Dec. 2022 News

 

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and views in December 2022 

 Note: This compilation in Part 1 extends from Dec. 1 through Dec. 27. See Part 2 for December news excerpts after that date. Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this. 

 

Christmas Wreath

Happy Holidays & New Year from the Justice Integrity Project!

 

 

Dec. 31

Top Headlines

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

Ukraine War

 

Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

More On Pope's Passing and Potential Church Transitions

 

More On Trump, Finances, Insurrectionists, Allies, Disputes

 

More On Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

Energy, Climate, Weather, Disasters

 

U.S. Media, Religion, High Tech, Education

 

Top Stories

ny times logoNew York Times, Benedict XVI, First Modern Pope to Resign, Dies at 95, Ian Fisher and Rachel Donadio, Dec. 31, 2022. Long before he was pope, the man who became Benedict was a central figure in the Roman Catholic Church. He defined a conservative course for the Roman Catholic Church, but his papacy was noted for his struggle with the clergy sexual abuse scandal and for his unexpected resignation.

pope benedict XVI 2010 10 17 4

Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, right, a quiet scholar of diamond-hard intellect who spent much of his life enforcing church doctrine and defending tradition before shocking the Roman Catholic world by becoming the first pope in six centuries to resign, died on Saturday. He was 95.

Benedict’s death was announced by the Vatican. No cause was given. This past week, the Vatican said that Benedict’s health had taken a turn for the worse “due to advancing age.”

On Wednesday, Pope Francis asked those present at his weekly audience at the Vatican to pray for Benedict, who he said was “very ill.” He later visited him at the monastery on the Vatican City grounds where Benedict had lived since announcing his resignation in February 2013.

In that announcement, citing a loss of stamina and his “advanced age” at 85, Benedict said he was stepping down freely and “for the good of the church.” The decision, surprising the faithful and the world at large, capped a papacy of almost eight years in which his efforts to re-energize the Roman Catholic Church were often overshadowed by the unresolved sexual abuse scandal in the clergy.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: How Benedict’s death could reshape the Catholic Church, Chico Harlan, Stefano Pitrelli and Marisa Iati, Dec. 31, 2022. The traditionalist movement — which embraced Benedict while at times vocally opposing Pope Francis — does not have another figure with comparable clout.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s death Saturday is an epochal loss for a church that was defined first by his resolute conservatism and later by his radical decision to abdicate power.

pope francis uncropped 3 13The Vatican said that Benedict died at 9:34 a.m. local time and that his body would be placed in St. Peter’s Basilica starting Jan. 2 for a salute “from the faithful.” Pope Francis, right, will preside over his funeral, which will take place Thursday, the Vatican said. Afterward, Benedict’s body will be interred in the grottoes of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Benedict’s decline, after a decade of retirement, had been relatively swift. Francis had put the Catholic world on alert Wednesday, saying his predecessor was “very sick,” and asked for prayers.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, House panel releases Trump tax returns in another setback for former president, Marianna Sotomayor, Jonathan O'Connell and Michael Kranish, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The Democratic-led panel released the financial documents for six years, capping a protracted legal and political battle that could have been prevented had former president Donald Trump followed presidential precedent and released his returns voluntarily.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday released Donald Trump’s tax returns, dealing yet another setback to the former president and 2024 White House candidate as he faces multiple federal and state investigations.

irs logoThe Democratic-led panel released the financial documents for six years, capping a protracted legal and political battle that could have been prevented had Trump followed presidential precedent and released his returns voluntarily.

Democrats have pushed for more than three years to make Trump’s tax returns public, and the documents were finally made available to the Ways and Means Committee late last month after the Supreme Court denied a last attempt by Trump to withhold the records.

The release marks another blow to Trump, who is struggling to mount a campaign for president as numerous investigations and controversies continue to swirl around him. His most recent actions, from dining with avowed white supremacists to suggesting terminating the Constitution, have left many in the Republican Party reconsidering whether he remains the most viable candidate to lead the GOP after midterm voters largely rejected candidates backed by the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Tax Returns Were Released to the Public. Here’s What They Reveal, Jim Tankersley, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Donald Trump, who fought for years to keep his tax returns private, made no charitable donations in 2020, and his own tax law may have cost him.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have followed through with their vow to make public six years of former President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns, giving the American public new insight into his business dealings and drawing threats of retaliation from congressional Republicans.

The release on Friday morning contained thousands of pages of tax documents, including individual returns for Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, as well as business returns for several of the hundreds of companies that make up the real estate mogul’s sprawling business organization.

The committee had this month released top-line details from the returns, which showed that Mr. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes during the first three years of his presidency, including just $750 in federal income tax in 2017, his first year in office. He paid no tax in 2020 as his income dwindled and his business losses mounted.

The documents contain new details not revealed in those earlier releases. New York Times reporters are combing the pages for key takeaways. Here is a running list.

ny times logoNew York Times, Through his nightly addresses, Volodymyr Zelensky has shaped the narrative of the war in Ukraine and rallied its allies, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 31, 2022. The history of most wars is written by the victor after the fact. But Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has created his own sequencing: a story line of the war against Russia in real time that is intended to rally his people, and the Western world.

Mr. Zelensky has maintained a running narrative throughout the 10-month conflict — telling Ukrainians in nightly video addresses how they should view the battles, justify their hardships and believe in the country’s ultimate success.

He is scheduled to address the nation again on Saturday night in a traditional New Year’s Eve speech, when Mr. Zelensky sums up the year and offers predictions for what lies ahead. It is another opportunity for him to depict the war in a way that rallies his fellow countrymen behind the army.

Mr. Zelensky has also drawn praise for conveying Ukraine’s positions, often in passionate language, in speeches by video link to foreign audiences, as he pleads for sustained military and financial support. Most recently, he made his first trip out of Ukraine since the war started to meet with President Biden and deliver a prime-time address to the U.S. Congress.

His arguments emphasize recurring themes: The Russian government, he says, is a terrorist state and will repeatedly attack Europe if not stopped now. Military support for Ukraine is the only solution, and Ukrainians are filled with pride and patriotism.

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, The ‘Red Wave’ Washout: How Skewed Polls Fed a False Election Narrative, Jim Rutenberg, Ken Bensinger and Steve Eder, Dec. 31, 2022. The errant surveys spooked some candidates into spending more money than necessary, and diverted help from others who otherwise had a chance of winning.

Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat, had consistently won re-election by healthy margins in her three decades representing Washington State. This year seemed no different: By midsummer, polls showed her cruising to victory over a Republican newcomer, Tiffany Smiley, by as much as 20 percentage points.

So when a survey in late September by the Republican-leaning Trafalgar Group showed Ms. Murray clinging to a lead of just two points, it seemed like an aberration. But in October, two more Republican-leaning polls put Ms. Murray barely ahead, and a third said the race was a dead heat.

As the red and blue trend lines of the closely watched RealClearPolitics average for the contest drew closer together, news organizations reported that Ms. Murray was suddenly in a fight for her political survival. Warning lights flashed in Democratic war rooms. If Ms. Murray was in trouble, no Democrat was safe.

Ms. Murray’s own polling showed her with a comfortable lead, and a nonprofit regional news site, using an established local pollster, had her up by 13. Unwilling to take chances, however, she went on the defensive, scuttling her practice of lavishing some of her war chest — she amassed $20 million — on more vulnerable Democratic candidates elsewhere. Instead, she reaped financial help from the party’s national Senate committee and supportive super PACs — resources that would, as a result, be unavailable to other Democrats.

A similar sequence of events played out in battlegrounds nationwide. Surveys showing strength for Republicans, often from the same partisan pollsters, set Democratic klaxons blaring in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Colorado. Coupled with the political factors already favoring Republicans — including inflation and President Biden’s unpopularity — the skewed polls helped feed what quickly became an inescapable political narrative: A Republican wave election was about to hit the country with hurricane force.

Democrats in each of those states went on to win their Senate races. Ms. Murray clobbered Ms. Smiley by nearly 15 points.

Not for the first time, a warped understanding of the contours of a national election had come to dominate the views of political operatives, donors, journalists and, in some cases, the candidates themselves.

The misleading polls of 2022 did not just needlessly spook some worried candidates into spending more money than they may have needed to on their own races. They also led some candidates — in both parties — who had a fighting chance of winning to lose out on money that could have made it possible for them to do so, as those controlling the purse strings believed polls that inaccurately indicated they had no chance at all.

 

elise stefanik cbs 2020 wwny

ny times logoNew York Times, The Invention of Elise Stefanik, Nicholas Confessore, Dec. 31, 2022. To rise through the Trump-era G.O.P., a young congresswoman, shown above, gave up her friends, her mentors and her ideals. Will it be enough?

Elise Stefanik had had enough.

U.S. House logoIn the wake of the 2018 midterms, the young congresswoman was sick of commuting to Washington from upstate New York and weary of dialing for campaign dollars. She was demoralized that Republican primary voters had spurned so many of the women she had helped persuade to run for Congress. She was annoyed that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the democratic socialist who had displaced her that fall as the youngest woman ever elected to the House, had not shown her the respect she felt was her due.

But it was bigger than that.

For years, Ms. Stefanik had crafted her brand as a model moderate millennial — “the future of hopeful, aspirational politics in America,” as her mentor, Paul Ryan, would describe her in Time magazine. But as her third term unfolded, according to current or former friends and advisers, it was becoming painfully clear that she was the future of a Republican Party that no longer existed. The party was now firmly controlled by Donald J. Trump, a populist president she didn’t like or respect — a “whack job,” as she once described him in a message obtained by The New York Times. Fox hosts attacked her for not supporting Mr. Trump enough. Her friends criticized her for not opposing him more forcefully. You don’t understand, she would tell them. You don’t get how hard this is. Democrats were back in charge in the House. Mr. Ryan was gone, driven into early retirement. She told friends she was thinking of joining him.

Instead she embarked on one of the most brazen political transformations of the Trump era. With breathtaking speed and alacrity, Ms. Stefanik remade herself into a fervent Trump apologist, adopted his over-torqued style on Twitter and embraced the conspiracy theories that animate his base, amplifying debunked allegations of dead voters casting ballots in Atlanta and unspecified “irregularities” involving voting-machine software in 2020 swing states.

The future of hopeful, aspirational politics in America now assails Democrats as “the party of Socialists, illegals, criminals, Communist Truth Ministers & media stenographers.” In the process, she has rocketed from the backbench to the party’s No. 3 House leadership job, presiding over the conference’s overall messaging.

Ms. Stefanik’s reinvention has made her a case study in the collapse of the old Republican establishment and its willing absorption into the new, Trump-dominated one.

But as Republicans prepare to take control of the House in the coming days, her climb to MAGA stardom may also be a cautionary tale. Mr. Trump’s obsession with litigating his own defeat has left him at once the party’s most potent force and its greatest liability, blamed by many Republicans for their failure to win the Senate in November and for a House majority that, some fear, may be too narrow to govern effectively.

Republican politicians and voters are now agonizing anew over the price of their alliance with Mr. Trump. “It’s crystal, crystal, crystal clear,” Mr. Ryan told SiriusXM. “We lose with Trump if we stick with Trump. If we dump Trump, we start winning.”

 

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).

 

washington post logoWashington Post, The talented Mr. Santos: A congressman-elect’s unraveling web of deception, Azi Paybarah and Camila DeChalus, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Even by the low standards for truth-telling in politics, the scope of the falsehoods from the newly elected House Republican has been startling.

The Republican who won a congressional seat on Long Island before his claims of being a wealthy, biracial, Ukrainian descendant of Holocaust survivors were debunked had, for a while, been generally consistent about two details in his improbable life: He has long said his first name is George and his last name is Santos.

But not always.

Before George Santos, 34, made a name for himself in politics, he had insisted on being called Anthony — one of his middle names — and often used his mother’s maiden name, Devolder, eventually incorporating a company in Florida with that name.

“He hated that we called him George,” a former friend and onetime co-worker said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid being associated with him publicly. “His whole family called him Anthony. He wanted to be called Anthony. He would use the name Anthony Devolder.”

washington post logoWashington Post, A tiny paper rang alarm bells about George Santos in September. Very few noticed, Sarah Ellison, Dec. 30, 2022. Before the election, the North Shore Leader on Long Island raised multiple questions about the GOP House candidate. He was elected and is now under investigation for misrepresenting his background to voters.

  • Washington Post, George Santos said 9/11 ‘claimed my mother’s life.’ She died in 2016.
  • Washington Post, Retropolis: The congressman who ‘embellished’ his résumé long before Santos

Politico, McCarthy struggles to appease conservative demands as speakership battle nears, Olivia Beavers and Nicholas Wu, Dec. 30, 2022. The GOP leader republican elephant logoagain raised making it easier for members to force a vote to depose the speaker, a move that could severely weaken him if he does manage to take the gavel next term.

politico CustomIn a private meeting last week, Kevin McCarthy posed a question to some of the conservatives threatening his speakership bid: Would they all support him if he made it easier for members to depose the speaker?

The House Freedom Caucus members in the meeting had pushed for that concession for months, one that would severely weaken the GOP leader’s potential standing as speaker. The conference already voted that a majority of the House GOP could force such a vote, known as the motion to vacate, but McCarthy’s opposition wants that threshold lowered.

kevin mccarthySome in the conservative group threatening to oppose have pushed to allow just one member to force such a vote, while the GOP leader has appeared open to lowering it to five votes. Even the latter option is sure to face strong pushback from rank-and-file members, who view the low barrier as akin to an ongoing hostage situation.

When faced with the direct question, the group of conservative lawmakers — including House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and figurehead for the McCarthy opposition Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — said they would have to talk about it, according to one Republican member in the meeting.

But it’s not looking good for the speaker hopeful. As one potential McCarthy opponent put it, when asked whether lowering to a five-person threshold was enough to save the Californian’s aspirations: “Of course not. The dude better focus on something beyond absurd vacate debate or he’s [dead on arrival].”

Currently, five conservative members are publicly threatening to vote against McCarthy for speaker, enough to keep him from the needed 218-vote threshold in House Republicans’ slim majority.

Though McCarthy had raised the option as a hypothetical and not a real offer, it signaled to some there’s little he won’t agree to in his years-long quest to seize the House gavel. And some fear he risks more demands surfacing as potential detractors see room for opportunity, with some hinting they’d like members to have broader subpoena power as they look to examine matters like how Jan. 6 rioters were treated by law enforcement.

Members in the meeting recalled McCarthy’s question slightly differently, with one saying he framed it as allowing a single member to force a vote to depose the speaker, while another said he mentioned no specific number. And in a conference call with select members Friday, there was no final agreement on the motion to vacate. Some lawmakers privately said they doubt the sides will reach a deal before the speaker vote on Tuesday.

During the call, McCarthy discussed the idea of setting up a select committee that would lead an investigation into the FBI, headed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), according to two people familiar with the call. But as of now, that offer hasn’t moved the needle.

World Crisis Radio, Commentary and Advocacy: McCarthy still lacks the votes to be elected Speaker, so Democrats must pre-empt MAGA chaos and subversion with a Coalition Speaker! webster tarpley twitterWebster G. Tarpley, right, Dec. 31, 2022. (135:48 min. video). In the light of the January 6 committee findings, Garland and Jack Smith have a couple of months to indict Trump & Co. or preside over the end of the rule of law in US! DoJ obeyed Sessions and Barr, but now the survival of the Republic is the supreme law!

World situation is marked by the coalescence of a new edition of the Rome-Berlin-Moscow-Tokyo axis, this time as the Moscow-Beijing-Pyongyang-Tehran axis; US must lead opposition of free world to this New Axis;

Moments of decision loom for Ukraine: after so many atrocities, a negotiated peace with Putin is unthinkable; as with Hitler, appeasement spells wider war; Putin may escalate, but his military situation is unlikely to improve; CFR now regards anti-Putin coup as most likely outcome; As Gen. Ivashov foresaw, Putin’s aggression may mark the end of the current Russian state; His clones Patrushev, Prigozhin, Kadyrov contend for power; Over two dozen top Russian oligarchs eliminated by poison and open windows this year, the Kremlin equivalent of a faction fight!

Renaissance of Science under Biden: Artemis-Orion and Mars lander revive space program; Lawrence Livermore surpasses break even point for thermonuclear fusion reaction, a first for the world; NASA inaugurates planetary defense by deflecting an asteroid for the first time; Covid vaccines are landmark achievements; Cancer Moonshot advances; Chips and Science Act and other new laws repatriate offshored technology; NOAA upgrades oceanography and marine biology; Federal science workforce is expanding; lasers needed to defend against hypersonic weapons;

French scholar of eastern Europe sees roots of Ukrainian spirit of independence in the Zaporizhia Cossacks of the 1600s

Politico, North Carolina AG won't press charges against Meadows over voter registration, Kelly Garrity, Dec. 30, 2022. The North Carolina Department of Justice Mark Meadowswill not bring charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, right, or his wife, Debra, over allegations that they were illegally registered to vote in the state, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office announced on Friday.

politico CustomIn 2020, Meadows registered to vote in North Carolina three weeks ahead of the state’s registration deadline using the address of a mobile home he did not own or live in at the time, according to reporting from The New Yorker published in March.

“The State Bureau of Investigation conducted an extensive investigation into the fraud allegations against Mr. and Mrs. Meadows concerning their registration and voting in the 2020 elections,” said a statement from the office of Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat. “After a thorough review, my office has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges against either of them in this matter.”

republican elephant logoIt’s a small victory for Meadows, at a time when he could use one. The former Trump aide was repeatedly named in the newly released transcripts from the Jan. 6 committee investigation, which detail texts between Meadows and Donald Trump Jr.; reports that he burned documents in his office fireplace in the weeks leading up to the insurrection; and references to his Secret Service codename, “Leverage.”

In its statement, the North Carolina Attorney General’s office called Meadows out for his role in the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and efforts to overturn the 2020 election by claiming there was significant voter fraud. That role, however, was not closely relevant enough to the allegations of voter fraud at issue in the state, the office said.

But Meadows may not be completely off the hook.

“If further information relevant to the allegations of voter fraud comes to light in any subsequent investigation or prosecution by authorities in other jurisdictions, we reserve the right to reopen this matter,” the office said.

washington post logoWashington Post, As access to off-label use of ketamine grows, controversial approach faces uncertain future, Daniel Gilbert, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). A federal waiver helped give rise to a new industry treating depression with the psychedelic drug ketamine by telemedicine.

In the past two years, Scott Smith has become licensed to practice medicine in almost every U.S. state for a singular purpose: treating depressed patients online and prescribing them ketamine.

The sedative, which is sometimes abused as a street drug, has shown promise in treating depression and anxiety. But instead of dispensing it in a clinic or under the strict protocols endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, the South Carolina physician orders generic lozenges online for patients to take at home. He says this practice, though controversial, has benefited more than half of his 3,000 patients. “People are beating a path to my door,” he said in an interview.

Smith is part of a wave of doctors and telehealth start-ups capitalizing on the pandemic-inspired federal public health emergency declaration, which waived a requirement for health-care providers to see patients in person to prescribe controlled substances. The waiver has enabled Smith to build a national ketamine practice from his home outside Charleston — and fueled a boom among telehealth companies that have raised millions from investors.

As the urgency around covid-19 subsides, many expect the waiver to expire this spring. Companies are lobbying to extend it, and patients are bracing for a disruption to purely virtual care.

“I would not have wanted to do this if I had to go to a clinic,” said Steve, a Chicago resident who works in public relations and who spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld because of the stigma around the drug. Ketamine has helped his bipolar disorder more than any other medication, he said, and he wants to continue taking it. “It’s just not going to happen, if that regulation changes.”

Ketamine for depression: What it feels like and who it can help

The Drug Enforcement Administration in 2020 temporarily waived the requirement that prescribers meet patients in person before treating them with several classes of drugs, from opioids to antidepressants. A DEA spokesperson said the agency is working on regulations to allow this permanently, but declined to provide details or a timeline.

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

Victims in Idaho college murders. The Victims: Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Kaylee Goncalves were found dead on Nov. 13, 2022.

Victims in Idaho college murders. The Victims: Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Kaylee Goncalves were found dead on Nov. 13, 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, Criminology Student Is Charged in 4 University of Idaho Killings, Rachel Sun, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Serge F. Kovaleski, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The college town of Moscow, Idaho, has been reeling since the attack last month, but the police gave no motive for the murders.

The police arrested a 28-year-old criminology student on Friday and charged him with murder in the brutal killing of four University of Idaho college students who were found stabbed to death overnight in a home near their campus last month.

bryan kohbergerThe man, Bryan C. Kohberger (shown in a mugshot), was taken into custody at his parents’ home in Effort, Pa., where it appeared he had been staying recently, according to Michael Mancuso, an assistant district attorney in Monroe County, Pa.

Mr. Kohberger was pursuing a Ph.D. in criminal justice and criminology at Washington State University, which lies about 10 miles from Moscow, Idaho, where the murders took place. He recently entered the program after graduating in June from DeSales University in Center Valley, Pa., with a master’s degree in criminal justice.

Mr. Kohberger was charged in Idaho with four counts of first-degree murder and was being held without bail in Pennsylvania. An extradition hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.

“These murders have shaken our community, and no arrest will ever bring back these young students,” the Moscow police chief, James Fry, said at a news conference. “However, we do believe justice will be found through the criminal process.”

The arrest of Mr. Kohberger came nearly seven weeks after the college students were stabbed to death on Nov. 13 in a crime that horrified the small Idaho college town and prompted many students to stay home and finish classes online after Thanksgiving break. Residents had grown increasingly frustrated in recent weeks as a killer remained on the loose, and one victim's father had begun to publicly criticize investigators.

The police declined to say anything about the suspect’s possible motive, and they said that a long knife they believe was used to carry out the attacks had not been found. But the arrest of a criminology student added another unsettling element to an already macabre case.

The students who were killed — Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20 — were attacked in at least two separate bedrooms, probably as they slept. The three women lived at the rental house where the attack occurred, while Mr. Chapin was visiting Ms. Kernodle, his girlfriend. Two more roommates apparently slept through the stabbings and did not wake up until several hours afterward.

The police had in recent weeks been searching for the driver of a white Hyundai sedan that they said had been spotted near the victims’ home on the night of the killings. Chief Fry said on Friday that the police had found a car matching that description.

What to Know About the Idaho Killings

The authorities are still piecing together what happened at a home near the University of Idaho campus, where four students were found dead.

In a post on Reddit from about seven months ago, a user who identified himself as Bryan Kohberger asked people who had spent time in prison to take a survey about crimes they had committed. The survey listed Mr. Kohberger as a student investigator working with two colleagues at DeSales, and it asked respondents to describe their “thoughts, emotions and actions from the beginning to end of the crime commission process.”

Before moving to Pullman, Mr. Kohberger had spent much, if not all, of his life in the Pocono Mountains region of Pennsylvania.

Casey Arntz, who was one year ahead of Mr. Kohberger at Pleasant Valley High School, said he was known to have a temper and that he did kickboxing, possibly as a way to get his anger out. She said his mother had sometimes worked as a substitute teacher at the high school.

Ms. Arntz, 29, said that she used to occasionally hang out with Mr. Kohberger as part of a group, once hiking a mountain near her parents’ house, but had not seen him since a friend’s wedding in 2017.

According to articles in local newspapers, Mr. Kohberger worked for several years as a security officer with the Pleasant Valley School District, drawing some attention in 2018 for helping another officer save the life of an employee who was having an asthma attack. He left the district in the summer of 2021.

On the night of the killings, the four Idaho students had all spent the night out with friends. Mr. Chapin and Ms. Kernodle attended a party at the Sigma Chi fraternity nearby, while Ms. Mogen and Ms. Goncalves went to a bar called the Corner Club. All four students returned to the home shortly before 2 a.m.

 

This week's new official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: A Charity Tied to the Supreme Court Offers Donors Access to the Justices, Jo Becker and Julie Tate, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The Supreme Court Historical Society has raised more than $23 million in the last two decades, much of it from lawyers, corporations and special interests.

While ostensibly independent, the society has become a vehicle for those seeking access to nine of the most reclusive and powerful people in the nation. A Charity Tied to the Supreme Court Offers Donors Access to the Justices

People in formal attire sit on and stand amid the audience benches that face the bench where the justices sit in the Supreme Court chamber. Behind the justices’ bench are red curtains and four white marble columns.

john roberts oIn some years, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., right, does the honors. In others, it might be Justice Sonia Sotomayor or Justice Clarence Thomas presenting the squared-off hunks of marble affixed with the Supreme Court’s gilded seal.

Hewed from slabs left over from the 1930s construction of the nation’s high court and handed out in its magnificent Great Hall, they are a unique status symbol in a town that craves them. And while the ideological bents of the justices bestowing them might vary, there is one constant: All the recipients have given at least $5,000 to a charity favored by the justices, and, more often than not, the donors have a significant stake in the way the court decides cases.

The charity, the Supreme Court Historical Society, is ostensibly independent of the judicial branch of government, but in reality the two supreme court historical society sealare inextricably intertwined. The charity’s stated mission is straightforward: to preserve the court’s history and educate the public about the court’s importance in American life. But over the years the society has also become a vehicle for those seeking access to nine of the most reclusive and powerful people in the nation. The justices attend the society’s annual black-tie dinner soirees, where they mingle with donors and thank them for their generosity, and serve as M.C.s to more regular society-sponsored lectures or re-enactments of famous cases.

The society has raised more than $23 million over the last two decades. Because of its nonprofit status, it does not have to publicly disclose its donors — and declined when asked to do so. But The New York Times was able to identify the sources behind more than $10.7 million raised since 2003, the first year for which relevant records were available.

At least $6.4 million — or 60 percent — came from corporations, special interest groups, or lawyers and firms that argued cases before the court, according to an analysis of archived historical society newsletters and publicly available records that detail grants given to the society by foundations. Of that, at least $4.7 million came from individuals or entities in years when they had a pending interest in a federal court case on appeal or at the high court, records show.

The donors include corporations like Chevron, which gave while embroiled in a 2021 Supreme Court case involving efforts by cities to hold the oil company accountable for its role in global warming. Veteran Supreme Court litigators gave while representing clients before the court that included Tyson Foods and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China.

Among the ideologically driven activists from both sides of the political aisle who donated to the society were the benefactors of an anti-abortion group whose leader instructed them to use the society’s annual dinners to meet and befriend conservative justices.

Virtually no one interviewed by The Times, including critics of the society’s fund-raising practices, said they believed that donations to the society had any bearing on cases before the justices. For one thing, many of the donors are already part of the Supreme Court’s insular and clubby world, where former clerks frequently socialize with and argue cases before their former bosses, and where the justices steadfastly refuse to televise their arguments and specifically reserve only a fraction of the court’s 439 seats for members of the public.

Carter G. Phillips, a Supreme Court litigator at Sidley Austin and the society’s treasurer, said it never occurred to him that anyone would use the society as a way to buy face time or favor with the justices, in part because the society’s events generally afford only fleeting contact with them.

“It’s disgusting,” he said. “Many of the people who contribute have the same reasons I do. You go to a cocktail party and support a good cause. But it turns out that for some people it’s not that innocent. And I think the justices are a victim of that.”

But David T. Pride, the executive director of the society from 1979 until he retired last year, defended the society’s practice of seeking donations from those with interests before the court, saying he “was pretty unabashed about it.”

“Who wouldn’t expect that to be our constituency?” he said. “I don’t think I would have taken money from the Communist or Nazi Parties, but within reason the society was open to all.”

The society was founded in 1974 by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger to make the court more welcoming to visitors and to restore dusty old portraits of justices of yore. Every chief justice since has served as its honorary chairman.

It publishes bound journals of Supreme Court history; restores, maintains and displays historically significant artifacts such as the robes of Justice Louis D. Brandeis; hosts lectures; and brings schoolteachers from around the country to Washington for an annual summer institute, where they learn about the court. Trustees of the nonprofit are expected to give at least $5,000 a year, “patrons” give between $12,500 and $25,000, and “benefactors” give more than $25,000.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the historical society’s most significant source of identifiable funds — more than 34 percent — is the lawyers and law firms that practice before the Supreme Court, according to the Times analysis.

The chairman of the society’s board of trustees, Gregory P. Joseph, is a corporate litigator who served as the president of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Over the years, he and his firm have given at least $187,500 to the society, including in 2019, when he filed a submission with the court on behalf of the Sackler family, the longtime owners of Purdue Pharma, in a case involving accusations that they had siphoned billions of dollars out of the company in an attempt to deplete its coffers and limit the exposure the drugmaker faced over its deceptive marketing of OxyContin.

A number of other trustees who give regularly, such as Beth Brinkmann of Covington & Burling, served as Supreme Court clerks. Ms. Brinkmann joined the society’s board in 2006, and she was featured in the society’s newsletter in 2021 for giving at the patron level. Also in 2021, she represented power companies in the Supreme Court case West Virginia v. E.P.A., which limited the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plant emissions.

In 2013, the general counsels of Facebook and Time Warner were invited to attend the gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York. There, under a projected image of the Constitution, they were given the society’s first “Amicus Curiae Awards,” according to a society newsletter. That year, Facebook and Time Warner, through its various entities, donated at least a combined $50,000. This year, Kathryn Ruemmler, the general counsel of Goldman Sachs, received the award (as shown below in a promo for the event); Goldman Sachs, which had recently secured a Supreme Court victory making it harder for shareholders to mount class-action suits alleging securities fraud, donated $25,000.

 

supreme court historical society ny gala 2022

 

 

supreme court Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Chief justice ignores one of the most controversial Supreme Court terms in his annual report, Robert Barnes, Dec. 31, 2022. It was one of the most controversial terms in Supreme Court history, with the shocking leak of a draft opinion that eventually overturned a half century of abortion rights, public polls that showed record disapproval of the court’s work and biting dissension among the justices themselves about the court’s legitimacy.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., right, chose not to address those or any other controversies in his annual “Year-end Report on the Federal Judiciary,” issued john roberts oSaturday. Instead, he focused on a high mark of the judiciary’s past — a federal district judge’s efforts to implement school desegregation at Little Rock’s Central High School after the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

“The law requires every judge to swear an oath to perform his or her work without fear or favor, but we must support judges by ensuring their safety,” Roberts wrote in his nine-page report. “A judicial system cannot and should not live in fear. The events of Little Rock teach about the importance of rule by law instead of by mob.”

Roberts thanked Congress for recently passing the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named for the son of New Jersey District Judge Esther Salas. Anderl was murdered in 2020 when he answered the door to their home in what was meant to be an attack on the judge.

The legislation allows judges to shield on the internet certain personal information about themselves and their families, such as home addresses, some financial information and employment details of their spouses. It has an exception for media reporting, but some transparency groups have worried that broad interpretation of the law could inhibit watchdog efforts.

Roberts also commended “the U.S. Marshals, Court Security Officers, Federal Protective Service Officers, Supreme Court Police Officers, and their partners” for “working to ensure that judges can sit in courtrooms to serve the public throughout the coming year and beyond.”

That’s about as close as Roberts came in his 18th report to commenting on the present day. The chief justice and other conservative members of the court have seen protesters outside their homes since the May leak of a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which a majority of the court overturned Roe v. Wade’s federal guarantee of abortion rights.
A California man is facing attempted assassination charges after being arrested outside the suburban Maryland home of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh with weapons and a plan to break into the justice’s house.

Roberts announced an investigation of the leak of the draft Dobbs opinion in the spring, just days after it was published in Politico, calling it a “singular and egregious breach of … trust that is an affront to the court and the community of public servants who work here.”

He directed Supreme Court Marshal Gail A. Curley to investigate the leak, saying that “to the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed.”

Man accused of threatening to kill Kavanaugh is indicted

But Roberts has not publicly mentioned the investigation since then. Last summer, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the justices were expecting reports from Roberts about the work, but nothing has been exposed beyond leaked accounts of disagreements among justices and their clerks about attempts to examine cellphone records.

It is only one controversy to engulf the court. Several media outlets reported on what a former antiabortion evangelical leader said were efforts to encourage conservative justices to be bold in decisions regarding the procedure. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. denied a specific allegation from Rev. Rob Schenck to the New York Times that the justice or his wife disclosed to conservative donors the outcome of a pending 2014 case regarding contraceptives and religious rights.

NBC News, Law Demands Full JFK Record Release, But ‘Clearly The CIA Doesn’t Care About Those Consequences,’ Anchor Chuck Todd interviews JFK expert Jefferson Morley, Dec. 16, 2022. Jefferson Morley, historian and editor of the JFK Facts blog, discussed the release of thousands of documents related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

According to the National Archives, 97% of all documents related to JFK's assassination have now been released, and the remaining 3% are either fully or partially redacted. Details below:

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Appeals court upholds Florida high school’s transgender bathroom ban, Staff Report, Dec. 31, 2022. A federal appeals court has ruled that a Florida school district’s policy of separating school bathrooms based on biological sex is constitutional.

politico CustomThe 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced its 7-4 decision on Friday, ruling that the St. Johns County School Board did not discriminate against transgender students based on sex, or violate federal civil rights law by requiring transgender students to use gender-neutral bathrooms or bathrooms matching their biological sex.

The court’s decision was split down party lines, with seven justices appointed by Republican presidents siding with the school district and four justices appointed by Democratic presidents siding with Drew Adams, a former student who sued the district in 2017 because he wasn’t allowed to use the boys restroom.

A three-judge panel from the appeals court previously sided with Adams in 2020, but the full appeals court decided to take up the case. Though his assigned gender was female at birth, Adams began the transition to become male before he enrolled in Allen D. Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, just southeast of Jacksonville.

Judge Barbara Lagoa wrote in the majority opinion that that the school board policy advances the important governmental objective of protecting students’ privacy in school bathrooms. She said the district’s policy does not violate the law because it’s based on biological sex, not gender identity.

Judge Jill Pryor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the interest of protecting privacy is not absolute and must coexist alongside fundamental principles of equality, specifically where exclusion implies inferiority.

joe biden sunglasses amazon

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Biden pardons 6 convicted of murder, drug, alcohol crimes, Staff Report, Dec. 31, 2022. The White House said those pardoned are people who went on to serve their communities. President Joe Biden has pardoned six people who have served out sentences after convictions on a murder charge and drug- and alcohol-related crimes, including an 80-year-old woman convicted of killing her abusive husband about a half-century ago and a man who pleaded guilty to using a telephone for a cocaine transaction in the 1970s.

The pardons, announced Friday, mean the criminal record of the crimes is now purged. They come a few months after the Democratic president pardoned thousands of people convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law. He also pardoned three people earlier this year and has commuted the sentences of 75 others.

politico CustomBiden’s stance on low-level crimes, particularly low-level drug possession, and how those crimes can impact families and communities for decades to come has evolved over his 50 years in public service. In the 1990s, he supported crime legislation that increased arrest and incarceration rates for drug crimes, particularly for Black and Latino people. Biden has said people are right to question his stance on the bill, but he also has encouraged them to look at what he’s doing now on crime.

The pardons were announced while the president was spending time with his family on St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The White House said those pardoned are people who went on to serve their communities. It said the pardons reflect Biden’s view people deserve a second chance.

Those granted pardons are:

— Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas, 80, of Columbus, Ohio. At age 33, Ibn-Tamas was convicted of killing her husband. She testified that her husband beat her, verbally abused her and threatened her. She told jurors that she shot him moments after he had assaulted her, while she was pregnant. The judge refused to allow expert testimony on battered woman syndrome, a psychological condition that can develop among victims of domestic violence. Ibn-Tamas got one to five years of incarceration with credit for time served. Her appeal was among the first by someone with battered woman syndrome, and her case has been studied by academics.

— Charles Byrnes-Jackson, 77, of Swansea, South Carolina. Byrnes-Jackson pleaded guilty to possession and sale of spirits without tax stamps when he was 18, and it involved a single illegal whiskey transaction. He tried to enlist in the Marines but was rejected because of the conviction.

— John Dix Nock III, 72, of St. Augustine, Florida. Nock pleaded guilty to using his property as a grow-house for marijuana 27 years ago. He didn’t cultivate the plants, but he got six months of community confinement. He now operates a general contracting business.

— Gary Parks Davis, 66, of Yuma, Arizona. When Davis was 22, he admitted using a telephone for a cocaine transaction. He served a six-month sentence on nights and weekends in a county jail and completed probation in 1981. After the offense, the White House says, Davis earned a college degree and worked steadily, including owning a landscaping business and managing construction projects. He has volunteered at his children’s high school and in his community.

— Edward Lincoln De Coito III, 50, of Dublin, California. De Coito pleaded guilty at age 23 to being involved in a marijuana trafficking conspiracy. He was released from prison in December 2000 after serving nearly two years. Before the offense, De Coito had served honorably in the U.S. Army and the Army Reserves and had received numerous awards.

— Vincente Ray Flores, 37, of Winters, California. As a 19-year-old, Flores consumed ecstasy and alcohol while serving in the Air Force, later pleading guilty at a special court-martial. He was sentenced to four months of confinement, loss of $2,800 in pay and a reduction in rank. Flores participated in a six-month rehab program that gives select enlisted offenders a chance to return to duty after therapy and education. His reduction in rank was amended, and he remains on active duty, earning medals and other awards for his service.

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin, unaccustomed to losing, is increasingly isolated as war falters, Catherine Belton, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). With the Russian president refusing to back down in Ukraine, Russia’s elite is split between those who want the war to end and those supporting further escalation.

When Vladimir Putin visited Minsk last week to discuss deepening cooperation, a sarcastic joke by his host, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, seemed to ring all too true. “The two of us are co-aggressors, the most harmful and toxic people on this planet. We have only one dispute: Who is the bigger one? That’s all,” Lukashenko said.

As Putin approaches New Year’s Eve, the 23d anniversary of his appointment in 1999 as acting Russian president, he appears more isolated than ever.

More than 300 days of brutal war against Ukraine have blown up decades of Russia’s carefully cultivated economic relations with the West, turning the country into a pariah, while Kremlin efforts to replace those ties with closer cooperation with India and China appear to be faltering the longer the war grinds on.

Putin, who started his career as a Soviet KGB agent, has always kept his own counsel, relying on a close inner circle of old friends and confidants while seeming to never fully trust or confide in anyone. But now a new gulf is emerging between Putin and much of the country’s elite, according to interviews with Russian business leaders, officials and analysts.

Putin “feels the loss of his friends,” said one Russian state official with close ties to diplomatic circles, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “Lukashenko is the only one he can pay a serious visit to. All the rest see him only when necessary.”

Even though Putin gathered leaders of former Soviet republics for an informal summit in St. Petersburg this week, across the region the Kremlin’s authority is weakening. Putin spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping over video conference on Friday morning in Moscow in an effort to showcase the two countries’ ties. Although Xi said he was ready to improve strategic cooperation, he acknowledged the “complicated and quite controversial international situation.” In September, he’d made clear his “concerns” over the war.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Explosions Shake Kyiv as Ukrainians Prepare for the New Year, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 31, 2022. Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had warned that Russia might launch another wave of attacks before the end of the year. Russia rained missiles and exploding drones on Ukraine’s capital and other cities on Saturday in a deadly New Year’s Eve assault, punctuating President Vladimir V. Putin’s stated resolve in a speech to continue a war he called a “sacred duty to our ancestors and descendants.”

The aerial bombardments killed at least one person and partly destroyed a hotel in the capital, Kyiv, inflicted damage elsewhere and forced Ukraine’s war-ravaged electric utilities to pre-emptively shut off power.

“There are explosions in Kyiv!” Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, wrote on the Telegram messaging app. “Stay in shelters!”

Air defense shot down 12 of at least 20 cruise missiles launched by Russia on Saturday afternoon, the top Ukrainian military commander, Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, said on Telegram. The missiles had been launched from Russian strategic bombers over the Caspian Sea and from land-based launchers, he said.

For three months, Russia has launched volleys of cruise missiles and drones at Ukraine’s energy grid, in what military analysts say is a strategy of plunging the country into cold and darkness to lower morale.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine had warned on Thursday that the Russian military might launch another wave of missile attacks before the year-end celebrations. Moscow fired a large volley this past week disrupting electrical power in Kyiv and in other cities.

In a videotaped message on Saturday, Mr. Zelensky called the Russian strikes on New Year’s Eve “inhuman.”

“A terrorist state will not be forgiven,” Mr. Zelensky said. “And those who give orders for such strikes, and those who carry them out, will not receive a pardon. To put it mildly.”

Here’s what we know:

  • The aerial bombardments killed at least one person and partly destroyed a hotel in the capital, Kyiv. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia vowed to continue the war, calling it a “sacred duty.”
  • At least one person is dead in Kyiv, with damage reported in other cities.
  • After repeated setbacks, Putin uses a speech to try to rally his countrymen.
  • Zelensky, a passionate speaker, will address the country in a New Year’s Eve speech.
  • Zelensky’s New Year’s Eve addresses have a strong following among Ukrainians.
  • Germany’s chancellor says 2022 was a year of war, but also one of unity.
  • Ukraine at war: 2022 in photos.
  • In a battered Ukrainian city, workers are battling winter, not the Russians.
  • Critics say a new media law signed by Zelensky could restrict press freedom in Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Clergymen or Spies? Churches Become Tools of War in Ukraine, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 31, 2022. Ukrainian officials are cracking down on a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church that they describe as a subversive force doing the Kremlin’s bidding.

Andriy Pavlenko, an Orthodox church abbot in eastern Ukraine, seemed to be on a selfless spiritual mission. When war came, he remained with his flock and even visited a hospital to pray with wounded soldiers.

But in fact, according to court records, Mr. Pavlenko was working actively to kill Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian activists, including a priest from a rival Orthodox church in his city, Sievierodonetsk.

“In the north, there are about 500 of them, with a mortar platoon, five armored personnel carriers and three tanks,” Mr. Pavlenko wrote to a Russian officer in March, as the Russian Army was hammering Sievierodonetsk and areas around it with artillery.

“He needs to be killed,” he wrote of the rival priest, according to evidence introduced at his trial in a Ukrainian court, showing he had sent lists to the Russian Army of people to round up once the city was occupied. Mr. Pavlenko was convicted as a spy this month and then traded with Russia in a prisoner exchange.

washington post logoukraine flagWashington Post, Analysis: Inside the Ukrainian counteroffensive that shocked Putin and reshaped the war, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Paul Sonne, Serhiy Morgunov and Kamila Hrabchuk, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). First, a lightning sweep across Kharkiv. Then, a slower grind into Kherson. In two months of stunning gains, Ukraine’s military redrew the battlefield map and proved it can fight to win.

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Global News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Teary Bolsonaro calls loss unfair, condemns violence, flies to Florida, Gabriela Sá Pessoa, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Two days before leaving office, ending a tumultuous four years as the race-baiting, Amazon-developing, coronavirus-downplaying, vaccine-skeptical leader of Latin America’s jair bolsonaro brazillargest country, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, right, remained defiant in a teary farewell address on Friday, defending his record and saying the election that led to his ouster was not impartial, but condemning violence against the result.

Then he flew to Florida, Brazilian media reported, where in the past he has met with former president Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago. He apparently planned to skip the inauguration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Sunday, when the outgoing leader traditionally presents the presidential sash to his successor, a ceremony intended to reaffirm the country’s young democracy.

brazil flag wavingBolsonaro’s remarks, live-streamed for nearly an hour Friday morning, were his most extensive since he lost the election in October. He still has not conceded the race, but acknowledged that a new administration would take over on Sunday.

“Nothing is lost,” he told supporters. “Brazil is a fantastic country, and Brazil doesn’t end on January first.”

Lula won Brazil's closest-ever election. That was the easy part.

Concern is growing over security around Lula’s inauguration in Brasília on Sunday. Bolsonaro supporters have camped outside army installations since his Oct. 30 defeat to call for a military coup to keep him in power. A group of radical bolsonaristas set fire to buses and tried to invade federal police headquarters in the capital this month after the arrest of a Bolsonaro supporter who was accused of having “expressly summoned armed people to prevent the certification of elected” officials.

On Saturday, police said they defused a bomb planted by a Bolsonaro supporter in a tanker truck full of gas near the international airport in Brasília. They said the suspect told investigators his plan was to provoke chaos to draw military intervention.

Bolsonaro asked supporters last month not to block highways, but said the gatherings outside army installations were legitimate protests. On Friday, he condemned violent demonstrations — and lamented that the Brazilian media had connected the bomb suspect to him.

“Nothing justifies this attempted terrorist act here in Brasília airport,” Bolsonaro said. “[Have] Intelligence. Let’s show we are different from the other side, that we respect the norms and the Constitution.”

His actions might sound familiar to Americans. Trump, a Bolsonaro ally, blamed his 2020 reelection loss on unfounded claims of fraud, declined to concede, urged his supporters to protest the result and skipped the inauguration of President Biden.

Bolsonaro said it had been difficult to stay mostly silent for two months, but refrained from speaking because anything he said “could make things more tumultuous.”

 

andrew tate graphic

washington post logoWashington Post, Andrew Tate, brother charged in Romania with human trafficking, Sara Sorcher, Amar Nadhir and Kelsey Ables, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Andrew Tate — the former kickboxing champion, internet personality and self-described misogynist (shown above in a graphic earlier this year) — has been detained in Romania along with his brother, Tristan, and charged with human trafficking and forming an organized crime group.

andrew tate 2021A Romanian anti-organized-crime unit is seeking authorization from a judge to hold Tate, right, his brother and two Romanian suspects for up to 30 days. A warrant on Thursday concerning the four suspects was valid for up to 24 hours. One also was charged with rape, but the spokesperson would not name that person, citing local laws.

The Tate brothers were expected to be physically present at the court in Bucharest. Prosecutors are seeking to send the suspects to trial where, if convicted, they could face years of prison time.

“No matter what the judge decides [on the longer detention], we will take further action in investigating this crime,” Ramona Bolla, a spokeswoman for the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism, or DIICOT, said in a telephone interview.

Romanian prosecutors said in a statement Thursday that they identified six people whom they allege were recruited and then sexually abused in Ilfov county, which includes the capital, Bucharest.

Authorities allege that the victims were coerced into participating in pornography for distribution on social media and that one of the suspects twice raped a victim in March. The statement, which did not name the Tate brothers or specify which suspect was accused of rape, alleges that the victims faced “acts of physical violence and mental coercion.”

Andrew Tate, who was born in the United States and also is a British citizen, has previously said he lives in Romania. Bolla confirmed that the Tates were legally in the country and said the investigation started in April, after the U.S. Embassy called the Romanian authorities with information that a U.S. citizen was being held involuntarily at a house in Ilfov. The embassy in Bucharest did not immediately respond to questions from The Washington Post early Friday.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. says it killed nearly 700 Islamic State suspects this year, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). More than 460 alleged ISIS operatives were killed in Syria, U.S. officials say. The rest were killed in Iraq.

American military personnel, together with local forces in Iraq and Syria, killed nearly 700 suspected members of the Islamic State in 2022, officials said Thursday, highlighting an aggressive counterterrorism campaign that quietly endures five years after a U.S.-led coalition destroyed the militant group’s caliphate.

U.S. forces conducted 108 joint operations in the past year against alleged ISIS operatives in Syria and an additional 191 in Iraq, U.S. Central Command said in a statement, which notes that American troops undertook another 14 missions by themselves and only inside Syria. Nearly 400 suspects were detained, it says.

“The emerging, reliable and steady ability of our Iraqi and Syrian partner forces to conduct unilateral operations to capture and kill ISIS leaders allows us to maintain steady pressure on the ISIS network,” Maj. Gen. Matt McFarlane, the top commander of the task force overseeing these operations, said in the statement.

Last year, following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden declared at the United Nations that the United States would no longer “fight the wars of the past.” But in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon maintains contingents of about 2,500 and 900 troops, respectively, who still occasionally come under enemy fire.

Biden, writing in an opinion piece published in July by The Washington Post, said that the Middle East is “more stable and secure” than when his administration took over in January 2021, highlighting the U.S. operation in February that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, then the leader of the Islamic State. The group has affiliates elsewhere, including in Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said in Thursday’s statement that the American military is approaching the campaign in three ways: Pursuing the group’s leaders through partnered operations with local forces, continuing to detain Islamic State members in the region, and attempting to prevent children from being radicalized.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin, Xi highlight cooperation during remote meeting against backdrop of war, Francesca Ebel, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met remotely via video link Friday — an indication of Moscow’s latest efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing as Russia’s international isolation grows in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.

Putin stressed the importance of Chinese-Russian relations on the world stage, calling them “a model of cooperation between major powers in the 21st century,” and said that Moscow hoped to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries.

Moscow has actively sought to boost economic cooperation with Beijing after sweeping Western sanctions. The two countries are trading partners, with China importing Russian oil and gas, advanced military technology and other mineral resources in exchange for high-tech Chinese goods.

Russia and China conducted joint naval drills last week, which Russia’s defense chief, Valery Gerasimov, described as a response to “aggressive U.S. military build up” in the Asia-Pacific region. And last week, Putin oversaw the inauguration of a gas field in Siberia that aims to boost Russia’s energy exports to China as the West has worked to cut its energy dependence on Moscow.

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More On Pope's Passing and Potential Church Transitions

 

The ailing retired Pope Benedict, left, is greeted by Pope Francis in 2020 (Photo by Vatican Media via Vatican Media, via Agence France-Presse and Getty Images).

The ailing retired Pope Benedict, left, is greeted by Pope Francis in 2020 (Photo by Vatican Media via Vatican Media, via Agence France-Presse and Getty Images).

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Benedict XVI, first pope to resign in 600 years, dies at 95, Staff Report, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the shy German theologian who tried to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe but will forever be remembered as the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the job, died Saturday. He was 95.

pope benedict XVI 2010 10 17 4Pope Francis will celebrate his funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday, an unprecedented event in which a current pope will celebrate the funeral of a former one.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, right, the shy German theologian who tried to reawaken Christianity in a secularized Europe but will forever be remembered as the first pontiff in 600 years to resign from the job, died Saturday. He was 95.

politico CustomPope Francis will celebrate his funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Thursday, an unprecedented event in which a current pope will celebrate the funeral of a former one.

Benedict stunned the world on Feb. 11, 2013, when he announced, in his typical, soft-spoken Latin, that he no longer had the strength to run the 1.2 billion-strong Catholic Church that he had steered for eight years through scandal and indifference.

His dramatic decision paved the way for the conclave that elected Francis as his successor. The two popes then lived side-by-side in the Vatican gardens, an unprecedented arrangement that set the stage for future “popes emeritus” to do the same.

A statement from Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni on Saturday morning said that: “With sorrow I inform you that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesia Monastery in the Vatican. Further information will be released as soon as possible.”

The Vatican said Benedict’s remains would be on public display in St. Peter’s Basilica starting Monday for the faithful to pay their final respects. Benedict’s request was that his funeral would be celebrated solemnly but with “simplicity,” Bruni told reporters.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Benedict was America’s pope, David Von Drehle, Dec. 31, 2022. For more than a century, from the time when Ireland’s potato crop failed and starvation sped a great migration of Irish to the United States, nativists feared the influence of Roman Catholicism over American life.

Anti-Catholic sentiment helped fuel the Know Nothing movement of the 1840s and 1850s. The prejudice poisoned the 1884 presidential campaign with charges of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion” against the Democratic Party. It marched alongside racism in Ku Klux Klan parades of the 1920s and doomed Democrat Alfred E. Smith’s presidential bid in 1928. John F. Kennedy’s narrow victory in 1960 was thought to be a stake through the heart of hatred.

Ironically, the influence ran in the opposite direction. Popes had relatively little impact on the formation of American morals and culture compared with the enormous changes wrought on the Vatican by U.S. modernizing power. Pope John XXIII’s historic decision to call the Second Vatican Council to begin gathering in 1962 was, in many senses, a recognition that the Catholic Church must engage with the free and individualistic world that the postwar United States was making.

Two priests who served as theological experts at Vatican II would go on to alter that dynamic and to bring Roman Catholicism to a place of prominence in American life unmatched throughout our history. One, from Poland, was Karol Wojtyla, then an auxiliary bishop of Krakow, now Pope Saint John Paul II. The other, a brilliant young professor from the University of Bonn, was Joseph Ratzinger, who would serve John Paul II as chief keeper of the faith and succeed him as Pope Benedict XVI.

With Benedict’s death at 95 on Saturday in Rome, the shared work of these two men can be read in American Catholicism’s dramatic shift toward the cultural right. From John Paul’s election to the papacy in 1978 to Benedict’s unusual resignation from office in 2013, every bishop consecrated in the United States (and worldwide) was approved by one of these two, and every professor licensed to teach Catholic theology according to church doctrine was subject to their potential review.

Marc A. Thiessen: The tragedy of Benedict XVI's papacy is that it was all too short

Their view of Vatican II was not the one that prevailed in the United States immediately after the council adjourned in 1965. Most observers expected that engagement with the modern world would liberalize Catholicism and lead quickly to new policies on birth control, abortion, marriage for priests and so on.

John Paul’s strong anti-communist activism in Poland, along with his movie-star looks and approachable smile, led many Americans to mistakenly believe he would align the church with modern Western culture. But they had not read his theological work, especially the series of meditations that elevated him to eminence in Rome and were published as “A Sign of Contradiction.”

Written for a 1976 retreat called by Pope Paul VI for the Roman Curia, these essays explained John Paul’s view that post-Vatican II engagement with modernity was not meant to change the church so much as it was meant to change the modern world. Catholicism would stand in contradiction to liberal trends in society, offering its unchanging doctrines as an alternative to a world evolving for the worse.

John Paul took his smile on the road, traveling the globe as no pontiff had ever done before. He appointed Ratzinger, then an archbishop and cardinal, prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — the old Inquisition — and there he served as the hammer within the velvet glove, purging liberal theologians, clipping the wings of left-leaning bishops and elevating cultural conservatives to positions of power.

Their work continued after John Paul’s death in 2005 as Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI and kept up the countercultural momentum. Storms of scandal over priestly sex abuse prompted some thinkers to ask if the ideal of celibate male leaders in the church had fostered a culture of lies. But for Benedict and his like-minded churchmen, modern promiscuity was to blame. Their solution: tighter screening of seminarians for mental health and orthodox commitment.

The defining engagement in American politics has been over the issue of abortion. As John Paul’s hammer, Ratzinger taught that “not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion.” Under his influence, opposition to abortion became a defining aspect of Catholic identity here: Catholic schools bus students to protest rallies. Catholic hospitals refuse to offer certain medical procedures. Catholic churches raise money to fund antiabortion campaigns.

On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court contradicted nearly 50 years of its own jurisprudence by holding that the Constitution does not protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Five of the six justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade are conservative Roman Catholics. (The sixth was a graduate student under a leading expert in Catholic legal philosophy.)

Catholic leaders hailed the decision — which might never have happened without the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pope Benedict XVI Dies, Live Updates: Benedict Will Be Buried at St. Peter’s Basilica, Jason Horowitz and Elisabetta Povoledo, Dec. 31, 2022. Pope Benedict XVI, the eminent German theologian and conservative enforcer of Roman Catholic Church doctrine who broke with almost 600 years of tradition by resigning and then living for nearly a decade behind Vatican walls as a retired pope, died on Saturday at age 95, the Vatican said.

A pope’s death customarily sets in motion a conclave to choose a new leader of the church. But Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, was named when Benedict stepped down in 2013.

Now, a sitting pope is expected to preside over the funeral of his predecessor — an extraordinary spectacle in the history of the church. The Vatican said on Saturday that Benedict’s funeral would be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square, with Francis presiding.

As is traditional, Benedict’s body will be laid in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday so that the faithful can file by to pay their respects.

He was a pope who always drew ardent loyalists, as well as strong detractors.

Even before his election as pope on April 19, 2005, church conservatives saw him as their intellectual and spiritual north star, a leader who, as a powerful Vatican official, upheld church doctrine in the face of growing secularism and pressure to change to get more people into the pews.

Benedict’s critics are more likely to remember him as a crusher of dissent who did far too little to address sexual abuse in the church, stumbled in some of his public declarations and lacked the charisma of his predecessor, John Paul II.

Francis fired or demoted many of Benedict’s appointees, redirected the church’s priorities and adjusted its emphasis from setting and keeping boundaries to pastoral inclusivity.

Still, in some regards, Francis has built on Benedict’s legacy, especially in addressing the child sexual abuse crisis. Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims, and he apologized for the abuse that was allowed to fester under John Paul II. He excoriated the “filth” in the church and excommunicated some offending priests.

But abuse survivors and their advocates accused Benedict of not going far enough in punishing several priests as a bishop in Germany, and in his handling of accusations against some priests as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. He was also criticized as doing little to hold the hierarchy accountable for shielding — and so facilitating — child sexual abuse.

Benedict, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was ordained a priest in 1951, and named archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, the same year that he became a cardinal. Four years later, Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome, where he became the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for defending church orthodoxy, one of the Vatican’s most important positions. He led the office for nearly 25 years.

After John Paul II died in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as his successor. He took the name of a sixth-century monk, Benedict of Nurcia, who had founded monasteries and the Benedictine order, helping spread Christianity in Europe. The new pope, as Benedict XVI, would seek to re-evangelize a Europe that was struggling to maintain its faith.

Ultimately, Pope Benedict bowed out during a period of scandals and immense pressures. He cited his declining health, both “of mind and body.” He had said that he had resigned freely, and “for the good of the church.”

That resignation — the first by a pontiff since 1415 — is likely to be remembered as his most defining act.

He lived in retirement in a monastery on the Vatican grounds, mostly stepping back from public life and dedicating himself to prayer and meditation. Francis visited him and called him “a wise grandfather in the home,” even as his supporters sought — and failed — to make him an alternative power center.

Here’s what we know:

  • Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected in 2005 as a doctrinal conservative, but stunned the world by resigning in 2013 — the first to do so in centuries.
  • The first pope to step down in six centuries dies in retirement.
  • Benedict’s funeral will take place in St. Peter’s Square.
  • Benedict was criticized for his leadership of the church’s sex abuse scandal.
  • ‘End of an era’: Mourners gather at St. Peter’s Square.
  • His resignation as pope in 2013 shocked the world.
  • An unusual coexistence of two popes worked out, mostly.
  • Mourning bells ring across Germany, but some of the tributes come with caveats.
  • At 86, Francis has his own health problems, raising questions about whether he, too, might retire.
  • The first pope to step down in six centuries dies in retirement.

Pope Benedict XVI, the eminent German theologian and conservative enforcer of Roman Catholic Church doctrine who broke with almost 600 years of tradition by resigning and then living for nearly a decade behind Vatican walls as a retired pope, died on Saturday at age 95, the Vatican said.

A pope’s death customarily sets in motion a conclave to choose a new leader of the church. But Benedict’s successor, Pope Francis, was named when Benedict stepped down in 2013.

Now, a sitting pope is expected to preside over the funeral of his predecessor — an extraordinary spectacle in the history of the church. The Vatican said on Saturday that Benedict’s funeral would be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square, with Francis presiding.

As is traditional, Benedict’s body will be laid in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday so that the faithful can file by to pay their respects.

He was a pope who always drew ardent loyalists, as well as strong detractors.

Even before his election as pope on April 19, 2005, church conservatives saw him as their intellectual and spiritual north star, a leader who, as a powerful Vatican official, upheld church doctrine in the face of growing secularism and pressure to change to get more people into the pews.

Benedict’s critics are more likely to remember him as a crusher of dissent who did far too little to address sexual abuse in the church, stumbled in some of his public declarations and lacked the charisma of his predecessor, John Paul II.

Francis fired or demoted many of Benedict’s appointees, redirected the church’s priorities and adjusted its emphasis from setting and keeping boundaries to pastoral inclusivity.

Still, in some regards, Francis has built on Benedict’s legacy, especially in addressing the child sexual abuse crisis. Benedict was the first pope to meet with victims, and he apologized for the abuse that was allowed to fester under John Paul II. He excoriated the “filth” in the church and excommunicated some offending priests.

But abuse survivors and their advocates accused Benedict of not going far enough in punishing several priests as a bishop in Germany, and in his handling of accusations against some priests as head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. He was also criticized as doing little to hold the hierarchy accountable for shielding — and so facilitating — child sexual abuse.

Benedict, born Joseph Alois Ratzinger, was ordained a priest in 1951, and named archbishop of Munich and Freising in 1977, the same year that he became a cardinal. Four years later, Pope John Paul II summoned Cardinal Ratzinger to Rome, where he became the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the office responsible for defending church orthodoxy, one of the Vatican’s most important positions. He led the office for nearly 25 years.

After John Paul II died in 2005, Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen as his successor. He took the name of a sixth-century monk, Benedict of Nurcia, who had founded monasteries and the Benedictine order, helping spread Christianity in Europe. The new pope, as Benedict XVI, would seek to re-evangelize a Europe that was struggling to maintain its faith.

Ultimately, Pope Benedict bowed out during a period of scandals and immense pressures. He cited his declining health, both “of mind and body.” He had said that he had resigned freely, and “for the good of the church.”

That resignation — the first by a pontiff since 1415 — is likely to be remembered as his most defining act.

He lived in retirement in a monastery on the Vatican grounds, mostly stepping back from public life and dedicating himself to prayer and meditation. Francis visited him and called him “a wise grandfather in the home,” even as his supporters sought — and failed — to make him an alternative power center.

washington post logoWashington Post, Which papal funeral traditions apply to a former pope? Stefano Pitrelli, Kelsey Ables and Sammy Westfall, Dec. 31, 2022. Benedict XVI broke with tradition when he became the first pope in six centuries to abdicate. His death at 95, announced by the Vatican on Saturday, has raised questions about which papal funeral traditions may apply to an ex-pope.

Already, one difference emerged, in that the bells at St. Peter were not specifically tolled for Benedict’s death, something that would only happen for the death of a siting pope, a Vatican spokesman said.

For sure some other customs aren’t relevant. There’s no need to destroy the Fisherman’s Ring that doubles as a papal seal — his customized ring was already slashed to make it unusable when he stepped down in 2013. And the mourning period won’t be followed by the drama of a conclave to select his successor. That’s already happened, too.

Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned the papacy, dies at 95

But what shape the ceremonies will take for Benedict remains unclear.

 

More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

ny times logoNew York Times, These are the key numbers from Donald Trump’s tax returns, Charlie Smart, Dec. 21, 2022. New figures in a report by the House Ways and Means Committee showed that Donald J. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes in his first three years as president, and that he paid no taxes in 2020 as his income began to dwindle.

Mr. Trump’s fortunes changed during his presidency, according to the figures in the report, which include details on the former president’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020. In the two years before he became president, Mr. Trump suffered heavy business losses, the records showed. In his first three years as president, he had an adjusted gross income of $15.8 million.

Mr. Trump’s tax bills, after deductions, were based on his income when it was above zero, as well as the alternative minimum tax in four of the six years. The A.M.T. limits deductions that would have otherwise helped to erase his tax burden. He reduced his resulting tax bills with a mix of tax credits that included incentives and givebacks to business owners.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: From 2020: We obtained years of Donald Trump’s tax information. It showed tax avoidance and chronic losses, Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, Sept. 27, 2020. The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

The returns are some of the most sought-after, and speculated-about, records in recent memory. In Mr. Trump’s nearly four years in office — and across his endlessly hyped decades in the public eye — journalists, prosecutors, opposition politicians and conspiracists have, with limited success, sought to excavate the enigmas of his finances. By their very nature, the filings will leave many questions unanswered, many questioners unfulfilled. They comprise information that Mr. Trump has disclosed to the I.R.S., not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Mr. Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C. mayor: Feds failed on Jan. 6 by thinking far-right was ‘friendly,’ Rachel Weiner and Peter Hermann, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Feds failed on Jan. 6 by thinking far-right was ‘friendly.’

The D.C. mayor told lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that Capitol Police were unprepared for the violent assault because of a mistaken belief that white supremacists would not harm them.

muriel bowser Custom“People thought they were friendly to law enforcement and that they loved their country,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), right, said in her January 2022 interview with the House committee, a transcript of which was released Thursday. She said, however, earlier D.C. rallies of “white nationalist groups … showed us that they were antagonistic to law enforcement.”

In interviews with the House committee, Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III also faulted the Defense Department for not responding more quickly to the Capitol as rioters mobbed the building, while explaining their own reservations about deploying federal personnel on city streets. Bowser also described an attempt by President Donald Trump to take over the city’s police force in the summer of 2020, with some details emerging publicly for the first time with the release of her testimony.

The transcripts of Bowser and Contee’s interviews were part of the latest release of materials from the House Jan. 6 select committee, which this month issued their final report on the attack and recommended that Trump be charged with insurrection and obstruction of Congress.

Trump has blamed Bowser for the chaos on Jan. 6, saying she refused help from the National Guard. But Bowser and Contee said it made sense for the city to ask in advance of Jan. 6 only for unarmed Guard support to help with traffic and free up police for potential mayhem. Federal officers also have jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds, not D.C. police.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Their Mothers Were Teenagers. They Didn’t Want That for Themselves, Jason DeParle, Dec. 31, 2022. Teen pregnancies have plummeted, as has child poverty. The result is a profound change in the forces that bring opportunity between generations.

Brittnee Marsaw was born to a 15-year-old mother in St. Louis and raised by a grandmother who had given birth even younger. Half grown by the time her mother could support her, Ms. Marsaw joined her three states away but never found the bond she sought and calls the teen births of preceding generations “the family curse.”

Ana Alvarez was born in Guatemala to a teenage mother so poor and besieged that she gave her young daughter to a stranger, only to snatch her back. Soon her mother left to seek work in the United States, and after years of futilely awaiting her return Ms. Alvarez made the same risky trip, becoming an undocumented teenager in Washington, D.C., to reunite with the mother she scarcely knew.

While their experiences diverge, Ms. Marsaw and Ms. Alvarez share a telling trait. Stung by the struggles of their teenage mothers, both made unusually self-conscious vows not to become teen mothers themselves. And both say that delaying motherhood gave them — and now their children — a greater chance of success.

ny times logoNew York Times, Congressional Inquiry Into Alzheimer’s Drug Faults Its Maker and F.D.A., Pam Belluck, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Food and Drug Administration’s process for approving the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, despite great uncertainty about whether it worked, was “rife with irregularities,” according to a congressional investigation released on Thursday. The agency’s actions “raise serious concerns about F.D.A.’s lapses in protocol,” the report concluded.

The 18-month investigation, initiated by two congressional committees after the F.D.A. approved the drug, also strongly criticized Biogen, Aduhelm’s manufacturer. Internal documents showed the company set “an unjustifiably high price” of $56,000 a year for Aduhelm because it wanted a history-making “blockbuster” to “establish Aduhelm as one of the top pharmaceutical launches of all time,” even though it knew the high price would burden Medicare and patients, the report found.

The investigation said Biogen was prepared to spend up to several billion dollars — more than two-and-a-half times what it spent developing the drug — on aggressive marketing to counter expected “pushback” over whether Aduhelm was worth its price. The report said the campaign planned to target doctors, patients, advocacy groups, insurers, policymakers and communities of color, who were drastically underrepresented in its clinical trials of the drug.

The F.D.A. is now evaluating two other Alzheimer’s drugs for possible approval early next year, including one that Biogen helped develop. The congressional report said the agency “must take swift action to ensure that its processes for reviewing future Alzheimer’s disease treatments do not lead to the same doubts about the integrity of F.D.A.’s review.”

The report said the F.D.A.’s approval process for Aduhelm was “rife with irregularities” and criticized Biogen for setting an “unjustifiably high price.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It, Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Doctors are exasperated by the persistence of false and misleading claims about the virus.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.

china flag Small“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”

Several prominent Twitter accounts that had been suspended for spreading unfounded claims about Covid have were reinstated in recent weeks, including those of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, and Robert Malone, a vaccine skeptic.

Mr. Musk himself has used Twitter to weigh in on the pandemic, predicting in March 2020 that the United States was likely to have “close to zero new cases” by the end of that April. (More than 100,000 positive tests were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the last week of the month.) This month, he took aim at Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who will soon step down as President Biden’s top medical adviser and the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mr. Musk said Dr. Fauci should be prosecuted.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Other major social platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, said last week that they remained committed to combating Covid misinformation.

YouTube prohibits content — including videos, comments and links — about vaccines and Covid-19 that contradicts recommendations from the local health authorities or the World Health Organization. Facebook’s policy on Covid-19 content is more than 4,500 words long. TikTok said it had removed more than 250,000 videos for Covid misinformation and worked with part

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

climate change photo

 

washington post logoWashington Post, EPA broadens protections for waterways, reversing Trump, Scott Dance, Dec. 31, 2022. The decision — a setback for various industries — broadens which wetlands, streams and rivers can be regulated under the Clean Water Act but stops short of a controversial Obama-era rule.

The Biden administration on Friday imposed a rule expanding the definition of waterways that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has authority to regulate, a move that reverses a Trump-era change and seeks to overcome nearly a decade of challenges to EPA powers, including a pending Supreme Court case.

republican elephant logoThe EPA said its rule strikes a balance it hoped would protect waterways as well as commerce, returning its Waters of the United States regulatory framework to something resembling its state before it became a focus of political debate in 2015. That year, the Obama administration significantly and controversially widened the scope of the Clean Water Act to cover even ephemeral streams and ponds; Trump dramatically weakened EPA’s water pollution authority with a 2019 rule of his own.

In broadening EPA’s powers once again, Administrator Michael Regan said the agency aimed “to deliver a durable definition of WOTUS that safeguards our nation’s waters, strengthens economic opportunity, and protects people’s health while providing greater certainty for farmers, ranchers, and landowners.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Special Report: The U.S. Will Need Thousands of Wind Farms. Will Small Towns Go Along? David Gelles, Jan. 1, 2022 (print ed.). In the fight against climate change, national goals are facing local resistance. One county scheduled 19 nights of meetings to debate one wind farm.

Depressed property values. Flickering shadows. Falling ice. One by one, a real estate appraiser rattled off what he said were the deleterious effects of wind farms as a crowd in an agricultural community in central Illinois hung on his every word.

It was the tenth night of hearings by the Piatt County zoning board, as a tiny town debated the merits of a proposed industrial wind farm that would see dozens of enormous turbines rise from the nearby soybean and corn fields. There were nine more hearings scheduled.

“It’s painful,” said Kayla Gallagher, a cattle farmer who lives nearby and is opposed to the project. “Nobody wants to be here.”

In the fight against global warming, the federal government is pumping a record $370 billion into clean energy, President Biden wants the nation’s electricity to be 100 percent carbon-free by 2035, and many states and utilities plan to ramp up wind and solar power.

But while policymakers may set lofty goals, the future of the American power grid is in fact being determined in town halls, county courthouses and community buildings across the country.

The only way Mr. Biden’s ambitious goals will be met is if rural communities, which have large tracts of land necessary for commercial wind and solar farms, can be persuaded to embrace renewable energy projects. Lots of them.

According to an analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the United States would need to construct more than 6,000 projects like the Monticello one in order to run the economy on solar, wind, nuclear or other forms of nonpolluting energy.

In Piatt County, population 16,000, the project at issue is Goose Creek Wind, which has been proposed by Apex Clean Energy, a developer of wind and solar farms based in Virginia. Apex spent years negotiating leases with 151 local landowners and trying to win over the community, donating to the 4-H Club and a mental health center.

Now, it was making its case to the zoning board, which will send a recommendation to the county board that will make a final call on whether Apex can proceed. If completed, the turbines, each of them 610 feet tall, would march across 34,000 acres of farmland.

ny times logoNew York Times, In a Bad Year for Stocks, Tesla Plunged 65 Percent, Jack Ewing, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Investors blame Elon Musk and wonder how much more the stock will fall.

In a down year for stocks, the 65 percent drop in Tesla’s share price stands out for the scale of wealth vaporized and the unorthodox behavior of its chief executive, Elon Musk.

tesla logoThe collapse of Tesla’s stock price destroyed about $672 billion in market value. And Mr. Musk, once hailed as a genius who remade the car industry, appears increasingly distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and is using the social network to vent his frustrations. He insulted one of his critics this week by describing him as having “tiny testicles.”

The spectacle has stunned investors and analysts. And many are asking what will happen to the stock, the company and Mr. Musk in 2023. The answer largely depends on Mr. Musk and Tesla’s board of directors.

Will he return his attention to Tesla and its myriad challenges? Or will he remain camped out at Twitter? Will Mr. Musk sell more Tesla shares to keep Twitter going after spending $44 billion to buy that company, despite promising not to? Will the Cybertruck, Tesla’s first new passenger vehicle in three years, finally be available for sale? And, perhaps most important, will Tesla’s board do anything to rein in Mr. Musk?

In a deteriorating economy, these uncertainties have forced investors to fundamentally re-evaluate Tesla’s prospects. It remains the most valuable car company and the only major automaker regarded as a growth stock. But investors are no longer convinced that Tesla can dominate the auto industry the way that Apple dominates smartphones or Amazon rules online retailing.

“The promise of Tesla was that at some point all of the cars in the world would be electric vehicles, and Tesla would play a major role in that,” said Efraim Benmelech, a professor of finance at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

But, he added, investors have reassessed that view and now seem to think that traditional carmakers like Ford Motor and General Motors will be able to pose a credible competitive challenge to Tesla.
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“Some of those companies have been around for 100 years,” said Mr. Benmelech, who uses Tesla as a case study in his classes. “They have good engineers, good management. One should not underestimate the role that competition plays.”

Mr. Benmelech points out that, by most standard measures, Tesla is doing pretty well. The company has reduced its debt and has some of the highest profit margins in the business. It reported a net profit of $8.9 billion in the first nine months of 2022, more than General Motors earned.
This week, there were signs that the share price was stabilizing. The shares rose to $123 on Friday from a two-year low of $109 on Wednesday.

Because many investors compare Tesla to technology companies, it must fulfill loftier expectations than more established automakers. That is why it is still worth roughly $389 billion, compared with about $226 billion for Toyota.

In retrospect, it is clear that Tesla’s stock market valuation of more than $1 trillion at the beginning of the year was overblown, analysts say. Some of the spectacular rise in Tesla’s share price in 2020 and 2021 was probably driven by investors hoping that the company would make them as rich as it had others who bought shares in the company in 2017 when it was worth $40 billion (and considered by some skeptics at the time to be wildly expensive).

“There are times when Tesla looked like it could make someone a millionaire in short order,” said William Goetzmann, a professor of finance at the Yale School of Management who studies asset prices.

That optimism became more difficult to sustain as a series of problems emerged during 2022. Temporary shutdowns at Tesla’s factory in Shanghai because of rising Covid cases, along with intense competition from BYD and other Chinese automakers, cast doubt on Tesla’s chances to dominate electric car sales in that country, the world’s largest auto and electric car market. The Shanghai factory is Tesla’s largest, accounting for 40 percent of its total production.

Tesla is expected to release its fourth-quarter and full-year sales data in the next few days. Wall Street analysts are expecting that the company delivered 420,000 cars in the last three months of the year, up from 343,000 in the third quarter. That would be impressive but not enough for the company to meet its goal of increasing sales 50 percent for the full year.

Rising interest rates were a problem for all automakers, and especially companies, like Tesla, whose vehicles typically sell for more than $50,000. Higher rates mean higher monthly payments that many buyers cannot afford.

Even if rate increases by the Federal Reserve and other central banks were beyond Mr. Musk’s control, analysts faulted him for not paying enough attention to Tesla at a critical moment.

Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities who has long been optimistic about Tesla’s prospects, probably spoke for many investors when he suggested 10 things Mr. Musk could do to revive the company’s share price. High on the list: Name a new chief executive of Twitter and “focus attention back on Tesla, not on Twitter.”

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

 

barbara walters collage

ny times logoNew York Times, Barbara Walters, a First Among TV Newswomen, Is Dead at 93, Alessandra Stanley, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). Barbara Walters (shown above and below right), who broke barriers for women as the first female co-host of the “Today” show and the first female anchor of a network evening news program, and who as an interviewer of celebrities became one herself, helping to blur the line between news and entertainment, died on Friday. She was 93.

barbara walters headshotHer death was reported by ABC News, where she was a longtime anchor and a creator of the talk show “The View.” It did not give a cause or say where she died.

Ms. Walters spent more than 50 years in front of the camera and, until she was 84, continued to appear on “The View.” In one-on-one interviews, she was best known for delving, with genteel insistence, into the private lives and emotional states of movie stars, heads of state and other high-profile subjects.

Ms. Walters first made her mark on the “Today” show on NBC, where she began appearing regularly on camera in 1964; she was officially named co-host a decade later. Her success kicked open the door for future network anchors like Jane Pauley, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer.

She broke barriers as a co-host of the “Today” show, a network evening news anchor and a creator of “The View,” all while gaining her own kind of celebrity.

ny times logoNew York Times, Fellow journalists, celebrity interview subjects and others offered tributes to the renowned newswoman, McKenna Oxenden, Eduardo Medina and John Yoon, Dec. 31, 2022. Barbara Walters, who died Friday at 93, was remembered for her tenacious journalism that blazed a trail for women in the industry.

As word of her death spread, memories of, and tributes to, Ms. Walters flooded social media. Robert A. Iger, the chief executive of the Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC News, said on Twitter that Ms. Walters “was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself.”

Journalists across the country recalled on Friday night the effect that Ms. Walters had on their careers, directly and indirectly. Many said her interviews were models for good journalistic practices. Others marveled at the bravery she displayed when sitting across from some of the world’s most powerful people. And numerous others described Ms. Walters as a “trailblazer” who helped carve a path for women in the news industry.

Oprah Winfrey recalled how Ms. Walters had been an early inspiration.

In a local Miss Fire Prevention Contest that eventually helped Ms. Winfrey land her first broadcasting job at 17, a judge asked what she hoped to do with her life.

ny times logoNew York Times, Do You Know What’s in the Cloud? Kashmir Hill, Dec. 31, 2022. Google, Apple and Meta offer near-limitless storage for photos, videos and important documents, but you should keep a copy of what you hold most dear.

I have many fears as a mother. My kindergarten-age daughter recently learned a game on the school bus called “Truth or Force.” My youngest refuses to eat almost anything but Kraft Mac and Cheese. Added to the list this year, alongside outside influences and health concerns, is the possibility that my daughters could inadvertently lock me out of my digital life.

That’s what happened to a mother in Colorado whose 9-year-old son used her old smartphone to stream himself naked on YouTube, and a father in San Francisco whose Google account was disabled and deleted because he took naked photos of his toddler for the doctor.

I reported on their experiences for The New York Times, and as I talked to these parents, who were stunned and bereft at the loss of their emails, photos, videos, contacts and important documents spanning decades, I realized I was similarly at risk.

I am “cloud-complacent,” keeping my most important digital information not on a hard drive at home but in the huge digital basement provided via technology companies’ servers. Google gives all users 15 gigabytes free, a quarter of what comes standard on an Android phone, and I have not managed to max it out in 18 years of using the company’s many services.

I did fill up Apple’s free 5 GB, so I now pay $9.99 a month for additional iCloud storage space. Meta has no max; like scrolling on Instagram, the allowed space is infinite.

If I were suddenly cut off from any of these services, the data loss would be professionally and personally devastating.

As a child of the 1980s, I used to have physical constraints on how many photos, journals, VHS tapes and notes passed in seventh grade that I could reasonably keep. But the immense expanse and relatively cheap rent of the so-called cloud has made me a data hoarder. Heading into 2023, I set out to excavate everything I was storing on every service, and find somewhere to save it that I had control over. As I grappled with all the gigabytes, my concern morphed from losing it all to figuring out what was actually worth saving.

ny times logoNew York Times, Cristiano Ronaldo Signs With a Saudi Team, Victor Mather, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). The soccer superstar will be paid handsomely to play in the Middle East in the twilight of his career.

ny times logoNew York Times, Woman Accuses Steven Tyler of Sexually Assaulting Her in the 1970s, Dan Bilefsky, Dec. 31, 2022 (print ed.). In a lawsuit filed under California’s Child Victims Act, the woman says she met the Aerosmith frontman when she was 16.

Steven Tyler, the frontman of the rock band Aerosmith, has been accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing a woman in the 1970s when she was a teenager and he was in his mid-20s.

In the lawsuit, the woman, Julia Misley, accuses Mr. Tyler of using his status and power as a famous rock star to “groom, manipulate, exploit” and “sexually assault” her over the course of three years. She has previously discussed her relationship with Mr. Tyler, writing online that she met him at an Aerosmith concert in Portland, Ore., in 1973, shortly after her 16th birthday.

The lawsuit, earlier reported by Rolling Stone, was filed this week under the California Child Victims Act, which temporarily lifted the statute of limitations so people who said they were sexually abused as children could file civil cases. The three-year period to file a complaint ends on Saturday.

washington post logoWashington Post, A routine operation left her son in a wheelchair. It changed Judy Woodruff’s journalism, Roxanne Roberts, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Judy Woodruff is stepping down as anchor of “PBS NewsHour” but still plans to report from around the country, with some stories about people with disabilities.

Last month, TV anchor Judy Woodruff had some news of her own: She is stepping down from “PBS NewsHour” on Friday, Dec. 30.

One of the most respected and honored journalists on television could have retired. Instead, she’s embarking on a new PBS project, “America at a Crossroads,” where she’ll spend the next two years traveling around the country trying to figure out what voters want, what they need and how to repair the deep divides.

One subject close to her heart that she wants to highlight? People with disabilities.

Her oldest son, Jeffrey Hunt, was born with what she calls a “very mild” case of spina bifida. When he was a teenager, what was a supposed to be a routine operation left him in a wheelchair and in need of full-time care. It was life-altering for Jeffrey and the entire family.

Woodruff during a taping of “Meet the Press” on NBC in 2007. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jeffrey, now 41, lives in a group home in Maryland, and says the love and support of his family got him to this point. “After I was injured my parents were with me every day,” he writes in an email. “They told me despite disabilities, I can succeed. I have succeeded thus far.”

It’s one thing to report on the kitchen-table issues that affect people, another to live them. As a mother, Woodruff is keenly attuned to the needs of those with disabilities and their caregivers; as a Washington reporter, she has a deep understanding of what politicians and policymakers can do to help them.

“It made her dedicated to advancing the needs of people with these challenges in the medical system,” says longtime friend and colleague Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. “I think she’s more sensitive. She’s always been empathic, but this inevitably changed her.”

ny times logoNew York Times, What’s Gone at Twitter? A Data Center, Janitors, Some Toilet Paper, Kate Conger, Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Elon Musk has reduced the company to a bare-bones operation, and employees are under a “zero-based budgeting” mandate to justify any spending.

Elon Musk’s orders were clear: Close the data center.

Early on Christmas Eve, members of the billionaire’s staff flew to Sacramento — the site of one of Twitter’s three main computing storage facilities — to disconnect servers that had kept the social network running smoothly. Some employees were worried that losing those servers could cause problems, but saving money was the priority, according to two people who were familiar with the move but not authorized to talk about it.

The data center shutdown was one of many drastic steps Mr. Musk has undertaken to stabilize Twitter’s finances. Over the past few weeks, Twitter had stopped paying millions of dollars in rent and services, and Mr. Musk had told his subordinates to renegotiate those agreements or simply end them. The company has stopped paying rent at its Seattle office, leading it to face eviction, two people familiar with the matter said. Janitorial and security services have been cut, and in some cases employees have resorted to bringing their own toilet paper to the office.

Mr. Musk bought the social network for $44 billion in late October, saddling it with debt that will require him to pay about $1 billion in interest annually. Speaking on a live forum on Twitter last week, Mr. Musk compared the company to a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire and the controls don’t work.” Twitter was on track to have a “negative cash flow situation” of about $3 billion in 2023, he said, citing a depressed advertising environment and increased costs, like the debt payments.

“That’s why I spent the last five weeks cutting costs like crazy,” he said.

Those cuts may be yielding consequences. On Wednesday, users around the world reported service interruptions with Twitter. Some were logged out, while others encountered error messages while visiting the website. Twitter has not explained what caused the temporary outage. Three people familiar with the company’s infrastructure said that if the Sacramento facility had still been operating, it could have helped alleviate the problem by providing backup computing capacity when other data centers failed.

Twitter, which has eliminated its communications department, and Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Although he has said he will appoint a new chief executive at Twitter, Mr. Musk remains closely involved at the social networking firm even as problems crop up at his electric vehicle company, Tesla. And his tight control of the daily management of Twitter calls into question just how much power he would cede to a new chief, who would inherit a bare-bones business that he still owns.

Since early November, Mr. Musk has sought to save about $500 million in nonlabor costs, according to an internal document seen by The New York Times. He has also laid off or fired nearly 75 percent of the company’s work force since completing the purchase.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Silicon Valley Retrenches, a Tech Talent Shift Accelerates, Steve Lohr and Tripp Mickle, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Most tech jobs are now in mainstream industries like health care, banking and retail.

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washington post logoWashington Post, House panel releases Trump tax returns in another setback for former president, Marianna Sotomayor, Jonathan O'Connell and Michael Kranish, Dec. 30, 2022. The Democratic-led panel released the financial documents for six years, capping a protracted legal and political battle that could have been prevented had former president Donald Trump followed presidential precedent and released his returns voluntarily.

The House Ways and Means Committee on Friday released Donald Trump’s tax returns, dealing yet another setback to the former president and 2024 White House candidate as he faces multiple federal and state investigations.

irs logoThe Democratic-led panel released the financial documents for six years, capping a protracted legal and political battle that could have been prevented had Trump followed presidential precedent and released his returns voluntarily.

Democrats have pushed for more than three years to make Trump’s tax returns public, and the documents were finally made available to the Ways and Means Committee late last month after the Supreme Court denied a last attempt by Trump to withhold the records.

The release marks another blow to Trump, who is struggling to mount a campaign for president as numerous investigations and controversies continue to swirl around him. His most recent actions, from dining with avowed white supremacists to suggesting terminating the Constitution, have left many in the Republican Party reconsidering whether he remains the most viable candidate to lead the GOP after midterm voters largely rejected candidates backed by the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, These are the key numbers from Donald Trump’s tax returns, Charlie Smart, Dec. 21, 2022. New figures in a report by the House Ways and Means Committee showed that Donald J. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes in his first three years as president, and that he paid no taxes in 2020 as his income began to dwindle.

Mr. Trump’s fortunes changed during his presidency, according to the figures in the report, which include details on the former president’s tax returns from 2015 to 2020. In the two years before he became president, Mr. Trump suffered heavy business losses, the records showed. In his first three years as president, he had an adjusted gross income of $15.8 million.

Mr. Trump’s tax bills, after deductions, were based on his income when it was above zero, as well as the alternative minimum tax in four of the six years. The A.M.T. limits deductions that would have otherwise helped to erase his tax burden. He reduced his resulting tax bills with a mix of tax credits that included incentives and givebacks to business owners.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: From 2020: We obtained years of Donald Trump’s tax information. It showed tax avoidance and chronic losses, Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, Sept. 27, 2020. The Times obtained Donald Trump’s tax information extending over more than two decades, revealing struggling properties, vast write-offs, an audit battle and hundreds of millions in debt coming due.

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

As the president wages a re-election campaign that polls say he is in danger of losing, his finances are under stress, beset by losses and hundreds of millions of dollars in debt coming due that he has personally guaranteed. Also hanging over him is a decade-long audit battle with the Internal Revenue Service over the legitimacy of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses. An adverse ruling could cost him more than $100 million.

The tax returns that Mr. Trump has long fought to keep private tell a story fundamentally different from the one he has sold to the American public. His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes. Now, with his financial challenges mounting, the records show that he depends more and more on making money from businesses that put him in potential and often direct conflict of interest with his job as president.

The New York Times has obtained tax-return data extending over more than two decades for Mr. Trump and the hundreds of companies that make up his business organization, including detailed information from his first two years in office. It does not include his personal returns for 2018 or 2019. This article offers an overview of The Times’s findings; additional articles will be published in the coming weeks.

The returns are some of the most sought-after, and speculated-about, records in recent memory. In Mr. Trump’s nearly four years in office — and across his endlessly hyped decades in the public eye — journalists, prosecutors, opposition politicians and conspiracists have, with limited success, sought to excavate the enigmas of his finances. By their very nature, the filings will leave many questions unanswered, many questioners unfulfilled. They comprise information that Mr. Trump has disclosed to the I.R.S., not the findings of an independent financial examination. They report that Mr. Trump owns hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable assets, but they do not reveal his true wealth. Nor do they reveal any previously unreported connections to Russia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Few crypto gains appear on tax returns. That’s changing — but not this year, Julie Zauzmer Weil, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). A rule expected to take effect in 2024 will make it harder for crypto investors to skip out on reporting gains on their income taxes.

For more than a decade, the number of people buying and selling cryptocurrency grew and grew. Tax revenue from earnings on sales of those investments? Not so much.

irs logoMore than 5 million people were trading crypto between 2014 and 2015, but fewer than 1,000 taxpayers per year reported earnings from those trades on their tax returns in that period, according to estimates by federal prosecutors and the most recent public tally by federal authorities. They note that the number of people reporting income from crypto has increased since then, but not even close to enough.

Coinbase alone had 103 million users in 2022, a company spokesperson said, with 8.5 million of them making trades every month, although the company will not disclose how many are in the United States.

The amount of revenue not collected is hard to calculate, given the purposely anonymous nature of cryptocurrency and the IRS’s own opacity — it has not revealed publicly the number of people paying capital gains on crypto investments in more than five years. But the Congressional Budget Office estimates that a new reporting requirement for the exchanges will result in $28 billion in taxes collected over the decade after it takes effect in 2024. A legal requirement that failed in Congress this month would have generated $16 billion more by banning a legal loophole called “wash sales” for crypto traders. Unlike traditional investors, they can book a paper loss when prices drop and immediately re-buy the asset.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin, unaccustomed to losing, is increasingly isolated as war falters, Catherine Belton, Dec. 30, 2022. With the Russian president refusing to back down in Ukraine, Russia’s elite is split between those who want the war to end and those supporting further escalation.

When Vladimir Putin visited Minsk last week to discuss deepening cooperation, a sarcastic joke by his host, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, seemed to ring all too true. “The two of us are co-aggressors, the most harmful and toxic people on this planet. We have only one dispute: Who is the bigger one? That’s all,” Lukashenko said.

As Putin approaches New Year’s Eve, the 23d anniversary of his appointment in 1999 as acting Russian president, he appears more isolated than ever.

More than 300 days of brutal war against Ukraine have blown up decades of Russia’s carefully cultivated economic relations with the West, turning the country into a pariah, while Kremlin efforts to replace those ties with closer cooperation with India and China appear to be faltering the longer the war grinds on.

Putin, who started his career as a Soviet KGB agent, has always kept his own counsel, relying on a close inner circle of old friends and confidants while seeming to never fully trust or confide in anyone. But now a new gulf is emerging between Putin and much of the country’s elite, according to interviews with Russian business leaders, officials and analysts.

Putin “feels the loss of his friends,” said one Russian state official with close ties to diplomatic circles, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. “Lukashenko is the only one he can pay a serious visit to. All the rest see him only when necessary.”

Even though Putin gathered leaders of former Soviet republics for an informal summit in St. Petersburg this week, across the region the Kremlin’s authority is weakening. Putin spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping over video conference on Friday morning in Moscow in an effort to showcase the two countries’ ties. Although Xi said he was ready to improve strategic cooperation, he acknowledged the “complicated and quite controversial international situation.” In September, he’d made clear his “concerns” over the war.

 

Pelé (Reuters photo by Gonzalo Fuentes).

Pelé (Reuters photo by Gonzalo Fuentes).

ny times logoNew York Times, Pelé, the Global Face of Soccer, Dies at 82, Lawrie Mifflin, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Pelé, who was declared a national treasure in his native Brazil, achieved worldwide celebrity and helped popularize the sport in the United States.

Pelé, one of soccer’s greatest players and a transformative figure in 20th-century sports who achieved a level of global celebrity few athletes have known, died on Thursday in São Paulo. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his manager, Joe Fraga. The Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo said the cause was multiple organ failure, the result of the progression of colon cancer.

Pelé had been receiving treatment for cancer in recent years, and he entered the hospital several weeks ago for treatment of a variety of health issues, including a respiratory infection.

A national hero in his native Brazil, Pelé was beloved around the world — by the very poor, among whom he was raised; the very rich, in whose circles he traveled; and just about everyone who ever saw him play.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Inside the Ukrainian counteroffensive that shocked Putin and reshaped the war, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Paul Sonne, Serhiy Morgunov and Kamila Hrabchuk, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). First, a lightning sweep across Kharkiv. Then, a slower grind into Kherson. In two months of stunning gains, Ukraine’s military redrew the battlefield map and proved it can fight to win.

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Signs $1.7 Trillion Government Funding Bill, Preventing Shutdown, Jim Tankersley, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The $1.7 trillion measure includes more money for the military and law enforcement, along with an overhaul of how Congress counts electoral votes in presidential elections.

President Biden signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill into law on Thursday, averting a shutdown and keeping the government funded through September while adding to his legacy of expanding federal programs as president.

The signing was not a surprise; Mr. Biden had pushed Congress to reach a deal on funding the government ahead of a deadline at the end of this month, and he had cheered the bill when it passed the Senate and then the House.

But the setting for the bill signing was unusual. Instead of staging a ceremony in the White House, Mr. Biden wielded his pen on the island of St. Croix, where he is vacationing through the new year. White House officials received the more than 4,000-page bill from Congress late on Wednesday afternoon and sent it to the Virgin Islands on Thursday on a commercial flight.

The bill, which cleared Congress on Dec. 23, was the last major legislative accomplishment of the first two years of Mr. Biden’s tenure in the White House, when Democrats narrowly controlled both the House and the Senate.

 

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).

washington post logoWashington Post, District attorney in New York opens investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos, Azi Paybarah, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly said residents “must have an honest and accountable representative. The Nassau County district attorney announced that she is opening an investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), whose surprise victory in November was quickly followed by revelations that he lied about his business experience, educational background and family ancestry.

The district attorney, Anne T. Donnelly (R), said in a statement: “The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated” with Santos “are nothing short of stunning.” The residents in the congressional district “must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress” and “if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.” Donnelly’s spokesman, Brendan Brosh, said in a statement, “We are looking into the matter.”

Days after an explosive New York Times story on Dec. 19 detailed lies Santos told about his background, Santos gave a handful of interviews in which he acknowledged he was untruthful about having worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and graduating college. He said he never claimed to be Jewish, despite previous public comments about his heritage.

washington post logoWashington Post, A tiny paper rang alarm bells about George Santos in September. Very few noticed, Sarah Ellison, Dec. 30, 2022. Before the election, the North Shore Leader on Long Island raised multiple questions about the GOP House candidate. He was elected and is now under investigation for misrepresenting his background to voters.

  • Washington Post, George Santos said 9/11 ‘claimed my mother’s life.’ She died in 2016.
  • Washington Post, Retropolis: The congressman who ‘embellished’ his résumé long before Santos

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: In George Santos, the GOP gets the representative-elect it deserves, Eugene Robinson, right, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Sooner or eugene robinson headshot Customlater, the Republican Party’s devolution was bound to saddle GOP leaders with someone exactly like Rep.-elect George Santos of New York: a glib, successful candidate for high office who turns out to be pure fantasy with zero substance.

Santos, 34, who helped give Republicans their slim House majority by winning an open Long Island seat previously held by a Democrat, has admitted to “embellishing” his résumé and using a “poor choice of words” in touting his credentials. Those are understatements akin to calling the Amazon a creek or the Grand Canyon a ditch.

After initial reporting by the New York Times, journalists have discovered that, basically, Santos’s whole life story — as he sold it to voters — is a lie.

The most honest thing House Republicans could do, in my view, is welcome Santos with open arms. The party embarked on the path of make-believe politics long before Santos came onto the scene. All he did was expand the frontier.

ny times logoNew York Times, House Republicans Don’t Seem Eager to Punish Santos, but There Are Options, Catie Edmondson, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Representative-elect George Santos’s long list of fabrications has raised questions about whether he will even be allowed to take his seat next week. The representative-elect’s long list of fabrications has raised questions about whether he will even be allowed to take his seat next week. But House Republicans have shown little appetite for punishing him.

republican elephant logoOn the campaign trail, Representative-elect George Santos, a Republican who ultimately flipped a Democratic seat in New York, misled voters about his work and educational history, his family’s heritage, his past philanthropic efforts and his business dealings.

His litany of fabrications has raised questions as to whether Mr. Santos, who was elected last month to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, will be allowed to take his seat next week when Congress convenes or thrown out once he is sworn in.

But House Republican leaders, who have so far remained silent amid the persistent questions about Mr. Santos, are unlikely to punish him in any significant kevin mccarthyway. Even if they could force him out of Congress, it would prompt a special election in a swing seat, setting up a potential blow to the party’s already precarious majority.

And Mr. Santos has pledged to vote for Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, for speaker next week as Mr. McCarthy faces a rebellion on the right and needs every vote he can get.

Here are some of the options for addressing Mr. Santos’s falsehoods.

washington post logoWashington Post, As access to off-label use of ketamine grows, controversial approach faces uncertain future, Daniel Gilbert, Dec. 30, 2022. A federal waiver helped give rise to a new industry treating depression with the psychedelic drug ketamine by telemedicine.

In the past two years, Scott Smith has become licensed to practice medicine in almost every U.S. state for a singular purpose: treating depressed patients online and prescribing them ketamine.

The sedative, which is sometimes abused as a street drug, has shown promise in treating depression and anxiety. But instead of dispensing it in a clinic or under the strict protocols endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration, the South Carolina physician orders generic lozenges online for patients to take at home. He says this practice, though controversial, has benefited more than half of his 3,000 patients. “People are beating a path to my door,” he said in an interview.

Smith is part of a wave of doctors and telehealth start-ups capitalizing on the pandemic-inspired federal public health emergency declaration, which waived a requirement for health-care providers to see patients in person to prescribe controlled substances. The waiver has enabled Smith to build a national ketamine practice from his home outside Charleston — and fueled a boom among telehealth companies that have raised millions from investors.

As the urgency around covid-19 subsides, many expect the waiver to expire this spring. Companies are lobbying to extend it, and patients are bracing for a disruption to purely virtual care.

“I would not have wanted to do this if I had to go to a clinic,” said Steve, a Chicago resident who works in public relations and who spoke on the condition that his last name be withheld because of the stigma around the drug. Ketamine has helped his bipolar disorder more than any other medication, he said, and he wants to continue taking it. “It’s just not going to happen, if that regulation changes.”

Ketamine for depression: What it feels like and who it can help

The Drug Enforcement Administration in 2020 temporarily waived the requirement that prescribers meet patients in person before treating them with several classes of drugs, from opioids to antidepressants. A DEA spokesperson said the agency is working on regulations to allow this permanently, but declined to provide details or a timeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Advice From a Political Daughter: ‘Every Woman Needs a Paul Pelosi,’ Annie Karni, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, a multimillionaire recovering from a brutal attack, has long taken care of the couple’s “business of living.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was glued to CNN the night after the 2020 election, while her husband, Paul Pelosi, sat nearby unwrapping a package.

“What is that?” she asked him in a scene from the new HBO documentary, “Pelosi in the House,” directed by their daughter Alexandra Pelosi.

“Dish towels,” Mr. Pelosi responded with a hint of irony as he popped the bubble packing. Ms. Pelosi smiled and then turned her attention back to the election coverage.

It was just one instance of a dynamic on display throughout the film: Mr. Pelosi, who was brutally attacked at the couple’s San Francisco home by an assailant who was said to have been targeting the speaker, takes care of what their family refers to as the “business of living.” That leaves his wife, who will step down as speaker when Republicans assume the House majority on Jan. 3, free to focus on her work.

It is the kind of relationship that women in politics rarely talk about, but can sometimes help make the difference between success and failure: a partner willing to take on the mundane tasks and supportive role that traditionally fell to political wives. And although the Pelosis are wealthy and can get all the household help they need, the documentary captures that being a political spouse can mean simply showing up, and then standing off to the side.

Throughout the film, as Ms. Pelosi does business on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Chuck Schumer or Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was then a presidential candidate, Mr. Pelosi, 82, a multimillionaire businessman who founded a venture capital investment firm, is often in the same room dealing with the day-to-day necessities of their lives.

In one scene, Ms. Pelosi was in her pajamas strategizing on a call with Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, about the first impeachment of President Donald J. Trump while Mr. Pelosi, sitting across from her, was on his cellphone dealing with a contractor trying to access their San Francisco home to fix a broken shower.

“I don’t know what happened to that key,” Mr. Pelosi said, using an expletive.

Paul and Nancy Pelosi met as college students while taking a summer class at Georgetown University in 1961. They married two years later and had five children in six years. Ms. Pelosi spent her early years in the marriage as a stay-at-home San Francisco mother and did not run for Congress until she was in her 40s. What followed was nothing that Mr. Pelosi ever pictured for his wife, or his family, according to his daughter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How a Windfall of Special Education Funding Benefited Hasidic Schools, Brian M. Rosenthal, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). New York has paid companies millions of dollars to help children with disabilities in religious schools. But the services are not always needed or even provided.

Less than a decade ago, New York City drastically changed the way it provided special education to thousands of children with disabilities.

State law requires cities to deliver those services to students in private schools, even if the government has to pay outside companies to do it. But for years, when parents asked, New York City officials resisted and called many of the requests unnecessary.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio changed course. Responding to complaints, especially from Orthodox Jewish organizations, he ordered the city to start fast-tracking approvals.

The policy has made it easier for some children with disabilities to get specialized instruction, therapy and counseling. But in Orthodox Jewish religious schools, particularly in parts of the Hasidic community, the shift has also led to a windfall of government money for services that are sometimes not needed, or even provided, an examination by The New York Times has found.

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Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Missile Barrage Staggers Ukraine’s Air Defenses, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Cruise missiles and exploding drones provided to Russia by Iran swept across the skies of Ukraine, wreaking havoc and once again knocking out power.

A swarm of drones and a volley of cruise missiles rocked towns and cities across Ukraine on Thursday, the biggest assault in weeks and the latest in a wave of ever more sophisticated aerial duels pitting Russia’s evolving tactics against Ukraine’s growing arsenal of air defense weapons.

At dawn in Kyiv, the capital, puffy contrails from missiles or air defense weapons lingered in the sky and fragments from successful intercepts rained down on a playground and on private homes.

Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, had been “saving one of the most massive missile attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion for the last days of the year.” Ukraine’s air defenses were at times overwhelmed.

Iranian-made exploding drones, which Russia began acquiring last summer, were launched in a first wave, apparently to bog down air defenses before the cruise missile strikes, the Ukrainian air force said. It said its defense forces had shot down 54 of 69 cruise missiles and had also knocked out drones.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Massive missile attack’ as strikes reported in Kyiv, across country, David L. Stern, Ellen Francis, Kelsey Ables and Isabelle Khurshudy, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Explosions rocked cities across Ukraine early Thursday morning, as Russia continued its unrelenting pummeling of the country’s energy infrastructure, launching dozens of missiles and hospitalizing at least three people in the capital, Ukrainian officials said.

ukraine flagAir raid sirens sounded out across Ukraine at 6 a.m. Washington Post journalists heard the first of several explosions in Kyiv a little over an hour later. Local officials in Odessa in the south, Kharkiv in the east, Lviv in the west and other regions reported missile attacks on social media. It was not immediately clear whether the sounds of blasts were from strikes or air defenses.

“The enemy attacks Ukraine from various directions with air and sea-based cruise missiles from strategic aircraft and ships,” Ukraine’s Air Force said in a statement on Telegram, calling it a “massive missile attack.”

Moscow has pounded Ukraine’s infrastructure since early October, in an effort to leave the country without light, heat and water during the freezing winter months and weaken the Ukrainians’ resolve to continue the war effort — a strategy that so far seems to have failed considerably.

It was the first major missile attack in about two weeks — and just days before the New Year’s holidays. Russian forces also launched an assault of self-destructing drones on Ukrainian energy facilities last week.

Ukraine’s military said that some 69 missiles had been fired, of which 54 were intercepted by the country’s air defense systems. The Washington Post could not independently verify any of the figures cited by Ukrainian officials.

vitali klitschko aris messinis afp via gettyKyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, shown at right in an AFP file photo via Getty Images, said on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian air defense forces had shot down 16 Russian missiles in the capital, while Odessa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said 21 missiles had been destroyed in his region.

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Associated Press via Washington Post, Myanmar court convicts Suu Kyi of corruption, bringing total sentence to 33 years, Dec. 30, 2022. A court in military-ruled Myanmar convicted the country’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi of corruption Friday, sentencing her to seven years in prison in the last of a string of criminal cases against her, a legal official said.

aung san suu kyi getty 76The court’s action leaves her with a total of 33 years to serve in prison after a series of politically tinged prosecutions since the army toppled her elected government in February 2021.

The case that ended Friday involved five offenses under the anti-corruption law and followed earlier convictions on seven other corruption counts, each of which was punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine.

The 77-year-old Suu Kyi has also been convicted of several other offenses, including illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies, violating coronavirus restrictions, breaching the country’s official secrets act, sedition and election fraud.

myanmar flagHer previous convictions had landed her with a total of 26 years’ imprisonment.

Suu Kyi’s supporters and independent analysts say the numerous charges against her and her allies are an attempt to legitimize the military’s seizure of power while eliminating her from politics before an election it has promised for 2023.

In the five counts of corruption decided Friday, Suu Kyi was alleged to have abused her position and caused a loss of state funds by neglecting to follow financial regulations in granting permission to Win Myat Aye, a Cabinet member in her former government, to hire, buy and maintain a helicopter.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. says it killed nearly 700 Islamic State suspects this year, Dan Lamothe, Dec. 30, 2022. More than 460 alleged ISIS operatives were killed in Syria, U.S. officials say. The rest were killed in Iraq.

American military personnel, together with local forces in Iraq and Syria, killed nearly 700 suspected members of the Islamic State in 2022, officials said Thursday, highlighting an aggressive counterterrorism campaign that quietly endures five years after a U.S.-led coalition destroyed the militant group’s caliphate.

U.S. forces conducted 108 joint operations in the past year against alleged ISIS operatives in Syria and an additional 191 in Iraq, U.S. Central Command said in a statement, which notes that American troops undertook another 14 missions by themselves and only inside Syria. Nearly 400 suspects were detained, it says.

“The emerging, reliable and steady ability of our Iraqi and Syrian partner forces to conduct unilateral operations to capture and kill ISIS leaders allows us to maintain steady pressure on the ISIS network,” Maj. Gen. Matt McFarlane, the top commander of the task force overseeing these operations, said in the statement.

Last year, following the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden declared at the United Nations that the United States would no longer “fight the wars of the past.” But in Iraq and Syria, the Pentagon maintains contingents of about 2,500 and 900 troops, respectively, who still occasionally come under enemy fire.

Biden, writing in an opinion piece published in July by The Washington Post, said that the Middle East is “more stable and secure” than when his administration took over in January 2021, highlighting the U.S. operation in February that killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, then the leader of the Islamic State. The group has affiliates elsewhere, including in Afghanistan and parts of Africa.

Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, said in Thursday’s statement that the American military is approaching the campaign in three ways: Pursuing the group’s leaders through partnered operations with local forces, continuing to detain Islamic State members in the region, and attempting to prevent children from being radicalized.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin, Xi highlight cooperation during remote meeting against backdrop of war, Francesca Ebel, Dec. 30, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping met remotely via video link Friday — an indication of Moscow’s latest efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing as Russia’s international isolation grows in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine.
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Putin stressed the importance of Chinese-Russian relations on the world stage, calling them “a model of cooperation between major powers in the 21st century,” and said that Moscow hoped to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries.

Moscow has actively sought to boost economic cooperation with Beijing after sweeping Western sanctions. The two countries are trading partners, with China importing Russian oil and gas, advanced military technology and other mineral resources in exchange for high-tech Chinese goods.

Russia and China conducted joint naval drills last week, which Russia’s defense chief, Valery Gerasimov, described as a response to “aggressive U.S. military build up” in the Asia-Pacific region. And last week, Putin oversaw the inauguration of a gas field in Siberia that aims to boost Russia’s energy exports to China as the West has worked to cut its energy dependence on Moscow.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel’s far-right government sworn in amid surge of resistance, Shira Rubin, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurated the most right-wing government in Israel’s history on Thursday, launching a divisive chapter of national politics that pits newly influential ultrareligious, ultranationalist leaders against an opposition that warns democracy is in peril.

Benjamin Netanyahu smile TwitterThe new government returns Netanyahu, right — Israel’s longest-serving leader who is embroiled in a corruption trial — to power for the third time, after a year and a half on the sidelines. His coalition, which controls 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, was billed as a return to stability after years of political crisis. But it is anchored by Religious Zionism, a bloc of once-fringe, far-right parties that have promised to Israel Flagtransform the country in their image.

They are already pursuing plans to restrict the rights of minorities, alter the system of checks and balances, hollow out the Israeli judiciary, exert influence over the army and security forces, and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.

washington post logoWashington Post, End of an era as Venezuela’s opposition moves to end Guaidó experiment, Ana Vanessa Herrero, Samantha Schmidt and Karen DeYoung, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). At the start of 2019, as President Nicolás Maduro, right, was claiming reelection in a vote widely condemned as fraudulent, the head of nicolas maduro customthe country’s legislature stood before an electric crowd of thousands in John Paul II Plaza here in the Venezuelan capital and presented himself as the country’s rightful leader.

“We will stay on the street,” Juan Guaidó vowed, “until Venezuela is liberated!”

The then-35-year-old head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly was swiftly backed by the Trump administration and governments venezuela flag waving customaround the world on the reasoning that he was now the highest-ranking democratically elected official in the country.

A rare unifying figure among the historically fractious opposition, Guaidó said he would serve as the country’s “interim president” until Maduro stepped down — or, at least, agreed to hold free and fair elections.

But nearly four years later and with little to show for the effort, the experiment appears to be coming to an end. As early as Thursday, the juan guaidóopposition lawmakers who once rallied behind Guaidó, right, are expected to end his mandate and eliminate his interim government. They approved those moves in a 72-23 preliminary vote last week.

The gold mining city that's destroying a sacred Venezuelan mountain

“After four years, we should not continue to maintain a system that has not given results and is a bureaucratic burden,” Nora Bracho, a member of one of the three main opposition parties voting to end the interim government, told The

At stake is not only the prospect of competitive elections under Maduro’s authoritarian socialist state and U.S. engagement with the country but also the control of key government assets abroad. Under U.S. and other sanctions, the interim government has administered Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp. and gold stored at the Bank of England.

Lawmakers who support removing Guaidó say they would establish a committee to protect those assets and manage expenses. The National Assembly, elected in 2015, would continue through 2023, but only to legislate on issues related to the assets.

The assembly was scheduled to meet on Thursday for a second and final vote. But Wednesday evening, its Twitter account, which is controlled by Guaidó's office, announced that the session had been postponed until Jan. 3.

The opposition parties Justice First and Democratic Action, who favor ousting Guaidó, responded that they hadn’t been consulted, and the session would proceed as scheduled. Then the assembly account tweeted that the assembly can’t meet without the president.

The Biden administration plans to recognize whatever body the opposition comes up with, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal policy discussions.

The United States, with the help of conservative allies in Latin America, has managed to bar Maduro’s representatives from Venezuela’s seats in international and regional organizations, including the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank, and fill them instead with Guaidó’s officials. But a wave of elections in some of the region’s most powerful countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, has brought leftists to power with different priorities.

ny times logoPelé (Reuters photo by Gonzalo Fuentes). New York Times, A Name That Became Shorthand for Perfection: Pelé, Rory Smith, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The best gauge of what Pelé meant to soccer is that he was synonymous with excellence before people saw him play, our chief soccer correspondent writes.

ny times logoNew York Times, As he led Brazil to success on the field, Pelé helped the country find itself, Tariq Panja, Tariq Panja lived and worked in Brazil from 2013 to 2016, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). It is hard to overstate the meaning of the connection between the individual and the country, a link that endured at his death almost as strongly as it did in Pelé’s heyday, when he was among the most famous people in the world. For a country still looking to make its mark in the postwar years, Pelé’s arrival signaled Brazil’s coming-of-age.

That first world championship delivered to Brazil the type of recognition it craved, and in Pelé it found a talent whose brilliance set him, and the Brazilian people, apart. Brazil’s canary yellow shirts and Pelé’s dazzling play became synonymous with the country itself, its calling cards to the world.

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More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C. mayor: Feds failed on Jan. 6 by thinking far-right was ‘friendly,’ Rachel Weiner and Peter Hermann, Dec. 30, 2022. Feds failed on Jan. 6 by thinking far-right was ‘friendly.’

The D.C. mayor told lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack that Capitol Police were unprepared for the violent assault because of a mistaken belief that white supremacists would not harm them.

“People thought they were friendly to law enforcement and that they loved their country,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said in her January 2022 interview with the House committee, a transcript of which was released Thursday. She said, however, earlier D.C. rallies of “white nationalist groups … showed us that they were antagonistic to law enforcement.”

In interviews with the House committee, Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III also faulted the Defense Department for not responding more quickly to the Capitol as rioters mobbed the building, while explaining their own reservations about deploying federal personnel on city streets. Bowser also described an attempt by President Donald Trump to take over the city’s police force in the summer of 2020, with some details emerging publicly for the first time with the release of her testimony.

The transcripts of Bowser and Contee’s interviews were part of the latest release of materials from the House Jan. 6 select committee, which this month issued their final report on the attack and recommended that Trump be charged with insurrection and obstruction of Congress.

Trump has blamed Bowser for the chaos on Jan. 6, saying she refused help from the National Guard. But Bowser and Contee said it made sense for the city to ask in advance of Jan. 6 only for unarmed Guard support to help with traffic and free up police for potential mayhem. Federal officers also have jurisdiction over the Capitol grounds, not D.C. police.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Step Up Attacks on F.B.I. as It Investigates Trump, Adam Goldman and Alan Feuer, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Historically, the F.B.I.’s critics have come from the left. But the bureau’s array of inquiries into former President Donald J. Trump has turned the tables.

When George Piro learned that some of his former colleagues were spreading unfounded rumors about him, he was stunned.

FBI logoMr. Piro, 55, was a highly decorated agent in the F.B.I. During his 23-year career, he earned a national intelligence medal for the months he spent interrogating Saddam Hussein, supervised several high-profile shooting investigations and consistently earned reviews that were among the highest for agents who ran field offices.

Now, he stood accused of misconduct by a group of former agents who had been placed on leave and called themselves “the Suspendables.” In a letter sent this month to Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, the group surfaced persistent accusations against the bureau, saying it had discriminated against conservative-leaning agents. The group’s letter also falsely suggested that Mr. Piro, who once ran the F.B.I.’s office in Miami, had played a suspicious role in the bureau’s search this summer of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.

republican elephant logo“These claims are absolutely false,” Mr. Piro said in an interview. “I dedicated my life to the country and the F.B.I. I am disappointed that former agents would spread lies about me.”

The attacks on Mr. Piro, and his angry rebuttal of them, are ‌e‌mblematic of a toxic dynamic that is increasingly central to Republican Party politics. Mr. Trump’s supporters — among them, Republicans poised to take over the House next month — have seized on the letter’s accusations and stepped up their assaults on the F.B.I., seeking to undermine the bureau just as it has assumed the lead in an array of investigations of Mr. Trump.

Representative Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who will be the Judiciary Committee’s chairman next month, has pledged to investigate what he describes as the politicization of the F.B.I. as well as that of the Justice Department. In a taste of what is to come, the committee’s Republican staff released a 1,000-page report last month that asserted that the F.B.I. hierarchy “spied on President Trump’s campaign and ridiculed conservative Americans” and that the “rot within the F.B.I. festers in and proceeds from Washington.”

Historically, the F.B.I.’s most vocal critics have come from figures on the left, who have accused it of using heavy-handed tactics in investigating groups like trade unionists or civil rights activists. Conservatives and Republicans have, at least by tradition, supported the F.B.I. and other law-enforcement agencies.
The Spread of Misinformation and Falsehoods

The report further accused the agency of “helping Big Tech to censor Americans’ political speech” — a claim that misrepresented the way the F.B.I. has sought for years to curb online disinformation, especially when it comes from foreign actors. Long before the House report or the letter to Mr. Wray was released, Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress and the news media were already targeting federal law enforcement officers and demonizing those who scrutinized the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Transcripts Detail Failures in Surveillance and Response,  Luke Broadwater, Maggie Haberman, Catie Edmondson and Stephanie Lai, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The latest transcripts shed light on how threats before Jan. 6 were ignored and what led to an hourslong delay of the National Guard deployment.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released on Thursday 19 more transcripts of its interviews, bringing its total number of transcripts published to about 120.

So far, the committee has added details to the public’s understanding of how witnesses stymied parts of the panel’s inquiry; how Trump-aligned lawyers allegedly tried to steer witness testimony; how panicked lawmakers tried to persuade former President Donald J. Trump to call off the mob; and how Mr. Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged.

The committee is rushing to publish hundreds more interviews before Jan. 3, when Republicans will take control of the House. Here are some takeaways from the hundreds of pages of transcripts released this week, including details of police intelligence failures before the Capitol attack and insight into the delay in the response of the National Guard.
Concerns over ‘optics’ contributed to the National Guard delay.

The transcripts shed more light on what led to an hourslong delay of the National Guard deployment to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

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Global Immigration, Migration, Asylum Issues

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Will Lifting Title 42 Cause a Border Crisis? It’s Already Here, James Dobbins and Miriam Jordan, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The southern U.S. border is in the midst of a record-setting migration surge, and Title 42 is full of exemptions that allow many people to come.

For months, migrants from Nicaragua and Colombia, toddlers on their shoulders and knapsacks on their backs, have been wading across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande near El Paso and forming lines to turn themselves in to U.S. border authorities. Further west, in Arizona, migrants from Russia, India and South America have been passing through gaps in the border wall and surrendering to U.S. agents.

None of them have been held back by a nearly three-year-old public health measure, known as Title 42, that was billed as an attempt to effectively close the border against the soaring numbers of migrants unlawfully entering the United States. They are not being barred from making an asylum claim; they are not being expelled to Mexico.

Migrants are lining the sidewalks in El Paso, where many have been sleeping under donated blankets because shelters are at capacity. Migrants taken into custody in Arizona are being bused to San Diego for processing to avert chaos at crowded holding facilities, and then dropped off at bus stations to head for destinations across the country.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to lift the Trump-era pandemic restriction at the southern border after 19 Republican-led states argued that the rule’s immediate termination would wreak havoc at the border.

But the reality is that, despite all the dark predictions over what will happen whenever Title 42 is lifted, the southern border already is in the midst of a record-setting migration surge that is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. The border-control measure is full of exemptions under which tens of thousands of migrants every month are showing up at U.S. ports of entry with a relatively high degree of confidence that they will be allowed to stay.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: With latest Title 42 ruling, Supreme Court majority makes a mockery of the law, Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Republicans and Democrats broadly agree that the nation’s asylum and immigration systems are broken. Both are aware that Congress, paralyzed by partisanship, has failed to provide a fix.

But that failure cannot be a pretext for the democracy hack that GOP elected officials from 19 states have undertaken in asking the Supreme Court to retain a Trump-era anti-covid public health measure that has been repurposed as an immigration enforcement tool along the southern border. And by siding with those officials, at least temporarily, the conservative majority on the high court has made a mockery of the law.
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Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the lone conservative to join his three progressive colleagues in opposing the court’s decision on Tuesday, was right to point out the flimsy legal basis that underlaid the order. “The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch wrote. “And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”

The policy in question, known as Title 42, was imposed in March 2020 as the nation was reeling at the onset of a new, poorly understood pandemic. It suspended the legal asylum system, enabling border authorities to quickly expel migrants without giving them the benefit of filing a claim. Since then, Title 42 has been used 2.5 million times to turn migrants back — though many of them, having received no adjudication of their claims, tried repeatedly to cross the border unlawfully.

The Trump-era measure known as Title 42, which empowered U.S. border authorities to remove migrants without hearing their asylum claims, was set to expire Dec. 21. It’s still in place as the Supreme Court considers its legality. Here’s our view on the best way to respond to the expected surge at the southern border if and when Title 42 goes.

Whatever Title 42’s benefit at the outset — and there is scant evidence it was effective in combating the pandemic — it had run its course by the time Joe Biden took office. His administration made no effort to justify it; that, along with the repeal of other Trump-era immigration measures, was taken by migrants as a signal of a more lax border. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered Title 42 terminated.

In November, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan pointed to the fact that no evidence buttressed its continued use to protect public health, ruling against the Republican officials who sought to keep it in place. Even as Title 42 was used to block asylum seekers at the border, the judge noted, millions of other travelers were crossing, in buses and cars, with few impediments. What’s more, the CDC had previously rescinded the use of quarantine and other restrictions on the grounds that they were ineffective.

Republicans made no attempt to justify Title 42, a public health measure, on public health grounds. Yet in keeping it in place while the GOP officials continue to press their appeal, the Supreme Court ignored all that, acting more as lawmakers than as judges.

washington post logoWashington Post, Europe Migrants bused from Texas arrive at VP’s house on frigid Christmas Eve, Meryl Kornfield, Kyle Rempfer and Lizzie Johnson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). About 110 to 130 men, women and children got off the buses outside the Naval Observatory on Saturday night in 18-degree weather after a two-day journey from South Texas, according to the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. On the coldest Christmas Eve day on record in the District, some migrants were bundled up in blankets as they were greeted by volunteers who had received word that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had sent the caravan.

Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.

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U.S. Snow, Airline Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Learning From the Southwest Airlines Fiasco, Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Americans are furious with Southwest Airlines, and paul krugmanunderstandably so. Severe weather always disrupts air travel, but Southwest was the only major airline to suffer a near-complete collapse of service in the wake of the recent megastorm, stranding thousands of passengers. As of Thursday, as other carriers were more or less back to normal, Southwest was still operating fewer than half its scheduled flights.

How did this happen? To be honest, I’d love to write a scathing, muckraking column about the destructive effects of corporate greed. But that doesn’t seem to be the main story here.

To be clear, greed surely played some role in the disaster. Most obviously, Southwest hadn’t spent the money needed to upgrade a scheduling system many people inside the airline knew was inadequate. Instead, before the pandemic it spent billions on stock buybacks.

Let me also add that nothing I say here should be taken as an argument against demanding that Southwest compensate the travelers it failed, not just as a matter of fairness but to create the right incentives. If we want companies that serve the public to spend money to reduce the risks of catastrophic failure, we need to ensure that they pay a high price when they let their customers down.

Yet righteous anger shouldn’t stop us from trying to understand why, exactly, things went so wrong.

washington post logoWashington Post, Buffalo blizzard fuels racial and class divides in polarized city, Brianna Sacks, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Residents and community leaders said wealthier and Whiter suburbs appeared to be more prepared, their response better coordinated, their power returned faster.

As Buffalo begins to dig itself out from its deadliest disaster in a decade, the plights of people stuck for days in frigid homes without much food, their streets still unplowed, have reignited deep economic and racial fault lines that have long polarized the city.

Authorities say more than 30 people have died, found in their homes, cars and outside in snowbanks. The blinding wind and dense snow paralyzed emergency response efforts over the weekend, galvanizing citizen volunteer groups who worked to rescue and care for the more vulnerable. Officials say they will find more dead in the coming days.

As the toll on the city has become clearer, a dozen residents and community leaders said in interviews that structural issues such as poverty, food deserts, poor housing and a lack of investment by government have made the impacts on working-class, Black and Brown neighborhoods much worse. They expressed concerns that surrounding wealthier and Whiter suburbs appeared to be more prepared, their response better coordinated, their power and roads restored faster.

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U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Outpace Donald Trump in Seating Federal Judges, Carl Hulse, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Top Senate Democrats say they will continue their push to fill vacancies in 2023, but activists warn that under current rules, it could be difficult.

Democrats fell just short of an ambitious goal of confirming 100 new federal judges as time ran out on the 117th Congress, but they are optimistic they can continue to reshape the courts over the final two years of President Biden’s term.

The Senate’s top two Democrats say their ability to outpace the concerted Republican judicial push of President Donald J. Trump’s first two years, with a total of 97 judges seated, was especially noteworthy considering they did it with a 50-50 Senate, an evenly divided Judiciary Committee and little cooperation from most Republicans.

And the personal and professional backgrounds of the judges they confirmed were markedly different from the past. The Senate named scores of women and people of color to the courts, many with specialties in defense and civil rights work as opposed to the corporate law partners and prosecutors who were the norm in previous administrations of both parties.

“It’s remarkable to think that an 11-11 committee, with the Republicans we have on that committee, was able to achieve this,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat who, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, led the judicial push.

A review of the Judiciary Committee votes cast on the 126 nominees showed scant support from most Republicans on the panel, several of whom are among the most conservative in the Senate. The nominees were historically diverse, including 92 women, 60 of whom were women of color out of a total of 85 people of color, along with eight L.G.B.T.Q. nominees.

Among Republicans, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri voted for only one of the nominees; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted for two; Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted for five; Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee voted for six; and Senator Mike Lee of Utah voted for nine. Republicans have criticized the Biden nominees as too liberal and sympathetic to criminal defendants to be installed on the bench.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who says he believes that presidents are entitled to confirmation of qualified judges of their choosing, was the most frequent Republican backer of Biden nominees on the committee, supporting 107. He was followed by Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina at 50; Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, at 40; Senator John Cornyn of Texas at 30; and Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana at 26.

“We had three or four Republicans who were really open-minded and helped us on the votes,” said Mr. Durbin in an interview, singling out Mr. Graham. “We had some who didn’t.”

The success of Democrats in holding and expanding their majority last month will allow them to continue to control the confirmation process while a new one-seat advantage on the Judiciary Committee should enable them to clear procedural obstacles more easily.

But progressive judicial activists warn that the Senate leadership might need to take other steps to keep up the pace the next two years. So far, Democrats have adhered to an informal tradition that gives home-state senators virtual veto power over nominees for district court slots under what is known as the “blue slip” rule by agreeing to not move forward unless senators return a blue slip of approval.

As a result, the Biden administration would need to negotiate judicial selections for district court seats in states represented by at least one Republican senator if it hopes to fill those mounting vacancies. The voting record of Republicans on the committee and in the full Senate suggests that finding common ground on nominees could be difficult and time-consuming. One district court pick for Wisconsin has already been blocked by the refusal of Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican from the state, to return a blue slip.

Brian Fallon, the head of the progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, said that Mr. Durbin would come under increasing pressure to jettison the blue slip rule, which Mr. Fallon called an anachronism dating back to segregationist years in America.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP language seeks to obscure role of far right in domestic terrorism, Hannah Allam, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). Republican attempts to minimize far-right violence hampers government efforts to combat the threat, extremism analysts say.

Drawing inspiration from a far-right shooter in New Zealand, the gunman who killed 10 Black shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket in the spring used racist, dehumanizing language in his writings, singling out Jews as the real problem to be “dealt with in time.”

republican elephant logoNevertheless, at a congressional hearing this month on the threat of violent white supremacy, two Republican lawmakers cherry-picked a word in the Buffalo killer’s screed — “socialist” — to cast him as a radical leftist. They did not note that the shooter was referring to National Socialism, the ideology of the German Nazi Party, as Democrats and witnesses on the panel pointedly clarified.

“Any sober look” at the Buffalo shooter’s hate-filled manifesto, Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League told the lawmakers, “would recognize that attack as clearly a white-supremacist attack.”

The exchange shows the tricky role of language in the politically charged struggle over how to talk about domestic terrorism. Republican leaders portray the far left and far right as equally dangerous, an assertion contradicted by White House assessments that “the most persistent and lethal threats” to the country come from the violent right.

But “far right” also is an imperfect term, analysts say, and does not capture the complex ideologies, including some that overlap with the anarchist left, that have fueled recent attacks.

That fuzziness leaves room for bad-faith arguments and misinformation, miring an urgent threat in partisan point-scoring. Terrorism researchers said they had hoped that rising political violence culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol would jolt leaders into action. Instead, they say, efforts to address violent extremism have stalled over semantics and an eagerness to blame “the other side.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Suspect in California serial killings charged in 4 additional deaths, Brittany Shammas, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). A man suspected in serial killings in California who police said was caught while “out hunting” for another victim has been charged in four additional slayings, bringing the total to seven, state authorities announced this week.

Wesley Brownlee, 43, was also newly charged with attempted murder in an attack on a woman who escaped last year. Brownlee is accused of carrying out seemingly random shootings under the cover of darkness before fleeing the scenes of the seven killings and the one failed attack.

The shootings occurred in 2021 and 2022 in California’s Central Valley, stoking fear among residents. While the killer remained at large over the fall, Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden told the public to “have your head on a swivel.”

Police arrested Brownlee on Oct. 15 after tailing him as he drove. He was taken into custody around 2 a.m. while armed with a gun and dressed in dark clothing, with a mask around his neck, McFadden said as he announced the arrest.

“We watched his patterns and determined early this morning he was on a mission to kill,” McFadden said during a news conference at the time. “He was out hunting.”

Brownlee was initially charged in the killings of Jonathan Hernandez Rodriguez, Juan Cruz and Lawrence Lopez Sr., the Los Angeles Times reported. The crimes occurred between August and September in Stockton, according to police.

On Tuesday, the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had filed an amended complaint charging Brownlee in the killings of Juan Alexander Vasquez and Mervin Harmon of Alameda County, as well as Paul Yaw and Salvador Debudey Jr. in San Joaquin County. He was also charged with attempted murder in the attack on Natasha LaTour, who survived and told police the shooter wore dark clothes, a dark jacket and a black “covid-style” mask.

 Other Court and Crime News Headlines

 

More On Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Congressional Inquiry Into Alzheimer’s Drug Faults Its Maker and F.D.A., Pam Belluck, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Food and Drug Administration’s process for approving the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, despite great uncertainty about whether it worked, was “rife with irregularities,” according to a congressional investigation released on Thursday. The agency’s actions “raise serious concerns about F.D.A.’s lapses in protocol,” the report concluded.

The 18-month investigation, initiated by two congressional committees after the F.D.A. approved the drug, also strongly criticized Biogen, Aduhelm’s manufacturer. Internal documents showed the company set “an unjustifiably high price” of $56,000 a year for Aduhelm because it wanted a history-making “blockbuster” to “establish Aduhelm as one of the top pharmaceutical launches of all time,” even though it knew the high price would burden Medicare and patients, the report found.

The investigation said Biogen was prepared to spend up to several billion dollars — more than two-and-a-half times what it spent developing the drug — on aggressive marketing to counter expected “pushback” over whether Aduhelm was worth its price. The report said the campaign planned to target doctors, patients, advocacy groups, insurers, policymakers and communities of color, who were drastically underrepresented in its clinical trials of the drug.

The F.D.A. is now evaluating two other Alzheimer’s drugs for possible approval early next year, including one that Biogen helped develop. The congressional report said the agency “must take swift action to ensure that its processes for reviewing future Alzheimer’s disease treatments do not lead to the same doubts about the integrity of F.D.A.’s review.”

The report said the F.D.A.’s approval process for Aduhelm was “rife with irregularities” and criticized Biogen for setting an “unjustifiably high price.”

 

Covid, Disinformation, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It, Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Doctors are exasperated by the persistence of false and misleading claims about the virus.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.

china flag Small“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”

Several prominent Twitter accounts that had been suspended for spreading unfounded claims about Covid have were reinstated in recent weeks, including those of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, and Robert Malone, a vaccine skeptic.

Mr. Musk himself has used Twitter to weigh in on the pandemic, predicting in March 2020 that the United States was likely to have “close to zero new cases” by the end of that April. (More than 100,000 positive tests were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the last week of the month.) This month, he took aim at Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who will soon step down as President Biden’s top medical adviser and the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mr. Musk said Dr. Fauci should be prosecuted.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Other major social platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, said last week that they remained committed to combating Covid misinformation.

YouTube prohibits content — including videos, comments and links — about vaccines and Covid-19 that contradicts recommendations from the local health authorities or the World Health Organization. Facebook’s policy on Covid-19 content is more than 4,500 words long. TikTok said it had removed more than 250,000 videos for Covid misinformation and worked with partners such as its content advisory council to develop its policies and enforcement strategies. (Mr. Musk disbanded Twitter’s advisory council this month.)

washington post logoWashington Post, After years with little covid, videos show China is now getting hit hard, Christian Shepherd, Samuel Oakford, Stefanie Le and Vic Chiang, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Videos of medical facilities offer a glimpse of the toll a coronavirus wave is wreaking — and undercut Beijing’s claim that the government is in control.

ny times logoNew York Times, Americans Still Masking Against Covid Find Themselves Isolated, Amy Harmon, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). It can be tough being a committed mask wearer when others have long since moved on from the pandemic.

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid.

“I found that one upsetting,’’ Mx. Cherry said in an interview. “I’ve been worried in the back of my mind the whole time: When are they going to decide they don’t want to do this anymore?’’

For many Americans still at pains to avoid infection with the coronavirus, this has become the loneliest moment since the pandemic began.

Exercise classes have largely suspended remote workouts. Families and employers have expected attendance at holiday events. The vulnerable and the risk-averse are finding themselves the rare mask-wearers on public transportation, in places of worship, and at offices and stores.

Even as Covid cases and hospitalizations have climbed across the nation over the last month, public officials are avoiding mask mandates — though officials in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have recently recommended wearing masks in public places, citing a “tripledemic” that includes influenza and R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus.

It is hard to avoid the feeling of being judged as histrionic, some say, even when evidence suggests they are right to be cautious. And many say they face pressure, internal and external, to adjust to changing social norms around a virus that others are treating as a thing of the past.

“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’

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Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Hundreds of freezing bats fell to the ground. She took them home to warm them, Cathy Free, Dec. 30, 2022. ‘I’m excited to get them out of my attic and send them back into the wild,’ wildlife expert Mary Warwick says.

Mary Warwick’s heart sank when she realized temperatures were plunging below freezing in Houston in the days before Christmas.

She raced over to downtown Houston before sunset on Dec. 21 to check under the Waugh Drive Bridge, where a colony of 250,000 bats has lived for almost 30 years and is a popular attraction.

Her fears were confirmed: There were dozens of tiny bats on the ground suffering from hypothermia, too weak to hold on to the narrow crevices in the concrete beneath the bridge. They had dropped 15 to 30 feet to the cold cement below and looked lifeless.

“They’re only three inches long at the most, they don’t have much body fat and they get cold very quickly,” said Warwick, executive director of the Houston Humane Society TWRC Wildlife Center. “When they shut down from hypothermia, they release from the bridge and some of them will die.”
Some of the bats rescued by Warwick and volunteers during a cold snap in Houston that hit just before Christmas. (Mary Warwick)

Warwick, 60, put on a pair of gloves and gently collected the unresponsive bats one by one. She picked up 138 bats and placed them in a box lined with a soft blanket.

“I put the box on my heated car seat, and as the bats warmed up, they started moving around,” she said.
These Mexican free-tailed bats were near death when they were scooped up and rescued by Warwick in Houston on Dec. 21. (Mary Warwick)

Warwick said she was horrified to see the small animals in distress, but glad she had taken a break from her holiday shopping to check on them. They are part of a colony of Mexican free-tailed bats that thrive in temperatures above 50 degrees. While most Texas bat populations head south for the winter, she knew that a sizable number remained behind.

She was determined not to have a repeat of the time in February 2021 when Texas endured arctic temperatures for nine days, and more than 5,000 bats dropped from the bridge and died in the cold.

Warwick decided to take them home to warm them up in an incubator. She injected fluids beneath the bats’ skin with a needle and syringe and hand-fed them a gruel made of mealworms, she said.
Warwick kept the most critically injured bats in a warm incubator inside her Houston home. (Mary Warwick)

For the next several nights, she returned to the Waugh Drive Bridge with extra boxes and a flashlight to rescue more bats, and she stopped at another bridge south of Houston to rescue bats from a second colony.

“By the time I was up to 900 bats, I decided it was time to slow down their metabolism so they wouldn’t need to eat as much,” she said. “It was becoming pretty time-consuming to care for them all.”

The solution, Warwick decided, was to put the recovered bats in large dog kennels in her attic where the temperature was cooler, until it had warmed up enough outside to return them to the bridge.

A disabled man was stuck in a Buffalo snowbank. A stranger heard his cry and saved him.

“When it’s cold, but not freezing, their metabolism will slow down,” she said.

The Houston Humane Society posted on social media that Warwick was single-handedly rescuing the creatures. People quickly offered to help.
Warwick with one of the Mexican free-tailed bats she rehabilitated in Houston over the holidays. (Robert Warwick)

“I adore sky puppies — not just for their adorable faces and gentle natures, but for everything they do for us in Texas, mosquito wise,” one person commented on Facebook. “Happy to donate and thank you for helping these beautiful, so misunderstood little guys.”

Legal Schnauzer, Matrix LLC paid ABC News "producer" to pepper pro-environment political candidates with deceptive questions in an effort to boost its clients who pollute roger shuler and murphy(Part 1), Roger Shuler, right, Dec. 22, 2022. A journalist who identifies herself as working for ABC News has been paid by an Alabama-based political-consulting firm to sideswipe pro-environment politicians with deceptive questions, according to a report at NPR/Floodlight.

The journalist was Kristen Hentschel, the consulting firm was Montgomery-based Matrix LLC. The beneficiaries of the scheme were alabama power logodesigned to be Matrix clients -- such as Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light -- all with ties to projects known to produce pollution.

How did the "reporting" scheme with an ABC News journalist work? Exhibit A involves a Florida political candidate named Toby Overdorf, who had pledged to kristen hentschel ny posttake a serious approach to environmental protection. That's where Hentschel, right, enters the picture.

Under the headline "She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative, NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik write:

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site [in Stuart, FL]. Florida designates the species as threatened.

Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as a consultant on the construction project -- and he knew of no such tortoises. A city investigation found there were no dead tortoises, and no evidence that any ever had been present during the construction project. The oddities about the story do not end there, as NPR/Floodlight report:

That wasn't the only surprise. Though Hentschel has done freelance work for ABC, she was not there for the network.

At the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm's internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel's work, labeling the payments "for Florida Crystals, FPL." (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

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U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

washington post logoWashington Post, A routine operation left her son in a wheelchair. It changed Judy Woodruff’s journalism, Roxanne Roberts, Dec. 30, 2022 (print ed.).  Judy Woodruff is stepping down as anchor of “PBS NewsHour” but still plans to report from around the country, with some stories about people with disabilities.

Last month, TV anchor Judy Woodruff had some news of her own: She is stepping down from “PBS NewsHour” on Friday, Dec. 30.

One of the most respected and honored journalists on television could have retired. Instead, she’s embarking on a new PBS project, “America at a Crossroads,” where she’ll spend the next two years traveling around the country trying to figure out what voters want, what they need and how to repair the deep divides.

One subject close to her heart that she wants to highlight? People with disabilities.

Her oldest son, Jeffrey Hunt, was born with what she calls a “very mild” case of spina bifida. When he was a teenager, what was a supposed to be a routine operation left him in a wheelchair and in need of full-time care. It was life-altering for Jeffrey and the entire family.

Woodruff during a taping of “Meet the Press” on NBC in 2007. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jeffrey, now 41, lives in a group home in Maryland, and says the love and support of his family got him to this point. “After I was injured my parents were with me every day,” he writes in an email. “They told me despite disabilities, I can succeed. I have succeeded thus far.”

It’s one thing to report on the kitchen-table issues that affect people, another to live them. As a mother, Woodruff is keenly attuned to the needs of those with disabilities and their caregivers; as a Washington reporter, she has a deep understanding of what politicians and policymakers can do to help them.

“It made her dedicated to advancing the needs of people with these challenges in the medical system,” says longtime friend and colleague Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. “I think she’s more sensitive. She’s always been empathic, but this inevitably changed her.”

 

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Dec. 29

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Covid, Disinformation, Disasters

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

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The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

The government contended that Barry Croft was the “spiritual leader" in a plot to urge recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor, above, and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

washington post logoWashington Post, Architect of Mich. governor kidnap plot sentenced to more than 19 years in prison, Kim Bellware, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). A man who was convicted as one of the key orchestrators in the 2020 scheme to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and blow up a bridge in hopes of inciting a civil war was sentenced Wednesday to 19½ years in prison, the longest sentence of the four men convicted on federal charges in the most closely watched domestic terrorism case in recent years.

Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Delaware was described by prosecutors in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday as the “spiritual leader” and “the ideas guy” of the plot, which was ultimately undone after a sting that involved informants and undercover FBI agents who embedded with the group of men drawn together by their association with the armed right-wing “Wolverine Watchmen” group.

barry croft adam foxCroft, at far left, and his co-conspirator, 39-year-old Adam Fox of Michigan, also shown at left, were convicted by a federal jury after a second trial in August on two counts of conspiracy, while Croft also was found guilty of an additional weapons charge. Prosecutors depicted the two men as furious over covid-19 lockdowns and supposed “tyranny” by elected officials, and said they poured their anger into a violent plot they were eager to see grow into a bloody “revolution.”

The case has underscored the escalating threat of extremist violence, particularly from the far right, at a point of deep political division in the country. Federal prosecutors said the seriousness of the plot made a life sentence for the defendants appropriate. Croft’s defense argued that he was michigan mapless involved than Fox and not viewed as a real leader among the group’s members.

Fox was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison, while two other defendants pleaded guilty in 2021 and early 2022 and agreed to testify against Croft and Fox. Another two defendants were acquitted at their federal trial in April.

Fourteen people were eventually arrested by state and federal authorities in an October 2020 sting after investigators found the men had gathered weapons, trained and planned to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan and detonate a bridge to disrupt her security detail and the law enforcement response ahead of the 2020 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. watchdogs guarding $5 trillion in covid aid say they need more money, Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). The Biden administration is ramping up efforts to target waste, fraud and abuse of pandemic relief funds, but inspectors general continue to receive fewer dollars as cases pile up.

Michael Horowitz came to Congress with a plea: If the U.S. government truly hoped to keep track of roughly $5 trillion in coronavirus aid, then federal watchdog agencies would need some new money of their own.

It was June 2022, more than two years after the pandemic first arrived in the United States — and Horowitz, right, the leader of the country’s chief pandemic michael horowitz Customoversight body, said some of the government’s top officials could use the help. Criminals already had bilked billions of dollars from generous programs meant to help jobless Americans and small businesses in need, and Washington faced long, costly work to try to get it all back.

“I can tell you the fraud numbers, and the investigative work, is growing,” Horowitz told lawmakers at a congressional oversight hearing, acknowledging at one point it had been “frustrating, frankly” that lawmakers had not provided the funds.

Six months later, the government remains overwhelmed in its task to find and retrieve incalculable sums of stolen federal coronavirus aid. Even as the Biden administration has intensified Washington’s focus on oversight, Congress has continued to underfund and understaff some of the very offices whose chief responsibility is to monitor stimulus cash.

The persistent neglect has hamstrung the country’s last defense against waste, fraud and abuse — and raised the potential that Washington might not learn from its mistakes before the next crisis.\

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Inside the Ukrainian counteroffensive that shocked Putin and reshaped the war, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Paul Sonne, Serhiy Morgunov and Kamila Hrabchuk, Dec. 29, 2022. First, a lightning sweep across Kharkiv. Then, a slower grind into Kherson. In two months of stunning gains, Ukraine’s military redrew the battlefield map and proved it can fight to win.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pelé, the Global Face of Soccer, Dies at 82, Lawrie Mifflin, Dec. 29, 2022. Pelé, who was declared a national treasure in his native Brazil, achieved worldwide celebrity and helped popularize the sport in the United States.

Pelé, one of soccer’s greatest players and a transformative figure in 20th-century sports who achieved a level of global celebrity few athletes have known, died on Thursday in São Paulo. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by his manager, Joe Fraga. The Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in São Paulo said the cause was multiple organ failure, the result of the progression of colon cancer.

Pelé had been receiving treatment for cancer in recent years, and he entered the hospital several weeks ago for treatment of a variety of health issues, including a respiratory infection.

A national hero in his native Brazil, Pelé was beloved around the world — by the very poor, among whom he was raised; the very rich, in whose circles he traveled; and just about everyone who ever saw him play.

 

Covid, Disinformation, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It, Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Doctors are exasperated by the persistence of false and misleading claims about the virus.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.

china flag Small“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”

Several prominent Twitter accounts that had been suspended for spreading unfounded claims about Covid have were reinstated in recent weeks, including those of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, and Robert Malone, a vaccine skeptic.

Mr. Musk himself has used Twitter to weigh in on the pandemic, predicting in March 2020 that the United States was likely to have “close to zero new cases” by the end of that April. (More than 100,000 positive tests were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the last week of the month.) This month, he took aim at Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who will soon step down as President Biden’s top medical adviser and the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mr. Musk said Dr. Fauci should be prosecuted.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Other major social platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, said last week that they remained committed to combating Covid misinformation.

YouTube prohibits content — including videos, comments and links — about vaccines and Covid-19 that contradicts recommendations from the local health authorities or the World Health Organization. Facebook’s policy on Covid-19 content is more than 4,500 words long. TikTok said it had removed more than 250,000 videos for Covid misinformation and worked with partners such as its content advisory council to develop its policies and enforcement strategies. (Mr. Musk disbanded Twitter’s advisory council this month.)

washington post logoWashington Post, After years with little covid, videos show China is now getting hit hard, Christian Shepherd, Samuel Oakford, Stefanie Le and Vic Chiang, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Videos of medical facilities offer a glimpse of the toll a coronavirus wave is wreaking — and undercut Beijing’s claim that the government is in control.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Signs $1.7 Trillion Government Funding Bill, Preventing Shutdown, Jim Tankersley, Dec. 29, 2022. The $1.7 trillion measure includes more money for the military and law enforcement, along with an overhaul of how Congress counts electoral votes in presidential elections.

President Biden signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill into law on Thursday, averting a shutdown and keeping the government funded through September while adding to his legacy of expanding federal programs as president.

The signing was not a surprise; Mr. Biden had pushed Congress to reach a deal on funding the government ahead of a deadline at the end of this month, and he had cheered the bill when it passed the Senate and then the House.

But the setting for the bill signing was unusual. Instead of staging a ceremony in the White House, Mr. Biden wielded his pen on the island of St. Croix, where he is vacationing through the new year. White House officials received the more than 4,000-page bill from Congress late on Wednesday afternoon and sent it to the Virgin Islands on Thursday on a commercial flight.

The bill, which cleared Congress on Dec. 23, was the last major legislative accomplishment of the first two years of Mr. Biden’s tenure in the White House, when Democrats narrowly controlled both the House and the Senate.

 

ronna mcdaniel djt Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Race for G.O.P. Chair Obscures the Party’s Bigger Problems, Jonathan Weisman and Ken Bensinger, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Ronna McDaniel’s quest for a fourth term atop the Republican National Committee has triggered an ugly fight between the right and the farther right.

rnc logoSince former President Donald J. Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, the Republican Party has suffered at the ballot box every two years, from the loss of the House in 2018 to the loss of the White House and Senate in 2020 to this year’s history-defying midterm disappointments.

Many in the party have now found a scapegoat for the G.O.P.’s struggles who is not named Trump: the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, shown above at left.

But as Ms. McDaniel struggles for a fourth term at the party’s helm, her re-election fight before the clubby 168 members of the Republican National Committee next month may be diverting G.O.P. leaders from any serious consideration of the thornier problems facing the party heading into the 2024 presidential campaign.

Ms. McDaniel, who was handpicked by Mr. Trump in late 2016 to run the party and whom he enlisted in a scheme to draft fake electors to perpetuate his presidency, could be considered a Trump proxy by Republicans eager to begin to eradicate what many consider to be the party’s pre-eminent problem: the former president’s influence over the G.O.P.

Those Republicans, whose voices have grown louder in the wake of the party’s weak November showing, see any hopes of wooing swing voters and moderates back to the G.O.P. as imperiled by Mr. Trump’s endless harping on his own grievances, the taint surrounding his efforts to remain in power after his 2020 defeat, and the continuing dramas around purloined classified documents, his company’s tax fraud conviction and his insistence on trying to make a political comeback.

But Ms. McDaniels is not facing moderation-minded challengers. Her rivals are from the Trumpist right. They include the pillow salesman Mike Lindell, who continues to spin out fanciful election conspiracies, and — more worrying for Ms. McDaniel — a Trump loyalist from California, Harmeet Dhillon, who is backed by some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders, including the Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a youthful group of pro-Trump rightists.

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).

washington post logoWashington Post, District attorney in New York opens investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos, Azi Paybarah, Dec. 29, 2022. District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly said residents “must have an honest and accountable representative. The Nassau County district attorney announced that she is opening an investigation into Rep.-elect George Santos (R-N.Y.), whose surprise victory in November was quickly followed by revelations that he lied about his business experience, educational background and family ancestry.

The district attorney, Anne T. Donnelly (R), said in a statement: “The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated” with Santos “are nothing short of stunning.” The residents in the congressional district “must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress” and “if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.” Donnelly’s spokesman, Brendan Brosh, said in a statement, “We are looking into the matter.”

Days after an explosive New York Times story on Dec. 19 detailed lies Santos told about his background, Santos gave a handful of interviews in which he acknowledged he was untruthful about having worked at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup and graduating college. He said he never claimed to be Jewish, despite previous public comments about his heritage.

ny times logoNew York Times, House Republicans Don’t Seem Eager to Punish Santos, but There Are Options, Catie Edmondson, Dec. 29, 2022. Representative-elect George Santos’s long list of fabrications has raised questions about whether he will even be allowed to take his seat next week. The representative-elect’s long list of fabrications has raised questions about whether he will even be allowed to take his seat next week. But House Republicans have shown little appetite for punishing him.

republican elephant logoOn the campaign trail, Representative-elect George Santos, a Republican who ultimately flipped a Democratic seat in New York, misled voters about his work and educational history, his family’s heritage, his past philanthropic efforts and his business dealings.

His litany of fabrications has raised questions as to whether Mr. Santos, who was elected last month to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, will be allowed to take his seat next week when Congress convenes or thrown out once he is sworn in.

But House Republican leaders, who have so far remained silent amid the persistent questions about Mr. Santos, are unlikely to punish him in any significant kevin mccarthyway. Even if they could force him out of Congress, it would prompt a special election in a swing seat, setting up a potential blow to the party’s already precarious majority.

And Mr. Santos has pledged to vote for Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, for speaker next week as Mr. McCarthy faces a rebellion on the right and needs every vote he can get.

Here are some of the options for addressing Mr. Santos’s falsehoods.
Could the House refuse to seat him?

The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that a person who met the constitutional requirements for office in the House of Representatives could not be refused a seat once elected. In that case, Powell v. McCormack, the court suggested that a permissible remedy for the House, should it try to exclude one of its duly elected members, would be a vote to expel the lawmaker once he or she was seated.

House leaders could, in theory, band together to try to defy that precedent and force Mr. Santos to challenge the move in court. But Republicans have no appetite to do so.

Could he be expelled?

In theory, yes. Practically, probably not.

Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution states that “Each house may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

Palmer Report, Analysis: Does this explain why prosecutors are now targeting George Santos? Bill Palmer, Dec. 29, 2022. On Wednesday evening we all learned that the DOJ (EDNY) and the Long Island District Attorney have each opened criminal investigations into Republican Congressman-elect George Santos. The timing was interesting to say the least. Plenty of politicians lie – some of them lie constantly – and it’s not a crime in the eyes of the law. Yet here we suddenly have prosecutors, on a federal and local level, launching criminal probes into this guy.

bill palmer report logo headerYou wouldn’t expect prosecutors on any level to go after a member of Congress unless they think they’re going to find an actual crime, right? Otherwise it would be embarrassing for them if, after a lengthy investigation into Santos, they end up announcing that he’s just a liar and not a criminal.

So why did the Santos scandal suddenly rise to the level of a criminal investigation now? We’ll have to wait to find out; even if prosecutors have hit on something, they may not tip their hand right away, until they’ve worked through witnesses and such.

But here’s the thing: it’s always about the money. Yesterday, political startup Semafor published a lengthy expose about how Santos went to work for a Florida company, which the SEC busted in early 2021 for being an alleged multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme. Interestingly, Santos quit that company just before it got busted, and then he quickly founded his own highly questionable Florida company. His own company then went on to loan $700,000 to his 2022 campaign for Congress.

None of this is necessarily new. In fact the Daily Beast connected some of these dots all the way back in April of 2022. But what’s jumping off the page over the past twenty-four hours is that Santos funded his campaign with income that may have been fraudulently obtained – and that’s a good way to get yourself in legal trouble.

  • New York Times, George Santos is in a class of his own. But other politicians have embellished their resumes, Dec. 29, 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, Advice From a Political Daughter: ‘Every Woman Needs a Paul Pelosi,’ Annie Karni, Dec. 29, 2022. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, a multimillionaire recovering from a brutal attack, has long taken care of the couple’s “business of living.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was glued to CNN the night after the 2020 election, while her husband, Paul Pelosi, sat nearby unwrapping a package.

“What is that?” she asked him in a scene from the new HBO documentary, “Pelosi in the House,” directed by their daughter Alexandra Pelosi.

“Dish towels,” Mr. Pelosi responded with a hint of irony as he popped the bubble packing. Ms. Pelosi smiled and then turned her attention back to the election coverage.

It was just one instance of a dynamic on display throughout the film: Mr. Pelosi, who was brutally attacked at the couple’s San Francisco home by an assailant who was said to have been targeting the speaker, takes care of what their family refers to as the “business of living.” That leaves his wife, who will step down as speaker when Republicans assume the House majority on Jan. 3, free to focus on her work.

It is the kind of relationship that women in politics rarely talk about, but can sometimes help make the difference between success and failure: a partner willing to take on the mundane tasks and supportive role that traditionally fell to political wives. And although the Pelosis are wealthy and can get all the household help they need, the documentary captures that being a political spouse can mean simply showing up, and then standing off to the side.

Throughout the film, as Ms. Pelosi does business on the phone with Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Chuck Schumer or Joseph R. Biden Jr., who was then a presidential candidate, Mr. Pelosi, 82, a multimillionaire businessman who founded a venture capital investment firm, is often in the same room dealing with the day-to-day necessities of their lives.

In one scene, Ms. Pelosi was in her pajamas strategizing on a call with Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, about the first impeachment of President Donald J. Trump while Mr. Pelosi, sitting across from her, was on his cellphone dealing with a contractor trying to access their San Francisco home to fix a broken shower.

“I don’t know what happened to that key,” Mr. Pelosi said, using an expletive.

Paul and Nancy Pelosi met as college students while taking a summer class at Georgetown University in 1961. They married two years later and had five children in six years. Ms. Pelosi spent her early years in the marriage as a stay-at-home San Francisco mother and did not run for Congress until she was in her 40s. What followed was nothing that Mr. Pelosi ever pictured for his wife, or his family, according to his daughter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How a Windfall of Special Education Funding Benefited Hasidic Schools, Brian M. Rosenthal, Dec. 29, 2022. New York has paid companies millions of dollars to help children with disabilities in religious schools. But the services are not always needed or even provided.

Less than a decade ago, New York City drastically changed the way it provided special education to thousands of children with disabilities.

State law requires cities to deliver those services to students in private schools, even if the government has to pay outside companies to do it. But for years, when parents asked, New York City officials resisted and called many of the requests unnecessary.

In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio changed course. Responding to complaints, especially from Orthodox Jewish organizations, he ordered the city to start fast-tracking approvals.

The policy has made it easier for some children with disabilities to get specialized instruction, therapy and counseling. But in Orthodox Jewish religious schools, particularly in parts of the Hasidic community, the shift has also led to a windfall of government money for services that are sometimes not needed, or even provided, an examination by The New York Times has found.

washington post logoWashington Post, Rep. Jamie Raskin announces he has ‘a serious but curable form of cancer,’ Steve Thompson, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) announced Wednesday that he has cancer but said the condition is curable and he expects to work during treatment.

jamie raskin headshotThe congressman, right, who led the second impeachment trial of President Donald Trump and is a member of the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, disclosed the diagnosis in a news release.
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“After several days of tests, I have been diagnosed with Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, which is a serious but curable form of cancer,” he said. “Prognosis for most people in my situation is excellent after four months of treatment.”

Raskin, who has represented Maryland’s 8th District since 2017, said he is about to begin a course of chemo-immunotherapy as an outpatient at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in the District.
'“I am advised that it also causes hair loss and weight gain (although I am still holding out hope for the kind that causes hair gain and weight loss),” his news release said.

He said he would continue to work during treatment but has been cautioned by doctors to reduce unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus, flu and other viruses.

Raskin, 60, added that with “the benefit of early detection,” as well as his family, staff and friends, he plans to “to get through this and, in the meantime, to keep making progress every day in Congress for American democracy.”

“My love and solidarity go out to other families managing cancer or any other health condition in this holiday season,” he said, “ — and all the doctors, nurses and medical personnel who provide us comfort and hope.”

This is not Raskin’s first battle with cancer. In 2010, he underwent radiation and chemotherapy as he fought Stage 3 colon cancer.

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Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Missile Barrage Staggers Ukraine’s Air Defenses, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 29, 2022. Cruise missiles and exploding drones provided to Russia by Iran swept across the skies of Ukraine, wreaking havoc and once again knocking out power.

A swarm of drones and a volley of cruise missiles rocked towns and cities across Ukraine on Thursday, the biggest assault in weeks and the latest in a wave of ever more sophisticated aerial duels pitting Russia’s evolving tactics against Ukraine’s growing arsenal of air defense weapons.

At dawn in Kyiv, the capital, puffy contrails from missiles or air defense weapons lingered in the sky and fragments from successful intercepts rained down on a playground and on private homes.

Russia, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, had been “saving one of the most massive missile attacks since the beginning of the full-scale invasion for the last days of the year.” Ukraine’s air defenses were at times overwhelmed.

Iranian-made exploding drones, which Russia began acquiring last summer, were launched in a first wave, apparently to bog down air defenses before the cruise missile strikes, the Ukrainian air force said. It said its defense forces had shot down 54 of 69 cruise missiles and had also knocked out drones.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: ‘Massive missile attack’ as strikes reported in Kyiv, across country, David L. Stern, Ellen Francis, Kelsey Ables and Isabelle Khurshudy, Dec. 29, 2022. Explosions rocked cities across Ukraine early Thursday morning, as Russia continued its unrelenting pummeling of the country’s energy infrastructure, launching dozens of missiles and hospitalizing at least three people in the capital, Ukrainian officials said.

Air raid sirens sounded out across Ukraine at 6 a.m. Washington Post journalists heard the first of several explosions in Kyiv a little over an hour later. Local officials in Odessa in the south, Kharkiv in the east, Lviv in the west and other regions reported missile attacks on social media. It was not immediately clear whether the sounds of blasts were from strikes or air defenses.

“The enemy attacks Ukraine from various directions with air and sea-based cruise missiles from strategic aircraft and ships,” Ukraine’s Air Force said in a statement on Telegram, calling it a “massive missile attack.”

Moscow has pounded Ukraine’s infrastructure since early October, in an effort to leave the country without light, heat and water during the freezing winter months and weaken the Ukrainians’ resolve to continue the war effort — a strategy that so far seems to have failed considerably.

It was the first major missile attack in about two weeks — and just days before the New Year’s holidays. Russian forces also launched an assault of self-destructing drones on Ukrainian energy facilities last week.

Ukraine’s military said that some 69 missiles had been fired, of which 54 were intercepted by the country’s air defense systems. The Washington Post could not independently verify any of the figures cited by Ukrainian officials.

vitali klitschko aris messinis afp via gettyKyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, shown at right in an AFP file photo via Getty Images, said on his Telegram channel that Ukrainian air defense forces had shot down 16 Russian missiles in the capital, while Odessa Gov. Maksym Marchenko said 21 missiles had been destroyed in his region.

But the missiles also caused extensive damage and injuries. Klitschko said that missile fragments struck a residential home, and three people, including a 14-year-old girl, had been injured in the capital. After the attack, 40 percent of Kyiv residents were without power, Klitschko said, though heat and water were continuing “as usual.”

washington post logoWashington Post, French defense minister in Kyiv; warnings of power outages throughout winter, Niha Masih and Leo Sands, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu arrived in Kyiv Wednesday to discuss further military support for Ukraine, marking his ukraine flagfirst visit to the country in the 10 months since Russia invaded. Lecornu visited a Kyiv war memorial, where he laid a wreath, and is due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In Kyiv, officials warned the capital would see emergency power outages all winter, despite workers racing to repair infrastructure damaged by shelling.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Lecornu will have a “working meeting” with his counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, as part of his visit, French officials told The Washington Post. The pair will discuss “the support already provided and the support to come,” a French defense ministry spokesperson said. Lecornu will then meet with Zelensky. While France has provided support for Ukraine, many Ukrainians have criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, who continued phone contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion.
  • Russian officials are not optimistic about next year’s economic outlook, although believe they have already weathered the most challenging period. Referring to Russia’s economic growth for 2023, First Deputy Minister Andrew Belousov said: “3 percent will not be achieved next year. It will certainly be lower. I think it will hover around zero. Our forecast is approximately minus one percent, maybe slightly less,” according to Tass state news agency.
  • Emergency power outages continue to affect the capital, as Kyiv City Council deputy chairman Petro Panteleev warned: “We will live in such realities all winter.” Teams were working “round-the-clock” to try to restore energy, and “we try our best to make the residents comfortable,” he wrote on Telegram. Russia’s missile campaign has targeted Ukraine’s energy systems and knocked out critical services across the country.

2. Battleground updates

  • Civilian infrastructure was struck during attacks on the Kherson area Tuesday, according to Ukrainian officials. The General Staff of the Armed Forces reported casualties, without saying how many were injured or killed, and said Russian forces were continuing to shell settlements along the right bank of the Dnieper River. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the office of the president of Ukraine, said on Telegram that a hospital maternity ward was shelled but no one there was hurt.
  • Russian forces continued their assault on the Bakhmut area Tuesday, though the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank reported that their rate of advance in the area has slowed recently amid personnel and munitions challenges. That pace “will likely decrease if Russian forces continue advancing at all unless significant new reinforcements and supplies of artillery rounds arrive soon,” the ISW said in its Tuesday update.

3. Global impact

  • Putin met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a St. Petersburg summit amid rising fears about Moscow using Belarus to launch fresh attacks on Ukraine. In an excerpt of the meeting, Putin did not mention the war but said the summit was “a good environment to talk about serious matters, including our bilateral relations.”
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the United States and its allies, as he issued a fresh warning that the war in Ukraine will continue until Kyiv agrees to Moscow’s demands of demilitarization. “The enemy is well aware of our proposals,” Lavrov told the Russian news agency Tass. “There is a little left to do — to accept these proposals in an amicable way. Otherwise, the Russian Army will deal with this issue,” he said. He also blamed Western countries for aiding Ukraine with money and weapons, saying that was prolonging the conflict.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Nothing left to destroy:’ Russia is fighting for land already in ruins, Jeff Stein and Ievgeniia Sivorka, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Lyman and cities across Donbas have been invaded and liberated multiple times since 2014. The few residents left fear Russia will invade again, continuing the cycle.

Tamara Klimashenko stood in what was once her cherished flower garden and pulled out her phone to show photos of the peonies, petunias and chamomiles that once covered this patch of dirt now littered with shrapnel.

Her husband, Anatoly Klimashenko, pointed to where the shells exploded: one near the cabbage patch; another where the strawberries grew; yet another on the garage he built.

Lyman was the site of fierce fighting in May, when Russian forces seized the city, and in the summer. The Russians occupied Lyman until Oct. 1, when they fled a fast-advancing Ukrainian counteroffensive.

But even amid the wreckage of their home — with the walls blown out and wood planks hanging from the ceiling — the Klimashenkos said they feared an even worse fate: another Russian invasion, potentially their third in eight years, as President Vladimir Putin’s self-assigned “main goal” of “liberating all of Donbas” yet again puts their city in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Scrambles to Stop Iran From Providing Drones for Russia, David E. Sanger, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). As the war in Ukraine grinds on, some officials have become convinced that Iran and Russia are building a new alliance of convenience.

The Biden administration has launched a broad effort to halt Iran’s ability to produce and deliver drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, an endeavor that has echoes of its yearslong program to cut off Tehran’s access to nuclear technology.

Iran FlagIn interviews in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, a range of intelligence, military and national security officials have described an expanding U.S. program that aims to choke off Iran’s ability to manufacture the drones, make it harder for the Russians to launch the unmanned “kamikaze” aircraft and — if all else fails — to provide the Ukrainians with the defenses necessary to shoot them out of the sky.

The breadth of the effort has become clearer in recent weeks. The administration has accelerated its moves to deprive Iran of the Western-made components needed to manufacture the drones being sold to Russia after it became apparent from examining the wreckage of intercepted drones that they are stuffed with made-in-America technology.

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Global News, Human Rights, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel’s far-right government sworn in amid surge of resistance, Shira Rubin, Dec. 29, 2022. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurated the most right-wing government in Israel’s history on Thursday, launching a divisive chapter of national politics that pits newly influential ultrareligious, ultranationalist leaders against an opposition that warns democracy is in peril.

Benjamin Netanyahu smile TwitterThe new government returns Netanyahu, right — Israel’s longest-serving leader who is embroiled in a corruption trial — to power for the third time, after a year and a half on the sidelines. His coalition, which controls 64 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, was billed as a return to stability after years of political crisis. But it is anchored by Religious Zionism, a bloc of once-fringe, far-right parties that have promised to Israel Flagtransform the country in their image.

They are already pursuing plans to restrict the rights of minorities, alter the system of checks and balances, hollow out the Israeli judiciary, exert influence over the army and security forces, and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hundreds of U.S. rabbis protest new Israeli government in public letter, Yonat Shimron, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). The incoming administration is one of the most hard-right in Israel’s history, one US rabbis say endangers Jewish values.

washington post logoWashington Post, End of an era as Venezuela’s opposition moves to end Guaidó experiment, Ana Vanessa Herrero, Samantha Schmidt and Karen DeYoung, Dec. 29, 2022. At the start of 2019, as President Nicolás Maduro, right, was claiming reelection in a vote widely condemned as fraudulent, the head of nicolas maduro customthe country’s legislature stood before an electric crowd of thousands in John Paul II Plaza here in the Venezuelan capital and presented himself as the country’s rightful leader.

“We will stay on the street,” Juan Guaidó vowed, “until Venezuela is liberated!”

The then-35-year-old head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly was swiftly backed by the Trump administration and governments around the world on the reasoning that he was now the highest-ranking democratically elected official in the country.

A rare unifying figure among the historically fractious opposition, Guaidó said he would serve as the country’s “interim president” until Maduro stepped down — or, at least, agreed to hold free and fair elections.

venezuela flag waving customBut nearly four years later and with little to show for the effort, the experiment appears to be coming to an end. As early as Thursday, the opposition lawmakers who once rallied behind Guaidó are expected to end his mandate and eliminate his interim government. They approved those moves in a 72-23 preliminary vote last week.

The gold mining city that's destroying a sacred Venezuelan mountain

“After four years, we should not continue to maintain a system that has not given results and is a bureaucratic burden,” Nora Bracho, a member of one of the three main opposition parties voting to end the interim government, told The

At stake is not only the prospect of competitive elections under Maduro’s authoritarian socialist state and U.S. engagement with the country but also the control of key government assets abroad. Under U.S. and other sanctions, the interim government has administered Houston-based Citgo Petroleum Corp. and gold stored at the Bank of England.

Lawmakers who support removing Guaidó say they would establish a committee to protect those assets and manage expenses. The National Assembly, elected in 2015, would continue through 2023, but only to legislate on issues related to the assets.

The assembly was scheduled to meet on Thursday for a second and final vote. But Wednesday evening, its Twitter account, which is controlled by Guaidó's office, announced that the session had been postponed until Jan. 3.

The opposition parties Justice First and Democratic Action, who favor ousting Guaidó, responded that they hadn’t been consulted, and the session would proceed as scheduled. Then the assembly account tweeted that the assembly can’t meet without the president.

The Biden administration plans to recognize whatever body the opposition comes up with, according to a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share internal policy discussions.

The United States, with the help of conservative allies in Latin America, has managed to bar Maduro’s representatives from Venezuela’s seats in international and regional organizations, including the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Development Bank, and fill them instead with Guaidó’s officials. But a wave of elections in some of the region’s most powerful countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and Chile, has brought leftists to power with different priorities.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Record Military Incursions, China Warns Taiwan and U.S., Amy Chang Chien and Chang Che, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Taiwan said China sent 71 military aircraft near the island days after President Biden bolstered U.S. support for Taiwan.

China sent a record number of military aircraft to menace self-ruled Taiwan in a large show of force to the Biden administration, signaling that Beijing wants to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as some tensions between the superpowers are easing.

taiwan flagThe swarm of Chinese fighter jets, maritime patrol planes and drones that buzzed the airspace near Taiwan in the 24-hour period leading to Monday morning demonstrated Beijing’s appetite for confrontation with the United States over Taiwan, the island democracy China claims as its territory.

The military activity — which, according to Taiwan, included at least 71 Chinese aircraft — came days after President Biden’s latest move to expand American support for the island. Beijing has denounced the United States’ effort as an attempt to contain China and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Tensions over Taiwan have been rising in the months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August, prompting Beijing to step up its activity in the area with several days of live-fire drills. China said that the exercise was aimed at honing its ability to conduct joint patrols and military strikes, but also made clear what the target was.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Name That Became Shorthand for Perfection: Pelé, Rory Smith, Dec. 29, 2022. The best gauge of what Pelé meant to soccer is that he was synonymous with excellence before people saw him play, our chief soccer correspondent writes.

ny times logoNew York Times, As he led Brazil to success on the field, Pelé helped the country find itself, Tariq Panja, Tariq Panja lived and worked in Brazil from 2013 to 2016.Dec. 29, 2022. It is hard to overstate the meaning of the connection between the individual and the country, a link that endured at his death almost as strongly as it did in Pelé’s heyday, when he was among the most famous people in the world. For a country still looking to make its mark in the postwar years, Pelé’s arrival signaled Brazil’s coming-of-age.

That first world championship delivered to Brazil the type of recognition it craved, and in Pelé it found a talent whose brilliance set him, and the Brazilian people, apart. Brazil’s canary yellow shirts and Pelé’s dazzling play became synonymous with the country itself, its calling cards to the world.

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More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

ny times logoNew York Times, Republicans Step Up Attacks on F.B.I. as It Investigates Trump, Adam Goldman and Alan Feuer, Dec. 29, 2022. Historically, the F.B.I.’s critics have come from the left. But the bureau’s array of inquiries into former President Donald J. Trump has turned the tables.

When George Piro learned that some of his former colleagues were spreading unfounded rumors about him, he was stunned.

FBI logoMr. Piro, 55, was a highly decorated agent in the F.B.I. During his 23-year career, he earned a national intelligence medal for the months he spent interrogating Saddam Hussein, supervised several high-profile shooting investigations and consistently earned reviews that were among the highest for agents who ran field offices.

Now, he stood accused of misconduct by a group of former agents who had been placed on leave and called themselves “the Suspendables.” In a letter sent this month to Christopher A. Wray, the F.B.I. director, the group surfaced persistent accusations against the bureau, saying it had discriminated against conservative-leaning agents. The group’s letter also falsely suggested that Mr. Piro, who once ran the F.B.I.’s office in Miami, had played a suspicious role in the bureau’s search this summer of Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald J. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida.

republican elephant logo“These claims are absolutely false,” Mr. Piro said in an interview. “I dedicated my life to the country and the F.B.I. I am disappointed that former agents would spread lies about me.”

The attacks on Mr. Piro, and his angry rebuttal of them, are ‌e‌mblematic of a toxic dynamic that is increasingly central to Republican Party politics. Mr. Trump’s supporters — among them, Republicans poised to take over the House next month — have seized on the letter’s accusations and stepped up their assaults on the F.B.I., seeking to undermine the bureau just as it has assumed the lead in an array of investigations of Mr. Trump.

Representative Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who will be the Judiciary Committee’s chairman next month, has pledged to investigate what he describes as the politicization of the F.B.I. as well as that of the Justice Department. In a taste of what is to come, the committee’s Republican staff released a 1,000-page report last month that asserted that the F.B.I. hierarchy “spied on President Trump’s campaign and ridiculed conservative Americans” and that the “rot within the F.B.I. festers in and proceeds from Washington.”

Historically, the F.B.I.’s most vocal critics have come from figures on the left, who have accused it of using heavy-handed tactics in investigating groups like trade unionists or civil rights activists. Conservatives and Republicans have, at least by tradition, supported the F.B.I. and other law-enforcement agencies.
The Spread of Misinformation and Falsehoods

The report further accused the agency of “helping Big Tech to censor Americans’ political speech” — a claim that misrepresented the way the F.B.I. has sought for years to curb online disinformation, especially when it comes from foreign actors. Long before the House report or the letter to Mr. Wray was released, Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress and the news media were already targeting federal law enforcement officers and demonizing those who scrutinized the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, What’s Gone at Twitter? A Data Center, Janitors, Some Toilet Paper, Kate Conger, Ryan Mac and Mike Isaac, Dec. 29, 2022. Elon Musk has reduced the company to a bare-bones operation, and employees are under a “zero-based budgeting” mandate to justify any spending.

Elon Musk’s orders were clear: Close the data center.

Early on Christmas Eve, members of the billionaire’s staff flew to Sacramento — the site of one of Twitter’s three main computing storage facilities — to disconnect servers that had kept the social network running smoothly. Some employees were worried that losing those servers could cause problems, but saving money was the priority, according to two people who were familiar with the move but not authorized to talk about it.

The data center shutdown was one of many drastic steps Mr. Musk has undertaken to stabilize Twitter’s finances. Over the past few weeks, Twitter had stopped paying millions of dollars in rent and services, and Mr. Musk had told his subordinates to renegotiate those agreements or simply end them. The company has stopped paying rent at its Seattle office, leading it to face eviction, two people familiar with the matter said. Janitorial and security services have been cut, and in some cases employees have resorted to bringing their own toilet paper to the office.

Mr. Musk bought the social network for $44 billion in late October, saddling it with debt that will require him to pay about $1 billion in interest annually. Speaking on a live forum on Twitter last week, Mr. Musk compared the company to a “plane that is headed towards the ground at high speed with the engines on fire and the controls don’t work.” Twitter was on track to have a “negative cash flow situation” of about $3 billion in 2023, he said, citing a depressed advertising environment and increased costs, like the debt payments.

“That’s why I spent the last five weeks cutting costs like crazy,” he said.

Those cuts may be yielding consequences. On Wednesday, users around the world reported service interruptions with Twitter. Some were logged out, while others encountered error messages while visiting the website. Twitter has not explained what caused the temporary outage. Three people familiar with the company’s infrastructure said that if the Sacramento facility had still been operating, it could have helped alleviate the problem by providing backup computing capacity when other data centers failed.

Twitter, which has eliminated its communications department, and Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Although he has said he will appoint a new chief executive at Twitter, Mr. Musk remains closely involved at the social networking firm even as problems crop up at his electric vehicle company, Tesla. And his tight control of the daily management of Twitter calls into question just how much power he would cede to a new chief, who would inherit a bare-bones business that he still owns.

Since early November, Mr. Musk has sought to save about $500 million in nonlabor costs, according to an internal document seen by The New York Times. He has also laid off or fired nearly 75 percent of the company’s work force since completing the purchase.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jan. 6 Transcripts Detail Failures in Surveillance and Response,  Luke Broadwater, Maggie Haberman, Catie Edmondson and Stephanie Lai, Dec. 29, 2022. The latest transcripts shed light on how threats before Jan. 6 were ignored and what led to an hourslong delay of the National Guard deployment.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released on Thursday 19 more transcripts of its interviews, bringing its total number of transcripts published to about 120.

So far, the committee has added details to the public’s understanding of how witnesses stymied parts of the panel’s inquiry; how Trump-aligned lawyers allegedly tried to steer witness testimony; how panicked lawmakers tried to persuade former President Donald J. Trump to call off the mob; and how Mr. Trump considered “blanket pardons” for those charged.

The committee is rushing to publish hundreds more interviews before Jan. 3, when Republicans will take control of the House. Here are some takeaways from the hundreds of pages of transcripts released this week, including details of police intelligence failures before the Capitol attack and insight into the delay in the response of the National Guard.
Concerns over ‘optics’ contributed to the National Guard delay.

The transcripts shed more light on what led to an hourslong delay of the National Guard deployment to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

 

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Global Immigration, Migration, Asylum Issues

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Will Lifting Title 42 Cause a Border Crisis? It’s Already Here, James Dobbins and Miriam Jordan, Dec. 29, 2022. The southern U.S. border is in the midst of a record-setting migration surge, and Title 42 is full of exemptions that allow many people to come.

For months, migrants from Nicaragua and Colombia, toddlers on their shoulders and knapsacks on their backs, have been wading across the shallow waters of the Rio Grande near El Paso and forming lines to turn themselves in to U.S. border authorities. Further west, in Arizona, migrants from Russia, India and South America have been passing through gaps in the border wall and surrendering to U.S. agents.

None of them have been held back by a nearly three-year-old public health measure, known as Title 42, that was billed as an attempt to effectively close the border against the soaring numbers of migrants unlawfully entering the United States. They are not being barred from making an asylum claim; they are not being expelled to Mexico.

Migrants are lining the sidewalks in El Paso, where many have been sleeping under donated blankets because shelters are at capacity. Migrants taken into custody in Arizona are being bused to San Diego for processing to avert chaos at crowded holding facilities, and then dropped off at bus stations to head for destinations across the country.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Biden administration’s attempt to lift the Trump-era pandemic restriction at the southern border after 19 Republican-led states argued that the rule’s immediate termination would wreak havoc at the border.

But the reality is that, despite all the dark predictions over what will happen whenever Title 42 is lifted, the southern border already is in the midst of a record-setting migration surge that is likely to persist for the foreseeable future. The border-control measure is full of exemptions under which tens of thousands of migrants every month are showing up at U.S. ports of entry with a relatively high degree of confidence that they will be allowed to stay.

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: With latest Title 42 ruling, Supreme Court majority makes a mockery of the law, Editorial Board, Dec. 29, 2022. Republicans and Democrats broadly agree that the nation’s asylum and immigration systems are broken. Both are aware that Congress, paralyzed by partisanship, has failed to provide a fix.

But that failure cannot be a pretext for the democracy hack that GOP elected officials from 19 states have undertaken in asking the Supreme Court to retain a Trump-era anti-covid public health measure that has been repurposed as an immigration enforcement tool along the southern border. And by siding with those officials, at least temporarily, the conservative majority on the high court has made a mockery of the law.
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Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the lone conservative to join his three progressive colleagues in opposing the court’s decision on Tuesday, was right to point out the flimsy legal basis that underlaid the order. “The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch wrote. “And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”

The policy in question, known as Title 42, was imposed in March 2020 as the nation was reeling at the onset of a new, poorly understood pandemic. It suspended the legal asylum system, enabling border authorities to quickly expel migrants without giving them the benefit of filing a claim. Since then, Title 42 has been used 2.5 million times to turn migrants back — though many of them, having received no adjudication of their claims, tried repeatedly to cross the border unlawfully.

The Trump-era measure known as Title 42, which empowered U.S. border authorities to remove migrants without hearing their asylum claims, was set to expire Dec. 21. It’s still in place as the Supreme Court considers its legality. Here’s our view on the best way to respond to the expected surge at the southern border if and when Title 42 goes.

Whatever Title 42’s benefit at the outset — and there is scant evidence it was effective in combating the pandemic — it had run its course by the time Joe Biden took office. His administration made no effort to justify it; that, along with the repeal of other Trump-era immigration measures, was taken by migrants as a signal of a more lax border. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered Title 42 terminated.

In November, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan pointed to the fact that no evidence buttressed its continued use to protect public health, ruling against the Republican officials who sought to keep it in place. Even as Title 42 was used to block asylum seekers at the border, the judge noted, millions of other travelers were crossing, in buses and cars, with few impediments. What’s more, the CDC had previously rescinded the use of quarantine and other restrictions on the grounds that they were ineffective.

Republicans made no attempt to justify Title 42, a public health measure, on public health grounds. Yet in keeping it in place while the GOP officials continue to press their appeal, the Supreme Court ignored all that, acting more as lawmakers than as judges.

washington post logoWashington Post, Europe Migrants bused from Texas arrive at VP’s house on frigid Christmas Eve, Meryl Kornfield, Kyle Rempfer and Lizzie Johnson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). About 110 to 130 men, women and children got off the buses outside the Naval Observatory on Saturday night in 18-degree weather after a two-day journey from South Texas, according to the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. On the coldest Christmas Eve day on record in the District, some migrants were bundled up in blankets as they were greeted by volunteers who had received word that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had sent the caravan.

Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

U.S. Snow, Airline Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Learning From the Southwest Airlines Fiasco, Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 29, 2022. Americans are furious with Southwest Airlines, and paul krugmanunderstandably so. Severe weather always disrupts air travel, but Southwest was the only major airline to suffer a near-complete collapse of service in the wake of the recent megastorm, stranding thousands of passengers. As of Thursday, as other carriers were more or less back to normal, Southwest was still operating fewer than half its scheduled flights.

How did this happen? To be honest, I’d love to write a scathing, muckraking column about the destructive effects of corporate greed. But that doesn’t seem to be the main story here.

To be clear, greed surely played some role in the disaster. Most obviously, Southwest hadn’t spent the money needed to upgrade a scheduling system many people inside the airline knew was inadequate. Instead, before the pandemic it spent billions on stock buybacks.

Let me also add that nothing I say here should be taken as an argument against demanding that Southwest compensate the travelers it failed, not just as a matter of fairness but to create the right incentives. If we want companies that serve the public to spend money to reduce the risks of catastrophic failure, we need to ensure that they pay a high price when they let their customers down.

Yet righteous anger shouldn’t stop us from trying to understand why, exactly, things went so wrong.

The roots of Southwest’s unique meltdown go back all the way to 1978, when the airline industry was deregulated. Until then, interstate carriers were basically forced to offer direct, “point to point” service between cities. After deregulation, most major airlines shifted to “hub and spoke” systems, which had many passengers changing planes at major centers like Chicago’s O’Hare or Atlanta.

Hub-and-spoke has some clear advantages over point-to-point. It lets airlines service the same number of cities with fewer routes — connecting 10 cities point-to-point requires 45 routes but sending everyone via a central hub requires only nine. The system also creates some inherent flexibility because planes and flight crews based at hubs can be reallocated to compensate for, say, equipment breakdowns.

But a hub-and-spoke system has disadvantages, too. It can force passengers to accept long layovers or, alternatively, miss tight connections if anything goes wrong. (Dear American Airlines: No, I did not appreciate my recent involuntary night in Miami.) Hub-and-spoke has also enhanced airlines’ monopoly power, with each big carrier dominating markets served by its hubs.

In response to these disadvantages, on the eve of the pandemic some airlines were moving partly back to point-to-point. Southwest, however, had never left that system. Alone among major carriers, it mostly flew people straight from origin to destination, without the need to change planes along the way.

Partly as a result, Southwest had relatively low costs, some of which were passed on in the form of cheaper fares. Patrons generally liked its service: In 2022 Southwest’s economy class (it doesn’t offer business class) led J.D. Power’s rankings for customer satisfaction.

But point-to-point turns out to be especially vulnerable to extreme disruptions. Snow and bitter cold evidently left most of Southwest’s planes and personnel stranded in scattered locations, unable to resume normal service even when the weather let up. Again, as I write this the airline is still trying to put the pieces back together.

Antiquated technology that left Southwest unable even to find many of its crew members, plus the absence of agreements that would have made it possible to rebook passengers on other airlines, made it worse. But these were only exacerbating factors. Basically, a system that has some real advantages in normal times fell apart when it encountered, well, a perfect storm.

Are there any broader lessons from this disaster?

Some analysts have suggested that Southwest’s debacle reflected a widespread managerial culture that encourages “cheeseparing” — increasing profits by slicing off costs until there’s no margin for error. For example, a relentless focus on holding down expenses was at the root of worker anger that almost shut down America’s freight railways not long ago.

I’m sympathetic to that view. We’d probably all be better off if corporations were less focused on their short-term bottom lines and more willing to invest in resilience. And public policy should do what it can to promote such investment.

Beyond that, what happened at Southwest is another reminder that, for all the talk of an information age, we’re still living in a material world. Notably, there’s a clear family resemblance between the Southwest meltdown and the supply chain crisis of 2021-22, when a constellation of unusual events left many of the shipping containers central to modern commerce stranded in the wrong places.

If you’re an affluent American, it can sometimes seem as if you’re already living in the metaverse: Click on your mouse and whatever you need arrives at your door. But there’s a lot of physical action, and real-world labor, going on behind the scenes. And we forget that reality at our peril.

washington post logoWashington Post, Buffalo blizzard fuels racial and class divides in polarized city, Brianna Sacks, Dec. 29, 2022. Residents and community leaders said wealthier and Whiter suburbs appeared to be more prepared, their response better coordinated, their power returned faster.

As Buffalo begins to dig itself out from its deadliest disaster in a decade, the plights of people stuck for days in frigid homes without much food, their streets still unplowed, have reignited deep economic and racial fault lines that have long polarized the city.

Authorities say more than 30 people have died, found in their homes, cars and outside in snowbanks. The blinding wind and dense snow paralyzed emergency response efforts over the weekend, galvanizing citizen volunteer groups who worked to rescue and care for the more vulnerable. Officials say they will find more dead in the coming days.

As the toll on the city has become clearer, a dozen residents and community leaders said in interviews that structural issues such as poverty, food deserts, poor housing and a lack of investment by government have made the impacts on working-class, Black and Brown neighborhoods much worse. They expressed concerns that surrounding wealthier and Whiter suburbs appeared to be more prepared, their response better coordinated, their power and roads restored faster.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bad timing, a lack of planning led to devastating fallout in Buffalo storm, Brianna Sacks and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). The historic devastation is, in large part, due to a collision of a historic blizzard, timing, a dearth of emergency management resources, and the difficulty of trying to force residents to abandon much-needed jobs.

For 14 hours in Buffalo, emergency services technician Felicia Williams sat inside her snow-covered ambulance without food or water, helplessly listening to her dispatchers answer calls about people freezing, mothers and babies stranded in cars, oxygen tanks running out, and other first responders trapped trying to get to them. In front of her, four cars were askew in snow drifts, blocking the road.

And, as the 26-year-old began to fear that even she may die there, Williams grew furious that Buffalo hadn’t acted sooner to prevent people from going out on the roads in the worst storm since 1977.

“I think a travel ban should have been put in place a lot earlier,” said Williams, an EMT with American Medical Response in Buffalo.

Erie County, which contains Buffalo, issued a travel ban shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, giving motorists only a 41-minute head’s up as many of them were driving to work. But the timing of the ban has become one of the flash points as western New York grapples with the aftermath of a storm that already taken the lives of 28 people in Erie County. Buffalo city spokesman Mike DeGeorge said more than half of the deaths occurred outside, a number involving people in their cars.

The devastating impact is, in large part, due to a collision of a historic blizzard, bad timing, a dearth of emergency management resources, and the immense difficulty of trying to force residents who are largely desensitized to severe weather to abandon much-needed jobs, as well as their holiday plans, according to interviews with lawmakers, community organizers and disaster experts

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats Outpace Donald Trump in Seating Federal Judges, Carl Hulse, Dec. 29, 2022. Top Senate Democrats say they will continue their push to fill vacancies in 2023, but activists warn that under current rules, it could be difficult.

Democrats fell just short of an ambitious goal of confirming 100 new federal judges as time ran out on the 117th Congress, but they are optimistic they can continue to reshape the courts over the final two years of President Biden’s term.

The Senate’s top two Democrats say their ability to outpace the concerted Republican judicial push of President Donald J. Trump’s first two years, with a total of 97 judges seated, was especially noteworthy considering they did it with a 50-50 Senate, an evenly divided Judiciary Committee and little cooperation from most Republicans.

And the personal and professional backgrounds of the judges they confirmed were markedly different from the past. The Senate named scores of women and people of color to the courts, many with specialties in defense and civil rights work as opposed to the corporate law partners and prosecutors who were the norm in previous administrations of both parties.

“It’s remarkable to think that an 11-11 committee, with the Republicans we have on that committee, was able to achieve this,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat who, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, led the judicial push.

A review of the Judiciary Committee votes cast on the 126 nominees showed scant support from most Republicans on the panel, several of whom are among the most conservative in the Senate. The nominees were historically diverse, including 92 women, 60 of whom were women of color out of a total of 85 people of color, along with eight L.G.B.T.Q. nominees.

Among Republicans, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri voted for only one of the nominees; Senator Ted Cruz of Texas voted for two; Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska voted for five; Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee voted for six; and Senator Mike Lee of Utah voted for nine. Republicans have criticized the Biden nominees as too liberal and sympathetic to criminal defendants to be installed on the bench.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who says he believes that presidents are entitled to confirmation of qualified judges of their choosing, was the most frequent Republican backer of Biden nominees on the committee, supporting 107. He was followed by Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina at 50; Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, at 40; Senator John Cornyn of Texas at 30; and Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana at 26.

“We had three or four Republicans who were really open-minded and helped us on the votes,” said Mr. Durbin in an interview, singling out Mr. Graham. “We had some who didn’t.”

The success of Democrats in holding and expanding their majority last month will allow them to continue to control the confirmation process while a new one-seat advantage on the Judiciary Committee should enable them to clear procedural obstacles more easily.

But progressive judicial activists warn that the Senate leadership might need to take other steps to keep up the pace the next two years. So far, Democrats have adhered to an informal tradition that gives home-state senators virtual veto power over nominees for district court slots under what is known as the “blue slip” rule by agreeing to not move forward unless senators return a blue slip of approval.

As a result, the Biden administration would need to negotiate judicial selections for district court seats in states represented by at least one Republican senator if it hopes to fill those mounting vacancies. The voting record of Republicans on the committee and in the full Senate suggests that finding common ground on nominees could be difficult and time-consuming. One district court pick for Wisconsin has already been blocked by the refusal of Senator Ron Johnson, the Republican from the state, to return a blue slip.

Brian Fallon, the head of the progressive advocacy group Demand Justice, said that Mr. Durbin would come under increasing pressure to jettison the blue slip rule, which Mr. Fallon called an anachronism dating back to segregationist years in America.

Meidas Touch Network,

, Ben Meiselas, Dec. 29, 2022 (11:38 min. video). MeidasTouch host Ben Meiselas reports on a new order by a federal judge in Washington DC holding that an insurrectionist named Alexander Sheppard could not rely on a “public authority defense” because Trump’s commands were not lawful.

The Court cited the January 6 Committee report in its scathing ruling.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP language seeks to obscure role of far right in domestic terrorism, Hannah Allam, Dec. 29, 2022. Republican attempts to minimize far-right violence hampers government efforts to combat the threat, extremism analysts say.

Drawing inspiration from a far-right shooter in New Zealand, the gunman who killed 10 Black shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket in the spring used racist, dehumanizing language in his writings, singling out Jews as the real problem to be “dealt with in time.”

republican elephant logoNevertheless, at a congressional hearing this month on the threat of violent white supremacy, two Republican lawmakers cherry-picked a word in the Buffalo killer’s screed — “socialist” — to cast him as a radical leftist. They did not note that the shooter was referring to National Socialism, the ideology of the German Nazi Party, as Democrats and witnesses on the panel pointedly clarified.

“Any sober look” at the Buffalo shooter’s hate-filled manifesto, Oren Segal of the Anti-Defamation League told the lawmakers, “would recognize that attack as clearly a white-supremacist attack.”

The exchange shows the tricky role of language in the politically charged struggle over how to talk about domestic terrorism. Republican leaders portray the far left and far right as equally dangerous, an assertion contradicted by White House assessments that “the most persistent and lethal threats” to the country come from the violent right.

But “far right” also is an imperfect term, analysts say, and does not capture the complex ideologies, including some that overlap with the anarchist left, that have fueled recent attacks.

That fuzziness leaves room for bad-faith arguments and misinformation, miring an urgent threat in partisan point-scoring. Terrorism researchers said they had hoped that rising political violence culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol would jolt leaders into action. Instead, they say, efforts to address violent extremism have stalled over semantics and an eagerness to blame “the other side.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Moorish Americans take over a rural gun range, sparking a strange showdown, Peter Jamison, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Moorish Americans, part of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement, claim the Southern Maryland gun range belongs to them, defying efforts by local officials to shut it down.

The complaints about the property on Fire Tower Road were urgent but not too far out of the ordinary in a rural stretch of Southern Maryland: Earsplitting gunfire, endangered cows, a stray bullet that pierced a neighbor’s equipment shed.

But that was before the would-be heirs to a mythical North African empire moved in, claiming their dominion extends not only over the lost island of Atlantis but also over five acres in Charles County.

The episode began when gun enthusiasts started getting together on Sundays for target practice at the wooded property of 64-year-old Byron Bell.

As the gatherings grew bigger, along with the caliber of weapons and the number of rounds discharged, they drew the ire of neighbors even in this sparsely populated and gun-friendly area.

Yet it was after county officials took action, deeming the site an unlawful firing range and filing an injunction to stop it from operating in September, that events took several unexpected turns. That was when a group calling itself Moorish Americans — an offshoot of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement whose members believe they are immune from dealings with U.S. legal and financial systems — essentially took over the range, declaring it “protected under the consular jurisdiction of Morocco.”

There followed arrests, flurries of spurious legal documents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, all to the accompaniment of what neighbors describe as an ongoing din of gunfire on weekends. Things escalated last week when sheriff’s deputies raided the property, seizing what Bell said were about a dozen firearms.

Moorish Americans, also known as Moorish sovereign citizens, believe themselves to be the inheritors of a fictitious empire that they say stretched from the present-day kingdom of Morocco to North America, with Mexico and Atlantis thrown in for good measure. They claim the same protections from U.S. legal proceedings that are granted to foreign citizens, while simultaneously asserting their rights to take over properties — often well-appointed homes owned by other people — that they say are still part of the “Moroccan Empire.”

Bell declared his Moorish American citizenship in September, according to court documents. He told The Post that he was still struggling to understand much of the group’s doctrine but that he found it “very educational.”

 Other Court and Crime News Headlines

 

More On Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Congressional Inquiry Into Alzheimer’s Drug Faults Its Maker and F.D.A., Pam Belluck, Dec. 29, 2022. The Food and Drug Administration’s process for approving the Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, despite great uncertainty about whether it worked, was “rife with irregularities,” according to a congressional investigation released on Thursday. The agency’s actions “raise serious concerns about F.D.A.’s lapses in protocol,” the report concluded.

The 18-month investigation, initiated by two congressional committees after the F.D.A. approved the drug, also strongly criticized Biogen, Aduhelm’s manufacturer. Internal documents showed the company set “an unjustifiably high price” of $56,000 a year for Aduhelm because it wanted a history-making “blockbuster” to “establish Aduhelm as one of the top pharmaceutical launches of all time,” even though it knew the high price would burden Medicare and patients, the report found.

The investigation said Biogen was prepared to spend up to several billion dollars — more than two-and-a-half times what it spent developing the drug — on aggressive marketing to counter expected “pushback” over whether Aduhelm was worth its price. The report said the campaign planned to target doctors, patients, advocacy groups, insurers, policymakers and communities of color, who were drastically underrepresented in its clinical trials of the drug.

The F.D.A. is now evaluating two other Alzheimer’s drugs for possible approval early next year, including one that Biogen helped develop. The congressional report said the agency “must take swift action to ensure that its processes for reviewing future Alzheimer’s disease treatments do not lead to the same doubts about the integrity of F.D.A.’s review.”

The report said the F.D.A.’s approval process for Aduhelm was “rife with irregularities” and criticized Biogen for setting an “unjustifiably high price.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Americans Still Masking Against Covid Find Themselves Isolated, Amy Harmon, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). It can be tough being a committed mask wearer when others have long since moved on from the pandemic.

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid.

“I found that one upsetting,’’ Mx. Cherry said in an interview. “I’ve been worried in the back of my mind the whole time: When are they going to decide they don’t want to do this anymore?’’

For many Americans still at pains to avoid infection with the coronavirus, this has become the loneliest moment since the pandemic began.

Exercise classes have largely suspended remote workouts. Families and employers have expected attendance at holiday events. The vulnerable and the risk-averse are finding themselves the rare mask-wearers on public transportation, in places of worship, and at offices and stores.

Even as Covid cases and hospitalizations have climbed across the nation over the last month, public officials are avoiding mask mandates — though officials in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have recently recommended wearing masks in public places, citing a “tripledemic” that includes influenza and R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus.

It is hard to avoid the feeling of being judged as histrionic, some say, even when evidence suggests they are right to be cautious. And many say they face pressure, internal and external, to adjust to changing social norms around a virus that others are treating as a thing of the past.

“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

climate change photo

Legal Schnauzer, Matrix LLC paid ABC News "producer" to pepper pro-environment political candidates with deceptive questions in an effort to boost its clients who pollute roger shuler and murphy(Part 1), Roger Shuler, right, Dec. 22, 2022. A journalist who identifies herself as working for ABC News has been paid by an Alabama-based political-consulting firm to sideswipe pro-environment politicians with deceptive questions, according to a report at NPR/Floodlight.

The journalist was Kristen Hentschel, the consulting firm was Montgomery-based Matrix LLC. The beneficiaries of the scheme were alabama power logodesigned to be Matrix clients -- such as Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light -- all with ties to projects known to produce pollution.

How did the "reporting" scheme with an ABC News journalist work? Exhibit A involves a Florida political candidate named Toby Overdorf, who had pledged to kristen hentschel ny posttake a serious approach to environmental protection. That's where Hentschel, right, enters the picture.

Under the headline "She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative, NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik write:

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site [in Stuart, FL]. Florida designates the species as threatened.

Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as a consultant on the construction project -- and he knew of no such tortoises. A city investigation found there were no dead tortoises, and no evidence that any ever had been present during the construction project. The oddities about the story do not end there, as NPR/Floodlight report:

That wasn't the only surprise. Though Hentschel has done freelance work for ABC, she was not there for the network.

At the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm's internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel's work, labeling the payments "for Florida Crystals, FPL." (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Recent Headlines

 

Musk, Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX

ny times logoNew York Times, As Silicon Valley Retrenches, a Tech Talent Shift Accelerates, Steve Lohr and Tripp Mickle, Dec. 29, 2022. Most tech jobs are now in mainstream industries like health care, banking and retail.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion, Did the Tesla Story Ever Make Sense? Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). If you’re one of those people who bought Bitcoin or paul krugmananother cryptocurrency near its peak last fall, you’ve lost a lot of money. Is it any consolation to know that you would have lost a similar amount if you had bought Tesla stock instead?

OK, probably not. Still, Tesla stock’s plunge is an opportunity to talk about what makes businesses successful in the information age. And in the end, Tesla and Bitcoin may have more in common than you think.

It’s natural to attribute Tesla’s recent decline — which is, to be sure, part of a general fall in tech stocks, but an exceptionally steep example — to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the reputational self-immolation that followed. Indeed, given what we’ve seen of Musk’s behavior, I wouldn’t trust him to feed my cat, let alone run a major corporation. Furthermore, Tesla sales have surely depended at least in part on the perception that Musk himself is a cool guy. Who, aside from MAGA types who probably wouldn’t have bought Teslas anyway, sees him that way now?

tesla logoOn the other hand, as someone who has spent much of his professional life in academia, I’m familiar with the phenomenon of people who are genuinely brilliant in some areas but utter fools in other domains. For all I know, Musk is or was a highly effective leader at Tesla and SpaceX.

Even if that’s the case, though, it’s hard to explain the huge valuation the market put on Tesla before the drop, or even its current value. After all, to be that valuable Tesla would have to generate huge profits, not just for a few years but in a way that could be expected to continue for many years to come.

Now, some technology companies have indeed been long-term moneymaking machines. Apple and Microsoft still top the list of the most profitable U.S. corporations some four decades after the rise of personal computers.

But we more or less understand the durability of the dominance of Apple and Microsoft, and it’s hard to see how Tesla could ever achieve something similar, no matter how brilliant its leadership. Both Apple and Microsoft benefit from strong network externalities — loosely speaking, everyone uses their products because everyone else uses their products.

In the case of Microsoft, the traditional story has been that businesses continued to buy the company’s software, even when it was panned by many people in the tech world, because it was what they were already set up to use: Products like Word and Excel may not have been great, but everyone within a given company and in others it did business with was set up to use them, had I.T. departments that knew how to deal with them, and so on. These days Microsoft has a better reputation than it used to, but as far as I can tell its market strength still reflects comfort and corporate habit rather than a perception of excellence.

Apple’s story is different in the details — more about individual users than institutions, more about physical products than about software alone. And Apple was widely considered cool, which I don’t think Microsoft ever was. But at an economic level it’s similar. I can attest from personal experience that once you’re in the iPhone/iPad/MacBook ecosystem, you won’t give up on its convenience unless offered something a lot better.
Similar stories can be told about a few other companies, such as Amazon, with its distribution infrastructure.

The question is: Where are the powerful network externalities in the electric vehicle business?

Electric cars may well be the future of personal transportation. In fact, they had better be, since electrification of everything, powered by renewable energy, is the only plausible way to avoid climate catastrophe. But it’s hard to see what would give Tesla a long-term lock on the electric vehicle business.

I’m not talking about how great Teslas are or aren’t right now; I’m not a car enthusiast (I should have one of those bumper stickers that say, “My other car is also junk”), so I can’t judge. But the lesson from Apple and Microsoft is that to be extremely profitable in the long run a tech company needs to establish a market position that holds up even when the time comes, as it always does, that people aren’t all that excited about its products.

So what would make that happen for Tesla? You could imagine a world in which dedicated Tesla hookups were the only widely available charging stations, or in which Teslas were the only electric cars mechanics knew how to fix. But with major auto manufacturers moving into the electric vehicle business, the possibility of such a world has already vanished. In fact, I’d argue that the Inflation Reduction Act, with its strong incentives for electrification, will actually hurt Tesla. Why? Because it will quickly make electric cars so common that Teslas no longer seem special.

In short, electric vehicle production just doesn’t look like a network externality business. Actually, you know what does? Twitter, a platform many of us still use because so many other people use it. But Twitter usage is apparently hard to monetize, not to mention the fact that Musk appears set on finding out just how much degradation of the user experience it will take to break its network externalities and drive away the clientele.

Which brings us back to the question of why Tesla was ever worth so much. The answer, as best as I can tell, is that investors fell in love with a story line about a brilliant, cool innovator, despite the absence of a good argument about how this guy, even if he really was who he appeared to be, could found a long-lived money machine.

And as I said, there’s a parallel here with Bitcoin. Despite years of effort, nobody has yet managed to find any serious use for cryptocurrency other than money laundering. But prices nonetheless soared on the hype, and are still being sustained by a hard-core group of true believers. Something similar surely happened with Tesla, even though the company does actually make useful things.

I guess we’ll eventually see what happens. But I definitely won’t trust Elon Musk with my cat.

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Newspapers are disappearing where democracy needs them most, Nancy Gibbs, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Nancy Gibbs is the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Every couple of weeks you can read about another newspaper shutting its doors, or moving from daily to weekly, or hollowing out its newsroom until it’s little more than a skeleton staff bulked up with j-school students. Study the maps made by Penny Abernathy, visiting professor at Northwestern University and an expert on dwindling sources of news, and you can see the dead zones — the 200 or so counties with no local paper. About 1,600 other counties have only one.

Local news is the oxygen of democracy, the most trusted source for the most essential information, and we’ve long known why dying newsrooms damage communities. But look at the maps again, and another alarming picture comes into focus: The very places where local news is disappearing are often the same places that wield disproportionate political power.

This phenomenon affects Americans living far away from the news deserts. Demographers predict that by 2040, one-third of Americans will pick 70 percent of the Senate.

Think of a typical voter in South Dakota, with its single congressional district and, of course, two senators for a population of about 895,000. Thanks to the Senate’s structural bias toward less-populated states, that gives each of the nearly 600,000 registered voters in South Dakota about 28 times more power in that body than each of the 17 million voters in Texas. When it comes to electing presidents, that South Dakota voter carries twice the weight in the electoral college as their Texas counterpart.

But with all that added clout for shaping the composition of Congress and, less directly, the Supreme Court and the White House, the voters in about half of South Dakota’s 66 counties have only a single weekly newspaper. Seven counties have no newspaper at all.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. House blocks TikTok on official devices ahead of government ban, Meryl Kornfield and Camila DeChalus, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). tiktok logo square CustomTikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administrative arm, ahead of a new government-wide ban of the popular Chinese-owned video app that will soon take effect.

The House’s chief administrative officer cited “high risk” security concerns in a memo that ordered lawmakers and staffers on Tuesday to delete the app from government devices, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post.

Under the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by the House on Friday, all employees of the federal government will be barred from installing or must delete TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, in the latest government measure to limit the app’s use in the public sector. Several Republican governors have banned the app on their governments’ electronic devices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Joining the billionaire fatigue, Hollywood is sticking it to the rich, Sonia Rao. Dec. 29, 2022. With “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” HBO’s “The White Lotus” and more, an aversion to the mega-rich seeped into all sorts of entertainment.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” on multiple occasions practically begs its audience to dissect the imagery in its title. Though “Glass Onion” refers literally to an enormous glass pavilion on fictional billionaire Miles Bron’s private island, it just as easily serves as a metaphor for the thin-skinned man himself, his carefully constructed persona so delicate it could shatter at any given moment.

Played by Edward Norton, Miles is perhaps the biggest target of “Glass Onion,” the second installment in a franchise launched by Rian Johnson’s 2019 whodunit “Knives Out,” which follows suit with a timely critique of the upper echelon. Whereas the original film lampooned Trump-era politics, “Glass Onion,” now streaming on Netflix, arrives toward the end of a year plagued by billionaire fatigue. An aversion to the mega-rich seeped into all sorts of entertainment, even that produced by major studios.

Class satire is nothing new to Hollywood, but an urge to stick it to tech billionaires pairs nicely with the industry’s more recent storytelling obsession with scammers. Consider the specific resonance of a character such as Miles, whose famed flair for innovation is quickly revealed to be a bit of a fluke. The film draws clear lines from him to real-life figures such as Elon Musk, whose recently launched tenure as Twitter CEO has been chaotic, to say the least, or cryptocurrency guru Sam Bankman-Fried, who was charged with fraud after the quick demise of his company FTX.

washington post logoWashington Post, Art at Capitol honors enslavers and Confederates. This is who they are, Gillian Brockell, Dec. 27, 2022. The Post examined more than 400 statues, paintings and other artworks in the U.S. Capitol. This is what we found.

When the 118th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3, its members will walk the halls of a building whose paintings and statues pay homage to 141 enslavers.

As part of a year-long investigation into Congress’s relationship with slavery, The Washington Post analyzed more than 400 artworks in the U.S. Capitol building, from the Crypt to the ceiling of the Capitol Rotunda, and found that one-third honor enslavers or Confederates. Another six honor possible enslavers — people whose slaveholding status is in dispute.

washington post logoWashington Post, Retired Pope Benedict XVI, 95, is ‘very sick’; Francis asks for prayers, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli, Dec. 29, 2022 (print ed.). Pope Francis appealed for prayers for retired Pope Benedict XVI and for God to sustain him “until the end.”

Pope Francis said his predecessor Benedict XVI was “very sick,” and the Vatican said the 95-year-old’s health had “worsened,” putting the Catholic Church on watch about one of its most towering conservative figures.
“I ask to all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict,” Francis told pilgrims at his general audience Wednesday, asking God to console and sustain Benedict “until the end.”

The Vatican, in its statement, said the situation “at the moment remains under control, and is constantly followed by the doctors.”

The comments appeared to mark a worrying turning point for Benedict, who has been frail but sharp-minded for years and who has now been ex-pope for a longer period than he served as pope.

Pope Benedict, in retired seclusion, looms in the opposition to Pope Francis

One close friend to Benedict, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about a delicate subject, said the retired pontiff had become weaker since before Christmas but did not have information about his health in the most recent hours.

“Of course time is not on his side,” the friend said. “Some concerns are surely there.”

After Francis’s general audience, he visited Benedict at a convent inside the Vatican’s ancient walls. The Vatican statement said, “We join [Francis] in prayer for the Pope Emeritus.”

In photos the Vatican has published of Benedict — including on Aug. 27, after a ceremony to name new cardinals — he appeared gaunt and hunched. But friends have said he remained clear-minded.

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Dec. 28

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The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

The government contended that Barry Croft was the “spiritual leader" in a plot to urge recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor, above, and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

washington post logoWashington Post, Architect of Mich. governor kidnap plot sentenced to more than 19 years in prison, Kim Bellware, Dec. 28, 2022. A man who was convicted as one of the key orchestrators in the 2020 scheme to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and blow up a bridge in hopes of inciting a civil war was sentenced Wednesday to 19½ years in prison, the longest sentence of the four men convicted on federal charges in the most closely watched domestic terrorism case in recent years.

Barry Croft Jr., 47, of Delaware was described by prosecutors in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday as the “spiritual leader” and “the ideas guy” of the plot, which was ultimately undone after a sting that involved informants and undercover FBI agents who embedded with the group of men drawn together by their association with the armed right-wing “Wolverine Watchmen” group.

barry croft adam foxCroft, at far left, and his co-conspirator, 39-year-old Adam Fox of Michigan, also shown at left, were convicted by a federal jury after a second trial in August on two counts of conspiracy, while Croft also was found guilty of an additional weapons charge. Prosecutors depicted the two men as furious over covid-19 lockdowns and supposed “tyranny” by elected officials, and said they poured their anger into a violent plot they were eager to see grow into a bloody “revolution.”

The case has underscored the escalating threat of extremist violence, particularly from the far right, at a point of deep political division in the country. Federal prosecutors said the seriousness of the plot made a life sentence for the defendants appropriate. Croft’s defense argued that he was michigan mapless involved than Fox and not viewed as a real leader among the group’s members.

Fox was sentenced Tuesday to 16 years in prison, while two other defendants pleaded guilty in 2021 and early 2022 and agreed to testify against Croft and Fox. Another two defendants were acquitted at their federal trial in April.

Fourteen people were eventually arrested by state and federal authorities in an October 2020 sting after investigators found the men had gathered weapons, trained and planned to kidnap Whitmer from her vacation home in northern Michigan and detonate a bridge to disrupt her security detail and the law enforcement response ahead of the 2020 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. watchdogs guarding $5 trillion in covid aid say they need more money, Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati, Dec. 28, 2022. The Biden administration is ramping up efforts to target waste, fraud and abuse of pandemic relief funds, but inspectors general continue to receive fewer dollars as cases pile up.

Michael Horowitz came to Congress with a plea: If the U.S. government truly hoped to keep track of roughly $5 trillion in coronavirus aid, then federal watchdog agencies would need some new money of their own.

It was June 2022, more than two years after the pandemic first arrived in the United States — and Horowitz, right, the leader of the country’s chief pandemic michael horowitz Customoversight body, said some of the government’s top officials could use the help. Criminals already had bilked billions of dollars from generous programs meant to help jobless Americans and small businesses in need, and Washington faced long, costly work to try to get it all back.

“I can tell you the fraud numbers, and the investigative work, is growing,” Horowitz told lawmakers at a congressional oversight hearing, acknowledging at one point it had been “frustrating, frankly” that lawmakers had not provided the funds.

Six months later, the government remains overwhelmed in its task to find and retrieve incalculable sums of stolen federal coronavirus aid. Even as the Biden administration has intensified Washington’s focus on oversight, Congress has continued to underfund and understaff some of the very offices whose chief responsibility is to monitor stimulus cash.

The persistent neglect has hamstrung the country’s last defense against waste, fraud and abuse — and raised the potential that Washington might not learn from its mistakes before the next crisis.

 

 United Nations

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Russia’s abductions of Ukrainian children are a genocidal crime, Editorial Board, Dec. 28, 2022. War is chaotic, inexplicable and devastating to children caught up in it. But war is not an excuse to abduct children from parents and their nation, as Russia is now doing in Ukraine. This is specifically prohibited by the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia — and attempts to brainwash them, removing their language and culture — is a genocidal crime that calls for prosecution.

Russian FlagThe Post’s Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova reported Dec. 24 on the details of an abhorrent Russian campaign to ship Ukrainian children to faraway cities inside Russia.

President Vladimir Putin issued a decree in May making it easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children, and the policy is being “vigorously pursued” by the Russian children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who “openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia,” they reported.

Ukrainian children taken to Russia would, at first, insult the Russian leader by singing the Ukrainian national anthem, Ms. Lvova-Belova told journalists, “but then it transforms into love for Russia.” The Kremlin has boasted of the removals, evidenced by the number of photos and videos appearing on its website and on state television.

While the number of children taken is not clear, Daria Herasymchuk, Ukraine’s top children’s rights official, has estimated that nearly 11,000 Ukrainian children have been taken by Russia without their parents.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Scrambles to Stop Iran From Providing Drones for Russia, David E. Sanger, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt, Dec. 28, 2022. As the war in Ukraine grinds on, some officials have become convinced that Iran and Russia are building a new alliance of convenience.

The Biden administration has launched a broad effort to halt Iran’s ability to produce and deliver drones to Russia for use in the war in Ukraine, an endeavor that has echoes of its yearslong program to cut off Tehran’s access to nuclear technology.

In interviews in the United States, Europe and the Middle East, a range of intelligence, military and national security officials have described an expanding U.S. program that aims to choke off Iran’s ability to manufacture the drones, make it harder for the Russians to launch the unmanned “kamikaze” aircraft and — if all else fails — to provide the Ukrainians with the defenses necessary to shoot them out of the sky.

The breadth of the effort has become clearer in recent weeks. The administration has accelerated its moves to deprive Iran of the Western-made components needed to manufacture the drones being sold to Russia after it became apparent from examining the wreckage of intercepted drones that they are stuffed with made-in-America technology.

U.S. forces are helping Ukraine’s military to target the sites where the drones are being prepared for launch — a difficult task because the Russians are moving the launch sites around, from soccer fields to parking lots. And the Americans are rushing in new technologies designed to give early warning of approaching drone swarms, to improve Ukraine’s chances of bringing them down, with everything from gunfire to missiles.

But all three approaches have run into deep challenges, and the drive to cut off critical parts for the drones is already proving as difficult as the decades-old drive to deprive Iran of the components needed to build the delicate centrifuges it uses to enrich near-bomb-grade uranium. The Iranians, American intelligence officials have said in recent weeks, are applying to the drone program their expertise about how to spread nuclear centrifuge manufacturing around the country and to find “dual use” technologies on the black market to sidestep export controls.

The administration’s scramble to deal with the Iranian-supplied drones comes at a significant moment in the war, just as Ukraine is using its own drones to strike deep into Russia, including an attack this week on a base housing some of the country’s strategic bombers. And it comes as officials in Washington and London warn that Iran may be about to provide Russia with missiles, helping alleviate Moscow’s acute shortage.

 

supreme court headshots 2019

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court leaves in place pandemic-era Title 42 border policy for now, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The Trump-era policy allows quick expulsion of migrants from U.S. borders without the chance to seek asylum. The court’s action was temporary, and it will consider in February whether states had the legal standing to intervene in the dispute.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end a pandemic-era policy allowing the quick expulsion of migrants from U.S. borders without the opportunity to seek asylum.

The Trump-era policy, known as Title 42, had been set to expire last week, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. paused that plan to give the high court time to weigh the issue.

In Tuesday’s order, five conservative justices sided with Republican officials in 19 states, including Texas and Arizona, who sought to maintain Title 42, which has been used to expel migrants more than 2 million times since it was implemented in March 2020.

But the court’s action was temporary, and it will consider in February whether the states had the legal standing to intervene in the dispute.

The court’s order was unsigned, but the court’s three liberal justices, along with conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, objected.

Gorsuch wrote that the court’s action was designed to help avert a crisis at the border, but that was not the role of judges.

“The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch wrote. “And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”

Gorsuch’s statement was joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have turned down the request from the states but did not give their reasoning.

The Biden administration has said that ending the policy will restore existing federal laws designed to punish and quickly deport migrants who cross the border illegally and to protect those with legitimate asylum cases. That system is more effective, officials have said, particularly for adults traveling without children, since Title 42 merely pushes people to the other side of the border to try again.

Official border crossings remain essentially closed to asylum seekers while Title 42 remains in effect. That has helped fuel an influx of thousands of migrants crossing the border outside of the legal entry points, hoping to turn themselves in to border police and request asylum proceedings that would allow them to stay — at least temporarily — in the United States.

The Biden administration agreed that the policy should end even as it struggled to deal with the influx of migrants. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar told the justices the federal government recognizes that lifting Title 42 “will likely lead to disruption and a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings.” But she wrote that the solution to that immigration problem “cannot be to extend indefinitely a public-health measure that all now acknowledge has outlived its public-health justification.”

 

Covid, Disinformation, Disasters 

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Tragic Battle’: On the Front Lines of China’s Covid Crisis, Isabelle Qian and David Pierson, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Medical staff members are outnumbered and many are working while sick as the nation’s health care system buckles under the strain of a spiraling crisis.

Slumped in wheelchairs and lying on gurneys, the sickened patients crowd every nook and cranny of the emergency department at the hospital in northern China. They cram into the narrow spaces between elevator doors. They surround an idle walk-through metal detector. And they line the walls of a corridor ringing with the sounds of coughing.

China’s hospitals were already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, the medical system is being pushed to its limits.

The scenes of desperation and misery at the Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, captured on one of several videos examined by The New York Times, reflects the growing crisis. Even as Covid cases rise, health workers on the front lines are also battling rampant infections within their own ranks. So many have tested positive for the virus in some hospitals that the remaining few say they are forced to do the job of five or more co-workers.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It, Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 28, 2022. Doctors are exasperated by the persistence of false and misleading claims about the virus.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.

“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”

Several prominent Twitter accounts that had been suspended for spreading unfounded claims about Covid have were reinstated in recent weeks, including those of Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, and Robert Malone, a vaccine skeptic.

Mr. Musk himself has used Twitter to weigh in on the pandemic, predicting in March 2020 that the United States was likely to have “close to zero new cases” by the end of that April. (More than 100,000 positive tests were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the last week of the month.) This month, he took aim at Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, who will soon step down as President Biden’s top medical adviser and the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Mr. Musk said Dr. Fauci should be prosecuted.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. Other major social platforms, including TikTok and YouTube, said last week that they remained committed to combating Covid misinformation.

YouTube prohibits content — including videos, comments and links — about vaccines and Covid-19 that contradicts recommendations from the local health authorities or the World Health Organization. Facebook’s policy on Covid-19 content is more than 4,500 words long. TikTok said it had removed more than 250,000 videos for Covid misinformation and worked with partners such as its content advisory council to develop its policies and enforcement strategies. (Mr. Musk disbanded Twitter’s advisory council this month.)

ny times logoNew York Times, China will soon no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine, a significant step toward reopening, Vivian Wang, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). China on Monday announced that travelers from overseas would no longer be required to enter quarantine upon arrival, in one of the country’s most significant steps toward reopening since the coronavirus pandemic began.

From Jan. 8, incoming travelers will be required to show only a negative polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., test within 48 hours before departure, China’s National Health Commission said. Limitations on the number of incoming flights will also be eased.

The travel restrictions had isolated the world’s most populous country for nearly three years. Foreigners were essentially barred from entering China in 2020, and even when they were allowed back in months later, it was generally only for business or family reunions.

washington post logoWashington Post, After years with little covid, videos show China is now getting hit hard, Christian Shepherd, Samuel Oakford, Stefanie Le and Vic Chiang, Dec. 28, 2022. Videos of medical facilities offer a glimpse of the toll a coronavirus wave is wreaking — and undercut Beijing’s claim that the government is in control.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Covid-19 Continues to Spread, So Does Misinformation About It, Tiffany Hsu, Dec. 28, 2022. Doctors are exasperated by the persistence of false and misleading claims about the virus.

Nearly three years into the pandemic, Covid-19 remains stubbornly persistent. So, too, does misinformation about the virus.

As Covid cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise in parts of the country, myths and misleading narratives continue to evolve and spread, exasperating overburdened doctors and evading content moderators.

What began in 2020 as rumors that cast doubt on the existence or seriousness of Covid quickly evolved into often outlandish claims about dangerous technology lurking in masks and the supposed miracle cures from unproven drugs, like ivermectin. Last year’s vaccine rollout fueled another wave of unfounded alarm. Now, in addition to all the claims still being bandied about, there are conspiracy theories about the long-term effects of the treatments, researchers say.

The ideas still thrive on social media platforms, and the constant barrage, now a yearslong accumulation, has made it increasingly difficult for accurate advice to break through, misinformation researchers say. That leaves people already suffering from pandemic fatigue to become further inured to Covid’s continuing dangers and susceptible to other harmful medical content.

“It’s easy to forget that health misinformation, including about Covid, can still contribute to people not getting vaccinated or creating stigmas,” said Megan Marrelli, the editorial director of Meedan, a nonprofit focused on digital literacy and information access. “We know for a fact that health misinformation contributes to the spread of real-world disease.”

Twitter is of particular concern for researchers. The company recently gutted the teams responsible for keeping dangerous or inaccurate material in check on the platform, stopped enforcing its Covid misinformation policy and began basing some content moderation decisions on public polls posted by its new owner and chief executive, the billionaire Elon Musk.

From Nov. 1 to Dec. 5, Australian researchers collected more than half a million conspiratorial and misleading English-language tweets about Covid, using terms such as “deep state,” “hoax” and “bioweapon.” The tweets drew more than 1.6 million likes and 580,000 retweets.

The researchers said the volume of toxic material surged late last month with the release of a film that included baseless claims that Covid vaccines set off “the greatest orchestrated die-off in the history of the world.”

Naomi Smith, a sociologist at Federation University Australia who helped conduct the research with Timothy Graham, a digital media expert at Queensland University of Technology, said Twitter’s misinformation policies helped tamp down anti-vaccination content that had been common on the platform in 2015 and 2016. From January 2020 to September 2022, Twitter suspended more than 11,000 accounts over violations of its Covid misinformation policy.

Now, Dr. Smith said, the protective barriers are “falling over in real time, which is both interesting as an academic and absolutely terrifying.”

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

ronna mcdaniel djt Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Race for G.O.P. Chair Obscures the Party’s Bigger Problems, Jonathan Weisman and Ken Bensinger, Dec. 28, 2022. Ronna McDaniel’s quest for a fourth term atop the Republican National Committee has triggered an ugly fight between the right and the farther right.

rnc logoSince former President Donald J. Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, the Republican Party has suffered at the ballot box every two years, from the loss of the House in 2018 to the loss of the White House and Senate in 2020 to this year’s history-defying midterm disappointments.

Many in the party have now found a scapegoat for the G.O.P.’s struggles who is not named Trump: the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, shown above at left.

But as Ms. McDaniel struggles for a fourth term at the party’s helm, her re-election fight before the clubby 168 members of the Republican National Committee next month may be diverting G.O.P. leaders from any serious consideration of the thornier problems facing the party heading into the 2024 presidential campaign.

Ms. McDaniel, who was handpicked by Mr. Trump in late 2016 to run the party and whom he enlisted in a scheme to draft fake electors to perpetuate his presidency, could be considered a Trump proxy by Republicans eager to begin to eradicate what many consider to be the party’s pre-eminent problem: the former president’s influence over the G.O.P.

Those Republicans, whose voices have grown louder in the wake of the party’s weak November showing, see any hopes of wooing swing voters and moderates back to the G.O.P. as imperiled by Mr. Trump’s endless harping on his own grievances, the taint surrounding his efforts to remain in power after his 2020 defeat, and the continuing dramas around purloined classified documents, his company’s tax fraud conviction and his insistence on trying to make a political comeback.

But Ms. McDaniels is not facing moderation-minded challengers. Her rivals are from the Trumpist right. They include the pillow salesman Mike Lindell, who continues to spin out fanciful election conspiracies, and — more worrying for Ms. McDaniel — a Trump loyalist from California, Harmeet Dhillon, who is backed by some of Mr. Trump’s fiercest defenders, including the Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, a youthful group of pro-Trump rightists.

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: French defense minister in Kyiv; warnings of power outages throughout winter, Niha Masih and Leo Sands, Dec. 28, 2022. French Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu arrived in Kyiv Wednesday to discuss further military support for Ukraine, marking his ukraine flagfirst visit to the country in the 10 months since Russia invaded. Lecornu visited a Kyiv war memorial, where he laid a wreath, and is due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In Kyiv, officials warned the capital would see emergency power outages all winter, despite workers racing to repair infrastructure damaged by shelling.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Lecornu will have a “working meeting” with his counterpart Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, as part of his visit, French officials told The Washington Post. The pair will discuss “the support already provided and the support to come,” a French defense ministry spokesperson said. Lecornu will then meet with Zelensky. While France has provided support for Ukraine, many Ukrainians have criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, who continued phone contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the invasion.
  • Russian officials are not optimistic about next year’s economic outlook, although believe they have already weathered the most challenging period. Referring to Russia’s economic growth for 2023, First Deputy Minister Andrew Belousov said: “3 percent will not be achieved next year. It will certainly be lower. I think it will hover around zero. Our forecast is approximately minus one percent, maybe slightly less,” according to Tass state news agency.
  • Emergency power outages continue to affect the capital, as Kyiv City Council deputy chairman Petro Panteleev warned: “We will live in such realities all winter.” Teams were working “round-the-clock” to try to restore energy, and “we try our best to make the residents comfortable,” he wrote on Telegram. Russia’s missile campaign has targeted Ukraine’s energy systems and knocked out critical services across the country.
  • Ukraine is seeking a United Nations-backed peace summit to end the war with Russia, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with the Associated Press.
  • At least 6,884 civilians are confirmed to have been killed in Ukraine since February, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights’ latest tally. The toll represents deaths independently verified by the agency, so the true figure is likely far higher. Most of the killings were recorded in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with “explosive weapons” blamed for the majority of the casualties.

2. Battleground updates

  • Civilian infrastructure was struck during attacks on the Kherson area Tuesday, according to Ukrainian officials. The General Staff of the Armed Forces reported casualties, without saying how many were injured or killed, and said Russian forces were continuing to shell settlements along the right bank of the Dnieper River. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the office of the president of Ukraine, said on Telegram that a hospital maternity ward was shelled but no one there was hurt.
  • Russian forces continued their assault on the Bakhmut area Tuesday, though the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War think tank reported that their rate of advance in the area has slowed recently amid personnel and munitions challenges. That pace “will likely decrease if Russian forces continue advancing at all unless significant new reinforcements and supplies of artillery rounds arrive soon,” the ISW said in its Tuesday update.
  • Russia has constructed “extensive new defenses” in the Kreminna section of its front line in the Luhansk area and will probably prioritize standing its ground there, the British Defense Ministry reported Wednesday, as Ukrainian forces continue to exert pressure on forces there.
  • Ukraine has bought 1,400 drones and is now “more or less equipped” with ones intended for reconnaissance, Kyiv’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov told the Associated Press. He said Ukraine’s army intends next to ramp up its deployment of strike drones that either explode into targets, including enemy Russian attack drones, or target them from high above.

3. Global impact

  • Putin met Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at a St. Petersburg summit amid rising fears about Moscow using Belarus to launch fresh attacks on Ukraine. In an excerpt of the meeting, Putin did not mention the war but said the summit was “a good environment to talk about serious matters, including our bilateral relations.”
  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lashed out at the United States and its allies, as he issued a fresh warning that the war in Ukraine will continue until Kyiv agrees to Moscow’s demands of demilitarization. “The enemy is well aware of our proposals,” Lavrov told the Russian news agency Tass. “There is a little left to do — to accept these proposals in an amicable way. Otherwise, the Russian Army will deal with this issue,” he said. He also blamed Western countries for aiding Ukraine with money and weapons, saying that was prolonging the conflict.
  • Russian troops deployed to Ukraine are to be allowed to have their sperm frozen and stored for free, according to a report by Tass news agency. Officials at Moscow’s Health Ministry, which is reportedly funding the proposal, have not confirmed the plan. Local outlets have previously reported a surge in demand for sperm storage at cryobanks among both Russian men who had been mobilized to fight and those who intended to flee the country.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ support for Ukraine’s depleted energy infrastructure, promising in a tweet to “repair, replace, and defend” the infrastructure amid a Russian onslaught that has left millions without heat and water in a biting winter.
  • Another nine ships left the Greater Odessa port over the weekend with agricultural produce for Africa, Asia and Europe, the Ukrainian infrastructure ministry reported, as part of a humanitarian sea corridor established to allow the export of food from Ukraine. The ships were loaded with 390,000 tons of products including wheat, a staple crop in Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Nothing left to destroy:’ Russia is fighting for land already in ruins, Jeff Stein and Ievgeniia Sivorka, Dec. 28, 2022. Lyman and cities across Donbas have been invaded and liberated multiple times since 2014. The few residents left fear Russia will invade again, continuing the cycle.

Tamara Klimashenko stood in what was once her cherished flower garden and pulled out her phone to show photos of the peonies, petunias and chamomiles that once covered this patch of dirt now littered with shrapnel.

Her husband, Anatoly Klimashenko, pointed to where the shells exploded: one near the cabbage patch; another where the strawberries grew; yet another on the garage he built.

Lyman was the site of fierce fighting in May, when Russian forces seized the city, and in the summer. The Russians occupied Lyman until Oct. 1, when they fled a fast-advancing Ukrainian counteroffensive.

But even amid the wreckage of their home — with the walls blown out and wood planks hanging from the ceiling — the Klimashenkos said they feared an even worse fate: another Russian invasion, potentially their third in eight years, as President Vladimir Putin’s self-assigned “main goal” of “liberating all of Donbas” yet again puts their city in the Kremlin’s crosshairs.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian sausage tycoon dies after falling from hotel in India, Claire Parker and Francesca Ebel, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.).  Pavel Antov, a Russian lawmaker and businessman who made his fortune in the sausage industry, died after falling from the third floor of his hotel room while on vacation in India — the latest Russian businessman to die under mysterious circumstances this year.

Antov was found dead outside a hotel in the Rayagada district of India’s eastern Odisha region over the weekend, police told local media, two days after one of his travel companions, Vladimir Bidenov, was found dead at the same hotel. Bidenov was found unconscious in his hotel room, surrounded by empty wine bottles, according to local media reports. He was brought to the district hospital, where doctors declared him dead.

The Odisha police department ordered its crime branch to take over the investigation into the “unnatural death of two Russian nationals” in Rayagada, the department tweeted Tuesday.

Police Superintendent Vivekananda Sharma said Bidenov had suffered a stroke, while Antov “was depressed after [Bidenov’s] death and he too died,” the BBC reported. Police told Indian media that Antov’s death appeared to be a suicide.

The Russian Embassy in Delhi confirmed the deaths to Russian media. “The Consulate General of Russia in Kolkata is following the case in touch with local authorities,” Russian news outlet RT India quoted the embassy as saying. “According to information available to the police, no criminal aspect is seen.”

Antov established the Vladimir Standard meat processing plant and amassed a fortune — estimated at about $140 million in 2019 — that landed him on Forbes’s list of Russia’s richest lawmakers and civil servants.

He also served in the legislative assembly of the Vladimir region, neighboring Moscow, where he was a member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and chaired the committee on agrarian policy, nature management and ecology.

In June, Antov appeared to criticize a Russian missile attack on a residential block of Kyiv, Ukraine, that killed a man and injured his 7-year-old daughter and her mother, according to the BBC. A WhatsApp message on Antov’s account said of the incident: “It’s extremely difficult to call all this anything but terror.”

The message was later deleted and Antov posted on social media that he supported Putin and his invasion. He chalked up the earlier post to “an extremely unfortunate misunderstanding” in which he had accidentally posted a message from a person with whom he disagreed.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Pushes to Recapture City in Hotly Contested Province of Luhansk, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The campaign to take back Kreminna began in the fall. Russia controls most of the Luhansk region, one of four it illegally annexed in October.

Ukrainian forces are edging closer to Kreminna, a fiercely defended city in the east of the country, officials say, in a further sign that the northern part of the Luhansk region remains one of the most hotly contested parts of the battlefield. The region is currently almost entirely occupied by Russia.

“The situation there is difficult, acute,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said of Kreminna and other areas in Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in his nightly address late Monday. “The occupiers are using all the resources available to them — and these are significant resources — to squeeze out at least some advance.”

On Tuesday, the regional governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app: “The Russians understand that if they lose Kreminna, their entire line of defense will ‘fall.’”

A day earlier, Mr. Haidai said that, in response to military pressure, part of the Russian command in the city had withdrawn to the town of Rubizhne, a few miles to the southeast, although it was not possible to verify the claim.

Ukraine’s campaign to recapture Kreminna began in the fall, around the time that its forces reclaimed the city of Lyman, in Donetsk, at the end of a sweep through the country’s northeastern region of Kharkiv that drove Russian forces back toward their country’s border.

Since then, the sides have fought a series of battles and artillery duels over highways and small settlements around Kreminna and farther northwest, in the city of Svatove. Russian forces took over both places early in their 10-month invasion of Ukraine.

Recapturing the two cities, and a third one, Starobilsk, could enable Ukrainian forces to continue their advance toward the Russian border and take back more territory seized by Moscow. It would also give Ukraine control of a triangle of roads that provide access to two larger cities farther south, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, that fell to Russia during the summer.

Regional officials have said that the campaign is focused on larger cities, though Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly said that Ukraine wants to retake all of the territory Russia has seized since 2014, including the Crimean Peninsula.

There was no independent confirmation of the battlefield developments, but Vitaly Kiselyov, a senior official in the self-proclaimed Russian-backed separatist republic in Luhansk, said on Russian state television on Monday that the situation around Kreminna and Svatove remained “very tense.” Luhansk is one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Fighting continued in parts of those regions on Tuesday. In the southern region of Kherson, a Russian artillery strike damaged a critical infrastructure facility, a kindergarten and an emergency medical aid station, although no casualties were reported, the regional governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych, wrote on Telegram.

In recent weeks, Russian forces have built a series of defensive barriers near Kreminna and other parts of Ukraine’s jagged front line. They have also severed the pontoon bridges over the Seversky Donets River that runs through northern Luhansk, the province’s military administration said on Telegram on Monday.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said that after losing the city of Kherson and suffering other territorial setbacks, Russia was rallying its forces in northern Luhansk for an offensive that would aim to extend its control in the region and then potentially push into Kharkiv Province.

To that end, the institute said, Russia is prioritizing mobilizing troops to defend Kreminna and Svatove over operations in other parts of the wider Donbas region. The institute cited Ukrainian military reports of increased Russian movements of troops, military equipment and ammunition in the area.

It said, however, that Russian success in the short term appeared unlikely given the difficult terrain and the “very limited” offensive capabilities of Moscow’s forces.

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Global News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Lee Myung-bak, South Korean Ex-President, Receives Pardon, John Yoon, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). The action by the current president will release Mr. Lee from a 17-year sentence for bribery and embezzlement and nullify enormous fines he owed.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea has issued a pardon to Lee Myung-bak, the former president who was sentenced to a 17-year term in 2020 on bribery and embezzlement charges, Mr. Yoon’s office announced on Tuesday. The pardon will go into effect on Wednesday.

South Korea FlagThe presidential pardon would allow Mr. Lee, 81, to be released from a hospital in Seoul, where he has been receiving treatment for chronic illnesses, without returning to prison. It would also cancel the remaining 15 years on his sentence and nullify the unpaid 8.2 billion South Korean won, or $6.4 million, of the fine of 13 billion won that the courts imposed on him. The charges against Mr. Lee included collecting bribes and embezzling more than 30 billion won.

The pardon of Mr. Lee, who was president from 2008 to 2013, is intended “to restore the potential of a South Korea united through pan-national integration,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

In addition to Mr. Lee, the pardon was applied to more than 1,300 other civilians, high-profile politicians and former officials convicted of corruption, bribery, election interference and other white-collar crimes, including people who served during the administration of another former president, Park Geun-hye.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Record Military Incursions, China Warns Taiwan and U.S., Amy Chang Chien and Chang Che, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Taiwan said China sent 71 military aircraft near the island days after President Biden bolstered U.S. support for Taiwan.

China sent a record number of military aircraft to menace self-ruled Taiwan in a large show of force to the Biden administration, signaling that Beijing wants to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as some tensions between the superpowers are easing.

taiwan flagThe swarm of Chinese fighter jets, maritime patrol planes and drones that buzzed the airspace near Taiwan in the 24-hour period leading to Monday morning demonstrated Beijing’s appetite for confrontation with the United States over Taiwan, the island democracy China claims as its territory.

The military activity — which, according to Taiwan, included at least 71 Chinese aircraft — came days after President Biden’s latest move to expand American support for the island. Beijing has denounced the United States’ effort as an attempt to contain China and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Tensions over Taiwan have been rising in the months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August, prompting Beijing to step up its activity in the area with several days of live-fire drills. China said that the exercise was aimed at honing its ability to conduct joint patrols and military strikes, but also made clear what the target was.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The diplomatic storm clouds forming for 2023, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 27-28, 2022. Although President Biden's domestic successes are being likened to wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallthose of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, diplomatic storm clouds on the horizon for 2023 may place Biden in the same position of FDR as a war brewed in Europe in 1939. For Biden, a crisis is set to emerge in the Middle East. Binyamin wayne madesen report logoNetanyahu's coalition government will be the most right-wing in Israeli history.

With promises to allow Jewish prayer at the Dome of the Rock, the third-most holiest Islamic religious site, and annexation of the West Bank, what the incoming Israeli government refers to as "Judea and Samaria," the stage is set for a major outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

Netanyahu's Minister of National Security is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir. He once advocated for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who fell victim in 1995 to an assassin sharing the extremist views of Ben-Gvir. Otzma Yehudit is a spin-off of the Kach Party, a terrorist organization led by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. In addition to calling for the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel, Ben-Gvir, who resides in the West Bank, has memorialized Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994.

If the religious extremists have their way, Israel will join Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia among the ranks of the world's most dogmatic theocracies.

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Musk, Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion, Did the Tesla Story Ever Make Sense? Paul Krugman, right, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). If you’re one of those people who bought Bitcoin or paul krugmananother cryptocurrency near its peak last fall, you’ve lost a lot of money. Is it any consolation to know that you would have lost a similar amount if you had bought Tesla stock instead?

OK, probably not. Still, Tesla stock’s plunge is an opportunity to talk about what makes businesses successful in the information age. And in the end, Tesla and Bitcoin may have more in common than you think.

It’s natural to attribute Tesla’s recent decline — which is, to be sure, part of a general fall in tech stocks, but an exceptionally steep example — to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and the reputational self-immolation that followed. Indeed, given what we’ve seen of Musk’s behavior, I wouldn’t trust him to feed my cat, let alone run a major corporation. Furthermore, Tesla sales have surely depended at least in part on the perception that Musk himself is a cool guy. Who, aside from MAGA types who probably wouldn’t have bought Teslas anyway, sees him that way now?

On the other hand, as someone who has spent much of his professional life in academia, I’m familiar with the phenomenon of people who are genuinely brilliant in some areas but utter fools in other domains. For all I know, Musk is or was a highly effective leader at Tesla and SpaceX.

Even if that’s the case, though, it’s hard to explain the huge valuation the market put on Tesla before the drop, or even its current value. After all, to be that valuable Tesla would have to generate huge profits, not just for a few years but in a way that could be expected to continue for many years to come.

Now, some technology companies have indeed been long-term moneymaking machines. Apple and Microsoft still top the list of the most profitable U.S. corporations some four decades after the rise of personal computers.

But we more or less understand the durability of the dominance of Apple and Microsoft, and it’s hard to see how Tesla could ever achieve something similar, no matter how brilliant its leadership. Both Apple and Microsoft benefit from strong network externalities — loosely speaking, everyone uses their products because everyone else uses their products.

In the case of Microsoft, the traditional story has been that businesses continued to buy the company’s software, even when it was panned by many people in the tech world, because it was what they were already set up to use: Products like Word and Excel may not have been great, but everyone within a given company and in others it did business with was set up to use them, had I.T. departments that knew how to deal with them, and so on. These days Microsoft has a better reputation than it used to, but as far as I can tell its market strength still reflects comfort and corporate habit rather than a perception of excellence.

Apple’s story is different in the details — more about individual users than institutions, more about physical products than about software alone. And Apple was widely considered cool, which I don’t think Microsoft ever was. But at an economic level it’s similar. I can attest from personal experience that once you’re in the iPhone/iPad/MacBook ecosystem, you won’t give up on its convenience unless offered something a lot better.
Similar stories can be told about a few other companies, such as Amazon, with its distribution infrastructure.

The question is: Where are the powerful network externalities in the electric vehicle business?

Electric cars may well be the future of personal transportation. In fact, they had better be, since electrification of everything, powered by renewable energy, is the only plausible way to avoid climate catastrophe. But it’s hard to see what would give Tesla a long-term lock on the electric vehicle business.

I’m not talking about how great Teslas are or aren’t right now; I’m not a car enthusiast (I should have one of those bumper stickers that say, “My other car is also junk”), so I can’t judge. But the lesson from Apple and Microsoft is that to be extremely profitable in the long run a tech company needs to establish a market position that holds up even when the time comes, as it always does, that people aren’t all that excited about its products.

So what would make that happen for Tesla? You could imagine a world in which dedicated Tesla hookups were the only widely available charging stations, or in which Teslas were the only electric cars mechanics knew how to fix. But with major auto manufacturers moving into the electric vehicle business, the possibility of such a world has already vanished. In fact, I’d argue that the Inflation Reduction Act, with its strong incentives for electrification, will actually hurt Tesla. Why? Because it will quickly make electric cars so common that Teslas no longer seem special.

In short, electric vehicle production just doesn’t look like a network externality business. Actually, you know what does? Twitter, a platform many of us still use because so many other people use it. But Twitter usage is apparently hard to monetize, not to mention the fact that Musk appears set on finding out just how much degradation of the user experience it will take to break its network externalities and drive away the clientele.

Which brings us back to the question of why Tesla was ever worth so much. The answer, as best as I can tell, is that investors fell in love with a story line about a brilliant, cool innovator, despite the absence of a good argument about how this guy, even if he really was who he appeared to be, could found a long-lived money machine.

And as I said, there’s a parallel here with Bitcoin. Despite years of effort, nobody has yet managed to find any serious use for cryptocurrency other than money laundering. But prices nonetheless soared on the hype, and are still being sustained by a hard-core group of true believers. Something similar surely happened with Tesla, even though the company does actually make useful things.

I guess we’ll eventually see what happens. But I definitely won’t trust Elon Musk with my cat.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Some final advice: Beware of cryptocurrencies and ratty CEOs like Musk, Allan Sloan, Dec. 26, 2022. There’s little to like about two personalities dominating business headlines these days.

This is the time of year that you see lots of long, ambitious articles in newspapers, magazines and websites. That’s because editors and writers are eager to get their projects published by year-end so that they can submit them for this year’s journalism prizes.

It’s also the time of year that you see lots of journalists leaving their jobs and moving on to something new. This year, that includes me. This is my final regular Washington Post column. The Post has run my more-or-less weekly columns for about 30 years, the last seven of which — since I retired from Fortune — I’ve been a Post contractor. My current contract expires at year-end.

So before I go, I’d like to offer you some final words of advice and possibly give you a smile or two in the process.

Let’s start with Sam Bankman-Fried and cryptocurrency, which I called craptocurrency in a recent column.

Musk, FTX founder Bankman-Fried lead 2022 flock of business turkeys

I use that term because cryptocurrency is a bunch of crap. And it’s not a currency, which by definition is something that you can use to buy goods or services, and something that you get when you sell goods and services.
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Retail investors who didn’t understand what they bought through Bankman-Fried’s FTX have learned the hard way that you can lose your shirt overnight with crypto, which is a speculative bet rather than a regulated currency like the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen or the Chinese renminbi.

Sure, central banks like the Federal Reserve haven’t exactly done a bang-up job the past couple of years, letting inflation and speculation get out of hand before tightening things this year, possibly excessively. But I’d rather rely on Fed Chair Jay Powell to serve my interests than to depend on the likes of Bankman-Fried — I can’t help but smile at the “bank” part of his name — to treat people honestly.

I’m a recovering English major who’s learned about business on the job and never studied finance. (I was a straight-A student in economics — but I took only one course.) Possibly because I lack academic training, I try to see — and explain to you — how the financial world actually works, as opposed to the way financial theory says the financial world should work. That’s why it took me about 12 seconds to see that cryptocurrency is a crapshoot, not a currency.

I wish that I’d paid attention to Bankman-Fried and his fellow travelers before FTX failed and cost retail investors who’d fallen for his nonsense a lot of money.

I don’t know how many of you would have taken my advice if I’d warned you before the FTX flopperoo. But just as I like to think that I may have encouraged some people to get lifesaving cardiac surgery by writing earlier this year about my new aortic valve, I might have helped some of you avoid being snookered by the crypto crowd.

I was home a day after a heart procedure. Less-invasive TAVR made it possible.

Speaking of advice, I’d sure stay away from anything run by Elon Musk or associated with him. Yes, early Tesla investors who bought Tesla when its stock was in double digits before its big run-up two years ago are way ahead and Musk deserves credit for building Tesla into a credible company. But that was then, and this is now. When last I looked, Tesla had tanked by more than two-thirds from its Jan. 3 high of $399.93 a share. One reason, of course, is that Musk has sold tons of Tesla shares to raise money to deal with his personal financial situation.

It's clear from watching Musk’s antics at Twitter that he seems to have an endless need for self-promotion and publicity. There may be a method to Musk’s seeming madness. But I don’t have the patience — or a strong enough stomach — to wait Musk out.

I get a kick out of imagining that one of these days, Musk will buy the company that owns the Truth Social network used by Donald Trump. That way, Musk can shovel some money to Trump and perhaps lure Trump and his followers back into Twitter, either directly or indirectly. Maybe that would help shore up Twitter’s finances, such as they are.

Now, I’ll do what I should do, and stop while I’m ahead. Or maybe only a little behind.

I’d like to thank The Post for buying my column when I self-syndicated it — revenue from The Post and various other outlets is how my wife and I paid for our kids’ college educations without them or us having to take on debt. And I’m glad to have kept up my relationship with The Post for so long.

I’d like to thank those of you who’ve read my Post columns over the years. I’d especially like to thank those of you who’ve told me that my columns helped you understand the financial world. That’s what I try to do — and it’s why I’m pleased and flattered when people tell me that I’ve been successful.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got an hour or so, you can look at this video of my recent conversation with my friend Andy Serwer when I was named a Business News Legend last month by SABEW, the nation’s biggest trade association of business journalists.

Thanks to Andy’s skillful questioning, that video shows how I think about things and what I’ve done over my 50-plus-year business-writing career. You may find it helpful. Or even interesting.

I wish you well. I also wish The Washington Post well as it navigates a tough climate. And who knows? One of these days, when I’ve finished sorting through the options for the next stage of my career, you may occasionally see my byline in The Post business or opinion section.

Be well, stay safe. And thanks for reading me.

washington post logoWashington Post, From Elon Musk to Bill Gates, see how much tech’s richest billionaires lost in 2022, Hamza Shaban and Rachel Lerman, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). It's been a dreary year for tech stocks — and for entrepreneurs’ wealth.

 

elon musk thumbs up

washington post logoWashington Post, Twitter brings Elon Musk’s genius reputation crashing down to earth, Faiz Siddiqui, Dec. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Musk, shown above in a file photo, went down conspiracy rabbit holes and sank Tesla’s stock with his behavior. And he was confronted with a chorus of boos in the cradle of the tech industry.

twitter bird CustomMusk has built his reputation on having a Midas touch with the companies he runs — something many investors and experts thought he would bring to Twitter when he purchased it for $44 billion in October, paying nearly twice as much as it was worth by some analyst estimates. He is known for sleeping on the factory floor at Tesla, demanding long hours and quick turnarounds from his workers. He is seen as an engineering genius, propelling promises of cars that can drive themselves and rockets that can take humans to Mars.

But that image is unraveling. Some Twitter employees who worked with Musk are doubtful his management style will allow him to turn the company around. And some investors in Tesla, by far the biggest source of his wealth, have begun to see him as a liability. Musk’s distraction has prompted questions about leadership of SpaceX as well, though it is much less reliant on his active involvement. Meanwhile, Neuralink and Boring Co., two companies he founded, continue to lag on promises.

Musk’s net worth — largely fueled by his stake in Tesla, which has fallen by more than half this year — has plunged this year from roughly $270 billion to below $140 billion on Friday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That fall has relieved him of the title of the world’s richest man and called into question his ability to keep up with his billions of dollars in loans.

Musk is repeatedly described as a man obsessed with Twitter in all the wrong ways, who is failing both at protecting his new investment and his previous ones, according to interviews with a half-dozen former Twitter employees and people close to him, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution or because they were not authorized to speak publicly about company matters.

Musk this week said Twitter is in a financial hole and facing a cash crunch — even as it slashed more than half of the workforce and closed offices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Journalists who won’t delete Musk tweets remain locked out of Twitter, Paul Farhi, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Elon Musk suspended reporters from Twitter and later reinstated them, but with a catch: They must nix their tweets related to the account @ElonJet, which has tracked Musk’s private plane using public data.

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More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

 

 nicholas luna portraitFormer Donald Trump “body man” (personal assistant) Nicholas Luna, shown above

Proof, Source: Nick Luna Not Involved with Trump NFT Company CIC Digital or Trump NFT Scam, Seth Abramson, left, Dec. 27-28, 2022. Journalists at both the New seth abramson graphicYork Times and Washington Post linked CIC Digital and a similarly named company, CIC Ventures—but that presumption appears to have been wrong, per a Proof source.

Proof readers will be well aware that Proof has reported both here and elsewhere—for instance, in the New York Times-bestselling Proof Trilogy—that former president Donald Trump has a history of directly or indirectly promising money, jobs, and/or favors to those federal witnesses who testify before Congress or speak to the DOJ or FBI in a fashion consistent with his own interests, leading to some understandable concern that if any such individual were to have been seth abramson proof logoinvolved in Trump’s get-richer-quick NFT scam it could position that scam as part of a larger January 6 cover-up.

As the subhed of this new Proof report indicates, and as the last Proof report on Mr. Trump’s NFT venture disclosed, both the Washington Post and New York Times saw leading journalists on their payrolls draw conclusions about two Trump-launched companies—CIC Ventures and CIC Digital—that treated the two as one and the same, and therefore possibly at the head of a January 6 Witness Tampering scheme.

But Proof can now report, on the basis of contact with a person confirmed to have knowledge of the situation—and to whom Proof has granted anonymity to allow them to speak freely—that while former Trump “body man” Nicholas Luna was indeed involved with CIC Ventures for the purposes of signing contracts for Mr. Trump’s post-presidential speaking engagements, he had no involvement, formal or otherwise, with CIC Digital, a distinct venture that ultimately contracted with a dodgy entity named NFT INT LLC to mint Trump’s chintzy, much-mocked NFTs. Indeed, per this Proof source, CIC Digital was founded after Luna left Trump’s employ in October 2021.

This source believes CIC Digital to have been run, instead, by individuals associated with (or even formally part of) the Trump Organization. This source further states that there were no contacts between Luna and the listed co-director for CIC Ventures, Trump lawyer John Marion.

These revelations keep active the following key questions: (1) why a Trump lawyer (Marion) was made the co-director of an entity exclusively associated with Trump’s speaking engagements; (2) whether Marion was also involved with CIC Digital; and (3) whether Marion was given his business role(s) in the labyrinthine world of Trump single-purpose (sometimes shell) corporations as a means to avoid paying him for legal services rendered—whether through corporate perks or write-offs or by allowing Marion to do side business under Trump’s aegis and/or brand, as appears to have been the case in Ukraine with fellow Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani—or to generate a zone of attorney-client privilege in the context of a Witness Tampering (or other criminal) scheme.

Hopefully the Times and Post will update their coverage of Donald Trump’s NFT scam consistent with this new reporting by Proof.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who later taught digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

 

The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor, above, and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Co-leader of Whitmer kidnapping plot gets 16 years in prison, Staff Report, Dec. 27, 2022. The government had pushed for a life sentence.

The co-leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years in prison for conspiring to abduct the Democrat and blow up a bridge to ease an escape.

politico CustomAdam Fox, below right, returned to federal court Tuesday, four months after he and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of conspiracy charges at a second trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They were accused of being at the helm of a wild plot to whip up anti-government extremists just before the 2020 presidential election. Their arrest, as well as the capture of 12 others, was a stunning coda to a tumultuous year of racial strife and political turmoil in the U.S.

adam fox resized mugThe government had pushed for a life sentence, saying Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”

But Judge Robert J. Jonker said that while Fox’s sentence was needed as a punishment and deterrent to future similar acts, the government’s request for life in prison is “not necessary to achieve those purposes.”

“It’s too much. Something less than life gets the job done in this case,” Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “is still in my mind a very long time.”

In addition to the 16-year prison sentence, Fox will have to serve five years of supervised release.

Fox and Croft were convicted at a second trial in August, months after a different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a verdict but acquitted two other men. Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced Wednesday.

Fox and Croft in 2020 met with like-minded provocateurs at a summit in Ohio, trained with weapons in Michigan and Wisconsin and took a ride to “put eyes” on Whitmer’s vacation home with night-vision goggles, according to evidence.

“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing ahead of the hearing.

In 2020, Fox, 39, was living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, the site of clandestine meetings with members of a paramilitary group and an undercover FBI agent. His lawyer said he was depressed, anxious and smoking marijuana daily.

Fox was regularly exposed to “inflammatory rhetoric” by FBI informants, especially Army veteran Dan Chappel, who “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism’ but also his need for friendship, acceptance and male approval,” Gibbons said in a court filing.

He said prosecutors had exaggerated Fox’s capabilities, saying he was poor and lacked the capability to obtain a bomb and carry out the plan.

Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

In state court, three men recently were given lengthy sentences for assisting Fox earlier in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.

When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer, a Democrat, blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”

 

 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump

 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" that led to the Capitol insurrection, is shown in a collage with then-President Donald Trump (File photos).

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The missing piece in the January 6th Committee Report, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 22 books (including wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallThe Rise of The Fourth Reich, below,  and former synidcated columnist, Navy intellitence officer and NSA analyst, Dec. 25-27, 2022.

The House Select Committee on the January 6 attack on the Congress did an admirable job of cutting through the obstruction of justice, obfuscation, and plain old lying from Donald Trump and his administration’s and presidential campaign’s hopeless sycophants.

wayne madesen report logoHowever, the committee failed to answer the mail on the military’s involvement in pre- and post-coup plans for a Trump military-civilian junta to rule the United States. Far too many Department of Defense political appointees were not criticized in the committee’s report, particularly those who failed to order the early deployment of National Guard troops to safeguard the Capitol complex for the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes to proclaim Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the president- and vice president-wayne madsen fourth reich coverelect of the United States.

It is quite clear that Trump had installed a coterie of military and civilian officials at the Pentagon whose main task it was to fail to respond to pleas for assistance from congressional and Washington, DC authorities as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.

The presence of then-Major General Charles Flynn, right, within the U.S. Army’s Pentagon staff should have raised the suspicions of the committee. Flynn’s brother, charles flynn oTrump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, had been one of the chief proponents of advancing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign to the point where he called for the military to not only seize voting machines but Trump to declare martial law and hold an unconstitutional “do-over” of the November 3rd election.

Other active duty officers who stymied the dispatch of National Guard troops to the Capitol included Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, Charles Flynn’s immediate superior, who remains the Director of the Army Staff at the Pentagon, and then-Brigadier General Christopher LaNeve, the Director of Operations and Mobilization, who worked under Piatt and Flynn, and has since been promoted to Major General and is currently the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

It is very clear that a group of far-right retired flag rank military officers stood ready to fill important government positions in a Trump junta after a successful January 6 coup. During the 2020 campaign 317 of these officers, representing “Flag Officers 4 America,” signed an open letter full of vitriolic pro-Trump rhetoric, including the charge that the “Democrat Party” was “welcoming Socialists and Marxists” and that “our historic way of life is at stake.”

WMR has compiled a spreadsheet listing the names of the “Flag Officers 4 America” and other lower-ranked military retirees and active members of the military and reserves who provided aid and comfort to Trump and his coup plotters. While this is not a complete list of officer-level traitors in the U.S. military community, it can be appended with additional names.

just security logo

Just Security, January 6 Clearinghouse Congressional Hearings, Government Documents, Court Cases, Academic Research, Ryan Goodman and Justin Hendrix, Dec. 26-27, 2022. Deposition Transcripts of House Select Committee (sorted by affiliation, alphabetical, date of deposition). Welcome to this all-source repository of information for analysts, researchers, investigators, journalists, educators, and the public at large. 

Check out our new addition below: A curated repository of deposition transcripts from the House Select Committee. Readers may also be interested in Major Highlights of the January 6th Report.

If you think the January 6 Clearinghouse is missing something, please send recommendations for additional content by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

The authors are grateful for the assistance of Joshua Asabor, Matthew Bailey, Sarah Butterfield, Brianne Cuffe, and Nicholas Tonckens in the creation of the Clearinghouse.

 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), left to right, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), Thursday, June 9, 2022

ny times logoNew York Times, The Jan. 6 Report Is Out. Now the Real Work Begins, Julian E. Zelizer, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Zelizer is an editor of the forthcoming book “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past.”

Much attention this week has focused on the Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals. But in its report, released on Thursday, the committee also has pointed to broad and long-lasting legislative and policy reforms that will be essential if Congress is to prevent further instability of American democracy.

The report comes almost a half-century after another famous report of sorts was completed: the Watergate “road map,” which was passed to the House Judiciary Committee by Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor.

As the Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein has said, “the American system worked.” But the system didn’t just correct itself after Watergate — that is a myth that has taken root over the past several decades. And it’s a dangerous myth, in that it creates an illusory sense of confidence whenever America goes through major political and constitutional crises.

As with the Watergate road map, the Jan. 6 report doesn’t put an end to the crisis of American democracy. The report reveals that the attempted coup almost worked. If there had been a handful of different people in key positions of power — from Justice Department lawyers to secretaries of state — the overturning might have been successful. It is all too easy to imagine that next time, things might go differently.

If there is any criticism to be made of the committee’s report, it is that it focuses so much on former President Donald Trump and his accomplices and doesn’t do enough to emphasize the urgent imperative to move forward with institutional reforms to protect America’s election system.

When I look back at Watergate, what I see is not a self-correcting constitutional system. Rather, I see an era when a reform coalition of legislators, organizations and journalists took it upon themselves to try to fix the institutional problems that had enabled President Richard Nixon to do the bad things that he did — not just his campaign’s involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, but also the broader abuses of executive power that were part of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “imperial presidency.” The reforms that followed required sustained effort, and they didn’t happen quickly: It took almost a decade to set in place a suite of laws to deal with the toxic foundation of Nixon’s presidency.

This response to Watergate was not inevitable. Reform depended on the establishment or expansion of a robust network of organizations, including Common Cause and Congress Watch. Those organizations insisted that legislation creating stronger checks on the executive branch, strengthening Congress and imposing laws to make it easier to hold officials accountable were the only ways to check bad behavior.

The “Watergate Babies” elected in the 1974 midterm elections devoted political capital toward reform. A young generation of investigative journalists were inspired by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who doggedly exposed corruption. This coalition lobbied legislators, kept media attention focused on these issues and nurtured electoral pressure.

As a result of their efforts, there was a burst of legislation that attempted to constrain the executive branch. Some bills aiming to restore the balance of power, such as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, passed as Nixon’s scandals were still unfolding.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Republicans inch away from election denialism, one activist digs in, Patrick Marley, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Harry Wait ordered ballots in the names of others to show voter fraud is possible. Now facing up to 13 years in prison, he is undaunted in his crusade to change Wisconsin’s voting laws. Harry Wait marched into the courthouse, walked through a metal detector and planted himself on a bench in the ornate lobby. His supporters, some wearing bright yellow “Free Harry” T-shirts, chatted amiably as they followed him inside.

Emboldened by former president Donald Trump’s false election claims, Wait in July had ordered absentee ballots in the names of others for the purpose, he said, of exposing what he considers flaws in Wisconsin’s voting systems. Now, on a warm September afternoon, he was using the resulting voter-fraud charges against him — which could land him in prison for up to 13 years — to amplify his argument that absentee balloting should be severely restricted.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat because to save the republic, soldiers have to draw blood and blood be drawn,” Wait said as he sat on the courthouse bench.

For two years, a large segment of Trump supporters has embraced discredited claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The strategy of cultivating anger over supposed voter fraud proved politically disastrous this fall, when election deniers lost high-profile races from Arizona to Pennsylvania.

Now some Republican leaders are urging their party to downplay election denialism and shift its focus to other issues to improve its chances of winning the presidency in 2024.

But activists such as Wait are making that difficult, showing how hard it will be to extinguish the grievance and distrust whipped up by Trump and his allies. Undeterred by the November results, Wait in recent weeks has rallied for overhauling election rules, planned a January protest at the state Capitol and pledged to use the charges against him to trumpet his call for new voting laws. For him, the fight over elections continues.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

Global Immigration, Migration, Asylum Issues

ny times logoNew York Times, In Record Numbers, an Unexpected Migrant Group Is Fleeing to the U.S., Alfonso Flores Bermúdez and Frances Robles, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled their country in recent years, escaping poverty and repression under an increasingly authoritarian government.

Twice a week at a gas station on the western edge of Nicaragua’s capital, local residents gather, carrying the telltale signs of people on the move: loaded backpacks, clothes and toiletries stuffed in plastic bags and heavy jackets in preparation for a chilly journey far from the stifling heat.

Nurses, doctors, students, children, farmers and many other Nicaraguans say teary goodbyes as they await private charter buses for the first leg of an 1,800-mile journey. Final destination: the United States.

For generations, Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, saw only a trickle of its people migrate northward. But soaring inflation, declining wages and the erosion of democracy under an increasingly authoritarian government have drastically shifted the calculus.

Now, for the first time in Nicaragua’s history, the small nation of 6.5 million is a major contributor to the mass of people trekking to the U.S. southern border, having been displaced by violence, repression and poverty.

washington post logoWashington Post, Europe Migrants bused from Texas arrive at VP’s house on frigid Christmas Eve, Meryl Kornfield, Kyle Rempfer and Lizzie Johnson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). About 110 to 130 men, women and children got off the buses outside the Naval Observatory on Saturday night in 18-degree weather after a two-day journey from South Texas, according to the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. On the coldest Christmas Eve day on record in the District, some migrants were bundled up in blankets as they were greeted by volunteers who had received word that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had sent the caravan.

Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

U.S. Snow, Airline Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Bad timing, a lack of planning led to devastating fallout in Buffalo storm, Brianna Sacks and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Dec. 28, 2022. buffalo-storm-blizzard-warnings/ The historic devastation is, in large part, due to a collision of a historic blizzard, timing, a dearth of emergency management resources, and the difficulty of trying to force residents to abandon much-needed jobs.

For 14 hours in Buffalo, emergency services technician Felicia Williams sat inside her snow-covered ambulance without food or water, helplessly listening to her dispatchers answer calls about people freezing, mothers and babies stranded in cars, oxygen tanks running out, and other first responders trapped trying to get to them. In front of her, four cars were askew in snow drifts, blocking the road.

And, as the 26-year-old began to fear that even she may die there, Williams grew furious that Buffalo hadn’t acted sooner to prevent people from going out on the roads in the worst storm since 1977.

“I think a travel ban should have been put in place a lot earlier,” said Williams, an EMT with American Medical Response in Buffalo.

Erie County, which contains Buffalo, issued a travel ban shortly before 9 a.m. Friday, giving motorists only a 41-minute head’s up as many of them were driving to work. But the timing of the ban has become one of the flash points as western New York grapples with the aftermath of a storm that already taken the lives of 28 people in Erie County. Buffalo city spokesman Mike DeGeorge said more than half of the deaths occurred outside, a number involving people in their cars.

The devastating impact is, in large part, due to a collision of a historic blizzard, bad timing, a dearth of emergency management resources, and the immense difficulty of trying to force residents who are largely desensitized to severe weather to abandon much-needed jobs, as well as their holiday plans, according to interviews with lawmakers, community organizers and disaster experts

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 25 dead in Buffalo’s worst blizzard in 50 years, Sarah Kaplan, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Meanwhile, Weather conditions that snarled traffic and holiday travel in much of the United States began to ease across the nation on Sunday.

At least 25 people have died in this weekend’s catastrophic snowstorm, officials announced Monday, marking this blizzard as Western New York’s deadliest in at least 50 years.

Roads remain impassable and more than 12,000 people are still without power as the unrelenting storm is forecast to drop as much as a foot of additional snow, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said during a Monday morning news conference. First responders are still struggling to reach people trapped in their cars, while people stuck in shelters and nursing homes are running out of food.
Fast, informative and written just for locals. Get The 7 DMV newsletter in your inbox every weekday morning.

“This is the worst storm probably in our lifetime and maybe in the history of the city,” Poloncarz said. “And this is not the end yet.”

The dead have been found in their cars, homes and in snowbanks. Some have had cardiac arrests while shoveling.

ny times logoNew York Times, Thousands of Canceled Flights Cap Holiday Weekend of Travel Nightmares, Amy Qin, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Steve Lohr, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Southwest Airlines, which canceled about 70 percent of its flights, was the airline most affected on Monday. Thousands of travelers were stranded at U.S. airports on Monday as a wave of canceled flights — many of them operated by Southwest Airlines — spoiled holiday plans and kept families from returning home during one of the busiest and most stressful travel stretches of the year.

The cancellations and delays one day after Christmas left people sleeping on airport floors, standing in hourslong customer service lines and waiting on tarmacs for hours on end.

The problems are likely to continue into Tuesday and later this week. As of Monday night, about 2,600 U.S. flights scheduled for Tuesday were already canceled, including 60 percent of all Southwest flights.

“The only thing we want is to get home,” said Francis Uba, who was among the frustrated passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Monday, where over 130 flights were canceled as of that evening.

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Day of Airline Chaos: Thousands of Travelers Are Still Stranded, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Daniel Victor, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.).  Most of the disruption was on Southwest Airlines, which had called off more than 60 percent of its flights by Tuesday morning.

Thousands of stranded holiday travelers were no closer to home on Tuesday, as the aftermath of a deadly winter storm that grounded flights and throttled plans over the holiday weekend continued to play out at airline counters across the country.

Disruptions were likely to continue throughout the week at airports, where canceled flights caused weary homebound travelers to sleep on floors and wait hours in line for customer service.

  • New York Times, At least 28 people have died in a blizzard that has crippled the Buffalo area, with more snow expected, Dec. 27, 2022.

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Moorish Americans take over a rural gun range, sparking a strange showdown, Peter Jamison, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Moorish Americans, part of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement, claim the Southern Maryland gun range belongs to them, defying efforts by local officials to shut it down.

The complaints about the property on Fire Tower Road were urgent but not too far out of the ordinary in a rural stretch of Southern Maryland: Earsplitting gunfire, endangered cows, a stray bullet that pierced a neighbor’s equipment shed.

But that was before the would-be heirs to a mythical North African empire moved in, claiming their dominion extends not only over the lost island of Atlantis but also over five acres in Charles County.

The episode began when gun enthusiasts started getting together on Sundays for target practice at the wooded property of 64-year-old Byron Bell.

As the gatherings grew bigger, along with the caliber of weapons and the number of rounds discharged, they drew the ire of neighbors even in this sparsely populated and gun-friendly area.

Yet it was after county officials took action, deeming the site an unlawful firing range and filing an injunction to stop it from operating in September, that events took several unexpected turns. That was when a group calling itself Moorish Americans — an offshoot of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement whose members believe they are immune from dealings with U.S. legal and financial systems — essentially took over the range, declaring it “protected under the consular jurisdiction of Morocco.”

There followed arrests, flurries of spurious legal documents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, all to the accompaniment of what neighbors describe as an ongoing din of gunfire on weekends. Things escalated last week when sheriff’s deputies raided the property, seizing what Bell said were about a dozen firearms.

Moorish Americans, also known as Moorish sovereign citizens, believe themselves to be the inheritors of a fictitious empire that they say stretched from the present-day kingdom of Morocco to North America, with Mexico and Atlantis thrown in for good measure. They claim the same protections from U.S. legal proceedings that are granted to foreign citizens, while simultaneously asserting their rights to take over properties — often well-appointed homes owned by other people — that they say are still part of the “Moroccan Empire.”

Bell declared his Moorish American citizenship in September, according to court documents. He told The Post that he was still struggling to understand much of the group’s doctrine but that he found it “very educational.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Social Security denies disability benefits based on list with jobs from 1977, Lisa Rein, Dec. 28, 2022 (print ed.). Despite spending at least $250 million to modernize its system, Social Security still relies on 45-year-old job titles to deny thousands of disability claims.

He had made it through four years of denials and appeals, and Robert Heard was finally before a Social Security judge who would decide whether he qualified for disability benefits. Two debilitating strokes had left the 47-year-old electrician with halting speech, an enlarged heart and violent tremors.

social security logoThere was just one final step: A vocational expert hired by the Social Security Administration had to tell the judge if there was any work Heard could still do despite his condition. Heard was stunned as the expert canvassed his computer and announced his findings: He could find work as a nut sorter, a dowel inspector or an egg processor — jobs that virtually no longer exist in the United States.
Nut sorter job description from Dictionary of Occupational Titles (TWP)

“Whatever it is that does those things, machines do it now,” said Heard, who lives on food stamps and a small stipend from his parents in a subsidized apartment in Tullahoma, Tenn. “Honestly, if they could see my shaking, they would see I couldn’t sort any nuts. I’d spill them all over the floor.”

He was still hopeful the administrative law judge hearing his claim for $1,300 to $1,700 per month in benefits had understood his limitations.

But while the judge agreed that Heard had multiple, severe impairments, he denied him benefits, writing that he had “job opportunities” in three occupations that are nearly obsolete and agreeing with the expert’s dubious claim that 130,000 positions were still available sorting nuts, inspecting dowels and processing eggs.

Every year, thousands of claimants like Heard find themselves blocked at this crucial last step in the arduous process of applying for disability benefits, thanks to labor market data that was last updated 45 years ago.

 Other Court and Crime News Head

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Americans Still Masking Against Covid Find Themselves Isolated, Amy Harmon, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). It can be tough being a committed mask wearer when others have long since moved on from the pandemic.

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid.

“I found that one upsetting,’’ Mx. Cherry said in an interview. “I’ve been worried in the back of my mind the whole time: When are they going to decide they don’t want to do this anymore?’’

For many Americans still at pains to avoid infection with the coronavirus, this has become the loneliest moment since the pandemic began.

Exercise classes have largely suspended remote workouts. Families and employers have expected attendance at holiday events. The vulnerable and the risk-averse are finding themselves the rare mask-wearers on public transportation, in places of worship, and at offices and stores.

Even as Covid cases and hospitalizations have climbed across the nation over the last month, public officials are avoiding mask mandates — though officials in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have recently recommended wearing masks in public places, citing a “tripledemic” that includes influenza and R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus.

It is hard to avoid the feeling of being judged as histrionic, some say, even when evidence suggests they are right to be cautious. And many say they face pressure, internal and external, to adjust to changing social norms around a virus that others are treating as a thing of the past.

“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’’

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid Is Spreading Rapidly in China, New Signs Suggest, Chang Che, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Even as official figures from the central government remain low, regional numbers point to explosive outbreaks and overstretched health care systems.

Since China abandoned its restrictive “zero Covid” policy about two weeks ago, the intensity and magnitude of the country’s first nationwide outbreak has remained largely a mystery. With the country ending mass testing, case counts are less useful. The government has a narrow definition of which deaths should count as caused by Covid. Anecdotal evidence, like social media postings of hospital morgues overcrowded with body bags, is quickly taken down by censors.

Now, a picture is emerging of the virus spreading like wildfire.

One province and three cities have reported Covid estimates far exceeding official tallies in recent days. At a news conference on Sunday, an official in Zhejiang Province, home to 65 million people, estimated that daily Covid cases there had exceeded one million.

In the eastern city of Qingdao, population 10 million, a health minister said on Friday that there were roughly half a million new cases each day, a number he expected would rise sharply in the coming days, local news sites reported.

 

U.S. Privacy, Health Rights

fda logo

ny times logoNew York Times, The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills, Pam Belluck, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Labels of Plan B One-Step had previously said, without scientific evidence, that the pill might block fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb.

The information will be in every box of the most widely used emergency contraceptive pills to make clear that they do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The agency explained in an accompanying document that the products cannot be described as abortion pills.

Up to now, packages of the brand-name pill, Plan B One-Step, as well as generic versions of it have said that the pill might work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb — language that scientific evidence did not support. That wording led some abortion opponents and politicians who equate a fertilized egg with a person to say that taking the morning-after pill could be the equivalent of having an abortion or even committing murder.

The F.D.A. revised the leaflets inserted in packages of pills to say that the medication “works before release of an egg from the ovary,” meaning that it acts before fertilization, not after. The package insert also says the pill “will not work if you’re already pregnant, and will not affect an existing pregnancy.”

In a question-and-answer document posted on the F.D.A.’s website, the agency explicitly addressed the abortion issue. In answer to the question, “Is Plan B One-Step able to cause an abortion?” the agency writes: “No.” It added: “Plan B One-Step prevents pregnancy by acting on ovulation, which occurs well before implantation. Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of pregnancy after implantation, therefore, it does not terminate a pregnancy.”

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘I’m Not Ready’: A Mother Denied an Abortion in Texas Faces an Uncertain Future, Dec. 19, 2022 (print ed.). Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based, anti-abortion nonprofit, provides temporary aid for poor Texas women with newborns. But how will they survive when the support ends?

ny times logocovad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2New York Times, ‘Tripledemic’ Rages On: Fever-Filled Weeks Lie Ahead, Emily Anthes, Dec. 23, 2022 (print ed.). R.S.V. has probably peaked, but flu is still surging and Covid-19 cases are rising. Scientists are hopeful next winter will be better.

New, immune evasive versions of the Omicron variant are spreading, and Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising, although the figures remain far below last winter’s peak. But this year the coronavirus has company: Common seasonal viruses, which lay low for the last two winters, have come roaring back.

Recent Related Headlines

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

climate change photo

Legal Schnauzer, Matrix LLC paid ABC News "producer" to pepper pro-environment political candidates with deceptive questions in an effort to boost its clients who pollute roger shuler and murphy(Part 1), Roger Shuler, right, Dec. 22, 2022. A journalist who identifies herself as working for ABC News has been paid by an Alabama-based political-consulting firm to sideswipe pro-environment politicians with deceptive questions, according to a report at NPR/Floodlight.

The journalist was Kristen Hentschel, the consulting firm was Montgomery-based Matrix LLC. The beneficiaries of the scheme were alabama power logodesigned to be Matrix clients -- such as Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light -- all with ties to projects known to produce pollution.

How did the "reporting" scheme with an ABC News journalist work? Exhibit A involves a Florida political candidate named Toby Overdorf, who had pledged to kristen hentschel ny posttake a serious approach to environmental protection. That's where Hentschel, right, enters the picture.

Under the headline "She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative, NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik write:

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site [in Stuart, FL]. Florida designates the species as threatened.

Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as a consultant on the construction project -- and he knew of no such tortoises. A city investigation found there were no dead tortoises, and no evidence that any ever had been present during the construction project. The oddities about the story do not end there, as NPR/Floodlight report:

That wasn't the only surprise. Though Hentschel has done freelance work for ABC, she was not there for the network.

matrix logoAt the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm's internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel's work, labeling the payments "for Florida Crystals, FPL." (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Both companies could have benefited from Hentschels efforts to undermine Overdorf and his promises to resolve environmental issues in the district he was vying to represent. Florida Power & Light has pushed back against efforts to bring solar panels to the Sunshine State, while runoff from the sugar industry is a major source of water pollution in Florida.

florida light and power logoOverdorf won his election, but he remains distressed that he was subjected to such journalistic skulduggery:

"It was an attack ad against my livelihood, my family," Overdorf says. "And it was something that potentially could last far beyond my time running for office."

Overdorf was not the only victim of the Hentschel/Matrix operation. Once Hentschel's ties to Matrix became public, ABC cut ties with her earlier this week:

abc news logo colorInterviews for this story and Matrix ledgers show Hentschel traded on her work for ABC News at least three times to trip up Florida politicians whose stances on environmental regulations cut against the interests of major Matrix clients. Internal Matrix financial records originally sent anonymously to the Orlando Sentinel and shared with Floodlight show that since 2016, the firm has paid Hentschel at least $14,350.

According to two people at ABC News with knowledge, Hentschel was not, in fact, reporting for ABC on any of those subjects. "If she was working on these stories, she was not authorized to cover them for ABC News," one of them said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive network matters. . . . 

"Kristen Hentschel was a freelance daily hire who never worked for ABC News on the political stories referenced in the NPR article," the network said in a statement. "She does not currently work for ABC NEWS."

How unusual is the Hentschel story.? One news veteran cannot remember another one like it:

David Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010, says he never came across an instance in which a journalist for the network was simultaneously doing advocacy.

"It just goes to the very heart of why people no longer have the same confidence and trust in the news media as they once did," says Westin, now an anchor for Bloomberg TV. "They suspect this is going on anyway, and for it to actually go on confirms their worst suspicions."

Hentschel, it turns out, appeared in all kinds of places -- almost like a female Forrest Gump:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017.

Hentschel did not return multiple detailed requests for comment.

jeff pittsMatrix's former CEO, Jeff Pitts, left, who hired Hentschel for the firm, declined comment.

That leads us back -- as Matrix-related stories often do -- to the legal feud between Pitts and Joe Perkins:

Matrix's founder, Joe Perkins, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue"employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance , including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

All of this leads to questions about the possible roles of Southern Company, Alabama Power, and Matrix in other unsavory Alabama events. These include the head-on vehicle crash that nearly killed Birmingham-area attorney Burt Newsome, someone shooting into the car of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson as he drove on U.S. 280 near Mountain Brook, and an apparent fake deposition of a Verizon Wireless records custodian in the Newsome Conspiracy Case. 

Documents -- and investigative reporting -- shine considerable light on Hentschel's ties to Matrix:

After Pitts left Matrix, reporters from Floodlight and NPR obtained company records documenting Hentschel's work. This story also draws on other materials, including court records, and 14 interviews with people with direct knowledge of her activities.

In recent months, Matrix has also been accused of interfering in the workings of democracy in Alabama and Florida by seeking to influence ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates and offering a lucrative job to a public official if he resigned. As Floodlight and NPR have revealed, Matrix secretly maintained financial ties to a half-dozen political news sites and tried to ensure favorable coverage for clients.

Legal Schnauzer, Journalistic chicanery, sexual entanglements, and curious cash flow form a strange brew for big-polluting clients represented by Alabama-based Matrix LLC (Part 2), Roger Shuler, right, roger shuler and murphyDec. 27, 2022. The story of former ABC News producer Kristen Hentschel and the Matrix LLC political-consulting firm seems, at first glance, to be a tale of what might be called "journalistic fraud."

After all, Hentschel would use her ABC News credentials to gain access to pro-environment political candidates, only to pepper them with bogus, accusatory questions designed to benefit Matrix's big-polluting clients -- Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light. Alabama-based Matrix, it turns out, was paying Hentschel to pull off the deceptive scheme.

Upon further inspection, however, the story includes enough romantic entanglements to fill several scripts for an afternoon soap opera. Perhaps that is fitting kristen hentschelbecause Hentschel, left, before she was outed and fired by ABC News last week, was best known for having an affair with ABC journalist Chris Hansen, of To Catch a Predator fame.  

A joint investigation by NPR and Florida-based Floodlight led to a story that broke the Hentschel-Matrix scam on a national stage. It was as if the Hentschel-Hansen affair served as an appetizer for the bigger scandal to come - - and, as it turned out, that story had plenty of npr logosex angles, too.

Hentschel worked on the periphery of TV news, but struggled to gain a firm foothold on the big time. Write NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik:

Hentschel began her journalism career with short stints at local TV newsrooms in Chico, Calif., Waco, Texas, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

"A lot of people think that the television business ... looks Hollywood-esque," Hentschel once told Baldwin Park Living, a Florida lifestyle magazine. "I made $8 an hour [at] my first job, laid on couches and had to move around literally every one to two years."

At those jobs, she covered crime, storms, traffic — mainstays of local news.

Her career foundered in 2011 when the National Enquirer disclosed a romantic relationship between her and a married man: Chris Hansen, the former host of NBC's To Catch a Predator.

Hentschel learned that TV news presents a double standard for women in a highly competitive business:

Subsequent stints in Las Vegas, Seattle and Orlando, Fla., proved brief. "A double standard is an understatement as to what happens in this industry," Hentschel told RadarOnline.com in an interview about her relationship with Hansen. "The women get fired and the men keep going." Professionally, she had been using the name Kristyn Caddell, which endures on her Twitter account, but shifted to her family name, Kristen Hentschel, by late 2015.

Soon, Hentschel was out of work, and perhaps from desperation, turned to Matrix. Her resume found its way to the firm's CEO, Jeff Pitts -- and he hired her in early 2016. But that was not to be Hentschel's only job:

Hentschel soon secured a second gig. In February 2016, she started as a freelance news producer for ABC News.

Hentschel primarily did work for Good Morning America. Among her assignments: helping with segments on NFL star Tom Brady and the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, the young Florida woman who documented her cross-country trip on social media.

"Our setup for today... #lighting is everything," Hentschel once tweeted with a photograph of a TV reporting shoot. "Who's in the hot seat?"

The answer often proved to be people Pitts wanted her to confront.

Perhaps the strangest episode came when Matrix decided to spy on Southern Company chief Tom Fanning:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017. . . . 

joe perkinsMatrix's founder, Joe Perkins, right, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue" employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

According to NPR/Floodlight, Pitts had a tendency to mix business with pleasure:

Pitts could be a charmer. He was known to cultivate a personal rapport with his corporate clients over sushi and steak dinners, favoring long meals with freely flowing red wine. In an email exchange with a vice president of the energy company NextEra, Pitts wrote, "Talk tomorrow but miss you." She wrote back that his note was a nice surprise. "You said [to] be more open," Pitts replied.

Pitts mixed business with romance, Matrix financial records show. Over the course of the last decade, Pitts paid his then-wife more than $10,000 for work for Matrix, according to copies of the firm's invoices reflecting payments to her personal company. She had previously been employed at Alabama Power, one of Matrix's oldest clients, according to press clippings and two associates.

matrix logoMatrix also paid Pitts' ongoing romantic partner, Apryl Marie Fogel, a conservative radio-show host, nearly $150,000 over several years. Fogel runs the conservative news site Alabama Today, which published articles showcasing Matrix clients in a favorable light.

On a recent episode of her radio show, Fogel compared her relationship with Pitts to that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, the pro-Trump activist Ginni Thomas.

"You check it at the door," Fogel says. "You may be somewhat, in a fuzzy way, aware of what the other person is doing. And you want them to be successful, but it doesn't mean that you two—that everything is running in lockstep."

It did not take long for Hentschel to become part of the romantic scene:

Shortly after Hentschel started working for Pitts at Matrix, the two began an affair, associates say, though it is not clear how long it lasted. Hentschel bought a home close to Pitts' apartment in West Palm Beach, Florida, public records show.

Meanwhile, Hentschel targeted political figures who could pose a problem for Matrix clients. One target proved to be the mayor of South Miami, who had promoted residential solar panels in the Sunshine State:

Hentschel called Phil Stoddard, then the mayor of South Miami, in August 2018. He says she identified herself as an ABC reporter and asked him about an upcoming press conference likely to bring unflattering publicity. A lawsuit had been filed by parents of a teenager who was hospitalized years earlier after attending a party thrown by Stoddard's teenage daughter. (The suit was ultimately settled.)

npr logoThe press conference turned out to be a sham. It had been orchestrated by Joe Carrillo, a private detective, and Dan Newman, a political operative with financial links to Matrix, according to Matrix documents and a copy of the press release obtained by Floodlight and NPR.

Matrix paid Hentschel $2,000 a few weeks later for what was itemized as a "Miami shoot," a Matrix ledger shows.

The interest in Stoddard, a biologist, seems easy to discern. Stoddard had clashed with Florida Power & Light over transmission lines, a nuclear power florida light and power logoplant, and policies on residential solar panels. . . . 

Internal Matrix emails between Newman, the political operative, and Pitts, the firm's then-CEO, show it hired a private detective to investigate Stoddard's personal life. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Matrix-linked nonprofits spent six figures trying to knock him out of office. . . . 

On Sept. 26, Hentschel showed up with a videographer to a city council meeting.

"I thought, 'No good's gonna come of this,'" Stoddard recalls. He shut down her requests for comment at the council meeting. He continued battling Florida Power & Light even after he left office in 2020.

NPR/Floodlight found that ABC News probably should not have been caught off guard by Hentschel's activities:

There is evidence that ABC News was first told two years ago that Hentschel inappropriately invoked her network ties in conducting work that had nothing to do with ABC News.

abc news logo colorU.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a conservative Republican, has established a record as an advocate of strengthening water quality in Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater lake. He has introduced four pieces of legislation to address toxic algal blooms there.

His work puts him at odds with Florida's powerful sugar interest, Florida Crystals. Okeechobee is kept artificially full for that industry and other corporate use. Mast's bills could ultimately cut into their profits.

"They'll do anything that they can to hold onto that grip of controlling water in the state of Florida," Mast says. "And I'm probably the number one person that goes against them."

In the heat of the 2020 election season, Hentschel chased down Mast at a fundraiser featuring then-President Donald Trump. She told Mast's aides she wanted to ask him about messages he wrote nearly a decade earlier, before entering politics. He had joked about rape and sex with teenagers in Facebook posts to a friend. They had just surfaced publicly, and he had apologized. The aides didn't bite.

The conservative Florida news site The Capitolist called Mast's proposals extreme and urged readers to vote for his Democratic opponent. Matrix had previously funneled The Capitolist nearly $200,000 from Florida Power & Light, the firm's invoices show. Perkins denied Matrix paid The Capitolist and said the company "was unaware of any financial relationships between The Capitolist and any Matrix client."

That September, Hentschel rang the doorbell at Mast's home in a gated community and told Mast's wife she was reporting for ABC, even handing over a business card citing the network, according to Mast's accounts in an interview for this story and in a trespassing complaint he filed with police.

A senior aide to Mast shot off an email to ABC. Its political director, Rick Klein, replied that Hentschel was not there for the network.

Election Day was two months away. In a video he posted on Facebook, Mast denounced his Democratic opponent for sending Hentschel to his door. "I want to talk about something that frankly is just BS," Mast said.

Mast now says he believes Hentschel sought to intimidate him on behalf of the sugar company and Matrix client Florida Crystals — an allegation the company rejected.

washington post logoWashington Post, Scientists say Arctic warming could be to blame for blasts of extreme cold, Scott Dance, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Research suggests that climate change is altering the jet stream, pushing frigid air down to southern climes more frequently. But the scientific jury is still out.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Newspapers are disappearing where democracy needs them most, Nancy Gibbs, Dec. 28, 2022. Nancy Gibbs is the director of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Every couple of weeks you can read about another newspaper shutting its doors, or moving from daily to weekly, or hollowing out its newsroom until it’s little more than a skeleton staff bulked up with j-school students. Study the maps made by Penny Abernathy, visiting professor at Northwestern University and an expert on dwindling sources of news, and you can see the dead zones — the 200 or so counties with no local paper. About 1,600 other counties have only one.

Local news is the oxygen of democracy, the most trusted source for the most essential information, and we’ve long known why dying newsrooms damage communities. But look at the maps again, and another alarming picture comes into focus: The very places where local news is disappearing are often the same places that wield disproportionate political power.

This phenomenon affects Americans living far away from the news deserts. Demographers predict that by 2040, one-third of Americans will pick 70 percent of the Senate.

Think of a typical voter in South Dakota, with its single congressional district and, of course, two senators for a population of about 895,000. Thanks to the Senate’s structural bias toward less-populated states, that gives each of the nearly 600,000 registered voters in South Dakota about 28 times more power in that body than each of the 17 million voters in Texas. When it comes to electing presidents, that South Dakota voter carries twice the weight in the electoral college as their Texas counterpart.

But with all that added clout for shaping the composition of Congress and, less directly, the Supreme Court and the White House, the voters in about half of South Dakota’s 66 counties have only a single weekly newspaper. Seven counties have no newspaper at all.

washington post logoWashington Post, Retired Pope Benedict XVI, 95, is ‘very sick’; Francis asks for prayers, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli, Dec. 28, 2022. Pope Francis appealed for prayers for retired Pope Benedict XVI and for God to sustain him “until the end.”

Pope Francis said his predecessor Benedict XVI was “very sick,” and the Vatican said the 95-year-old’s health had “worsened,” putting the Catholic Church on watch about one of its most towering conservative figures.
“I ask to all of you for a special prayer for Pope Emeritus Benedict,” Francis told pilgrims at his general audience Wednesday, asking God to console and sustain Benedict “until the end.”

The Vatican, in its statement, said the situation “at the moment remains under control, and is constantly followed by the doctors.”

The comments appeared to mark a worrying turning point for Benedict, who has been frail but sharp-minded for years and who has now been ex-pope for a longer period than he served as pope.

Pope Benedict, in retired seclusion, looms in the opposition to Pope Francis

One close friend to Benedict, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about a delicate subject, said the retired pontiff had become weaker since before Christmas but did not have information about his health in the most recent hours.

“Of course time is not on his side,” the friend said. “Some concerns are surely there.”

After Francis’s general audience, he visited Benedict at a convent inside the Vatican’s ancient walls. The Vatican statement said, “We join [Francis] in prayer for the Pope Emeritus.”

In photos the Vatican has published of Benedict — including on Aug. 27, after a ceremony to name new cardinals — he appeared gaunt and hunched. But friends have said he remained clear-minded.

The Hill, Opinion: The latest JFK document release: A smoking gun, or did Oswald act alone? Paul Roderick Gregory, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The reticence of successive presidents to release classified JFK-assassination documents has fed conspiracy theories characterizing Lee Harvey Oswald as part of a conspiracy thehill logoor the “patsy” he declared himself to be upon his arrest.

The latest document dump by the National Archives raised hopes among conspiracy buffs of information that might implicate Cuba, the former Soviet Union, the Mafia, Big Oil, or some other sinister cabal in President Kennedy’s murder.

But conspiracy theorists are in for another disappointment. There is no smoking gun, not even a toy pistol, and most of the data we already knew. The documents show that Lee Harvey Oswald traveled to Mexico City not to receive instructions to kill JFK but to prepare for a new life in a Cuba. The documents capture Oswald as a master manipulator, planner and schemer, important qualifications for an assassin working alone.

Some 95 percent of the documents released on Dec. 15 are trivia, boilerplate or bureaucratese — a classic case of over-classification by the intelligence community. Did we really need to hide a 60-year-old secret deal with Mexico’s then-president to surveil the Soviet embassy? Or to redact names and sources of officials long dead? (On a personal note, why did the routine decision not to further interview my father, Pete Gregory, who knew and introduced me to Oswald, need to wait a half-century to be released?)

Paul Roderick Gregory is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a research fellow at the German Institute for Economic Research. He is author of the book, “The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee.”

JIP Editor's Note: This column was published almost concurrently by the Wall Street Journal as part of a massive publicity campaign to promote Gregory's book and its pro-Warren Report claims disregarding the compelling scientific evidence that Oswald could not possibly have fired fatal shots at JFK.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pandemic Woes Lead Met Opera to Tap Endowment and Embrace New Works, Javier C. Hernández, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Facing tepid ticket sales, the company will withdraw up to $30 million and stage more operas by living composers, which have been outselling the classics.

Hit hard by a cash shortfall and lackluster ticket sales as it tries to lure audiences back amid the pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera said Monday that it would withdraw up to $30 million from its endowment, give fewer performances next season and accelerate its embrace of contemporary works, which, in a shift, have been outselling the classics.

The dramatic financial and artistic moves show the extent to which the pandemic and its aftermath continue to roil the Met, the premier opera company in the United States, and come as many other performing arts institutions face similar pressures.

“The challenges are greater than ever,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “The only path forward is reinvention.”

Nonprofit organizations try to dip into their endowments only as a last resort, since the funds are meant to grow over time while producing a steady source of investment income. The Met’s endowment, which was valued at $306 million, was already considered small for an institution of its size. This season it is turning to the endowment to cover operating expenses, to help offset weak ticket sales and a cash shortfall that emerged as some donors were reluctant to accelerate pledged gifts amid the stock market downturn. As more cash gifts materialize, the company hopes to replenish the endowment.

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washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court leaves in place pandemic-era Title 42 border policy for now, Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow, Dec. 27, 2022. The Trump-era policy allows quick expulsion of migrants from U.S. borders without the chance to seek asylum. The court’s action was temporary, and it will consider in February whether states had the legal standing to intervene in the dispute.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end a pandemic-era policy allowing the quick expulsion of migrants from U.S. borders without the opportunity to seek asylum.

The Trump-era policy, known as Title 42, had been set to expire last week, but Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. paused that plan to give the high court time to weigh the issue.

In Tuesday’s order, five conservative justices sided with Republican officials in 19 states, including Texas and Arizona, who sought to maintain Title 42, which has been used to expel migrants more than 2 million times since it was implemented in March 2020.

But the court’s action was temporary, and it will consider in February whether the states had the legal standing to intervene in the dispute.

The court’s order was unsigned, but the court’s three liberal justices, along with conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, objected.

Gorsuch wrote that the court’s action was designed to help avert a crisis at the border, but that was not the role of judges.

“The current border crisis is not a COVID crisis,” Gorsuch wrote. “And courts should not be in the business of perpetuating administrative edicts designed for one emergency only because elected officials have failed to address a different emergency. We are a court of law, not policymakers of last resort.”

Gorsuch’s statement was joined by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan would have turned down the request from the states but did not give their reasoning.

The Biden administration has said that ending the policy will restore existing federal laws designed to punish and quickly deport migrants who cross the border illegally and to protect those with legitimate asylum cases. That system is more effective, officials have said, particularly for adults traveling without children, since Title 42 merely pushes people to the other side of the border to try again.

Official border crossings remain essentially closed to asylum seekers while Title 42 remains in effect. That has helped fuel an influx of thousands of migrants crossing the border outside of the legal entry points, hoping to turn themselves in to border police and request asylum proceedings that would allow them to stay — at least temporarily — in the United States.

The Biden administration agreed that the policy should end even as it struggled to deal with the influx of migrants. U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar told the justices the federal government recognizes that lifting Title 42 “will likely lead to disruption and a temporary increase in unlawful border crossings.” But she wrote that the solution to that immigration problem “cannot be to extend indefinitely a public-health measure that all now acknowledge has outlived its public-health justification.”

The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

The government contended that Adam Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor, above, and kill those who stood in their way.” (Associated Press photo by Carlos Osorio).

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Co-leader of Whitmer kidnapping plot gets 16 years in prison, Staff Report, Dec. 27, 2022. The government had pushed for a life sentence.

The co-leader of a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was sentenced Wednesday to 16 years in prison for conspiring to abduct the Democrat and blow up a bridge to ease an escape.

politico CustomAdam Fox, below right, returned to federal court Tuesday, four months after he and Barry Croft Jr. were convicted of conspiracy charges at a second trial in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

They were accused of being at the helm of a wild plot to whip up anti-government extremists just before the 2020 presidential election. Their arrest, as well as the capture of 12 others, was a stunning coda to a tumultuous year of racial strife and political turmoil in the U.S.

adam fox resized mugThe government had pushed for a life sentence, saying Croft offered bomb-making skills and ideology while Fox was the “driving force urging their recruits to take up arms, kidnap the governor and kill those who stood in their way.”

But Judge Robert J. Jonker said that while Fox’s sentence was needed as a punishment and deterrent to future similar acts, the government’s request for life in prison is “not necessary to achieve those purposes.”

“It’s too much. Something less than life gets the job done in this case,” Jonker said, later adding that 16 years in prison “is still in my mind a very long time.”

In addition to the 16-year prison sentence, Fox will have to serve five years of supervised release.

Fox and Croft were convicted at a second trial in August, months after a different jury in Grand Rapids, Michigan, couldn’t reach a verdict but acquitted two other men. Croft, a trucker from Bear, Delaware, will be sentenced Wednesday.

Fox and Croft in 2020 met with like-minded provocateurs at a summit in Ohio, trained with weapons in Michigan and Wisconsin and took a ride to “put eyes” on Whitmer’s vacation home with night-vision goggles, according to evidence.

“They had no real plan for what to do with the governor if they actually seized her. Paradoxically, this made them more dangerous, not less,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler said in a court filing ahead of the hearing.

In 2020, Fox, 39, was living in the basement of a Grand Rapids-area vacuum shop, the site of clandestine meetings with members of a paramilitary group and an undercover FBI agent. His lawyer said he was depressed, anxious and smoking marijuana daily.

Fox was regularly exposed to “inflammatory rhetoric” by FBI informants, especially Army veteran Dan Chappel, who “manipulated not only Fox’s sense of ‘patriotism’ but also his need for friendship, acceptance and male approval,” Gibbons said in a court filing.

He said prosecutors had exaggerated Fox’s capabilities, saying he was poor and lacked the capability to obtain a bomb and carry out the plan.

Two men who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against Fox and Croft received substantial breaks: Ty Garbin already is free after a 2 1/2-year prison term, while Kaleb Franks was given a four-year sentence.

In state court, three men recently were given lengthy sentences for assisting Fox earlier in the summer of 2020. Five more are awaiting trial in Antrim County, where Whitmer’s vacation home is located.

When the plot was extinguished, Whitmer, a Democrat, blamed then-President Donald Trump, saying he had given “comfort to those who spread fear and hatred and division.” In August, 19 months after leaving office, Trump said the kidnapping plan was a “fake deal.”

 

 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump

 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" that led to the Capitol insurrection, is shown in a collage with then-President Donald Trump (File photos).

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The missing piece in the January 6th Committee Report, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 22 books (including wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallThe Rise of The Fourth Reich, below,  and former synidcated columnist, Navy intellitence officer and NSA analyst, Dec. 25-27, 2022.

The House Select Committee on the January 6 attack on the Congress did an admirable job of cutting through the obstruction of justice, obfuscation, and plain old lying from Donald Trump and his administration’s and presidential campaign’s hopeless sycophants.

wayne madesen report logoHowever, the committee failed to answer the mail on the military’s involvement in pre- and post-coup plans for a Trump military-civilian junta to rule the United States. Far too many Department of Defense political appointees were not criticized in the committee’s report, particularly those who failed to order the early deployment of National Guard troops to safeguard the Capitol complex for the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes to proclaim Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the president- and vice president-wayne madsen fourth reich coverelect of the United States.

It is quite clear that Trump had installed a coterie of military and civilian officials at the Pentagon whose main task it was to fail to respond to pleas for assistance from congressional and Washington, DC authorities as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.

The presence of then-Major General Charles Flynn, right, within the U.S. Army’s Pentagon staff should have raised the suspicions of the committee. Flynn’s brother, charles flynn oTrump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, had been one of the chief proponents of advancing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign to the point where he called for the military to not only seize voting machines but Trump to declare martial law and hold an unconstitutional “do-over” of the November 3rd election.

Other active duty officers who stymied the dispatch of National Guard troops to the Capitol included Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, Charles Flynn’s immediate superior, who remains the Director of the Army Staff at the Pentagon, and then-Brigadier General Christopher LaNeve, the Director of Operations and Mobilization, who worked under Piatt and Flynn, and has since been promoted to Major General and is currently the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

It is very clear that a group of far-right retired flag rank military officers stood ready to fill important government positions in a Trump junta after a successful January 6 coup. During the 2020 campaign 317 of these officers, representing “Flag Officers 4 America,” signed an open letter full of vitriolic pro-Trump rhetoric, including the charge that the “Democrat Party” was “welcoming Socialists and Marxists” and that “our historic way of life is at stake.”

WMR has compiled a spreadsheet listing the names of the “Flag Officers 4 America” and other lower-ranked military retirees and active members of the military and reserves who provided aid and comfort to Trump and his coup plotters. While this is not a complete list of officer-level traitors in the U.S. military community, it can be appended with additional names.

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Just Security, January 6 Clearinghouse Congressional Hearings, Government Documents, Court Cases, Academic Research, Ryan Goodman and Justin Hendrix, Dec. 26-27, 2022. Deposition Transcripts of House Select Committee (sorted by affiliation, alphabetical, date of deposition). Welcome to this all-source repository of information for analysts, researchers, investigators, journalists, educators, and the public at large. 

Check out our new addition below: A curated repository of deposition transcripts from the House Select Committee. Readers may also be interested in Major Highlights of the January 6th Report.

If you think the January 6 Clearinghouse is missing something, please send recommendations for additional content by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

The authors are grateful for the assistance of Joshua Asabor, Matthew Bailey, Sarah Butterfield, Brianne Cuffe, and Nicholas Tonckens in the creation of the Clearinghouse.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 25 dead in Buffalo’s worst blizzard in 50 years, Sarah Kaplan, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Meanwhile, Weather conditions that snarled traffic and holiday travel in much of the United States began to ease across the nation on Sunday.

At least 25 people have died in this weekend’s catastrophic snowstorm, officials announced Monday, marking this blizzard as Western New York’s deadliest in at least 50 years.

Roads remain impassable and more than 12,000 people are still without power as the unrelenting storm is forecast to drop as much as a foot of additional snow, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said during a Monday morning news conference. First responders are still struggling to reach people trapped in their cars, while people stuck in shelters and nursing homes are running out of food.
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“This is the worst storm probably in our lifetime and maybe in the history of the city,” Poloncarz said. “And this is not the end yet.”

The dead have been found in their cars, homes and in snowbanks. Some have had cardiac arrests while shoveling.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Tragic Battle’: On the Front Lines of China’s Covid Crisis, Isabelle Qian and David Pierson, Dec. 27, 2022. Medical staff members are outnumbered and many are working while sick as the nation’s health care system buckles under the strain of a spiraling crisis.

Slumped in wheelchairs and lying on gurneys, the sickened patients crowd every nook and cranny of the emergency department at the hospital in northern China. They cram into the narrow spaces between elevator doors. They surround an idle walk-through metal detector. And they line the walls of a corridor ringing with the sounds of coughing.

China’s hospitals were already overcrowded, underfunded and inadequately staffed in the best of times. But now with Covid spreading freely for the first time in China, the medical system is being pushed to its limits.

The scenes of desperation and misery at the Tianjin Medical University General Hospital, captured on one of several videos examined by The New York Times, reflects the growing crisis. Even as Covid cases rise, health workers on the front lines are also battling rampant infections within their own ranks. So many have tested positive for the virus in some hospitals that the remaining few say they are forced to do the job of five or more co-workers.

ny times logoNew York Times, China will soon no longer require incoming travelers to quarantine, a significant step toward reopening, Vivian Wang, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). China on Monday announced that travelers from overseas would no longer be required to enter quarantine upon arrival, in one of the country’s most significant steps toward reopening since the coronavirus pandemic began.

From Jan. 8, incoming travelers will be required to show only a negative polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., test within 48 hours before departure, China’s National Health Commission said. Limitations on the number of incoming flights will also be eased.

The travel restrictions had isolated the world’s most populous country for nearly three years. Foreigners were essentially barred from entering China in 2020, and even when they were allowed back in months later, it was generally only for business or family reunions.

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP Photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).

U.S. Rep.-elect George Santos, R-NY (AFP Photo by Wade Vandervort via Getty Images).

ny times logoNew York Times, George Santos Admits to Lying About College and Work History, Michael Gold and Grace Ashford, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The congressman-elect confirmed The Times’s findings that he had not graduated from college or worked at two major Wall Street firms, as he had claimed.

Ending a weeklong silence, Representative-elect George Santos admitted on Monday to a sizable list of falsehoods about his professional background, educational history and property ownership. But he said he was determined to take the oath of office on Jan. 3 and join the House majority.

Mr. Santos, a New York Republican who was elected in November to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, confirmed some of the key findings of a New York Times investigation into his background, but sought to minimize the misrepresentations.

“My sins here are embellishing my résumé,” Mr. Santos told The New York Post in one of several interviews he gave on Monday.

Mr. Santos admitted to lying about graduating from college and making misleading claims that he worked for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. He once said he had a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties; on Monday, he admitted he was not a landlord.

Mr. Santos, the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent, also acknowledged owing thousands in unpaid rent and a yearslong marriage he had never disclosed.

“I dated women in the past. I married a woman. It’s personal stuff,” he said to The Post, adding that he was “OK with my sexuality. People change.”

The admissions by Mr. Santos added a new wrinkle to one of the more astonishing examples of an incoming congressman falsifying key biographical elements of his background — with Mr. Santos maintaining the falsehoods through two consecutive bids for Congress, the first of which he lost.

Mr. Santos acknowledged that a string of financial difficulties had left him owing thousands to landlords and creditors. But he failed to fully explain in the interviews how his fortunes reversed so significantly that, by 2022, he was able to lend $700,000 to his congressional campaign.

Yet even as Mr. Santos, whose victory helped Republicans secure a narrow majority in the next House of Representatives, admitted to some fabrication, his actions will still not prevent him, in all likelihood, from being seated in Congress.

Democrats — including the outgoing House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the next House Democratic leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York — have accused Mr. Santos of being unfit to serve in Congress. Top House Republican leaders, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, have largely remained silent.

 The House can only prevent candidates from taking office if they violate the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements. Once he has been seated, however, Mr. Santos could face ethics investigations, legal experts have said.

Daily Beast, Investigation: Russian Oligarch’s Cousin Funneled Cash to N.Y. Politician, William Bredderman, Nov. 30, 2022. FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. Andrew Intrater, money manager to Russian Viktor Vekselberg, gave $56,100 to committees tied to Rep.-elect George Devolder-Santos, who called Ukraine “totalitarian.”

daily beast logoThe cousin and cash handler for one of Russia’s most notorious oligarchs poured tens of thousands of dollars into electing a newly minted congressman-elect who called Ukraine’s government “a totalitarian regime.”

george santos headshotRepublican George Devolder-Santos, right, vanquished Democrat Robert Zimmerman this month in the race for a House seat covering parts of Long Island and the New York City borough of Queens—riding a red wave that swept the Empire State this cycle, and washing away two decades of Democratic dominance in the district.

Devolder-Santos had long courted conservative media attention by presenting himself as a “walking, living, breathing contradiction”—a gay Latino millennial born in New York City, who is also a fervent devotee of ex-President Donald Trump.

For much of his professional career, which included a stint as regional director at an alleged Ponzi scheme, the Republican used the name George Devolder. However, as he ventured further into the world of politics, he began to increasingly use the name George Devolder-Santos or simply George Santos.

He stood out to the Washington Post earlier this year for his remarks in the aftermath of Russia’s bloody, unprovoked assault on Ukraine.

“It’s not like Ukraine is a great democracy. It’s a totalitarian regime. They’re not a great bastion of freedom,” the congressman-to-be told the paper.

He has insisted that Ukraine “welcomed the Russians into their provinces”—an apparent reference to President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion to prop up rogue separatist parties—and that Ukrainians in the east “feel more Russian than Ukrainian,” even though every single Ukrainian province overwhelmingly voted for independence in 1991.

It was not the first time Devolder-Santos had parroted Kremlin talking points. In the weeks before Putin’s brutal, blundering attack upon his western neighbor, the candidate repeatedly took to Twitter to accuse President Joe Biden of plotting to “start a war” with Russia and deploy American troops to Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Trump suggests Constitution edits, dines with antisemites, Biden condemnation grows more forceful, Toluse Olorunnipa, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). As President Biden prepares his reelection bid, some Democrats see an advantage in highlighting volatile remarks by Republicans.

President Biden and his team have begun responding faster and more sharply to provocative comments and actions by former president Donald Trump and his allies, potentially preparing the ground for Biden’s expected reelection announcement early next year.

joe biden black background resized serious fileThe rapid responses, coming in the weeks since Democrats outperformed expectations in the November midterms, come as some Democratic strategists see a political advantage in pointedly — and frequently — drawing a contrast with Trump, the Republican Party, and the Republican lawmakers poised to take over the House of Representatives.

After Trump hosted two outspoken antisemites for dinner last month, Biden tweeted a blunt condemnation of bigotry, second gentleman Doug Emhoff hosted a summit for Jewish leaders, and the White House launched a new task force to combat antisemitism.

Minutes after Trump suggested terminating parts of the Constitution to overturn his 2020 election loss, the White House issued a statement chastising the former president and defending the “sacrosanct document.”

When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said the Jan. 6 rioters would have been armed and successful if she had been leading the 2021 insurrection, Biden’s press secretary did not wait for reporters to ask about it before rebuking the comments as “dangerous” and “vile.”

The moves come in the wake of Trump’s announcement of a third presidential bid and a midterm election that will give Republicans a modest edge in the House. With their thin majority, House Republican leaders will have little room to distance themselves from any of their members, giving lawmakers with incendiary views outsize influence, said Russell Riley, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia Miller Center.

ny times logoNew York Times, Thousands of Canceled Flights Cap Holiday Weekend of Travel Nightmares, Amy Qin, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Steve Lohr, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Southwest Airlines, which canceled about 70 percent of its flights, was the airline most affected on Monday. Thousands of travelers were stranded at U.S. airports on Monday as a wave of canceled flights — many of them operated by Southwest Airlines — spoiled holiday plans and kept families from returning home during one of the busiest and most stressful travel stretches of the year.

The cancellations and delays one day after Christmas left people sleeping on airport floors, standing in hourslong customer service lines and waiting on tarmacs for hours on end.

The problems are likely to continue into Tuesday and later this week. As of Monday night, about 2,600 U.S. flights scheduled for Tuesday were already canceled, including 60 percent of all Southwest flights.

“The only thing we want is to get home,” said Francis Uba, who was among the frustrated passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Monday, where over 130 flights were canceled as of that evening.

Politico, Diamond-studded thorns: 2 House Dem centrists speak up on their way out, Sarah Ferris, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). An exit interview with Reps. Stephanie stephanie murphy oMurphy and Kathleen Rice that ran the gamut, from entrenched sexism to their pal Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

politico CustomAnd they’ve both felt the sting of ostracism for crossing their party, getting static from outside groups and protestors that Murphy, right, said exists largely “to punish its own party members for stepping out of bounds.”

But when the duo sat down for an exit interview with POLITICO, it was clear they have few regrets about their reputations as thorns in the side of leadership. In fact, they take the label literally: Murphy, Rice and their close friend, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), bought matching diamond-adorned thorn-shaped necklaces to celebrate their roles, along with a handful of other moderates, in delivering President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill last fall.

“A diamond-studded thorn. There’s an analogy there,” Murphy said. “But we got the bill done. Sinema got it done on the Senate side, and we broke it free on the House side. … We believe in celebrating victories sometimes, just with jewelry.”

In a Capitol and a nation where bitter partisan division has made centrists like Murphy and Rice ever more rare and oft-targeted, their candor about their rebelliousness stands out — perhaps more so in contrast to the reticence of their friend Sinema. (Especially since the trio has a habit of shared mementos, buying what they call “class rings” or “we survived the insurrection” rings after a narrow escape from Sinema’s hideaway on Jan. 6, 2021.)

Stephanie Murphy and Kathleen Rice are leaving Congress earlier than most — with plenty of bones to pick.

Murphy (D-Fla.) and Rice (D-N.Y.), two best friends and roommates during their years in Washington, will depart this month after a combined 12 years on the Hill and a shared conviction for causing intra-party headaches. Rice, 57, famously led the revolt against Nancy Pelosi’s second speaker bid, while Murphy, 44, emerged as a vocal critic of Democrats’ handling of their agenda last year.

 

pennsylvania map major cities

Politico, Pennsylvania politics are heated. It soon could be utter chaos, Holly Otterbein, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The state House is a mess, with each side claiming they are in the majority and Republicans potentially passing amendments after Democrats won more seats.

politico CustomDemocrats in Pennsylvania won the majority of seats in the state House this fall, powered by voter backlash to the fall of Roe v. Wade.

But come next year, it’s anybody’s guess which party will actually hold the speaker’s gavel.

A razor-thin victory by Democrats, combined with a handful of vacancies and the hardball political culture in the state capitol, has kicked off a high-stakes battle for control of the House.

At the heart of the matter is a disagreement over which party has the right to set the special elections to fill seats that became empty because two Democratic state House members resigned for higher office and another died. Democrats want to hold the contests — which they are expected to win — right away, allowing them to claim their majority next year. GOP legislators, meanwhile, hope to push back the date for three more months, in the process keeping their majority intact. One Republican has even announced a bid for Speaker herself, hoping to take advantage of the likely small window in which the partisan balance of power is tilted her party’s way.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosBoth parties see the ensuing fight as not just as a matter of political power, but democratic governance and the rule of law itself. Privately, they fear the next few weeks could plunge the state into an unprecedented level of chaos.

If GOP lawmakers succeed, they could use their window of control to pass amendments to the constitution requiring voter ID, easing the rollback of regulations, and potentially even limiting abortion rights. Attempts to amend the state constitution were passed last session and if they pass in two consecutive sessions, they will be put on the ballot for voters to consider without the need of the signature of Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

After anti-abortion, Trump-allied Republicans were soundly rejected at the ballot box in this year’s midterm elections, Democrats argue that such a move would amount to a flouting of November’s vote.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Most Pro-Union President’ Runs Into Doubts in Labor Ranks, Noam Scheiber, Dec. 27, 2022. Many union leaders say the Biden White House has delivered on its promises. But its handling of a freight rail dispute has given rise to detractors.

Joseph R. Biden Jr. vowed to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen.” And for the last two years, labor leaders have often lauded him for delivering on that promise.

They cite appointees who are sympathetic to unions and a variety of pro-labor measures, like a pandemic relief bill that included tens of billions to shore up union pension funds.

But in recent weeks, after Mr. Biden helped impose a contract on railroad workers that four unions had rejected, partly over its lack of paid sick days, many labor activists and scholars have begun to ask: How supportive is the president, really?

To those reassessing Mr. Biden, the concern is that the president, by asking Congress to intervene and avert a strike, missed a rare opportunity to improve workers’ bargaining power in ways that could extend beyond the rail sector. They worry that the move essentially validated an employer strategy of waiting out workers in hopes that the pressure would fizzle.

ny times logoNew York Times, Retirees Are One Reason the Fed Has Given Up on a Big Worker Rebound, Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman, Dec. 27, 2022. Workers are in short supply three years into the pandemic job market rebound, and officials increasingly think they aren’t coming back.

Alice Lieberman had planned to work for a few more years as a schoolteacher before the pandemic hit, but the transition to hybrid instruction did not come easily for her. She retired in summer 2021.

Her husband, Howard Lieberman, started to wind down his consulting business around the same time. If Mrs. Lieberman was done working, Mr. Lieberman wanted to be free, too, so that the pair could take camping trips and volunteer.

The Liebermans, both 69, are one example of a trend that is quietly reworking the fabric of the American labor force. A wave of baby boomers has recently aged past 65. Unlike older Americans who, in the decade after the Great Recession, delayed their retirements to earn a little bit of extra money and patch up tenuous finances, many today are leaving the job market and staying out.

That has big implications for the economy, because it is contributing to a labor shortage that policymakers worry is keeping wages and inflation stubbornly elevated. That could force the Federal Reserve to raise rates more than it otherwise would, risking a recession.

ny times logoNew York Times, Another Day of Airline Chaos: Thousands of Travelers Are Still Stranded, Derrick Bryson Taylor and Daniel Victor, Dec. 27, 2022. Most of the disruption was on Southwest Airlines, which had called off more than 60 percent of its flights by Tuesday morning.

Thousands of stranded holiday travelers were no closer to home on Tuesday, as the aftermath of a deadly winter storm that grounded flights and throttled plans over the holiday weekend continued to play out at airline counters across the country.

Disruptions were likely to continue throughout the week at airports, where canceled flights caused weary homebound travelers to sleep on floors and wait hours in line for customer service.

  • New York Times, At least 28 people have died in a blizzard that has crippled the Buffalo area, with more snow expected, Dec. 27, 2022.

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Live Updates: Ukraine Pushes to Recapture City in Hotly Contested Province of Luhansk, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Dec. 27, 2022. The campaign to take back Kreminna began in the fall. Russia controls most of the Luhansk region, one of four it illegally annexed in October.

Ukrainian forces are edging closer to Kreminna, a fiercely defended city in the east of the country, officials say, in a further sign that the northern part of the Luhansk region remains one of the most hotly contested parts of the battlefield. The region is currently almost entirely occupied by Russia.

“The situation there is difficult, acute,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said of Kreminna and other areas in Donbas, which is made up of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, in his nightly address late Monday. “The occupiers are using all the resources available to them — and these are significant resources — to squeeze out at least some advance.”

On Tuesday, the regional governor of Luhansk, Serhiy Haidai, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app: “The Russians understand that if they lose Kreminna, their entire line of defense will ‘fall.’”

A day earlier, Mr. Haidai said that, in response to military pressure, part of the Russian command in the city had withdrawn to the town of Rubizhne, a few miles to the southeast, although it was not possible to verify the claim.

Ukraine’s campaign to recapture Kreminna began in the fall, around the time that its forces reclaimed the city of Lyman, in Donetsk, at the end of a sweep through the country’s northeastern region of Kharkiv that drove Russian forces back toward their country’s border.

Since then, the sides have fought a series of battles and artillery duels over highways and small settlements around Kreminna and farther northwest, in the city of Svatove. Russian forces took over both places early in their 10-month invasion of Ukraine.

Recapturing the two cities, and a third one, Starobilsk, could enable Ukrainian forces to continue their advance toward the Russian border and take back more territory seized by Moscow. It would also give Ukraine control of a triangle of roads that provide access to two larger cities farther south, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk, that fell to Russia during the summer.

Regional officials have said that the campaign is focused on larger cities, though Mr. Zelensky has repeatedly said that Ukraine wants to retake all of the territory Russia has seized since 2014, including the Crimean Peninsula.

There was no independent confirmation of the battlefield developments, but Vitaly Kiselyov, a senior official in the self-proclaimed Russian-backed separatist republic in Luhansk, said on Russian state television on Monday that the situation around Kreminna and Svatove remained “very tense.” Luhansk is one of four Ukrainian regions that Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Fighting continued in parts of those regions on Tuesday. In the southern region of Kherson, a Russian artillery strike damaged a critical infrastructure facility, a kindergarten and an emergency medical aid station, although no casualties were reported, the regional governor, Yaroslav Yanushevych, wrote on Telegram.

In recent weeks, Russian forces have built a series of defensive barriers near Kreminna and other parts of Ukraine’s jagged front line. They have also severed the pontoon bridges over the Seversky Donets River that runs through northern Luhansk, the province’s military administration said on Telegram on Monday.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, said that after losing the city of Kherson and suffering other territorial setbacks, Russia was rallying its forces in northern Luhansk for an offensive that would aim to extend its control in the region and then potentially push into Kharkiv Province.

To that end, the institute said, Russia is prioritizing mobilizing troops to defend Kreminna and Svatove over operations in other parts of the wider Donbas region. The institute cited Ukrainian military reports of increased Russian movements of troops, military equipment and ammunition in the area.

It said, however, that Russian success in the short term appeared unlikely given the difficult terrain and the “very limited” offensive capabilities of Moscow’s forces.

Here’s what we know:

  • Kyiv’s campaign to take back Kreminna began in the autumn. Russia controls most of the Luhansk region, one of four it illegally annexed in October.
  • Ukrainian forces edge closer to a heavily guarded city in the east.
  • Ukraine’s difficulties on the bond markets leave it more reliant on foreign aid.
  • Lukashenko and Putin affirm their close ties but say nothing publicly about Ukraine.
  • Navalny accuses the prison authorities of using his health as a tool to put pressure on him.
  • Attacks inside Russia potentially complicate Moscow’s campaign of striking Ukraine’s energy grid.
  • A timeline of attacks on Russian territory or assets during the war in Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine’s foreign minister proposed a peace summit by the end of February, Carly Olson, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday that his government hopes to have a peace summit by the end of February, about one year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that the United Nations could host the summit, with Secretary General António Guterres acting as the possible mediator.

“Every war ends in a diplomatic way,” Mr. Kuleba said in the interview. “Every war ends as a result of the actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

Mr. Kuleba said that Russia would need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court to attend the summit.

Mr. Kuleba added that he was “absolutely satisfied” with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States last week and that the Patriot missile battery would be operational in Ukraine within six months.

Although Ukrainian officials have proposed a peace deal for months, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Monday that he was willing to negotiate, American and European officials have said that it is difficult to envision terms of a settlement that both Ukraine and Russia would accept.

Earlier this month, Mr. Zelensky discussed his vision for a global peace summit in a call with President Biden. And in November, at the annual Group of 20 summit in Bali, Mr. Zelensky spoke about his “path to peace” to end the war, noting that Ukraine would not compromise on its stance until its territory was reinstated.

Also on Monday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry demanded that Russia be removed as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and called for the country’s expulsion from the United Nations, a move considered unlikely.

The foreign ministry said that Russia illegally took over the Soviet Union’s seat without going through necessary procedures outlined in the U.N. charter when the union broke up in 1991. It also argued that Russia has abused its veto powers on the Security Council.

Russia should be readmitted only once it “fulfills the conditions for membership in the Organization,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, Moscow Says Base Deep Inside Russia Is Attacked by Ukrainian Drone, Ivan Nechepurenko and Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Russian media reported that three troops were killed when a drone was shot down over the Engels air base, which came under a similar attack this month.

Three servicemen died after a Ukrainian drone was shot down on its approach toward a Russian air base, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday, highlighting Russian vulnerability as Ukraine appears increasingly willing and able to reach targets deep within the country.

The week after President Volodymyr Zelensky received a hero’s welcome in Washington, where he appealed for even more powerful weapons aid, Kyiv showed it is also capable of defending against Russia with its own arsenal of long-range weaponry.

It was the second attack this month on the Engels military facility, which is about 300 miles from the Ukrainian border and hosts Russia’s strategic bombers, part of the country’s nuclear triad. The drones in the first attack were launched from Ukrainian territory, according to a senior Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity at the time.

The Ukrainian government publicly follows a policy of deliberate ambiguity about strikes on Russian territory, which began within the first month of the war with a Ukrainian helicopter assault near Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. But Ukraine has been open about developing long-range drones.

Although Ukrainian officials do not publicly confirm Ukraine’s military attacks on targets in Russia, which have had only military targets, they openly praise successful hits and discuss how they benefit Ukraine militarily. In that vein, Col. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said Monday on Ukrainian television that the latest explosion at Engels air base was “a consequence of what Russia is doing” in Ukraine.

“If the Russians thought that no one at home would be affected by the war, then they were deeply mistaken,” he said. The first explosion at the air base this month forced Russia’s Air Force to move planes from the site, he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement cited by TASS, a state news agency, that a Ukrainian drone was shot down early on Monday morning “at low altitude” and that three servicemen were killed by its wreckage.

The aircraft at the base were not damaged as a result of the attack, the ministry said. Russia’s account could not be independently confirmed.

Both the State Department and Defense Department declined to comment on the reported drone strikes on Monday. A State Department official referred to comments from spokesman Ned Price after the first strike on Engels and another airfield in Russia’s Ryazan region on Dec. 6, in which he noted that the United States had not provided Ukraine with weapons for use inside Russia.

“We have been very clear that these are defensive supplies,” he said at the time. “We are not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”

Shortly after the Dec. 6 attacks on the bases, Russia sent a barrage of missiles streaking toward Ukrainian cities.

The Engels airfield, on the Volga River in southern Russia, is a base for some of Russia’s long-range, nuclear-capable bombers, including the Tupolev-160 and Tupolev-95. Ukrainian officials say it is also a staging ground for Russia’s unrelenting campaign of missile attacks on infrastructure, which have left millions of Ukrainians with intermittent light, heat or water — or none at all — at the onset of winter.

Monday’s attack against Russia’s strategic facility has raised further questions among pro-invasion activists and commentators over the state of Russia’s military and air defense.

“The war, as it should have, opened our eyes on many things,” Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a pro-Russian military commander of a separatist formation in Ukraine, wrote in his channel on Telegram, a popular messaging app.

“We understand now that we are vulnerable,” he said. “Otherwise, it would be possible to stay in our illusions indefinitely until something more serious fell on our heads.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Captured Russian tanks and equipment are coveted trophies — and a headache, Samantha Schmidt, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Serhii Korolchuk, Dec. 27, 2022. Ukrainian forces have seized hundreds of tanks and other military vehicles, but many are languishing, waiting for repairs and spare parts.

Recent Related Headlines

 

Global News, Human Rights, Disasters

ny times logoNew York Times, Lee Myung-bak, South Korean Ex-President, Receives Pardon, John Yoon, Dec. 27, 2022. The action by the current president will release Mr. Lee from a 17-year sentence for bribery and embezzlement and nullify enormous fines he owed.

President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea has issued a pardon to Lee Myung-bak, the former president who was sentenced to a 17-year term in 2020 on bribery and embezzlement charges, Mr. Yoon’s office announced on Tuesday. The pardon will go into effect on Wednesday.

The presidential pardon would allow Mr. Lee, 81, to be released from a hospital in Seoul, where he has been receiving treatment for chronic illnesses, without returning to prison. It would also cancel the remaining 15 years on his sentence and nullify the unpaid 8.2 billion South Korean won, or $6.4 million, of the fine of 13 billion won that the courts imposed on him. The charges against Mr. Lee included collecting bribes and embezzling more than 30 billion won.

The pardon of Mr. Lee, who was president from 2008 to 2013, is intended “to restore the potential of a South Korea united through pan-national integration,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

In addition to Mr. Lee, the pardon was applied to more than 1,300 other civilians, high-profile politicians and former officials convicted of corruption, bribery, election interference and other white-collar crimes, including people who served during the administration of another former president, Park Geun-hye.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Record Military Incursions, China Warns Taiwan and U.S., Amy Chang Chien and Chang Che, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Taiwan said China sent 71 military aircraft near the island days after President Biden bolstered U.S. support for Taiwan.

China sent a record number of military aircraft to menace self-ruled Taiwan in a large show of force to the Biden administration, signaling that Beijing wants to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as some tensions between the superpowers are easing.

taiwan flagThe swarm of Chinese fighter jets, maritime patrol planes and drones that buzzed the airspace near Taiwan in the 24-hour period leading to Monday morning demonstrated Beijing’s appetite for confrontation with the United States over Taiwan, the island democracy China claims as its territory.

The military activity — which, according to Taiwan, included at least 71 Chinese aircraft — came days after President Biden’s latest move to expand American support for the island. Beijing has denounced the United States’ effort as an attempt to contain China and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Tensions over Taiwan have been rising in the months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August, prompting Beijing to step up its activity in the area with several days of live-fire drills. China said that the exercise was aimed at honing its ability to conduct joint patrols and military strikes, but also made clear what the target was.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The diplomatic storm clouds forming for 2023, Wayne Madsen, Dec. 27, 2022. Although President Biden's domestic successes are being likened to wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallthose of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s, diplomatic storm clouds on the horizon for 2023 may place Biden in the same position of FDR as a war brewed in Europe in 1939. For Biden, a crisis is set to emerge in the Middle East. Binyamin wayne madesen report logoNetanyahu's coalition government will be the most right-wing in Israeli history.

With promises to allow Jewish prayer at the Dome of the Rock, the third-most holiest Islamic religious site, and annexation of the West Bank, what the incoming Israeli government refers to as "Judea and Samaria," the stage is set for a major outbreak of violence in the Middle East.

Netanyahu's Minister of National Security is Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir. He once advocated for the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who fell victim in 1995 to an assassin sharing the extremist views of Ben-Gvir. Otzma Yehudit is a spin-off of the Kach Party, a terrorist organization led by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. In addition to calling for the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel, Ben-Gvir, who resides in the West Bank, has memorialized Israeli-American terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994.

If the religious extremists have their way, Israel will join Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia among the ranks of the world's most dogmatic theocracies.

 Recent Relevant Headlines

 

More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

 

 nicholas luna portraitFormer Donald Trump “body man” (personal assistant) Nicholas Luna, shown above

Proof, Source: Nick Luna Not Involved with Trump NFT Company CIC Digital or Trump NFT Scam, Seth Abramson, left, Dec. 27, 2022. Journalists at both the New seth abramson graphicYork Times and Washington Post linked CIC Digital and a similarly named company, CIC Ventures—but that presumption appears to have been wrong, per a Proof source.

Proof readers will be well aware that Proof has reported both here and elsewhere—for instance, in the New York Times-bestselling Proof Trilogy—that former president Donald Trump has a history of directly or indirectly promising money, jobs, and/or favors to those federal witnesses who testify before Congress or speak to the DOJ or FBI in a fashion consistent with his own interests, leading to some understandable concern that if any such individual were to have been seth abramson proof logoinvolved in Trump’s get-richer-quick NFT scam it could position that scam as part of a larger January 6 cover-up.

As the subhed of this new Proof report indicates, and as the last Proof report on Mr. Trump’s NFT venture disclosed, both the Washington Post and New York Times saw leading journalists on their payrolls draw conclusions about two Trump-launched companies—CIC Ventures and CIC Digital—that treated the two as one and the same, and therefore possibly at the head of a January 6 Witness Tampering scheme.

But Proof can now report, on the basis of contact with a person confirmed to have knowledge of the situation—and to whom Proof has granted anonymity to allow them to speak freely—that while former Trump “body man” Nicholas Luna was indeed involved with CIC Ventures for the purposes of signing contracts for Mr. Trump’s post-presidential speaking engagements, he had no involvement, formal or otherwise, with CIC Digital, a distinct venture that ultimately contracted with a dodgy entity named NFT INT LLC to mint Trump’s chintzy, much-mocked NFTs. Indeed, per this Proof source, CIC Digital was founded after Luna left Trump’s employ in October 2021.

This source believes CIC Digital to have been run, instead, by individuals associated with (or even formally part of) the Trump Organization. This source further states that there were no contacts between Luna and the listed co-director for CIC Ventures, Trump lawyer John Marion.

These revelations keep active the following key questions: (1) why a Trump lawyer (Marion) was made the co-director of an entity exclusively associated with Trump’s speaking engagements; (2) whether Marion was also involved with CIC Digital; and (3) whether Marion was given his business role(s) in the labyrinthine world of Trump single-purpose (sometimes shell) corporations as a means to avoid paying him for legal services rendered—whether through corporate perks or write-offs or by allowing Marion to do side business under Trump’s aegis and/or brand, as appears to have been the case in Ukraine with fellow Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani—or to generate a zone of attorney-client privilege in the context of a Witness Tampering (or other criminal) scheme.

Hopefully the Times and Post will update their coverage of Donald Trump’s NFT scam consistent with this new reporting by Proof.

Seth Abramson, shown above and at right, is founder of Proof and is a former criminal defense attorney and criminal investigator who later taught digital journalism, seth abramson resized4 proof of collusionlegal advocacy, and cultural theory at the University of New Hampshire. A regular political and legal analyst on CNN and the BBC during the Trump presidency, he is a best-selling author who has published eight books and edited five anthologies.

Abramson is a graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the Ph.D. program in English at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His books include a Trump trilogy: Proof of Corruption: Bribery, Impeachment, and Pandemic in the Age of Trump (2020); Proof of Conspiracy: How Trump's International Collusion Is Threatening American Democracy (2019); and Proof of Collusion: How Trump Betrayed America (2018).

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), left to right, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), Thursday, June 9, 2022

ny times logoNew York Times, The Jan. 6 Report Is Out. Now the Real Work Begins, Julian E. Zelizer, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Zelizer is an editor of the forthcoming book “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past.”

Much attention this week has focused on the Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals. But in its report, released on Thursday, the committee also has pointed to broad and long-lasting legislative and policy reforms that will be essential if Congress is to prevent further instability of American democracy.

The report comes almost a half-century after another famous report of sorts was completed: the Watergate “road map,” which was passed to the House Judiciary Committee by Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor.

As the Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein has said, “the American system worked.” But the system didn’t just correct itself after Watergate — that is a myth that has taken root over the past several decades. And it’s a dangerous myth, in that it creates an illusory sense of confidence whenever America goes through major political and constitutional crises.

As with the Watergate road map, the Jan. 6 report doesn’t put an end to the crisis of American democracy. The report reveals that the attempted coup almost worked. If there had been a handful of different people in key positions of power — from Justice Department lawyers to secretaries of state — the overturning might have been successful. It is all too easy to imagine that next time, things might go differently.

If there is any criticism to be made of the committee’s report, it is that it focuses so much on former President Donald Trump and his accomplices and doesn’t do enough to emphasize the urgent imperative to move forward with institutional reforms to protect America’s election system.

When I look back at Watergate, what I see is not a self-correcting constitutional system. Rather, I see an era when a reform coalition of legislators, organizations and journalists took it upon themselves to try to fix the institutional problems that had enabled President Richard Nixon to do the bad things that he did — not just his campaign’s involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, but also the broader abuses of executive power that were part of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “imperial presidency.” The reforms that followed required sustained effort, and they didn’t happen quickly: It took almost a decade to set in place a suite of laws to deal with the toxic foundation of Nixon’s presidency.

This response to Watergate was not inevitable. Reform depended on the establishment or expansion of a robust network of organizations, including Common Cause and Congress Watch. Those organizations insisted that legislation creating stronger checks on the executive branch, strengthening Congress and imposing laws to make it easier to hold officials accountable were the only ways to check bad behavior.

The “Watergate Babies” elected in the 1974 midterm elections devoted political capital toward reform. A young generation of investigative journalists were inspired by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who doggedly exposed corruption. This coalition lobbied legislators, kept media attention focused on these issues and nurtured electoral pressure.

As a result of their efforts, there was a burst of legislation that attempted to constrain the executive branch. Some bills aiming to restore the balance of power, such as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, passed as Nixon’s scandals were still unfolding.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Republicans inch away from election denialism, one activist digs in, Patrick Marley, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Harry Wait ordered ballots in the names of others to show voter fraud is possible. Now facing up to 13 years in prison, he is undaunted in his crusade to change Wisconsin’s voting laws. Harry Wait marched into the courthouse, walked through a metal detector and planted himself on a bench in the ornate lobby. His supporters, some wearing bright yellow “Free Harry” T-shirts, chatted amiably as they followed him inside.

Emboldened by former president Donald Trump’s false election claims, Wait in July had ordered absentee ballots in the names of others for the purpose, he said, of exposing what he considers flaws in Wisconsin’s voting systems. Now, on a warm September afternoon, he was using the resulting voter-fraud charges against him — which could land him in prison for up to 13 years — to amplify his argument that absentee balloting should be severely restricted.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat because to save the republic, soldiers have to draw blood and blood be drawn,” Wait said as he sat on the courthouse bench.

For two years, a large segment of Trump supporters has embraced discredited claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The strategy of cultivating anger over supposed voter fraud proved politically disastrous this fall, when election deniers lost high-profile races from Arizona to Pennsylvania.

Now some Republican leaders are urging their party to downplay election denialism and shift its focus to other issues to improve its chances of winning the presidency in 2024.

But activists such as Wait are making that difficult, showing how hard it will be to extinguish the grievance and distrust whipped up by Trump and his allies. Undeterred by the November results, Wait in recent weeks has rallied for overhauling election rules, planned a January protest at the state Capitol and pledged to use the charges against him to trumpet his call for new voting laws. For him, the fight over elections continues.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

Global Immigration, Migration, Asylum Issues

ny times logoNew York Times, In Record Numbers, an Unexpected Migrant Group Is Fleeing to the U.S., Alfonso Flores Bermúdez and Frances Robles, Dec. 27, 2022. Hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled their country in recent years, escaping poverty and repression under an increasingly authoritarian government.

Twice a week at a gas station on the western edge of Nicaragua’s capital, local residents gather, carrying the telltale signs of people on the move: loaded backpacks, clothes and toiletries stuffed in plastic bags and heavy jackets in preparation for a chilly journey far from the stifling heat.

Nurses, doctors, students, children, farmers and many other Nicaraguans say teary goodbyes as they await private charter buses for the first leg of an 1,800-mile journey. Final destination: the United States.

For generations, Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti, saw only a trickle of its people migrate northward. But soaring inflation, declining wages and the erosion of democracy under an increasingly authoritarian government have drastically shifted the calculus.

Now, for the first time in Nicaragua’s history, the small nation of 6.5 million is a major contributor to the mass of people trekking to the U.S. southern border, having been displaced by violence, repression and poverty.

washington post logoWashington Post, Europe Migrants bused from Texas arrive at VP’s house on frigid Christmas Eve, Meryl Kornfield, Kyle Rempfer and Lizzie Johnson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). About 110 to 130 men, women and children got off the buses outside the Naval Observatory on Saturday night in 18-degree weather after a two-day journey from South Texas, according to the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. On the coldest Christmas Eve day on record in the District, some migrants were bundled up in blankets as they were greeted by volunteers who had received word that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had sent the caravan.

Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Moorish Americans take over a rural gun range, sparking a strange showdown, Peter Jamison, Dec. 27, 2022. Moorish Americans, part of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement, claim the Southern Maryland gun range belongs to them, defying efforts by local officials to shut it down.

The complaints about the property on Fire Tower Road were urgent but not too far out of the ordinary in a rural stretch of Southern Maryland: Earsplitting gunfire, endangered cows, a stray bullet that pierced a neighbor’s equipment shed.

But that was before the would-be heirs to a mythical North African empire moved in, claiming their dominion extends not only over the lost island of Atlantis but also over five acres in Charles County.

The episode began when gun enthusiasts started getting together on Sundays for target practice at the wooded property of 64-year-old Byron Bell.

As the gatherings grew bigger, along with the caliber of weapons and the number of rounds discharged, they drew the ire of neighbors even in this sparsely populated and gun-friendly area.

Yet it was after county officials took action, deeming the site an unlawful firing range and filing an injunction to stop it from operating in September, that events took several unexpected turns. That was when a group calling itself Moorish Americans — an offshoot of the extremist “sovereign citizen” movement whose members believe they are immune from dealings with U.S. legal and financial systems — essentially took over the range, declaring it “protected under the consular jurisdiction of Morocco.”

There followed arrests, flurries of spurious legal documents and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, all to the accompaniment of what neighbors describe as an ongoing din of gunfire on weekends. Things escalated last week when sheriff’s deputies raided the property, seizing what Bell said were about a dozen firearms.

Moorish Americans, also known as Moorish sovereign citizens, believe themselves to be the inheritors of a fictitious empire that they say stretched from the present-day kingdom of Morocco to North America, with Mexico and Atlantis thrown in for good measure. They claim the same protections from U.S. legal proceedings that are granted to foreign citizens, while simultaneously asserting their rights to take over properties — often well-appointed homes owned by other people — that they say are still part of the “Moroccan Empire.”

Bell declared his Moorish American citizenship in September, according to court documents. He told The Post that he was still struggling to understand much of the group’s doctrine but that he found it “very educational.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Social Security denies disability benefits based on list with jobs from 1977, Lisa Rein, Dec. 27, 2022. Despite spending at least $250 million to modernize its system, Social Security still relies on 45-year-old job titles to deny thousands of disability claims.

He had made it through four years of denials and appeals, and Robert Heard was finally before a Social Security judge who would decide whether he qualified for disability benefits. Two debilitating strokes had left the 47-year-old electrician with halting speech, an enlarged heart and violent tremors.

social security logoThere was just one final step: A vocational expert hired by the Social Security Administration had to tell the judge if there was any work Heard could still do despite his condition. Heard was stunned as the expert canvassed his computer and announced his findings: He could find work as a nut sorter, a dowel inspector or an egg processor — jobs that virtually no longer exist in the United States.
Nut sorter job description from Dictionary of Occupational Titles (TWP)

“Whatever it is that does those things, machines do it now,” said Heard, who lives on food stamps and a small stipend from his parents in a subsidized apartment in Tullahoma, Tenn. “Honestly, if they could see my shaking, they would see I couldn’t sort any nuts. I’d spill them all over the floor.”

He was still hopeful the administrative law judge hearing his claim for $1,300 to $1,700 per month in benefits had understood his limitations.

But while the judge agreed that Heard had multiple, severe impairments, he denied him benefits, writing that he had “job opportunities” in three occupations that are nearly obsolete and agreeing with the expert’s dubious claim that 130,000 positions were still available sorting nuts, inspecting dowels and processing eggs.

Every year, thousands of claimants like Heard find themselves blocked at this crucial last step in the arduous process of applying for disability benefits, thanks to labor market data that was last updated 45 years ago.

 Other Court and Crime News Head

 

Musk, Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX

 

elon musk thumbs up

washington post logoWashington Post, Twitter brings Elon Musk’s genius reputation crashing down to earth, Faiz Siddiqui, Dec. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Musk, shown above in a file photo, went down conspiracy rabbit holes and sank Tesla’s stock with his behavior. And he was confronted with a chorus of boos in the cradle of the tech industry.

twitter bird CustomMusk has built his reputation on having a Midas touch with the companies he runs — something many investors and experts thought he would bring to Twitter when he purchased it for $44 billion in October, paying nearly twice as much as it was worth by some analyst estimates. He is known for sleeping on the factory floor at Tesla, demanding long hours and quick turnarounds from his workers. He is seen as an engineering genius, propelling promises of cars that can drive themselves and rockets that can take humans to Mars.

But that image is unraveling. Some Twitter employees who worked with Musk are doubtful his management style will allow him to turn the company around. And some investors in Tesla, by far the biggest source of his wealth, have begun to see him as a liability. Musk’s distraction has prompted questions about leadership of SpaceX as well, though it is much less reliant on his active involvement. Meanwhile, Neuralink and Boring Co., two companies he founded, continue to lag on promises.

Musk’s net worth — largely fueled by his stake in Tesla, which has fallen by more than half this year — has plunged this year from roughly $270 billion to below $140 billion on Friday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That fall has relieved him of the title of the world’s richest man and called into question his ability to keep up with his billions of dollars in loans.

Musk is repeatedly described as a man obsessed with Twitter in all the wrong ways, who is failing both at protecting his new investment and his previous ones, according to interviews with a half-dozen former Twitter employees and people close to him, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution or because they were not authorized to speak publicly about company matters.

Musk this week said Twitter is in a financial hole and facing a cash crunch — even as it slashed more than half of the workforce and closed offices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Journalists who won’t delete Musk tweets remain locked out of Twitter, Paul Farhi, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Elon Musk suspended reporters from Twitter and later reinstated them, but with a catch: They must nix their tweets related to the account @ElonJet, which has tracked Musk’s private plane using public data.

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Americans Still Masking Against Covid Find Themselves Isolated, Amy Harmon, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). It can be tough being a committed mask wearer when others have long since moved on from the pandemic.

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid.

“I found that one upsetting,’’ Mx. Cherry said in an interview. “I’ve been worried in the back of my mind the whole time: When are they going to decide they don’t want to do this anymore?’’

For many Americans still at pains to avoid infection with the coronavirus, this has become the loneliest moment since the pandemic began.

Exercise classes have largely suspended remote workouts. Families and employers have expected attendance at holiday events. The vulnerable and the risk-averse are finding themselves the rare mask-wearers on public transportation, in places of worship, and at offices and stores.

Even as Covid cases and hospitalizations have climbed across the nation over the last month, public officials are avoiding mask mandates — though officials in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have recently recommended wearing masks in public places, citing a “tripledemic” that includes influenza and R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus.

It is hard to avoid the feeling of being judged as histrionic, some say, even when evidence suggests they are right to be cautious. And many say they face pressure, internal and external, to adjust to changing social norms around a virus that others are treating as a thing of the past.

“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’’

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid Is Spreading Rapidly in China, New Signs Suggest, Chang Che, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Even as official figures from the central government remain low, regional numbers point to explosive outbreaks and overstretched health care systems.

Since China abandoned its restrictive “zero Covid” policy about two weeks ago, the intensity and magnitude of the country’s first nationwide outbreak has remained largely a mystery. With the country ending mass testing, case counts are less useful. The government has a narrow definition of which deaths should count as caused by Covid. Anecdotal evidence, like social media postings of hospital morgues overcrowded with body bags, is quickly taken down by censors.

Now, a picture is emerging of the virus spreading like wildfire.

One province and three cities have reported Covid estimates far exceeding official tallies in recent days. At a news conference on Sunday, an official in Zhejiang Province, home to 65 million people, estimated that daily Covid cases there had exceeded one million.

In the eastern city of Qingdao, population 10 million, a health minister said on Friday that there were roughly half a million new cases each day, a number he expected would rise sharply in the coming days, local news sites reported.

 

U.S. Privacy, Health Rights

fda logo

ny times logoNew York Times, The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills, Pam Belluck, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Labels of Plan B One-Step had previously said, without scientific evidence, that the pill might block fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb.

The information will be in every box of the most widely used emergency contraceptive pills to make clear that they do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The agency explained in an accompanying document that the products cannot be described as abortion pills.

Up to now, packages of the brand-name pill, Plan B One-Step, as well as generic versions of it have said that the pill might work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb — language that scientific evidence did not support. That wording led some abortion opponents and politicians who equate a fertilized egg with a person to say that taking the morning-after pill could be the equivalent of having an abortion or even committing murder.

The F.D.A. revised the leaflets inserted in packages of pills to say that the medication “works before release of an egg from the ovary,” meaning that it acts before fertilization, not after. The package insert also says the pill “will not work if you’re already pregnant, and will not affect an existing pregnancy.”

In a question-and-answer document posted on the F.D.A.’s website, the agency explicitly addressed the abortion issue. In answer to the question, “Is Plan B One-Step able to cause an abortion?” the agency writes: “No.” It added: “Plan B One-Step prevents pregnancy by acting on ovulation, which occurs well before implantation. Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of pregnancy after implantation, therefore, it does not terminate a pregnancy.”

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘I’m Not Ready’: A Mother Denied an Abortion in Texas Faces an Uncertain Future, Dec. 19, 2022 (print ed.). Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based, anti-abortion nonprofit, provides temporary aid for poor Texas women with newborns. But how will they survive when the support ends?

ny times logocovad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2New York Times, ‘Tripledemic’ Rages On: Fever-Filled Weeks Lie Ahead, Emily Anthes, Dec. 23, 2022 (print ed.). R.S.V. has probably peaked, but flu is still surging and Covid-19 cases are rising. Scientists are hopeful next winter will be better.

New, immune evasive versions of the Omicron variant are spreading, and Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising, although the figures remain far below last winter’s peak. But this year the coronavirus has company: Common seasonal viruses, which lay low for the last two winters, have come roaring back.

Recent Related Headlines

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

climate change photo

Legal Schnauzer, Matrix LLC paid ABC News "producer" to pepper pro-environment political candidates with deceptive questions in an effort to boost its clients who pollute roger shuler and murphy(Part 1), Roger Shuler, right, Dec. 22, 2022. A journalist who identifies herself as working for ABC News has been paid by an Alabama-based political-consulting firm to sideswipe pro-environment politicians with deceptive questions, according to a report at NPR/Floodlight.

The journalist was Kristen Hentschel, the consulting firm was Montgomery-based Matrix LLC. The beneficiaries of the scheme were alabama power logodesigned to be Matrix clients -- such as Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light -- all with ties to projects known to produce pollution.

How did the "reporting" scheme with an ABC News journalist work? Exhibit A involves a Florida political candidate named Toby Overdorf, who had pledged to kristen hentschel ny posttake a serious approach to environmental protection. That's where Hentschel, right, enters the picture.

Under the headline "She was an ABC News producer. She also was a corporate operative, NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik write:

Microphone and ABC News business card in hand, Hentschel rushed up to a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives before a debate, the candidate recalls, and asked him about 20 dead gopher tortoises that were reportedly found at a nearby construction site [in Stuart, FL]. Florida designates the species as threatened.

Overdorf, an environmental engineer, served as a consultant on the construction project -- and he knew of no such tortoises. A city investigation found there were no dead tortoises, and no evidence that any ever had been present during the construction project. The oddities about the story do not end there, as NPR/Floodlight report:

That wasn't the only surprise. Though Hentschel has done freelance work for ABC, she was not there for the network.

matrix logoAt the time, a political consulting firm called Matrix LLC had paid Hentschel at least $7,000, the firm's internal ledgers show. And Matrix billed two major companies for Hentschel's work, labeling the payments "for Florida Crystals, FPL." (Florida Crystals is a huge sugar conglomerate. FPL is shorthand for the giant utility Florida Power & Light.)

Both companies could have benefited from Hentschels efforts to undermine Overdorf and his promises to resolve environmental issues in the district he was vying to represent. Florida Power & Light has pushed back against efforts to bring solar panels to the Sunshine State, while runoff from the sugar industry is a major source of water pollution in Florida.

florida light and power logoOverdorf won his election, but he remains distressed that he was subjected to such journalistic skulduggery:

"It was an attack ad against my livelihood, my family," Overdorf says. "And it was something that potentially could last far beyond my time running for office."

Overdorf was not the only victim of the Hentschel/Matrix operation. Once Hentschel's ties to Matrix became public, ABC cut ties with her earlier this week:

abc news logo colorInterviews for this story and Matrix ledgers show Hentschel traded on her work for ABC News at least three times to trip up Florida politicians whose stances on environmental regulations cut against the interests of major Matrix clients. Internal Matrix financial records originally sent anonymously to the Orlando Sentinel and shared with Floodlight show that since 2016, the firm has paid Hentschel at least $14,350.

According to two people at ABC News with knowledge, Hentschel was not, in fact, reporting for ABC on any of those subjects. "If she was working on these stories, she was not authorized to cover them for ABC News," one of them said. They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive network matters. . . . 

"Kristen Hentschel was a freelance daily hire who never worked for ABC News on the political stories referenced in the NPR article," the network said in a statement. "She does not currently work for ABC NEWS."

How unusual is the Hentschel story.? One news veteran cannot remember another one like it:

David Westin, president of ABC News from 1997 to 2010, says he never came across an instance in which a journalist for the network was simultaneously doing advocacy.

"It just goes to the very heart of why people no longer have the same confidence and trust in the news media as they once did," says Westin, now an anchor for Bloomberg TV. "They suspect this is going on anyway, and for it to actually go on confirms their worst suspicions."

Hentschel, it turns out, appeared in all kinds of places -- almost like a female Forrest Gump:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017.

Hentschel did not return multiple detailed requests for comment.

jeff pittsMatrix's former CEO, Jeff Pitts, left, who hired Hentschel for the firm, declined comment.

That leads us back -- as Matrix-related stories often do -- to the legal feud between Pitts and Joe Perkins:

Matrix's founder, Joe Perkins, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue"employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance , including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

All of this leads to questions about the possible roles of Southern Company, Alabama Power, and Matrix in other unsavory Alabama events. These include the head-on vehicle crash that nearly killed Birmingham-area attorney Burt Newsome, someone shooting into the car of former Drummond Company executive David Roberson as he drove on U.S. 280 near Mountain Brook, and an apparent fake deposition of a Verizon Wireless records custodian in the Newsome Conspiracy Case. 

Documents -- and investigative reporting -- shine considerable light on Hentschel's ties to Matrix:

After Pitts left Matrix, reporters from Floodlight and NPR obtained company records documenting Hentschel's work. This story also draws on other materials, including court records, and 14 interviews with people with direct knowledge of her activities.

In recent months, Matrix has also been accused of interfering in the workings of democracy in Alabama and Florida by seeking to influence ballot initiatives, running ghost candidates and offering a lucrative job to a public official if he resigned. As Floodlight and NPR have revealed, Matrix secretly maintained financial ties to a half-dozen political news sites and tried to ensure favorable coverage for clients.

Legal Schnauzer, Journalistic chicanery, sexual entanglements, and curious cash flow form a strange brew for big-polluting clients represented by Alabama-based Matrix LLC (Part 2), Roger Shuler, right, roger shuler and murphyDec. 27, 2022. The story of former ABC News producer Kristen Hentschel and the Matrix LLC political-consulting firm seems, at first glance, to be a tale of what might be called "journalistic fraud."

After all, Hentschel would use her ABC News credentials to gain access to pro-environment political candidates, only to pepper them with bogus, accusatory questions designed to benefit Matrix's big-polluting clients -- Alabama Power, Southern Company, and Florida Power & Light. Alabama-based Matrix, it turns out, was paying Hentschel to pull off the deceptive scheme.

Upon further inspection, however, the story includes enough romantic entanglements to fill several scripts for an afternoon soap opera. Perhaps that is fitting kristen hentschelbecause Hentschel, left, before she was outed and fired by ABC News last week, was best known for having an affair with ABC journalist Chris Hansen, of To Catch a Predator fame.  

A joint investigation by NPR and Florida-based Floodlight led to a story that broke the Hentschel-Matrix scam on a national stage. It was as if the Hentschel-Hansen affair served as an appetizer for the bigger scandal to come - - and, as it turned out, that story had plenty of npr logosex angles, too.

Hentschel worked on the periphery of TV news, but struggled to gain a firm foothold on the big time. Write NPR/Floodlight reporters Miranda Green, Mario Ariza, and David Folkenflik:

Hentschel began her journalism career with short stints at local TV newsrooms in Chico, Calif., Waco, Texas, and Knoxville, Tennessee.

"A lot of people think that the television business ... looks Hollywood-esque," Hentschel once told Baldwin Park Living, a Florida lifestyle magazine. "I made $8 an hour [at] my first job, laid on couches and had to move around literally every one to two years."

At those jobs, she covered crime, storms, traffic — mainstays of local news.

Her career foundered in 2011 when the National Enquirer disclosed a romantic relationship between her and a married man: Chris Hansen, the former host of NBC's To Catch a Predator.

Hentschel learned that TV news presents a double standard for women in a highly competitive business:

Subsequent stints in Las Vegas, Seattle and Orlando, Fla., proved brief. "A double standard is an understatement as to what happens in this industry," Hentschel told RadarOnline.com in an interview about her relationship with Hansen. "The women get fired and the men keep going." Professionally, she had been using the name Kristyn Caddell, which endures on her Twitter account, but shifted to her family name, Kristen Hentschel, by late 2015.

Soon, Hentschel was out of work, and perhaps from desperation, turned to Matrix. Her resume found its way to the firm's CEO, Jeff Pitts -- and he hired her in early 2016. But that was not to be Hentschel's only job:

Hentschel soon secured a second gig. In February 2016, she started as a freelance news producer for ABC News.

Hentschel primarily did work for Good Morning America. Among her assignments: helping with segments on NFL star Tom Brady and the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, the young Florida woman who documented her cross-country trip on social media.

"Our setup for today... #lighting is everything," Hentschel once tweeted with a photograph of a TV reporting shoot. "Who's in the hot seat?"

The answer often proved to be people Pitts wanted her to confront.

Perhaps the strangest episode came when Matrix decided to spy on Southern Company chief Tom Fanning:

In another instance, the former girlfriend of Southern Company's CEO, Tom Fanning, says Hentschel cozied up to her over the past year. Southern Company is a rival to Florida Power & Light. This August, Alabama news site AL.com reported that Matrix had previously paid a private investigator to spy on Fanning in the summer of 2017. . . . 

joe perkinsMatrix's founder, Joe Perkins, right, disavows any knowledge of Hentschel's work for Matrix and says Pitts was acting as a "rogue" employee in Florida.

Pitts left Matrix to found a rival firm in late 2020, alleging in court papers that he quit Matrix over Perkins' "unethical business practices," including "ordering and directing the clandestine surveillance including that of top executives of his largest client, the Southern Company." Perkins blames Pitts for the surveillance.

According to NPR/Floodlight, Pitts had a tendency to mix business with pleasure:

Pitts could be a charmer. He was known to cultivate a personal rapport with his corporate clients over sushi and steak dinners, favoring long meals with freely flowing red wine. In an email exchange with a vice president of the energy company NextEra, Pitts wrote, "Talk tomorrow but miss you." She wrote back that his note was a nice surprise. "You said [to] be more open," Pitts replied.

Pitts mixed business with romance, Matrix financial records show. Over the course of the last decade, Pitts paid his then-wife more than $10,000 for work for Matrix, according to copies of the firm's invoices reflecting payments to her personal company. She had previously been employed at Alabama Power, one of Matrix's oldest clients, according to press clippings and two associates.

matrix logoMatrix also paid Pitts' ongoing romantic partner, Apryl Marie Fogel, a conservative radio-show host, nearly $150,000 over several years. Fogel runs the conservative news site Alabama Today, which published articles showcasing Matrix clients in a favorable light.

On a recent episode of her radio show, Fogel compared her relationship with Pitts to that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, the pro-Trump activist Ginni Thomas.

"You check it at the door," Fogel says. "You may be somewhat, in a fuzzy way, aware of what the other person is doing. And you want them to be successful, but it doesn't mean that you two—that everything is running in lockstep."

It did not take long for Hentschel to become part of the romantic scene:

Shortly after Hentschel started working for Pitts at Matrix, the two began an affair, associates say, though it is not clear how long it lasted. Hentschel bought a home close to Pitts' apartment in West Palm Beach, Florida, public records show.

Meanwhile, Hentschel targeted political figures who could pose a problem for Matrix clients. One target proved to be the mayor of South Miami, who had promoted residential solar panels in the Sunshine State:

Hentschel called Phil Stoddard, then the mayor of South Miami, in August 2018. He says she identified herself as an ABC reporter and asked him about an upcoming press conference likely to bring unflattering publicity. A lawsuit had been filed by parents of a teenager who was hospitalized years earlier after attending a party thrown by Stoddard's teenage daughter. (The suit was ultimately settled.)

npr logoThe press conference turned out to be a sham. It had been orchestrated by Joe Carrillo, a private detective, and Dan Newman, a political operative with financial links to Matrix, according to Matrix documents and a copy of the press release obtained by Floodlight and NPR.

Matrix paid Hentschel $2,000 a few weeks later for what was itemized as a "Miami shoot," a Matrix ledger shows.

The interest in Stoddard, a biologist, seems easy to discern. Stoddard had clashed with Florida Power & Light over transmission lines, a nuclear power florida light and power logoplant, and policies on residential solar panels. . . . 

Internal Matrix emails between Newman, the political operative, and Pitts, the firm's then-CEO, show it hired a private detective to investigate Stoddard's personal life. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Matrix-linked nonprofits spent six figures trying to knock him out of office. . . . 

On Sept. 26, Hentschel showed up with a videographer to a city council meeting.

"I thought, 'No good's gonna come of this,'" Stoddard recalls. He shut down her requests for comment at the council meeting. He continued battling Florida Power & Light even after he left office in 2020.

NPR/Floodlight found that ABC News probably should not have been caught off guard by Hentschel's activities:

There is evidence that ABC News was first told two years ago that Hentschel inappropriately invoked her network ties in conducting work that had nothing to do with ABC News.

abc news logo colorU.S. Rep. Brian Mast of Florida, a conservative Republican, has established a record as an advocate of strengthening water quality in Lake Okeechobee, the state's largest freshwater lake. He has introduced four pieces of legislation to address toxic algal blooms there.

His work puts him at odds with Florida's powerful sugar interest, Florida Crystals. Okeechobee is kept artificially full for that industry and other corporate use. Mast's bills could ultimately cut into their profits.

"They'll do anything that they can to hold onto that grip of controlling water in the state of Florida," Mast says. "And I'm probably the number one person that goes against them."

In the heat of the 2020 election season, Hentschel chased down Mast at a fundraiser featuring then-President Donald Trump. She told Mast's aides she wanted to ask him about messages he wrote nearly a decade earlier, before entering politics. He had joked about rape and sex with teenagers in Facebook posts to a friend. They had just surfaced publicly, and he had apologized. The aides didn't bite.

The conservative Florida news site The Capitolist called Mast's proposals extreme and urged readers to vote for his Democratic opponent. Matrix had previously funneled The Capitolist nearly $200,000 from Florida Power & Light, the firm's invoices show. Perkins denied Matrix paid The Capitolist and said the company "was unaware of any financial relationships between The Capitolist and any Matrix client."

That September, Hentschel rang the doorbell at Mast's home in a gated community and told Mast's wife she was reporting for ABC, even handing over a business card citing the network, according to Mast's accounts in an interview for this story and in a trespassing complaint he filed with police.

A senior aide to Mast shot off an email to ABC. Its political director, Rick Klein, replied that Hentschel was not there for the network.

Election Day was two months away. In a video he posted on Facebook, Mast denounced his Democratic opponent for sending Hentschel to his door. "I want to talk about something that frankly is just BS," Mast said.

Mast now says he believes Hentschel sought to intimidate him on behalf of the sugar company and Matrix client Florida Crystals — an allegation the company rejected.

washington post logoWashington Post, Scientists say Arctic warming could be to blame for blasts of extreme cold, Scott Dance, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Research suggests that climate change is altering the jet stream, pushing frigid air down to southern climes more frequently. But the scientific jury is still out.

Recent Headlines

 

U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

The Hill, Opinion: The latest JFK document release: A smoking gun, or did Oswald act alone? Paul Roderick Gregory, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). The reticence of successive presidents to release classified JFK-assassination documents has fed conspiracy theories characterizing Lee Harvey Oswald as part of a conspiracy thehill logoor the “patsy” he declared himself to be upon his arrest.

The latest document dump by the National Archives raised hopes among conspiracy buffs of information that might implicate Cuba, the former Soviet Union, the Mafia, Big Oil, or some other sinister cabal in President Kennedy’s murder.

But conspiracy theorists are in for another disappointment. There is no smoking gun, not even a toy pistol, and most of the data we already knew. The documents show that Lee Harvey Oswald traveled to Mexico City not to receive instructions to kill JFK but to prepare for a new life in a Cuba. The documents capture Oswald as a master manipulator, planner and schemer, important qualifications for an assassin working alone.

Some 95 percent of the documents released on Dec. 15 are trivia, boilerplate or bureaucratese — a classic case of over-classification by the intelligence community. Did we really need to hide a 60-year-old secret deal with Mexico’s then-president to surveil the Soviet embassy? Or to redact names and sources of officials long dead? (On a personal note, why did the routine decision not to further interview my father, Pete Gregory, who knew and introduced me to Oswald, need to wait a half-century to be released?)

Paul Roderick Gregory is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a research fellow at the German Institute for Economic Research. He is author of the book, “The Oswalds: An Untold Account of Marina and Lee.”

JIP Editor's Note: This column was published almost concurrently by the Wall Street Journal as part of a massive publicity campaign to promote Gregory's book and its pro-Warren Report claims disregarding the compelling scientific evidence that Oswald could not possibly have fired fatal shots at JFK.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pandemic Woes Lead Met Opera to Tap Endowment and Embrace New Works, Javier C. Hernández, Dec. 27, 2022 (print ed.). Facing tepid ticket sales, the company will withdraw up to $30 million and stage more operas by living composers, which have been outselling the classics.

Hit hard by a cash shortfall and lackluster ticket sales as it tries to lure audiences back amid the pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera said Monday that it would withdraw up to $30 million from its endowment, give fewer performances next season and accelerate its embrace of contemporary works, which, in a shift, have been outselling the classics.

The dramatic financial and artistic moves show the extent to which the pandemic and its aftermath continue to roil the Met, the premier opera company in the United States, and come as many other performing arts institutions face similar pressures.

“The challenges are greater than ever,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “The only path forward is reinvention.”

Nonprofit organizations try to dip into their endowments only as a last resort, since the funds are meant to grow over time while producing a steady source of investment income. The Met’s endowment, which was valued at $306 million, was already considered small for an institution of its size. This season it is turning to the endowment to cover operating expenses, to help offset weak ticket sales and a cash shortfall that emerged as some donors were reluctant to accelerate pledged gifts amid the stock market downturn. As more cash gifts materialize, the company hopes to replenish the endowment.

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 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump

 Former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a leading proponent of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump "Stop the Steal" that led to the Capitol insurrection, is shown in a collage with then-President Donald Trump (File photos).

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The missing piece in the January 6th Committee Report, Wayne Madsen, left, author of 22 books (including wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallThe Rise of The Fourth Reich, below,  and former synidcated columnist, Navy intellitence officer and NSA analyst, Dec. 25-26, 2022.

The House Select Committee on the January 6 attack on the Congress did an admirable job of cutting through the obstruction of justice, obfuscation, and plain old lying from Donald Trump and his administration’s and presidential campaign’s hopeless sycophants.

wayne madesen report logoHowever, the committee failed to answer the mail on the military’s involvement in pre- and post-coup plans for a Trump military-civilian junta to rule the United States. Far too many Department of Defense political appointees were not criticized in the committee’s report, particularly those who failed to order the early deployment of National Guard troops to safeguard the Capitol complex for the ceremonial counting of the electoral votes to proclaim Joe Biden and Kamala Harris the president- and vice president-wayne madsen fourth reich coverelect of the United States.

It is quite clear that Trump had installed a coterie of military and civilian officials at the Pentagon whose main task it was to fail to respond to pleas for assistance from congressional and Washington, DC authorities as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.

The presence of then-Major General Charles Flynn, right, within the U.S. Army’s Pentagon staff should have raised the suspicions of the committee. Flynn’s brother, charles flynn oTrump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn, had been one of the chief proponents of advancing Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign to the point where he called for the military to not only seize voting machines but Trump to declare martial law and hold an unconstitutional “do-over” of the November 3rd election.

Other active duty officers who stymied the dispatch of National Guard troops to the Capitol included Lieutenant General Walter Piatt, Charles Flynn’s immediate superior, who remains the Director of the Army Staff at the Pentagon, and then-Brigadier General Christopher LaNeve, the Director of Operations and Mobilization, who worked under Piatt and Flynn, and has since been promoted to Major General and is currently the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

It is very clear that a group of far-right retired flag rank military officers stood ready to fill important government positions in a Trump junta after a successful January 6 coup. During the 2020 campaign 317 of these officers, representing “Flag Officers 4 America,” signed an open letter full of vitriolic pro-Trump rhetoric, including the charge that the “Democrat Party” was “welcoming Socialists and Marxists” and that “our historic way of life is at stake.”

WMR has compiled a spreadsheet listing the names of the “Flag Officers 4 America” and other lower-ranked military retirees and active members of the military and reserves who provided aid and comfort to Trump and his coup plotters. While this is not a complete list of officer-level traitors in the U.S. military community, it can be appended with additional names.

just security logo

Just Security, January 6 Clearinghouse Congressional Hearings, Government Documents, Court Cases, Academic Research, Ryan Goodman and Justin Hendrix, Dec. 26, 2022. Deposition Transcripts of House Select Committee (sorted by affiliation, alphabetical, date of deposition). Welcome to this all-source repository of information for analysts, researchers, investigators, journalists, educators, and the public at large. 

Check out our new addition below: A curated repository of deposition transcripts from the House Select Committee. Readers may also be interested in Major Highlights of the January 6th Report.

If you think the January 6 Clearinghouse is missing something, please send recommendations for additional content by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

The authors are grateful for the assistance of Joshua Asabor, Matthew Bailey, Sarah Butterfield, Brianne Cuffe, and Nicholas Tonckens in the creation of the Clearinghouse.

ny times logoNew York Times, Democrats, Feeling New Strength, Plan to Go on Offense on Voting Rights, Reid J. Epstein, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). After retaining most of the governor’s offices they hold and capturing the legislatures in Michigan and Minnesota, Democrats are putting forward a long list of proposals to expand voting access.

For the last two years, Democrats in battleground states have played defense against Republican efforts to curtail voting access and amplify doubts about the legitimacy of the nation’s elections.

Now it is Democrats, who retained all but one of the governor’s offices they hold and won control of state legislatures in Michigan and Minnesota, who are ready to go on offense in 2023. They are putting forward a long list of proposals that include creating automatic voter registration systems, preregistering teenagers to vote before they turn 18, returning the franchise to felons released from prison and criminalizing election misinformation.

Since 2020, Republicans inspired by former President Donald J. Trump’s election lies sought to make voting more difficult for anyone not casting a ballot in person on Election Day. But in the midterm elections, voters across the country rejected the most prominent Republican candidates who embraced false claims about American elections and promised to bend the rules to their party’s advantage.

Democrats who won re-election or will soon take office have interpreted their victories as a mandate to make voting easier and more accessible.

washington post logoWashington Post, Republicans making moves toward entering 2024 primary against Trump, Hannah Knowles, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Their actions reflect a growing sense in the GOP that the former president is far from an inevitable nominee.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis just restarted his Google and Facebook ads, targeting a national audience ahead of a state legislative session he believes will highlight causes that will help him in a presidential primary, according to a Republican consultant familiar with his operation.

rnc logoFormer secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s team has reached out to potential staff in early primary states. Former vice president Mike Pence is looking to add fundraising aides. And Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is talking with donors and gauging his ability to fund a campaign through an “endurance race.”

Potential Republican rivals to Donald Trump are ramping up their 2024 maneuverings, reflecting a growing sense in the party that the former president is far from the inevitable nominee after a midterm election in which he was blamed for many of the party’s woes. “You never know when that early front-runner is going to stumble,” said Hutchinson, who is urging the party to move on from Trump and said it’s too soon to say who else will catch on.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 25 dead in Buffalo’s worst blizzard in 50 years, Sarah Kaplan, Dec. 26, 2022. Meanwhile, Weather conditions that snarled traffic and holiday travel in much of the United States began to ease across the nation on Sunday.

At least 25 people have died in this weekend’s catastrophic snowstorm, officials announced Monday, marking this blizzard as Western New York’s deadliest in at least 50 years.

Roads remain impassable and more than 12,000 people are still without power as the unrelenting storm is forecast to drop as much as a foot of additional snow, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said during a Monday morning news conference. First responders are still struggling to reach people trapped in their cars, while people stuck in shelters and nursing homes are running out of food.
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“This is the worst storm probably in our lifetime and maybe in the history of the city,” Poloncarz said. “And this is not the end yet.”

The dead have been found in their cars, homes and in snowbanks. Some have had cardiac arrests while shoveling.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukrainians struggle to find, reclaim children taken by Russia, Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). While Ukrainians face daunting logistical barriers to recover children taken to Russia, Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May making it quick and easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children.

Oleksandr has not seen his mother since Russian soldiers captured the pair in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, in April and took her away. At 12, he escaped adoption into a Russian family only because he remembered his grandmother’s phone number and called her to come and save him.
Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Russia’s proxy social welfare officials in occupied Ukraine discouraged her, warning of heavy fighting.

ukraine flag“They said that they would send him to an orphanage or they would find a family in Russia,” said his grandmother, Lyudmila, of Ichnya, in Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region. “I told them, ‘I’ll risk my life. I’ll come and pick him up.’ I was pleading with them not to send him to Russia.

“They told me, ‘It’s going to be very hard, and the paperwork is awful.’ I said I didn’t care,” Lyudmila said. The Washington Post is identifying her and Oleksandr by first names only to protect them from reprisal.

While Ukrainians face daunting logistical barriers to recover children taken to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May making it quick and easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children.
Lyudmila, who lives in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, had to beg Russian-designated child welfare officials in Donetsk, in occupied Ukraine, not to send her grandson Oleksander to Russia for adoption, after he was separated from his family by war. (Family photo)

The policy is vigorously pursued by Putin’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia. Last spring, Lvova-Belova personally adopted a Ukrainian boy — an orphan who had been evacuated from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was under heavy bombing by Russia, first to Donetsk and then to a sanitorium near Moscow. Lvova-Belova has also spoken publicly about her efforts to change his views.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine, a new wartime debate: When is Christmas? Isabelle Khurshudyan, Jeff Stein, Claire Parker and Kamila Hrabchuk, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Nadiya Zalenetska rushed into the small chapel with a pink bundle in her arms — her 2-month-old daughter, Lyubov, wrapped in a thick blanket. Zalenetska had covered her hair with a red shawl, fitting for a Christmas she was observing two weeks earlier than she ever had before.

Like many Ukrainians, Zalenetska had always known Christmas Day as Jan. 7, according to the Julian calendar used by the Russian and Ukrainian branches of the Orthodox Church. But a movement to reject everything associated with Russia, 10 months into its invasion of Ukraine, has begun to transform even the most sacred traditions.

Many Ukrainians are embracing Dec. 25 as Christmas for the first time, reflecting a desire to be more like the West and less like their assailants.

A poll conducted in the Diia smartphone application — which most Ukrainians use to store their personal documents and access public services — asked what date people prefer for Christmas. Nearly 60 percent (of some 383,000 respondents) chose Dec. 25. The Jan. 7 date came in second.

“This is our new tradition,” the 26-year-old Zalenetska said. “We don’t want to do the same thing that Russia does. So much of the world celebrates on Dec. 25, so we will, too.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: The thorny questions raised by charitable giving, Peter Coy, right, Dec. 26, 2022. The percentage of Americans who donate is declining.

The last week of the year is a big one for peter coywriting checks to charities, especially for Americans who are fortunate enough to have incomes high enough to justify itemizing their deductions. There’s something bewildering about the ritual, though. On what basis do we decide who should get our money? And how much should each receive? Normally we feel good about spending as little as possible on things, but with charitable giving, we tend to think of more as better.

I began thinking about this after I received an email from a psychology professor, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, criticizing what he called “the capitalist system of charities in the U.S.A.” He wrote that charities are “competing to the death for the same 50 cents.”

“Thus,” he went on, “hundreds of organizations fight hunger locally and nationally. When it comes to illnesses, there are thousands of organizations competing. This means a terrible waste of resources.” He recommended that I look at Germany, where the government performs functions that charities perform in the United States.

Sorting out the proper roles of government and philanthropy is one important question but not the only one. Should you give locally or globally? Then there’s the old question of whether it’s better to give a fish or teach a person how to fish. That is, to help the needy directly or to try to change the world. Changing the world seems the way to go, but what if your would-be pupil is starving and there are no fish nearby?

I’ll add one last question in the holiday spirit. You’ve been told that ’tis better to give than to receive? Well, ’tis true: Research shows that people are happier and communities are more resilient when neighbors look out for one another. But more and more, philanthropy is coming to depend on the ultrawealthy. Can that possibly be good?

ny times logoNew York Times, With Record Military Incursions, China Warns Taiwan and U.S., Amy Chang Chien and Chang Che, Dec. 26, 2022. Taiwan said China sent 71 military aircraft near the island days after President Biden bolstered U.S. support for Taiwan.

China sent a record number of military aircraft to menace self-ruled Taiwan in a large show of force to the Biden administration, signaling that Beijing wants to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as some tensions between the superpowers are easing.

taiwan flagThe swarm of Chinese fighter jets, maritime patrol planes and drones that buzzed the airspace near Taiwan in the 24-hour period leading to Monday morning demonstrated Beijing’s appetite for confrontation with the United States over Taiwan, the island democracy China claims as its territory.

The military activity — which, according to Taiwan, included at least 71 Chinese aircraft — came days after President Biden’s latest move to expand American support for the island. Beijing has denounced the United States’ effort as an attempt to contain China and interfere in its domestic affairs.

Tensions over Taiwan have been rising in the months since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island in August, prompting Beijing to step up its activity in the area with several days of live-fire drills. China said that the exercise was aimed at honing its ability to conduct joint patrols and military strikes, but also made clear what the target was.

 

A black and white image of the Reverend Louis Gigante, dressed in all black, standing in a vacant lot with apartment buildings in the distance.

ny times logoNew York Times, One Final Twist in the Rev. Louis Gigante’s Colorful Life: A Son, Michael Wilson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Father Gigante, a towering figure in the Bronx (shown above in a file photo), left a $7 million fortune entirely to the son he had while he was a priest.

The Rev. Louis R. Gigante was always larger-than-life. A Roman Catholic priest, the son of Italian immigrants and brother of New York mobsters, Father Gigante swaggered through the crime-ridden and crumbling South Bronx with a baseball bat and a development company that built thousands of apartments for the poor.

But it turns out even the legend could not live up to the true scope of Father Gigante’s full life. After he died in October, his will revealed two more startling facts: He was a multimillionaire. And he left nearly all his fortune to a single beneficiary — his 32-year-old son.

The revelation discloses publicly a brash defiance of one of the tenets of the Catholic Church, that priests must remain celibate. The discovery was made in recent weeks by the journalist Salvatore Arena, a former New York Daily News reporter who is preparing a book proposal about Father Gigante and looked up his last will and testament.

“I almost fell out of my chair,” Mr. Arena said.

As was his way, Father Gigante also appeared to have made minimal effort to hide his son from the outside world in the way that other priests have in the past. The reverend’s personal life had been the subject of decades of whispering in the Bronx and was an open secret among those closest to him.

Father Gigante may have evaded church scrutiny of his personal life through sheer force of personality, in much the same way he used his outsize persona to rebuild desolate streets surrounding his parish, broker back-room deals as a Democratic kingmaker and loudly defend his criminal siblings. It may have seemed hard to fathom that through a late stretch of those busy years, he was also raising a son in a quiet suburb north of the city.

Luigino Gigante was born in 1990 and raised in Somers, N.Y., in Westchester County, an hour drive from Father Gigante’s parish, St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church in the South Bronx. He and his father lived with the boy’s mother and were by all appearances an unremarkable suburban family — until the time came every day when Dad put on his Roman collar and returned to being Father.

“We had a quiet life,” Mr. Gigante said in an interview in Manhattan, where he goes by Gino. “He was proud of me. We did everything together.” As for the fact that his father was a priest, “it was just like another quirky thing,” he said.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, Joseph Zwilling, said Sunday that several individuals he had spoken to in the church knew nothing about Father Gigante’s son “beyond rumors.”

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

ny times logoNew York Times, Thousands of Canceled Flights Cap Holiday Weekend of Travel Nightmares, Amy Qin, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Steve Lohr, Dec. 26, 2022. Southwest Airlines, which canceled about 70 percent of its flights, was the airline most affected on Monday. Thousands of travelers were stranded at U.S. airports on Monday as a wave of canceled flights — many of them operated by Southwest Airlines — spoiled holiday plans and kept families from returning home during one of the busiest and most stressful travel stretches of the year.

The cancellations and delays one day after Christmas left people sleeping on airport floors, standing in hourslong customer service lines and waiting on tarmacs for hours on end.

The problems are likely to continue into Tuesday and later this week. As of Monday night, about 2,600 U.S. flights scheduled for Tuesday were already canceled, including 60 percent of all Southwest flights.

“The only thing we want is to get home,” said Francis Uba, who was among the frustrated passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Monday, where over 130 flights were canceled as of that evening.

ny times logoNew York Times, George Santos Admits to Lying About College and Work History, y Michael Gold and Grace Ashford, Dec. 26, 2022. The congressman-elect confirmed The New York Times’s findings that he had not graduated from college or worked at two major Wall Street companies, as he had claimed.

Representative-elect George Santos admitted on Monday to misrepresenting his professional experience and educational history to voters, but said it would not deter him from taking office in January.

Mr. Santos, a New York Republican who was elected in November to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, confirmed some of the key findings of a New York Times investigation into his background, but sought to minimize the falsehoods in his first remarks since The Times published its findings last week.

“My sins here are embellishing my résumé,” Mr. Santos told The New York Post in one of two interviews he granted on Monday to conservative-owned media outlets.

“I am not a criminal,” Mr. Santos said, adding that he would still be an effective legislator. In a separate interview with WABC-AM radio, he said he still intended to be sworn in at the start of the next Congress.

The admissions by Mr. Santos served as a capstone to one of the more astonishing examples of an incoming congressman falsifying key biographical elements of his background — with Mr. Santos maintaining the falsehoods through two consecutive bids for Congress.

Yet even as Mr. Santos, whose victory helped Republicans secure a narrow majority in the next House of Representatives, admitted to some fabrication, his actions will still not prevent him, in all likelihood, from being seated in Congress.

Democrats — including the outgoing House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the next House Democratic leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York — have accused Mr. Santos of being unfit to serve in Congress. Top House Republican leaders, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, have largely remained silent.
The Aftermath of the 2022 Midterm Elections
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A moment of reflection. In the aftermath of the midterms, Democrats and Republicans face key questions about the future of their parties. With the House and Senate now decided, here’s where things stand:

Biden’s tough choice. President Biden, who had the best midterms of any president in 20 years as Democrats maintained a narrow hold on the Senate, feels buoyant after the results. But as he nears his 80th birthday, he confronts a decision on whether to run again.

Is Trump’s grip loosening? Ignoring Republicans’ concerns that he was to blame for the party’s weak midterms showing, Donald J. Trump announced his third bid for the presidency. But some of his staunchest allies are already inching away from him.

G.O.P leaders face dissent. After a poor midterms performance, Representative Kevin McCarthy and Senator Mitch McConnell faced threats to their power from an emboldened right flank. Will the divisions in the party’s ranks make the G.O.P.-controlled House an unmanageable mess?

A new era for House Democrats. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the first woman to serve in the post and the face of House Democrats for two decades, will not pursue a leadership post in the next Congress, paving the way for fresher faces at the top of the party.

Divided government. What does a Republican-controlled House and a Democratic-run Senate mean for the next two years? Most likely a return to the gridlock and brinkmanship that have defined a divided federal government in recent years.

The House can only prevent candidates from taking office if they violate the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements. Once he has been seated, however, Mr. Santos could face ethics investigations, legal experts have said.

Mr. Santos, through representatives, has declined multiple requests to speak with The Times. His interviews did not fully address the scope of The Times’s reporting, which also included omissions on his financial disclosure forms and a charity he claimed to have founded and registered with the I.R.S.

He also firmly rejected having been charged criminally anywhere in the world, but did not appear to explain the existence of records identifying him as being charged with check fraud in Brazil.College and Work History

The congressman-elect confirmed The Times’s findings that he had not graduated from college or worked at two major Wall Street companies, as he had claimed.

Politico, Diamond-studded thorns: 2 House Dem centrists speak up on their way out, Sarah Ferris, Dec. 26, 2022. An exit interview with Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Kathleen Rice that ran the gamut, from entrenched sexism to their pal Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

politico CustomAnd they’ve both felt the sting of ostracism for crossing their party, getting static from outside groups and protestors that Murphy said exists largely “to punish its own party members for stepping out of bounds.”

But when the duo sat down for an exit interview with POLITICO, it was clear they have few regrets about their reputations as thorns in the side of leadership. In fact, they take the label literally: Murphy, Rice and their close friend, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), bought matching diamond-adorned thorn-shaped necklaces to celebrate their roles, along with a handful of other moderates, in delivering President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill last fall.

“A diamond-studded thorn. There’s an analogy there,” Murphy said. “But we got the bill done. Sinema got it done on the Senate side, and we broke it free on the House side. … We believe in celebrating victories sometimes, just with jewelry.”

In a Capitol and a nation where bitter partisan division has made centrists like Murphy and Rice ever more rare and oft-targeted, their candor about their rebelliousness stands out — perhaps more so in contrast to the reticence of their friend Sinema. (Especially since the trio has a habit of shared mementos, buying what they call “class rings” or “we survived the insurrection” rings after a narrow escape from Sinema’s hideaway on Jan. 6, 2021.)

Stephanie Murphy and Kathleen Rice are leaving Congress earlier than most — with plenty of bones to pick.

Murphy (D-Fla.) and Rice (D-N.Y.), two best friends and roommates during their years in Washington, will depart this month after a combined 12 years on the Hill and a shared conviction for causing intra-party headaches. Rice, 57, famously led the revolt against Nancy Pelosi’s second speaker bid, while Murphy, 44, emerged as a vocal critic of Democrats’ handling of their agenda last year.

 

pennsylvania map major cities

Politico, Pennsylvania politics are heated. It soon could be utter chaos, Holly Otterbein, Dec. 26, 2022. The state House is a mess, with each side claiming they are in the majority and Republicans potentially passing amendments after Democrats won more seats.

politico CustomDemocrats in Pennsylvania won the majority of seats in the state House this fall, powered by voter backlash to the fall of Roe v. Wade.

But come next year, it’s anybody’s guess which party will actually hold the speaker’s gavel.

A razor-thin victory by Democrats, combined with a handful of vacancies and the hardball political culture in the state capitol, has kicked off a high-stakes battle for control of the House.

At the heart of the matter is a disagreement over which party has the right to set the special elections to fill seats that became empty because two Democratic state House members resigned for higher office and another died. Democrats want to hold the contests — which they are expected to win — right away, allowing them to claim their majority next year. GOP legislators, meanwhile, hope to push back the date for three more months, in the process keeping their majority intact. One Republican has even announced a bid for Speaker herself, hoping to take advantage of the likely small window in which the partisan balance of power is tilted her party’s way.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosBoth parties see the ensuing fight as not just as a matter of political power, but democratic governance and the rule of law itself. Privately, they fear the next few weeks could plunge the state into an unprecedented level of chaos.

If GOP lawmakers succeed, they could use their window of control to pass amendments to the constitution requiring voter ID, easing the rollback of regulations, and potentially even limiting abortion rights. Attempts to amend the state constitution were passed last session and if they pass in two consecutive sessions, they will be put on the ballot for voters to consider without the need of the signature of Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

After anti-abortion, Trump-allied Republicans were soundly rejected at the ballot box in this year’s midterm elections, Democrats argue that such a move would amount to a flouting of November’s vote.

ny times logoNew York Times, Casinos Target a Vulnerable Clientele: Older Asian Gamblers, Nicole Hong, Mable Chan and Janice Chung,Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The industry’s efforts to lure Asian customers will be a significant factor looming over the upcoming application process for new casino licenses in New York.

With New York City set to get its first full-service casino in the coming years, and potentially three of them, Asians are expected to be a core customer base, deepening a complicated relationship the community has with casinos.

Many of the city’s older Chinese residents rely on the weekly bus routine for entertainment — and even income from selling their vouchers — as a way to deal with the isolation of living in a country where they barely speak the language.

Politico, Trump Christmas message: 'The USA is dying from within!!!' David Cohen, Dec. 26, 2022. His holiday messages mixed cheers and jeers.

politico CustomFormer President Donald Trump on Sunday offered a holiday tirade on his Truth Social platform that ended with: “The USA is dying from within!!!”

“On this very cold but beautiful Christmas Day, look at our Nation NOW on the Southern Border compared to only a short time ago during the Trump Administration,” he wrote on his Truth Social Platform, characterizing current conditions as a “horror show.”

That message followed one from Saturday in which he had opened and closed with Christmas greetings — “Merry Christmas to EVERYONE” and “LOVE TO ALL!” — but otherwise took aim at his usual targets and praised himself. At one point, Trump, who is running for president again, referred to himself as “clairvoyant,” without elaboration.

The tone of Trump’s holiday messages differed from those of his predecessor and his successor.

“Merry Christmas, everybody! One of the best parts of the holiday season is getting to spend time with the special people in our lives. I hope you all have a wonderful and joyful Christmas,” former President Barack Obama said in a post illustrated with a picture of his wife and daughters.

President Joe Biden posted a photo of him and first lady Jill Biden finishing up their tree Saturday night, then tweeted on Christmas morning: “Jill and I wish you a very Merry Christmas. We hope you and your loved ones are surrounded by love, happiness, and cheer this holiday season.”

On Friday, Trump had responded by video to the release of the 845-page final report of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. He attacked both the credibility of the committee and the accuracy of its conclusions, which were highly critical of him.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s Pick to Lead F.A.A. Faces Murky Road to Confirmation, Mark Walker, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The nominee, Phillip A. Washington, who has yet to receive a confirmation hearing, has drawn scrutiny over his aviation experience and his involvement in a corruption inquiry.

President Biden’s pick to lead the Federal Aviation Administration, Phillip A. Washington, is facing an uncertain path to confirmation amid concerns about his limited aviation experience and his entanglement in a public corruption investigation.

democratic donkey logoMr. Biden nominated Mr. Washington, the chief executive of Denver International Airport, in July, but he has not yet received a confirmation hearing in the Senate. Because the current Congress ends in early January, the president will need to renominate Mr. Washington next year, and a White House spokeswoman would not say whether he planned to do so.

“The F.A.A. has a crucial safety mandate, and filling this role remains a serious priority for the Biden administration,” the spokeswoman, Olivia Dalton, said.

The uncertainty about Mr. Washington’s nomination comes as the F.A.A. is facing a long list of challenges. With air travel returning in force after cratering during the coronavirus pandemic, the agency has received a stream of complaints from travelers over flight delays and cancellations. It is also grappling with issues like improving safety oversight in the aftermath of the Boeing 737 Max crashes, shoring up staffing for the air traffic control system and regulating electric air taxis.

faa logoThe agency has been without permanent leadership since the end of March, when Stephen Dickson, a former Delta Air Lines executive who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, resigned about halfway through his five-year term as F.A.A. administrator. Billy Nolen, the agency’s top safety official, has been in charge since Mr. Dickson’s departure.

Mr. Washington, 64, would come to the agency with a short aviation résumé. Before being hired to a series of transportation positions, he served in the U.S. Army for 24 years, achieving the rank of command sergeant major. In 2000, he joined Denver’s Regional Transportation District, which operates bus routes and rail lines, and became its general manager and chief executive in 2009.

In 2015, he became the chief executive of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the county’s rail and bus systems. Last year, he was chosen to run Denver’s airport, which is one of the busiest in the world.

He also has ties to Mr. Biden and his team. Mr. Washington was a co-chair of the Biden campaign’s infrastructure policy committee, and he led the Biden transition team for the Transportation Department. The F.A.A. is a part of that department.

But his nomination has not been greeted with a flood of support from Mr. Biden’s party on Capitol Hill. Most Democrats on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation did not respond when their offices were asked by The New York Times if they supported Mr. Washington’s confirmation.

The panel’s chairwoman, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, said time constraints had pushed the confirmation process into next year. A spokeswoman for Ms. Cantwell, Ansley Lacitis, said the senator was “looking forward to the nomination hearing and asking questions about strengthening F.A.A.’s independence and safety oversight, building its work force capacity and making sure the F.A.A. is the global gold standard for safety.”

A handful of factors have clouded the status of Mr. Washington’s nomination, including questions about the brevity of his career in aviation.

When Mr. Biden announced his selection of Mr. Washington, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the commerce committee, said he was “skeptical because of the nominee’s lack of experience in aviation.” He added, “This position requires extensive knowledge of the industry in order to ensure the safety and efficiency of the agency and American air travel.”

Mr. Washington has also faced scrutiny over his time running the transit system in Los Angeles, with his name surfacing in a messy political spat that has played out in recent months in the nation’s most populous county.

In September, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department executed a search warrant at the home of a county supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, as part of what the department described as a public corruption investigation. The inquiry involved a series of no-bid contracts awarded by the transit system, known as Metro, to a nonprofit to operate a sexual harassment hotline.

The warrant said that according to a whistle-blower, Mr. Washington had “pushed forward” a contract with the nonprofit “in order to remain ‘in good graces’” with Ms. Kuehl, who was a member of Metro’s board of directors. The warrant added that the whistle-blower confronted Mr. Washington about a $75,000 bill from the nonprofit and that he instructed her to pay it through a process used for office supplies.

The search was itself contentious. The sheriff, Alex Villanueva, had a history of clashing with other officials and had been accused of using investigations to target his adversaries, though he claimed to have recused himself in the inquiry into the nonprofit contracts. The nonprofit’s executive director, Patricia Giggans, whose home

ny times logoNew York Times, Jeep Plant Shutdown Imperils Illinois Town and 1,350 Workers, Neal E. Boudette and Robert Chiarito, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Stellantis plans to idle the factory, which makes the Cherokee, as it shifts to electric vehicles. Labor talks and a union election may be affected.

The Jeep Cherokee was a strong seller just a few years ago. In 2019, a plant in Belvidere, Ill., produced about 190,000 of the sport utility vehicles, employing close to 5,000 people and operating three shifts a day.

Since then, sales have fallen. The factory laid off the third shift, and then the second. This year it is on track to make fewer than 20,000 vehicles.

Even so, it was a shock when the manufacturer, Stellantis, announced this month that the 57-year-old plant would shut down indefinitely at the end of February, putting 1,350 people out of work. And there is fear across the area, an hour’s drive west of Chicago, that “indefinitely” could mean forever.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal employees to get average raise of 4.6% in January, Eric Yoder, Dec. 25, 2022. Federal employees will receive raises ranging from about 4.4 percent to 5.2 percent on Jan. 1, with a 4.86 percent boost to those working in the Washington-Baltimore area under an order President Biden signed late Friday.

The order applies to the large majority of the nearly 2.2 million executive branch employees, with amounts varying by local area. The overall average of 4.6 percent is the largest increase since 2002.

The raise technically applies only to white-collar employees below the senior levels paid under the General Schedule pay system. However, blue-collar federal employees, who fall under a different system, will again have their raises tied to those of white-collar employees in their area.

The largest raise, of 5.15 percent, will be paid to employees working in the Seattle area. The smallest, 4.37 percent, applies to employees outside the four dozen city areas that have their own rates.

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine’s foreign minister proposed a peace summit by the end of February, Carly Olson, Dec. 26, 2022. Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday that his government hopes to have a peace summit by the end of February, about one year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that the United Nations could host the summit, with Secretary General António Guterres acting as the possible mediator.

“Every war ends in a diplomatic way,” Mr. Kuleba said in the interview. “Every war ends as a result of the actions taken on the battlefield and at the negotiating table.”

Mr. Kuleba said that Russia would need to face prosecution for war crimes at an international court to attend the summit.

Mr. Kuleba added that he was “absolutely satisfied” with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the United States last week and that the Patriot missile battery would be operational in Ukraine within six months.

Although Ukrainian officials have proposed a peace deal for months, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said Monday that he was willing to negotiate, American and European officials have said that it is difficult to envision terms of a settlement that both Ukraine and Russia would accept.

Earlier this month, Mr. Zelensky discussed his vision for a global peace summit in a call with President Biden. And in November, at the annual Group of 20 summit in Bali, Mr. Zelensky spoke about his “path to peace” to end the war, noting that Ukraine would not compromise on its stance until its territory was reinstated.

Also on Monday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry demanded that Russia be removed as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and called for the country’s expulsion from the United Nations, a move considered unlikely.

The foreign ministry said that Russia illegally took over the Soviet Union’s seat without going through necessary procedures outlined in the U.N. charter when the union broke up in 1991. It also argued that Russia has abused its veto powers on the Security Council.

Russia should be readmitted only once it “fulfills the conditions for membership in the Organization,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Moscow Says Base Deep Inside Russia Is Attacked by Ukrainian Drone, Ivan Nechepurenko and Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 26, 2022. Russian media reported that three troops were killed when a drone was shot down over the Engels air base, which came under a similar attack this month.

Three servicemen died after a Ukrainian drone was shot down on its approach toward a Russian air base, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Monday, highlighting Russian vulnerability as Ukraine appears increasingly willing and able to reach targets deep within the country.

The week after President Volodymyr Zelensky received a hero’s welcome in Washington, where he appealed for even more powerful weapons aid, Kyiv showed it is also capable of defending against Russia with its own arsenal of long-range weaponry.

It was the second attack this month on the Engels military facility, which is about 300 miles from the Ukrainian border and hosts Russia’s strategic bombers, part of the country’s nuclear triad. The drones in the first attack were launched from Ukrainian territory, according to a senior Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity at the time.

The Ukrainian government publicly follows a policy of deliberate ambiguity about strikes on Russian territory, which began within the first month of the war with a Ukrainian helicopter assault near Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. But Ukraine has been open about developing long-range drones.

Although Ukrainian officials do not publicly confirm Ukraine’s military attacks on targets in Russia, which have had only military targets, they openly praise successful hits and discuss how they benefit Ukraine militarily. In that vein, Col. Yuriy Ihnat, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, said Monday on Ukrainian television that the latest explosion at Engels air base was “a consequence of what Russia is doing” in Ukraine.

“If the Russians thought that no one at home would be affected by the war, then they were deeply mistaken,” he said. The first explosion at the air base this month forced Russia’s Air Force to move planes from the site, he said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement cited by TASS, a state news agency, that a Ukrainian drone was shot down early on Monday morning “at low altitude” and that three servicemen were killed by its wreckage.

The aircraft at the base were not damaged as a result of the attack, the ministry said. Russia’s account could not be independently confirmed.

Both the State Department and Defense Department declined to comment on the reported drone strikes on Monday. A State Department official referred to comments from spokesman Ned Price after the first strike on Engels and another airfield in Russia’s Ryazan region on Dec. 6, in which he noted that the United States had not provided Ukraine with weapons for use inside Russia.

“We have been very clear that these are defensive supplies,” he said at the time. “We are not encouraging Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”

Shortly after the Dec. 6 attacks on the bases, Russia sent a barrage of missiles streaking toward Ukrainian cities.

The Engels airfield, on the Volga River in southern Russia, is a base for some of Russia’s long-range, nuclear-capable bombers, including the Tupolev-160 and Tupolev-95. Ukrainian officials say it is also a staging ground for Russia’s unrelenting campaign of missile attacks on infrastructure, which have left millions of Ukrainians with intermittent light, heat or water — or none at all — at the onset of winter.

Monday’s attack against Russia’s strategic facility has raised further questions among pro-invasion activists and commentators over the state of Russia’s military and air defense.

“The war, as it should have, opened our eyes on many things,” Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a pro-Russian military commander of a separatist formation in Ukraine, wrote in his channel on Telegram, a popular messaging app.

“We understand now that we are vulnerable,” he said. “Otherwise, it would be possible to stay in our illusions indefinitely until something more serious fell on our heads.”

Here’s what we know:

  • Russian media reported that three troops were killed when a drone was shot down over the Engels air base, which came under a similar attack this month.
  • The drone attack would be the second aimed at Engels air base this month.
  • Zelensky warns Ukrainians that Russia might strike the electrical grid before New Year’s Eve.
  • After a deadly weekend attack, the authorities in Kherson renew their appeal for people to evacuate.
  • The president of Belarus is in Russia amid concerns of a new offensive in Ukraine.
  • A timeline of attacks on Russian territory or assets during the war in Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Christmas Address, Pope Bemoans ‘Grave Famine of Peace,’ Jason Horowitz, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Pope Francis urged the tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square to pray for Ukraine and for others suffering in conflicts around the world.

 

A photo made available by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shows President Volodymyr Zelensky in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Dec. 20, 2022.

A photo made available by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service shows President Volodymyr Zelensky in Bakhmut, Ukraine, on Dec. 20, 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Russia bombs Ukraine’s infrastructure, its own services crumble, Francesca Ebel, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). As Russia has launched relentless strikes on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, leaving millions without electricity, water and heat, towns across Russia have been beset by their own, utility-related disasters.

A huge gas pipeline explosion outside St. Petersburg last month, major fires in two separate Moscow shopping malls allegedly caused by dodgy welding, and faulty power grids that have left tens of thousands without heat and electricity are just some of the incidents reported since Russia’s efforts to obliterate Ukraine’s infrastructure that began in October.

In late October, two sewer pipes burst in the southern city of Volgograd, flooding several streets with feces and waste water, and leaving 200,000 of the 1 million residents without water or heating for several days.

Ilya Kravchenko, a local lawmaker who collected testimony from more than 1,000 victims of the incident and filed a lawsuit against the corporation that owns the sewer system, said the sight was “not pretty.”

“This is the worst year on record. The city has never had so many problems,” Kravchenko said.

A few weeks later, a similar, though less drastic sewage problem in the town of Pervouralsk, a small city west of Yekaterinburg, provoked residents to drag buckets of fecal water to the offices of the local water council in protest, claiming authorities had neglected the problem for years.

Putin declares ‘war’ – aloud – forsaking his special euphemistic operation

While disasters now raise suspicions of sabotage linked to the war in Ukraine, poorly maintained infrastructure is a long-standing and persistent problem in Russia — the result of old Soviet-era systems in need of repair and costly maintenance, decades of endemic corruption, and the government’s prioritization of defense and security budgets, as well as the development of major cities over regional towns.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Citizen Spies Foiled Putin’s Grand Plan for One Ukrainian City, Jeffrey Gettleman, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.).They undermined and even hunted down Russian soldiers in Kherson. With President Vladimir Putin’s forces now gone, they feel free to talk — and to brag a little.

Kherson, at the mouth of the Dnipro, near the Black Sea, was captured in the war’s first days. Russian officials soon declared it part of Russia forever.

Kherson’s occupation government, run by Russian military commanders and Ukrainian collaborators, wasted little time pulling down Ukrainian flags, taking over Ukrainian schools, trucking in crates of Russian rubles, even importing Russian families. Perhaps nowhere else in Ukraine did Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, devote so much money and violence, the carrot and the stick, to bend a city to his imperial will.

But it did not work.

Recent Related Headlines

 

More On Trump, Insurrectionists, Allies

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), left to right, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY), Thursday, June 9, 2022

ny times logoNew York Times, The Jan. 6 Report Is Out. Now the Real Work Begins, Julian E. Zelizer, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Zelizer is an editor of the forthcoming book “Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past.”

Much attention this week has focused on the Jan. 6 committee’s criminal referrals. But in its report, released on Thursday, the committee also has pointed to broad and long-lasting legislative and policy reforms that will be essential if Congress is to prevent further instability of American democracy.

The report comes almost a half-century after another famous report of sorts was completed: the Watergate “road map,” which was passed to the House Judiciary Committee by Leon Jaworski, the special prosecutor.

As the Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein has said, “the American system worked.” But the system didn’t just correct itself after Watergate — that is a myth that has taken root over the past several decades. And it’s a dangerous myth, in that it creates an illusory sense of confidence whenever America goes through major political and constitutional crises.

As with the Watergate road map, the Jan. 6 report doesn’t put an end to the crisis of American democracy. The report reveals that the attempted coup almost worked. If there had been a handful of different people in key positions of power — from Justice Department lawyers to secretaries of state — the overturning might have been successful. It is all too easy to imagine that next time, things might go differently.

If there is any criticism to be made of the committee’s report, it is that it focuses so much on former President Donald Trump and his accomplices and doesn’t do enough to emphasize the urgent imperative to move forward with institutional reforms to protect America’s election system.

When I look back at Watergate, what I see is not a self-correcting constitutional system. Rather, I see an era when a reform coalition of legislators, organizations and journalists took it upon themselves to try to fix the institutional problems that had enabled President Richard Nixon to do the bad things that he did — not just his campaign’s involvement in the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, but also the broader abuses of executive power that were part of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the “imperial presidency.” The reforms that followed required sustained effort, and they didn’t happen quickly: It took almost a decade to set in place a suite of laws to deal with the toxic foundation of Nixon’s presidency.

This response to Watergate was not inevitable. Reform depended on the establishment or expansion of a robust network of organizations, including Common Cause and Congress Watch. Those organizations insisted that legislation creating stronger checks on the executive branch, strengthening Congress and imposing laws to make it easier to hold officials accountable were the only ways to check bad behavior.

The “Watergate Babies” elected in the 1974 midterm elections devoted political capital toward reform. A young generation of investigative journalists were inspired by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who doggedly exposed corruption. This coalition lobbied legislators, kept media attention focused on these issues and nurtured electoral pressure.

As a result of their efforts, there was a burst of legislation that attempted to constrain the executive branch. Some bills aiming to restore the balance of power, such as the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, passed as Nixon’s scandals were still unfolding.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Republicans inch away from election denialism, one activist digs in, Patrick Marley, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Harry Wait ordered ballots in the names of others to show voter fraud is possible. Now facing up to 13 years in prison, he is undaunted in his crusade to change Wisconsin’s voting laws. Harry Wait marched into the courthouse, walked through a metal detector and planted himself on a bench in the ornate lobby. His supporters, some wearing bright yellow “Free Harry” T-shirts, chatted amiably as they followed him inside.

Emboldened by former president Donald Trump’s false election claims, Wait in July had ordered absentee ballots in the names of others for the purpose, he said, of exposing what he considers flaws in Wisconsin’s voting systems. Now, on a warm September afternoon, he was using the resulting voter-fraud charges against him — which could land him in prison for up to 13 years — to amplify his argument that absentee balloting should be severely restricted.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat because to save the republic, soldiers have to draw blood and blood be drawn,” Wait said as he sat on the courthouse bench.

For two years, a large segment of Trump supporters has embraced discredited claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The strategy of cultivating anger over supposed voter fraud proved politically disastrous this fall, when election deniers lost high-profile races from Arizona to Pennsylvania.

Now some Republican leaders are urging their party to downplay election denialism and shift its focus to other issues to improve its chances of winning the presidency in 2024.

But activists such as Wait are making that difficult, showing how hard it will be to extinguish the grievance and distrust whipped up by Trump and his allies. Undeterred by the November results, Wait in recent weeks has rallied for overhauling election rules, planned a January protest at the state Capitol and pledged to use the charges against him to trumpet his call for new voting laws. For him, the fight over elections continues.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

Global Immigration, Migration, Asylum Issues

washington post logoWashington Post, Europe Migrants bused from Texas arrive at VP’s house on frigid Christmas Eve, Meryl Kornfield, Kyle Rempfer and Lizzie Johnson, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). About 110 to 130 men, women and children got off the buses outside the Naval Observatory on Saturday night in 18-degree weather after a two-day journey from South Texas, according to the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. On the coldest Christmas Eve day on record in the District, some migrants were bundled up in blankets as they were greeted by volunteers who had received word that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had sent the caravan.

Volunteers scrambled to meet the asylum seekers after the buses, which were scheduled to arrive in New York on Christmas Day, were rerouted due to the winter weather. In a hastily arranged welcoming, a church on Capitol Hill agreed to temporarily shelter the group while one of the mutual aid groups, SAMU First Response, arranged 150 breakfasts, lunches and dinners by the restaurant chain Sardis.

Recent Revelant Headlines

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

ny times logoNew York Times, As Applications Fall, Police Departments Lure Recruits With Bonuses and Attention, Mitch Smith, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Many police chiefs said staffing levels have not rebounded from a wave of resignations that started with the pandemic and the 2020 unrest.

As American police departments seek to overcome an exodus of disgruntled officers and a sudden decline in applications, they are wooing recruits with some of the tactics a football coach might use to land a prized quarterback.

In Fairfax County, Va., in the suburbs of Washington, future officers are being treated to a “signing day” ceremony where they formally accept their job offers.

Out-of-state residents who want to join the police force in Louisville, Ky., are being flown in to take entrance tests, put up in a hotel and paired with an officer for a ride-along.

On the West Coast, some agencies are offering bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars to lure officers from other departments to transfer.

The economics of law enforcement were long tilted in favor of police departments, which often had far more qualified applicants than they did job openings. No longer. A steep drop in the number of people wanting to become police officers since the start of the pandemic and the unrest of 2020 have given extraordinary leverage to job seekers, forcing departments to market themselves in new ways.

“The game has clearly changed,” said Marcus Jones, the police chief in Montgomery County, Md., who said he discovered that another department was using location-based digital advertising to target the area around his police stations with job postings.

Calls to radically revamp policing and divert resources to other agencies, heard in protests nationwide after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, have since cooled. But police chiefs say they are still contending with the fallout from those months.

washington post logoWashington Post, Police dismissed Black leaders’ claims of a serial killer. Then a woman escaped, Annie Gowen, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). The minister on the TikTok video was visibly upset, warning that a “serial killer” was targeting young women in a drug-ridden industrial area in Kansas City where residents believe a number of women have disappeared in recent months.

“We got three young ladies that are missing, ain’t nobody saying a word,” Tony Caldwell said on the video, with emotion. “What is the problem? Why can’t we get some cooperation? Where are our community leaders? Where’s our activists? Where’s our public officials? Where’s our police department. C’mon now!”

Caldwell’s stark warning about the dangers along Prospect Avenue — posted by the Kansas City Defender, a news site covering the Black community — quickly went viral in late September, garnering nearly 700,000 hits and inspiring the spread of further warnings on Facebook. Then the Kansas City Police Department moved swiftly to rebut the rumors, calling the allegations “completely unfounded.”

The tragedy that came to light two weeks later has roiled the metro area and widened the gulf of distrust between the Black community, which has long felt ignored and dismissed by law enforcement, and the Kansas City Police Department which has been under fire for recent killings of unarmed Black men, racist treatment of Black officers within its own ranks and the city’s rising homicide rate.

 Other Court and Crime News Headlines

 

Musk, Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX

 

elon musk thumbs up

washington post logoWashington Post, Twitter brings Elon Musk’s genius reputation crashing down to earth, Faiz Siddiqui, Dec. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Musk, shown above in a file photo, went down conspiracy rabbit holes and sank Tesla’s stock with his behavior. And he was confronted with a chorus of boos in the cradle of the tech industry.

twitter bird CustomMusk has built his reputation on having a Midas touch with the companies he runs — something many investors and experts thought he would bring to Twitter when he purchased it for $44 billion in October, paying nearly twice as much as it was worth by some analyst estimates. He is known for sleeping on the factory floor at Tesla, demanding long hours and quick turnarounds from his workers. He is seen as an engineering genius, propelling promises of cars that can drive themselves and rockets that can take humans to Mars.

But that image is unraveling. Some Twitter employees who worked with Musk are doubtful his management style will allow him to turn the company around. And some investors in Tesla, by far the biggest source of his wealth, have begun to see him as a liability. Musk’s distraction has prompted questions about leadership of SpaceX as well, though it is much less reliant on his active involvement. Meanwhile, Neuralink and Boring Co., two companies he founded, continue to lag on promises.

Musk’s net worth — largely fueled by his stake in Tesla, which has fallen by more than half this year — has plunged this year from roughly $270 billion to below $140 billion on Friday, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. That fall has relieved him of the title of the world’s richest man and called into question his ability to keep up with his billions of dollars in loans.

Musk is repeatedly described as a man obsessed with Twitter in all the wrong ways, who is failing both at protecting his new investment and his previous ones, according to interviews with a half-dozen former Twitter employees and people close to him, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution or because they were not authorized to speak publicly about company matters.

Musk this week said Twitter is in a financial hole and facing a cash crunch — even as it slashed more than half of the workforce and closed offices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Journalists who won’t delete Musk tweets remain locked out of Twitter, Paul Farhi, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Elon Musk suspended reporters from Twitter and later reinstated them, but with a catch: They must nix their tweets related to the account @ElonJet, which has tracked Musk’s private plane using public data.

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Global Scandals, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Iranian doctor faces execution amid outcry over protest-related sentences, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Hamid Ghare-Hassanlou, 53, and his wife Farzaneh, 46, were on their way home from a cemetery near Karaj, some 30 miles west of Tehran, when they hit standstill traffic.

That’s when their trouble began, according to friends, family members and human rights advocates, who have been trying to piece together what happened. After the events of that day, Ghare-Hassanlou faces a death sentence — handed down amid a spate of harsh rulings that human rights advocates say have been dispensed without due process, in an apparent effort to quell the country’s ongoing protest movement.
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Iran FlagThe couple was part of a group departing a Nov. 3 ceremony to honor Hadis Najafi, a young woman who was killed in September during an anti-government protest. Ghare-Hassanlou and his wife exited their car to see why traffic had stopped and entered a scene of chaos.

Videos taken at the scene, aired by state media outlets and shared widely on social media, showed protesters brutally beating a member of the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary force connected to the Revolutionary Guard, in the road, hitting, kicking and dragging him as he lies motionless. In one video, Ghare-Hassanlou’s wife appears to be trying to restrain the mob.

“Farzaneh tried to stop them but she was not successful,” said Hooman Hosseini Nik, a radiologist who completed his residency with Hamid in Iran and now lives in Canada.

That night security forces raided the couple’s home and arrested them, beating them in front of their 14-year-old daughter, said Behrad Sadoughian, a former classmate of Ghare-Hassanlou in Iran who now lives in Canada and has been following the case closely. A member of the security forces grabbed Ghare-Hassanlou, a radiologist known for his charitable work, by the hair, putting a knife to his throat and demanding to know where the couple kept weapons, Sadoughian says. He heard accounts of the night from those close to Ghare-Hassanlou.

Friends and family members, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety, argue that there is no evidence to indicate that the couple participated in the violence against the Basij member, Ruhollah Ajamian. In addition, family members who said they spoke to the couple before their arrest recall them saying they came to the aid of a cleric who had been severely beaten nearby.

In a video posted online by the state-backed Fars news agency, the cleric, identified by local media as Yasser Esmaili, describes how two people helped him at the time he was assaulted. In particular, he notes that a woman wearing an improper hijab stood near him and prevented the mob from attacking him again. Family members say this matches what Farzaneh Ghare-Hassanlou told them.

On Dec. 5, Ghare-Hassanlou was sentenced to death and his wife was handed 25 years for her alleged role in the death of Ajamian, the Basij member. Family members, friends and human rights groups say the couple did not have adequate legal representation.

At least 15 people faced charges in Ajamian’s death; five of them, including Ghare-Hassanlou, received death sentences.

At least 11 people, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, have been sentenced to death in connection with the protest movement, which began in September following the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, 22, after she was detained for allegedly violating the country’s conservative dress code for women. More than 500 people have been killed and some 18,000 arrested amid the protests, according to the HRANA activist news agency. Accurate figures are difficult to ascertain.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.N. Fears 180 Rohingya Refugees in Stranded Boat Are Dead, Mujib Mashal and Saif Hasnat, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Families lost contact weeks ago with their relatives on the boat, the U.N. refugee agency says, while at least some of those on another boat adrift for weeks appear to have been rescued.

The United Nations said it feared that 180 Rohingya refugees stranded for weeks in the Andaman Sea may have died, while hope emerged that some of those adrift on a second crowded boat had been rescued in Indonesia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Maoist leader Prachanda emerges as Nepal’s prime minister, Gerry Shih and Sangam Prasai, Dec. 26, 2022. Weeks of backroom intrigue culminated with Prachanda, long seen as a potential kingmaker, emerging victorious with support from a rival turned comrade.

The former leader of Nepal’s Maoist rebels, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, widely known as Prachanda, was sworn in Monday as prime minister, signaling a potential foreign policy shift in the Himalayan nation caught between international powers.

As leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), Prachanda, 68, finished third in the Nov. 20 elections behind the sitting prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba of the Nepali Congress, and K.P. Sharma Oli, a former prime minister who leads the Unified Marxist-Leninists. While Deuba is widely seen as pro-India and pro-America, Prachanda and Oli — the heads of warring Communist Party factions who have fallen out and rejoined forces several times — are seen as pro-China.

Since the November election, none of the contenders had the votes to form a government outright. But weeks of backroom intrigue culminated late Sunday, when Prachanda, long seen as a potential kingmaker, emerged victorious with support from Oli, his rival turned comrade.

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: Dictators who torture and kill thousands rarely pay. New book tells why, Steven Levingston, Dec. 26, 2022. In ‘To Catch a Dictator,’ Reed Brody tells the long, tangled tale of reeling in Chad’s Hissene Habre.

When Hissene Habre, the former dictator of Chad, was arrested early one Sunday morning in June 2013 at his luxurious compound-in-exile in Dakar, Senegal, celebrations erupted across the country he had terrorized some 2,000 miles away. As president of Chad from 1982 to 1990, Habre slaughtered, starved and raped his people and pilfered millions of dollars. In 1992, a national truth commission estimated that he and his political police were responsible for systematic torture and the deaths of 40,000 Chadians.

Now in custody, the despot would finally have to answer for his crimes.

Or would he?

In his book, To Catch a Dictator, Reed Brody, an American lawyer who worked on the case for Human Rights Watch, recounts the long effort to bring Habre to justice. It’s an absorbing saga that raises a disturbing question: How do brutal fascists like Habre and other murderous heads of state evade a courtroom reckoning for so long after falling from power? For nearly 25 years, Chad’s former ruler “enjoyed a comfortable exile” with “villas and servants and dazzling views of the Atlantic Ocean,” Brody writes. “One thing we knew … was that Habré would not be going down quietly.”

The evidence against him was stark and indisputable. Yet Habre maintained his freedom by exploiting the complexities of international justice, stirring up remnants of his power base, and capitalizing on the shifting winds of African politics and geopolitics. His case underscores a dispiriting truth: Despots, still fearsome in exile, maintain an outsize advantage over their justice-seeking victims. Institutions for adjudicating the worst offenses of fascist rule are often slow, ineffectual or even nonexistent. As Brody observes, in its first 18 years, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the permanent global tribunal for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, “secured only three final convictions of rebel warlords, not heads of state.” In the absence of robust international action to redress human rights abuses, the victims, lawyers and activists propelling the case against Habre had to pioneer their own path to justice.

 Recent Relevant Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Abortion

ny times logoNew York Times, Americans Still Masking Against Covid Find Themselves Isolated, Amy Harmon, Dec. 26, 2022. It can be tough being a committed mask wearer when others have long since moved on from the pandemic.

Bitsy Cherry had been bracing for the question ever since most of the members of a board game group that had started meeting online during the pandemic began attending in-person meetings a few months ago.

Like many of the dwindling group of Americans still taking precautions like masking indoors and limiting face-to-face interactions, Mx. Cherry, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, had been fielding nudges to return to pre-Covid routines from all corners. Doctors’ offices that have dropped mask protocols encouraged Mx. Cherry to come in for a physical exam. Friends suggested repeatedly that gathering on the porch might be safe enough. And there was President Biden, who in remarks on CBS’s “60 Minutes” had declared the pandemic “over.”

But when the board-game organizer finally asked this month if Mx. Cherry was ready to go back to gathering on the Cornell University campus, Mx. Cherry fumbled for an answer. The online gaming group on Saturday afternoons had become a key social outlet for Mx. Cherry, who has remained largely confined at home with Nathanael Nerode, Mx. Cherry’s partner, since March 2020 because of an autoimmune disorder that raises the risk of a severe outcome from Covid.

“I found that one upsetting,’’ Mx. Cherry said in an interview. “I’ve been worried in the back of my mind the whole time: When are they going to decide they don’t want to do this anymore?’’

For many Americans still at pains to avoid infection with the coronavirus, this has become the loneliest moment since the pandemic began.

Exercise classes have largely suspended remote workouts. Families and employers have expected attendance at holiday events. The vulnerable and the risk-averse are finding themselves the rare mask-wearers on public transportation, in places of worship, and at offices and stores.

Even as Covid cases and hospitalizations have climbed across the nation over the last month, public officials are avoiding mask mandates — though officials in some cities, including New York and Los Angeles, have recently recommended wearing masks in public places, citing a “tripledemic” that includes influenza and R.S.V., or respiratory syncytial virus.

It is hard to avoid the feeling of being judged as histrionic, some say, even when evidence suggests they are right to be cautious. And many say they face pressure, internal and external, to adjust to changing social norms around a virus that others are treating as a thing of the past.

“I feel now that I’m getting stares wearing the mask, and I’m not a paranoid person,’’ said Andrew Gold, 66, who was recently the only guest masking at a small housewarming party in his Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. “The vibe I’m getting is: ‘Is this really necessary?’’’

ny times logoNew York Times, Covid Is Spreading Rapidly in China, New Signs Suggest, Chang Che, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Even as official figures from the central government remain low, regional numbers point to explosive outbreaks and overstretched health care systems.

Since China abandoned its restrictive “zero Covid” policy about two weeks ago, the intensity and magnitude of the country’s first nationwide outbreak has remained largely a mystery. With the country ending mass testing, case counts are less useful. The government has a narrow definition of which deaths should count as caused by Covid. Anecdotal evidence, like social media postings of hospital morgues overcrowded with body bags, is quickly taken down by censors.

Now, a picture is emerging of the virus spreading like wildfire.

One province and three cities have reported Covid estimates far exceeding official tallies in recent days. At a news conference on Sunday, an official in Zhejiang Province, home to 65 million people, estimated that daily Covid cases there had exceeded one million.

In the eastern city of Qingdao, population 10 million, a health minister said on Friday that there were roughly half a million new cases each day, a number he expected would rise sharply in the coming days, local news sites reported.

 

U.S. Privacy, Health Rights

fda logo

ny times logoNew York Times, The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills, Pam Belluck, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). Labels of Plan B One-Step had previously said, without scientific evidence, that the pill might block fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb.

The information will be in every box of the most widely used emergency contraceptive pills to make clear that they do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb. The agency explained in an accompanying document that the products cannot be described as abortion pills.

Up to now, packages of the brand-name pill, Plan B One-Step, as well as generic versions of it have said that the pill might work by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb — language that scientific evidence did not support. That wording led some abortion opponents and politicians who equate a fertilized egg with a person to say that taking the morning-after pill could be the equivalent of having an abortion or even committing murder.

The F.D.A. revised the leaflets inserted in packages of pills to say that the medication “works before release of an egg from the ovary,” meaning that it acts before fertilization, not after. The package insert also says the pill “will not work if you’re already pregnant, and will not affect an existing pregnancy.”

In a question-and-answer document posted on the F.D.A.’s website, the agency explicitly addressed the abortion issue. In answer to the question, “Is Plan B One-Step able to cause an abortion?” the agency writes: “No.” It added: “Plan B One-Step prevents pregnancy by acting on ovulation, which occurs well before implantation. Evidence does not support that the drug affects implantation or maintenance of pregnancy after implantation, therefore, it does not terminate a pregnancy.”

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘I’m Not Ready’: A Mother Denied an Abortion in Texas Faces an Uncertain Future, Dec. 19, 2022 (print ed.). Blue Haven Ranch, a faith-based, anti-abortion nonprofit, provides temporary aid for poor Texas women with newborns. But how will they survive when the support ends?

ny times logocovad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2New York Times, ‘Tripledemic’ Rages On: Fever-Filled Weeks Lie Ahead, Emily Anthes, Dec. 23, 2022 (print ed.). R.S.V. has probably peaked, but flu is still surging and Covid-19 cases are rising. Scientists are hopeful next winter will be better.

New, immune evasive versions of the Omicron variant are spreading, and Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are once again rising, although the figures remain far below last winter’s peak. But this year the coronavirus has company: Common seasonal viruses, which lay low for the last two winters, have come roaring back.

Recent Related Headlines

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy 

climate change photo

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Scientists say Arctic warming could be to blame for blasts of extreme cold, Scott Dance, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Research suggests that climate change is altering the jet stream, pushing frigid air down to southern climes more frequently. But the scientific jury is still out.

washington post logoWashington Post, As climate change threats grow, textbooks aren’t keeping up, study says, Caroline Preston, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). Study finds that most college biology textbooks devote fewer words to climate change, and focus less on solutions, than they did before 2010.

Evidence is mounting fast of the devastating consequences of climate change on the planet, but college textbooks are not keeping up. A study released Wednesday found that most college biology textbooks published in the 2010s had less content on climate change than textbooks from the previous decade and gave shrinking attention to possible solutions to the global crisis.
10 steps you can take to lower your carbon footprint

The study, conducted by researchers with North Carolina State University, was based on an analysis of 57 college biology textbooks published between 1970 and 2019. The researchers found that coverage of climate change increased over the decades, to a median of 52 sentences in the 2000s.

But the figure dropped in the 2010s, to a median of 45 sentences. That’s less than three pages, according to Jennifer Landin, an associate professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University and an author of the study.

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U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

ny times logoNew York Times, The Artists We Lost in 2022, in Their Words, Gabe Cohn, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.).Music innovators who sang of coal country and “Great Balls of Fire.” An actress who made a signature role out of a devilish baker who meets a fiery end. The trailblazing heart of “In the Heat of the Night.”

The creative people who died this year include many whose lives helped shape our own — through the art they made, and through the words they said. Here is a tribute to just some of them, in their own voices.

New York Times, Conservatives in Western Canada Pass Law Rejecting Federal Sovereignty, Ian Austen, Dec. 26, 2022 (print ed.). A new law in the province of Alberta radically circumscribes federal authority, advancing the agenda of the province’s far-right secessionist movement.

In the heavily conservative western prairie province of Alberta, Canada, many residents, especially those on the far right, chafed at the Covid-19 restrictions imposed by the Liberal federal government in Ottawa, the country’s capital.

The widespread resentment helped fuel the enormous truck blockade this year that disrupted trade with the United States and paralyzed Ottawa for a month.

Now, oil-rich Alberta has ratcheted up the long-running schism between western and eastern Canada by approving a bill allowing the province to ignore any federal laws and regulations it opposes, a move some critics described as an unconstitutional threat to the basic fabric of the country’s government.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pandemic Woes Lead Met Opera to Tap Endowment and Embrace New Works, Javier C. Hernández, Dec. 26, 2022. Facing tepid ticket sales, the company will withdraw up to $30 million and stage more operas by living composers, which have been outselling the classics.

Hit hard by a cash shortfall and lackluster ticket sales as it tries to lure audiences back amid the pandemic, the Metropolitan Opera said Monday that it would withdraw up to $30 million from its endowment, give fewer performances next season and accelerate its embrace of contemporary works, which, in a shift, have been outselling the classics.

The dramatic financial and artistic moves show the extent to which the pandemic and its aftermath continue to roil the Met, the premier opera company in the United States, and come as many other performing arts institutions face similar pressures.

“The challenges are greater than ever,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager. “The only path forward is reinvention.”

Nonprofit organizations try to dip into their endowments only as a last resort, since the funds are meant to grow over time while producing a steady source of investment income. The Met’s endowment, which was valued at $306 million, was already considered small for an institution of its size. This season it is turning to the endowment to cover operating expenses, to help offset weak ticket sales and a cash shortfall that emerged as some donors were reluctant to accelerate pledged gifts amid the stock market downturn. As more cash gifts materialize, the company hopes to replenish the endowment.

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Dec. 25

Top Headlines

 

More On Trump, Finances, Insurrectionists, Allies, Disputes

 

Global Immigration, Migratin, Asylum Issues

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

Ukraine War

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

Musk, Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX

 

Global Stories, Human Rights

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

Weather, Climate, Disasters, Energy

 

U.S. High Tech, Education, Media, Culture

 

Top Stories

 

Alex Jones, the founder of right-wing media group Infowars, addresses a crowd of pro-Trump protesters after they storm the grounds of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Photo by Jon Cherry via Getty Images).Alex Jones, the founder of right-wing media group Infowars, addresses a crowd of pro-Trump protesters after they storm the grounds of the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC (Photo by Jon Cherry via Getty Images).

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Worst Fears for Democracy Were Averted in 2022, Charles Homans, Jazmine Ulloa and Blake Hounshell, Dec. 25, 2022 (print ed.). A slice of the electorate broke with its own voting history to reject extremist G.O.P. candidates — at least partly out of concern for the political system.

Not long ago, Joe Mohler would have seemed an unlikely person to help bury the political legacy of Donald J. Trump.

american flag upside down distressMr. Mohler, a 24-year-old Republican committeeman and law student in Lancaster Township, Pa., voted for Mr. Trump in 2016. He voted for him again in 2020 — but this time with some misgivings. And when Mr. Trump began spouting lies and conspiracy theories about his 2020 loss, Mr. Mohler, who grew up in a solidly conservative area of southeastern Pennsylvania, was troubled to hear many people he knew repeat them.

Last January, after county Republican leaders aligned with a group known for spreading misinformation about the 2020 election and Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Mohler spoke out against them — a move that he said cost him his post as chairman of the township G.O.P. committee.

“I just realized how much of a sham the whole movement was,” he said. “The moment the veil is pulled from your face, you realize how ugly the face is that you are looking at.”

Mr. Mohler was part of a precariously narrow but consequential slice of the electorate that went against its own voting history this year in order to reject Republican candidates who sought control over elections, at least in part out of concern for the health of the political system and the future of democracy.

doug mastriano carolyn kaster ap primary night via msnbcAfter deciding that preserving the integrity of elections was his single most important issue in 2022, he voted last month for the party’s nominee for Senate, Mehmet Oz, who hedged carefully on the question of who won the 2020 election but eventually said he would have voted to certify Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory had he been in office. But in the governor’s race, Mr. Mohler decided he could not vote for Doug Mastriano, left, the Republican candidate, who as a state senator was central to efforts to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2020 election results.

Mr. Mastriano had pledged to decertify voting machines in counties where he suspected the results were fraudulent and to appoint as secretary of the commonwealth, the office overseeing elections in Pennsylvania, someone who shared his views.

“It was just so reprehensible,” Mr. Mohler said. “I didn’t want anybody like that in the governor’s office.”

The decisions of voters like Mr. Mohler, discernible in surveys and voiced in interviews, did not necessarily lay to rest concerns about the ability of the election system to withstand the new pressures unleashed upon it by Mr. Trump. But they did suggest a possible ceiling on the appeal of extreme partisanship — one that prevented, in this cycle, the worst fears for the health of democracy from being realized.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Evidence and Calls for Accountability, Jan. 6 Panel Seeks a Legacy, Luke Broadwater, Dec. 24, 2022 (print ed.). The committee’s report provided new details on former President Trump’s actions and a record for history. But Republicans will try to discredit it.

The House Jan. 6 committee’s 845-page final report is chock-full of new details about former President Donald J. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.

It documents how Mr. Trump and his allies tried at least 200 times to convince state or local officials to throw out President Biden’s victory. It reveals that Mr. Trump did, in fact, push for the National Guard to be present on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021 — but to protect his supporters as they marched on Congress, not lawmakers.

And it has new testimony from Trump aides like Hope Hicks, who became overwhelmed with disgust at the president’s behavior and the mob riot they were witnessing. “We all look like domestic terrorists now,” she wrote in a text.

But even as the committee continues to reveal damning evidence about the attack on the Capitol and what led to it, it has reached the end of its run. The publication of the report, the result of an exhaustive monthslong effort, has created a permanent record intended at a minimum to hold Mr. Trump accountable in history. Criminal referrals have been issued. Much of the panel’s staff has moved on, accepting other jobs.

Twitter owner and CEO Elon Musk, standing in the back row at center, is shown with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in Qatar at the World Cup championship game in a VIP box on Dec. 18, 2022.Twitter owner Elon Musk, standing in the back row at center, is shown with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner in Qatar at the World Cup championship game in a VIP box on Dec. 18, 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Here’s who helped Elon Musk buy Twitter, Hamza Shaban and Faiz Siddiqui, Dec. 25, 2022 (print ed.). Who pulls the financial strings at Twitter? These are Musk’s backers:

  • Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al Saud
  • The Qatar Investment Authority
  • Binance
  • Andreessen Horowitz
  • Sequoia Capital
  • Larry Ellison
  • Jack Dorsey
  • Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays

After slashing half the company’s 7,500 member staff, he’s driven away advertisers and created a bigger financial hole for the company. So far, his ideas for bringing in additional money — paying for verification and additional features — have failed to make much of a dent. An unscientific poll he launched recently told him to step down as CEO.

twitter bird CustomOn a Twitter audio chat recently, Musk cited the company’s precarious financial position as a driver of his aggressive job cuts and drastic actions, adding “we have an emergency fire drill on our hands.”

That’s making at least some of his investors in the deal antsy, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. Last week, at least a couple of the original investors received letters from a Musk associate soliciting additional investments, according to two people familiar with the matter, although it was unclear if that would proceed.

Here’s who initially invested in the deal, and what we know about why:

Foreign Investors

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al Saud (Saudi Arabia). Estimated Contribution: $2 Billion

The Saudi prince agreed in May to convert his shares of Twitter, worth nearly $2 billion, into a stake in the company when Musk took it private. A month earlier, he had publicly sparred with alwaleed bin talal afp via gettyMusk about the company’s worth, but later tweeted that Musk would be an “excellent leader for Twitter.”

Saudi Arabian flagThe prince, left, has previously placed winning bets on Apple, Amazon and eBay. But his latest Silicon Valley investment has drawn skepticism in Washington. President Biden and some members of Congress have called on officials to examine the role of Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Twitter deal.

The Qatar Investment Authority. Estimated Contribution: $375 Million.

Known for its investments in companies including Barclays, Credit Suisse and Volkswagen, the $450 billion fund has an expansive footprint across the qatar mapglobe, and counts itself among Musk’s investors, putting up $375 million toward the deal. The fund is fueled by Qatar’s liquefied natural gas exports and helps power the gulf nation’s diplomatic and political projects.

Musk was spotted with Mansoor Bin Ebrahim Al-Mahmoud, CEO of Qatar Investment Authority earlier this month at the World Cup finale.

Binance. Estimated Contribution: $500 million

The massive cryptocurrency exchange was recently in the news for backing out of its plans to acquire FTX, a rival exchange co-founded by Sam Bankman-Fried that has since collapsed. binance logoShortly after Musk’s initial bid for Twitter, Binance contacted him and committed $500 million toward the purchase.

The exchange’s executives have said they support Musk’s desire to curb the presence of bots on the platform. They have also said they see Twitter as an opportunity to research and develop crypto-related technology and services, including payments and authentication. The crypto company, founded in China, has no headquarters and has drawn the scrutiny of regulators in the United States, Britain and Japan.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukrainians struggle to find, reclaim children taken by Russia, Robyn Dixon and Natalia Abbakumova, Dec. 25, 2022. While Ukrainians face daunting logistical barriers to recover children taken to Russia, Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May making it quick and easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children.

Oleksandr has not seen his mother since Russian soldiers captured the pair in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, in April and took her away. At 12, he escaped adoption into a Russian family only because he remembered his grandmother’s phone number and called her to come and save him.
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Russia’s proxy social welfare officials in occupied Ukraine discouraged her, warning of heavy fighting.

ukraine flag“They said that they would send him to an orphanage or they would find a family in Russia,” said his grandmother, Lyudmila, of Ichnya, in Ukraine’s northern Chernihiv region. “I told them, ‘I’ll risk my life. I’ll come and pick him up.’ I was pleading with them not to send him to Russia.

“They told me, ‘It’s going to be very hard, and the paperwork is awful.’ I said I didn’t care,” Lyudmila said. The Washington Post is identifying her and Oleksandr by first names only to protect them from reprisal.

While Ukrainians face daunting logistical barriers to recover children taken to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May making it quick and easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children.
Lyudmila, who lives in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine, had to beg Russian-designated child welfare officials in Donetsk, in occupied Ukraine, not to send her grandson Oleksander to Russia for adoption, after he was separated from his family by war. (Family photo)

The policy is vigorously pursued by Putin’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia. Last spring, Lvova-Belova personally adopted a Ukrainian boy — an orphan who had been evacuated from the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which was under heavy bombing by Russia, first to Donetsk and then to a sanitorium near Moscow. Lvova-Belova has also spoken publicly about her efforts to change his views.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine, a new wartime debate: When is Christmas? Isabelle Khurshudyan, Jeff Stein, Claire Parker and Kamila Hrabchuk, Dec. 25, 2022. Nadiya Zalenetska rushed into the small chapel with a pink bundle in her arms — her 2-month-old daughter, Lyubov, wrapped in a thick blanket. Zalenetska had covered her hair with a red shawl, fitting for a Christmas she was observing two weeks earlier than she ever had before.

Like many Ukrainians, Zalenetska had always known Christmas Day as Jan. 7, according to the Julian calendar used by the Russian and Ukrainian branches of the Orthodox Church. But a movement to reject everything associated with Russia, 10 months into its invasion of Ukraine, has begun to transform even the most sacred traditions.

Many Ukrainians are embracing Dec. 25 as Christmas for the first time, reflecting a desire to be more like the West and less like their assailants.

A poll conducted in the Diia smartphone application — which most Ukrainians use to store their personal documents and access public services — asked what date people prefer for Christmas. Nearly 60 percent (of some 383,000 respondents) chose Dec. 25. The Jan. 7 date came in second.

“This