small government. Exactly how it will affect Disney and Florida taxpayers is still unclear.

Disney is looking to the past for some of its future, revealing at the D23 Expo the latest live-action movies that will reimagine classic animated films, like “The Little Mermaid,” starring Halle Bailey.

In a remake of the 1940 original, Tom Hanks plays a live Gepetto in a “Pinocchio” movie now running on Disney+.

It’s that nostalgia that fans, and especially collectors, can’t get enough of. Rare finds can bring in a lot of cash.

Anja Buehring is a big fan of the puppet who became a real boy. At an expo booth full of vintage Disney, she saw one thing she couldn’t resist.  

“I bought a trash can, a Pinocchio trash can,” Buehring said. “It’s too cute to trash it up.”

The company is also honoring its past by rescuing Walt Disney’s mothballed Grumman plane from the punishing Florida climate and restoring it to its former polish. It was the plane Walt Disney used to fly cross country to the 1964 World’s Fair, scouting locations for Walt Disney World. It even shows up in a couple of Disney movies.

“It was his pride and joy,” said Becky Cline, of the Walt Disney Company Archives. “He loved this plane. He had a special seat with his special instrument panel and his phone to the pilot and everything. He just loved this.”

These days, Disney has a hand in so many properties it’s hard to be a fan of just one.

The costume Emily Billones built is a mash up of two Disney characters: Moana and Boba Fett.

“I am Moana and Boba Fett combined,” Billones said. “We call ourselves Disney Fetts, so I go by Moana Fett. The helmet took me probably on and off, maybe a couple weeks.”

For Billones and countless fans like her around the world, Disney is a state of mind, as it’s about to start its second century.

“I feel like it’s a place where people can come together,” Billones said. “I feel like it’s very diversified, so I feel like there’s a princess for everybody, so to speak. And, it’s just fun. There’s really no growing up. You just live your life, enjoy life to the fullest. That’s really what life’s all about.”

Source: newsy.com

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U.S. Marks 21st Anniversary Of 9/11 Terror Attacks

By Associated Press
September 11, 2022

Victims’ relatives and dignitaries are convening at the places where hijacked jets crashed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Americans are remembering 9/11 with moments of silence, readings of victims’ names, volunteer work and other tributes 21 years after the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil.

Victims’ relatives and dignitaries will convene Sunday at the places where hijacked jets crashed on Sept. 11, 2001 — the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

Other communities around the country are marking the day with candlelight vigils, interfaith services and other commemorations. Some Americans are joining in volunteer projects on a day that is federally recognized as both Patriot Day and a National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The observances follow a fraught milestone anniversary last year. It came weeks after the chaotic and humbling end of the Afghanistan war that the U.S. launched in response to the attacks.

But if this Sept. 11 may be less of an inflection point, it remains a point for reflection on the attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, spurred a U.S. “war on terror” worldwide and reconfigured national security policy.

It also stirred — for a time — a sense of national pride and unity for many, while subjecting Muslim Americans to years of suspicion and bigotry and engendering debate over the balance between safety and civil liberties. In ways both subtle and plain, the aftermath of 9/11 ripples through American politics and public life to this day.

And the attacks have cast a long shadow into the personal lives of thousands of people who survived, responded or lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.

More than 70 of Sekou Siby’s co-workers perished at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the trade center’s north tower. Siby had been scheduled to work that morning until another cook asked him to switch shifts.

Siby never took a restaurant job again; it would have brought back too many memories. The Ivorian immigrant wrestled with how to comprehend such horror in a country where he’d come looking for a better life.

He found it difficult to form the type of close, family-like friendships he and his Windows on the World co-workers had shared. It was too painful, he had learned, to become attached to people when “you have no control over what’s going to happen to them next.”

“Every 9/11 is a reminder of what I lost that I can never recover,” says Siby, who is now president and CEO of ROC United. The restaurant workers’ advocacy group evolved from a relief center for Windows on the World workers who lost their jobs when the twin towers fell.

On Sunday, President Joe Biden plans to speak and lay a wreath at the Pentagon, while first lady Jill Biden is scheduled to speak in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where one of the hijacked planes went down after passengers and crew members tried to storm the cockpit as the hijackers headed for Washington. Al-Qaida conspirators had seized control of the jets to use them as passenger-filled missiles.

Vice President Kamala Harris and husband Doug Emhoff are due at the National Sept. 11 Memorial in New York, but by tradition, no political figures speak at the ground zero ceremony. It centers instead on victims’ relatives reading aloud the names of the dead.

Readers often add personal remarks that form an alloy of American sentiments about Sept. 11 — grief, anger, toughness, appreciation for first responders and the military, appeals to patriotism, hopes for peace, occasional political barbs, and a poignant accounting of the graduations, weddings, births and daily lives that victims have missed.

Some relatives also lament that a nation which came together — to some extent — after the attacks has since splintered apart. So much so that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which were reshaped to focus on international terrorism after 9/11, now see the threat of domestic violent extremism as equally urgent.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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White House Sends Monkeypox Vaccines To Labor Day Weekend Pride Events

Louisiana got 1,500 additional vaccine vials for the Southern Decadence festival.

It’s a celebration.  

“This is a must-do in New Orleans. It’s like Mardi Gras but this is Mardi Gras for this community, said Jennifer Jones, New Orleans’ dancing queen.

Southern Decadence, an LGBTQ+ festival expected to attract up to 300,000 people to the city of New Orleans, is back for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic.

But new to the party: A vaccination clinic.  

The White House is focusing on events like this one across the nation in hopes of getting the monkeypox outbreak under control.

“Our goal, as with many of our public health interventions, is to bring the service to the people who need it,” said John Brooks, the chief medical officer at the CDC’s multinational monkeypox outbreak response.

Anyone can get monkeypox but has been most common among men who have sex with men.

“What we know about monkeypox is that the number one mode of transmission is skin-to-skin intimate contact,” said Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director at the New Orleans Health Department.

The CDC is working with the Louisiana Department of Health and the New Orleans Health Department to boost immunizations in the LGBTQ+ population.  

The federal government sent thousands of extra monkeypox vaccines to the city of New Orleans ahead of Southern Decadence this Labor Day weekend.

The city has a vaccination clinic within walking distance of the French Quarter, where people who are most at risk can go, get the monkeypox vaccine and get tested if they need to.  

The state got 1,500 additional vaccine vials for the event; officials say it’s possible that can provide up to 6,000 vaccine shots if administered correctly by a medical professional. It’s way less than what the state originally asked for, but the New Orleans Health Department says it’s better than nothing.          

“We do think that we have enough doses to at least serve a large number of folks who might be interested. We’ve been doing a lot of work before Decadence, lots, and lots and lots of vaccine events before to try to get our community protected. We’ve been doing a lot of messaging nationwide,” said Dr. Avegno.

Residents like Jonathan Reazin are happy to get the vaccine if it means keeping the party going.       

“A lot of people that have already gotten shots, we’re comparing bumps. Mine’s on the backside. Theirs’ are on the front,” said Reazin. “For me, if it happens in this community, I want to do my part to prevent it from spreading so that’s why I got the vaccine.”

If the city runs out of the vaccine supply provided for the event, officials informed Newsy, the city is able to dip into state supply in stores, as long as they promise to replenish anything that was used.

Source: newsy.com

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White House Sends Extra Monkeypox Vaccines Ahead Of Pride Events

The White House is sending tens of thousands of monkeypox vaccine doses to areas hosting Labor Day pride events.

Federal and state health officials are sharing their plans to prevent Labor Day pride events from becoming monkeypox super spreaders.

The White House monkeypox response team says they’re sending an extra 6,000 vaccine doses to the Southern Decadence event in New Orleans, 2,400 extra to Pridefest in Oakland, California and 5,500 doses to Atlanta Black Pride in Georgia.

“It was a great opportunity to get folks ready for the event in terms of getting vaccines on the ground early, but also a great opportunity to reach people who don’t feel comfortable in a clinic but do feel comfortable in less stigmatizing spaces that can occur in the events,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, White House national monkeypox response deputy coordinator.

It comes as Texas health officials confirm the first U.S. monkeypox death. They say an adult patient in the Houston area also was severely immunocompromised. An autopsy is expected in the next few weeks.

“Death is possible due to monkeypox but remains rare,” said Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, the CDC’s monkeypox response incident manager.

Anyone can get monkeypox. The World Health Organization and the CDC say gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men make up the majority of the cases.

In the U.S., cases are slowly trending down compared to July.

The WHO say the Americas accounted for 60% of global monkeypox cases in the past month. 

“There are encouraging early signs, as evidenced in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries that the outbreak may be slowing,” said Hans Kluge, WHO Europe regional director.

Federal officials are cautiously optimistic, but challenges remain, like getting vaccines equally distributed. About 10% of monkeypox vaccine doses have been given to Black people. They account for one-third of U.S. cases, according to the CDC.

The FDA also recently green lit a different method for giving the JYNNEOS shot: underneath the skin, but not as deep in the muscle. Federal officials say that should help get two doses of the vaccine to the 1.6 million people in the U.S. who are most at risk of contracting the virus.

Source: newsy.com

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Commanders Rookie Running Back Brian Robinson Jr. Shot In Washington

By Associated Press

and Newsy Staff
August 29, 2022

The 23-year-old former Alabama player was taken to the hospital with what the team called non-life-threatening injuries after an attempted robbery.

Washington Commanders rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. was shot during an attempted robbery or carjacking, the NFL team said Sunday night.

The 23-year-old former Alabama player was taken to a hospital with what the team called non-life-threatening injuries. The team said in a statement staff members were with Robinson at the hospital.

Coach Ron Rivera said he had been with Robinson.

“He is in good spirits and wanted me to thank everyone for their kind words, prayers & support,” Rivera said on Twitter. “He wants his teammates to know he appreciates them all for reaching out and he loves them all & will be back soon doing what he does best.”

D.C. police reported a shooting in the northeast section of the city and said it was on the lookout for two possible suspects.

Robinson, a third-round draft pick, was expected to start for the Commanders this season. He had been particularly impressive during training camp and preseason games, likely earning the job over incumbent Antonio Gibson.

“Brian’s been great,” offensive coordinator Scott Turner said recently. “He’s a real serious guy. Football is extremely important to him. He takes a lot of pride in being a physical runner.”

Robinson traveled with the team for its preseason finale at Baltimore on Saturday night but did not dress.

The 6-foot-1, 228-pound back rushed for 1,343 yards and 14 touchdowns last season at Alabama. The Commanders selected him with the 98th pick in the draft.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Ukraine Girds For Heavy Attacks As It Marks Independence Day

Independence Day commemorates Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Ukraine nervously braced for what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned could be especially brutal Russian attacks Wednesday as the country observed its Independence Day — and marked the war’s six-month point — under conditions considered too dangerous to allow any major public celebrations in the capital.

Residents of Kyiv woke up to air raid sirens, but there were no immediate airstrikes. The capital has been largely spared from attack in recent months, as a war that was widely expected to be a lightning conquest by Moscow turned into a grinding conflict fought largely in the east and south.

Outgoing British Prime Minister Boris Johnson marked the holiday with a visit to Kyiv — his third since the war started — and other European leaders used the occasion to pledge unwavering support for the country and pay tribute to the sacrifices of its people. The U.S. announced a major new military aid package totaling nearly $3 billion to help Ukrainian forces fight for years to come.

Independence Day commemorates Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Kyiv authorities banned large gatherings in the capital through Thursday, fearing the national holiday might bring particularly heavy Russian missile strikes.

“Russian provocations and brutal strikes are a possibility,” Zelenskyy said in a statement. “Please strictly follow the safety rules. Please observe the curfew. Pay attention to the air sirens. Pay attention to official announcements. And remember: We must all achieve victory together.”

Nevertheless, a festive atmosphere prevailed at Kyiv’s Maidan square as thousands of Kyiv residents posed for pictures next to burned-out Russian tanks put on display. Folk singers set up, and many revelers — ignoring the sirens — were out and about in traditionally embroidered dresses and shirts.

Others were fearful.

“I can’t sleep at night because of what I see and hear about what is being done in Ukraine,” said a retiree who gave only her first name, Tetyana, her voice shaking with emotion. “This is not a war. It is the destruction of the Ukrainian people.”

In a holiday message to the country, Zelenskyy said: “Six months ago, Russia declared war on us. On Feb. 24, all of Ukraine heard explosions and gunshots. … On Feb. 24, we were told: You have no chance. On Aug. 24, we say: Happy Independence Day, Ukraine!”

U.S. President Joe Biden said the latest American aid package will allow Ukraine to acquire air defense and artillery systems and other weapons.

“I know this Independence Day is bittersweet for many Ukrainians as thousands have been killed or wounded, millions have been displaced from their homes, and so many others have fallen victim to Russian atrocities and attacks,” President Biden said. “But six months of relentless attacks have only strengthened Ukrainians’ pride in themselves, in their country, and in their 31 years of independence.”

Britain’s Johnson urged Western allies to maintain their support of Ukraine through the winter.

“This is not the time to put forward flimsy negotiating proposals,” he said. “You can’t negotiate with a bear when it’s eating your leg or with a street robber when he has you pinned to the floor.”

In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz rebuked the Kremlin for its “backward imperialism” and declared that Ukraine “will drive away the dark shadow of war because it is strong and brave, because it has friends in Europe and all over the world.”

A car bombing outside Moscow that killed the 29-year-old daughter of right-wing Russian political theorist Alexander Dugin on Saturday also heightened fears that Russia might intensify attacks on Ukraine this week. Russian officials have blamed Ukraine for the death of Darya Dugina, a pro-Kremlin TV commentator. Ukraine has denied any involvement.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces have encountered unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance in their invasion and abandoned their effort to storm the capital in the spring. The fighting has turned into a war of attrition that has reduced neighborhoods to rubble and sent shock waves through the world economy.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking Wednesday at a meeting of his counterparts from a security organization dominated by Russia and China, claimed the slow pace of Moscow’s military action was due to what he said was an effort to spare civilians.

Russian forces have repeatedly targeted civilian areas in cities, including hospitals and a Mariupol theater where hundreds of people were taking shelter.

But Shoigu said Russia is carrying out strikes with precision weapons against Ukrainian military targets, and “everything is done to avoid civilian casualties.”

“Undoubtedly, it slows down the pace of the offensive, but we do it deliberately,” he said.

He also criticized the U.S. and its allies for “continuing to pump weapons into Ukraine,” saying the aid is dragging out the conflict and increasing the number of victims.

On the battlefield, Russian forces struck several towns and villages in Donetsk province in the east over 24 hours, killing one person, authorities said.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region on the southern front, the Russians again shelled the cities of Nikopol and Marhanets, damaging several buildings and wounding two people, authorities said. Russian troops also shelled the city of Zaporizhzhia, but no casualties were reported.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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