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TL(PM) DIGEST: Biden awards public safety officers for bravery above and beyond the call of duty
Plus depression rates hit new highs, the Kremlin's favorite mercenaries loot gold from Africa, and this week in corruption convictions
1. President Biden awards Medal of Valor to 9 public safety officers
What happened? President Biden yesterday honored 9 Americans—including two New York Police Department officers killed in an ambush after a 911 call and another officer who took down the gunman—with the Medal of Valor, the nation’s highest honor for bravery by public safety officers.
Why does it matter? Biden awarded these honors for “actions above and beyond the call of duty.” Honorees include “the three NYPD officers, a Houston police officer, Colorado police official, Ohio sheriff’s deputy, and three FDNY firefighters.” As PBS describes in more detail:
NYPD officer Wilbert Mora and his police partner Jason Rivera were shot Jan. 21, 2022, while responding to a call about a family dispute in a Harlem apartment. Officer Sumit Sulan shot and killed the gunman, ending the deadly encounter moments after it began and keeping the civilians safe. Rivera died that night; Mora was pronounced dead four days later. The families of the two officers accepted their awards.
TLP’s take: President Biden is spot on: policeman, firefighters, and other first responders perform some of “the hardest jobs in America” with serious risk to themselves, as the case of the New York officers killed in the line of duty shows. All of America owes these nine officers—and others—our sincere gratitude for serving on the front lines to keep our communities and families safe and secure.
2. U.S. depression rates hit historic high
What happened? New data from Gallup shows that nearly 3 in 10 Americans have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life—almost 10 points higher than when this was last measured in 2015. Nearly a fifth of American adults say they currently have or are being treated for depression, up 7 points from 2015.
Why does it matter? These new figures “are the highest recorded by Gallup since it began measuring depression using the current form of data collection in 2015.” The spike in depression is seen more acutely among certain demographic groups:
Over one-third of women (36.7 percent) now report having been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime, compared with 20.4 percent of men, and their rate has risen at nearly twice the rate of men since 2017. Those aged 18 to 29 (34.3 percent) and 30 to 44 (34.9 percent) have significantly greater depression diagnosis rates in their lifetime than those older than 44.
TLP’s take: Something’s clearly amiss in American life in recent years: on top of a spike in early deaths for young people, many Americans are suffering from debilitating depression. Whether it’s attributable mostly to the pandemic, economic frustration, widespread smartphone use, or something else, millions of Americans clearly need help. These findings should kickstart legislative wrangling on several stalled mental health access and funding bills in Congress before it’s too late to help people.
3. The Kremlin’s favorite mercenaries loot gold from Africa
What happened? CBS News reports that the Wagner Group, Moscow’s favorite mercenary group, has begun shipping the Central African Republic’s gold stockpiles back to Russia to help pay for, among other things, the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine.
The paramilitary group does indeed provide the country's President Faustin-Archange Touadéra with mercenary muscle to prevent a coup from toppling his shaky grip on CAR. There's even a statue in Bangui honoring the Russians for bravely protecting women and children.
What Wagner doesn't tell you, however, is that it is effectively helping to run CAR through violence, disinformation and a galaxy of shell companies that obscure the exploitation of the country's mineral riches.
Experts estimate Wagner's projected revenue for the timber alone to be close to $1 billion, while the potential revenue from the Ndassima mine—now run entirely by Wagner—is estimated conservatively at around $2.7 billion.
Why does it matter? In return for propping up the dictatorship ruling CAR, Wagner receives a handsome payoff: “Unfettered access to CAR's gold mines and forests, which fund the group's criminal and paramilitary activities far beyond Africa.”
TLP’s take: Wagner’s resource extraction deals in CAR and other nations go a long way to explaining how the group can sustain operations around the world. It also shows just how destructive a force Wagner is globally—not just in Ukraine.
4. This week in corruption: former French president’s conviction upheld, Ukrainian supreme court chief detained on bribery charges
What happened? A French court upheld former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s conviction on corruption charges, and will start wearing an ankle monitor pending an appeal to the nation’s highest court. Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine’s supreme court was removed from office and charged with taking $2.7 million in bribes.
Why does it matter? Other democratic nations do routinely charge and convict high elected officials on corruption charges—without calamitous domestic political and social consequences. The fact that Ukraine, a nation under daily assault by Russian missiles, can remove the head of its highest court ought to serve as a lesson to other nations.
TLP’s take: Handwringing about the potential damage involved in charging former president Trump for a number of offenses or criticizing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for receiving unacknowledged gifts from wealthy conservative donors is just that: handwringing. As other nations show, there’s no real reason to believe that prosecuting a former president will in and of itself lead to disastrous consequences—the only danger comes from Trump, who has repeatedly expressed a desire to lock up his political rivals since he started running for president in 2015.
Just one more thing…
Meet the goats fighting wildfires in Chile by eating “uncomplainingly and unceasingly… reducing the amount of fuel that’s available for the flames” and fertilizing the soil with their droppings.