July 2023 News

 JIPLogo


Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative July 2023 news and views

Note: Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this. 

 

July 31

Top Headlines

djt march 2020 Custom


Trump Watch

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

More On Russia, Ukraine

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 

More On 2024 Presidential Race

 

Crisis In Israel

 

More Global Stories

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Migrants, Homeless, Drug Addicts

ICE logo

 

U.S. Economy, Student Loans, Jobs, Budgets, Politics

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Trump wanted Ukraine to impugn Biden. Republicans finally delivered, Philip Bump

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education Policy

 

More On U.S. Media, Arts, Sports, Culture

 

Top Stories

 

djt march 2020 Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Crushing DeSantis and G.O.P. Rivals, Times/Siena Poll Finds, Shane Goldmacher, July 31, 2023. Donald Trump leads Ron DeSantis and others across nearly every category and region, as primary voters wave off concerns about his escalating legal jeopardy.

Former President Donald J. Trump is dominating his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, leading his nearest challenger, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, by a landslide 37 percentage points nationally among the likely Republican primary electorate, according to the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the 2024 campaign.

Mr. Trump held decisive advantages across almost every demographic group and region and in every ideological wing of the party, the survey found, as Republican voters waved away concerns about his escalating legal jeopardy. He led by wide margins among men and women, younger and older voters, moderates and conservatives, those who went to college and those who didn’t, and in cities, suburbs and rural areas.

The poll shows that some of Mr. DeSantis’s central campaign arguments — that he is more electable than Mr. Trump, and that he would govern more effectively — have so far failed to break through. Even Republicans motivated by the type of issues that have fueled Mr. DeSantis’s rise, such as fighting “radical woke ideology,” favored the former president.

Overall, Mr. Trump led Mr. DeSantis 54 percent to 17 percent. No other candidate topped 3 percent support in the poll.

Below those lopsided top-line figures were other ominous signs for Mr. DeSantis. He performed his weakest among some of the Republican Party’s biggest and most influential constituencies. He earned only 9 percent support among voters at least 65 years old and 13 percent of those without a college degree. Republicans who described themselves as “very conservative” favored Mr. Trump by a 50-point margin, 65 percent to 15 percent.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: This is why former President Trump is so hard to beat, Nate Cohn, July 31, 2023. In the half century of modern presidential primaries, no candidate who led his or her nearest rival by at least 20 points at this stage has ever lost a party nomination.

Today, Donald J. Trump’s lead over Ron DeSantis is nearly twice as large: 37 points, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll of the likely Republican primary electorate released Monday morning.

But even if it might be a mistake to call Mr. Trump “inevitable,” the Times/Siena data suggests that he commands a seemingly unshakable base of loyal supporters, representing more than one-third of the Republican electorate. Alone, their support is not enough for Mr. Trump to win the primary. But it is large enough to make him extremely hard to defeat — perhaps every bit as hard as the historical record suggests.

Here’s what we know about the depth of the support — and opposition — to Mr. Trump from our poll, and why it’s so hard to beat the former president.
The MAGA base, defined

It’s populist. It’s conservative. It’s blue collar. It’s convinced the nation is on the verge of catastrophe. And it’s exceptionally loyal to Donald Trump.

As defined here, members of Mr. Trump’s MAGA base represent 37 percent of the Republican electorate. They “strongly” support him in the Republican primary and have a “very favorable” view of him.

Of course, there’s still plenty of time left before the Iowa caucuses in January. The candidates haven’t even set foot on a debate stage. And while no candidate has ever lost a nomination with so much support, no candidate with so much support has faced so many criminal indictments and investigations, either.

djt ron desantis cnn collage

ny times logoNew York Times, Ron DeSantis invoked Donald Trump’s legal trouble, suggesting he might step up his attacks on his rival, Nicholas Nehamas, July 31, 2023 (print ed.). Ron DeSantis’s remarks to a voter in New Hampshire suggest he may step up his attacks against the man who leads him in national polls by a wide margin.

Two days after former President Donald J. Trump used a demeaning nickname to describe Ron DeSantis to a packed hall of Iowa Republican activists, Mr. DeSantis pointedly invoked the federal indictment against his chief rival, saying that if Mr. Trump had “drained the swamp like he promised,” then he probably “wouldn’t be in the mess that he’s in right now.”

Speaking to reporters on Sunday after a campaign event in New Hampshire, Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, added that Mr. Trump’s use of “juvenile insults” served as a reminder of “why there are so many millions of voters who will never vote for him going forward.”

Mr. DeSantis has generally not used Mr. Trump’s legal troubles against him, and has instead focused on criticizing the Biden administration for what he terms the “weaponization” of federal law enforcement.

But as Mr. DeSantis seeks to reset his ailing campaign by cutting staff and organizing more informal events in the face of a fund-raising shortfall, his comments suggest he may be taking a less timid approach against the man who leads him in national polls by a wide margin. Even allies have said that his campaign has lacked a coherent message about why voters should choose him over Mr. Trump.

ny times logoNew York Times, Judge Rejects Trump’s Effort to Short-Circuit Georgia Election Case, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, July 31, 2023. A Fulton County judge chided Donald Trump’s lawyers for “unnecessary and unfounded legal filings” ahead of indictments expected in mid-August.

A Georgia judge forcefully rejected on Monday an effort by former President Donald J. Trump to derail an investigation into attempts by Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state — an investigation that is expected to yield indictments in mid-August.

Mr. Trump tried to get Judge Robert C.I. McBurney of the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta to throw out evidence collected by a special grand jury and disqualify the prosecutor overseeing the investigation, Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney.

But in a nine-page order, Judge McBurney wrote that Mr. Trump did not have the legal standing to make such challenges before indictments were handed up. The judge said the “injuries” that Mr. Trump claimed to have suffered from the two-and-a-half-year investigation “are either insufficient or else speculative and unrealized.”

The office of Ms. Willis, a Democrat, is expected to present potential indictments in the matter to a regular grand jury in the next few weeks.

The Georgia investigation is part of a swirl of legal troubles surrounding Mr. Trump, who has already been indicted on state charges in New York connected with hush-money payments in 2016, and on federal charges over his retention and handling of classified documents after leaving office in 2021.

 

Fani Willis, left, is the district attorney for Atlanta-based Fulton County in Georgia. Her office has been probing since 2021 then-President Trump's claiming beginning in 2020 of election fraud in Georgia and elsewhere. Trump and his allies have failed to win support for their claims from Georgia's statewide election officials, who are Republican, or from courts. absence of support from Georgia's Republican election officials supporting his claims. Fani Willis, left, is the district attorney for Atlanta-based Fulton County in Georgia. Her office has been probing since 2021 then-President Trump's claiming beginning in 2020 of election fraud in Georgia and elsewhere. Trump and his allies have failed to win support for their claims from Georgia's statewide election officials, who are Republican, or from courts.

washington post logoWashington Post, Atlanta braces for possible indictments for Trump and his allies in 2020 election investigation, Holly Bailey, July 31, 2023. It is one of several investigations into attempts to reverse Donald Trump’s loss in 2020. A charging decision is expected during the first three weeks of August.

For more than two years, people here and across the country have watched and waited for clues that the high-profile Georgia investigation into whether former president Donald Trump and his allies broke the law in their attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state was winding to an end.

That speculation hit fever pitch in recent days with the installation of orange security barriers near the main entrance of the Fulton County Courthouse in downtown Atlanta. It was the most visible sign yet of the looming charging decision in a case that has ensnared not only Trump but several high-profile Republicans who could either face charges or stand witness in a potential trial unlike anything seen before in this Southern metropolis.

It is one of several investigations into attempts to reverse Trump’s loss in 2020, including a sprawling Justice Department probe overseen by special counsel Jack Smith that has sparked its own intensifying waiting game in recent days. Smith and his team have interviewed or sought information from several witnesses also key to the Georgia investigation. Trump has said he received a letter from the Justice Department saying he could face criminal charges for his efforts after the election that preceded the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

While the pace of Smith’s investigation has been unpredictable, Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis took the unusual step of publicly telegraphing that she plans to announce a charging decision in the Georgia case during the first three weeks of August, a period that opens Monday.

“The work is accomplished,” Willis (D) told Atlanta’s WXIA-TV Saturday. “We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years. We’re ready to go.”

In Atlanta, local, state and federal law enforcement officials have been privately meeting for months to plan enhanced security measures in anticipation of that announcement. anticipation of that announcement.

All eyes are now on two criminal grand jury panels sworn in on July 11 — one group that meets on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other that meets on Thursdays and Fridays. One of the panels will probably decide whether charges should be filed in the closely watched election interference case — a decision that could put Trump, who is now under indictment in two other criminal cases, in even more legal peril.

 

Carlos De Oliveira, center, made his first court appearance here on Monday morning, July 31, in Miami (Associated Press photo).

 Carlos De Oliveira, center, made his first court appearance here on Monday morning, July 31, in Miami (Associated Press photo). 

washington post logoWashington Post, Carlos De Oliveira makes first court appearance in Trump documents case, Shayna Jacobs and Perry Stein, July 31, 2023.  Carlos De Oliveira — the second person charged alongside Donald Trump in a case involving the alleged hoarding of sensitive government materials at Mar-a-Lago — made his first court appearance here on Monday morning and was released on a personal surety bond, with an arraignment scheduled for Aug. 10.

Chief Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres read De Oliveira the charges against him and informed him of his legal rights. De Oliveira did not have an attorney who is accredited to practice in Florida, so he was unable to enter a plea before the judge. His Washington, D.C.-based attorney, John Irving, was in court with him.

Trump and his longtime valet, Waltine “Walt” Nauta, were charged in the case last month and face additional counts in the indictment that charged De Oliveira. Both Trump and Nauta have pleaded not guilty to the initial charges. They could also be arraigned on the new charges at the hearing scheduled for Fort Pierce, Fla., on Aug. 10, though prosecutors have said they will not object if a judge allows Trump and Nauta to waive their appearance.

Torres imposed the same conditions of release on De Oliveira as were set for Trump and Nauta, prohibiting De Oliveira from speaking to witnesses about the facts of the investigation. Torres imposed the same conditions of release on De Oliveira as were set for Trump and Nauta, prohibiting De Oliveira from speaking to witnesses about the facts of the investigation.

Outside the courthouse, Irving told reporters he looked forward to seeing the government’s evidence against his client. “Unfortunately the Justice Department decided to file these charges against Mr. De Oliveira," he said, "and now they have to put their money where their mouth is.”

Here’s what else to know about De Oliveira and the charges against him:

The 56-year-old Floridian has worked at Mar-a-Lago for more than a decade and was promoted to be the estate’s property manager in January 2022. In the early years of his employment, he impressed Trump by redoing ornate metalwork on the door at Mar-a-Lago, according to people familiar with his work.

Carlos De Oliveira's journey from failed witness to Trump's co-defendant

De Oliveira was charged with four crimes, including one count of making false statements and representations when he denied to the FBI any involvement in or knowledge of the moving of boxes at Mar-a-Lago that contained classified material.

Palmer Report, Analysis: No wonder Donald Trump’s campaign is broke, Bill Palmer, right, July 31, 2023. Recent quarterly fundraising numbers revealed that President Joe bill palmerBiden raised about twice as much money for his 2024 campaign as Donald Trump did.

These numbers weren’t surprising. Not that many people want to give money to someone’s “campaign” when they know the money is just going to be bill palmer report logo headerspent on his legal costs and they know he’s going to prison anyway. Some superfans are going to give money to Trump’s fake 2024 campaign anyway, out of symbolism or spite. But any potential Trump donor who’s thinking in pragmatic terms is going to simply hang onto their money.

The whole thing creates a catch-22 for Trump. Not enough people are donating to his campaign because they know it’s not real, so there isn’t enough money in the pot to begin with. Then Trump keeps raiding the piggy bank to pay for his legal costs, and pretty soon it’s empty. That point was always going to arrive eventually, and it looks like it’s arriving now.

Trump’s “Save America” PAC is so short on money, it recently had to request a $60 million refund from another Trump related PAC, according to the New York Times. It goes to show how politicians like Trump tend to shuffle money around from entity to entity for their own purposes. But if there’s not enough money coming in to begin with, and Trump is bleeding it all dry with his legal costs, then it doesn’t do much good to shuffle money around. At some point there just aren’t the funds.

So here we are fifteen months out from the 2024 election, and Donald Trump’s campaign fundraising apparatus is already running out of money. It goes to show that you can’t just pretend to run for President as a way of paying your legal bills, and expect enough people to get on board to keep things afloat. This whole thing was a transparent house of cards, and it’s starting to tumble from a financial standpoint already.

This also proves once and for all that Donald Trump’s base cannot magically save him. If Trump’s base were large enough and willing enough, his 2024 election coffers would be overflowing with money. Instead he’s only managed to raise a hilariously small amount of money for a supposed “frontrunner,” and it doesn’t even appear to be enough to cover his legal bills.

If things are looking bad for Trump now, consider that he’s days away from being criminally indicted for January 6th, and he’ll likely go on trial for that in federal court in Washington DC this year. We’re talking about Trump being tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison while it’s still 2023. In the eyes of donors, Trump is already having trouble selling himself as a viable candidate. That’s not going to get easier when he’s sent to prison.

 

nra logo Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, The Secret History of Gun Rights: How Lawmakers Armed the N.R.A., Mike McIntire, July 31, 2023 (print ed.). They served in Congress and on the N.R.A.’s board at the same time. Over decades, a small group of legislators led by a prominent Democrat pushed the gun lobby to help transform the law, the courts and views on the Second Amendment.

Long before the National Rifle Association tightened its grip on Congress, won over the Supreme Court and prescribed more guns as a solution to gun violence — before all that, Representative John D. Dingell Jr. had a plan.

First jotted on a yellow legal pad in 1975, it would transform the N.R.A. from a fusty club of sportsmen into a lobbying juggernaut that would enforce elected officials’ allegiance, derail legislation behind the scenes, redefine the legal landscape and deploy “all available resources at every level to influence the decision making process.”

“An organization with as many members, and as many potential resources, both financial and influential within its ranks, should not have to go 2d or 3d Class in a fight for survival,” Mr. Dingell wrote, advocating a new aggressive strategy. “It should go First Class.”

To understand the ascendancy of gun culture in America, the files of Mr. Dingell, a powerful Michigan Democrat who died in 2019, are a good place to start. That is because he was not just a politician — he simultaneously sat on the N.R.A.’s board of directors, positioning him to influence firearms policy as well as the private lobbying force responsible for shaping it.

And he was not alone. Mr. Dingell was one of at least nine senators and representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, with the same dual role over the last half-century — lawmaker-directors who helped the N.R.A. accumulate and exercise unrivaled power.

Their actions are documented in thousands of pages of records obtained by The New York Times, through a search of lawmakers’ official archives, the papers of other N.R.A. directors and court cases. The files, many of them only recently made public, reveal a secret history of how the nation got to where it is now.

Over decades, politics, money and ideology altered gun culture, reframed the Second Amendment to embrace ever broader gun rights and opened the door to relentless marketing driven by fear rather than sport. With more than 400 million firearms in civilian hands today and mass shootings now routine, Americans are bitterly divided over what the right to bear arms should mean.

The lawmakers, far from the stereotype of pliable politicians meekly accepting talking points from lobbyists, served as leaders of the N.R.A., often prodding it to action. At seemingly every hint of a legislative threat, they stepped up, the documents show, helping erect a firewall that impedes gun control today.

Over decades, a small group of legislators led by a prominent Democrat pushed the gun lobby to help transform the law, the courts and views on the Second Amendment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former President Trump threatened Republicans who don’t pursue investigations against Democrats, Neil Vigdor, July 31, 2023 (print ed.).  Casting Republicans as meek, former President Donald J. Trump said members of his party should pursue investigations against Democrats — or risk losing their seats.

Former President Donald J. Trump lashed out at Republicans in Congress while campaigning in Pennsylvania on Saturday, threatening members of his party who do not share his appetite for pursuing corruption investigations against President Biden and his family — and for retribution.

In a litany of grievances about his deepening legal woes and the direction of the country, the twice-indicted former president cast G.O.P. holdouts as meek during a rally in Erie, Pa., criticizing their response to what he described as politically motivated prosecutions against him.

“The Republicans are very high class,” he said. “You’ve got to get a little bit lower class.”

And then Mr. Trump, the overwhelming front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, put party members on notice.

“Any Republican that doesn’t act on Democratic fraud should be immediately primaried,” said Mr. Trump, to the roaring approval of several thousand supporters at the Erie Insurance Arena. Throughout the night he referenced the case against Hunter Biden and accused the president of complicity in his son’s troubles.

It was the first solo campaign event and the second public appearance for Mr. Trump since the Justice Department added charges against him in connection with his mishandling of classified documents after leaving office.

In a superseding indictment filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Florida, federal prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Trump told the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, that he wanted security camera footage there to be deleted.

Prosecutors also charged him, along with one of his personal aides, with conspiring to obstruct the government’s repeated attempts to reclaim the classified material.

On the same day that the additional charges were announced, Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with federal prosecutors to discuss another expected indictment, one centering on Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

With Mr. Trump as its standard-bearer, the Republican Party has watched Democrats in Pennsylvania secure high-profile victories in the last year, including flipping a U.S. Senate seat, holding on to the governor’s office and gaining control of the statehouse.

In 2020, Mr. Trump lost the battleground state by nearly 82,000 votes to Mr. Biden, who was born there.

Despite several courts rejecting his election lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump has continued to cling to falsehoods about results, including on Saturday.

“We got screwed,” he said, baselessly claiming that news outlets had delayed their race calls because he had been ahead. “I said, ‘Why aren’t they calling Pennsylvania?’”

ny times logoNew York Times, Amid the Counterattack’s Deadly Slog, a Glimmer of Success for Ukraine, Carlotta Gall, July 31, 2023 (print ed.). Recapturing a village was such welcome news that President Volodymyr Zelensky announced it himself. But Russian defenses have stymied progress elsewhere.

For 10 days, Ukrainian marines fought street by street and house by house to recapture the southeastern village of Staromaiorske, navigating artillery fire, airstrikes and hundreds of Russian troops.

The Russians put up a ferocious defense but that ended on Thursday when they folded and the Ukrainians claimed victory. “Some ran away, some were left behind,” said an assault commander from Ukraine’s 35th Marine Brigade, who uses the call sign Dikyi, which means Wild. “We were taking captives,” he added.

The recapture of Staromaiorske, a small village that is nonetheless critical to Ukraine’s southern strategy, was such a welcome development for Ukraine that President Volodymyr Zelensky announced it himself.

The counteroffensive has largely been a brutal lesson for Ukrainian troops, who have struggled to seize back territory across the southern region of Zaporizhzhia. In two months, Ukrainian troops have advanced less than 10 miles at any point along the region’s 100-mile front.

Victories, like the one at Staromaiorske, represent a potential breakthrough in the fighting, Ukrainian officials said, perhaps opening the way for a broader push by their country’s forces.

ny times logo

samuel alito frowing uncredited

washington post logoWashington Post, Alito says Congress has no authority to police Supreme Court ethics, Robert Barnes, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., above, said in an interview published Friday that Congress has no authority to impose an ethics policy on the Supreme Court, and he hinted that other justices share his view.

In a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal opinions section, Alito noted that he and other justices voluntarily comply with disclosure statutes, but he said mandating an ethics code would be beyond Congress’s powers.

“I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it,” Alito said. “No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period.”

Asked if other justices agree, Alito replied: “I don’t know that any of my colleagues have spoken about it publicly, so I don’t think I should say. But I think it is something we have all thought about.” Allegations of ethics breaches among the justices and reports of luxurious vacations paid for by private benefactors — including a fishing trip to Alaska for Alito — have put the court in the spotlight recently. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which seeks to impose on the court disclosure rules as strict as those governing members of the House and the Senate.

It is unusual for a justice to comment so definitively on the constitutionality of legislation, especially when bills are under consideration, and any law that is passed could come before the court.

The Journal article, headlined “Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court’s Plain-Spoken Defender,” was notable for another reason: It was written in part by David B. Rivkin Jr., a Washington lawyer well-known in conservative legal circles, who has an upcoming case before the court. Rivkin parenthetically disclosed that in the piece, writing that he and his law partner Andrew Grossman represent a couple in Moore v. U.S., a tax dispute the Supreme Court will hear in the coming term.

Rivkin and Journal editorial features editor James Taranto noted that Alito has now spoken with them “on the record for four hours in two wide-ranging sessions,” one in April in Alito’s chambers and the other in early July in the Journal’s New York offices.

The court granted Rivkin’s petition to hear Moore v. U.S. at the end of June.

As the subject of Supreme Court ethics has taken a more urgent tone, it has also acquired a partisan sheen, with Republicans saying the call for stronger ethics and disclosure rules is a ploy to delegitimize an increasingly conservative court because liberals disagree with its decisions. That division seems to doom the ethics bill’s chances in the Senate, and there is no interest among Republican leaders of the House in pushing such legislation.

Constitutional scholars who testified before the Senate committee split on the role Congress may play in prescribing the ethical responsibilities of a separate branch of government, although there is no dispute about Congress’s authority regarding federal courts below the Supreme Court.

 

High Tech Top Stories

elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, Twitter Threatens Legal Action Against Nonprofit That Tracks Hate Speech, Sheera Frenkel and Ryan Mac, July 31, 2023. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said it had received a letter from X, Twitter’s parent company, accusing it of trying to hurt the social platform.

Elon Musk has over the last year threatened legal action against tech competitors, employees and people who use Twitter, which he owns. Now he is also taking aim at an organization that studies hate speech and misinformation on social media.

twitter bird CustomX Corp., the parent company of the social media company, sent a letter on July 20 to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that conducts research on social media, accusing the organization of making “a series of troubling and baseless claims that appear calculated to harm Twitter generally, and its digital advertising business specifically,” and threatening to sue.

The letter cited research published by the Center for Countering Digital Hate in June examining hate speech on Twitter, which Mr. Musk has renamed X.com. The research consisted of eight papers, including one that found that Twitter had taken no action against 99 percent of the 100 Twitter Blue accounts the center reported for “tweeting hate.” The letter called the research “false, misleading or both” and said the organization had used improper methodology.

The letter added that the center was funded by Twitter’s competitors or foreign governments “in support of an ulterior agenda.”

Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, said, “Elon Musk’s actions represent a brazen attempt to silence honest criticism and independent research.” He added that Mr. Musk wanted to “stem the tide of negative stories and rebuild his relationship with advertisers.”

space x logoThe center also said it did “not accept any funding from tech companies, governments, or their affiliates.”

Mr. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Twitter’s advertising business has been struggling under the ownership of Mr. Musk, who bought the company last year. U.S. ad revenue for the five weeks from April 1 to the first week of May was $88 million, down 59 percent from a year earlier. Advertisers may have been spooked by Mr. Musk’s changes to the social network, including the removal of rules of what can or can’t be said on the service and more ads featuring online gambling and marijuana products.

In May, Mr. Musk hired Linda Yaccarino, a former top advertising executive for NBCUniversal, to become Twitter’s chief executive.

The letter was at least the third legal threat or action by X Corp. in the last two months. In May, it sent a letter to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, accusing the tech giant of improperly using its data. This month, it also sent a letter to Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, saying it had copied Twitter’s trade secrets when creating Threads, a new social app.

ny times logoNew York Times, With Starlink, Elon Musk’s Satellite Dominance Is Raising Global Alarms, Adam Satariano, Scott Reinhard, Cade Metz, Sheera Frenkel and Malika Khurana, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). The billionaire’s influence on satellite internet technology has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders in Ukraine and beyond. The tech billionaire has become the dominant power in satellite internet technology. The ways he is wielding that influence are raising global alarms.

In March 17, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the leader of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, dialed into a call to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over the secure line, the two military leaders conferred on air defense systems, real-time battlefield assessments and shared intelligence on Russia’s military losses.

space x logoThey also talked about Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo).

General Zaluzhnyi raised the topic of Starlink, the satellite internet technology made by Mr. Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, three people with knowledge of the conversation said. Ukraine’s battlefield decisions depended on the continued use of Starlink for communications, General Zaluzhnyi said, and his country wanted to ensure access and discuss how to cover the cost of the service.

General Zaluzhnyi also asked if the United States had an assessment of Mr. Musk, who has sprawling business interests and murky politics — to which American officials gave no answer.

Mr. Musk, who leads SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, has become the most dominant player in space as he has steadily amassed power over the strategically significant twitter bird Customfield of satellite internet. Yet faced with little regulation and oversight, his erratic and personality-driven style has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders around the world, with the tech billionaire sometimes wielding his authority in unpredictable ways.

x logo twitterSince 2019, Mr. Musk has sent SpaceX rockets into space nearly every week that deliver dozens of sofa-size satellites into orbit. The satellites communicate with terminals on Earth, so they can beam high-speed internet to nearly every corner of the planet. Today, more than 4,500 Starlink satellites are in the skies, accounting for more than 50 percent of all active satellites. They have already started changing the complexion of the night sky, even before accounting for Mr. Musk’s plans to have as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit in the coming years.

There are over 4,500 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth. What appear to be long lines here are recently launched satellites approaching their place in orbit.

The power of the technology, which has helped push the value of closely held SpaceX to nearly $140 billion, is just beginning to be felt.

Starlink is often the only way to get internet access in war zones, remote areas and places hit by natural disasters. It is used in Ukraine for coordinating drone strikes and intelligence gathering. Activists in Iran and Turkey have sought to use the service as a hedge against government controls. The U.S. Defense Department is a big Starlink customer, while other militaries, such as in Japan, are testing the technology.

But Mr. Musk’s near total control of satellite internet has raised alarms.

elon musk 2015A combustible personality, the 52-year-old’s allegiances are fuzzy. While Mr. Musk is hailed as a genius innovator, he alone can decide to shut down Starlink internet access for a customer or country, and he has the ability to leverage sensitive information that the service gathers. Such concerns have been heightened because no companies or governments have come close to matching what he has built.

In Ukraine, some fears have been realized. Mr. Musk has restricted Starlink access multiple times during the war, people familiar with the situation said.tesla logo At one point, he denied the Ukrainian military’s request to turn on Starlink near Crimea, the Russian-controlled territory, affecting battlefield strategy. Last year, he publicly floated a “peace plan” for the war that seemed aligned with Russian interests.

At times, Mr. Musk has openly flaunted Starlink’s capabilities. “Between, Tesla, Starlink & Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” he tweeted in April.

washington post logoWashington Post, Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads, Naomi Nix and Will Oremus, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A company in crisis went back to basics to deliver a viral hit. But can Adam Mosseri’s bare-bones Twitter clone reinvigorate an aging tech giant? Adam Mosseri was on a family vacation in Italy last November when he learned he’d have to go toe-to-toe with Elon Musk. The mercurial Musk had just taken over Twitter. Amid the ensuing chaos, Mosseri’s boss at rival Meta smelled opportunity.

meta logoCEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Meta executives wanted to woo creators from Twitter to their social networks. Mosseri, who runs Instagram, paused his holiday to take Zuckerberg’s call.

It was nighttime in Italy, and Mosseri spoke softly to avoid waking his sleeping wife. The group discussed Twitter-like features they could add to existing apps, including Instagram.

Zuckerberg, however, had a different idea: “What if we went bigger?”

By the time the call ended well after midnight, Mosseri had a mandate to build a stand-alone app to compete with Twitter — and a knot in his stomach.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian propaganda is appearing in Minecraft and other popular video game, Steven Lee Myers and Kellen Browning, July 30, 2023. Russian propaganda is spreading into the world’s video games.

In Minecraft, the immersive game owned by Microsoft, Russian players re-enacted the battle for Soledar, a city in Ukraine that Russian forces captured in January, posting a video of the game on their country’s most popular social media network, VKontakte.

A channel on World of Tanks, a multiplayer warfare game, commemorated the 78th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in May with a recreation of the Soviet Union’s parade of tanks in Moscow in 1945. On Roblox, the popular gaming platform, a user created an array of Interior Ministry forces in June to celebrate the national holiday, Russia Day.

These games and adjacent discussion sites like Discord and Steam are becoming online platforms for Russian agitprop, circulating to new, mostly younger audiences a torrent of propaganda that the Kremlin has used to try to justify the war in Ukraine.

In this virtual world, players have adopted the letter Z, a symbol of the Russian troops who invaded last year; embraced legally specious Russian territorial claims in Crimea and other places; and echoed President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to denigrate Ukrainians as Nazis and blame the West for the conflict.

 

Trump Watch

 

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s alleged conduct in the new indictment is jaw-droppingly stupid, Ruth Marcus, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). If the allegations in the latest indictment of Donald Trump hold up, the former president is a common criminal — and an uncommonly stupid one.

Everyone knows, as the Watergate scandal drove home: The coverup is always worse than the crime. Everyone, that is, but Trump.

According to the superseding indictment handed up late Thursday, even after Trump knew the FBI was onto his improper retention of classified information, and even after he knew they were seeking security camera footage from the Mar-a-Lago storage areas where the material was kept — in other words, when any reasonably adept criminal would have known to stop digging holes — Trump made matters infinitely worse.

The alleged conduct — yes, even after all these years of watching Trump flagrantly flout norms — is nothing short of jaw-dropping: Trump allegedly conspired with others to destroy evidence.

As set out in the indictment’s relentlessly damning timeline, Trump enlisted his personal aide, Waltine Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago worker, Carlos De Oliveira, in a conspiracy to delete the subpoenaed footage.

ny times logoNew York Times, $60 Million Refund Request Shows Financial Pressure on Trump From Legal Fees, Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). President Trump’s political team asked for a refund of money intended to help his campaign that was instead diverted to an account paying his legal bills.
President Donald J. Trump’s legal fees requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to the super PAC supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The decision of Mr. Trump’s political action committee to ask for a refund of money that was initially raised as Mr. Trump sought donations to combat what he falsely claimed was widespread fraud is extraordinary.

It is unclear how much money was refunded.

The refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.

The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.

That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees. Since then, Mr. Trump has been indicted twice and has expanded the size of his legal team, and his two co-defendants in the case related to his retention of classified material work for him. The total legal spending is roughly $56 million.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr. Trump used some of that $100 million for other politicians and political activities in 2022, but he also used it to pay more than $16 million in legal fees, most of them related to investigations into him, and at least $10 million of which was for his own personal fees.

The situation signals a potential money crisis as Mr. Trump runs a campaign while under indictment in two jurisdictions and, soon, potentially a third, while also paying the legal fees of a number of witnesses who are close to him or who work for him.

Mr. Trump has long told associates that lawyers and other people contracted to work for him should do so for free, because they get free publicity. And he has told several associates that legal defense funds are organized only by people who are guilty of crimes, according to people who have heard the remarks.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump aide Carlos De Oliveira’s journey from failed witness to defendant, Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu and Josh Dawsey, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A proffer session gone sour leads to an indictment, underscoring investigators’ hopes and fears about Trump staffers.Carlos De Oliveira, a middle-aged property manager from Florida, met with federal investigators in April for what is called a “queen for a day” session — a chance to set the record straight about prosecutors’ growing suspicions of his conduct at Donald Trump’s Florida home and private club. It did not go well, according to people familiar with the meeting.

djt indicted proofDe Oliveira, 56, knew Mar-a-Lago better than almost anyone. He’d worked there for more than a decade, and in January 2022 he was promoted to property manager, overseeing the estate. In the early years of De Oliveira’s employment, people familiar with the situation said, he’d impressed his boss by redoing ornate metalwork on doors at the property.

On Thursday, De Oliveira was indicted alongside Trump and his co-worker Waltine “Walt” Nauta — all three accused of seeking to delete security footage the Justice Department was requesting as part of its classified documents investigation.

De Oliveira is the third defendant in the first-ever federal criminal case against a former president. Trump, who was initially indicted with Nauta in June, is charged with mishandling dozens of classified documents in his post-presidency life and allegedly scheming with his two employees to cover up what he’d done.

This previously unreported account of De Oliveira’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, and later statements to federal investigators, shows how the longtime Trump employee has become a key figure in the investigation, one whose alleged actions could bolster the obstruction case against the former president. Most people interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations or details of an ongoing criminal probe.

De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, declined to comment.

The series of discussions between De Oliveira and investigators highlight how prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith have approached Trump employees with a mixture of hope and suspicion: hope that the former president’s employees could explain what had happened inside Mar-a-Lago, and suspicion that whatever misdeeds may have occurred, they might have been aided by servants who stayed loyal to the boss — even after the FBI came knocking.

When FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago the morning of Aug. 8 with a court-issued search warrant, De Oliveira was one of the first people they turned to. They asked him to unlock a storage room where boxes of documents were kept, people familiar with what happened said. De Oliveira said he wasn’t sure where the key was, because he’d given it to either the Secret Service agents guarding the former president or staffers for Trump’s post-presidency office, the people said.

Frustrated, the agents simply cut the lock on the gold-colored door. The incident became part of what investigators would see as a troubling pattern with the answers De Oliveira gave them as they investigated Trump, the people said. Current and former law enforcement officials said witnesses often mislead them, particularly early in investigations. But those bad answers get more dangerous as agents continue to gather information.

Investigators’ interest in De Oliveira started to rise when security camera footage from the mansion showed him helping Nauta move boxes back into the storage area more than two months earlier, on June 2, 2022, the people said. That was just a day before a federal prosecutor and agents visited Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents in response to a grand jury subpoena and to look around the place.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the superseding indictment and third defendant affect the Trump documents case, Perry Stein, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). The superseding indictment filed against Donald Trump in the classified documents investigation this week — and the addition of a third defendant — expand the scope of the crimes the former president is accused of committing and could bolster the case against him, according to legal experts.

Federal prosecutors filed three new charges against Trump in his alleged keeping and hiding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, essentially replacing the initial indictment in the case with a new one that reveals more evidence and brings the total federal charges against the former president to 40.
The third co-defendant is Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira, who is accused of lying to the FBI in a January interview and “altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing” an item or document. Waltine “Walt” Nauta, a longtime Trump aide who was charged alongside the former president in the initial June indictment, was also slapped with additional charges involving altering or concealing an item or document.

Both Trump and Nauta pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned on the initial charges. A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on the new charges Thursday night, and a spokesman for Trump dismissed the superseding indictment as an attempt to harass the former president.

The superseding indictment accuses Trump of working with his employees to try to delete security camera footage from being reviewed by investigators, while adding a new count of willfully retaining national defense information. That count is related to Trump allegedly showing a top secret military document about Iran to other people who, like him, lacked the security clearance required to see such material.

The additional charges of lying to investigators could send a warning signal to other witnesses, the legal experts said: The case against Trump and his employees is strong and growing, and witnesses should cooperate with federal prosecutors if they want to avoid getting indicted themselves.

While every legal maneuver in cases involving Trump is heavily scrutinized, experts say superseding indictments are exceedingly common. Having multiple co-defendants in a single case — rather than trying co-defendants in separate trials — is also business as usual.

“Why would you try the same case three times? You are presenting the same case,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Chicago. “People who are charged with the same acts are usually, overwhelmingly charged together. That’s the presumption. You do it once, you don’t do it three or five times.”

Legal experts said it is hard to say exactly what propelled the Justice Department to file the initial indictment against Trump and Nauta in June, then add additional charges and another defendant weeks later. But they noted there are many common reasons lawyers would do so.

Among them: Prosecutors could have gathered additional evidence, or other witnesses may have decided to speak with investigators after they read the first indictment.

“There is a lot of intrigue but not a lot of answers,” said Scott Sundby, a University of Miami law professor. “It certainly suggests that more pieces are snapping into place.”

Alison Siegler, director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at University of Chicago Law School, said that the superseding indictment suggests that officials were still working to gather more evidence after they charged Trump in June. In many investigations, prosecutors file their indictments only once, after they have completed

ny times logoNew York Times, New Trump Charges Highlight Long-Running Questions About Obstruction, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, July 29, 2023 (print ed). The accusation that former President Trump wanted security footage deleted added to a pattern of concerns about his attempts to stymie prosecutors.

When Robert S. Mueller III, the first special counsel to investigate Donald J. Trump, concluded his investigation into the ties between Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, his report raised questions about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed his inquiry.

Justice Department officials and legal experts were divided about whether there was enough evidence to show Mr. Trump broke the law, and his attorney general — chosen in part because he was skeptical of the investigation — cleared him of wrongdoing.

Four years after Mr. Mueller’s report was released, Jack Smith, the second special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, added new charges on Thursday to an indictment over his handling of classified documents, setting out evidence of a particularly blatant act of obstruction.

Justice Department log circularThe indictment says that just days after the Justice Department demanded security footage from Mar-a-Lago, his residence and private club in Florida, Mr. Trump told the property manager there that he wanted security camera footage deleted. If proved, it would be a clearer example of criminality than what Mr. Mueller found, according to Andrew Goldstein, the lead investigator on Mr. Mueller’s obstruction investigation.

“Demanding that evidence be destroyed is the most basic form of obstruction and is easy for a jury to understand,” said Mr. Goldstein, who is now a white-collar defense lawyer at the firm Cooley.

“It is more straightforwardly criminal than the obstructive acts we detailed in the Mueller report,” he said. “And if proven, it makes it easier to show that Trump had criminal intent for the rest of the conduct described in the indictment.”

The accusation about Mr. Trump’s desire to have evidence destroyed adds another chapter to what observers of his career say is a long pattern of gamesmanship on his part with prosecutors, regulators and others who have the ability to impose penalties on his conduct.

And it demonstrates how Mr. Trump viewed the conclusion of the Mueller investigation as a vindication of his behavior, which became increasingly emboldened — particularly in regards to the Justice Department — throughout the rest of his presidency, a pattern that appears to have continued despite having lost the protections of the office when he was defeated in the election.

In his memoir of his years in the White House, John R. Bolton, who served as Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser, described Mr. Trump’s approach as “obstruction as a way of life.”

was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

 

djt confidential markings

The warrant authorizing the search of former president Donald Trump’s home said agents were seeking documents possessed in violation of the Espionage Act.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Icing on the cake, Bill Palmer, right, July 29, 2023. One of the reasons a criminal investigation into a crime boss like Donald Trump takes time is that bill palmerwitnesses have to be produced to testify to his guilt in order to get a conviction – and not all witnesses are necessarily looking to do so. For instance Jack Smith appears to have obtained the cooperation of the “Trump Employee 4” named in yesterday’s new criminal charges. But Smith is also clearly looking to get the cooperation of people like Carlos De Oliveira. Since he’s not cooperating, he’s been indicted.

bill palmer report logo headerThis doesn’t mean the story is over when it comes to De Oliveira. In fact the story is just beginning. Up to now he’s presumably been of the belief that Donald Trump could protect him in all this. But that came crashing down yesterday when De Oliveira was hit with criminal charges that’ll put him in prison for much of the rest of his life. All you have to do is read the charging document to see that there’s almost no chance De Oliveira will be acquitted at trial.

The question is how to drive that point home to De Oliveira now, so he relents and cuts a cooperation deal or immunity deal against Trump and the others. One tactic is to simply let the indictment sink in for a moment. Once you’re being arrested, charged, arraigned, and meeting with attorneys every day, you start to realize that this is your life now – and it’ll only get worse once you’re convicted.

To that end, family members and neighbors of De Oliveira are already telling CNN that they think he’s “trapped” in all of this, and that they can’t imagine how he got caught up in it. This is good. It suggests that the people in De Oliveira’s life will be inclined to try to convince him to pull himself back out of it.

With everyone who’s cut a cooperation deal, there was a prior point where they insisted (and maybe even believed) that they would never cut a deal no matter what. But that certainty starts going out the window once your life starts getting ripped to pieces in front of you.

william casey reagan libraryAnd so we wait, because this kind of thing is a waiting game. Jack Smith has from now, until whenever this criminal trial starts, to keep chipping away at Carlos De Oliveira (and for that matter Walt Nauta, right) in the name of getting one or both of them to flip in time to testify against Trump at the trial. The kicker is because there are now two Trump co-defendants, they each now have to consider the possibility that the other might flip first and get the “good” deal.

Relevant Recent Headlines

djt jan 6 charges msnbc

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Cancels Space Command Move to Alabama Amid Tuberville Feud, Karoun Demirjian, July 31, 2023.  President Biden’s decision comes as Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, has held up military promotions to protest an abortion access policy.

President Biden canceled an order by former President Donald J. Trump to move the United States Space Command headquarters to Alabama, prompting an outcry from Republicans who accused him of acting out of political spite amid a fierce partisan standoff over the Pentagon’s abortion access policies.

The decision came as a blockade of military promotions by Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, dragged into its sixth month. Mr. Tuberville has refused to consent to the promotions of senior generals and admirals in protest of a Pentagon policy that reimburses military personnel who have to travel to obtain an abortion or fertility treatments.

House Republicans have also taken aim at the rule, instituted after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, adding language to the annual defense policy bill to cancel it.

Mr. Biden made his decision after the head of Space Command, Gen. James Dickinson, argued that moving the headquarters to Alabama from its current location in Colorado Springs would hurt military readiness, particularly as the United States is racing to compete with China in space, according to a Defense Department official who spoke about it on the condition of anonymity.

“Locating Headquarters U.S. Space Command in Colorado Springs ultimately ensures peak readiness in the space domain for our nation during a critical period,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesman, said, arguing it would “enable the command to most effectively plan, execute and integrate military space power into multi-domain global operations.”

But in a statement, Mr. Tuberville said the reversal, which benefits a Democratic-led state, “looks like blatant patronage politics, and it sets a dangerous precedent that military bases are now to be used as rewards for political supporters rather than for our security.”

Representative Mike D. Rogers of Alabama, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, promised retribution for the decision, pledging to investigate whether administration officials had intentionally manipulated the selection process.

“It’s clear that far-left politics, not national security, was the driving force behind this decision,” Mr. Rogers said in a statement. “This fight is far from over.”

In the final days of his White House tenure, in January 2021, Mr. Trump ordered that Space Command, which was established in 2019 and temporarily placed in Colorado, move to a permanent home in Alabama. After Mr. Biden took office, his administration reviewed the decision, but a final determination as to the permanent location of the command’s headquarters was delayed, while lawmakers squabbled over the extent to which Mr. Trump had selected Alabama merely to reward a deeply Republican state.

“Over the past two and half years, we have repeatedly made the case that the Trump administration’s decision to relocate U.S. Space Command was misguided,” Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, said in a statement. “Today’s decision restores integrity to the Pentagon’s basing process and sends a strong message that national security and the readiness of our armed forces drive our military decisions.”

Alabama lawmakers and their supporters in the Republican Party take an opposing view. They have long argued that Mr. Trump’s decision to place the command in Alabama settled the matter, and believed that senior military commanders were on their side. In a bid to prevent Space Command from becoming entrenched in Colorado while Mr. Biden made his decision, Republicans in the House included language in their version of the annual defense bill forbidding the military from spending any money on construction of Space Command facilities until the Biden administration made a decision about the headquarters.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Spoke With Son’s Associates, but Not About Business, Former Partner Says, Luke Broadwater, July 31, 2023. Republicants accused President Biden of lying, while Democrats said the testimony showed that Hunter Biden was selling the illusion of access to his father.

President Biden met with and spoke to his son Hunter’s international business associates on a number of occasions over a decade as Hunter Biden sought to drum up consulting deals, including while his father was vice president, his former business partner told Congress on Monday.

However, in nearly five hours of closed-door testimony to the House Oversight Committee, Devon Archer, the former partner, asserted that the elder Mr. Biden was not party to any of his son’s business deals and that Hunter Biden had tried to sell the illusion that he was providing access to his powerful father when he was not, according to Democrats on the panel.

Mr. Archer’s testimony, which he provided in response to a subpoena, was the latest bit of evidence in an investigation by House Republicans into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and conduct. Republicans have claimed repeatedly — and so far without proof — that the investigations implicate the president in corruption and crimes.

Republicans pointed to the interview as evidence that President Biden had lied when he claimed he had no involvement in his son’s business dealings, and some said that was grounds for impeaching the elder Mr. Biden.

Mr. Archer told lawmakers during the session that Hunter Biden had put his father on speakerphone to talk to his business partners about 20 times over a decade, according to both Republicans and Democrats in the room.

Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky and chairman of the Oversight Committee, said Mr. Archer had testified that Mr. Biden was put on the phone to sell “the brand.” The phone calls were made during a range of events, including a dinner in Paris with a French energy company and another in China with the executive of an investment fund, Mr. Comer said.

“Devon Archer’s testimony today confirms Joe Biden lied to the American people when he said he had no knowledge about his son’s business dealings and was not involved,” Mr. Comer said in a statement.

But Democrats said that Mr. Archer had described the conversations in which the elder Mr. Biden participated as short and casual — about topics like the weather — and his interactions as little more than stopping by a dinner or a hotel for a brief handshake or a few pleasantries over the phone.

“The witness was very, very consistent that none of those conversations ever had to do with any business dealings or transactions,” said Representative Dan Goldman, Democrat of New York and a member of the Oversight Committee who participated in the interview. “They were purely what he called ‘casual conversation.’”

Politico, An ex-Hunter Biden business associate told lawmakers that the First Son put his father on the phone during multiple dinners for “casual" chats, Jordain Carney, July 31, 2023. Devon Archer's account was confirmed by two House Oversight Committee members in the meeting.

politico CustomEx-Hunter Biden business associate Devon Archer told House Oversight Committee members on Monday that Hunter Biden had put his father on the phone while out at dinner on multiple occasions -- but that the conversations were “niceties.”

Reps. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) confirmed Archer’s remarks to lawmakers during a closed-door interview. According to Hunter Biden's former longtime business partner, the phone calls happened roughly 20 times over 10 years.

“Hunter spoke to his father every day, and approximately 20 times over the course of a 10-year relationship, Hunter may have put his father on the phone with any number of different people. And they never once spoke about any business dealings. … It was all casual conversation, niceties, the weather, what’s going on,” Goldman told reporters.

Advertisement

Who was on the other end? Goldman added that, according to Archer, Hunter Biden would “occasionally would put his father on to say hello to whomever he happened to be caught at dinner with.”

Per Goldman, Archer said that sometimes Joe Biden got put on the phone with Hunter Biden's business associates, and at other times the now-president spoke with individuals his son knew in a more personal capacity.

The GOP readout: Biggs echoed Goldman's recollection of the interview, while adding that Archer described the ability to get Joe Biden on the phone as a gesture designed to show “power” and “substance.”

Goldman confirmed that Archer said Hunter Biden was “selling the illusion of access to his father.” Goldman added that Hunter Biden, according to Archer, “tried to get credit for things that Mr. Archer testified Hunter had nothing to do with.”

“When Vice President Biden went to Ukraine on his own … Hunter said, 'Well, let’s tell them that I have no idea what is going to happen, but I can take credit for the fact that he is going.' He was not involved in any of that at all, but he was trying to get credit with Burisma on behalf of actions that his father took that were completely unrelated,” Goldman added.

What else they said: While Goldman and Biggs offered similar recollections of Archer’s comments on the phone calls, the two lawmakers differed beyond that.

According to Goldman, Archer told the committee that Ukrainian gas company Burisma saw the nation's prosecutor general Viktor Shokin -- whom then-Vice President Joe Biden pushed to fire from his post -- as "in their pocket” and under company control.

According to Biggs, however, Archer said he didn’t have direct knowledge of Burisma's view of Shokin.

Biggs also said that Archer told the committee that Burisma would have gone under without involvement of the “Biden brand," which made it less likely that the Ukrainian company would face legal pressure. Biggs said he asked Archer to clarify what the “Biden brand” meant -- and that Archer responded: Joe Biden.

Goldman said that Archer clarified that, after Biggs left the room, saying that Hunter Biden had a D.C. brand.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the Party Switch that Blew Up North Carolina Politics, Kate Kelly and David Perlmutt, July 31, 2023 (print ed.). Tricia Cotham, a Democrat who supported abortion rights, was encouraged to run for a state House seat by powerful Republicans. Once elected, she joined them.

When Tricia Cotham, a former Democratic lawmaker, was considering another run for the North Carolina House of Representatives, she turned to a powerful party leader for advice. Then, when she jumped into the Democratic primary, she was encouraged by still other formidable allies.

She won the primary in a redrawn district near Charlotte, and then triumphed in the November general election by 18 percentage points, a victory that helped Democrats lock in enough seats to prevent, by a single vote, a Republican supermajority in the state House.

Except what was unusual — and not publicly known at the time — was that the influential people who had privately encouraged Ms. Cotham to run were Republicans, not Democrats. One was Tim Moore, the redoubtable Republican speaker of the state House. Another was John Bell, the Republican majority leader.

“I encouraged her to run because she was a really good member when she served before,” Mr. Bell recalled in an interview.

Three months after Ms. Cotham took office in January, she delivered a mortal shock to Democrats and to abortion rights supporters: She switched parties, and then cast a decisive vote on May 3 to override a veto by the state’s Democratic governor and enact a 12-week limit on most abortions — North Carolina’s most restrictive abortion policy in 50 years.

Overnight, Ms. Cotham became a heroine to Republicans and anti-abortion advocates across the country, even as Democrats vilified her as a traitor whose unexpected party flip had changed health care policy in a politically purple state of more than 10 million people.

More perplexing to many Democrats was why she did it. Ms. Cotham came from a family with strong ties to the Democratic Party, campaigned as a progressive on social issues and had even co-sponsored a bill to codify a version of Roe v. Wade into North Carolina law.

Interviews with former and current political allies depict her as someone who had grown alienated from Democratic Party officials and ideals. Republican leaders cultivated her before she ran and, seeing her growing estrangement, seized a chance to coax her across party lines.

Before the switch, Ms. Cotham chafed at what she perceived as a lack of support from other Democrats. Once she was elected, Mr. Moore said, he made it clear that she would be welcomed by Republicans.

“Never in my life did I think that one person could have that kind of impact, that will affect the lives of thousands of people for years to come,” said Ann Newman, a Democratic activist in Ms. Cotham’s district. Ms. Newman recently asked for — and received — a refund of the $250 she had donated to Ms. Cotham’s 2022 campaign.

Her change of parties has left many of Ms. Cotham’s constituents feeling angry and betrayed, and has allowed Republicans to flex the power of their new supermajority well beyond the abortion issue, overturning a string of vetoes by the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, including six on June 27 alone.

Ms. Cotham, 44, has defended her switch and said she had delivered on many promises she made to voters.

“I campaigned on Medicaid expansion,” she said in a statement to The New York Times. “I campaigned on supporting children, housing, safer communities, a strong economy and increasing health care options. I’ve done all of this and more.”
Yet there is no question that Ms. Cotham has dealt a grievous blow to Democratic policy goals in North Carolina.

Late in March, just a few days before switching parties, she skipped a pivotal gun-control vote, helping Republicans loosen gun restrictions in the state. After she became a Republican, she sponsored a bill to expand student eligibility for private-school vouchers, voted to ban gender-affirming care for minors and voted to outlaw discussions of race or gender in state job interviews.

“This switch has been absolutely devastating,” said state Representative Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro.

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrats worry their most loyal voters won’t turn out for Biden in 2024, Colby Itkowitz, Sabrina Rodriguez and Michael Scherer, July 31, 2023. Democrats are worried about a potential drop next year in turnout among Black voters, the party’s most loyal constituency, who played a consequential role in delivering the White House to President Biden in 2020 and will be crucial in his bid for reelection.

dnc square logoTheir concern stems from a 10 percentage-point decline in Black voter turnout in last year’s midterms compared with 2018, a bigger drop than among any other racial or ethnic group, according to a Washington Post analysis of the Census Bureau’s turnout survey. Such warning signals were initially papered over by other Democratic successes in 2022: The party picked up a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania, Sen. Raphael G. Warnock won reelection in Georgia and anticipated losses in the House were minimal.

But in key states like Georgia, the center of Democrats’ plans to mobilize Black voters in large margins for Biden in 2024, turnout in last year’s midterms was much lower among younger and male Black voters, according to internal party analysis.

The drop in Black turnout has become a focus for Democratic leaders as the party reorients to next year’s presidential contest. Biden’s election in 2020 hinged on narrow victories in states like Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that former president Donald Trump had won in 2016. Democratic activists are cautioning that the party can’t afford to let support from Black voters slip.

W. Mondale Robinson, founder of the Black Male Voter Project, shared a dire assessment of Democrats’ potential turnout problems with Black men. In many of the battleground states, he said many Black men are “sporadic or non-voters,” meaning they are registered, but have voted in one or none of the past three presidential elections. Robinson said Democrats spend too much time focused on converting “conservative-leaning White women” in the suburbs who they see as swing voters. Instead, he said, they should focus more on turning out Black men, viewing them as swing voters who are debating whether to vote or stay home.

“The Democratic Party has been failing epically at reaching this demographic of Black men — and that’s sad to say,” Robinson said. “Black men are your second-most stable base overwhelmingly, and yet you can’t reach them in a way that makes your work easier.”

Biden’s political team says it has received the message and is taking action, especially among younger Black men.

“We have to meet them where they are and we have to show them why the political process matters and what we have accomplished that benefits them,” said Cedric L. Richmond, a former Biden adviser who is now a senior adviser at the Democratic National Committee. He said there will be a clear focus on making Black voters aware of how they have benefited from Biden administration policies, learning from the errors of past Democratic efforts that fell short.

“We will not make the mistake that others made of not drawing all the connections,” he said.

Black voter advocates say the challenge is particularly acute among Black men, many of whom say they feel alienated from the political process and were hurt by policies pushed by both parties that led to increased incarceration and a decline in manufacturing jobs decades ago. Many say their lives haven’t improved regardless of which party was in power, and are dispirited after the country elected Trump, life was upended by a global pandemic and violence worsened in urban areas.

Many Democrats interviewed said they were less worried about Black women, whose voting enthusiasm has historically been more robust than that of Black men. Black women were a huge factor in Biden’s victory in 2020. Advocates expect that trend to continue, particularly with Vice President Harris on the ticket and the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who both made history as the first Black women in their roles.

Terrance Woodbury, chief executive of HIT Strategies, a polling firm focused on young, non-White voters, has been shopping around a PowerPoint presentation to liberal groups warning of the need to act soon to convince Black voters that they have benefited from Biden’s time in office.

Part of the problem, he argues, is that the party’s focus on Trump and Republican extremism is less likely to motivate younger Black men than arguments focused on policy benefits. The messaging, he has argued, must focus on how Black communities have benefited from specific policies.

 

oregon map

ny times logoNew York Times, The Struggle to Save Portland, Michael Corkery, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). One man’s story shows how the Oregon city’s progressive identity is being challenged by the dual problems of fentanyl and homelessness.

Come to Portland, his sister said. It’s green and beautiful, people are friendly and there are plenty of jobs.

In 2018, Anthony Saldana took his sister’s advice. He left Las Vegas, where he was working in a casino, and moved to a Portland suburb.

He rented an apartment and got a job at Home Depot. Mr. Saldana, though, never quite found his footing. By early 2021, he was living in a tent, under a tree on the edge of a highway in Portland.

He wouldn’t let his sister, Kaythryn Richardson, visit him and shared only a few details with her about his life on the streets. He told her about the “bad people” terrorizing him and about the Disney movies he had watched to drown out the chaos that was slowly pulling him under.

“Hello sister,” he texted last October. “I’m hurting.”

All of Portland, it seems, has been trying to figure out what has been happening to people like Mr. Saldana, and to Portland itself.

This city of 635,000, home to the world’s largest bookstore and majestic views of snowcapped Mount Hood, has long grappled with homelessness. But during the pandemic this perennial problem turned into an especially desperate and sometimes deadly crisis that is dividing Portland over how to fix it.

While other cities in the West, like San Diego and Phoenix, face similar issues, the suffering on Portland’s streets has dealt a singular challenge to the city’s identity as a liberal bastion that prides itself on embracing transplants from across the country.

In 2022, Portland experienced a spate of homicides and other violence involving homeless victims that rattled many in the community: a 42-year-old homeless woman shot in the face by two teenagers who were hunting rats with a pellet gun; a 26-year-old homeless woman stabbed in the chest outside her tent; another homeless woman, 31, fatally shot at close range by a stranger.

The search for answers points in many directions — to city and county officials who allowed tents on the streets because the government had little to offer in the way of housing, to Oregon voters who backed decriminalizing hard drugs and to the unrest that rocked Portland in 2020 and left raw scars.

But what has turbocharged the city’s troubles in recent years is fentanyl, the deadly synthetic drug, which has transformed long standing problems into a profound test of the Portland ethos.

Outreach workers in Portland say rampant fentanyl use has coincided with the increasing turmoil among many homeless residents.

Doctors who care for people living on the streets say fentanyl addiction is proving harder to treat than many other dependencies.

Yet, as they have for years, legions of volunteers — professionals, recovering addicts and anarchists — routinely hand out sandwiches, wound kits and clementines around the encampments. Those volunteers include people like Jakob Hollenbeck, 23, who last year befriended a group camped out across the street from his house in Portland’s upscale Pearl District.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Phoenix’s Month in Hell: 31 Days of Extreme Heat Test the City, Jack Healy, July 31, 2023. A continuous stretch of days reaching or exceeding 110 degrees has filled emergency rooms and even withered the mighty saguaro cactus.

Patients with heat stroke and burns from the asphalt are swamping hospitals. Air-conditioners are breaking down at homeless shelters. The medical examiner’s office is deploying trailer-sized coolers to store bodies, for the first time since the early days of Covid.

For 31 straight days — from the last day of June through Sunday, the second-to-last day of July — Phoenix has hit at least 110 degrees, not merely breaking its 18-day record in 1974, but setting a significant new one. The city smashed through another record last week, racking up the most 115-degree days ever in a calendar year, part of a global heat wave that made July Earth’s hottest month on record.

This has been Phoenix’s July in hell — an entire month of merciless heat that has ground down people’s health and patience in the city of 1.6 million, while also straining a regionwide campaign to protect homeless people and older residents who are most vulnerable.

“I’m so sick of this,” Rae Hicks, 45, said this past week as she sat with her 7-year-old son on the floor of a clammy cooling center in Tempe, their suitcases clustered around them.

It was 118 degrees outside, and they had nowhere to stay after the center closed down that evening, like thousands of other people around Phoenix left homeless by rising rents and a resurgence of evictions. The record heat has made their summer a desperate game of survival — bouncing between libraries, supermarkets and relief centers during the day, and sleeping in motels, cars or shelter beds at night to avoid the scorching streets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Heat Is Costing the U.S. Economy Billions in Lost Productivity, Coral Davenport, July 31, 2023. From meatpackers to home health aides, workers are struggling in sweltering temperatures and productivity is taking a hit.

As much of the United States swelters under record heat, Amazon drivers and warehouse workers have gone on strike in part to protest working conditions that can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

On triple-digit days in Orlando, utility crews are postponing checks for gas leaks, since digging outdoors dressed in heavy safety gear could endanger their lives. Even in Michigan, on the nation’s northern border, construction crews are working shortened days because of heat.

Now that climate change has raised the Earth’s temperatures to the highest levels in recorded history, with projections showing that they will only climb further, new research shows the impact of heat on workers is spreading across the economy and lowering productivity.

Extreme heat is regularly affecting workers beyond expected industries like agriculture and construction. Sizzling temperatures are causing problems for those who work in factories, warehouses and restaurants and also for employees of airlines and telecommunications firms, delivery services and energy companies. Even home health aides are running into trouble.

ny times logoNew York Times, Canada Is Ravaged by Fire. Indigenous People Are Paying Dearly, Brent McDonald and Matt Joycey, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A record-breaking fire season has forced tens of thousands of Indigenous people from their homes and ravaged the forests they rely on for sustenance.

In early July, fierce wildfires fueled by dry conditions in northern Quebec laid waste to large swaths of spruce forest, destroying cabins and tourist camps. It also cut off transportation to isolated Indigenous communities over the region’s lone paved road, a 370-mile stretch of highway with little or no cell reception.

Before evacuation orders were issued, residents who tried to leave along the Billy Diamond Highway, as the road is known, encountered flames and smoke that cast a dark-of-night pall in the afternoon.

“I honestly wasn’t sure we’d make it out,” said Joshua Iserhoff, 45, a member of the Cree nation of Nemaska who was forced to turn back with his wife and two children and who, like other residents, eventually found another way out.

“The wind was so ferocious it almost picked up the vehicle,” he said, calling the drive a “traumatic experience.”

Since May, hundreds of wildfires across Canada have burned more than 47,000 square miles of forest, an area the size of New York State, and have displaced more than 25,000 Indigenous residents from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, according to government officials.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Texas Border Towns, a ‘Dangerous’ Mix of Heat and Water Cutoffs, Edgar Sandoval, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Trying to keep cool has become a painful reminder of inequality for residents of low-income neighborhoods, where running water can be in short supply.

On a blistering morning this week, the kitchen sink in Kathy Quilatan’s house was delivering only sputtering water. With temperatures climbing into triple digits most afternoons these days, she knew exactly what she had to do to keep her two young children, ages 2 and 6, from overheating. She gathered several plastic containers and set out on a quest for water.

The neighbors could not help: Problem-plagued delivery systems have meant that entire neighborhoods like Ms. Quilatan’s along the Texas border have gone without water for hours or even days during the brutal heat that has gripped much of the Southwest this summer.

“Not having water under this extreme heat is a dangerous combination,” Ms. Quilatan said. “Can you believe that this is life in America?”

For families like the Quilatans who live in colonias, the impoverished settlements outside established cities that have always existed somewhat apart from the rest of Texas, just the ability to cool off has become a painful reminder of the social divide prevalent in border communities.

ny times logoNew York Times, It’s been a hellish summer for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors. And it’s not over, Jason Horowitz, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Things could hardly be worse for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors this month. Wildfires and successive heat waves transformed their summer paradises into ghoulish hellscapes.

Fires in Greece caused wartime-scale airlifts of tourists and ammunition depots to explode. Sicilian churches burned with the relics of saints inside them. And if it was not the heat, it was hail — the size of billiards in northern Italy — as the country ricocheted between weather extremes.

It was bad enough for those who lived there. But the many tourists who had come looking for a summer holiday found an inferno, and there was more than a hint of buyer’s remorse.

Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell were widely scrutinized this week, raising uncomfortable questions about aging politicians (New York Times photos by Haiyun Jiang, left and Desiree Rios).

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: With DeSantis Reeling, What About Tim Scott? Ross Douthat, July 29, 2023. Last Sunday, I argued that despite his stagnation in the polls, for Republicans (and non-Republicans) who would prefer that Donald Trump not be renominated for the presidency, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida remains pretty much the only possible alternative.

Naturally the week that followed was the worst yet for DeSantis, beginning with a campaign staff purge that featured a Nazi-symbol subplot and ending with the candidate doing damage control for his suggestion that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might run his Food and Drug Administration.

tim scott oThe worst news for DeSantis, though, was new polls out of Iowa showing Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, right, creeping up on him, with around 10 percent support, to the governor’s roughly 15 percent.

One of my arguments a week ago was that no other Republican, Scott included, had yet shown any capacity to build the support that even a stagnant DeSantis enjoys. But if the governor falls into a sustained battle for second place, he’s probably finished, and Trump can probably just cruise.

Unless that battle results in a DeSantis collapse and a chance for someone else to go up against the front-runner. After all, why should DeSantis be the only non-Trump hope just because he seemed potent early on? Why not, well, Tim Scott?

Say this for Scott: He has an obvious asset that DeSantis is missing, a fundamental good cheer that Americans favor in their presidents. Say this as well: He has the profile of a potent general-election candidate, an African American and youthful-seeming generic Republican to set against Joe Biden’s senescence. Say this, finally: Scott sits in the sweet spot for the Republican donor class, as a George W. Bush-style conservative untouched by the rabble-rousing and edgelord memes of Trump-era populism.

But all of these strengths are connected to primary-campaign weaknesses. To beat Trump, you eventually need around half the Republican electorate to vote for you (depending on the wrinkles of delegate allocation). And there’s no indication that half of Republican primary voters want to return to pre-2016 conservatism, that they would favor a generic-Republican alternative to Trump’s crush-your-enemies style or that they especially value winsomeness and optimism, as opposed to a style suited to a pessimistic mood.

The reason that DeSantis seemed like the best hope against Trump was a record and persona that seemed to meet Republican voters where they are. His success was built after Trump’s election, on issues that mattered to current G.O.P. voters, not those of 30 years ago. He could claim to be better at the pugilistic style than Trump — with more to show for his battles substantively and more political success as well. On certain issues, Covid policy especially, he could claim to represent the views of Trump’s supporters better than Trump himself. And with DeSantis’s war on Disney, nobody would confuse him for a creature of the donor class.

All this set up a plausible strategy for pulling some Trump voters to DeSantis’s side by casting himself as the fulfiller of Trump’s promise — more competent, more politically able, bolder, younger and better suited to the times.

This strategy was working five months ago, and now it’s failing. But its failure doesn’t reveal an alternative pitch, and certainly Scott doesn’t appear to have one. Indeed, as The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last points out, Scott isn’t really casting himself as a Trump alternative; he’s mostly been “positioning himself as an attractive running mate for Trump, should the Almighty not intervene” and remove the former president from the race.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

 Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by Erin Schaff). 

ny times logoNew York Times, More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-Dollar Book Deals, Steve Eder, Abbie VanSickle and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Only three months into Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first Supreme Court term, she announced a book deal negotiated by the same powerhouse lawyer who represented the Obamas and James Patterson.

The deal was worth about $3 million, according to people familiar with the agreement, and made Justice Jackson the latest Supreme Court justice to parlay her fame into a big book contract.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had made $650,000 for a book of essays and personal reflections on the role of judges, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett received a $2 million advance for her forthcoming book about keeping personal feelings out of judicial rulings. Those newer justices joined two of their more senior colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, in securing payments that eclipse their government salaries.

In recent months reports by ProPublica, The New York Times and others have highlighted a lack of transparency at the Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports have centered on Justice Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors, in addition to a luxury fishing trip by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a Republican megadonor and the lucrative legal recruiting work of the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on the justices’ annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Earlier this year, Justice Jackson confirmed her publishing agreement with an imprint of Penguin Random House for her forthcoming memoir, “Lovely One.” But like her colleagues, her first public acknowledgment of the financial arrangement behind the deal is likely to be in her future annual financial disclosures. The New York Times learned the rough dollar amount of her advance, a figure that had not previously been disclosed, from people familiar with the deal.

Justice Sotomayor has received about $3.7 million total for a memoir documenting her path from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench and her children’s books. The justice’s administrative court staff urged organizers of events where her books were sold to buy more copies, according to a recent report in The Associated Press, which cited public records.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

supreme court amazon images

 

More on Russia, Ukraine

ny times logoNew York Times, Missiles Strike Zelensky’s Hometown a Day After His Warning to Russia, Staff Reports, July 31, 2023. Kryvyi Rih, in central Ukraine, was attacked hours after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that the war was “returning to the territory of Russia.”

Kryvyi Rih, the hometown of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, was attacked hours after he warned that the war was “returning to the territory of Russia.”

A day after President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine appeared to warn of more attacks inside Russia, two Russian missiles slammed into a residential building and university complex in the central Ukrainian city of Kryvyi Rih on Monday, killing at least five people and injuring dozens of others, Ukrainian officials said.

The unusually pointed warning from Ukraine’s leader followed a series of apparent Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, suggesting that Kyiv would try to match Russia’s tactic of striking far from the front lines. But Russia’s weapons have proved far deadlier for civilians, as they were again on Monday in Kryvyi Rih, Mr. Zelensky’s steel-producing hometown.

Shortly after the attack, Mr. Zelensky posted video from the scene that showed smoke pouring out of a building that had a gaping hole where several upper floors had been. Hours later he said that “difficult” rescue operations were ongoing and that it appeared Russia had used ballistic missiles in the strike.

Here’s what we’re covering:

  • A Russian missile strike kills 5 people in Kryvyi Rih.
  • Saudi Arabia will host talks about Ukraine’s peace plan, diplomats say.
  • A new recording says that Russia’s Wagner mercenary group will stop recruiting.
  • Ukraine boosts its fuel supply before winter.
  • Extensive minefields impede Ukraine’s counteroffensive, military experts say.

washington post logoWashington Post, At least 5 dead, 53 injured after missile attack on Zelensky’s hometown, Jennifer Hassan and Lyric Li, July 31, 2023.,Emergency services in Kryvyi Rih are working to rescue those buried under the rubble, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Spending Boom Fuels Russia’s Wartime Economy, Raising Bubble Fears, Anatoly Kurmanaev, July 31, 2023. Economic strength has helped maintain support for the war in Ukraine, but some have warned Russia’s spending could threaten its financial stability.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Anna, a Russian entrepreneur, made a snap decision to open a real estate agency, hoping to create a safety net from the economic fallout of the conflict. The career change has paid off.

Within weeks, she landed a deal for a stately 18th-century apartment, with parquet floors and high ceilings in the prestigious center of Russia’s former imperial capital of St. Petersburg. Since the war, the owner had stopped coming to Russia, allowing her client to buy it for roughly 40 percent below its current value.

“We in Russia have become accustomed to living in a state of permanent crisis,” said Anna, who declined to use her full name given the political scrutiny. She has bought two investment properties for herself and brokered the sale of 150 others in the past year. Amid the constant shocks, she said, people are looking for “a window of opportunity” to secure their income.

Her business has been underpinned by a state-led spending boom that has propped up the national economy despite the swiftest and most far-reaching campaign of sanctions imposed by Western nations in modern history.

The economic strength has created a sense of well-being among Russians and helped to maintain popular support for President Vladimir V. Putin’s war. But some economists, as well as Russia’s respected central bank chief, have warned that the spending is threatening the country’s financial stability.

ny times logoNew York Times, Austria is still buying nearly as much natural gas from Russia as it was before the war, Patricia Cohen, July 31, 2023. Austria, unlike most European Union countries, is still buying nearly as much natural gas from Russia as it was before the war in Ukraine.

In the 17 months since Moscow ordered soldiers into Ukrainian territory, countries across Europe have moved with surprising speed to reduce their longstanding dependence on cheap Russian gas.

Germany, which got 55 percent of its supply from Russia before the war, now imports zero. Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have halted or are close to halting flows. And Italy has been steadily trimming imports, and pledges to be free of Russian natural gas by the end of this year.

By contrast, Austria, which received nearly 80 percent of its gas from Russia before the invasion, still got more than half its total from Russia in May. And in March, when demand was higher, the figure reached 74 percent. As long as Russia is selling gas, Austria will buy it, the chief executive of the Austrian energy company OMV Group said this month.

The government’s difficulties in weaning itself off Russian gas, which it has pledged to do, have drawn complaints from critics who say Austria’s gas payments are helping to finance Moscow’s war machine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia said two drones struck buildings in Moscow in the latest wave of attacks on the city, Andrés R. Martínez and Anton Troianovski, July 30, 2023. The strike was the third in the past week in Moscow, a sign of how no city in Russia or Ukraine appears to be safe from the war. Russia blamed Ukraine, which has yet to comment.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had fired at least three drones at Moscow, the latest in a wave of attacks in Russia demonstrating that few places are off limits after more than 17 months of war.

One drone was destroyed in Odintsovo, outside Moscow, the Defense Ministry said, adding that two others struck commercial buildings in the capital after being intercepted by Russian air defenses. There were no injuries, Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, but video footage from Russian state media showed blown-out windows and twisted beams in one of Moscow’s premier skyscrapers.

Ukraine does not typically claim responsibility for attacks in Russia, in an effort to maintain a military advantage and an element of surprise. However, senior Ukrainian officials said last week that recent drone attacks on Moscow were orchestrated by Kyiv.

A few hours after Sunday’s attack, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman released a statement that neither accepted nor denied responsibility.

“They got what they wanted,” the spokesman, Yuri Ihnat, said on national television. “There is always something flying in Russia, including Moscow. Those who are not affected by the war, are now affected, which creates certain moods. Russia can no longer claim it shot down everything.”

Ukraine has also been accused of using drones to attack Russian-occupied Crimea — with Moscow claiming on Sunday that a new wave was launched overnight — and oil facilities and military air bases deep inside Russia.

The attacks in Moscow, though they have become more frequent, have so far caused no deaths. They have also been far less extensive than the drone and missile strikes that Russian forces conduct nightly across Ukraine, often hitting civilian targets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Strikes Grain Terminal, Extending Campaign Against Ukrainian Ports, Marc Santora and Victoria Kim, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has promised to build up defenses around the southern coast, but tough decisions about resources lie ahead.

Russian forces struck a grain terminal in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, extending a bombardment of the country’s infrastructure that has raised alarm about Kyiv’s ability to ship grain to the world.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to enhance air defenses around the port and the southern coast, but Kyiv’s resources are stretched thin and it faces difficult choices about where to deploy the limited number of air defense systems that can shoot down Russia’s most sophisticated missiles.

Ukraine continues to ask its Western allies to speed up the delivery of more air defense systems and warn that continued Russian bombardment could leave it without the necessary infrastructure to ship grain even if Black Sea shipping lanes open up. Moscow has struck Ukrainian ports near daily since pulling out of a deal last week that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain despite the war.

“In two or three months, we may not have a single port left,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military southern command, told French journalists this past week. “They want to dominate the Black Sea. They want to have a monopoly on grain,” she said.

On Saturday, Ms. Humeniuk said that Ukraine had taken measures to better protect the ports but warned that Russia may once again be adjusting its tactics before striking again.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘We Can Never Forgive This’: In Odesa, Attacks Stoke Hatred of Russia, Valerie Hopkins, Photographs by Emile Ducke, July 30, 2023 (print ed.).July 29, 2023. Standing on a bridge overlooking the road to Odesa’s main port, Nina Sulzhenko surveyed the damage wrought by a recent Russian missile strike: The House of Scientists, one of the Ukrainian city’s best-loved buildings, was in shambles. The mansion’s destroyed gardens spilled down over a ruined residential complex, and burned bricks lay strewn across the sidewalk.

“I feel pain, and I want revenge,” said Ms. Sulzhenko, 74. “I don’t have the words to say what we should do to them.”

She gestured toward other buildings in various stages of ruin. “Look at the music school! Look at what they did! The fact that those who live next to us, and lived among us, could do this to us — we can never forgive this. Never.”

ukraine flagHers was a common sentiment in Odesa this past week after a series of missile strikes damaged the city’s port and 29 historic buildings in its Belle- Époque city center, including the Transfiguration Cathedral, one of Ukraine’s largest.

Odesa plays an important role in the mind of imperial Russians, and especially President Vladimir V. Putin, who views it as an integral part of Russian culture. But if Mr. Putin believed that Odesans would feel a reciprocal bond, he could not have been more mistaken, residents and city officials interviewed this past week said. Especially after the recent spate of missile attacks.

“The Odesan people are tired,” the city’s mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, said. “People are tired of uncertainty, tired of anxious nights, of not falling asleep. But if the enemy is counting on this, he is wrong. Because this fatigue turns into the strongest hatred.”

The missile attacks — accompanied by hours of air raid alerts — have been part of the escalating hostilities in the Black Sea after Russia pulled out of a deal that had enabled millions of tons of food to be exported out of Ukraine’s ports.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, ISIS Affiliate Claims Responsibility for Deadly Attack at Rally in Pakistan, Christina Goldbaum, July 31, 2023. The death toll from Sunday’s suicide bombing, which targeted a political rally near the border with Afghanistan, rose to at least 54 people, an official said.

The Islamic State affiliate in South Asia claimed responsibility on Monday for a suicide bombing in northwest Pakistan that killed dozens of people and injured about 200 more, in the latest bloody sign of the deteriorating security situation in the country.

The death toll from the explosion on Sunday, which targeted a political rally in the Bajaur district near Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, rose to at least 54 people, Shaukat Abbas, a senior officer at the provincial police’s counterterrorism department, said on Monday.

The Islamic State affiliate, known as the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, claimed on Monday that a suicide bomber had carried out the attack, characterizing it as part of the group’s war against democracy as a system of government, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.

The blast was among the deadliest terrorist attacks in months in Pakistan, where some militant groups operating along the border with Afghanistan have become more active over the past year. The rise in violence represents a grim shift: Since 2014, when security forces carried out a major military operation to flush militants out of Pakistan, the country has experienced relative calm.

But several high-profile attacks this year — including a bombing in Peshawar that killed more than 100 people and an hourslong assault on the police headquarters in the port city of Karachi — have sent shock waves across the country, with scenes of bloodshed that seemed to announce militancy’s return to Pakistan.

The attacks have raised questions about whether Pakistan’s security establishment can stamp out militancy without the American air and other military support it relied on during the 2014 security operation. The violence has also stoked tensions between Pakistani officials and the Taliban administration in Afghanistan, which the Pakistani authorities have accused of providing haven to some militant groups. Taliban officials have denied that claim.

“The attack in Bajaur unquestionably presents a significant escalation of ISK’s growing capacity and aggressive stance in northwest Pakistan — a region which is already home to many other militant factions,” said Amira Jadoon, the co-author of “The Islamic State in Afghanistan and Pakistan: Strategic Alliances and Rivalries,” using another abbreviation for the Islamic State affiliate.

“It also shows ISK’s continued ability to access and operate on both sides of the border, as it has done so in the past.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Tide of Terror Shifts in Haiti as U.S. Nurse and Her Child Are Abducted, Emiliano Rodríguez Mega, July 31, 2023. This, along with other recent kidnappings, may signal the end of a brief respite, as gangs tighten their grip after being targets of vigilante violence.

An American nurse and her daughter have been abducted in Haiti, in the latest kidnapping episode to draw international notice, as a resurgence of violence grips the capital, Port-au-Prince.

In a brief statement on Saturday, El Roi Haiti, a faith-focused humanitarian organization, identified the woman as Alix Dorsainvil, the group’s community nurse and the wife of the group’s director. She and her child were taken from El Roi’s campus near the capital on Thursday, according to the statement.

No further details have been made public.

“We are aware of reports of the kidnapping of two U.S. citizens in Haiti,” a U.S. State Department official told The Times by email, adding that U.S. officials were working with their Haitian counterparts and declining to comment further on the matter.

  • New York Times, West African Nations Threaten Military Action Unless Niger Coup Is Undone, July 31, 2023.
  • New York Times, The Brains Behind Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul, July 31, 2023. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is the face of his government’s effort to reduce judicial power. His justice minister, Yariv Levin, is the main architect.

ny times logoNew York Times, Colombian President’s Son Is Arrested in Money Laundering Inquiry, Genevieve Glatsky, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). The arrest of Nicolás Petro poses another test for President Gustavo Petro, who has struggled to push many of his reforms through a divided Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: African nations aren’t tilting toward Putin’s Russia, Adam Taylor, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Since the very start, Africa has found itself in the middle of the geopolitical divide over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just days after the invasion last year, its leaders sparked consternation in Western capitals as 17 of Africa’s 54 states abstained from a vote to condemn Russian aggression in the U.N. General Assembly. Another eight African nations made up the bulk of voters absent.

After that, there was an effort in Europe and North America to push the continent into line. It wasn’t always so charming: During a trip last summer to one of the absentee nations, Cameroon, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he had “seen too much hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” on the war.

But if Russian President Vladimir Putin thought that he could use Western condescension to charm African leaders, he has once again been overconfident. On Thursday, Putin hosts a high-profile summit for African leaders in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Just 16 African heads of state are expected to attend, according to reporting from my colleagues Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld.

That’s less than half of the 43 who came to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. And that lower scale comes despite a full-scale diplomatic push from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has made multiple trips to the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Any idea that Africa as a whole leans toward Russia is clearly mistaken. Through the Wagner mercenary group, Russia has played a decisive, though often destructive, role in nations including Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan, and Moscow has friendly relations with major powers like Egypt and South Africa.

But look at the totality of the five votes against condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine at the United Nations; things aren’t rosy for Moscow. Yes, the majority of Africa’s 54 member states abstained in most of the several votes condemning Russia’s war, but Moscow has only had two African states actually vote with it — pariah states Eritrea and Mali — and even those didn’t do so each time, instead abstaining in some votes. Meanwhile, 19 African states have voted with Ukraine and its allies at least once.

There’s no easy way to summarize the continent’s views of the war in Ukraine. There are 1.3 billion people living across an array of countries, all with their own politics. Whether to support Ukraine, Russia, or neither comes down to a long list of local factors, only some of which overlap. Historically, most countries in Africa have been officially nonaligned.

ny times logoNew York Times, Niger’s President Vows to Save Democracy as Army Says It Backs Coup, Declan Walsh and Elian Peltier, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The army chief declared his support for a group of mutineers that seized power on Wednesday. President Mohamed Bazoum and his allies insisted the coup could be reversed.

Hours after soldiers seized power in the West African nation of Niger, the country’s ousted president sounded a defiant note on Thursday morning, vowing to protect his “hard won” democratic gains, even as he was being held by his own guards.

But a statement by the army high command later on Thursday poured cold water on such hopes. The army was backing the mutineers “to avoid bloodshed” and prevent infighting in the security forces, it said in a statement signed by its chief, Gen. Abdou Sidikou Issa.

The president, Mohamed Bazoum, appeared to be still in detention at the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, where his guards turned on him early Wednesday, prompting a crisis in the vast, largely desert nation twice the size of France.

“The hard-won gains will be safeguarded,” Mr. Bazoum said in a message on social media. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

  • New York Times, The European Central Bank raised interest rates again, saying that inflation remained “too high,” July 27, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Ousting a Top Official, China Erases Him and Evades Questions, David Pierson, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). China denounced “malicious hype” around the removal of Qin Gang. The Foreign Ministry’s fumbling response signaled its diminished influence under Xi Jinping.

qin gangChina is failing to stop the questions that had dogged Chinese officials in the month since he vanished from public view: Where is Mr. Qin? Does he have health issues? Is he under investigation?

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry have struggled to respond when pressed by reporters, repeatedly saying that they had no information to provide. After China replaced him on Tuesday, nearly all references to Mr. Qin, right, were scrubbed from the ministry’s website, an unusual erasure that has only deepened the intrigue. On Thursday, asked by a reporter if China had been transparent about Mr. Qin’s ousting, a spokeswoman lashed out at what she called “malicious hype.”

For a department tasked with speaking to the outside world, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s floundering response to the disappearance of one of its own top officials highlights the weakness of China’s diplomatic apparatus under President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has concentrated power under himself and enforced secrecy in an already highly opaque system, no matter the cost to China’s international image.

Mr. Xi has diminished the sway of the Foreign Ministry, analysts say, as he’s pursued an increasingly assertive, and some say risky, foreign policy.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Migrants, Homeless, Drug Addicts

ny times logoNew York Times, Scenes From a City That Only Hands Out Tickets for Using Fentanyl, Photographs by Jordan Gale, Text by Jan Hoffman, July 31, 2023. Oregon’s experiment to curb overdoses by decriminalizing small amounts of illicit drugs is in its third year, and life has changed in Portland.

For the past two and a half years, Oregon has been trying an unusual experiment to stem soaring rates of addiction and overdose deaths. People caught with small amounts of illicit drugs for “personal use,” including fentanyl and methamphetamine, are fined just $100 — a sanction that can be waived if they participate in a drug screening and health assessment. The aim is to reserve prosecutions for large-scale dealers and address addiction primarily as a public health emergency.

When the proposal, known as Measure 110, was approved by nearly 60 percent of Oregon voters in November 2020, the pandemic had already emptied downtown Portland of workers and tourists. But its street population was growing, especially after the anti-police protests that had spread around the country that summer. Within months of the measure taking effect in February 2021, open-air drug use, long in the shadows, burst into full view, with people sitting in circles in parks or leaning against street signs, smoking fentanyl crushed on tinfoil.

Since then, Oregon’s overdose rates have only grown. Now, tents of unhoused people line many sidewalks in Portland. Monthslong waiting lists for treatment continue to lengthen. Some politicians and community groups are calling for Measure 110 to be replaced with tough fentanyl possession laws. Others are pleading to give it more time and resources.

The following is a mosaic of voices and images from Portland today.

On her walk to work at Forte Portland, a coffee shop and wine bar that she operates with her brother in the sunken lobby of a commercial building, Jennifer Myrle sidesteps needles, shattered glass and human feces. Often, she says, someone is passed out in front of the lobby’s door, blocking her entrance. The other day, a man lurched in, lay down on a Forte couch, stripped off his shirt and shoes, and refused to leave.

“At four in the afternoon the streets can feel like dealer central,” Ms. Myrle said. “At least 20 to 30 people in ski masks, hoodies and backpacks, usually on bikes and scooters. There’s no point calling the cops.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Migrants Will Sleep Outdoors Because ‘There Is No More Room,’ Adams Says, Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Jay Root, Mayor Eric Adams said New York had run out of shelter space for migrants, and he defended a troubled contractor working with the city on its response.

The images outside the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown Manhattan early Monday were stark: Scores of migrants huddled in a line stretching more than a block, some still sleeping as they waited to be processed in New York City’s intake center.

Hours later, Mayor Eric Adams declared that the city had entered a new phase in its migrant crisis, and that the scene outside the Roosevelt Hotel could become more common and widespread.

As the Adams administration struggles to respond to an influx of 90,000 migrants from the southern border, the mayor, a Democrat, said that the city had run out of indoor space to house people and that the situation was only going to deteriorate.

“It’s not going to get any better,” he said at a news conference at City Hall on Monday. “From this moment on, it’s downhill. There is no more room.”

Mr. Adams said that he wanted to “localize this madness” so that people sleeping outdoors were contained to certain parts of the city, without identifying the potential locations or making it clear if people would be sleeping on sidewalks or in tents.

“Our next phase of the strategy now that we have run out of room, we have to figure out how we’re going to localize the inevitable that there’s no more room indoors,” he said at an unrelated news conference on public safety.

But Mr. Adams warned that migrants would not be allowed to sleep wherever they want: “I can assure you that this city is not going to look like other cities where there are tents up and down every street.”

The mayor’s comments came a day after The New York Times revealed that the city gave a medical services firm a no-bid $432 million contract to assist with its migrant crisis. The firm, DocGo, has bused hundreds of asylum seekers upstate to cities including Albany, but many of the migrants there said that they felt misled and abandoned, and that local security guards hired by DocGo had repeatedly threatened them.

DocGo, which provided Covid testing and vaccination services during the pandemic, is also involved in running the city’s “arrival center” for migrants at the Roosevelt Hotel. Over the weekend, people were seen sleeping outside the hotel with blankets, and vans were provided so that people could cool off on a hot summer day.

The Roosevelt, a sprawling 1,000-room hotel on East 45th Street near Grand Central Terminal, had been closed for nearly three years when Mr. Adams announced in May that it would serve as an arrival center. Staff members from DocGo help with the intake process and provide medical services, according to city officials.

Mr. Adams defended DocGo at the news conference on Monday, saying that it had done good work responding to the pandemic and the migrant crisis. The mayor said he still had confidence in the firm while vowing to correct any deficiencies.

“We’re going to scrutinize them,” Mr. Adams said. “We’re going to make sure — here’s your contract, here are the services, if you do something wrong we’re going to bring you in, and say you have to correct it. But they’ve done a herculean job of this humanitarian crisis that we’re facing.”

  • New York Times, In California, a Crucial Test in How to Address Homelessness, July 31, 2023. One of the state’s largest homeless encampments was recently shut down in Oakland, but that didn’t stop the problem.
  • New York Times, Driver Plows Car Into Migrant Workers in ‘Intentional Assault,’ Police Say, July 31, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, New York City Had a Migrant Crisis. It Hired a Covid Expert to Help, Jay Root, July 30, 2023. DocGo received a $432 million no-bid contract to relocate hundreds of asylum seekers. Many said they have been threatened and lied to.

Lured by the promise of jobs, legal assistance and a more welcoming environment, hundreds of asylum seekers have boarded buses headed north to Albany, in search of a life better than they had found in New York City.

But once they settled in the state capital, many said they realized they had been misled and all but abandoned.

Instead of state identification cards, they were given dubious work eligibility and residency letters on what appeared to be a fake letterhead. At the bargain-rate motels where the migrants were relocated, many said they were treated like prisoners in halfway houses, living under written threats that they would be barred from seeking asylum if they were caught drinking or smoking.

They complained that crucial mail about their asylum cases had been lost, and worried that they now faced an hourslong trip to the courts where those cases will be heard.

Nearly three months after Mayor Eric Adams ushered in a new policy calling for the city to relocate migrants outside the five boroughs, the program has been plagued by problems, drawing attention to the no-bid contractor leading the effort.

More than 1,500 migrants have been sent to places as far as Buffalo, with more on the way. But many of the migrants have been greeted by protests at their new homes, as well as mistreatment and the false hope of jobs.

Behind the broken promises is a medical services company, DocGo, that once contracted with the city to provide Covid testing and vaccination services, but pivoted to migrant care as the pandemic waned and a new crisis emerged.

The city awarded DocGo a $432 million contract, which took effect in early May, without subjecting it to competitive bidding. The contract called for DocGo to house migrants and provide them with services including case management, medical care, food, transportation, lodging and round-the-clock security.

But its efforts to resettle migrants in Albany have been rocky, at best. Local authorities have expressed frustration at the lack of coordination between DocGo and agencies that could provide services to the migrants; local security guards hired by DocGo have repeatedly threatened the migrants; and finding steady work has been nearly impossible.

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Student Loans

ny times logoNew York Times, After $700 Million U.S. Bailout, Trucking Firm Is Shutting Down, Alan Rappeport, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Yellow, which received a pandemic loan, is winding down operations ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing. The closure of the company would mean the loss of about 30,000 jobs.

Yellow, the beleaguered trucking company that received a $700 million pandemic loan from the federal government, notified staff on Friday that it is shutting down and laying off employees at all of its locations.

The move comes ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing by Yellow in the coming days. The closure of the company would mean the loss of approximately 30,000 jobs and mark the end of a business that just three years ago was deemed so critical to the nation’s supply chains that it warranted a federal bailout.

“The company is shutting down its regular operations on July 28, 2023, closing and/or laying off employees at all of its locations, including yours,” the company said in a memo to staff that was reviewed by The New York Times.

As of the end of March, Yellow’s outstanding debt was $1.5 billion, including about $730 million that is owed to the federal government. Yellow has paid approximately $66 million in interest on the loan, but it has repaid just $230 of the principal owed on the loan, which comes due next year.

Yellow is one of the largest freight trucking companies in the United States, and its downfall could have a ripple effect across the nation’s supply chain. Its impending bankruptcy comes days after United Parcel Service reached an agreement with the union representing more than 325,000 of its U.S. workers, averting a strike.

Yellow’s management and union negotiators have been trying to reach an agreement over wages and other benefits but failed to clinch a deal.

The fate of Yellow’s assets is not yet clear. In 2020, the Trump administration, which had ties to the company and its executives, agreed to give the firm a pandemic relief loan in exchange for the federal government assuming a 30 percent equity stake in the company.

Yellow said last month that it sought the assistance of the Biden administration in brokering a deal with the union. The White House had no comment this week on the situation.

Yellow has been locked in protracted labor negotiations with International Brotherhood of Teamsters over a new contract that the company has said is essential to its ability to move forward with a restructuring plan.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

hunter biden beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s plea deal in jeopardy over questions about immunity, Perry Stein, Karl Baker, Devlin Barrett and Matt Viser, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize President Biden’s son, above, from future charges.

The plea deal for Hunter Biden was on the brink of falling apart Wednesday, when the two sides could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize the president’s son from possible additional charges.

irs logoU.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika pressed federal prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers to come to some “meeting of the minds.” But that appeared unlikely, as the two sides said they did not see eye to eye about the precise terms of their own plea agreement.

Justice Department log circularAt one point in the hearing, Biden’s lawyer declared there was no deal — meaning that a long-running criminal investigation that Republicans have used to accuse both the president and his son of corruption might lead to a trial after all.

“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,” Biden lawyer Chris Clark said.

The confusion over what, exactly, Biden would get or not get by pleading guilty stems in part from the unusual way his plea deal was structured — with a guilty plea to two tax misdemeanors, and a diversion program, not a guilty plea, for an illegal gun possession charge.

That arrangement allowed Biden to admit the facts of the gun case without technically pleading guilty to the charge. It also created a bifurcated deal in which the assurances Biden wants that he won’t be pursued for other tax or foreign lobbying charges were not part of the tax case, but part of the gun diversion agreement, lawyers said in court.

Deals to plead guilty can sometimes fall apart under closer scrutiny from a federal judge, but even when that happens, the two sides often find a way to eventually resolve the issue and enter a deal acceptable to the court.

On Wednesday, the judge urged the prosecutors and defense lawyers to spend some more time talking, in the hopes that the guilty plea hearing might be salvaged. As the two sides spoke to each other, it became more clear how far apart they were.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish by blowing this up,” Clark told prosecutors. One of those prosecutors, Leo Wise, pointed to papers related to the case and said he was bound by the terms in them.

Clark shot back: “Then we misunderstood, we’re ripping it up.”

The deal Biden struck in June meant he would likely stay out of jail if he stays drug-free for two years.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Biden said he was prepared to enter the plea. Then Noreika asked whether he would still enter the plea if it was possible additional charges might be filed against him in the future. When Biden answered no, he would not, the judge ordered a break in the proceeding.

The probe was opened in 2018, during the Trump administration, and has been a favorite talking point for Republican critics of President Biden and his family. Republican politicians have repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of broad wrongdoing in his overseas business deals and, since his father was elected, predicted that the Biden administration would be reluctant to pursue the case.

Papers filed in federal court in Wilmington when the plea agreement was reached indicate that Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges of failure to pay in 2017 and 2018. A court document says that in both those years, Biden was a resident of D.C., received taxable income of more than $1.5 million and owed more than $100,000 in income tax that he did not pay on time.

Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of probation for those counts, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe elements of the case that are not yet public. Hunter Biden’s representatives have previously said that he eventually paid the IRS what he owed.

A second court filing is about the charge of illegally possessing a weapon, which involves a handgun Biden purchased at a time when he was abusing drugs. In that case, the letter says, “the defendant has agreed to enter a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with respect to the firearm Information.” Handling the gun charge as a diversion case means Biden will not technically be pleading guilty to that crime.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy 

washington post logoWashington Post, Brazil rejects U.S. extradition request for alleged Russian spy, Shera Avi-Yonah, July 29, 2023. Brazilian justice officials said Thursday they can’t approve a U.S. request to extradite an alleged Russian spy because they have already been processing Moscow’s own request for the man.

Sergey Cherkasov, 37, was charged by the U.S. Justice Department in March with acting as an illegal agent of a Russian intelligence service while attending Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington as a master’s student. He faces additional U.S. charges including visa fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud, according to a complaint.
Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Cherkasov is serving a sentence in Brazil on charges of using fraudulent documents.

Brazil’s justice minister, Flávio Dino, said on Twitter that Cherkasov will remain imprisoned in Brazil for the time being. A Russian request for Cherkasov on allegations of drug trafficking had been conditionally approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court earlier this year, making Brazil unable to complete the U.S. request, the Brazilian Justice Ministry stated. However, the Russian request is also pending Brazil’s own spying investigation into Cherkasov.
Paulo Ferreira, one of Cherkasov’s lawyers, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night. He told the Wall Street Journal his client is not a Russian spy.

The Justice Department and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Justice Department’s March complaint alleges Cherkasov acted as a type of deep-cover Russian agent called an “illegal.” Such agents operate without any known link to their home government and often build elaborate false identities.

Cherkasov lived under the alias Victor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian citizen, but U.S. and Brazilian authorities say he was actually born in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Cherkasov was seen by some as a potential bargaining chip in a prisoner swap the United States is seeking to negotiate in exchange for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in Russia on espionage allegations. Gershkovich and the Journal both say the charge is false, and the State Department says he has been wrongfully detained.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 dianne feinstein mitch mcconnell nyt

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Reluctant to Retire, Leaders Raise a Tough Question: How Old Is Too Old? Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell, above, thrust questions about aging out of Congress and into the national conversation.

After a series of troubling moments this week, an uncomfortable question has become unavoidable, leaving voters, strategists and even politicians themselves wondering: Just how old is too old to serve in public office?

For years, like so many children of aging parents across America, politicians and their advisers in Washington tried to skirt that difficult conversation, wrapping concerns about their octogenarian leaders in a cone of silence. The omertà was enabled by the traditions of a city that arms public figures with a battalion of aides, who manage nearly all of their professional and personal lives.

“I don’t know what the magic number is, but I do think that as a general rule, my goodness, when you get into the 80s, it’s time to think about a little relaxation,” said Trent Lott, 81, a former Senate majority leader who retired at the spry age of 67 to start his own lobbying firm. “The problem is, you get elected to a six-year term, you’re in pretty good shape, but four years later you may not be so good.”

Two closely scrutinized episodes this week thrust questions about aging with dignity in public office out of the halls of Congress and into the national conversation.

On Wednesday, video of Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, freezing for 20 seconds in front of television cameras reverberated across the internet and newscasts. Less than 24 hours later, another clip surfaced of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, appearing confused when asked to vote in committee.

A political discussion on the issue of age has been building for months, as the country faces the possibility of a presidential contest between the oldest candidates in American history. President Biden, 80, already the oldest president to sit in the White House, is vying for a second term, and Donald J. Trump, 77, is leading the Republican primary race.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Judge blocks Arkansas law allowing librarians to be criminally charged over ‘harmful’ materials, Staff Report, July 29, 2023. The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states push for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. Arkansas is temporarily blocked from enforcing a law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

politico CustomU.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which also would have created a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids. The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year, was set to take effect Aug. 1.

Arkansas is temporarily blocked from enforcing a law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which also would have created a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids. The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year, was set to take effect Aug. 1.

A coalition that included the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock had challenged the law, saying fear of prosecution under the measure could prompt libraries and booksellers to no longer carry titles that could be challenged.

The judge also rejected a motion by the defendants, which include prosecuting attorneys for the state, seeking to dismiss the case.

The ACLU of Arkansas, which represents some of the plaintiffs, applauded the court’s ruling, saying that the absence of a preliminary injunction would have jeopardized First Amendment rights.

“The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials? Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states are pushing for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.

Laws restricting access to certain materials or making it easier to challenge them have been enacted in several other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Texas.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rep. Dean Phillips Says He Is Considering a Run Against Biden, Reid J. Epstein, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Representative Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat who has for months been saying in public what many in his party only whisper in private — that the 80-year-old President Biden should not seek re-joe biden twitterelection because of his age — said he was considering challenging Mr. Biden in next year’s primary.

democratic donkey logoMr. Phillips, 54, is in his third term in Congress representing a district that includes the suburbs west of Minneapolis. In a text message, he confirmed his interest in running but declined a request to be interviewed. He said he had “been overwhelmed with outreach and encouragement” and needed to assess his next steps.

Mr. Phillips would be an extreme long shot if he were to challenge Mr. Biden. Polls show that Democrats, who were once wary about Mr. Biden seeking re-election, have coalesced behind him. The party’s major donor class is backing the president, who raised $72 million with the Democratic National Committee and his joint fund-raising committee during the three-month reporting period that ended June 30.

Mr. Phillips had $277,000 in his congressional fund-raising account at the end of June.

An heir to a Minnesota liquor fortune who showcased himself driving a gelato truck in his first House campaign, Mr. Phillips has been known in Congress for embracing the moderate suburban politics that were at the core of the general election coalition that propelled Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory. He was first elected in 2018, when he and dozens of fellow Democrats flipped Republican-held districts as suburban voters turned against President Donald J. Trump.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The Ohio GOP’s bold abortion gambit has imploded, Aaron Blake, July 24, 2023. The year 2022 put Republicans in a pickle on abortion rights — and nowhere was that clearer than on ballot measures.

First, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving the issue to the states. But then every state in which the issue was put to voters directly wound up supporting abortion rights — and often by large margins. The six states included swing-state Michigan, but also red states Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.

That cued up what may be the biggest ballot-measure battle of 2023 — in Ohio, where Republicans quickly signaled they’d forge a brazen strategy to prevent themselves from joining the other states in enshrining abortion rights in their constitutions.

That strategy appears to be going up in flames.

Facing such a ballot measure, Ohio Republicans moved to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60 percent, from 50 percent plus one. Ohioans will vote on this — via ballot measure — on Aug. 8.

It turns out that not only do voters overwhelmingly oppose changing the rules for amending the state constitution, but also that the abortion rights measure might have gotten to 60 percent anyway.

Suffolk University provided the data.

We learned last week that Ohioans opposed State Issue 1 — raising the ballot measure threshold, among other restrictions on the process — 57 percent to 26 percent.

Now Suffolk has released numbers on the abortion measure specifically, and the deficit for the GOP is similarly lopsided: Ohioans support the amendment 58 percent to 32 percent.

Those margins in increasingly red Ohio reinforce just how much of a political loser restricting abortion rights appears to be.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Doctors who put lives at risk with covid misinformation rarely punished, Lena H. Sun, Lauren Weber and Hayden Godfrey, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Medical boards received more than 480 complaints related to covid misinformation. A Post investigation found at least 20 doctors have been punished.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis’s Covid Vaccine Turnabout, Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei and Albert Sun, July 23, 2023 (print ed.). The Florida governor lost enthusiasm for the shot before the Delta wave. It’s a grim chapter he now leaves out of his retelling of his pandemic response.

600 Americans daily and hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, heard her cellphone ring. It was Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. He was distraught.

“‘You won’t believe what happened,’” she said he told her. Months before Covid vaccines would become available, Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided that the worst was over for Florida, he said. Mr. DeSantis had begun listening to doctors who believed the virus’s threat was overstated, and he no longer supported preventive measures like limiting indoor dining.

Mr. DeSantis was going his own way on Covid.

Nearly three years later, the governor now presents his Covid strategy not only as his biggest accomplishment, but as the foundation for his presidential campaign. Mr. DeSantis argues that “Florida got it right” because he was willing to stand up for the rights of individuals despite pressure from health “bureaucrats.” On the campaign trail, he says liberal bastions like New York and California needlessly traded away freedoms while Florida preserved jobs, in-person schooling and quality of life.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2But a close review by The New York Times of Florida’s pandemic response, including a new analysis of the data on deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination rates in the state, suggests that Mr. DeSantis’s account of his record leaves much out.

As he notes at most campaign stops, he moved quickly to get students back in the classroom, even as many of the nation’s school districts were still in remote learning. National research has suggested there was less learning loss in school districts with more in-person instruction.

Some other policies remain a matter of intense debate. Mr. DeSantis’s push to swiftly reopen businesses helped employment rebound, but also likely contributed to the spread of infections.

But on the single factor that those experts say mattered most in fighting Covid — widespread vaccinations — Mr. DeSantis’s approach proved deeply flawed. While the governor personally crusaded for Floridians 65 and older to get shots, he laid off once younger age groups became eligible.

Tapping into suspicion of public health authorities, which the Republican right was fanning, he effectively stopped preaching the virtues of Covid vaccines. Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.

That left the state particularly vulnerable when the Delta variant hit that month. Floridians died at a higher rate, adjusted for age, than residents of almost any other state during the Delta wave, according to the Times analysis. With less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, Florida accounted for 14 percent of deaths between the start of July and the end of October.

Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65. Despite the governor’s insistence at the time that “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated,” a vast majority of the 23,000 were either unvaccinated or had not yet completed the two-dose regimen.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Media, Arts, High Tech

 

x logo twitter

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition, Paul Krugman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.

There’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers, because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable, because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.

So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why did Elon rebrand Twitter as ‘X’? The mystery, Johanna Drucker, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The letter X is versatile. It can mean kisses or be a sign of faith. What attracts Elon Musk?

“I like the letter X,” Elon Musk posted, shortly after he renamed and rebranded Twitter. “X will become the most valuable brand on Earth.” X? Can you imagine Musk picking J for the job? Or H? There would be puzzlement, as there is now, and not much else. But X also creates a certain frisson. Why?

The letter X carries so many connotations — many more than almost any other letter — though it was not among the original alphabetic signs in the Proto-Canaanite script that stabilized around 1700 B.C. Long before then, however, human sign systems consisted of very basic marks — stick figures for humans and animals, straight lines for tallies, circles, crosses and X signs. They show up on prehistoric masonry in Crete; they show up in prehistoric Byblos in Syria; they show up on stones marked between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago in the French area of Mas d’Azil.

Johanna Drucker is Breslauer professor and distinguished professor emerita in information studies at UCLA. She is the author of “Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Bronny James, Recovering From Cardiac Arrest, Goes Home From the Hospital, Adam Zagoria LeBron, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). James Jr.’s release was one of several indications that things were returning to normal three days after he collapsed on a basketball court.

Three days after LeBron James Jr. collapsed during a basketball practice, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said on Thursday that he “has been discharged home, where he is resting.” His father, LeBron James, said on social media that his family was “together, safe and healthy.”

And in a signal of the family’s optimism and relief, LeBron was back in the gym on Thursday, working out with another young basketball star.

The younger James, known as Bronny, who was recruited to join the U.S.C. basketball team in the fall, suffered cardiac arrest on Monday while working out at the university’s Galen Center. He was treated in intensive care initially and had been at Cedars-Sinai since Monday.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

July 30

Top Headlines

 

nra logo Custom

 

High Tech Top Stories

 

Trump Watch

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

More On Russia, Ukraine

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 

More On 2024 Presidential Race

 

Crisis In Israel

 

More Global Stories

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Immigration

ICE logo

 

U.S. Economy, Student Loans, Jobs, Budgets, Politics

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Trump wanted Ukraine to impugn Biden. Republicans finally delivered, Philip Bump

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education Policy

 

More On U.S. Media, Arts, Sports, Culture

 

Top Stories

 

nra logo Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, The Secret History of Gun Rights: How Lawmakers Armed the N.R.A., Mike McIntire, July 30, 2023. They served in Congress and on the N.R.A.’s board at the same time. Over decades, a small group of legislators led by a prominent Democrat pushed the gun lobby to help transform the law, the courts and views on the Second Amendment.

Long before the National Rifle Association tightened its grip on Congress, won over the Supreme Court and prescribed more guns as a solution to gun violence — before all that, Representative John D. Dingell Jr. had a plan.

First jotted on a yellow legal pad in 1975, it would transform the N.R.A. from a fusty club of sportsmen into a lobbying juggernaut that would enforce elected officials’ allegiance, derail legislation behind the scenes, redefine the legal landscape and deploy “all available resources at every level to influence the decision making process.”

“An organization with as many members, and as many potential resources, both financial and influential within its ranks, should not have to go 2d or 3d Class in a fight for survival,” Mr. Dingell wrote, advocating a new aggressive strategy. “It should go First Class.”

To understand the ascendancy of gun culture in America, the files of Mr. Dingell, a powerful Michigan Democrat who died in 2019, are a good place to start. That is because he was not just a politician — he simultaneously sat on the N.R.A.’s board of directors, positioning him to influence firearms policy as well as the private lobbying force responsible for shaping it.

And he was not alone. Mr. Dingell was one of at least nine senators and representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, with the same dual role over the last half-century — lawmaker-directors who helped the N.R.A. accumulate and exercise unrivaled power.

Their actions are documented in thousands of pages of records obtained by The New York Times, through a search of lawmakers’ official archives, the papers of other N.R.A. directors and court cases. The files, many of them only recently made public, reveal a secret history of how the nation got to where it is now.

Over decades, politics, money and ideology altered gun culture, reframed the Second Amendment to embrace ever broader gun rights and opened the door to relentless marketing driven by fear rather than sport. With more than 400 million firearms in civilian hands today and mass shootings now routine, Americans are bitterly divided over what the right to bear arms should mean.

The lawmakers, far from the stereotype of pliable politicians meekly accepting talking points from lobbyists, served as leaders of the N.R.A., often prodding it to action. At seemingly every hint of a legislative threat, they stepped up, the documents show, helping erect a firewall that impedes gun control today.

Over decades, a small group of legislators led by a prominent Democrat pushed the gun lobby to help transform the law, the courts and views on the Second Amendment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Former President Trump threatened Republicans who don’t pursue investigations against Democrats, Neil Vigdor, July 30, 2023. Casting Republicans as meek, former President Donald J. Trump said members of his party should pursue investigations against Democrats — or risk losing their seats.

Former President Donald J. Trump lashed out at Republicans in Congress while campaigning in Pennsylvania on Saturday, threatening members of his party who do not share his appetite for pursuing corruption investigations against President Biden and his family — and for retribution.

In a litany of grievances about his deepening legal woes and the direction of the country, the twice-indicted former president cast G.O.P. holdouts as meek during a rally in Erie, Pa., criticizing their response to what he described as politically motivated prosecutions against him.

“The Republicans are very high class,” he said. “You’ve got to get a little bit lower class.”

And then Mr. Trump, the overwhelming front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, put party members on notice.

“Any Republican that doesn’t act on Democratic fraud should be immediately primaried,” said Mr. Trump, to the roaring approval of several thousand supporters at the Erie Insurance Arena. Throughout the night he referenced the case against Hunter Biden and accused the president of complicity in his son’s troubles.

It was the first solo campaign event and the second public appearance for Mr. Trump since the Justice Department added charges against him in connection with his mishandling of classified documents after leaving office.

In a superseding indictment filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Florida, federal prosecutors presented evidence that Mr. Trump told the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, that he wanted security camera footage there to be deleted.

Prosecutors also charged him, along with one of his personal aides, with conspiring to obstruct the government’s repeated attempts to reclaim the classified material.

On the same day that the additional charges were announced, Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with federal prosecutors to discuss another expected indictment, one centering on Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

With Mr. Trump as its standard-bearer, the Republican Party has watched Democrats in Pennsylvania secure high-profile victories in the last year, including flipping a U.S. Senate seat, holding on to the governor’s office and gaining control of the statehouse.

In 2020, Mr. Trump lost the battleground state by nearly 82,000 votes to Mr. Biden, who was born there.

Despite several courts rejecting his election lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump has continued to cling to falsehoods about results, including on Saturday.

“We got screwed,” he said, baselessly claiming that news outlets had delayed their race calls because he had been ahead. “I said, ‘Why aren’t they calling Pennsylvania?’”

ny times logoNew York Times, Amid the Counterattack’s Deadly Slog, a Glimmer of Success for Ukraine, Carlotta Gall, July 30, 2023. Recapturing a village was such welcome news that President Volodymyr Zelensky announced it himself. But Russian defenses have stymied progress elsewhere.

For 10 days, Ukrainian marines fought street by street and house by house to recapture the southeastern village of Staromaiorske, navigating artillery fire, airstrikes and hundreds of Russian troops.

The Russians put up a ferocious defense but that ended on Thursday when they folded and the Ukrainians claimed victory. “Some ran away, some were left behind,” said an assault commander from Ukraine’s 35th Marine Brigade, who uses the call sign Dikyi, which means Wild. “We were taking captives,” he added.

The recapture of Staromaiorske, a small village that is nonetheless critical to Ukraine’s southern strategy, was such a welcome development for Ukraine that President Volodymyr Zelensky announced it himself.

The counteroffensive has largely been a brutal lesson for Ukrainian troops, who have struggled to seize back territory across the southern region of Zaporizhzhia. In two months, Ukrainian troops have advanced less than 10 miles at any point along the region’s 100-mile front.

Victories, like the one at Staromaiorske, represent a potential breakthrough in the fighting, Ukrainian officials said, perhaps opening the way for a broader push by their country’s forces.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the Party Switch that Blew Up North Carolina Politics, Kate Kelly and David Perlmutt, July 30, 2023. Tricia Cotham, a Democrat who supported abortion rights, was encouraged to run for a state House seat by powerful Republicans. Once elected, she joined them.

When Tricia Cotham, a former Democratic lawmaker, was considering another run for the North Carolina House of Representatives, she turned to a powerful party leader for advice. Then, when she jumped into the Democratic primary, she was encouraged by still other formidable allies.

She won the primary in a redrawn district near Charlotte, and then triumphed in the November general election by 18 percentage points, a victory that helped Democrats lock in enough seats to prevent, by a single vote, a Republican supermajority in the state House.

Except what was unusual — and not publicly known at the time — was that the influential people who had privately encouraged Ms. Cotham to run were Republicans, not Democrats. One was Tim Moore, the redoubtable Republican speaker of the state House. Another was John Bell, the Republican majority leader.

“I encouraged her to run because she was a really good member when she served before,” Mr. Bell recalled in an interview.

Three months after Ms. Cotham took office in January, she delivered a mortal shock to Democrats and to abortion rights supporters: She switched parties, and then cast a decisive vote on May 3 to override a veto by the state’s Democratic governor and enact a 12-week limit on most abortions — North Carolina’s most restrictive abortion policy in 50 years.

Overnight, Ms. Cotham became a heroine to Republicans and anti-abortion advocates across the country, even as Democrats vilified her as a traitor whose unexpected party flip had changed health care policy in a politically purple state of more than 10 million people.

More perplexing to many Democrats was why she did it. Ms. Cotham came from a family with strong ties to the Democratic Party, campaigned as a progressive on social issues and had even co-sponsored a bill to codify a version of Roe v. Wade into North Carolina law.

Interviews with former and current political allies depict her as someone who had grown alienated from Democratic Party officials and ideals. Republican leaders cultivated her before she ran and, seeing her growing estrangement, seized a chance to coax her across party lines.

Before the switch, Ms. Cotham chafed at what she perceived as a lack of support from other Democrats. Once she was elected, Mr. Moore said, he made it clear that she would be welcomed by Republicans.

“Never in my life did I think that one person could have that kind of impact, that will affect the lives of thousands of people for years to come,” said Ann Newman, a Democratic activist in Ms. Cotham’s district. Ms. Newman recently asked for — and received — a refund of the $250 she had donated to Ms. Cotham’s 2022 campaign.

Her change of parties has left many of Ms. Cotham’s constituents feeling angry and betrayed, and has allowed Republicans to flex the power of their new supermajority well beyond the abortion issue, overturning a string of vetoes by the state’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, including six on June 27 alone.

Ms. Cotham, 44, has defended her switch and said she had delivered on many promises she made to voters.

“I campaigned on Medicaid expansion,” she said in a statement to The New York Times. “I campaigned on supporting children, housing, safer communities, a strong economy and increasing health care options. I’ve done all of this and more.”
Yet there is no question that Ms. Cotham has dealt a grievous blow to Democratic policy goals in North Carolina.

Late in March, just a few days before switching parties, she skipped a pivotal gun-control vote, helping Republicans loosen gun restrictions in the state. After she became a Republican, she sponsored a bill to expand student eligibility for private-school vouchers, voted to ban gender-affirming care for minors and voted to outlaw discussions of race or gender in state job interviews.

“This switch has been absolutely devastating,” said state Representative Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro.

samuel alito frowing uncredited

washington post logoWashington Post, Alito says Congress has no authority to police Supreme Court ethics, Robert Barnes, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., above, said in an interview published Friday that Congress has no authority to impose an ethics policy on the Supreme Court, and he hinted that other justices share his view.

In a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal opinions section, Alito noted that he and other justices voluntarily comply with disclosure statutes, but he said mandating an ethics code would be beyond Congress’s powers.

“I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it,” Alito said. “No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period.”

Asked if other justices agree, Alito replied: “I don’t know that any of my colleagues have spoken about it publicly, so I don’t think I should say. But I think it is something we have all thought about.” Allegations of ethics breaches among the justices and reports of luxurious vacations paid for by private benefactors — including a fishing trip to Alaska for Alito — have put the court in the spotlight recently. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which seeks to impose on the court disclosure rules as strict as those governing members of the House and the Senate.

It is unusual for a justice to comment so definitively on the constitutionality of legislation, especially when bills are under consideration, and any law that is passed could come before the court.

The Journal article, headlined “Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court’s Plain-Spoken Defender,” was notable for another reason: It was written in part by David B. Rivkin Jr., a Washington lawyer well-known in conservative legal circles, who has an upcoming case before the court. Rivkin parenthetically disclosed that in the piece, writing that he and his law partner Andrew Grossman represent a couple in Moore v. U.S., a tax dispute the Supreme Court will hear in the coming term.

Rivkin and Journal editorial features editor James Taranto noted that Alito has now spoken with them “on the record for four hours in two wide-ranging sessions,” one in April in Alito’s chambers and the other in early July in the Journal’s New York offices.

The court granted Rivkin’s petition to hear Moore v. U.S. at the end of June.

As the subject of Supreme Court ethics has taken a more urgent tone, it has also acquired a partisan sheen, with Republicans saying the call for stronger ethics and disclosure rules is a ploy to delegitimize an increasingly conservative court because liberals disagree with its decisions. That division seems to doom the ethics bill’s chances in the Senate, and there is no interest among Republican leaders of the House in pushing such legislation.

Constitutional scholars who testified before the Senate committee split on the role Congress may play in prescribing the ethical responsibilities of a separate branch of government, although there is no dispute about Congress’s authority regarding federal courts below the Supreme Court.

World Crisis Radio, Commentary With Weekly Strategic Overview and Civic Agenda, Webster G. Tarpley, right, author and historian, July 29, 2023 (147:47 mins). As January 6 indictment webster tarpley 2007watch continues, long awaited Ukrainian counterattack advances towards Melitopol, Mariupol, and Bakhmut, putting Putin’s Crimean supply line in danger.

Smith adds additional defendant and new MaL charges against Trump for ordering deletion of security camera footage and showing off top secret document; Georgia indictments loom; Trump hurls scurrilous threats at prospect of incarceration; Navarro talks of civil war, blames Dems;

Like Stalin in June 1941, Putin froze during first hours of Prigozhinshchina; mercenary boss shows up on sidelines of Russia-Africa conference in St. Petersburg; African client states reduced from 45 to an unhappy 20 as Russian Black Sea grain blockade triggers starvation in developing sector; Biden had 50 guest nations last year; Token grain delivery promised to 6 of the most subservient countries, but diplomatic fiasco goes on with demands to respect existing grain deal;
NATO should increase grain exports through port of Reni on Ukrainian bank of Danube; Time for escorted convoys from Odessa through territorial waters to Bosporus and open sea;

Xi rebuffs Kerry, repeats his intent to escalate carbon emissions until 2030, making a mockery of predictions by climate scientists;

Fed concedes there is no recession as Wall Street grudgingly acknowledges landmark success of industrial strategy aka Bidenomics, marking beginning of the end for neoliberal Washington consensus; Next step is breaking Wall Street control of Fed;

In US visit, Italian premier Meloni supports NATO military aid to Ukraine and turns away from Chinese Belt and Road debt trap; History can be guide to current events, provided the history be real and not diluted!

 

oregon map

ny times logoNew York Times, The Struggle to Save Portland, Michael Corkery, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). One man’s story shows how the Oregon city’s progressive identity is being challenged by the dual problems of fentanyl and homelessness.

Come to Portland, his sister said. It’s green and beautiful, people are friendly and there are plenty of jobs.

In 2018, Anthony Saldana took his sister’s advice. He left Las Vegas, where he was working in a casino, and moved to a Portland suburb.

He rented an apartment and got a job at Home Depot. Mr. Saldana, though, never quite found his footing. By early 2021, he was living in a tent, under a tree on the edge of a highway in Portland.

He wouldn’t let his sister, Kaythryn Richardson, visit him and shared only a few details with her about his life on the streets. He told her about the “bad people” terrorizing him and about the Disney movies he had watched to drown out the chaos that was slowly pulling him under.

“Hello sister,” he texted last October. “I’m hurting.”

All of Portland, it seems, has been trying to figure out what has been happening to people like Mr. Saldana, and to Portland itself.

This city of 635,000, home to the world’s largest bookstore and majestic views of snowcapped Mount Hood, has long grappled with homelessness. But during the pandemic this perennial problem turned into an especially desperate and sometimes deadly crisis that is dividing Portland over how to fix it.

While other cities in the West, like San Diego and Phoenix, face similar issues, the suffering on Portland’s streets has dealt a singular challenge to the city’s identity as a liberal bastion that prides itself on embracing transplants from across the country.

In 2022, Portland experienced a spate of homicides and other violence involving homeless victims that rattled many in the community: a 42-year-old homeless woman shot in the face by two teenagers who were hunting rats with a pellet gun; a 26-year-old homeless woman stabbed in the chest outside her tent; another homeless woman, 31, fatally shot at close range by a stranger.

The search for answers points in many directions — to city and county officials who allowed tents on the streets because the government had little to offer in the way of housing, to Oregon voters who backed decriminalizing hard drugs and to the unrest that rocked Portland in 2020 and left raw scars.

But what has turbocharged the city’s troubles in recent years is fentanyl, the deadly synthetic drug, which has transformed long standing problems into a profound test of the Portland ethos.

Outreach workers in Portland say rampant fentanyl use has coincided with the increasing turmoil among many homeless residents.

Doctors who care for people living on the streets say fentanyl addiction is proving harder to treat than many other dependencies.

Yet, as they have for years, legions of volunteers — professionals, recovering addicts and anarchists — routinely hand out sandwiches, wound kits and clementines around the encampments. Those volunteers include people like Jakob Hollenbeck, 23, who last year befriended a group camped out across the street from his house in Portland’s upscale Pearl District.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Acknowledges Granddaughter in Arkansas for First Time, Katie Rogers and Michael S. Schmidt, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). The president has told his son, Hunter Biden, that he wants to meet his 4-year-old grandchild, Navy Joan Roberts, who until recently was at the center of a yearslong child support dispute.

joe biden black background resized serious filePresident Biden publicly acknowledged his 4-year-old granddaughter, Navy Joan Roberts, for the first time on Friday, saying in a statement that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, “only want what is best for all of our grandchildren, including Navy.”

The statement came as Mr. Biden faced increasing pressure from critics who said that failing to acknowledge Navy publicly went against the image of a loving patriarch that he has nurtured since the beginning of his political career.

“Our son Hunter and Navy’s mother, Lunden, are working together to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter, preserving her privacy as much as possible going forward,” Mr. Biden told People magazine in a statement.

“This is not a political issue, it’s a family matter,” Mr. Biden continued. “Jill and I only want what is best for all of our grandchildren, including Navy.”

Hunter Biden, 53, who is recovering from crack cocaine addiction, is the last surviving son of the president, who lost his eldest, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015. The younger Mr. Biden, who has five children, has said that he fathered Navy at a low point in his life and that he did not have a relationship with her.

President Biden had followed his son’s lead, referring to six grandchildren instead of seven.

“I have six grandchildren. And I’m crazy about them,” the president told a group of children in April. “And I speak to them every single day. Not a joke.”

In White House strategy meetings, aides have been told that the Bidens have six, not seven, grandchildren, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

But in recent weeks, the president told his son that he wanted to meet Navy when the time was right, according to a person familiar with those discussions. The person was not authorized to speak publicly.

On Friday, another person familiar with the situation said the president would say that he had seven grandchildren going forward. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter.

 

High Tech Top Stories

 

 elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, With Starlink, Elon Musk’s Satellite Dominance Is Raising Global Alarms, Adam Satariano, Scott Reinhard, Cade Metz, Sheera Frenkel and Malika Khurana, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). The billionaire’s influence on satellite internet technology has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders in Ukraine and beyond. The tech billionaire has become the dominant power in satellite internet technology. The ways he is wielding that influence are raising global alarms.

In March 17, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the leader of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, dialed into a call to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over the secure line, the two military leaders conferred on air defense systems, real-time battlefield assessments and shared intelligence on Russia’s military losses.

space x logoThey also talked about Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo).

General Zaluzhnyi raised the topic of Starlink, the satellite internet technology made by Mr. Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, three people with knowledge of the conversation said. Ukraine’s battlefield decisions depended on the continued use of Starlink for communications, General Zaluzhnyi said, and his country wanted to ensure access and discuss how to cover the cost of the service.

General Zaluzhnyi also asked if the United States had an assessment of Mr. Musk, who has sprawling business interests and murky politics — to which American officials gave no answer.

Mr. Musk, who leads SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, has become the most dominant player in space as he has steadily amassed power over the strategically significant twitter bird Customfield of satellite internet. Yet faced with little regulation and oversight, his erratic and personality-driven style has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders around the world, with the tech billionaire sometimes wielding his authority in unpredictable ways.

x logo twitterSince 2019, Mr. Musk has sent SpaceX rockets into space nearly every week that deliver dozens of sofa-size satellites into orbit. The satellites communicate with terminals on Earth, so they can beam high-speed internet to nearly every corner of the planet. Today, more than 4,500 Starlink satellites are in the skies, accounting for more than 50 percent of all active satellites. They have already started changing the complexion of the night sky, even before accounting for Mr. Musk’s plans to have as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit in the coming years.

There are over 4,500 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth. What appear to be long lines here are recently launched satellites approaching their place in orbit.

The power of the technology, which has helped push the value of closely held SpaceX to nearly $140 billion, is just beginning to be felt.

Starlink is often the only way to get internet access in war zones, remote areas and places hit by natural disasters. It is used in Ukraine for coordinating drone strikes and intelligence gathering. Activists in Iran and Turkey have sought to use the service as a hedge against government controls. The U.S. Defense Department is a big Starlink customer, while other militaries, such as in Japan, are testing the technology.

But Mr. Musk’s near total control of satellite internet has raised alarms.

elon musk 2015A combustible personality, the 52-year-old’s allegiances are fuzzy. While Mr. Musk is hailed as a genius innovator, he alone can decide to shut down Starlink internet access for a customer or country, and he has the ability to leverage sensitive information that the service gathers. Such concerns have been heightened because no companies or governments have come close to matching what he has built.

In Ukraine, some fears have been realized. Mr. Musk has restricted Starlink access multiple times during the war, people familiar with the situation said.tesla logo At one point, he denied the Ukrainian military’s request to turn on Starlink near Crimea, the Russian-controlled territory, affecting battlefield strategy. Last year, he publicly floated a “peace plan” for the war that seemed aligned with Russian interests.

At times, Mr. Musk has openly flaunted Starlink’s capabilities. “Between, Tesla, Starlink & Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” he tweeted in April.

washington post logoWashington Post, Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads, Naomi Nix and Will Oremus, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A company in crisis went back to basics to deliver a viral hit. But can Adam Mosseri’s bare-bones Twitter clone reinvigorate an aging tech giant? Adam Mosseri was on a family vacation in Italy last November when he learned he’d have to go toe-to-toe with Elon Musk. The mercurial Musk had just taken over Twitter. Amid the ensuing chaos, Mosseri’s boss at rival Meta smelled opportunity.

meta logoCEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Meta executives wanted to woo creators from Twitter to their social networks. Mosseri, who runs Instagram, paused his holiday to take Zuckerberg’s call.

It was nighttime in Italy, and Mosseri spoke softly to avoid waking his sleeping wife. The group discussed Twitter-like features they could add to existing apps, including Instagram.

Zuckerberg, however, had a different idea: “What if we went bigger?”

By the time the call ended well after midnight, Mosseri had a mandate to build a stand-alone app to compete with Twitter — and a knot in his stomach.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian propaganda is appearing in Minecraft and other popular video game, Steven Lee Myers and Kellen Browning, July 30, 2023. Russian propaganda is spreading into the world’s video games.

In Minecraft, the immersive game owned by Microsoft, Russian players re-enacted the battle for Soledar, a city in Ukraine that Russian forces captured in January, posting a video of the game on their country’s most popular social media network, VKontakte.

A channel on World of Tanks, a multiplayer warfare game, commemorated the 78th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany in May with a recreation of the Soviet Union’s parade of tanks in Moscow in 1945. On Roblox, the popular gaming platform, a user created an array of Interior Ministry forces in June to celebrate the national holiday, Russia Day.

These games and adjacent discussion sites like Discord and Steam are becoming online platforms for Russian agitprop, circulating to new, mostly younger audiences a torrent of propaganda that the Kremlin has used to try to justify the war in Ukraine.

In this virtual world, players have adopted the letter Z, a symbol of the Russian troops who invaded last year; embraced legally specious Russian territorial claims in Crimea and other places; and echoed President Vladimir V. Putin’s efforts to denigrate Ukrainians as Nazis and blame the West for the conflict.

 

Trump Watch

 

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s alleged conduct in the new indictment is jaw-droppingly stupid, Ruth Marcus, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). If the allegations in the latest indictment of Donald Trump hold up, the former president is a common criminal — and an uncommonly stupid one.

Everyone knows, as the Watergate scandal drove home: The coverup is always worse than the crime. Everyone, that is, but Trump.

According to the superseding indictment handed up late Thursday, even after Trump knew the FBI was onto his improper retention of classified information, and even after he knew they were seeking security camera footage from the Mar-a-Lago storage areas where the material was kept — in other words, when any reasonably adept criminal would have known to stop digging holes — Trump made matters infinitely worse.

The alleged conduct — yes, even after all these years of watching Trump flagrantly flout norms — is nothing short of jaw-dropping: Trump allegedly conspired with others to destroy evidence.

As set out in the indictment’s relentlessly damning timeline, Trump enlisted his personal aide, Waltine Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago worker, Carlos De Oliveira, in a conspiracy to delete the subpoenaed footage.

ny times logoNew York Times, $60 Million Refund Request Shows Financial Pressure on Trump From Legal Fees, Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). President Trump’s political team asked for a refund of money intended to help his campaign that was instead diverted to an account paying his legal bills.
President Donald J. Trump’s legal fees requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to the super PAC supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The decision of Mr. Trump’s political action committee to ask for a refund of money that was initially raised as Mr. Trump sought donations to combat what he falsely claimed was widespread fraud is extraordinary.

It is unclear how much money was refunded.

The refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.

The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.
That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees. Since then, Mr. Trump has been indicted twice and has expanded the size of his legal team, and his two co-defendants in the case related to his retention of classified material work for him. The total legal spending is roughly $56 million.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr. Trump used some of that $100 million for other politicians and political activities in 2022, but he also used it to pay more than $16 million in legal fees, most of them related to investigations into him, and at least $10 million of which was for his own personal fees.

The situation signals a potential money crisis as Mr. Trump runs a campaign while under indictment in two jurisdictions and, soon, potentially a third, while also paying the legal fees of a number of witnesses who are close to him or who work for him.

Mr. Trump has long told associates that lawyers and other people contracted to work for him should do so for free, because they get free publicity. And he has told several associates that legal defense funds are organized only by people who are guilty of crimes, according to people who have heard the remarks.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump aide Carlos De Oliveira’s journey from failed witness to defendant, Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu and Josh Dawsey, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A proffer session gone sour leads to an indictment, underscoring investigators’ hopes and fears about Trump staffers.Carlos De Oliveira, a middle-aged property manager from Florida, met with federal investigators in April for what is called a “queen for a day” session — a chance to set the record straight about prosecutors’ growing suspicions of his conduct at Donald Trump’s Florida home and private club. It did not go well, according to people familiar with the meeting.

djt indicted proofDe Oliveira, 56, knew Mar-a-Lago better than almost anyone. He’d worked there for more than a decade, and in January 2022 he was promoted to property manager, overseeing the estate. In the early years of De Oliveira’s employment, people familiar with the situation said, he’d impressed his boss by redoing ornate metalwork on doors at the property.

On Thursday, De Oliveira was indicted alongside Trump and his co-worker Waltine “Walt” Nauta — all three accused of seeking to delete security footage the Justice Department was requesting as part of its classified documents investigation.

De Oliveira is the third defendant in the first-ever federal criminal case against a former president. Trump, who was initially indicted with Nauta in June, is charged with mishandling dozens of classified documents in his post-presidency life and allegedly scheming with his two employees to cover up what he’d done.

This previously unreported account of De Oliveira’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, and later statements to federal investigators, shows how the longtime Trump employee has become a key figure in the investigation, one whose alleged actions could bolster the obstruction case against the former president. Most people interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations or details of an ongoing criminal probe.

De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, declined to comment.

The series of discussions between De Oliveira and investigators highlight how prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith have approached Trump employees with a mixture of hope and suspicion: hope that the former president’s employees could explain what had happened inside Mar-a-Lago, and suspicion that whatever misdeeds may have occurred, they might have been aided by servants who stayed loyal to the boss — even after the FBI came knocking.

When FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago the morning of Aug. 8 with a court-issued search warrant, De Oliveira was one of the first people they turned to. They asked him to unlock a storage room where boxes of documents were kept, people familiar with what happened said. De Oliveira said he wasn’t sure where the key was, because he’d given it to either the Secret Service agents guarding the former president or staffers for Trump’s post-presidency office, the people said.

Frustrated, the agents simply cut the lock on the gold-colored door. The incident became part of what investigators would see as a troubling pattern with the answers De Oliveira gave them as they investigated Trump, the people said. Current and former law enforcement officials said witnesses often mislead them, particularly early in investigations. But those bad answers get more dangerous as agents continue to gather information.

Investigators’ interest in De Oliveira started to rise when security camera footage from the mansion showed him helping Nauta move boxes back into the storage area more than two months earlier, on June 2, 2022, the people said. That was just a day before a federal prosecutor and agents visited Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents in response to a grand jury subpoena and to look around the place.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the superseding indictment and third defendant affect the Trump documents case, Perry Stein, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). The superseding indictment filed against Donald Trump in the classified documents investigation this week — and the addition of a third defendant — expand the scope of the crimes the former president is accused of committing and could bolster the case against him, according to legal experts.

Federal prosecutors filed three new charges against Trump in his alleged keeping and hiding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, essentially replacing the initial indictment in the case with a new one that reveals more evidence and brings the total federal charges against the former president to 40.
The third co-defendant is Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira, who is accused of lying to the FBI in a January interview and “altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing” an item or document. Waltine “Walt” Nauta, a longtime Trump aide who was charged alongside the former president in the initial June indictment, was also slapped with additional charges involving altering or concealing an item or document.

Both Trump and Nauta pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned on the initial charges. A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on the new charges Thursday night, and a spokesman for Trump dismissed the superseding indictment as an attempt to harass the former president.

The superseding indictment accuses Trump of working with his employees to try to delete security camera footage from being reviewed by investigators, while adding a new count of willfully retaining national defense information. That count is related to Trump allegedly showing a top secret military document about Iran to other people who, like him, lacked the security clearance required to see such material.

The additional charges of lying to investigators could send a warning signal to other witnesses, the legal experts said: The case against Trump and his employees is strong and growing, and witnesses should cooperate with federal prosecutors if they want to avoid getting indicted themselves.

While every legal maneuver in cases involving Trump is heavily scrutinized, experts say superseding indictments are exceedingly common. Having multiple co-defendants in a single case — rather than trying co-defendants in separate trials — is also business as usual.

“Why would you try the same case three times? You are presenting the same case,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Chicago. “People who are charged with the same acts are usually, overwhelmingly charged together. That’s the presumption. You do it once, you don’t do it three or five times.”

Legal experts said it is hard to say exactly what propelled the Justice Department to file the initial indictment against Trump and Nauta in June, then add additional charges and another defendant weeks later. But they noted there are many common reasons lawyers would do so.

Among them: Prosecutors could have gathered additional evidence, or other witnesses may have decided to speak with investigators after they read the first indictment.

“There is a lot of intrigue but not a lot of answers,” said Scott Sundby, a University of Miami law professor. “It certainly suggests that more pieces are snapping into place.”

Alison Siegler, director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at University of Chicago Law School, said that the superseding indictment suggests that officials were still working to gather more evidence after they charged Trump in June. In many investigations, prosecutors file their indictments only once, after they have completed

ny times logoNew York Times, New Trump Charges Highlight Long-Running Questions About Obstruction, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, July 29, 2023 (print ed). The accusation that former President Trump wanted security footage deleted added to a pattern of concerns about his attempts to stymie prosecutors.

When Robert S. Mueller III, the first special counsel to investigate Donald J. Trump, concluded his investigation into the ties between Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, his report raised questions about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed his inquiry.

Justice Department officials and legal experts were divided about whether there was enough evidence to show Mr. Trump broke the law, and his attorney general — chosen in part because he was skeptical of the investigation — cleared him of wrongdoing.

Four years after Mr. Mueller’s report was released, Jack Smith, the second special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, added new charges on Thursday to an indictment over his handling of classified documents, setting out evidence of a particularly blatant act of obstruction.

Justice Department log circularThe indictment says that just days after the Justice Department demanded security footage from Mar-a-Lago, his residence and private club in Florida, Mr. Trump told the property manager there that he wanted security camera footage deleted. If proved, it would be a clearer example of criminality than what Mr. Mueller found, according to Andrew Goldstein, the lead investigator on Mr. Mueller’s obstruction investigation.

“Demanding that evidence be destroyed is the most basic form of obstruction and is easy for a jury to understand,” said Mr. Goldstein, who is now a white-collar defense lawyer at the firm Cooley.

“It is more straightforwardly criminal than the obstructive acts we detailed in the Mueller report,” he said. “And if proven, it makes it easier to show that Trump had criminal intent for the rest of the conduct described in the indictment.”

The accusation about Mr. Trump’s desire to have evidence destroyed adds another chapter to what observers of his career say is a long pattern of gamesmanship on his part with prosecutors, regulators and others who have the ability to impose penalties on his conduct.

And it demonstrates how Mr. Trump viewed the conclusion of the Mueller investigation as a vindication of his behavior, which became increasingly emboldened — particularly in regards to the Justice Department — throughout the rest of his presidency, a pattern that appears to have continued despite having lost the protections of the office when he was defeated in the election.

In his memoir of his years in the White House, John R. Bolton, who served as Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser, described Mr. Trump’s approach as “obstruction as a way of life.”

was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

 

djt confidential markings

The warrant authorizing the search of former president Donald Trump’s home said agents were seeking documents possessed in violation of the Espionage Act.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Icing on the cake, Bill Palmer, right, July 29, 2023. One of the reasons a criminal investigation into a crime boss like Donald Trump takes time is that bill palmerwitnesses have to be produced to testify to his guilt in order to get a conviction – and not all witnesses are necessarily looking to do so. For instance Jack Smith appears to have obtained the cooperation of the “Trump Employee 4” named in yesterday’s new criminal charges. But Smith is also clearly looking to get the cooperation of people like Carlos De Oliveira. Since he’s not cooperating, he’s been indicted.

bill palmer report logo headerThis doesn’t mean the story is over when it comes to De Oliveira. In fact the story is just beginning. Up to now he’s presumably been of the belief that Donald Trump could protect him in all this. But that came crashing down yesterday when De Oliveira was hit with criminal charges that’ll put him in prison for much of the rest of his life. All you have to do is read the charging document to see that there’s almost no chance De Oliveira will be acquitted at trial.

The question is how to drive that point home to De Oliveira now, so he relents and cuts a cooperation deal or immunity deal against Trump and the others. One tactic is to simply let the indictment sink in for a moment. Once you’re being arrested, charged, arraigned, and meeting with attorneys every day, you start to realize that this is your life now – and it’ll only get worse once you’re convicted.

To that end, family members and neighbors of De Oliveira are already telling CNN that they think he’s “trapped” in all of this, and that they can’t imagine how he got caught up in it. This is good. It suggests that the people in De Oliveira’s life will be inclined to try to convince him to pull himself back out of it.

With everyone who’s cut a cooperation deal, there was a prior point where they insisted (and maybe even believed) that they would never cut a deal no matter what. But that certainty starts going out the window once your life starts getting ripped to pieces in front of you.

william casey reagan libraryAnd so we wait, because this kind of thing is a waiting game. Jack Smith has from now, until whenever this criminal trial starts, to keep chipping away at Carlos De Oliveira (and for that matter Walt Nauta, right) in the name of getting one or both of them to flip in time to testify against Trump at the trial. The kicker is because there are now two Trump co-defendants, they each now have to consider the possibility that the other might flip first and get the “good” deal.

Relevant Recent Headlines

djt jan 6 charges msnbc

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

washington post logoWashington Post, In fight to lead America’s future, battle rages over its racial past, Toluse Olorunnipa, Hannah Natanson and Silvia Foster-Frau, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). While President Biden talks of Emmett Till and Harry Truman, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defends his state’s take on slavery.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP lawmakers once praised Catholic Charities. Now they want to defund the group, Jack Jenkins, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Some Republicans don’t like the work of Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups helping migrants at the U.S. border.

A few Republican members of Congress are threatening to reduce or eliminate funding for Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups that offer aid to immigrants at the U.S. southern border.

The lawmakers, who are echoing the campaigns of conservative Catholic groups that vow to “#defund the bishops,” have already succeeded in inserting their agenda into legislation passed by the House this year. Another attempt to zero-out appropriations for a key Department of Homeland Security program supporting faith-based border efforts is awaiting a vote in Congress.

In December, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tex.), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In the letter, co-signed by Reps. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) and Jake Ellzey (R-Tex.), the lawmakers complained that the Biden administration was “allowing non-governmental organizations … the freedom to aid and abet illegal aliens.”

In addition, lawmakers sent letters to Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service demanding that they preserve documents “related to any expenditures submitted for reimbursement from the federal government related to migrants encountered at the southern border.”

Contacted by Religion News Service, Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations at Catholic Charities USA, said, “We have not seen such a level of direct … attack against Catholic Charities USA.”

In May, when Gooden wrote another letter to Mayorkas, this time with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), they accused the nong0overnmental organizations that use federal funds to aid immigrants of creating an “incentive” for illegal immigration and demanded access to a broad swath of records about DHS funding practices.

 tommy tuberville washpo

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Tuberville’s tales about his father in World War II have false elements, Glenn Kessler, below right, July 26, 2023.

glenn kessler“My father, Charles Tuberville, made the D-Day landing at Normandy as a tank commander with the 101st infantry. He served with honor during World War II, earning five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.”

— Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), shown above in a Washington Post photo, in a tweet posted with a Fox News interview, June 6

“He lied about his age at 16, joined the Army.”

— Tuberville, in the Fox interview

“He was a tank commander with the 101st Infantry and landed at Normandy Beach on D-Day and drove a tank through the streets of Paris when the U.S. forces liberated the city.”

— Tuberville, on the archived website of the Tommy Tuberville Foundation

For nearly a decade, Tuberville has described the World War II exploits of his father, Charles R. Tuberville Jr., in a relatively consistent way — that he was a tank commander, that he earned five Bronze Stars, that he participated in the D-Day landing and that he lied about his age to join the army. News organizations have tended to accept Tuberville’s version and either reprint or broadcast it.

Yet an examination of army histories, newspaper reports and other materials calls into question many of the claims put forth by Tuberville, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees and is now in a high-profile battle with the Biden administration over a Defense Department policy offering time off and travel reimbursement to service members who need to go out of state for abortions. Since February, he has blocked every senior personnel move in the U.S. military that requires Senate confirmation, stalling the promotions of more than 265 military officers. The Pentagon has said Tuberville’s holds are putting the nation’s military readiness at risk, as 650 general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation by year’s end.

In effect, Tuberville has promoted his father to highly decorated tank commander — but based on our research, that claim is dubious.

Family histories often include myths or stories that become exaggerated as they are handed down from generation to generation. Most of the Army personnel records from World War II were destroyed in a 1973 fire, making confirmation difficult. There is no doubt that Tuberville’s father faced difficult and dangerous combat under trying conditions, including during the Battle of the Bulge, the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. We are not questioning his heroism or service.

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Canada Is Ravaged by Fire. Indigenous People Are Paying Dearly, Brent McDonald and Matt Joycey, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). A record-breaking fire season has forced tens of thousands of Indigenous people from their homes and ravaged the forests they rely on for sustenance.

In early July, fierce wildfires fueled by dry conditions in northern Quebec laid waste to large swaths of spruce forest, destroying cabins and tourist camps. It also cut off transportation to isolated Indigenous communities over the region’s lone paved road, a 370-mile stretch of highway with little or no cell reception.

Before evacuation orders were issued, residents who tried to leave along the Billy Diamond Highway, as the road is known, encountered flames and smoke that cast a dark-of-night pall in the afternoon.

“I honestly wasn’t sure we’d make it out,” said Joshua Iserhoff, 45, a member of the Cree nation of Nemaska who was forced to turn back with his wife and two children and who, like other residents, eventually found another way out.

“The wind was so ferocious it almost picked up the vehicle,” he said, calling the drive a “traumatic experience.”

Since May, hundreds of wildfires across Canada have burned more than 47,000 square miles of forest, an area the size of New York State, and have displaced more than 25,000 Indigenous residents from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, according to government officials.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Texas Border Towns, a ‘Dangerous’ Mix of Heat and Water Cutoffs, Edgar Sandoval, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Trying to keep cool has become a painful reminder of inequality for residents of low-income neighborhoods, where running water can be in short supply.

On a blistering morning this week, the kitchen sink in Kathy Quilatan’s house was delivering only sputtering water. With temperatures climbing into triple digits most afternoons these days, she knew exactly what she had to do to keep her two young children, ages 2 and 6, from overheating. She gathered several plastic containers and set out on a quest for water.

The neighbors could not help: Problem-plagued delivery systems have meant that entire neighborhoods like Ms. Quilatan’s along the Texas border have gone without water for hours or even days during the brutal heat that has gripped much of the Southwest this summer.

“Not having water under this extreme heat is a dangerous combination,” Ms. Quilatan said. “Can you believe that this is life in America?”

For families like the Quilatans who live in colonias, the impoverished settlements outside established cities that have always existed somewhat apart from the rest of Texas, just the ability to cool off has become a painful reminder of the social divide prevalent in border communities.

ny times logoNew York Times, It’s been a hellish summer for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors. And it’s not over, Jason Horowitz, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Things could hardly be worse for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors this month. Wildfires and successive heat waves transformed their summer paradises into ghoulish hellscapes.

Fires in Greece caused wartime-scale airlifts of tourists and ammunition depots to explode. Sicilian churches burned with the relics of saints inside them. And if it was not the heat, it was hail — the size of billiards in northern Italy — as the country ricocheted between weather extremes.

It was bad enough for those who lived there. But the many tourists who had come looking for a summer holiday found an inferno, and there was more than a hint of buyer’s remorse.

Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell were widely scrutinized this week, raising uncomfortable questions about aging politicians (New York Times photos by Haiyun Jiang, left and Desiree Rios).

washington post logoWashington Post, States siphoned away $750 million in infrastructure law climate funds, Ian Duncan, July 27, 2023. The 2021 infrastructure law created two new climate-related programs to tackle emissions and protect roads, but states are free to use half the money for other projects.

With $14 billion in new federal funding, the infrastructure law was supposed to jolt efforts to protect the U.S. highway network from a changing climate and curb carbon emissions that are warming the planet. New records show the effort is off to an unsteady start as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent elsewhere.
Want to know how your actions can help make a difference for our planet? Sign up for the Climate Coach newsletter, in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.

Last year, 38 states made use of a provision in the law to shift about $755 million to general-purpose highway construction accounts, according to Federal Highway Administration records. The sum is more than one-quarter of the total annual amount made available to states in two new climate-related programs.

California shifted $97 million to pay for safety projects. New York moved $36 million to fund what officials called the state’s “core capital program.” Arizona said it used $20 million for its five-year highway construction program, largely for “pavement preservation,” and Louisiana used $8.2 million to fund roundabouts near an outlet mall.

The nibbling away of climate funding highlights a fundamental tension in the 2021 law, which was crafted to secure bipartisan support. Protections to long-standing flexibility in how states use federal highway funding are hampering efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration to make progress on environmental goals. Amid clashes over federal guidance, the financial transfers from two climate programs — coming as weather events batter the nation’s infrastructure with increased intensity — illustrate how states have wide latitude to discount the wishes of leaders in Washington.

The records, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show several states said they were still putting together plans for how to use the money, typically an injection of tens of millions of dollars annually for each state. Some blamed slow guidance on how to spend the money.

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme heat is covering more U.S. territory than it has all summer, Matthew Cappucci and Jason Same, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). It will be the hottest weather of the summer averaged over the nation, with triple digit heat swelling into the Midwest and Northeast.

An unrelenting heat wave that’s baked the southern United States for weeks is expanding and will cover the most territory of the summer between Wednesday and Friday, swelling into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Between 250 and 275 million Americans will face heat indexes of at least 90 degrees, and more than 130 million people are under heat alerts from southern California to Maine, including Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Louisville, Washington, New York and Boston.

washington post logoWashington Post, An ocean heat wave has become a full-blown emergency for Florida’s coral reef, Brady Dennis, Amudalat Ajasa and Chris Mooney, July 27, 2023 (print ed.).‘This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,’ one veteran researcher said, as a marine heat wave shows few signs of ending.

As a blistering marine heat wave persists off the coast, a full-blown emergency is unfolding along the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

“If it remains this hot for the next six weeks, we are going to see a lot more coral mortality out there,” said Lewis, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory.

Already, scientists have reported widespread coral bleaching along parts of the roughly 360-mile-long reef, the third largest on the planet. If the heat drags on, they say, a massive coral die-off could follow, with grave consequences for fish and other ocean organisms that depend on the reefs, tourism, commercial fishing and part of the state’s very identity.

“This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” said Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin, Robert Barnes, July 27, 2023. The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Without comment, the justices lifted a lower court’s halt on the remaining construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will stretch 300 miles through rugged mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. Environmentalists claim that the pipeline threatens lands, water resources and endangered species along the way, and have found some success blocking final approval at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

But much of the pipeline is already built. During the tense negotiations earlier this summer to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts, House Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III wrangled a deal with the Biden administration to cut the courts out of the process.

How a pipeline helped grease the debt ceiling deal

The bill at issue acted in three ways. It ratified and approved “all federal authorizations” for the project. It expressly stripped courts of jurisdiction to review “any action” by a federal agency granting authorization for the construction and operation of the pipeline. And it said that any claim about the constitutionality of the law could be heard only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Nonetheless, a 4th Circuit panel on July 10 issued a stay on part of the pipeline that remains to be built, which runs through the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia. The panel judges did not provide their reasoning, but environmentalists had argued that the action by Congress improperly cut out the judiciary and violated separation of powers.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a former Obama administration solicitor general who now represents the pipeline builders. “Congress has made clear that there is a paramount national interest in expeditious completion of the pipeline.”

The $6 billion pipeline is a joint venture between some of the largest gas companies in Appalachia and the power company NextEra Energy. Its largest investor is Equitrans Midstream, which has a 48.1 percent ownership interest and will operate the pipeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Some July Heat: ‘Virtually Impossible’ Without Climate Change, Analysis Finds, Delger Erdenesanaa, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). An international group of scientists predicts that extreme heat waves will return more frequently.

Some of the extreme temperatures recorded in the Southwestern United States, southern Europe and northern Mexico at the beginning of the month would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to research made public Tuesday.

During the first half of July hundreds of millions of people in North America, Europe and Asia sweltered under intense heat waves. A heat wave in China was made 50 times as likely by climate change, the researchers said.

World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists who measure how much climate change influences extreme weather events, focused on the worst heat so far during the northern hemisphere summer. In the United States, temperatures in Phoenix have reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 43 Celsius, or higher for more than 20 days in a row. Many places in southern Europe are experiencing record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures. A remote township in Xinjiang, China, hit 126 degrees, breaking the national record.

“Without climate change, we wouldn’t see this at all,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London and co-founder of World Weather Attribution. “Or it would be so rare that it basically would not be happening.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Blistering Heat Spreads to U.S. Midwest as Wildfire Smoke Lingers, Julie Bosman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Midwestern residents sweltered in the heat wave that has scorched the South and Southwest for many days.

illinois mapThe heat wave that has scorched much of the American South and Southwest is now spreading throughout the Midwest, bringing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, dangerous conditions for millions of people and pleas from state and local officials to avoid the outdoors.

The extreme heat and humidity will spread misery across the region, particularly on Wednesday, meteorologists said, while warning that the intense heat and humidity could linger for days. In cities like St. Louis, Wichita, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., temperatures could be 10 to 20 degrees above normal, and heat index readings, which consider both temperature and humidity, will reach into the 100s.

The blistering weather arrived just as another health menace swept in: Canadian wildfire smoke that has once again settled over parts of the Midwest.

In Chicago on Tuesday, the Air Quality Index reached 187 — a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups — leaving the skies over Lake Michigan hazy and prompting some people to return to wearing masks as they walked dogs and ran errands.

ny times logoNew York Times, Warming Could Push the Atlantic Past a ‘Tipping Point’ This Century, Raymond Zhong, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). The system of ocean currents that regulates the climate for a swath of the planet could collapse sooner than expected, a new analysis found.

The last time there was a major slowdown in the mighty network of ocean currents that shapes the climate around the North Atlantic, it seems to have plunged Europe into a deep cold for over a millennium.

That was roughly 12,800 years ago, when not many people were around to experience it. But in recent decades, human-driven warming could be causing the currents to slow once more, and scientists have been working to determine whether and when they might undergo another great weakening, which would have ripple effects for weather patterns across a swath of the globe.

A pair of researchers in Denmark this week put forth a bold answer: A sharp weakening of the currents, or even a shutdown, could be upon us by century’s end.

It was a surprise even to the researchers that their analysis showed a potential collapse coming so soon, one of them, Susanne Ditlevsen, a professor of statistics at the University of Copenhagen, said in an interview. Climate scientists generally agree that the Atlantic circulation will decline this century, but there’s no consensus on whether it will stall out before 2100.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: With DeSantis Reeling, What About Tim Scott? Ross Douthat, July 29, 2023.Last Sunday, I argued that despite his stagnation in the polls, for Republicans (and non-Republicans) who would prefer that Donald Trump not be renominated for the presidency, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida remains pretty much the only possible alternative.

Naturally the week that followed was the worst yet for DeSantis, beginning with a campaign staff purge that featured a Nazi-symbol subplot and ending with the candidate doing damage control for his suggestion that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might run his Food and Drug Administration.

tim scott oThe worst news for DeSantis, though, was new polls out of Iowa showing Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, right, creeping up on him, with around 10 percent support, to the governor’s roughly 15 percent.

One of my arguments a week ago was that no other Republican, Scott included, had yet shown any capacity to build the support that even a stagnant DeSantis enjoys. But if the governor falls into a sustained battle for second place, he’s probably finished, and Trump can probably just cruise.

Unless that battle results in a DeSantis collapse and a chance for someone else to go up against the front-runner. After all, why should DeSantis be the only non-Trump hope just because he seemed potent early on? Why not, well, Tim Scott?

Say this for Scott: He has an obvious asset that DeSantis is missing, a fundamental good cheer that Americans favor in their presidents. Say this as well: He has the profile of a potent general-election candidate, an African American and youthful-seeming generic Republican to set against Joe Biden’s senescence. Say this, finally: Scott sits in the sweet spot for the Republican donor class, as a George W. Bush-style conservative untouched by the rabble-rousing and edgelord memes of Trump-era populism.

But all of these strengths are connected to primary-campaign weaknesses. To beat Trump, you eventually need around half the Republican electorate to vote for you (depending on the wrinkles of delegate allocation). And there’s no indication that half of Republican primary voters want to return to pre-2016 conservatism, that they would favor a generic-Republican alternative to Trump’s crush-your-enemies style or that they especially value winsomeness and optimism, as opposed to a style suited to a pessimistic mood.

The reason that DeSantis seemed like the best hope against Trump was a record and persona that seemed to meet Republican voters where they are. His success was built after Trump’s election, on issues that mattered to current G.O.P. voters, not those of 30 years ago. He could claim to be better at the pugilistic style than Trump — with more to show for his battles substantively and more political success as well. On certain issues, Covid policy especially, he could claim to represent the views of Trump’s supporters better than Trump himself. And with DeSantis’s war on Disney, nobody would confuse him for a creature of the donor class.

All this set up a plausible strategy for pulling some Trump voters to DeSantis’s side by casting himself as the fulfiller of Trump’s promise — more competent, more politically able, bolder, younger and better suited to the times.

This strategy was working five months ago, and now it’s failing. But its failure doesn’t reveal an alternative pitch, and certainly Scott doesn’t appear to have one. Indeed, as The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last points out, Scott isn’t really casting himself as a Trump alternative; he’s mostly been “positioning himself as an attractive running mate for Trump, should the Almighty not intervene” and remove the former president from the race.

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

WhoWhatWhy, Going Deep Investigative Commentary: RFK Jr.’s Panel of Health Hoaxers, Hucksters & Hustlers, Russ Baker, right, July 26-27, 2023. The russ baker cropped david welkerquestion is, what are they really selling?

Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)

whowhatwhy logoHe tried to squirm out of it, claiming he never said it, but those words will not go away. To wit, they have already settled into the fertile soil of a neo-Nazi website.

So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.

One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Jewish people — almost exactly what Kennedy later claimed publicly, although she may have only confirmed ideas he already had.

Tenpenny is quite the character. She has shared numerous antisemitic claims on social media, including Holocaust denial and praise for the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,

In early 2022, she claimed Jews were using the Ukraine conflict to distract the world from a meeting in Europe about pandemic preparedness.

Kennedy will have a hard time disassociating himself from Tenpenny and her beliefs, given that she is right next to him in the image below for Kennedy’s June 27 “Health Policy Roundtable.”

Virtual Health Policy Roundtable tweet. Photo credit: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. / Twitter

Let’s take a closer look at Tenpenny, who Kennedy says is “leading this movement against vaccines,” and a brief look at the others.

Kennedy’s Brain Trust

Tenpenny has claimed that vaccines leave people magnetized. This was her proof:

They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.

She explained this — as an “expert witness” — to lawmakers in the Ohio House at a hearing in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination. A nurse tried to demonstrate the phenomenon, with embarrassing results.

Tenpenny also claimed that vaccines interface with 5G cellular towers, and that “we’re trying to figure out what it is that’s being transmitted to these unvaccinated [sic] people that is causing health problems.” She also spread the idea that vaccinated people “shed” — leading at least one private school to instruct immunized teachers to stay away from unvaccinated students, claiming they could develop menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm, merely from interacting with them.

Tenpenny, author of the book Saying No to Vaccines, is an osteopath, a type of doctor deploying a holistic approach to disease — but with no expertise in magnetism, epidemiology, virology, immunology, or infectious disease. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said she is one of the top 12 spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation.

Politico, DeSantis suggests he could pick RFK Jr. to lead the FDA or CDC, Andrew Zhang, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Kennedy, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has taken heat from liberals for his views on vaccines and Covid.

politico CustomDemocratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might have an offer to run a federal agency in 2025 — but not for the party he is running to gain the nomination from.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is struggling to gain steam in the GOP primary, mused on Wednesday in an interview with Clay Travis on OutKick that he generally aligns with Kennedy’s conservative views on Covid-19 policies and vaccines. Those views, DeSantis indicated, could make him a pick to lead a federal agency with medical jurisdiction.

ron desantis hands out“If you’re president, sic him on the FDA if he’d be willing to serve. Or sic him on CDC,” DeSantis, right, said, in response to a question about whether he would pick Kennedy as a running mate. “In terms of being veep, if there’s 70 percent of the issues that he may be averse to our base on, that just creates an issue.”

Kennedy, who remains a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, has aired contentious views over vaccines, having questioned their effectiveness on several occasions. In the past few weeks, he came under sharp fire from liberals for suggesting that Covid was engineered to be less lethal to Asian and Jewish people. He has also been a critic of Anthony Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commenting once that he would prosecute him if “crimes were committed.”
RFK Jr. testifies: I never said anything 'racist or antisemitic'

cdc logo CustomDeSantis’ comments fit into the governor’s ongoing criticism of the federal bureaucracy, which he has described over recent years as becoming too “woke” and corrupted. DeSantis has pledged to abolish several government agencies and departments if elected president, including the IRS and the Department of Education.

Conservatives like DeSantis have railed against health-related agencies in particular, animating fervor over pandemic-related lockdowns and mandates. As Florida governor, DeSantis has waged a verbal and legal war against the CDC and FDA — two agencies with broad jurisdiction over health matters that he especially targeted during the peak of the pandemic for mandates.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

 Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by Erin Schaff). 

ny times logoNew York Times, More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-Dollar Book Deals, Steve Eder, Abbie VanSickle and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Only three months into Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first Supreme Court term, she announced a book deal negotiated by the same powerhouse lawyer who represented the Obamas and James Patterson.

The deal was worth about $3 million, according to people familiar with the agreement, and made Justice Jackson the latest Supreme Court justice to parlay her fame into a big book contract.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had made $650,000 for a book of essays and personal reflections on the role of judges, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett received a $2 million advance for her forthcoming book about keeping personal feelings out of judicial rulings. Those newer justices joined two of their more senior colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, in securing payments that eclipse their government salaries.

In recent months reports by ProPublica, The New York Times and others have highlighted a lack of transparency at the Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports have centered on Justice Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors, in addition to a luxury fishing trip by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a Republican megadonor and the lucrative legal recruiting work of the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on the justices’ annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Earlier this year, Justice Jackson confirmed her publishing agreement with an imprint of Penguin Random House for her forthcoming memoir, “Lovely One.” But like her colleagues, her first public acknowledgment of the financial arrangement behind the deal is likely to be in her future annual financial disclosures. The New York Times learned the rough dollar amount of her advance, a figure that had not previously been disclosed, from people familiar with the deal.

Justice Sotomayor has received about $3.7 million total for a memoir documenting her path from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench and her children’s books. The justice’s administrative court staff urged organizers of events where her books were sold to buy more copies, according to a recent report in The Associated Press, which cited public records.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Passes Bipartisan Defense Bill, Setting Up a Clash With the House, Karoun Demirjian. July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Senators steered clear of the social policies that sapped Democratic support for the House bill, but the legislation was headed for a contentious negotiation.

The Senate on Thursday gave overwhelming approval to the annual defense policy bill, sidestepping a contentious debate over abortion access for service members and quashing efforts to limit aid for Ukraine in a show of bipartisanship that set up a bitter showdown with the House.

The vote was 86 to 11 to pass the bill, which would authorize $886 billion for national defense over the next year. It includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops and civilian employees, investments in hypersonic missile and drone technology, and measures to improve competition with China.

But its fate is deeply in doubt as the measure heads for what is expected to be a contentious negotiation between the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House, where right-wing hard-liners have attached a raft of conservative social policy mandates.

Republicans in the Senate decided not to pick such fights in that chamber, shelving amendments to restrict abortion access and transgender health care services for military personnel. The result is vastly different bills that could make it difficult for the House and Senate to hash out a bipartisan final agreement, something that has not eluded Congress in more than six decades.

ny times logoNew York Times, As McConnell Tries to Convey Business as Usual, His Future Is in Doubt, Annie Karni and Carl Hulse, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The minority leader’s health episode at the Capitol has intensified talk about a possible succession, a prospect that his colleagues have not seriously grappled with for years. 

It has been decades since there was any real uncertainty at the top of the Republican Party in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell’s alarming freeze-up at a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol, as well as new disclosures about other recent falls, have shaken his colleagues and intensified quiet discussion about how long he can stay in his position as minority leader, and whether change is coming at the top.

For months even before he had an apparent medical episode on camera on Wednesday while speaking to the press, Mr. McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader from Kentucky, has been weakened, both physically and politically. The latest incident made those issues glaringly apparent: Mr. McConnell, 81, froze mid-remarks, unable to continue speaking, and appeared disoriented with his mouth shut as his aides and colleagues led him gently away.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, quickly stepped in behind the lectern and picked up where Mr. McConnell had left off, in a scene that underscored how the lanky 62-year-old has positioned himself as the leader’s most obvious successor. It was a reminder that no one — even Mr. McConnell, who this year became the longest-serving Senate leader in history — is irreplaceable and raised questions about how long Mr. McConnell could continue to simply gut it out.

“Good afternoon, everyone. We’re on a path to finishing the N.D.A.A. this week. There’s been good bipartisan cooperation and a string of —” “Are you good, Mitch?” “You OK, Mitch? Anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office? Do you want to say anything else to the press?” “Go ahead, John.” “We’ll take a break.” “Let’s go back.” “Go ahead, John.” “Could you address what happened here at the start of the press conference, and was it related to your injury from earlier this year where you suffered a concussion? Is that —” “No, I’m fine.” “You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” “Yeah.”

Months ago, there seemed to be a developing race to succeed him among Mr. Thune, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the former whip; they are known around the Capitol as “the three Johns.” But during Mr. McConnell’s extended absence earlier this year following a serious fall, Mr. Thune moved into the position of taking charge of the conference.

Washington hotel during a fund-raising event, and was absent from the Senate for weeks while giving almost no updates on his health status. Since then, he has had at least two more falls, one at a Washington airport and one in Helsinki, during an official trip to meet the Finnish president. His office disclosed neither, and has stayed mum about his medical condition on Wednesday after the episode, which some physicians who viewed video of it said could have been a mini stroke or partial seizure.

Mr. McConnell, who had polio as a child, often has trouble with stairs and has long walked with a wobbly, uneven gait. But in recent months, he has been using a wheelchair to get around at the airport, which a spokesman said was “simply a prudent and precautionary measure in a crowded area.”

His diminished state has been evident in his role in the Capitol as well. Some of his Senate colleagues were surprised at the back-seat role he took throughout the debt ceiling negotiations, where he did little and left Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy in charge. The old McConnell, they said, would have not stayed on the sidelines, and many Senate Republicans were ultimately unhappy with the outcome.

Last year, Mr. McConnell weathered a rare challenge to his leadership when Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, decided to oppose him and received 10 votes. In the past, Mr. McConnell has been named leader with no contest.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Biden Is Weighing a Big Middle East Deal, Thomas L. Friedman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). For the hundreds of thousands of Israeli democracy defenders who tried to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial coup on Monday, the stripping of the Israeli Supreme Court’s key powers to curb the executive branch surely feels like a stinging defeat. I get it, but don’t totally despair. Help may be on the way from talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you read that right.

joe biden twitterWhen I interviewed President Biden in the Oval Office last week, my column focused on his urging Netanyahu not to ram through the judicial overhaul without even a semblance of national consensus. But that’s not all we talked about. The president is wrestling with whether to pursue the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi mutual security pact that would involve Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

After discussions in the past few days among Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Brett McGurk, the top White House official handling Middle East policy, Biden has dispatched Sullivan and McGurk to Saudi Arabia, where they arrived Thursday morning, to explore the possibility of some kind of U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian understanding.

The president still has not made up his mind whether to proceed, but he gave a green light for his team to probe with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to see if some kind of deal is possible and at what price. Closing such a multinational deal would be time-consuming, difficult and complex, even if Biden decides to take it to the next level right away. But the exploratory talks are moving ahead now — faster than I thought — and they’re important.

 

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

ny times logoNew York Times, War Brought Putin Closer to Africa. Now It’s Pushing Them Apart, Declan Walsh and Paul Sonne, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). As President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to host African leaders at a summit, a collapsed grain deal and the uncertain fate of Wagner mercenaries have cast a shadow.

Shunned in the West, his authority tested by a failed mutiny at home, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia needs to project normalcy and shore up support from his allies. So on Thursday, he will host African leaders at a flashy summit in St. Petersburg, part of his continuing outreach to a continent that has become critical to Moscow’s foreign policy.

Russian FlagSince Russia invaded Ukraine, some African countries have backed Mr. Putin at the United Nations, welcomed his envoys and his warships, and offered control of lucrative assets, like a gold mine in the Central African Republic that U.S. officials estimate contains $1 billion in reserves.

But if Mr. Putin sought to move closer to African leaders as he prosecuted his war, the 17-month-old conflict is now straining those ties. This summit is expected to draw only half the number of African heads of state or government as the last gathering in 2019, a situation that the Kremlin on Wednesday blamed on “brazen interference” from the United States and its allies.

The summit comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Black Sea over Mr. Putin’s recent decision to terminate a deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain to global markets. Russia’s withdrawal has caused food prices to spike, adding to the misery of the world’s poorest countries, including some of those attending the Russia-Africa summit.

As African leaders prepare to meet Mr. Putin, Russian warplanes have pulverized the Ukrainian port of Odesa that is a key distribution point for grain exports. And in recent days, American and British officials have warned about Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions in the Black Sea.

The outcry over the end of the grain deal — the Kenyan foreign ministry called Mr. Putin’s decision a “stab in the back” — has put the Russian leader on the defensive. In an article previewing the summit, he offered to make up for the shortfall to African countries by supplying them with Russian grain, even for free.

At the same time, Western nations have seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Putin and his African guests.

“President Putin seems dead set on causing as much suffering around the world as he can,” Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday. “Russia is driving Africa into poverty.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Doctors who put lives at risk with covid misinformation rarely punished, Lena H. Sun, Lauren Weber and Hayden Godfrey, July 28, 2023 (print ed.).. Medical boards received more than 480 complaints related to covid misinformation. A Post investigation found at least 20 doctors have been punished.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine launches new push, claims gains against Russians in south, John Hudson, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, severing Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have launched a new push in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders and made advances south of Orikhiv in the country’s Zaporizhzhia region, officials said Wednesday.

Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, which would sever Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces remain far from the sea, which lies about 60 miles south of Orikhiv, according to a Ukrainian official familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces are “gradually advancing” in the direction of the coastal cities Melitopol and Berdyansk, but she did not say how far they had moved.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Vicious cycle’: Heat waves ramp up U.S. burning of fossil fuels, Timothy Puko, July 28, 2023. Americans, cranking up their air conditioners, are helping to break summertime records for daily consumption of natural gas, a contributor to climate change.

America’s historic heat wave is producing a big winner: fossil fuels.

As temperatures have soared, so has natural-gas consumption, burned for the electricity needed to run air conditioners across much of the Northern Hemisphere. The United States this week has twice broken its summertime record for daily gas consumption, and it could break it again Friday, according to estimates from S&P Global Commodity Insights.

The trends illustrate how extreme heat is complicating efforts by the United States and other countries to phase down use of fossil fuels, despite how these fuels contribute to climate change and more intense heat waves. While the build-out of renewable energy is increasing, the world’s power grids are so reliant on gas and coal that burning more of them — and thus producing more planet-warming emissions — is often the only way to cool buildings and protect people from often life-threatening conditions.

“The projection for how much energy you need is higher and higher because the cooling needs to go up,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “There are these tragic ironies all over the climate space.”

The problem is global and set to intensify. The International Energy Agency last week said that only a tenth of the 2.8 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world already have air conditioning, foreshadowing what is likely to become “a vicious cycle.” Use of air conditioning is expected to increase in the years to come, further driving fast-rising energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world, the Paris-based watchdog said.

  • Washington Post, Ocean temperatures are off the charts. Here’s where they’re hottest, Tim Meko and Dan Stillman, July 28, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Infrastructure and green energy spending are powering the economy, Abha Bhattarai, July 28, 2023. Biden’s policies are fueling a surge in private investments and contributing to GDP growth. But will voters notice — or care?

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden lawyer who defended affirmative action grapples with diversity in her own office, Tobi Raji and Theodoric Meyer, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). When Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar defended college affirmative action programs before the Supreme Court in October, she cited the lack of diversity in a group of people the justices know well: the lawyers who argue before them.

Just two of 27 lawyers who appeared before the court over the next two weeks would be women, Prelogar told the justices — a statistic that she argued could lead women to wonder whether they have a shot at arguing before the Supreme Court.

Prelogar cited only the dearth of women and not of Black and Hispanic lawyers arguing before the court, but her message in a case dealing with race-conscious admissions programs was clear.

“When there is that kind of gross disparity in representation, it can matter and it’s common sense,” she told the justices.
Elizabeth B. Prelogar at her nomination hearing to be solicitor general on Sept. 14, 2021. (Rod Lamkey/Consolidated News Photos)

Her argument didn’t sway the court’s conservative majority, which ruled last month that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs were unconstitutional.

It did garner the attention of the court’s three liberal justices, who cited Prelogar’s remarks in a dissent, warning that “inequality in the pipeline to this institution, too, will deepen.”

But a similar lack of diversity to the one Prelogar pointed out in her argument has persisted for years in the solicitor general’s office, which is part of the Justice Department and represents the federal government before the Supreme Court.

Over the past dozen terms, nearly three-quarters of Supreme Court arguments made by lawyers in the office have been delivered by men, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

More than 80 percent have been made by White lawyers, according to the analysis of the office’s attorneys whose race could be confirmed. No Hispanic lawyer has argued a case for the office since 2016. No Black lawyer has done so since 2012.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

supreme court amazon images

 

More on Russia, Ukraine

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia said two drones struck buildings in Moscow in the latest wave of attacks on the city, Andrés R. Martínez and Anton Troianovski, July 30, 2023. The strike was the third in the past week in Moscow, a sign of how no city in Russia or Ukraine appears to be safe from the war. Russia blamed Ukraine, which has yet to comment.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had fired at least three drones at Moscow, the latest in a wave of attacks in Russia demonstrating that few places are off limits after more than 17 months of war.

One drone was destroyed in Odintsovo, outside Moscow, the Defense Ministry said, adding that two others struck commercial buildings in the capital after being intercepted by Russian air defenses. There were no injuries, Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, said in a post on the Telegram messaging app, but video footage from Russian state media showed blown-out windows and twisted beams in one of Moscow’s premier skyscrapers.

Ukraine does not typically claim responsibility for attacks in Russia, in an effort to maintain a military advantage and an element of surprise. However, senior Ukrainian officials said last week that recent drone attacks on Moscow were orchestrated by Kyiv.

A few hours after Sunday’s attack, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman released a statement that neither accepted nor denied responsibility.

“They got what they wanted,” the spokesman, Yuri Ihnat, said on national television. “There is always something flying in Russia, including Moscow. Those who are not affected by the war, are now affected, which creates certain moods. Russia can no longer claim it shot down everything.”

Ukraine has also been accused of using drones to attack Russian-occupied Crimea — with Moscow claiming on Sunday that a new wave was launched overnight — and oil facilities and military air bases deep inside Russia.

The attacks in Moscow, though they have become more frequent, have so far caused no deaths. They have also been far less extensive than the drone and missile strikes that Russian forces conduct nightly across Ukraine, often hitting civilian targets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Strikes Grain Terminal, Extending Campaign Against Ukrainian Ports, Marc Santora and Victoria Kim, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has promised to build up defenses around the southern coast, but tough decisions about resources lie ahead.

Russian forces struck a grain terminal in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, extending a bombardment of the country’s infrastructure that has raised alarm about Kyiv’s ability to ship grain to the world.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to enhance air defenses around the port and the southern coast, but Kyiv’s resources are stretched thin and it faces difficult choices about where to deploy the limited number of air defense systems that can shoot down Russia’s most sophisticated missiles.

Ukraine continues to ask its Western allies to speed up the delivery of more air defense systems and warn that continued Russian bombardment could leave it without the necessary infrastructure to ship grain even if Black Sea shipping lanes open up. Moscow has struck Ukrainian ports near daily since pulling out of a deal last week that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain despite the war.

“In two or three months, we may not have a single port left,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military southern command, told French journalists this past week. “They want to dominate the Black Sea. They want to have a monopoly on grain,” she said.

On Saturday, Ms. Humeniuk said that Ukraine had taken measures to better protect the ports but warned that Russia may once again be adjusting its tactics before striking again.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘We Can Never Forgive This’: In Odesa, Attacks Stoke Hatred of Russia, Valerie Hopkins, Photographs by Emile Ducke, July 30, 2023 (print ed.).July 29, 2023. Standing on a bridge overlooking the road to Odesa’s main port, Nina Sulzhenko surveyed the damage wrought by a recent Russian missile strike: The House of Scientists, one of the Ukrainian city’s best-loved buildings, was in shambles. The mansion’s destroyed gardens spilled down over a ruined residential complex, and burned bricks lay strewn across the sidewalk.

“I feel pain, and I want revenge,” said Ms. Sulzhenko, 74. “I don’t have the words to say what we should do to them.”

She gestured toward other buildings in various stages of ruin. “Look at the music school! Look at what they did! The fact that those who live next to us, and lived among us, could do this to us — we can never forgive this. Never.”

ukraine flagHers was a common sentiment in Odesa this past week after a series of missile strikes damaged the city’s port and 29 historic buildings in its Belle- Époque city center, including the Transfiguration Cathedral, one of Ukraine’s largest.

Odesa plays an important role in the mind of imperial Russians, and especially President Vladimir V. Putin, who views it as an integral part of Russian culture. But if Mr. Putin believed that Odesans would feel a reciprocal bond, he could not have been more mistaken, residents and city officials interviewed this past week said. Especially after the recent spate of missile attacks.

“The Odesan people are tired,” the city’s mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, said. “People are tired of uncertainty, tired of anxious nights, of not falling asleep. But if the enemy is counting on this, he is wrong. Because this fatigue turns into the strongest hatred.”

The missile attacks — accompanied by hours of air raid alerts — have been part of the escalating hostilities in the Black Sea after Russia pulled out of a deal that had enabled millions of tons of food to be exported out of Ukraine’s ports.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, West African Nations Threaten Military Action Unless Niger Coup Is Undone, Declan Walsh, July 30, 2023. A demand for a restoration of democracy echoed calls by the United States and France, major security allies of Niger.

West African leaders on Sunday threatened military action against Niger, where soldiers seized power in a coup on Wednesday, unless the country’s democratically elected president is restored to office within a week.

The demand was issued by the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-member regional bloc, after a crisis summit in Nigeria. It echoed earlier calls by the United States and France, major security allies of Niger, who warned they will cut aid and military ties worth hundreds of millions of dollars unless the deposed leader, Mohamed Bazoum, is reinstated.

After coup supporters massed on Sunday outside the French Embassy in the capital, Niamey, burning French flags and calling for the withdrawal of French troops, President Emmanuel Macron issued a stiffly worded warning. Any attack on France’s citizens or interests in Niger will be met with an “immediate and uncompromising” reaction, Mr. Macron said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain? Nigerians Buckle Under Painful Cuts, Ismail Alfa, Elian Peltier and Nelson C.J., July 24, 2023. In his first two months in office, President Bola Tinubu has ripped the Band-Aid off Nigeria’s ailing economy. Time will tell if it can heal, but for now, Nigerians are feeling the pain.

A teacher in northern Nigeria walks three hours to school every day, no longer able to pay for a ride in a tuk tuk rickshaw. Bakers operate at a loss amid soaring flour prices. Workers in Lagos sleep overnight in their offices to avoid the prohibitive cost of commuting.

Since President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria was sworn in less than two months ago, he has shaken up his country with economic decisions that have been welcomed by investors and international backers, but been devastating to the livelihoods of many Nigerians.

Now the question is whether Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, with 220 million people, will thrive or just get sicker from the bitter medicine dispensed by its new president.

Mr. Tinubu set off shock waves when he announced during his inaugural speech on May 29 that he was ending a fuel subsidy that for decades had given Nigerians some of the cheapest oil in Africa, but amounted to a quarter of the country’s import bill. Gas stations tripled their prices overnight. Transportation fares, electricity and food prices followed.

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Colombian President’s Son Is Arrested in Money Laundering Inquiry, Genevieve Glatsky, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). The arrest of Nicolás Petro poses another test for President Gustavo Petro, who has struggled to push many of his reforms through a divided Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: African nations aren’t tilting toward Putin’s Russia, Adam Taylor, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Since the very start, Africa has found itself in the middle of the geopolitical divide over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just days after the invasion last year, its leaders sparked consternation in Western capitals as 17 of Africa’s 54 states abstained from a vote to condemn Russian aggression in the U.N. General Assembly. Another eight African nations made up the bulk of voters absent.

After that, there was an effort in Europe and North America to push the continent into line. It wasn’t always so charming: During a trip last summer to one of the absentee nations, Cameroon, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he had “seen too much hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” on the war.

But if Russian President Vladimir Putin thought that he could use Western condescension to charm African leaders, he has once again been overconfident. On Thursday, Putin hosts a high-profile summit for African leaders in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Just 16 African heads of state are expected to attend, according to reporting from my colleagues Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld.

That’s less than half of the 43 who came to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. And that lower scale comes despite a full-scale diplomatic push from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has made multiple trips to the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Any idea that Africa as a whole leans toward Russia is clearly mistaken. Through the Wagner mercenary group, Russia has played a decisive, though often destructive, role in nations including Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan, and Moscow has friendly relations with major powers like Egypt and South Africa.

But look at the totality of the five votes against condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine at the United Nations; things aren’t rosy for Moscow. Yes, the majority of Africa’s 54 member states abstained in most of the several votes condemning Russia’s war, but Moscow has only had two African states actually vote with it — pariah states Eritrea and Mali — and even those didn’t do so each time, instead abstaining in some votes. Meanwhile, 19 African states have voted with Ukraine and its allies at least once.

There’s no easy way to summarize the continent’s views of the war in Ukraine. There are 1.3 billion people living across an array of countries, all with their own politics. Whether to support Ukraine, Russia, or neither comes down to a long list of local factors, only some of which overlap. Historically, most countries in Africa have been officially nonaligned.

ny times logoNew York Times, Niger’s President Vows to Save Democracy as Army Says It Backs Coup, Declan Walsh and Elian Peltier, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The army chief declared his support for a group of mutineers that seized power on Wednesday. President Mohamed Bazoum and his allies insisted the coup could be reversed.

Hours after soldiers seized power in the West African nation of Niger, the country’s ousted president sounded a defiant note on Thursday morning, vowing to protect his “hard won” democratic gains, even as he was being held by his own guards.

But a statement by the army high command later on Thursday poured cold water on such hopes. The army was backing the mutineers “to avoid bloodshed” and prevent infighting in the security forces, it said in a statement signed by its chief, Gen. Abdou Sidikou Issa.

The president, Mohamed Bazoum, appeared to be still in detention at the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, where his guards turned on him early Wednesday, prompting a crisis in the vast, largely desert nation twice the size of France.

“The hard-won gains will be safeguarded,” Mr. Bazoum said in a message on social media. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

  • New York Times, The European Central Bank raised interest rates again, saying that inflation remained “too high,” July 27, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Ousting a Top Official, China Erases Him and Evades Questions, David Pierson, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). China denounced “malicious hype” around the removal of Qin Gang. The Foreign Ministry’s fumbling response signaled its diminished influence under Xi Jinping.

qin gangChina is failing to stop the questions that had dogged Chinese officials in the month since he vanished from public view: Where is Mr. Qin? Does he have health issues? Is he under investigation?

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry have struggled to respond when pressed by reporters, repeatedly saying that they had no information to provide. After China replaced him on Tuesday, nearly all references to Mr. Qin, right, were scrubbed from the ministry’s website, an unusual erasure that has only deepened the intrigue. On Thursday, asked by a reporter if China had been transparent about Mr. Qin’s ousting, a spokeswoman lashed out at what she called “malicious hype.”

For a department tasked with speaking to the outside world, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s floundering response to the disappearance of one of its own top officials highlights the weakness of China’s diplomatic apparatus under President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has concentrated power under himself and enforced secrecy in an already highly opaque system, no matter the cost to China’s international image.

Mr. Xi has diminished the sway of the Foreign Ministry, analysts say, as he’s pursued an increasingly assertive, and some say risky, foreign policy.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

ny times logoNew York Times, New York City Had a Migrant Crisis. It Hired a Covid Expert to Help, Jay Root, July 30, 2023. DocGo received a $432 million no-bid contract to relocate hundreds of asylum seekers. Many said they have been threatened and lied to.

Lured by the promise of jobs, legal assistance and a more welcoming environment, hundreds of asylum seekers have boarded buses headed north to Albany, in search of a life better than they had found in New York City.

But once they settled in the state capital, many said they realized they had been misled and all but abandoned.

Instead of state identification cards, they were given dubious work eligibility and residency letters on what appeared to be a fake letterhead. At the bargain-rate motels where the migrants were relocated, many said they were treated like prisoners in halfway houses, living under written threats that they would be barred from seeking asylum if they were caught drinking or smoking.

They complained that crucial mail about their asylum cases had been lost, and worried that they now faced an hourslong trip to the courts where those cases will be heard.

Nearly three months after Mayor Eric Adams ushered in a new policy calling for the city to relocate migrants outside the five boroughs, the program has been plagued by problems, drawing attention to the no-bid contractor leading the effort.

More than 1,500 migrants have been sent to places as far as Buffalo, with more on the way. But many of the migrants have been greeted by protests at their new homes, as well as mistreatment and the false hope of jobs.

Behind the broken promises is a medical services company, DocGo, that once contracted with the city to provide Covid testing and vaccination services, but pivoted to migrant care as the pandemic waned and a new crisis emerged.

The city awarded DocGo a $432 million contract, which took effect in early May, without subjecting it to competitive bidding. The contract called for DocGo to house migrants and provide them with services including case management, medical care, food, transportation, lodging and round-the-clock security.

But its efforts to resettle migrants in Albany have been rocky, at best. Local authorities have expressed frustration at the lack of coordination between DocGo and agencies that could provide services to the migrants; local security guards hired by DocGo have repeatedly threatened the migrants; and finding steady work has been nearly impossible.

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Student Loans

ny times logoNew York Times, After $700 Million U.S. Bailout, Trucking Firm Is Shutting Down, Alan Rappeport, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Yellow, which received a pandemic loan, is winding down operations ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing. The closure of the company would mean the loss of about 30,000 jobs.

Yellow, the beleaguered trucking company that received a $700 million pandemic loan from the federal government, notified staff on Friday that it is shutting down and laying off employees at all of its locations.

The move comes ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing by Yellow in the coming days. The closure of the company would mean the loss of approximately 30,000 jobs and mark the end of a business that just three years ago was deemed so critical to the nation’s supply chains that it warranted a federal bailout.

“The company is shutting down its regular operations on July 28, 2023, closing and/or laying off employees at all of its locations, including yours,” the company said in a memo to staff that was reviewed by The New York Times.

As of the end of March, Yellow’s outstanding debt was $1.5 billion, including about $730 million that is owed to the federal government. Yellow has paid approximately $66 million in interest on the loan, but it has repaid just $230 of the principal owed on the loan, which comes due next year.

Yellow is one of the largest freight trucking companies in the United States, and its downfall could have a ripple effect across the nation’s supply chain. Its impending bankruptcy comes days after United Parcel Service reached an agreement with the union representing more than 325,000 of its U.S. workers, averting a strike.

Yellow’s management and union negotiators have been trying to reach an agreement over wages and other benefits but failed to clinch a deal.

The fate of Yellow’s assets is not yet clear. In 2020, the Trump administration, which had ties to the company and its executives, agreed to give the firm a pandemic relief loan in exchange for the federal government assuming a 30 percent equity stake in the company.

Yellow said last month that it sought the assistance of the Biden administration in brokering a deal with the union. The White House had no comment this week on the situation.

Yellow has been locked in protracted labor negotiations with International Brotherhood of Teamsters over a new contract that the company has said is essential to its ability to move forward with a restructuring plan.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

hunter biden beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s plea deal in jeopardy over questions about immunity, Perry Stein, Karl Baker, Devlin Barrett and Matt Viser, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize President Biden’s son, above, from future charges.

The plea deal for Hunter Biden was on the brink of falling apart Wednesday, when the two sides could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize the president’s son from possible additional charges.

irs logoU.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika pressed federal prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers to come to some “meeting of the minds.” But that appeared unlikely, as the two sides said they did not see eye to eye about the precise terms of their own plea agreement.

Justice Department log circularAt one point in the hearing, Biden’s lawyer declared there was no deal — meaning that a long-running criminal investigation that Republicans have used to accuse both the president and his son of corruption might lead to a trial after all.

“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,” Biden lawyer Chris Clark said.

The confusion over what, exactly, Biden would get or not get by pleading guilty stems in part from the unusual way his plea deal was structured — with a guilty plea to two tax misdemeanors, and a diversion program, not a guilty plea, for an illegal gun possession charge.

That arrangement allowed Biden to admit the facts of the gun case without technically pleading guilty to the charge. It also created a bifurcated deal in which the assurances Biden wants that he won’t be pursued for other tax or foreign lobbying charges were not part of the tax case, but part of the gun diversion agreement, lawyers said in court.

Deals to plead guilty can sometimes fall apart under closer scrutiny from a federal judge, but even when that happens, the two sides often find a way to eventually resolve the issue and enter a deal acceptable to the court.

On Wednesday, the judge urged the prosecutors and defense lawyers to spend some more time talking, in the hopes that the guilty plea hearing might be salvaged. As the two sides spoke to each other, it became more clear how far apart they were.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish by blowing this up,” Clark told prosecutors. One of those prosecutors, Leo Wise, pointed to papers related to the case and said he was bound by the terms in them.

Clark shot back: “Then we misunderstood, we’re ripping it up.”

The deal Biden struck in June meant he would likely stay out of jail if he stays drug-free for two years.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Biden said he was prepared to enter the plea. Then Noreika asked whether he would still enter the plea if it was possible additional charges might be filed against him in the future. When Biden answered no, he would not, the judge ordered a break in the proceeding.

The probe was opened in 2018, during the Trump administration, and has been a favorite talking point for Republican critics of President Biden and his family. Republican politicians have repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of broad wrongdoing in his overseas business deals and, since his father was elected, predicted that the Biden administration would be reluctant to pursue the case.

Papers filed in federal court in Wilmington when the plea agreement was reached indicate that Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges of failure to pay in 2017 and 2018. A court document says that in both those years, Biden was a resident of D.C., received taxable income of more than $1.5 million and owed more than $100,000 in income tax that he did not pay on time.

Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of probation for those counts, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe elements of the case that are not yet public. Hunter Biden’s representatives have previously said that he eventually paid the IRS what he owed.

A second court filing is about the charge of illegally possessing a weapon, which involves a handgun Biden purchased at a time when he was abusing drugs. In that case, the letter says, “the defendant has agreed to enter a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with respect to the firearm Information.” Handling the gun charge as a diversion case means Biden will not technically be pleading guilty to that crime.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy 

washington post logoWashington Post, Brazil rejects U.S. extradition request for alleged Russian spy, Shera Avi-Yonah, July 29, 2023. Brazilian justice officials said Thursday they can’t approve a U.S. request to extradite an alleged Russian spy because they have already been processing Moscow’s own request for the man.

Sergey Cherkasov, 37, was charged by the U.S. Justice Department in March with acting as an illegal agent of a Russian intelligence service while attending Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington as a master’s student. He faces additional U.S. charges including visa fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud, according to a complaint.
Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Cherkasov is serving a sentence in Brazil on charges of using fraudulent documents.

Brazil’s justice minister, Flávio Dino, said on Twitter that Cherkasov will remain imprisoned in Brazil for the time being. A Russian request for Cherkasov on allegations of drug trafficking had been conditionally approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court earlier this year, making Brazil unable to complete the U.S. request, the Brazilian Justice Ministry stated. However, the Russian request is also pending Brazil’s own spying investigation into Cherkasov.
Paulo Ferreira, one of Cherkasov’s lawyers, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night. He told the Wall Street Journal his client is not a Russian spy.

The Justice Department and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Justice Department’s March complaint alleges Cherkasov acted as a type of deep-cover Russian agent called an “illegal.” Such agents operate without any known link to their home government and often build elaborate false identities.

Cherkasov lived under the alias Victor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian citizen, but U.S. and Brazilian authorities say he was actually born in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Cherkasov was seen by some as a potential bargaining chip in a prisoner swap the United States is seeking to negotiate in exchange for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in Russia on espionage allegations. Gershkovich and the Journal both say the charge is false, and the State Department says he has been wrongfully detained.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 dianne feinstein mitch mcconnell nyt

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Reluctant to Retire, Leaders Raise a Tough Question: How Old Is Too Old? Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell, above, thrust questions about aging out of Congress and into the national conversation.

After a series of troubling moments this week, an uncomfortable question has become unavoidable, leaving voters, strategists and even politicians themselves wondering: Just how old is too old to serve in public office?

For years, like so many children of aging parents across America, politicians and their advisers in Washington tried to skirt that difficult conversation, wrapping concerns about their octogenarian leaders in a cone of silence. The omertà was enabled by the traditions of a city that arms public figures with a battalion of aides, who manage nearly all of their professional and personal lives.

“I don’t know what the magic number is, but I do think that as a general rule, my goodness, when you get into the 80s, it’s time to think about a little relaxation,” said Trent Lott, 81, a former Senate majority leader who retired at the spry age of 67 to start his own lobbying firm. “The problem is, you get elected to a six-year term, you’re in pretty good shape, but four years later you may not be so good.”

Two closely scrutinized episodes this week thrust questions about aging with dignity in public office out of the halls of Congress and into the national conversation.

On Wednesday, video of Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, freezing for 20 seconds in front of television cameras reverberated across the internet and newscasts. Less than 24 hours later, another clip surfaced of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, appearing confused when asked to vote in committee.

A political discussion on the issue of age has been building for months, as the country faces the possibility of a presidential contest between the oldest candidates in American history. President Biden, 80, already the oldest president to sit in the White House, is vying for a second term, and Donald J. Trump, 77, is leading the Republican primary race.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Judge blocks Arkansas law allowing librarians to be criminally charged over ‘harmful’ materials, Staff Report, July 29, 2023. The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states push for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. Arkansas is temporarily blocked from enforcing a law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

politico CustomU.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which also would have created a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids. The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year, was set to take effect Aug. 1.

Arkansas is temporarily blocked from enforcing a law that would have allowed criminal charges against librarians and booksellers for providing “harmful” materials to minors, a federal judge ruled Saturday.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks issued a preliminary injunction against the law, which also would have created a new process to challenge library materials and request that they be relocated to areas not accessible by kids. The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders earlier this year, was set to take effect Aug. 1.

A coalition that included the Central Arkansas Library System in Little Rock had challenged the law, saying fear of prosecution under the measure could prompt libraries and booksellers to no longer carry titles that could be challenged.

The judge also rejected a motion by the defendants, which include prosecuting attorneys for the state, seeking to dismiss the case.

The ACLU of Arkansas, which represents some of the plaintiffs, applauded the court’s ruling, saying that the absence of a preliminary injunction would have jeopardized First Amendment rights.

“The question we had to ask was — do Arkansans still legally have access to reading materials? Luckily, the judicial system has once again defended our highly valued liberties,” Holly Dickson, the executive director of the ACLU in Arkansas, said in a statement.

The lawsuit comes as lawmakers in an increasing number of conservative states are pushing for measures making it easier to ban or restrict access to books. The number of attempts to ban or restrict books across the U.S. last year was the highest in the 20 years the American Library Association has been tracking such efforts.

Laws restricting access to certain materials or making it easier to challenge them have been enacted in several other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Texas.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rep. Dean Phillips Says He Is Considering a Run Against Biden, Reid J. Epstein, July 30, 2023 (print ed.). Representative Dean Phillips, a Minnesota Democrat who has for months been saying in public what many in his party only whisper in private — that the 80-year-old President Biden should not seek re-joe biden twitterelection because of his age — said he was considering challenging Mr. Biden in next year’s primary.

democratic donkey logoMr. Phillips, 54, is in his third term in Congress representing a district that includes the suburbs west of Minneapolis. In a text message, he confirmed his interest in running but declined a request to be interviewed. He said he had “been overwhelmed with outreach and encouragement” and needed to assess his next steps.

Mr. Phillips would be an extreme long shot if he were to challenge Mr. Biden. Polls show that Democrats, who were once wary about Mr. Biden seeking re-election, have coalesced behind him. The party’s major donor class is backing the president, who raised $72 million with the Democratic National Committee and his joint fund-raising committee during the three-month reporting period that ended June 30.

Mr. Phillips had $277,000 in his congressional fund-raising account at the end of June.

An heir to a Minnesota liquor fortune who showcased himself driving a gelato truck in his first House campaign, Mr. Phillips has been known in Congress for embracing the moderate suburban politics that were at the core of the general election coalition that propelled Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory. He was first elected in 2018, when he and dozens of fellow Democrats flipped Republican-held districts as suburban voters turned against President Donald J. Trump.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The Ohio GOP’s bold abortion gambit has imploded, Aaron Blake, July 24, 2023. The year 2022 put Republicans in a pickle on abortion rights — and nowhere was that clearer than on ballot measures.

First, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving the issue to the states. But then every state in which the issue was put to voters directly wound up supporting abortion rights — and often by large margins. The six states included swing-state Michigan, but also red states Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.

That cued up what may be the biggest ballot-measure battle of 2023 — in Ohio, where Republicans quickly signaled they’d forge a brazen strategy to prevent themselves from joining the other states in enshrining abortion rights in their constitutions.

That strategy appears to be going up in flames.

Facing such a ballot measure, Ohio Republicans moved to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60 percent, from 50 percent plus one. Ohioans will vote on this — via ballot measure — on Aug. 8.

It turns out that not only do voters overwhelmingly oppose changing the rules for amending the state constitution, but also that the abortion rights measure might have gotten to 60 percent anyway.

Suffolk University provided the data.

We learned last week that Ohioans opposed State Issue 1 — raising the ballot measure threshold, among other restrictions on the process — 57 percent to 26 percent.

Now Suffolk has released numbers on the abortion measure specifically, and the deficit for the GOP is similarly lopsided: Ohioans support the amendment 58 percent to 32 percent.

Those margins in increasingly red Ohio reinforce just how much of a political loser restricting abortion rights appears to be.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis’s Covid Vaccine Turnabout, Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei and Albert Sun, July 23, 2023 (print ed.). The Florida governor lost enthusiasm for the shot before the Delta wave. It’s a grim chapter he now leaves out of his retelling of his pandemic response.

600 Americans daily and hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, heard her cellphone ring. It was Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. He was distraught.

“‘You won’t believe what happened,’” she said he told her. Months before Covid vaccines would become available, Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided that the worst was over for Florida, he said. Mr. DeSantis had begun listening to doctors who believed the virus’s threat was overstated, and he no longer supported preventive measures like limiting indoor dining.

Mr. DeSantis was going his own way on Covid.

Nearly three years later, the governor now presents his Covid strategy not only as his biggest accomplishment, but as the foundation for his presidential campaign. Mr. DeSantis argues that “Florida got it right” because he was willing to stand up for the rights of individuals despite pressure from health “bureaucrats.” On the campaign trail, he says liberal bastions like New York and California needlessly traded away freedoms while Florida preserved jobs, in-person schooling and quality of life.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2But a close review by The New York Times of Florida’s pandemic response, including a new analysis of the data on deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination rates in the state, suggests that Mr. DeSantis’s account of his record leaves much out.

As he notes at most campaign stops, he moved quickly to get students back in the classroom, even as many of the nation’s school districts were still in remote learning. National research has suggested there was less learning loss in school districts with more in-person instruction.

Some other policies remain a matter of intense debate. Mr. DeSantis’s push to swiftly reopen businesses helped employment rebound, but also likely contributed to the spread of infections.

But on the single factor that those experts say mattered most in fighting Covid — widespread vaccinations — Mr. DeSantis’s approach proved deeply flawed. While the governor personally crusaded for Floridians 65 and older to get shots, he laid off once younger age groups became eligible.

Tapping into suspicion of public health authorities, which the Republican right was fanning, he effectively stopped preaching the virtues of Covid vaccines. Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.

That left the state particularly vulnerable when the Delta variant hit that month. Floridians died at a higher rate, adjusted for age, than residents of almost any other state during the Delta wave, according to the Times analysis. With less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, Florida accounted for 14 percent of deaths between the start of July and the end of October.

Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65. Despite the governor’s insistence at the time that “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated,” a vast majority of the 23,000 were either unvaccinated or had not yet completed the two-dose regimen.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Media, Arts, High Tech

 

x logo twitter

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition, Paul Krugman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.

There’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers, because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable, because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.

So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why did Elon rebrand Twitter as ‘X’? The mystery, Johanna Drucker, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The letter X is versatile. It can mean kisses or be a sign of faith. What attracts Elon Musk?

“I like the letter X,” Elon Musk posted, shortly after he renamed and rebranded Twitter. “X will become the most valuable brand on Earth.” X? Can you imagine Musk picking J for the job? Or H? There would be puzzlement, as there is now, and not much else. But X also creates a certain frisson. Why?

The letter X carries so many connotations — many more than almost any other letter — though it was not among the original alphabetic signs in the Proto-Canaanite script that stabilized around 1700 B.C. Long before then, however, human sign systems consisted of very basic marks — stick figures for humans and animals, straight lines for tallies, circles, crosses and X signs. They show up on prehistoric masonry in Crete; they show up in prehistoric Byblos in Syria; they show up on stones marked between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago in the French area of Mas d’Azil.

Johanna Drucker is Breslauer professor and distinguished professor emerita in information studies at UCLA. She is the author of “Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Bronny James, Recovering From Cardiac Arrest, Goes Home From the Hospital, Adam Zagoria LeBron, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). James Jr.’s release was one of several indications that things were returning to normal three days after he collapsed on a basketball court.

Three days after LeBron James Jr. collapsed during a basketball practice, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles said on Thursday that he “has been discharged home, where he is resting.” His father, LeBron James, said on social media that his family was “together, safe and healthy.”

And in a signal of the family’s optimism and relief, LeBron was back in the gym on Thursday, working out with another young basketball star.

The younger James, known as Bronny, who was recruited to join the U.S.C. basketball team in the fall, suffered cardiac arrest on Monday while working out at the university’s Galen Center. He was treated in intensive care initially and had been at Cedars-Sinai since Monday.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

July 29

Top Headlines

samuel alito frowing uncredited

 

High Tech Top Stories

 

Trump Watch

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

More On Russia, Ukraine

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 

More On 2024 Presidential Race

 

Crisis In Israel

 

More Global Stories

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Immigration

ICE logo

 

U.S. Economy, Student Loans, Jobs, Budgets, Politics

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Trump wanted Ukraine to impugn Biden. Republicans finally delivered, Philip Bump

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education Policy

 

More On U.S. Media, Arts, Sports, Culture

 

Top Stories

 

samuel alito frowing uncredited

washington post logoWashington Post, Alito says Congress has no authority to police Supreme Court ethics, Robert Barnes, July 29, 2023. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., above, said in an interview published Friday that Congress has no authority to impose an ethics policy on the Supreme Court, and he hinted that other justices share his view.

In a piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal opinions section, Alito noted that he and other justices voluntarily comply with disclosure statutes, but he said mandating an ethics code would be beyond Congress’s powers.

“I know this is a controversial view, but I’m willing to say it,” Alito said. “No provision in the Constitution gives them the authority to regulate the Supreme Court — period.”

Asked if other justices agree, Alito replied: “I don’t know that any of my colleagues have spoken about it publicly, so I don’t think I should say. But I think it is something we have all thought about.” Allegations of ethics breaches among the justices and reports of luxurious vacations paid for by private benefactors — including a fishing trip to Alaska for Alito — have put the court in the spotlight recently. Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to advance the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which seeks to impose on the court disclosure rules as strict as those governing members of the House and the Senate.

It is unusual for a justice to comment so definitively on the constitutionality of legislation, especially when bills are under consideration, and any law that is passed could come before the court.

The Journal article, headlined “Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court’s Plain-Spoken Defender,” was notable for another reason: It was written in part by David B. Rivkin Jr., a Washington lawyer well-known in conservative legal circles, who has an upcoming case before the court. Rivkin parenthetically disclosed that in the piece, writing that he and his law partner Andrew Grossman represent a couple in Moore v. U.S., a tax dispute the Supreme Court will hear in the coming term.

Rivkin and Journal editorial features editor James Taranto noted that Alito has now spoken with them “on the record for four hours in two wide-ranging sessions,” one in April in Alito’s chambers and the other in early July in the Journal’s New York offices.

The court granted Rivkin’s petition to hear Moore v. U.S. at the end of June.

As the subject of Supreme Court ethics has taken a more urgent tone, it has also acquired a partisan sheen, with Republicans saying the call for stronger ethics and disclosure rules is a ploy to delegitimize an increasingly conservative court because liberals disagree with its decisions. That division seems to doom the ethics bill’s chances in the Senate, and there is no interest among Republican leaders of the House in pushing such legislation.

Constitutional scholars who testified before the Senate committee split on the role Congress may play in prescribing the ethical responsibilities of a separate branch of government, although there is no dispute about Congress’s authority regarding federal courts below the Supreme Court.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Strikes Grain Terminal, Extending Campaign Against Ukrainian Ports, Marc Santora and Victoria Kim, July 29, 2023. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has promised to build up defenses around the southern coast, but tough decisions about resources lie ahead.

Russian forces struck a grain terminal in the southern Ukrainian city of Kherson, Ukrainian officials said on Saturday, extending a bombardment of the country’s infrastructure that has raised alarm about Kyiv’s ability to ship grain to the world.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has vowed to enhance air defenses around the port and the southern coast, but Kyiv’s resources are stretched thin and it faces difficult choices about where to deploy the limited number of air defense systems that can shoot down Russia’s most sophisticated missiles.

Ukraine continues to ask its Western allies to speed up the delivery of more air defense systems and warn that continued Russian bombardment could leave it without the necessary infrastructure to ship grain even if Black Sea shipping lanes open up. Moscow has struck Ukrainian ports near daily since pulling out of a deal last week that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain despite the war.

“In two or three months, we may not have a single port left,” Natalia Humeniuk, the spokeswoman for the Ukrainian military southern command, told French journalists this past week. “They want to dominate the Black Sea. They want to have a monopoly on grain,” she said.

On Saturday, Ms. Humeniuk said that Ukraine had taken measures to better protect the ports but warned that Russia may once again be adjusting its tactics before striking again.

World Crisis Radio, Commentary With Weekly Strategic Overview and Civic Agenda, Webster G. Tarpley, right, author and historian, July 29, 2023 (147:47 mins). As January 6 indictment webster tarpley 2007watch continues, long awaited Ukrainian counterattack advances towards Melitopol, Mariupol, and Bakhmut, putting Putin’s Crimean supply line in danger.

Smith adds additional defendant and new MaL charges against Trump for ordering deletion of security camera footage and showing off top secret document; Georgia indictments loom; Trump hurls scurrilous threats at prospect of incarceration; Navarro talks of civil war, blames Dems;

Like Stalin in June 1941, Putin froze during first hours of Prigozhinshchina; mercenary boss shows up on sidelines of Russia-Africa conference in St. Petersburg; African client states reduced from 45 to an unhappy 20 as Russian Black Sea grain blockade triggers starvation in developing sector; Biden had 50 guest nations last year; Token grain delivery promised to 6 of the most subservient countries, but diplomatic fiasco goes on with demands to respect existing grain deal;
NATO should increase grain exports through port of Reni on Ukrainian bank of Danube; Time for escorted convoys from Odessa through territorial waters to Bosporus and open sea;

Xi rebuffs Kerry, repeats his intent to escalate carbon emissions until 2030, making a mockery of predictions by climate scientists;

Fed concedes there is no recession as Wall Street grudgingly acknowledges landmark success of industrial strategy aka Bidenomics, marking beginning of the end for neoliberal Washington consensus; Next step is breaking Wall Street control of Fed;

In US visit, Italian premier Meloni supports NATO military aid to Ukraine and turns away from Chinese Belt and Road debt trap; History can be guide to current events, provided the history be real and not diluted!

ny times logoNew York Times, The Struggle to Save Portland, Michael Corkery, July 29, 2023. One man’s story shows how the Oregon city’s progressive identity is being challenged by the dual problems of fentanyl and homelessness.

Come to Portland, his sister said. It’s green and beautiful, people are friendly and there are plenty of jobs.

In 2018, Anthony Saldana took his sister’s advice. He left Las Vegas, where he was working in a casino, and moved to a Portland suburb.

oregon mapHe rented an apartment and got a job at Home Depot. Mr. Saldana, though, never quite found his footing. By early 2021, he was living in a tent, under a tree on the edge of a highway in Portland.

He wouldn’t let his sister, Kaythryn Richardson, visit him and shared only a few details with her about his life on the streets. He told her about the “bad people” terrorizing him and about the Disney movies he had watched to drown out the chaos that was slowly pulling him under.

“Hello sister,” he texted last October. “I’m hurting.”

All of Portland, it seems, has been trying to figure out what has been happening to people like Mr. Saldana, and to Portland itself.

This city of 635,000, home to the world’s largest bookstore and majestic views of snowcapped Mount Hood, has long grappled with homelessness. But during the pandemic this perennial problem turned into an especially desperate and sometimes deadly crisis that is dividing Portland over how to fix it.

While other cities in the West, like San Diego and Phoenix, face similar issues, the suffering on Portland’s streets has dealt a singular challenge to the city’s identity as a liberal bastion that prides itself on embracing transplants from across the country.

In 2022, Portland experienced a spate of homicides and other violence involving homeless victims that rattled many in the community: a 42-year-old homeless woman shot in the face by two teenagers who were hunting rats with a pellet gun; a 26-year-old homeless woman stabbed in the chest outside her tent; another homeless woman, 31, fatally shot at close range by a stranger.

The search for answers points in many directions — to city and county officials who allowed tents on the streets because the government had little to offer in the way of housing, to Oregon voters who backed decriminalizing hard drugs and to the unrest that rocked Portland in 2020 and left raw scars.

But what has turbocharged the city’s troubles in recent years is fentanyl, the deadly synthetic drug, which has transformed long standing problems into a profound test of the Portland ethos.

Outreach workers in Portland say rampant fentanyl use has coincided with the increasing turmoil among many homeless residents.

Doctors who care for people living on the streets say fentanyl addiction is proving harder to treat than many other dependencies.

Yet, as they have for years, legions of volunteers — professionals, recovering addicts and anarchists — routinely hand out sandwiches, wound kits and clementines around the encampments. Those volunteers include people like Jakob Hollenbeck, 23, who last year befriended a group camped out across the street from his house in Portland’s upscale Pearl District.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Acknowledges Granddaughter in Arkansas for First Time, Katie Rogers and Michael S. Schmidt, July 29, 2023. The president has told his son, Hunter Biden, that he wants to meet his 4-year-old grandchild, Navy Joan Roberts, who until recently was at the center of a yearslong child support dispute.

joe biden black background resized serious filePresident Biden publicly acknowledged his 4-year-old granddaughter, Navy Joan Roberts, for the first time on Friday, saying in a statement that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, “only want what is best for all of our grandchildren, including Navy.”

The statement came as Mr. Biden faced increasing pressure from critics who said that failing to acknowledge Navy publicly went against the image of a loving patriarch that he has nurtured since the beginning of his political career.

“Our son Hunter and Navy’s mother, Lunden, are working together to foster a relationship that is in the best interests of their daughter, preserving her privacy as much as possible going forward,” Mr. Biden told People magazine in a statement.

“This is not a political issue, it’s a family matter,” Mr. Biden continued. “Jill and I only want what is best for all of our grandchildren, including Navy.”

Hunter Biden, 53, who is recovering from crack cocaine addiction, is the last surviving son of the president, who lost his eldest, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015. The younger Mr. Biden, who has five children, has said that he fathered Navy at a low point in his life and that he did not have a relationship with her.

President Biden had followed his son’s lead, referring to six grandchildren instead of seven.

“I have six grandchildren. And I’m crazy about them,” the president told a group of children in April. “And I speak to them every single day. Not a joke.”

In White House strategy meetings, aides have been told that the Bidens have six, not seven, grandchildren, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

But in recent weeks, the president told his son that he wanted to meet Navy when the time was right, according to a person familiar with those discussions. The person was not authorized to speak publicly.

On Friday, another person familiar with the situation said the president would say that he had seven grandchildren going forward. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private matter.

 

High Tech Top Stories

 

 elon musk sideview

ny times logoNew York Times, With Starlink, Elon Musk’s Satellite Dominance Is Raising Global Alarms, Adam Satariano, Scott Reinhard, Cade Metz, Sheera Frenkel and Malika Khurana, July 29, 2023. The billionaire’s influence on satellite internet technology has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders in Ukraine and beyond. The tech billionaire has become the dominant power in satellite internet technology. The ways he is wielding that influence are raising global alarms.

In March 17, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, the leader of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, dialed into a call to discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Over the secure line, the two military leaders conferred on air defense systems, real-time battlefield assessments and shared intelligence on Russia’s military losses.

space x logoThey also talked about Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo).

General Zaluzhnyi raised the topic of Starlink, the satellite internet technology made by Mr. Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, three people with knowledge of the conversation said. Ukraine’s battlefield decisions depended on the continued use of Starlink for communications, General Zaluzhnyi said, and his country wanted to ensure access and discuss how to cover the cost of the service.

General Zaluzhnyi also asked if the United States had an assessment of Mr. Musk, who has sprawling business interests and murky politics — to which American officials gave no answer.

Mr. Musk, who leads SpaceX, Tesla and Twitter, has become the most dominant player in space as he has steadily amassed power over the strategically significant twitter bird Customfield of satellite internet. Yet faced with little regulation and oversight, his erratic and personality-driven style has increasingly worried militaries and political leaders around the world, with the tech billionaire sometimes wielding his authority in unpredictable ways.

x logo twitterSince 2019, Mr. Musk has sent SpaceX rockets into space nearly every week that deliver dozens of sofa-size satellites into orbit. The satellites communicate with terminals on Earth, so they can beam high-speed internet to nearly every corner of the planet. Today, more than 4,500 Starlink satellites are in the skies, accounting for more than 50 percent of all active satellites. They have already started changing the complexion of the night sky, even before accounting for Mr. Musk’s plans to have as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit in the coming years.

There are over 4,500 Starlink satellites orbiting Earth. What appear to be long lines here are recently launched satellites approaching their place in orbit.

The power of the technology, which has helped push the value of closely held SpaceX to nearly $140 billion, is just beginning to be felt.

Starlink is often the only way to get internet access in war zones, remote areas and places hit by natural disasters. It is used in Ukraine for coordinating drone strikes and intelligence gathering. Activists in Iran and Turkey have sought to use the service as a hedge against government controls. The U.S. Defense Department is a big Starlink customer, while other militaries, such as in Japan, are testing the technology.

But Mr. Musk’s near total control of satellite internet has raised alarms.

elon musk 2015A combustible personality, the 52-year-old’s allegiances are fuzzy. While Mr. Musk is hailed as a genius innovator, he alone can decide to shut down Starlink internet access for a customer or country, and he has the ability to leverage sensitive information that the service gathers. Such concerns have been heightened because no companies or governments have come close to matching what he has built.

In Ukraine, some fears have been realized. Mr. Musk has restricted Starlink access multiple times during the war, people familiar with the situation said.tesla logo At one point, he denied the Ukrainian military’s request to turn on Starlink near Crimea, the Russian-controlled territory, affecting battlefield strategy. Last year, he publicly floated a “peace plan” for the war that seemed aligned with Russian interests.

At times, Mr. Musk has openly flaunted Starlink’s capabilities. “Between, Tesla, Starlink & Twitter, I may have more real-time global economic data in one head than anyone ever,” he tweeted in April.

washington post logoWashington Post, Move fast and beat Musk: The inside story of how Meta built Threads, Naomi Nix and Will Oremus, July 29, 2023. A company in crisis went back to basics to deliver a viral hit. But can Adam Mosseri’s bare-bones Twitter clone reinvigorate an aging tech giant? Adam Mosseri was on a family vacation in Italy last November when he learned he’d have to go toe-to-toe with Elon Musk. The mercurial Musk had just taken over Twitter. Amid the ensuing chaos, Mosseri’s boss at rival Meta smelled opportunity.

meta logoCEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Meta executives wanted to woo creators from Twitter to their social networks. Mosseri, who runs Instagram, paused his holiday to take Zuckerberg’s call.

It was nighttime in Italy, and Mosseri spoke softly to avoid waking his sleeping wife. The group discussed Twitter-like features they could add to existing apps, including Instagram.

Zuckerberg, however, had a different idea: “What if we went bigger?”

By the time the call ended well after midnight, Mosseri had a mandate to build a stand-alone app to compete with Twitter — and a knot in his stomach.

 

Trump Watch

 

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s alleged conduct in the new indictment is jaw-droppingly stupid, Ruth Marcus, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). If the allegations in the latest indictment of Donald Trump hold up, the former president is a common criminal — and an uncommonly stupid one.

Everyone knows, as the Watergate scandal drove home: The coverup is always worse than the crime. Everyone, that is, but Trump.

According to the superseding indictment handed up late Thursday, even after Trump knew the FBI was onto his improper retention of classified information, and even after he knew they were seeking security camera footage from the Mar-a-Lago storage areas where the material was kept — in other words, when any reasonably adept criminal would have known to stop digging holes — Trump made matters infinitely worse.

The alleged conduct — yes, even after all these years of watching Trump flagrantly flout norms — is nothing short of jaw-dropping: Trump allegedly conspired with others to destroy evidence.

As set out in the indictment’s relentlessly damning timeline, Trump enlisted his personal aide, Waltine Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago worker, Carlos De Oliveira, in a conspiracy to delete the subpoenaed footage.

ny times logoNew York Times, $60 Million Refund Request Shows Financial Pressure on Trump From Legal Fees, Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher, July 29, 2023. President Trump’s political team asked for a refund of money intended to help his campaign that was instead diverted to an account paying his legal bills.
President Donald J. Trump’s legal fees requested a refund on a $60 million contribution it made to the super PAC supporting the Republican front-runner, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The decision of Mr. Trump’s political action committee to ask for a refund of money that was initially raised as Mr. Trump sought donations to combat what he falsely claimed was widespread fraud is extraordinary.

It is unclear how much money was refunded.

The refund was sought as the political action committee, Save America, spent more than $40 million in legal fees incurred by Mr. Trump and witnesses in various legal cases related to him this year alone, according to another person familiar with the matter.

The numbers will be part of the Save America Federal Election Commission filing that is expected to be made public late on Monday.
That $40 million was in addition to $16 million that Save America spent in the previous two years on legal fees. Since then, Mr. Trump has been indicted twice and has expanded the size of his legal team, and his two co-defendants in the case related to his retention of classified material work for him. The total legal spending is roughly $56 million.

The PAC was the entity in which Mr. Trump had parked the more than $100 million raised when he sought donations after losing the 2020 election. Mr. Trump claimed he needed the support to fight widespread fraud in the race. Officials, including some with his campaign, turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

Mr. Trump used some of that $100 million for other politicians and political activities in 2022, but he also used it to pay more than $16 million in legal fees, most of them related to investigations into him, and at least $10 million of which was for his own personal fees.

The situation signals a potential money crisis as Mr. Trump runs a campaign while under indictment in two jurisdictions and, soon, potentially a third, while also paying the legal fees of a number of witnesses who are close to him or who work for him.

Mr. Trump has long told associates that lawyers and other people contracted to work for him should do so for free, because they get free publicity. And he has told several associates that legal defense funds are organized only by people who are guilty of crimes, according to people who have heard the remarks.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump aide Carlos De Oliveira’s journey from failed witness to defendant, Devlin Barrett, Spencer S. Hsu and Josh Dawsey, July 29, 2023. A proffer session gone sour leads to an indictment, underscoring investigators’ hopes and fears about Trump staffers.Carlos De Oliveira, a middle-aged property manager from Florida, met with federal investigators in April for what is called a “queen for a day” session — a chance to set the record straight about prosecutors’ growing suspicions of his conduct at Donald Trump’s Florida home and private club. It did not go well, according to people familiar with the meeting.

djt indicted proofDe Oliveira, 56, knew Mar-a-Lago better than almost anyone. He’d worked there for more than a decade, and in January 2022 he was promoted to property manager, overseeing the estate. In the early years of De Oliveira’s employment, people familiar with the situation said, he’d impressed his boss by redoing ornate metalwork on doors at the property.

On Thursday, De Oliveira was indicted alongside Trump and his co-worker Waltine “Walt” Nauta — all three accused of seeking to delete security footage the Justice Department was requesting as part of its classified documents investigation.

De Oliveira is the third defendant in the first-ever federal criminal case against a former president. Trump, who was initially indicted with Nauta in June, is charged with mishandling dozens of classified documents in his post-presidency life and allegedly scheming with his two employees to cover up what he’d done.

This previously unreported account of De Oliveira’s actions at Mar-a-Lago, and later statements to federal investigators, shows how the longtime Trump employee has become a key figure in the investigation, one whose alleged actions could bolster the obstruction case against the former president. Most people interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations or details of an ongoing criminal probe.

De Oliveira’s attorney, John Irving, declined to comment.

The series of discussions between De Oliveira and investigators highlight how prosecutors led by special counsel Jack Smith have approached Trump employees with a mixture of hope and suspicion: hope that the former president’s employees could explain what had happened inside Mar-a-Lago, and suspicion that whatever misdeeds may have occurred, they might have been aided by servants who stayed loyal to the boss — even after the FBI came knocking.

When FBI agents arrived at Mar-a-Lago the morning of Aug. 8 with a court-issued search warrant, De Oliveira was one of the first people they turned to. They asked him to unlock a storage room where boxes of documents were kept, people familiar with what happened said. De Oliveira said he wasn’t sure where the key was, because he’d given it to either the Secret Service agents guarding the former president or staffers for Trump’s post-presidency office, the people said.

Frustrated, the agents simply cut the lock on the gold-colored door. The incident became part of what investigators would see as a troubling pattern with the answers De Oliveira gave them as they investigated Trump, the people said. Current and former law enforcement officials said witnesses often mislead them, particularly early in investigations. But those bad answers get more dangerous as agents continue to gather information.

Investigators’ interest in De Oliveira started to rise when security camera footage from the mansion showed him helping Nauta move boxes back into the storage area more than two months earlier, on June 2, 2022, the people said. That was just a day before a federal prosecutor and agents visited Mar-a-Lago to recover classified documents in response to a grand jury subpoena and to look around the place.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the superseding indictment and third defendant affect the Trump documents case, Perry Stein, July 29, 2023. The superseding indictment filed against Donald Trump in the classified documents investigation this week — and the addition of a third defendant — expand the scope of the crimes the former president is accused of committing and could bolster the case against him, according to legal experts.

Federal prosecutors filed three new charges against Trump in his alleged keeping and hiding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, essentially replacing the initial indictment in the case with a new one that reveals more evidence and brings the total federal charges against the former president to 40.
The third co-defendant is Mar-a-Lago employee Carlos De Oliveira, who is accused of lying to the FBI in a January interview and “altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing” an item or document. Waltine “Walt” Nauta, a longtime Trump aide who was charged alongside the former president in the initial June indictment, was also slapped with additional charges involving altering or concealing an item or document.

Both Trump and Nauta pleaded not guilty when they were arraigned on the initial charges. A lawyer for Nauta declined to comment on the new charges Thursday night, and a spokesman for Trump dismissed the superseding indictment as an attempt to harass the former president.

The superseding indictment accuses Trump of working with his employees to try to delete security camera footage from being reviewed by investigators, while adding a new count of willfully retaining national defense information. That count is related to Trump allegedly showing a top secret military document about Iran to other people who, like him, lacked the security clearance required to see such material.

The additional charges of lying to investigators could send a warning signal to other witnesses, the legal experts said: The case against Trump and his employees is strong and growing, and witnesses should cooperate with federal prosecutors if they want to avoid getting indicted themselves.

While every legal maneuver in cases involving Trump is heavily scrutinized, experts say superseding indictments are exceedingly common. Having multiple co-defendants in a single case — rather than trying co-defendants in separate trials — is also business as usual.

“Why would you try the same case three times? You are presenting the same case,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Chicago. “People who are charged with the same acts are usually, overwhelmingly charged together. That’s the presumption. You do it once, you don’t do it three or five times.”

Legal experts said it is hard to say exactly what propelled the Justice Department to file the initial indictment against Trump and Nauta in June, then add additional charges and another defendant weeks later. But they noted there are many common reasons lawyers would do so.

Among them: Prosecutors could have gathered additional evidence, or other witnesses may have decided to speak with investigators after they read the first indictment.

“There is a lot of intrigue but not a lot of answers,” said Scott Sundby, a University of Miami law professor. “It certainly suggests that more pieces are snapping into place.”

Alison Siegler, director of the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at University of Chicago Law School, said that the superseding indictment suggests that officials were still working to gather more evidence after they charged Trump in June. In many investigations, prosecutors file their indictments only once, after they have completed

ny times logoNew York Times, New Trump Charges Highlight Long-Running Questions About Obstruction, Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, July 29, 2023 (print ed). The accusation that former President Trump wanted security footage deleted added to a pattern of concerns about his attempts to stymie prosecutors.

When Robert S. Mueller III, the first special counsel to investigate Donald J. Trump, concluded his investigation into the ties between Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia, his report raised questions about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed his inquiry.

Justice Department officials and legal experts were divided about whether there was enough evidence to show Mr. Trump broke the law, and his attorney general — chosen in part because he was skeptical of the investigation — cleared him of wrongdoing.

Four years after Mr. Mueller’s report was released, Jack Smith, the second special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, added new charges on Thursday to an indictment over his handling of classified documents, setting out evidence of a particularly blatant act of obstruction.

Justice Department log circularThe indictment says that just days after the Justice Department demanded security footage from Mar-a-Lago, his residence and private club in Florida, Mr. Trump told the property manager there that he wanted security camera footage deleted. If proved, it would be a clearer example of criminality than what Mr. Mueller found, according to Andrew Goldstein, the lead investigator on Mr. Mueller’s obstruction investigation.

“Demanding that evidence be destroyed is the most basic form of obstruction and is easy for a jury to understand,” said Mr. Goldstein, who is now a white-collar defense lawyer at the firm Cooley.

“It is more straightforwardly criminal than the obstructive acts we detailed in the Mueller report,” he said. “And if proven, it makes it easier to show that Trump had criminal intent for the rest of the conduct described in the indictment.”

The accusation about Mr. Trump’s desire to have evidence destroyed adds another chapter to what observers of his career say is a long pattern of gamesmanship on his part with prosecutors, regulators and others who have the ability to impose penalties on his conduct.

And it demonstrates how Mr. Trump viewed the conclusion of the Mueller investigation as a vindication of his behavior, which became increasingly emboldened — particularly in regards to the Justice Department — throughout the rest of his presidency, a pattern that appears to have continued despite having lost the protections of the office when he was defeated in the election.

In his memoir of his years in the White House, John R. Bolton, who served as Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser, described Mr. Trump’s approach as “obstruction as a way of life.”

was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

 

djt confidential markings

The warrant authorizing the search of former president Donald Trump’s home said agents were seeking documents possessed in violation of the Espionage Act.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Icing on the cake, Bill Palmer, right, July 29, 2023. One of the reasons a criminal investigation into a crime boss like Donald Trump takes time is that bill palmerwitnesses have to be produced to testify to his guilt in order to get a conviction – and not all witnesses are necessarily looking to do so. For instance Jack Smith appears to have obtained the cooperation of the “Trump Employee 4” named in yesterday’s new criminal charges. But Smith is also clearly looking to get the cooperation of people like Carlos De Oliveira. Since he’s not cooperating, he’s been indicted.

bill palmer report logo headerThis doesn’t mean the story is over when it comes to De Oliveira. In fact the story is just beginning. Up to now he’s presumably been of the belief that Donald Trump could protect him in all this. But that came crashing down yesterday when De Oliveira was hit with criminal charges that’ll put him in prison for much of the rest of his life. All you have to do is read the charging document to see that there’s almost no chance De Oliveira will be acquitted at trial.

The question is how to drive that point home to De Oliveira now, so he relents and cuts a cooperation deal or immunity deal against Trump and the others. One tactic is to simply let the indictment sink in for a moment. Once you’re being arrested, charged, arraigned, and meeting with attorneys every day, you start to realize that this is your life now – and it’ll only get worse once you’re convicted.

To that end, family members and neighbors of De Oliveira are already telling CNN that they think he’s “trapped” in all of this, and that they can’t imagine how he got caught up in it. This is good. It suggests that the people in De Oliveira’s life will be inclined to try to convince him to pull himself back out of it.

With everyone who’s cut a cooperation deal, there was a prior point where they insisted (and maybe even believed) that they would never cut a deal no matter what. But that certainty starts going out the window once your life starts getting ripped to pieces in front of you.

william casey reagan libraryAnd so we wait, because this kind of thing is a waiting game. Jack Smith has from now, until whenever this criminal trial starts, to keep chipping away at Carlos De Oliveira (and for that matter Walt Nauta, right) in the name of getting one or both of them to flip in time to testify against Trump at the trial. The kicker is because there are now two Trump co-defendants, they each now have to consider the possibility that the other might flip first and get the “good” deal.

Relevant Recent Headlines

djt jan 6 charges msnbc

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

washington post logoWashington Post, In fight to lead America’s future, battle rages over its racial past, Toluse Olorunnipa, Hannah Natanson and Silvia Foster-Frau, July 29, 2023. While President Biden talks of Emmett Till and Harry Truman, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defends his state’s take on slavery.

washington post logoWashington Post, GOP lawmakers once praised Catholic Charities. Now they want to defund the group, Jack Jenkins, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Some Republicans don’t like the work of Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups helping migrants at the U.S. border.

A few Republican members of Congress are threatening to reduce or eliminate funding for Catholic Charities and other faith-based groups that offer aid to immigrants at the U.S. southern border.

The lawmakers, who are echoing the campaigns of conservative Catholic groups that vow to “#defund the bishops,” have already succeeded in inserting their agenda into legislation passed by the House this year. Another attempt to zero-out appropriations for a key Department of Homeland Security program supporting faith-based border efforts is awaiting a vote in Congress.

In December, Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Tex.), who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, wrote a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. In the letter, co-signed by Reps. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.) and Jake Ellzey (R-Tex.), the lawmakers complained that the Biden administration was “allowing non-governmental organizations … the freedom to aid and abet illegal aliens.”

In addition, lawmakers sent letters to Catholic Charities, Jewish Family Services and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service demanding that they preserve documents “related to any expenditures submitted for reimbursement from the federal government related to migrants encountered at the southern border.”

Contacted by Religion News Service, Anthony Granado, vice president of government relations at Catholic Charities USA, said, “We have not seen such a level of direct … attack against Catholic Charities USA.”

In May, when Gooden wrote another letter to Mayorkas, this time with Reps. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), they accused the nong0overnmental organizations that use federal funds to aid immigrants of creating an “incentive” for illegal immigration and demanded access to a broad swath of records about DHS funding practices.

 tommy tuberville washpo

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Tuberville’s tales about his father in World War II have false elements, Glenn Kessler, below right, July 26, 2023.

glenn kessler“My father, Charles Tuberville, made the D-Day landing at Normandy as a tank commander with the 101st infantry. He served with honor during World War II, earning five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.”

— Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), shown above in a Washington Post photo, in a tweet posted with a Fox News interview, June 6

“He lied about his age at 16, joined the Army.”

— Tuberville, in the Fox interview

“He was a tank commander with the 101st Infantry and landed at Normandy Beach on D-Day and drove a tank through the streets of Paris when the U.S. forces liberated the city.”

— Tuberville, on the archived website of the Tommy Tuberville Foundation

For nearly a decade, Tuberville has described the World War II exploits of his father, Charles R. Tuberville Jr., in a relatively consistent way — that he was a tank commander, that he earned five Bronze Stars, that he participated in the D-Day landing and that he lied about his age to join the army. News organizations have tended to accept Tuberville’s version and either reprint or broadcast it.

Yet an examination of army histories, newspaper reports and other materials calls into question many of the claims put forth by Tuberville, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees and is now in a high-profile battle with the Biden administration over a Defense Department policy offering time off and travel reimbursement to service members who need to go out of state for abortions. Since February, he has blocked every senior personnel move in the U.S. military that requires Senate confirmation, stalling the promotions of more than 265 military officers. The Pentagon has said Tuberville’s holds are putting the nation’s military readiness at risk, as 650 general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation by year’s end.

In effect, Tuberville has promoted his father to highly decorated tank commander — but based on our research, that claim is dubious.

Family histories often include myths or stories that become exaggerated as they are handed down from generation to generation. Most of the Army personnel records from World War II were destroyed in a 1973 fire, making confirmation difficult. There is no doubt that Tuberville’s father faced difficult and dangerous combat under trying conditions, including during the Battle of the Bulge, the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. We are not questioning his heroism or service.

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Canada Is Ravaged by Fire. Indigenous People Are Paying Dearly, Brent McDonald and Matt Joycey, July 29, 2023. A record-breaking fire season has forced tens of thousands of Indigenous people from their homes and ravaged the forests they rely on for sustenance.

In early July, fierce wildfires fueled by dry conditions in northern Quebec laid waste to large swaths of spruce forest, destroying cabins and tourist camps. It also cut off transportation to isolated Indigenous communities over the region’s lone paved road, a 370-mile stretch of highway with little or no cell reception.

Before evacuation orders were issued, residents who tried to leave along the Billy Diamond Highway, as the road is known, encountered flames and smoke that cast a dark-of-night pall in the afternoon.

“I honestly wasn’t sure we’d make it out,” said Joshua Iserhoff, 45, a member of the Cree nation of Nemaska who was forced to turn back with his wife and two children and who, like other residents, eventually found another way out.

“The wind was so ferocious it almost picked up the vehicle,” he said, calling the drive a “traumatic experience.”

Since May, hundreds of wildfires across Canada have burned more than 47,000 square miles of forest, an area the size of New York State, and have displaced more than 25,000 Indigenous residents from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, according to government officials.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Texas Border Towns, a ‘Dangerous’ Mix of Heat and Water Cutoffs, Edgar Sandoval, July 29, 2023. Trying to keep cool has become a painful reminder of inequality for residents of low-income neighborhoods, where running water can be in short supply.

On a blistering morning this week, the kitchen sink in Kathy Quilatan’s house was delivering only sputtering water. With temperatures climbing into triple digits most afternoons these days, she knew exactly what she had to do to keep her two young children, ages 2 and 6, from overheating. She gathered several plastic containers and set out on a quest for water.

The neighbors could not help: Problem-plagued delivery systems have meant that entire neighborhoods like Ms. Quilatan’s along the Texas border have gone without water for hours or even days during the brutal heat that has gripped much of the Southwest this summer.

“Not having water under this extreme heat is a dangerous combination,” Ms. Quilatan said. “Can you believe that this is life in America?”

For families like the Quilatans who live in colonias, the impoverished settlements outside established cities that have always existed somewhat apart from the rest of Texas, just the ability to cool off has become a painful reminder of the social divide prevalent in border communities.

ny times logoNew York Times, It’s been a hellish summer for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors. And it’s not over, Jason Horowitz, July 29, 2023. Things could hardly be worse for Italy and its Mediterranean neighbors this month. Wildfires and successive heat waves transformed their summer paradises into ghoulish hellscapes.

Fires in Greece caused wartime-scale airlifts of tourists and ammunition depots to explode. Sicilian churches burned with the relics of saints inside them. And if it was not the heat, it was hail — the size of billiards in northern Italy — as the country ricocheted between weather extremes.

It was bad enough for those who lived there. But the many tourists who had come looking for a summer holiday found an inferno, and there was more than a hint of buyer’s remorse.

Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell were widely scrutinized this week, raising uncomfortable questions about aging politicians (New York Times photos by Haiyun Jiang, left and Desiree Rios).

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Reluctant to Retire, Leaders Raise a Tough Question: How Old Is Too Old? Lisa Lerer and Reid J. Epstein, July 29, 2023. Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell thrust questions about aging out of Congress and into the national conversation.

After a series of troubling moments this week, an uncomfortable question has become unavoidable, leaving voters, strategists and even politicians themselves wondering: Just how old is too old to serve in public office?

For years, like so many children of aging parents across America, politicians and their advisers in Washington tried to skirt that difficult conversation, wrapping concerns about their octogenarian leaders in a cone of silence. The omertà was enabled by the traditions of a city that arms public figures with a battalion of aides, who manage nearly all of their professional and personal lives.

“I don’t know what the magic number is, but I do think that as a general rule, my goodness, when you get into the 80s, it’s time to think about a little relaxation,” said Trent Lott, 81, a former Senate majority leader who retired at the spry age of 67 to start his own lobbying firm. “The problem is, you get elected to a six-year term, you’re in pretty good shape, but four years later you may not be so good.”

Two closely scrutinized episodes this week thrust questions about aging with dignity in public office out of the halls of Congress and into the national conversation.

On Wednesday, video of Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, freezing for 20 seconds in front of television cameras reverberated across the internet and newscasts. Less than 24 hours later, another clip surfaced of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, appearing confused when asked to vote in committee.

A political discussion on the issue of age has been building for months, as the country faces the possibility of a presidential contest between the oldest candidates in American history. President Biden, 80, already the oldest president to sit in the White House, is vying for a second term, and Donald J. Trump, 77, is leading the Republican primary race.

ny times logoNew York Times, AIDS Relief Program Under Threat as G.O.P. Insists on Abortion Restriction, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). A program created by President George W. Bush to combat AIDS around the world is at risk of being sucked into a partisan dispute over abortion.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic former House speaker, and George W. Bush, the Republican former president, do not agree on much. But earlier this year, they joined a high-powered gathering in Washington — with the Irish rock star Bono on video from Dublin — to mark the 20th anniversary of America’s biggest and, arguably, most successful foreign aid program.

Mr. Bush created that program, the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, in 2003. In the two decades since, PEPFAR, as it is known, has saved 25 million lives and served as a powerful tool for soft diplomacy, a symbol of America’s moral leadership in the world. It has had extraordinary support from a bipartisan coalition of liberals and Christian conservatives.

But now PEPFAR is in danger of becoming a victim of abortion politics — just as the State Department is reorganizing to make the program permanent.

The program is set to expire at the end of September. But House Republicans are not moving forward with a bill to reauthorize it for another five years, because abortion opponents — led by a G.O.P. congressman who has long been a supporter of PEPFAR — are insisting on adding abortion-related restrictions.

The stalemate is the latest example of how Republicans are using their majority in the House of Representatives to impose their conservative views on social policy throughout the federal government. They have focused in particular on abortion, a year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and, with it, the right to legal abortion. Earlier this summer, House Republicans loaded up the annual military policy bill that has long been bipartisan with provisions to limit abortion access and transgender care.

The fight over PEPFAR, a $7 billion-a-year program that operates in more than 50 countries, is similar, because it is a broadly bipartisan program that now appears at risk of being sucked into a partisan fight over cultural and social issues.

PEPFAR continues to have wide support, including from Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees the program and approve the reauthorization legislation. But so far, Mr. McCaul has not advanced it because of the objections of abortion foes, including his Republican colleague, Representative Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey, one of the leading anti-abortion voices in Congress who also helped draft the legislation creating PEPFAR.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The GOP claim that Biden is running a ‘shell game’ on the border, Glenn Kessler, July 27, 2023.

“The numbers are not going down. CBP’s One app shell game, not releasing the OFO numbers, moving the numbers from crossing over to the ports of entry and then getting automatic parole to those individuals.”

— Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, July 19

“That’s the shell game. They’ve simply taken those that were previously illegally here in between the ports of entry, and now they just shepherd them to the ports of entry, release them and they’re calling the victory.”

— Former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan, in an interview with Just the News, July 20

Ever since the southern border became “eerily quiet” after a policy shift by the Biden administration, Republicans have charged that officials are playing a “shell game” with the numbers.

A shell game usually involves sleight of hand to trick players, but in politics, the phrase refers to deceptive actions used to hide bad news or figures. Twice in a recent hearing, Green incorrectly claimed the administration was not releasing “OFO numbers,” referring to Office of Field Operations data — encounters with undocumented immigrants at ports of entry, as opposed to people caught crossing the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In reality, those numbers are being released.

Morgan, in an interview, said he was not accusing the administration of hiding data. “The data is usually there,” he said, but instead he believes the administration is engaging in what he called a “messaging shell game” that is misleading the public about border encounters with migrants seeking to enter the country.

The surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border since early 2021 has been a major political headache for the Biden administration — and a major attack line for Republicans. When the administration in May ended a Trump-era pandemic policy known as Title 42, which had allowed for quick expulsions of migrants who entered the country illegally, the GOP was flummoxed when the number of encounters on the southern border suddenly dropped. Wouldn’t more migrants attempt to enter if they weren’t going to be expelled summarily?

“CBP’s total encounters along the Southwest border in June were the lowest in over two years, dropping nearly a third from May,” CBP said in its news release on the June numbers. The release added that “the U.S. Border Patrol recorded 99,545 encounters between ports of entry along the Southwest border: a 42 percent decrease from May 2023.”

About a third of the encounters were with Mexican nationals, while just over 22,000 were from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That means the remaining 43,000 came from other countries, primarily Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, India and China, signaling the continuing shift from the primarily Mexican migration of the past.

About 36,000 were released on their recognizance, down from nearly 70,000 in May, CBP said. Many of the rest were detained, slated for expedited removal or agreed to a voluntary return to Mexico. Voluntary returns, in fact, showed a tenfold increase in May and June compared to early months in the year.

Month by month, numbers can be an unreliable snapshot. May is often the month that migrants surge to the border, hoping to avoid the heat of the summer.

Still, the June showing was the best for this metric since February 2021, when border agents encountered 97,643 people seeking to cross the border. That was also President Biden’s first full month in office.
Ports of Entry

But Border Patrol encounters make up a narrow metric — people crossing between ports of entry (such as deserts and rivers) on the southern border who are greeted by Border Patrol agents who wear green uniforms. Remember how Green complained about the OFO numbers? Office of Field Operations refers to people encountered at ports of entry by CBP officers who wear blue uniforms. That number, by contrast, has soared in recent months. In June, 45,026 people showed up at ports of entry, compared to 26,112 in February.

To the frustration of Republicans, the Biden administration has managed to reduce the headline numbers along the border. That’s no excuse for repeatedly suggesting, as Green did, that the numbers have not been properly released. The numbers are there, no matter how painful they may be to the administration’s critics.

In the first seven weeks of the post-Title 42 environment, CBP data suggests a slight decrease in migrants seeking to enter and a more orderly process in place as the CBP One app has sent more migrants to ports of entry.

But now a federal judge’s ruling has put the administration’s policies in doubt — and hundreds of thousands of people a month are still seeking refuge in the United States.

washington post logoWashington Post, States siphoned away $750 million in infrastructure law climate funds, Ian Duncan, July 27, 2023. The 2021 infrastructure law created two new climate-related programs to tackle emissions and protect roads, but states are free to use half the money for other projects.

With $14 billion in new federal funding, the infrastructure law was supposed to jolt efforts to protect the U.S. highway network from a changing climate and curb carbon emissions that are warming the planet. New records show the effort is off to an unsteady start as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent elsewhere.
Want to know how your actions can help make a difference for our planet? Sign up for the Climate Coach newsletter, in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.

Last year, 38 states made use of a provision in the law to shift about $755 million to general-purpose highway construction accounts, according to Federal Highway Administration records. The sum is more than one-quarter of the total annual amount made available to states in two new climate-related programs.

California shifted $97 million to pay for safety projects. New York moved $36 million to fund what officials called the state’s “core capital program.” Arizona said it used $20 million for its five-year highway construction program, largely for “pavement preservation,” and Louisiana used $8.2 million to fund roundabouts near an outlet mall.

The nibbling away of climate funding highlights a fundamental tension in the 2021 law, which was crafted to secure bipartisan support. Protections to long-standing flexibility in how states use federal highway funding are hampering efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration to make progress on environmental goals. Amid clashes over federal guidance, the financial transfers from two climate programs — coming as weather events batter the nation’s infrastructure with increased intensity — illustrate how states have wide latitude to discount the wishes of leaders in Washington.

The records, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show several states said they were still putting together plans for how to use the money, typically an injection of tens of millions of dollars annually for each state. Some blamed slow guidance on how to spend the money.

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme heat is covering more U.S. territory than it has all summer, Matthew Cappucci and Jason Same, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). It will be the hottest weather of the summer averaged over the nation, with triple digit heat swelling into the Midwest and Northeast.

An unrelenting heat wave that’s baked the southern United States for weeks is expanding and will cover the most territory of the summer between Wednesday and Friday, swelling into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Between 250 and 275 million Americans will face heat indexes of at least 90 degrees, and more than 130 million people are under heat alerts from southern California to Maine, including Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Louisville, Washington, New York and Boston.

washington post logoWashington Post, An ocean heat wave has become a full-blown emergency for Florida’s coral reef, Brady Dennis, Amudalat Ajasa and Chris Mooney, July 27, 2023 (print ed.).‘This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,’ one veteran researcher said, as a marine heat wave shows few signs of ending.

As a blistering marine heat wave persists off the coast, a full-blown emergency is unfolding along the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

“If it remains this hot for the next six weeks, we are going to see a lot more coral mortality out there,” said Lewis, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory.

Already, scientists have reported widespread coral bleaching along parts of the roughly 360-mile-long reef, the third largest on the planet. If the heat drags on, they say, a massive coral die-off could follow, with grave consequences for fish and other ocean organisms that depend on the reefs, tourism, commercial fishing and part of the state’s very identity.

“This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” said Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin, Robert Barnes, July 27, 2023. The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Without comment, the justices lifted a lower court’s halt on the remaining construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will stretch 300 miles through rugged mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. Environmentalists claim that the pipeline threatens lands, water resources and endangered species along the way, and have found some success blocking final approval at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

But much of the pipeline is already built. During the tense negotiations earlier this summer to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts, House Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III wrangled a deal with the Biden administration to cut the courts out of the process.

How a pipeline helped grease the debt ceiling deal

The bill at issue acted in three ways. It ratified and approved “all federal authorizations” for the project. It expressly stripped courts of jurisdiction to review “any action” by a federal agency granting authorization for the construction and operation of the pipeline. And it said that any claim about the constitutionality of the law could be heard only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va., on June 22, 2018, to make a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass under the highway. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Nonetheless, a 4th Circuit panel on July 10 issued a stay on part of the pipeline that remains to be built, which runs through the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia. The panel judges did not provide their reasoning, but environmentalists had argued that the action by Congress improperly cut out the judiciary and violated separation of powers.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a former Obama administration solicitor general who now represents the pipeline builders. “Congress has made clear that there is a paramount national interest in expeditious completion of the pipeline.”

The $6 billion pipeline is a joint venture between some of the largest gas companies in Appalachia and the power company NextEra Energy. Its largest investor is Equitrans Midstream, which has a 48.1 percent ownership interest and will operate the pipeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Some July Heat: ‘Virtually Impossible’ Without Climate Change, Analysis Finds, Delger Erdenesanaa, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). An international group of scientists predicts that extreme heat waves will return more frequently.

Some of the extreme temperatures recorded in the Southwestern United States, southern Europe and northern Mexico at the beginning of the month would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to research made public Tuesday.

During the first half of July hundreds of millions of people in North America, Europe and Asia sweltered under intense heat waves. A heat wave in China was made 50 times as likely by climate change, the researchers said.

World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists who measure how much climate change influences extreme weather events, focused on the worst heat so far during the northern hemisphere summer. In the United States, temperatures in Phoenix have reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 43 Celsius, or higher for more than 20 days in a row. Many places in southern Europe are experiencing record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures. A remote township in Xinjiang, China, hit 126 degrees, breaking the national record.

“Without climate change, we wouldn’t see this at all,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London and co-founder of World Weather Attribution. “Or it would be so rare that it basically would not be happening.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Blistering Heat Spreads to U.S. Midwest as Wildfire Smoke Lingers, Julie Bosman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Midwestern residents sweltered in the heat wave that has scorched the South and Southwest for many days.

illinois mapThe heat wave that has scorched much of the American South and Southwest is now spreading throughout the Midwest, bringing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, dangerous conditions for millions of people and pleas from state and local officials to avoid the outdoors.

The extreme heat and humidity will spread misery across the region, particularly on Wednesday, meteorologists said, while warning that the intense heat and humidity could linger for days. In cities like St. Louis, Wichita, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., temperatures could be 10 to 20 degrees above normal, and heat index readings, which consider both temperature and humidity, will reach into the 100s.

The blistering weather arrived just as another health menace swept in: Canadian wildfire smoke that has once again settled over parts of the Midwest.

In Chicago on Tuesday, the Air Quality Index reached 187 — a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups — leaving the skies over Lake Michigan hazy and prompting some people to return to wearing masks as they walked dogs and ran errands.

ny times logoNew York Times, Warming Could Push the Atlantic Past a ‘Tipping Point’ This Century, Raymond Zhong, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). The system of ocean currents that regulates the climate for a swath of the planet could collapse sooner than expected, a new analysis found.

The last time there was a major slowdown in the mighty network of ocean currents that shapes the climate around the North Atlantic, it seems to have plunged Europe into a deep cold for over a millennium.

That was roughly 12,800 years ago, when not many people were around to experience it. But in recent decades, human-driven warming could be causing the currents to slow once more, and scientists have been working to determine whether and when they might undergo another great weakening, which would have ripple effects for weather patterns across a swath of the globe.

A pair of researchers in Denmark this week put forth a bold answer: A sharp weakening of the currents, or even a shutdown, could be upon us by century’s end.

It was a surprise even to the researchers that their analysis showed a potential collapse coming so soon, one of them, Susanne Ditlevsen, a professor of statistics at the University of Copenhagen, said in an interview. Climate scientists generally agree that the Atlantic circulation will decline this century, but there’s no consensus on whether it will stall out before 2100.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: With DeSantis Reeling, What About Tim Scott? Ross Douthat, July 29, 2023.Last Sunday, I argued that despite his stagnation in the polls, for Republicans (and non-Republicans) who would prefer that Donald Trump not be renominated for the presidency, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida remains pretty much the only possible alternative.

Naturally the week that followed was the worst yet for DeSantis, beginning with a campaign staff purge that featured a Nazi-symbol subplot and ending with the candidate doing damage control for his suggestion that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might run his Food and Drug Administration.

tim scott oThe worst news for DeSantis, though, was new polls out of Iowa showing Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, right, creeping up on him, with around 10 percent support, to the governor’s roughly 15 percent.

One of my arguments a week ago was that no other Republican, Scott included, had yet shown any capacity to build the support that even a stagnant DeSantis enjoys. But if the governor falls into a sustained battle for second place, he’s probably finished, and Trump can probably just cruise.

Unless that battle results in a DeSantis collapse and a chance for someone else to go up against the front-runner. After all, why should DeSantis be the only non-Trump hope just because he seemed potent early on? Why not, well, Tim Scott?

Say this for Scott: He has an obvious asset that DeSantis is missing, a fundamental good cheer that Americans favor in their presidents. Say this as well: He has the profile of a potent general-election candidate, an African American and youthful-seeming generic Republican to set against Joe Biden’s senescence. Say this, finally: Scott sits in the sweet spot for the Republican donor class, as a George W. Bush-style conservative untouched by the rabble-rousing and edgelord memes of Trump-era populism.

But all of these strengths are connected to primary-campaign weaknesses. To beat Trump, you eventually need around half the Republican electorate to vote for you (depending on the wrinkles of delegate allocation). And there’s no indication that half of Republican primary voters want to return to pre-2016 conservatism, that they would favor a generic-Republican alternative to Trump’s crush-your-enemies style or that they especially value winsomeness and optimism, as opposed to a style suited to a pessimistic mood.

The reason that DeSantis seemed like the best hope against Trump was a record and persona that seemed to meet Republican voters where they are. His success was built after Trump’s election, on issues that mattered to current G.O.P. voters, not those of 30 years ago. He could claim to be better at the pugilistic style than Trump — with more to show for his battles substantively and more political success as well. On certain issues, Covid policy especially, he could claim to represent the views of Trump’s supporters better than Trump himself. And with DeSantis’s war on Disney, nobody would confuse him for a creature of the donor class.

All this set up a plausible strategy for pulling some Trump voters to DeSantis’s side by casting himself as the fulfiller of Trump’s promise — more competent, more politically able, bolder, younger and better suited to the times.

This strategy was working five months ago, and now it’s failing. But its failure doesn’t reveal an alternative pitch, and certainly Scott doesn’t appear to have one. Indeed, as The Bulwark’s Jonathan Last points out, Scott isn’t really casting himself as a Trump alternative; he’s mostly been “positioning himself as an attractive running mate for Trump, should the Almighty not intervene” and remove the former president from the race.

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

WhoWhatWhy, Going Deep Investigative Commentary: RFK Jr.’s Panel of Health Hoaxers, Hucksters & Hustlers, Russ Baker, right, July 26-27, 2023. The russ baker cropped david welkerquestion is, what are they really selling?

Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)

whowhatwhy logoHe tried to squirm out of it, claiming he never said it, but those words will not go away. To wit, they have already settled into the fertile soil of a neo-Nazi website.

So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.

One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Jewish people — almost exactly what Kennedy later claimed publicly, although she may have only confirmed ideas he already had.

Tenpenny is quite the character. She has shared numerous antisemitic claims on social media, including Holocaust denial and praise for the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,

In early 2022, she claimed Jews were using the Ukraine conflict to distract the world from a meeting in Europe about pandemic preparedness.

Kennedy will have a hard time disassociating himself from Tenpenny and her beliefs, given that she is right next to him in the image below for Kennedy’s June 27 “Health Policy Roundtable.”

Virtual Health Policy Roundtable tweet. Photo credit: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. / Twitter

Let’s take a closer look at Tenpenny, who Kennedy says is “leading this movement against vaccines,” and a brief look at the others.

Kennedy’s Brain Trust

Tenpenny has claimed that vaccines leave people magnetized. This was her proof:

They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.

She explained this — as an “expert witness” — to lawmakers in the Ohio House at a hearing in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination. A nurse tried to demonstrate the phenomenon, with embarrassing results.

Tenpenny also claimed that vaccines interface with 5G cellular towers, and that “we’re trying to figure out what it is that’s being transmitted to these unvaccinated [sic] people that is causing health problems.” She also spread the idea that vaccinated people “shed” — leading at least one private school to instruct immunized teachers to stay away from unvaccinated students, claiming they could develop menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm, merely from interacting with them.

Tenpenny, author of the book Saying No to Vaccines, is an osteopath, a type of doctor deploying a holistic approach to disease — but with no expertise in magnetism, epidemiology, virology, immunology, or infectious disease. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said she is one of the top 12 spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation.

Politico, DeSantis suggests he could pick RFK Jr. to lead the FDA or CDC, Andrew Zhang, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Kennedy, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has taken heat from liberals for his views on vaccines and Covid.

politico CustomDemocratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might have an offer to run a federal agency in 2025 — but not for the party he is running to gain the nomination from.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is struggling to gain steam in the GOP primary, mused on Wednesday in an interview with Clay Travis on OutKick that he generally aligns with Kennedy’s conservative views on Covid-19 policies and vaccines. Those views, DeSantis indicated, could make him a pick to lead a federal agency with medical jurisdiction.

ron desantis hands out“If you’re president, sic him on the FDA if he’d be willing to serve. Or sic him on CDC,” DeSantis, right, said, in response to a question about whether he would pick Kennedy as a running mate. “In terms of being veep, if there’s 70 percent of the issues that he may be averse to our base on, that just creates an issue.”

Kennedy, who remains a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, has aired contentious views over vaccines, having questioned their effectiveness on several occasions. In the past few weeks, he came under sharp fire from liberals for suggesting that Covid was engineered to be less lethal to Asian and Jewish people. He has also been a critic of Anthony Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commenting once that he would prosecute him if “crimes were committed.”
RFK Jr. testifies: I never said anything 'racist or antisemitic'

cdc logo CustomDeSantis’ comments fit into the governor’s ongoing criticism of the federal bureaucracy, which he has described over recent years as becoming too “woke” and corrupted. DeSantis has pledged to abolish several government agencies and departments if elected president, including the IRS and the Department of Education.

Conservatives like DeSantis have railed against health-related agencies in particular, animating fervor over pandemic-related lockdowns and mandates. As Florida governor, DeSantis has waged a verbal and legal war against the CDC and FDA — two agencies with broad jurisdiction over health matters that he especially targeted during the peak of the pandemic for mandates.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

 Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by Erin Schaff). 

ny times logoNew York Times, More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-Dollar Book Deals, Steve Eder, Abbie VanSickle and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Only three months into Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first Supreme Court term, she announced a book deal negotiated by the same powerhouse lawyer who represented the Obamas and James Patterson.

The deal was worth about $3 million, according to people familiar with the agreement, and made Justice Jackson the latest Supreme Court justice to parlay her fame into a big book contract.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had made $650,000 for a book of essays and personal reflections on the role of judges, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett received a $2 million advance for her forthcoming book about keeping personal feelings out of judicial rulings. Those newer justices joined two of their more senior colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, in securing payments that eclipse their government salaries.

In recent months reports by ProPublica, The New York Times and others have highlighted a lack of transparency at the Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports have centered on Justice Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors, in addition to a luxury fishing trip by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a Republican megadonor and the lucrative legal recruiting work of the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on the justices’ annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Earlier this year, Justice Jackson confirmed her publishing agreement with an imprint of Penguin Random House for her forthcoming memoir, “Lovely One.” But like her colleagues, her first public acknowledgment of the financial arrangement behind the deal is likely to be in her future annual financial disclosures. The New York Times learned the rough dollar amount of her advance, a figure that had not previously been disclosed, from people familiar with the deal.

Justice Sotomayor has received about $3.7 million total for a memoir documenting her path from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench and her children’s books. The justice’s administrative court staff urged organizers of events where her books were sold to buy more copies, according to a recent report in The Associated Press, which cited public records.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Passes Bipartisan Defense Bill, Setting Up a Clash With the House, Karoun Demirjian. July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Senators steered clear of the social policies that sapped Democratic support for the House bill, but the legislation was headed for a contentious negotiation.

The Senate on Thursday gave overwhelming approval to the annual defense policy bill, sidestepping a contentious debate over abortion access for service members and quashing efforts to limit aid for Ukraine in a show of bipartisanship that set up a bitter showdown with the House.

The vote was 86 to 11 to pass the bill, which would authorize $886 billion for national defense over the next year. It includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops and civilian employees, investments in hypersonic missile and drone technology, and measures to improve competition with China.

But its fate is deeply in doubt as the measure heads for what is expected to be a contentious negotiation between the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House, where right-wing hard-liners have attached a raft of conservative social policy mandates.

Republicans in the Senate decided not to pick such fights in that chamber, shelving amendments to restrict abortion access and transgender health care services for military personnel. The result is vastly different bills that could make it difficult for the House and Senate to hash out a bipartisan final agreement, something that has not eluded Congress in more than six decades.

ny times logoNew York Times, As McConnell Tries to Convey Business as Usual, His Future Is in Doubt, Annie Karni and Carl Hulse, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The minority leader’s health episode at the Capitol has intensified talk about a possible succession, a prospect that his colleagues have not seriously grappled with for years. 

It has been decades since there was any real uncertainty at the top of the Republican Party in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell’s alarming freeze-up at a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol, as well as new disclosures about other recent falls, have shaken his colleagues and intensified quiet discussion about how long he can stay in his position as minority leader, and whether change is coming at the top.

For months even before he had an apparent medical episode on camera on Wednesday while speaking to the press, Mr. McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader from Kentucky, has been weakened, both physically and politically. The latest incident made those issues glaringly apparent: Mr. McConnell, 81, froze mid-remarks, unable to continue speaking, and appeared disoriented with his mouth shut as his aides and colleagues led him gently away.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, quickly stepped in behind the lectern and picked up where Mr. McConnell had left off, in a scene that underscored how the lanky 62-year-old has positioned himself as the leader’s most obvious successor. It was a reminder that no one — even Mr. McConnell, who this year became the longest-serving Senate leader in history — is irreplaceable and raised questions about how long Mr. McConnell could continue to simply gut it out.

“Good afternoon, everyone. We’re on a path to finishing the N.D.A.A. this week. There’s been good bipartisan cooperation and a string of —” “Are you good, Mitch?” “You OK, Mitch? Anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office? Do you want to say anything else to the press?” “Go ahead, John.” “We’ll take a break.” “Let’s go back.” “Go ahead, John.” “Could you address what happened here at the start of the press conference, and was it related to your injury from earlier this year where you suffered a concussion? Is that —” “No, I’m fine.” “You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” “Yeah.”

Months ago, there seemed to be a developing race to succeed him among Mr. Thune, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the former whip; they are known around the Capitol as “the three Johns.” But during Mr. McConnell’s extended absence earlier this year following a serious fall, Mr. Thune moved into the position of taking charge of the conference.

Washington hotel during a fund-raising event, and was absent from the Senate for weeks while giving almost no updates on his health status. Since then, he has had at least two more falls, one at a Washington airport and one in Helsinki, during an official trip to meet the Finnish president. His office disclosed neither, and has stayed mum about his medical condition on Wednesday after the episode, which some physicians who viewed video of it said could have been a mini stroke or partial seizure.

Mr. McConnell, who had polio as a child, often has trouble with stairs and has long walked with a wobbly, uneven gait. But in recent months, he has been using a wheelchair to get around at the airport, which a spokesman said was “simply a prudent and precautionary measure in a crowded area.”

His diminished state has been evident in his role in the Capitol as well. Some of his Senate colleagues were surprised at the back-seat role he took throughout the debt ceiling negotiations, where he did little and left Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy in charge. The old McConnell, they said, would have not stayed on the sidelines, and many Senate Republicans were ultimately unhappy with the outcome.

Last year, Mr. McConnell weathered a rare challenge to his leadership when Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, decided to oppose him and received 10 votes. In the past, Mr. McConnell has been named leader with no contest.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Biden Is Weighing a Big Middle East Deal, Thomas L. Friedman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). For the hundreds of thousands of Israeli democracy defenders who tried to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial coup on Monday, the stripping of the Israeli Supreme Court’s key powers to curb the executive branch surely feels like a stinging defeat. I get it, but don’t totally despair. Help may be on the way from talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you read that right.

joe biden twitterWhen I interviewed President Biden in the Oval Office last week, my column focused on his urging Netanyahu not to ram through the judicial overhaul without even a semblance of national consensus. But that’s not all we talked about. The president is wrestling with whether to pursue the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi mutual security pact that would involve Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

After discussions in the past few days among Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Brett McGurk, the top White House official handling Middle East policy, Biden has dispatched Sullivan and McGurk to Saudi Arabia, where they arrived Thursday morning, to explore the possibility of some kind of U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian understanding.

The president still has not made up his mind whether to proceed, but he gave a green light for his team to probe with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to see if some kind of deal is possible and at what price. Closing such a multinational deal would be time-consuming, difficult and complex, even if Biden decides to take it to the next level right away. But the exploratory talks are moving ahead now — faster than I thought — and they’re important.

 

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

ny times logoNew York Times, War Brought Putin Closer to Africa. Now It’s Pushing Them Apart, Declan Walsh and Paul Sonne, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). As President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to host African leaders at a summit, a collapsed grain deal and the uncertain fate of Wagner mercenaries have cast a shadow.

Shunned in the West, his authority tested by a failed mutiny at home, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia needs to project normalcy and shore up support from his allies. So on Thursday, he will host African leaders at a flashy summit in St. Petersburg, part of his continuing outreach to a continent that has become critical to Moscow’s foreign policy.

Russian FlagSince Russia invaded Ukraine, some African countries have backed Mr. Putin at the United Nations, welcomed his envoys and his warships, and offered control of lucrative assets, like a gold mine in the Central African Republic that U.S. officials estimate contains $1 billion in reserves.

But if Mr. Putin sought to move closer to African leaders as he prosecuted his war, the 17-month-old conflict is now straining those ties. This summit is expected to draw only half the number of African heads of state or government as the last gathering in 2019, a situation that the Kremlin on Wednesday blamed on “brazen interference” from the United States and its allies.

The summit comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Black Sea over Mr. Putin’s recent decision to terminate a deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain to global markets. Russia’s withdrawal has caused food prices to spike, adding to the misery of the world’s poorest countries, including some of those attending the Russia-Africa summit.

As African leaders prepare to meet Mr. Putin, Russian warplanes have pulverized the Ukrainian port of Odesa that is a key distribution point for grain exports. And in recent days, American and British officials have warned about Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions in the Black Sea.

The outcry over the end of the grain deal — the Kenyan foreign ministry called Mr. Putin’s decision a “stab in the back” — has put the Russian leader on the defensive. In an article previewing the summit, he offered to make up for the shortfall to African countries by supplying them with Russian grain, even for free.

At the same time, Western nations have seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Putin and his African guests.

“President Putin seems dead set on causing as much suffering around the world as he can,” Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday. “Russia is driving Africa into poverty.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Doctors who put lives at risk with covid misinformation rarely punished, Lena H. Sun, Lauren Weber and Hayden Godfrey, July 28, 2023 (print ed.).. Medical boards received more than 480 complaints related to covid misinformation. A Post investigation found at least 20 doctors have been punished.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine launches new push, claims gains against Russians in south, John Hudson, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, severing Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have launched a new push in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders and made advances south of Orikhiv in the country’s Zaporizhzhia region, officials said Wednesday.

Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, which would sever Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces remain far from the sea, which lies about 60 miles south of Orikhiv, according to a Ukrainian official familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces are “gradually advancing” in the direction of the coastal cities Melitopol and Berdyansk, but she did not say how far they had moved.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Vicious cycle’: Heat waves ramp up U.S. burning of fossil fuels, Timothy Puko, July 28, 2023. Americans, cranking up their air conditioners, are helping to break summertime records for daily consumption of natural gas, a contributor to climate change.

America’s historic heat wave is producing a big winner: fossil fuels.

As temperatures have soared, so has natural-gas consumption, burned for the electricity needed to run air conditioners across much of the Northern Hemisphere. The United States this week has twice broken its summertime record for daily gas consumption, and it could break it again Friday, according to estimates from S&P Global Commodity Insights.

The trends illustrate how extreme heat is complicating efforts by the United States and other countries to phase down use of fossil fuels, despite how these fuels contribute to climate change and more intense heat waves. While the build-out of renewable energy is increasing, the world’s power grids are so reliant on gas and coal that burning more of them — and thus producing more planet-warming emissions — is often the only way to cool buildings and protect people from often life-threatening conditions.

“The projection for how much energy you need is higher and higher because the cooling needs to go up,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “There are these tragic ironies all over the climate space.”

The problem is global and set to intensify. The International Energy Agency last week said that only a tenth of the 2.8 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world already have air conditioning, foreshadowing what is likely to become “a vicious cycle.” Use of air conditioning is expected to increase in the years to come, further driving fast-rising energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world, the Paris-based watchdog said.

  • Washington Post, Ocean temperatures are off the charts. Here’s where they’re hottest, Tim Meko and Dan Stillman, July 28, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Infrastructure and green energy spending are powering the economy, Abha Bhattarai, July 28, 2023. Biden’s policies are fueling a surge in private investments and contributing to GDP growth. But will voters notice — or care?

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden lawyer who defended affirmative action grapples with diversity in her own office, Tobi Raji and Theodoric Meyer, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). When Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar defended college affirmative action programs before the Supreme Court in October, she cited the lack of diversity in a group of people the justices know well: the lawyers who argue before them.

Just two of 27 lawyers who appeared before the court over the next two weeks would be women, Prelogar told the justices — a statistic that she argued could lead women to wonder whether they have a shot at arguing before the Supreme Court.

Prelogar cited only the dearth of women and not of Black and Hispanic lawyers arguing before the court, but her message in a case dealing with race-conscious admissions programs was clear.

“When there is that kind of gross disparity in representation, it can matter and it’s common sense,” she told the justices.
Elizabeth B. Prelogar at her nomination hearing to be solicitor general on Sept. 14, 2021. (Rod Lamkey/Consolidated News Photos)

Her argument didn’t sway the court’s conservative majority, which ruled last month that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs were unconstitutional.

It did garner the attention of the court’s three liberal justices, who cited Prelogar’s remarks in a dissent, warning that “inequality in the pipeline to this institution, too, will deepen.”

But a similar lack of diversity to the one Prelogar pointed out in her argument has persisted for years in the solicitor general’s office, which is part of the Justice Department and represents the federal government before the Supreme Court.

Over the past dozen terms, nearly three-quarters of Supreme Court arguments made by lawyers in the office have been delivered by men, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

More than 80 percent have been made by White lawyers, according to the analysis of the office’s attorneys whose race could be confirmed. No Hispanic lawyer has argued a case for the office since 2016. No Black lawyer has done so since 2012.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

supreme court amazon images

 

More on Russia, Ukraine

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘We Can Never Forgive This’: In Odesa, Attacks Stoke Hatred of Russia, Valerie Hopkins, Photographs by Emile Ducke, July 29, 2023. Standing on a bridge overlooking the road to Odesa’s main port, Nina Sulzhenko surveyed the damage wrought by a recent Russian missile strike: The House of Scientists, one of the Ukrainian city’s best-loved buildings, was in shambles. The mansion’s destroyed gardens spilled down over a ruined residential complex, and burned bricks lay strewn across the sidewalk.

“I feel pain, and I want revenge,” said Ms. Sulzhenko, 74. “I don’t have the words to say what we should do to them.”

She gestured toward other buildings in various stages of ruin. “Look at the music school! Look at what they did! The fact that those who live next to us, and lived among us, could do this to us — we can never forgive this. Never.”

Hers was a common sentiment in Odesa this past week after a series of missile strikes damaged the city’s port and 29 historic buildings in its Belle- Époque city center, including the Transfiguration Cathedral, one of Ukraine’s largest.

Odesa plays an important role in the mind of imperial Russians, and especially President Vladimir V. Putin, who views it as an integral part of Russian culture. But if Mr. Putin believed that Odesans would feel a reciprocal bond, he could not have been more mistaken, residents and city officials interviewed this past week said. Especially after the recent spate of missile attacks.

“The Odesan people are tired,” the city’s mayor, Gennadiy Trukhanov, said. “People are tired of uncertainty, tired of anxious nights, of not falling asleep. But if the enemy is counting on this, he is wrong. Because this fatigue turns into the strongest hatred.”

The missile attacks — accompanied by hours of air raid alerts — have been part of the escalating hostilities in the Black Sea after Russia pulled out of a deal that had enabled millions of tons of food to be exported out of Ukraine’s ports.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Officials Say Ukraine Has Launched New Push in South, Staff Reports, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). A Russian occupation official said Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons had begun a significant attack in the Zaporizhzhia region.

ukraine flagPro-Russian officials said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had launched a significant attack south of the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, suggesting that a new phase of Kyiv’s counteroffensive may be underway in that part of the front line.

There was no direct comment from Ukrainian authorities, and the Russian claims could not be independently confirmed. But Orikhiv is an important location in Ukraine’s push to expel Russian forces from the south and east of the country, and both sides have built up their forces in the area.

Vladimir Rogov, an official appointed by Moscow in southern Ukraine, said that fierce battles were underway south of Orikhiv, a Ukrainian-held town around 60 miles north of the Sea of Azov, a key goal of Ukraine’s forces as they pursue a counteroffensive to take back Russian-controlled territory. He said on the Telegram app that the Ukrainians fighting there had been trained abroad and were equipped with about 100 German-made Leopard tanks and American-made Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

A Russian occupation official said Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons had begun a significant attack in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Here’s what we’re covering:

  • The area south of Orikhiv is a key battleground in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
  • British military intelligence says Russia plans to enforce a blockade against Ukraine.
  • The U.N. Security Council will meet as Russian attacks on Odesa have escalated.
  • Internet trolls propelled Prigozhin’s rise. Now some celebrate his fall.
  • A former U.S. Marine freed in a prisoner swap was injured while fighting in Ukraine.

 

vladimir putin cbs 5 13 2022ny times logoNew York Times, President Vladimir Putin promised free grain to at least six African countries at a summit, hoping to shore up Russia’s image, Anton Troianovski and Declan Walsh, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). At a summit for African countries, the Russian president insisted that Western hypocrisy rather than his invasion of Ukraine was to blame for disruptions in the global food supply.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia pledged on Thursday to ship free grain to at least six African countries over the next four months, scrambling to shore up Moscow’s image on the continent in the wake of the Kremlin’s refusal to extend a deal that had protected Ukrainian grain exports that help feed millions of people around the world.

Mr. Putin, speaking at a summit for African countries in St. Petersburg that drew far fewer African leaders than its 2019 iteration, insisted in a keynote speech that Western hypocrisy rather than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was to blame for disruptions in the global food supply.

“Nothing happened of what was discussed and promised to us,” Mr. Putin said, repeating his assertion that the West had failed to fulfill its end of the grain deal and had done nothing to clear the way for Russian food and fertilizer exports.

He added that those casting Russia as an unreliable food supplier were “telling lies,” which he said had “been the practice of some Western states for decades, if not centuries.”

Russia’s exit from the grain deal last week drew a global outcry, putting Mr. Putin on the defensive amid his long-running effort to draw African countries to Russia’s side in its geopolitical conflict with the United States. The pomp of the summit on Thursday in the storied city St. Petersburg — the Russian imperial capital built by Peter the Great, and also Mr. Putin’s hometown — appeared intended to signal to African leaders that Russia was their true friend.

Mr. Putin said that Russia would deliver 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free grain each to Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Mali, Somalia and Zimbabwe in the next three to four months.

“We will also provide for the free delivery of the products to the consumers,” he said.

Despite Mr. Putin’s profession of charity, there appeared to be a geopolitical undertone to the list of recipients of free Russian grain. Of the six, only Somalia voted against Russia at the United Nations in February in supporting a resolution that called for an end to the war in Ukraine. In Mali and the Central African Republic, Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has propped up authoritarian governments.

The Kremlin also sought to portray Russia as a spiritual ally of Africa — as a bastion of conservative values, in contrast to a godless West. The summit was officially billed as not only an economic forum, but also a “humanitarian” one, as Mr. Putin increasingly deploys conservative rhetoric to win international, and not just domestic, support.

Patriarch Kirill I, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, used Thursday’s session to castigate the West for promoting “anti-values” such as gay rights.

“Most African countries categorically reject the legalization on the legislative level of so-called same-sex unions, euthanasia and other sinful phenomena from a religious point of view,” the patriarch told the African delegates, speaking after Mr. Putin and President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros, the current African Union chairman.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Ukraine Pushes in Southern Ukraine, Putin Claims ‘Intensified’ Fighting, Staff Reports, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). President Vladimir Putin said hostilities had escalated significantly, a day after the U.S. said Ukraine had begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive.

A day after U.S. officials said that Ukraine had begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive, the Russian president said hostilities had escalated “in a significant way.” The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that its forces were pushing in two directions in southern Ukraine, aiming to rip through Moscow’s heavily fortified defensive lines, as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia acknowledged a major uptick in fighting.

“We confirm that hostilities have intensified and in a significant way,” Mr. Putin said on the sidelines of a summit of African leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the Russian president’s first direct comments on what U.S. officials have described as the start of Ukraine’s main thrust of its counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region, involving thousands of soldiers newly outfitted with Western arms.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia launched blistering artillery and aerial bombardments across southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said, an apparent effort to repel the intensifying Ukrainian assault. Russian forces are focusing their “main efforts on preventing the further advance of Ukrainian troops,” the Ukrainian military’s general staff reported.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Crisis In Israel

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel’s High Court to Hear Case Against Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul, Aaron Boxerman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). The justices will hear petitions in September against a law that curbs their authority. Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the law through despite political turmoil.

Israel’s Supreme Court said Wednesday that it would hear petitions by the opposition in September to strike down the first part of the government’s contentious plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which passed earlier this week.

Defying widespread protests and warnings from key allies such as the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition enacted the law on Monday, aimed at curbing the Supreme Court’s longstanding practice of overruling some policies and appointments made by the national government on grounds they are “unreasonable.”

The case poses thorny questions for Israel’s top court, which will now consider a law aimed at limiting its own authority.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the country’s political opposition, and other opposition groups immediately filed petitions against the law, which they said removed a key check on executive power.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: ‘Joe Biden May Be the Last Pro-Israel Democratic President,’ Thomas Friedman, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). Despite forceful opposition, tom friedman twitterIsrael’s government passed a judicial reform law that limits the ability of the country’s Supreme Court to overrule the government.

In this audio short, our columnist Tom Friedman explains how the new law could destabilize the United States’ relationship with Israel and complicate American interests in the Middle East. “We are in a completely new phase now of relations between America and the Jewish state,” Friedman says.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 President Isaac Herzog of Israel met with President Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday, July 17 (New York Times photo by Doug Mills).

President Isaac Herzog of Israel met with President Biden in the Oval Office last Tuesday (New York Times photo by Doug Mills).

 

More Global News

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: African nations aren’t tilting toward Putin’s Russia, Adam Taylor, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Since the very start, Africa has found itself in the middle of the geopolitical divide over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just days after the invasion last year, its leaders sparked consternation in Western capitals as 17 of Africa’s 54 states abstained from a vote to condemn Russian aggression in the U.N. General Assembly. Another eight African nations made up the bulk of voters absent.

After that, there was an effort in Europe and North America to push the continent into line. It wasn’t always so charming: During a trip last summer to one of the absentee nations, Cameroon, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he had “seen too much hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” on the war.

But if Russian President Vladimir Putin thought that he could use Western condescension to charm African leaders, he has once again been overconfident. On Thursday, Putin hosts a high-profile summit for African leaders in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Just 16 African heads of state are expected to attend, according to reporting from my colleagues Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld.

That’s less than half of the 43 who came to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. And that lower scale comes despite a full-scale diplomatic push from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has made multiple trips to the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Any idea that Africa as a whole leans toward Russia is clearly mistaken. Through the Wagner mercenary group, Russia has played a decisive, though often destructive, role in nations including Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan, and Moscow has friendly relations with major powers like Egypt and South Africa.

But look at the totality of the five votes against condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine at the United Nations; things aren’t rosy for Moscow. Yes, the majority of Africa’s 54 member states abstained in most of the several votes condemning Russia’s war, but Moscow has only had two African states actually vote with it — pariah states Eritrea and Mali — and even those didn’t do so each time, instead abstaining in some votes. Meanwhile, 19 African states have voted with Ukraine and its allies at least once.

There’s no easy way to summarize the continent’s views of the war in Ukraine. There are 1.3 billion people living across an array of countries, all with their own politics. Whether to support Ukraine, Russia, or neither comes down to a long list of local factors, only some of which overlap. Historically, most countries in Africa have been officially nonaligned.

ny times logoNew York Times, Niger’s President Vows to Save Democracy as Army Says It Backs Coup, Declan Walsh and Elian Peltier, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The army chief declared his support for a group of mutineers that seized power on Wednesday. President Mohamed Bazoum and his allies insisted the coup could be reversed.

Hours after soldiers seized power in the West African nation of Niger, the country’s ousted president sounded a defiant note on Thursday morning, vowing to protect his “hard won” democratic gains, even as he was being held by his own guards.

But a statement by the army high command later on Thursday poured cold water on such hopes. The army was backing the mutineers “to avoid bloodshed” and prevent infighting in the security forces, it said in a statement signed by its chief, Gen. Abdou Sidikou Issa.

The president, Mohamed Bazoum, appeared to be still in detention at the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, where his guards turned on him early Wednesday, prompting a crisis in the vast, largely desert nation twice the size of France.

“The hard-won gains will be safeguarded,” Mr. Bazoum said in a message on social media. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

  • New York Times, The European Central Bank raised interest rates again, saying that inflation remained “too high,” July 27, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Ousting a Top Official, China Erases Him and Evades Questions, David Pierson, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). China denounced “malicious hype” around the removal of Qin Gang. The Foreign Ministry’s fumbling response signaled its diminished influence under Xi Jinping.

qin gangChina is failing to stop the questions that had dogged Chinese officials in the month since he vanished from public view: Where is Mr. Qin? Does he have health issues? Is he under investigation?

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry have struggled to respond when pressed by reporters, repeatedly saying that they had no information to provide. After China replaced him on Tuesday, nearly all references to Mr. Qin, right, were scrubbed from the ministry’s website, an unusual erasure that has only deepened the intrigue. On Thursday, asked by a reporter if China had been transparent about Mr. Qin’s ousting, a spokeswoman lashed out at what she called “malicious hype.”

For a department tasked with speaking to the outside world, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s floundering response to the disappearance of one of its own top officials highlights the weakness of China’s diplomatic apparatus under President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has concentrated power under himself and enforced secrecy in an already highly opaque system, no matter the cost to China’s international image.

Mr. Xi has diminished the sway of the Foreign Ministry, analysts say, as he’s pursued an increasingly assertive, and some say risky, foreign policy.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Assaults On Democracy

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden Takes His Battle for Democracy Case by Case, Peter Baker, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). When they involve American allies like Israel, President Biden’s decisions on when to speak out forcefully for democracy can prove tricky.

President Biden has made it his mission to wage what he momentously calls “the battle between democracy and autocracy.” But what to do when the ones he believes are undermining democracy are friends?

In the case of Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pushed through Parliament new curbs on an independent judiciary, Mr. Biden has chosen to speak out. The vote in Jerusalem, he declared, was “unfortunate,” the fourth time in a week he chastised Mr. Netanyahu for his drive to enhance his own power.

But the president’s battle for democracy can be situational when it comes to America’s allies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, who has presided over a wave of Hindu nationalist violence and repression of dissent, was feted at the White House with a state dinner and little public criticism. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was rewarded with a visit and a presidential fist bump despite his murderous reign.

“Consistency is a challenge for most administrations when it comes to democracy and human rights concerns around the world, and this administration is no exception,” said David J. Kramer, who was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor under President George W. Bush. “It’s easier to speak up when our enemies and competitors engage in authoritarian abuses,” he added. “It’s harder when it comes to friends and allies.”

The democracy-versus-autocracy framework has been central to Mr. Biden’s vision of his presidency since the beginning, fueled by the struggle against his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, who tried to overturn an election to hold onto power after being voted out of office. Mr. Biden has likewise defined the central foreign policy challenge of his term — defeating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — as part of that overall cause.

It is, after all, a politically appealing construct — right and wrong, good guys versus bad guys. But it is one that predictably becomes more complicated in the Situation Room than it seems at the podium during a grandiloquent speech. Given other American interests, like military bases or intelligence cooperation or economic entanglements, deciding when to speak out forcefully for democracy can prove tricky.

Even some senior officials around Mr. Biden privately feel uncomfortable with the duality of his black-and-white approach, noting that some of America’s friends have rule of law without being particularly free (Singapore leaps to mind) while others are even less committed to Western notions of human rights but still are helpful allies (the United Arab Emirates, for example).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Telltale Signs of a Politically Motivated Investigation, Jesse Wegman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). As the criminal indictments of Donald Trump continue to pile up like boxes in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, the former president’s defenders have settled on a response: They don’t claim their man is innocent of the scores of federal and state charges against him — a tough case to make under the circumstances.

Instead they accuse the Biden administration and Democratic prosecutors of politicizing law enforcement and cooking up an insurance policy to protect President Biden, who trails Mr. Trump in some polls about a very possible 2024 rematch.

kevin mccarthy“So what do they do now?” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, right, asked last week, after Mr. Trump announced that he had received a second target letter from the special counsel Jack Smith, this time over his role in the Jan. 6 attack. “Weaponize government to go after their No. 1 opponent.”

If you’re feeling bewildered by all the claims and counterclaims of politicization, you’re not alone. Take the F.B.I.’s probe of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, which is still being hashed out in the halls of Congress seven years later: In February, Democratic lawmakers demanded an investigation of the investigators who investigated the investigators who were previously investigated for their investigation of a transnational plot to interfere in a presidential election. Got that?

The key thing to remember is that even if the subject is a politically powerful person or the outcome of a trial could have a political impact, that doesn’t necessarily mean the action itself is political. To assume otherwise is to “immunize all high-ranking powerful political people from ever being held accountable for the wrongful things they do,” said Kristy Parker, a lawyer with the advocacy group Protect Democracy. “And if you do that, you subvert the idea that this is a rule-of-law society where everybody is subject to equal justice, and at the same time you remove from the public the ability to impose any accountability for misconduct, which enables it to happen again.”

In May, Protect Democracy published a very useful report, co-written by Ms. Parker, laying out several factors that help the public assess whether a prosecution is political.

First, what is the case about? Is there straightforward evidence of criminal behavior by a politician? Have people who are not powerful politicians been prosecuted in the past for similar behavior?

Second, what are top law-enforcement officials saying? Is the president respecting due process, or is he demanding investigations or prosecutions of specific people? Is he keeping his distance from the case, or is he publicly attacking prosecutors, judges and jurors? Is the attorney general staying quiet, or is he offering public opinions on the guilt of the accused?

Third, is the Justice Department following its internal procedures and guidelines for walling off political interference? Most of these guidelines arose in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, during which President Richard Nixon ordered the department to go after his political enemies and later obstructed the investigation into his own behavior. Until recently, the guidelines were observed by presidents and attorneys general of both parties.
Finally, how have other institutions responded? Did judges and juries follow proper procedure in the case, and did they agree that the defendant was guilty? Did an agency’s inspector general find any wrongdoing by investigators or prosecutors?

None of these factors are decisive by themselves. An investigation might take a novel legal approach; an honest case may still lose in court. But considering them together makes it easier to identify when law enforcement has been weaponized for political ends.

joe biden fist in airwashington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What 8 left-leaning columnists think about Biden’s 2024 campaign so far, Chris Suellentrop, July 26, 2023. President Biden is 80 years old and is running for a second term, more or less unopposed, in the Democratic primary. So I gathered a group of our left-leaning columnists for a conversation over email and asked: How do you feel about that?

Has Biden failed to be a “bridge” to a new generation of leaders, as he pledged to be in 2020? Should he have declared himself “one (term) and done,” like a college basketball star? Should the party have held a competitive primary instead of clearing the field, as is traditional for an incumbent president? Is the fascination with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s not-gonna-happen campaign a sign of nervousness about Biden 2024 in some portion of the Democratic primary electorate? And will you change your mind about any of these things if someone other than Donald Trump is the 2024 Republican nominee?

 

Other Relevant Recent Headlines

patriot front idaho cullen mulvany idaho spokesman review

 

U.S. Immigration

 

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Gov. Abbott’s Policing of Texas Border Pushes Limits of State Power, J. David Goodman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Gov. Greg Abbott brought in razor wire and floating barriers to deter unauthorized migration. The federal government is mounting a legal pushback.

Along Texas’ 1,200-mile-long border with Mexico, state troopers routinely arrest migrants for trespassing. Texas National Guard troops unspool razor wire along the banks of the Rio Grande. State game wardens patrol the river in fast-moving boats.

Greg Abbott CustomFor more than two years, Gov. Greg Abbott, right, has been testing the legal limits of what a state can do to enforce immigration law. The effort, known as Operation Lone Star, has been broadly popular in Texas, including among many Democrats, while its cost, already more than $4 billion, texas mapwas expected to top $9 billion by the end of next year.

Even as the number of migrants has gone down in recent months, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, has pushed the boundaries further. He has overseen aggressive deterrence by state police officers at the border and mounted a brazen challenge to federal authority by placing a floating barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande. In the small border city of Eagle Pass, the state police bulldozed vegetation from a sandbar in the middle of the river last month to create a new security outpost.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The GOP claim that Biden is running a ‘shell game’ on the border, Glenn Kessler, right, July 27, 2023.

glenn kessler“The numbers are not going down. CBP’s One app shell game, not releasing the OFO numbers, moving the numbers from crossing over to the ports of entry and then getting automatic parole to those individuals.”

— Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, July 19

“That’s the shell game. They’ve simply taken those that were previously illegally here in between the ports of entry, and now they just shepherd them to the ports of entry, release them and they’re calling the victory.”

— Former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan, in an interview with Just the News, July 20

Ever since the southern border became “eerily quiet” after a policy shift by the Biden administration, Republicans have charged that officials are playing a “shell game” with the numbers.

A shell game usually involves sleight of hand to trick players, but in politics, the phrase refers to deceptive actions used to hide bad news or figures. Twice in a recent hearing, Green incorrectly claimed the administration was not releasing “OFO numbers,” referring to Office of Field Operations data — encounters with undocumented immigrants at ports of entry, as opposed to people caught crossing the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In reality, those numbers are being released.

Morgan, in an interview, said he was not accusing the administration of hiding data. “The data is usually there,” he said, but instead he believes the administration is engaging in what he called a “messaging shell game” that is misleading the public about border encounters with migrants seeking to enter the country.

The surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border since early 2021 has been a major political headache for the Biden administration — and a major attack line for Republicans. When the administration in May ended a Trump-era pandemic policy known as Title 42, which had allowed for quick expulsions of migrants who entered the country illegally, the GOP was flummoxed when the number of encounters on the southern border suddenly dropped. Wouldn’t more migrants attempt to enter if they weren’t going to be expelled summarily?

“CBP’s total encounters along the Southwest border in June were the lowest in over two years, dropping nearly a third from May,” CBP said in its news release on the June numbers. The release added that “the U.S. Border Patrol recorded 99,545 encounters between ports of entry along the Southwest border: a 42 percent decrease from May 2023.”

About a third of the encounters were with Mexican nationals, while just over 22,000 were from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That means the remaining 43,000 came from other countries, primarily Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, India and China, signaling the continuing shift from the primarily Mexican migration of the past.

About 36,000 were released on their recognizance, down from nearly 70,000 in May, CBP said. Many of the rest were detained, slated for expedited removal or agreed to a voluntary return to Mexico. Voluntary returns, in fact, showed a tenfold increase in May and June compared to early months in the year.

To the frustration of Republicans, the Biden administration has managed to reduce the headline numbers along the border. That’s no excuse for repeatedly suggesting, as Green did, that the numbers have not been properly released. The numbers are there, no matter how painful they may be to the administration’s critics.

washington post logoWashington Post, States siphoned away $750 million in infrastructure law climate funds, Ian Duncan, July 27, 2023. The 2021 infrastructure law created two new climate-related programs to tackle emissions and protect roads, but states are free to use half the money for other projects.

With $14 billion in new federal funding, the infrastructure law was supposed to jolt efforts to protect the U.S. highway network from a changing climate and curb carbon emissions that are warming the planet. New records show the effort is off to an unsteady start as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent elsewhere.
Want to know how your actions can help make a difference for our planet? Sign up for the Climate Coach newsletter, in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.

Last year, 38 states made use of a provision in the law to shift about $755 million to general-purpose highway construction accounts, according to Federal Highway Administration records. The sum is more than one-quarter of the total annual amount made available to states in two new climate-related programs.

California shifted $97 million to pay for safety projects. New York moved $36 million to fund what officials called the state’s “core capital program.” Arizona said it used $20 million for its five-year highway construction program, largely for “pavement preservation,” and Louisiana used $8.2 million to fund roundabouts near an outlet mall.

The nibbling away of climate funding highlights a fundamental tension in the 2021 law, which was crafted to secure bipartisan support. Protections to long-standing flexibility in how states use federal highway funding are hampering efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration to make progress on environmental goals. Amid clashes over federal guidance, the financial transfers from two climate programs — coming as weather events batter the nation’s infrastructure with increased intensity — illustrate how states have wide latitude to discount the wishes of leaders in Washington.

The records, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show several states said they were still putting together plans for how to use the money, typically an injection of tens of millions of dollars annually for each state. Some blamed slow guidance on how to spend the money.

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme heat is covering more U.S. territory than it has all summer, Matthew Cappucci and Jason Same, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). It will be the hottest weather of the summer averaged over the nation, with triple digit heat swelling into the Midwest and Northeast.

An unrelenting heat wave that’s baked the southern United States for weeks is expanding and will cover the most territory of the summer between Wednesday and Friday, swelling into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Between 250 and 275 million Americans will face heat indexes of at least 90 degrees, and more than 130 million people are under heat alerts from southern California to Maine, including Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Louisville, Washington, New York and Boston.

washington post logoWashington Post, An ocean heat wave has become a full-blown emergency for Florida’s coral reef, Brady Dennis, Amudalat Ajasa and Chris Mooney, July 27, 2023 (print ed.).‘This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,’ one veteran researcher said, as a marine heat wave shows few signs of ending.

As a blistering marine heat wave persists off the coast, a full-blown emergency is unfolding along the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

“If it remains this hot for the next six weeks, we are going to see a lot more coral mortality out there,” said Lewis, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory.

Already, scientists have reported widespread coral bleaching along parts of the roughly 360-mile-long reef, the third largest on the planet. If the heat drags on, they say, a massive coral die-off could follow, with grave consequences for fish and other ocean organisms that depend on the reefs, tourism, commercial fishing and part of the state’s very identity.

“This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” said Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin, Robert Barnes, July 27, 2023. The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Without comment, the justices lifted a lower court’s halt on the remaining construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will stretch 300 miles through rugged mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. Environmentalists claim that the pipeline threatens lands, water resources and endangered species along the way, and have found some success blocking final approval at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

But much of the pipeline is already built. During the tense negotiations earlier this summer to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts, House Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III wrangled a deal with the Biden administration to cut the courts out of the process.

How a pipeline helped grease the debt ceiling deal

The bill at issue acted in three ways. It ratified and approved “all federal authorizations” for the project. It expressly stripped courts of jurisdiction to review “any action” by a federal agency granting authorization for the construction and operation of the pipeline. And it said that any claim about the constitutionality of the law could be heard only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Nonetheless, a 4th Circuit panel on July 10 issued a stay on part of the pipeline that remains to be built, which runs through the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia. The panel judges did not provide their reasoning, but environmentalists had argued that the action by Congress improperly cut out the judiciary and violated separation of powers.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a former Obama administration solicitor general who now represents the pipeline builders. “Congress has made clear that there is a paramount national interest in expeditious completion of the pipeline.”

The $6 billion pipeline is a joint venture between some of the largest gas companies in Appalachia and the power company NextEra Energy. Its largest investor is Equitrans Midstream, which has a 48.1 percent ownership interest and will operate the pipeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Labor Department Denounces Surge in Exploited Migrant Children, Hannah Dreier, July 27, 2023. The agency said thousands of minors were employed in illegal, often dangerous, jobs. Congress has accused the health secretary of failing to protect them.

The Labor Department on Thursday decried a national surge in child labor, saying that the agency’s inspectors had found thousands of violations and were investigating a slaughterhouse where a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala was killed this month.

The update followed a hearing on Wednesday in which lawmakers from both parties accused the Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, of failing to protect migrant children from exploitation. His agency is tasked with releasing them to safe living conditions after they cross the border by themselves.

“There are some terrible things that are wrong,” Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat from California, told him. “At the end of the day, as H.H.S. secretary, the buck stops with you.”

Some 300,000 minors have come to this country alone since 2021, fueling a dramatic increase in migrant child labor. In an online report, the Labor Department announced an 87 percent increase in fines on employers in recent months. Companies including lumber mills and roofing contractors have been hit with $6.6 million in penalties.

  • New York Times, Busloads of Migrants Keep Arriving in L.A. From Texas, July 27, 2023.

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Student Loans

ny times logoNew York Times, After $700 Million U.S. Bailout, Trucking Firm Is Shutting Down, Alan Rappeport, July 29, 2023 (print ed.). Yellow, which received a pandemic loan, is winding down operations ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing. The closure of the company would mean the loss of about 30,000 jobs.

Yellow, the beleaguered trucking company that received a $700 million pandemic loan from the federal government, notified staff on Friday that it is shutting down and laying off employees at all of its locations.

The move comes ahead of an expected bankruptcy filing by Yellow in the coming days. The closure of the company would mean the loss of approximately 30,000 jobs and mark the end of a business that just three years ago was deemed so critical to the nation’s supply chains that it warranted a federal bailout.

“The company is shutting down its regular operations on July 28, 2023, closing and/or laying off employees at all of its locations, including yours,” the company said in a memo to staff that was reviewed by The New York Times.

As of the end of March, Yellow’s outstanding debt was $1.5 billion, including about $730 million that is owed to the federal government. Yellow has paid approximately $66 million in interest on the loan, but it has repaid just $230 of the principal owed on the loan, which comes due next year.

Yellow is one of the largest freight trucking companies in the United States, and its downfall could have a ripple effect across the nation’s supply chain. Its impending bankruptcy comes days after United Parcel Service reached an agreement with the union representing more than 325,000 of its U.S. workers, averting a strike.

Yellow’s management and union negotiators have been trying to reach an agreement over wages and other benefits but failed to clinch a deal.

The fate of Yellow’s assets is not yet clear. In 2020, the Trump administration, which had ties to the company and its executives, agreed to give the firm a pandemic relief loan in exchange for the federal government assuming a 30 percent equity stake in the company.

Yellow said last month that it sought the assistance of the Biden administration in brokering a deal with the union. The White House had no comment this week on the situation.

Yellow has been locked in protracted labor negotiations with International Brotherhood of Teamsters over a new contract that the company has said is essential to its ability to move forward with a restructuring plan.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

 

 

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

ny times logoNew York Times, Giuliani Admits to Making False Statements About Georgia Election Workers, Alan Feuer, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Rudolph Giuliani said he still had “legal defenses” in a case brought by two workers who said he had defamed them in claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

Rudolph W. Giuliani has conceded that while acting as a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump, he made false statements by asserting that two Georgia election workers had mishandled ballots while counting votes in Atlanta during the 2020 election.

The concession by Mr. Giuliani came in court papers filed on Tuesday night as part of a defamation lawsuit that the two workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, had brought against him in Federal District Court in Washington in December 2021.

The suit accused Mr. Giuliani and others of promoting a video that purported to show Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss — who are mother and daughter — of manipulating ballots while working at the State Farm Arena for the Fulton County Board of Elections.

In a two-page declaration, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had in fact made the statements about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss that led to the filing of the suit and that the remarks “carry meaning that is defamatory per se.” He also admitted that his statements were “actionable” and “false” and that he no longer disputed the “factual elements of liability” the election workers had raised in their suit.

But Mr. Giuliani, insisting that he still had “legal defenses” in the case, said that he continued to believe his accusations about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were “constitutionally protected” under the First Amendment. He also refused to acknowledge that his statements had caused the women any damage — a key element required to collect a judgment in a defamation case.

The declaration, which was filed as Mr. Giuliani was confronting potentially painful sanctions for having purportedly failed to live up to his discovery obligations in the case, appeared to be part of an effort to limit the amount of money he might have to spend on the case.

In the declaration, he acknowledged making his admissions “to avoid unnecessary expenses in litigating what he believes to be unnecessary disputes.”

Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Giuliani, said he had made the concessions to move the case more quickly to a point where a motion to dismiss could be filed.

Michael J. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, said that Mr. Giuliani’s declaration conceded that his clients had “honorably performed their civic duties in the 2020 presidential election in full compliance with the law, and the allegations of election fraud he and former President Trump made against them have been false since Day 1.”New York Times, The Very Private Life of Melania Trump, July 26, 2023. The former first lady has steered clear of the campaign trail while her husband fights to return to the White House and faces increasing legal peril.

  Proof, The Trump Trials, Vol. 19 Investigative Commentary: An Urgent Primer on the Apparently Imminent Federal Criminal Indictment of Donald Trump in seth abramson graphicWashington, D.C., Seth Abramson, left, July 24, 2023. This Proof series—authored by a longtime criminal defense lawyer and leading Trump biographer—unpacks recent events in the historic trials of disgraced former president Donald Trump.

Introduction: The primary goal of this new entry in the Trump Trials series is to define in simple terms the key words and phrases likely to be associated with the upcoming federal criminal indictment(s) of former president Donald Trump in Washington, DC. Too many Americans have heard Trump’s falsehoods about the Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith—and/or the cultish denials and dismissals of Trump followers, who most recently were seen casually brushing aside the federal judicial finding that Trump is indeed a rapist—and too few fully understand the scope and dimensions of the ongoing federal criminal investigation into the events preceding and occurring on January 6, 2021.

Given this, a second goal of this report is to situate the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of Donald Trump in our historical moment—contextualizing a moment in which what’s happening in courthouses in DC and Florida and Georgia and NYC may actually be both less and more significant than many realize or anyone is saying.

 Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith announces indictment of former U.S. President Trump on June 9, 2023.

U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith announces indictment of former U.S. President Trump on June 9, 2023.

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

hunter biden beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s plea deal in jeopardy over questions about immunity, Perry Stein, Karl Baker, Devlin Barrett and Matt Viser, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize President Biden’s son, above, from future charges.

The plea deal for Hunter Biden was on the brink of falling apart Wednesday, when the two sides could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize the president’s son from possible additional charges.

irs logoU.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika pressed federal prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers to come to some “meeting of the minds.” But that appeared unlikely, as the two sides said they did not see eye to eye about the precise terms of their own plea agreement.

Justice Department log circularAt one point in the hearing, Biden’s lawyer declared there was no deal — meaning that a long-running criminal investigation that Republicans have used to accuse both the president and his son of corruption might lead to a trial after all.

“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,” Biden lawyer Chris Clark said.

The confusion over what, exactly, Biden would get or not get by pleading guilty stems in part from the unusual way his plea deal was structured — with a guilty plea to two tax misdemeanors, and a diversion program, not a guilty plea, for an illegal gun possession charge.

That arrangement allowed Biden to admit the facts of the gun case without technically pleading guilty to the charge. It also created a bifurcated deal in which the assurances Biden wants that he won’t be pursued for other tax or foreign lobbying charges were not part of the tax case, but part of the gun diversion agreement, lawyers said in court.

Deals to plead guilty can sometimes fall apart under closer scrutiny from a federal judge, but even when that happens, the two sides often find a way to eventually resolve the issue and enter a deal acceptable to the court.

On Wednesday, the judge urged the prosecutors and defense lawyers to spend some more time talking, in the hopes that the guilty plea hearing might be salvaged. As the two sides spoke to each other, it became more clear how far apart they were.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish by blowing this up,” Clark told prosecutors. One of those prosecutors, Leo Wise, pointed to papers related to the case and said he was bound by the terms in them.

Clark shot back: “Then we misunderstood, we’re ripping it up.”

The deal Biden struck in June meant he would likely stay out of jail if he stays drug-free for two years.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Biden said he was prepared to enter the plea. Then Noreika asked whether he would still enter the plea if it was possible additional charges might be filed against him in the future. When Biden answered no, he would not, the judge ordered a break in the proceeding.

The probe was opened in 2018, during the Trump administration, and has been a favorite talking point for Republican critics of President Biden and his family. Republican politicians have repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of broad wrongdoing in his overseas business deals and, since his father was elected, predicted that the Biden administration would be reluctant to pursue the case.

Papers filed in federal court in Wilmington when the plea agreement was reached indicate that Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges of failure to pay in 2017 and 2018. A court document says that in both those years, Biden was a resident of D.C., received taxable income of more than $1.5 million and owed more than $100,000 in income tax that he did not pay on time.

Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of probation for those counts, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe elements of the case that are not yet public. Hunter Biden’s representatives have previously said that he eventually paid the IRS what he owed.

A second court filing is about the charge of illegally possessing a weapon, which involves a handgun Biden purchased at a time when he was abusing drugs. In that case, the letter says, “the defendant has agreed to enter a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with respect to the firearm Information.” Handling the gun charge as a diversion case means Biden will not technically be pleading guilty to that crime.

ny times logoNew York Times, Man Sentenced to 5 Years in Scheme Tied to Trump-Inspired Border Wall, Colin Moynihan, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). Prosecutors said Timothy Shea and his group stole over a million dollars, spending some on jewelry, boat payments and a Trump-themed energy drink.

timothy shea wall caseA Colorado man convicted last year of conspiring to defraud people who donated money to build the kind of border wall championed by Donald J. Trump was sentenced Tuesday to five years and three months in prison.

The defendant, Timothy Shea, right, began raising money for a wall between the United States and Mexico in late 2018, working with a disabled veteran named Brian Kolfage. In early 2019 Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, and Andrew Badolato, a financier from Florida, joined them to form a group called We Build the Wall.

The group raised more than $25 million, saying that everything it took in would go toward the wall. Mr. Kolfage, We Build the Wall’s public face, promised he would “not take a penny.”

Prosecutors said that instead the defendants stole more than a million dollars from the group, spending some on jewelry, boat payments and cases of a Trump-themed energy drink that claimed to contain “liberal tears.”

Mr. Shea was convicted last fall of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and falsifying records. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors wrote to the court that he had “viewed this fund-raising project as a cash cow.”

The defense countered that Mr. Shea had believed that Mr. Kolfage’s pledge not to take money was “more like a salesman’s boast than an actual promise.”

“Mr. Shea is a very good man who succumbed to some bad activity because he was carried away with the prospect of making a really big income,” wrote his lawyer, Thomas H. Nooter.

On Tuesday, Mr. Shea addressed Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court in Manhattan.

“I regret all of the We Build the Wall stuff,” he said. “I would ask that you be lenient.”

Just before imposing her sentence, Judge Torres told Mr. Shea that by taking money under false pretenses he had eroded “the public’s faith in the political process.”

We Build the Wall’s stated aim was to advance Mr. Trump’s goal of a “big, beautiful” barrier along the southern border. Its advisory board included Trump allies like Kris Kobach, who is a former Kansas secretary of state, and Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, now known as Academi. Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., praised the group.

Prosecutors said money from We Build the Wall was funneled into companies controlled by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Shea, with each keeping some money and sending some to Mr. Kolfage.

Mr. Shea was the only one of the four defendants to go to trial. Mr. Kolfage and Mr. Badolato pleaded guilty to charges connected to We Build the Wall. Mr. Kolfage was sentenced this year to four years and three months in prison and Mr. Badolato was sentenced to three.

Mr. Bannon was dropped from the federal case after Mr. Trump pardoned him but is now facing trial on state charges related to We Build the Wall.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy 

washington post logoWashington Post, Brazil rejects U.S. extradition request for alleged Russian spy, Shera Avi-Yonah, July 29, 2023. Brazilian justice officials said Thursday they can’t approve a U.S. request to extradite an alleged Russian spy because they have already been processing Moscow’s own request for the man.

Sergey Cherkasov, 37, was charged by the U.S. Justice Department in March with acting as an illegal agent of a Russian intelligence service while attending Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington as a master’s student. He faces additional U.S. charges including visa fraud, bank fraud and wire fraud, according to a complaint.
Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for the latest updates on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Cherkasov is serving a sentence in Brazil on charges of using fraudulent documents.

Brazil’s justice minister, Flávio Dino, said on Twitter that Cherkasov will remain imprisoned in Brazil for the time being. A Russian request for Cherkasov on allegations of drug trafficking had been conditionally approved by Brazil’s Supreme Court earlier this year, making Brazil unable to complete the U.S. request, the Brazilian Justice Ministry stated. However, the Russian request is also pending Brazil’s own spying investigation into Cherkasov.
Paulo Ferreira, one of Cherkasov’s lawyers, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday night. He told the Wall Street Journal his client is not a Russian spy.

The Justice Department and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Justice Department’s March complaint alleges Cherkasov acted as a type of deep-cover Russian agent called an “illegal.” Such agents operate without any known link to their home government and often build elaborate false identities.

Cherkasov lived under the alias Victor Muller Ferreira, a Brazilian citizen, but U.S. and Brazilian authorities say he was actually born in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

Cherkasov was seen by some as a potential bargaining chip in a prisoner swap the United States is seeking to negotiate in exchange for Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in Russia on espionage allegations. Gershkovich and the Journal both say the charge is false, and the State Department says he has been wrongfully detained.

 

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, Once Wary, Biden to Host Italy’s New Leader at the White House, Peter Baker, July 27, 2023. President Biden had concerns about Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right politics. But she has proved an ally in the U.S.-led effort to support Ukraine.

Just a few days after a once fringe far-right party came out ahead in last fall’s elections in Italy, President Biden warned that it could be a sign of trouble for democracy.

italy decalAt an evening political fund-raiser that September, he told donors that China’s president had argued that “democracies can’t be sustained in the 21st century” and then added, “you just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election,” as if it were an indicator.

But as Mr. Biden hosts Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, the fears of last fall have largely dissipated. Italy’s new leader has emerged as a strong ally in the president’s central foreign policy priority, the war in Ukraine, and he hopes to strengthen his bond with her during a high-profile visit.

“The president has enjoyed working with her,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Wednesday. “Certainly on issues of foreign policy, there’s been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we’re taking with Italy.” He noted that Italy is sheltering 170,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing security assistance in the fight against Russian invaders.

That was not always a given. Ms. Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, traces its roots to the neo-fascist political factions that emerged after World War II. In forming a coalition government after last September’s elections, Ms. Meloni became the first far-right nationalist to lead Italy since Benito Mussolini. To Mr. Biden’s chagrin, she seemed to be an Italian version of former President Donald J. Trump, having addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, a group broadly supportive of Mr. Trump.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

ny times logoNew York Times, How George Santos Used Political Connections to Fuel Get-Rich Schemes, Grace Ashford, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Mr. Santos, the first-term House member under federal indictment, tried to use his candidacy and ties to G.O.P. donors to create moneymaking opportunities.

George Santos and three other men approached a loyal campaign donor with a potentially lucrative opportunity. The donor was immediately skeptical.

In the years since Mr. Santos first ran for the House in 2020, he has become adept at finding ways to extract money from politics. He founded a political consulting group that he marketed to other Republicans. He sought to profit from the Covid crisis, using campaign connections. And he solicited investments for and from political donors, raising ethical questions.

Mr. Santos has been charged with 13 felonies for misrepresenting his earnings, collecting $24,000 in unemployment while employed, and pocketing $50,000 he solicited from political supporters through what he claimed was a super PAC.

George Santos has told so many stories they can be hard to keep straight. We cataloged them, including major questions about his personal finances and his campaign fund-raising and spending.

Mr. Santos, who has pleaded not guilty, has not been charged with personal use of campaign funds. But a review of his political career found several previously unreported examples of how he sought to use the connections he made as a candidate for public office to enrich himself.

The proposition involving the wealthy Polish national is a prime example, as Mr. Santos partnered with a former Republican state assemblyman, Michael LiPetri; and Bryant Park Associates, a company run by a Republican donor, Dominick Sartorio, according to the investor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said his business interests would be harmed if he was publicly associated with Mr. Santos.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The Ohio GOP’s bold abortion gambit has imploded, Aaron Blake, July 24, 2023. The year 2022 put Republicans in a pickle on abortion rights — and nowhere was that clearer than on ballot measures.

First, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving the issue to the states. But then every state in which the issue was put to voters directly wound up supporting abortion rights — and often by large margins. The six states included swing-state Michigan, but also red states Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.

That cued up what may be the biggest ballot-measure battle of 2023 — in Ohio, where Republicans quickly signaled they’d forge a brazen strategy to prevent themselves from joining the other states in enshrining abortion rights in their constitutions.

That strategy appears to be going up in flames.

Facing such a ballot measure, Ohio Republicans moved to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60 percent, from 50 percent plus one. Ohioans will vote on this — via ballot measure — on Aug. 8.

It turns out that not only do voters overwhelmingly oppose changing the rules for amending the state constitution, but also that the abortion rights measure might have gotten to 60 percent anyway.

Suffolk University provided the data.

We learned last week that Ohioans opposed State Issue 1 — raising the ballot measure threshold, among other restrictions on the process — 57 percent to 26 percent.

Now Suffolk has released numbers on the abortion measure specifically, and the deficit for the GOP is similarly lopsided: Ohioans support the amendment 58 percent to 32 percent.

Those margins in increasingly red Ohio reinforce just how much of a political loser restricting abortion rights appears to be.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis’s Covid Vaccine Turnabout, Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei and Albert Sun, July 23, 2023 (print ed.). The Florida governor lost enthusiasm for the shot before the Delta wave. It’s a grim chapter he now leaves out of his retelling of his pandemic response.

600 Americans daily and hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, heard her cellphone ring. It was Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. He was distraught.

“‘You won’t believe what happened,’” she said he told her. Months before Covid vaccines would become available, Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided that the worst was over for Florida, he said. Mr. DeSantis had begun listening to doctors who believed the virus’s threat was overstated, and he no longer supported preventive measures like limiting indoor dining.

Mr. DeSantis was going his own way on Covid.

Nearly three years later, the governor now presents his Covid strategy not only as his biggest accomplishment, but as the foundation for his presidential campaign. Mr. DeSantis argues that “Florida got it right” because he was willing to stand up for the rights of individuals despite pressure from health “bureaucrats.” On the campaign trail, he says liberal bastions like New York and California needlessly traded away freedoms while Florida preserved jobs, in-person schooling and quality of life.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2But a close review by The New York Times of Florida’s pandemic response, including a new analysis of the data on deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination rates in the state, suggests that Mr. DeSantis’s account of his record leaves much out.

As he notes at most campaign stops, he moved quickly to get students back in the classroom, even as many of the nation’s school districts were still in remote learning. National research has suggested there was less learning loss in school districts with more in-person instruction.

Some other policies remain a matter of intense debate. Mr. DeSantis’s push to swiftly reopen businesses helped employment rebound, but also likely contributed to the spread of infections.

But on the single factor that those experts say mattered most in fighting Covid — widespread vaccinations — Mr. DeSantis’s approach proved deeply flawed. While the governor personally crusaded for Floridians 65 and older to get shots, he laid off once younger age groups became eligible.

Tapping into suspicion of public health authorities, which the Republican right was fanning, he effectively stopped preaching the virtues of Covid vaccines. Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.

That left the state particularly vulnerable when the Delta variant hit that month. Floridians died at a higher rate, adjusted for age, than residents of almost any other state during the Delta wave, according to the Times analysis. With less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, Florida accounted for 14 percent of deaths between the start of July and the end of October.

Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65. Despite the governor’s insistence at the time that “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated,” a vast majority of the 23,000 were either unvaccinated or had not yet completed the two-dose regimen.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Education

washington post logoWashington Post, Five school employees arrested for not reporting teen’s sexual assault, Brittany Shammas, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). The letter was handwritten in pink ink and addressed “to whom it may concern.” In it, a Florida teenager warned school staff that her friend was struggling after being sexually assaulted by two boys.

“I have witnessed both of them not taking no for an answer,” wrote the student at Palm Beach Central High School, adding that for her 15-year-old friend, “many anxiety and panic attacks were caused by this leading to self-harm.”

The teen handed the note to her chorus teacher on June 16, 2021, asking that he get it to the right people. But, according to court records, the sexual assault allegations would not reach authorities for months — even as the letter was passed between leadership at the school in Wellington, about 70 miles north of Miami. Law enforcement officials would later find evidence corroborating the assault claims.

Now, the principal and four other Palm Beach County School District employees have been arrested on felony charges over their alleged failures to report the incident, which reportedly occurred off school grounds in the spring of 2021. Each faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Under Florida law, all of the staffers — principal Darren Edgecomb, assistant principals Nereyda Cayado de Garcia and Daniel Snider, choral teacher Scott Houchins and former counselor Priscilla Carter — were considered “mandatory reporters” of child abuse. That means they were required to report any suspected abuse involving a child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

They did not, court records state, and during a school trip to D.C., the victim of the alleged assault tried to kill herself. A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy told the school employees that if what was reported in the letter “had been properly addressed before the summer,” the girl’s attempted suicide “could have potentially not taken place.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden’s Fight With Harvard Is a Political Winner but a Policy ‘Band-Aid,’ Reid J. Epstein, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). A Supreme Court ruling made legacy admissions a ripe target for President Biden, but Americans see tuition costs and student debt as bigger issues.

In the final month of his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden stood before a drive-in crowd in Toledo, Ohio, and announced he had “a chip on my shoulder” about people with fancy college degrees.

He would, Mr. Biden said, be the first president in “80 or 90 years” without an Ivy League degree — an exaggerated biographical detail that spoke to the image he sought to convey as the blue-collar, workingman’s candidate.

“I went to the University of Delaware, I was proud of it,” Mr. Biden said. “Hard to get there, hard to get through in terms of money. But folks, since when can someone who went to a state university not be qualified to be president?”

harvard logoMr. Biden — the first president without an Ivy League degree since Ronald Reagan, a Eureka College alumnus who left the White House 32 years before Mr. Biden entered it — has now set his administration on a collision course with Harvard, one of the Ivy League’s flagship universities.

His administration’s fight, in the form of a civil rights investigation into Harvard’s legacy admissions process by the Education Department, gives Mr. Biden an opportunity to show himself opposed to the country’s elites as he ramps up a presidential campaign in which he will need support from working-class voters culturally far afield from the Ivy League.

The inquiry serves as an early bank shot for Mr. Biden to show voters that his administration is trying to do something to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling last month gutting affirmative action in higher education — a decision that led Mr. Biden to declare, “This is not a normal court.” The department’s Office of Civil Rights has significant enforcement authority and Mr. Biden, should he choose to use it, has the White House bully pulpit to negotiate a settlement with Harvard.

This week, the Education Department is hosting a “national summit on equal opportunity” in Washington. Mr. Biden has asked the department to produce a report by September with proposals of what the government should do in response to the court’s decision and singled out legacy admissions as an issue of concern.

But while the Biden administration’s investigation into legacy admissions will surely grab attention among a political and media class overrepresented by Ivy League alumni, it is far less likely to address enduring roadblocks to higher education like skyrocketing tuition costs and mountains of debt incurred by students.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Big Is the Legacy Boost at Elite Colleges? Claire Cain Miller and Aatish Bhatia, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). In the same week as an inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacy students are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

harvard logoIn the same week as a civil rights inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacies are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

The Education Department’s civil rights investigation into Harvard’s preference for admitting the children of alumni and donors is based on a complaint that it gives less-qualified applicants an edge over those who are more deserving, including students of color.

New data shows that at elite private colleges, the children of alumni, known as legacies, are in fact slightly more qualified than typical applicants, as judged by admissions offices. Even if their legacy status weren’t considered, they would still be about 33 percent more likely to be admitted than applicants with the same test scores, based on all their other qualifications, demographic characteristics and parents’ income and education, according to an analysis conducted by Opportunity Insights, a research group at Harvard.

Researchers said that was unsurprising, given that these students grow up in more educated families. Their parents may be more able to invest in their educations, pay for things like private schools or exclusive sports, and offer insight into what the college is looking for.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Harvard’s legacy of White privilege should end — voluntarily, Jennifer Rubin, right, July 27, 2023. It’s well past time for the United jennifer rubin new headshotStates’ oldest college to get with the times. Harvard University can show real leadership on the diversity front — before it winds up in court, again.

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, President Biden told Americans, “I’m directing the Department of Education to analyze what practices help build a more inclusive and diverse student bodies and what practices hold that back, practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

 

U.S. Media, Arts, High Tech

x logo twitter

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition, Paul Krugman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.

There’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers, because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable, because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.

So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why did Elon rebrand Twitter as ‘X’? The mystery, Johanna Drucker, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The letter X is versatile. It can mean kisses or be a sign of faith. What attracts Elon Musk?

“I like the letter X,” Elon Musk posted, shortly after he renamed and rebranded Twitter. “X will become the most valuable brand on Earth.” X? Can you imagine Musk picking J for the job? Or H? There would be puzzlement, as there is now, and not much else. But X also creates a certain frisson. Why?

The letter X carries so many connotations — many more than almost any other letter — though it was not among the original alphabetic signs in the Proto-Canaanite script that stabilized around 1700 B.C. Long before then, however, human sign systems consisted of very basic marks — stick figures for humans and animals, straight lines for tallies, circles, crosses and X signs. They show up on prehistoric masonry in Crete; they show up in prehistoric Byblos in Syria; they show up on stones marked between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago in the French area of Mas d’Azil.

Johanna Drucker is Breslauer professor and distinguished professor emerita in information studies at UCLA. She is the author of “Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.”

ny times logoNew York Times, What Happened When 15 of Twitter’s Top Celebrities Joined Threads, Yiwen Lu, July 27, 2023. What does the daily activity of Ellen DeGeneres, Wiz Khalifa, Selena Gomez and others say about the staying power of the new platform?

Threads, the new social app from Meta, had a fast start this month when it racked up 100 million downloads in less than a week. With so much momentum, the app seemed well on its way to dethroning Twitter.

But rapid downloads do not necessarily translate to long-term success. Now the question is whether Threads has staying power.

meta logoSo we embarked on an experiment. We compiled a list of 15 of some of the most-followed celebrities and high-profile figures on Twitter who joined Threads, including Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Britney Spears, Shakira and Oprah Winfrey. Then we compared their activity on Twitter with their activity on Threads every day since July 5, when Threads was released. We also looked at what they did on Instagram, which is owned by Meta and developed Threads.

The idea was to see which social platform kept the celebrities — who either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment — the most active. What we found is just an early snapshot, but it may provide some clues to where Threads is headed.

chat gpt logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Researchers See Flaws in Safety Controls of ChatGPT and Other Chatbots, Cade Metz, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). A new report indicates that the guardrails for widely used chatbots can be thwarted, leading to an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

When artificial intelligence companies build online chatbots, like ChatGPT, Claude and Google Bard, they spend months adding guardrails that are supposed to apple logo rainbowprevent their systems from generating hate speech, disinformation and other toxic material.

Now there is a way to easily poke holes in those safety systems.

In a report released on Thursday, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Center for A.I. Safety in San Francisco showed how anyone could circumvent A.I. safety measures and use any of the leading chatbots to generate nearly unlimited amounts of harmful information.

Their research underscored increasing concern that the new chatbots could flood the internet with false and dangerous information despite attempts by their creators to ensure that would not happen. It also showed how disagreements among leading A.I. companies were creating an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

The researchers found that they could use a method gleaned from open source A.I. systems — systems whose underlying computer code has been released for anyone to use — to target the more tightly controlled and more widely used systems from Google, OpenAI and Anthropic.

ny times logoNew York Times, Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, died at 56, Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli, Updated July 27, 2023. She broke out with the single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” then caused an uproar a few years later by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on “S.N.L.”

Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, as showcased on her biggest hit, a breathtaking rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and for her political provocations onstage and off, has died. She was 56.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious,” the police said in a statement.

Recognizable by her shaved head and by wide eyes that could appear pained or full of rage, Ms. O’Connor released 10 studio albums, beginning with the alternative hit “The Lion and the Cobra” in 1987. She went on to sell millions of albums worldwide, breaking out with “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” in 1990.

That album, featuring “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a No. 1 hit around the world and an MTV staple, won a Grammy Award in 1991 for best alternative music performance — although Ms. O’Connor boycotted the ceremony over what she called the show’s excessive commercialism.

Ms. O’Connor rarely shrank from controversy, but it often came with consequences for her career.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

July 28

Top Headlines

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

 

More On Assaults On Democracy

 

U.S. Immigration

ICE logo

 

Trump Watch

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

More On Russia, Ukraine

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 

More On 2024 Presidential Race

ron desantis mouth open uncredited

 

Crisis In Israel

 

More Global Stories

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Economy, Student Loans, Jobs, Budgets, Politics

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Trump wanted Ukraine to impugn Biden. Republicans finally delivered, Philip Bump

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education Policy

 

More On U.S. Media, Arts, Sports, Culture

 

Top Stories

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Faces Major New Charges in Documents Case, Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The office of the special counsel accused the former president of seeking to delete security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago. The manager of the property, Carlos De Oliveira, was also named as a new defendant.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday added major accusations to an indictment charging former President Donald J. Trump with mishandling classified documents after he left office, presenting evidence that he told the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, that he wanted security camera footage there to be deleted.

The new accusations were revealed in a superseding indictment that named the property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, as a new defendant in the case. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Miami on Monday.

The original indictment filed last month in the Southern District of Florida accused Mr. Trump of violating the Espionage Act by illegally holding on to 31 classified william casey reagan librarydocuments containing national defense information after he left office. It also charged Mr. Trump and Walt Nauta, right, one of his personal aides, with a conspiracy to obstruct the government’s repeated attempts to reclaim the classified material.

The revised indictment added three serious charges against Mr. Trump: attempting to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”; inducing someone else to do so; and a new count under the Espionage Act related to a classified national security document that he showed to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

Justice Department log circularThe updated indictment was released on the same day that Mr. Trump’s lawyers met in Washington with prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, to discuss a so-called target letter that Mr. Trump received this month suggesting that he might soon face an indictment in a case related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It served as a powerful reminder that the documents investigation is ongoing, and could continue to yield additional evidence, new counts and even new defendants.

Prosecutors under Mr. Smith had been investigating Mr. De Oliveira for months, concerned, among other things, by his communications with an information technology expert at Mar-a-Lago, Yuscil Taveras, who oversaw the surveillance camera footage at the property.

That footage was central to Mr. Smith’s investigation into whether Mr. Nauta, at Mr. Trump’s request, had moved boxes in and out of a storage room at Mar-a-Lago to avoid complying with a federal subpoena for all classified documents in the former president’s possession. Many of those movements were caught on the surveillance camera footage.

The revised indictment said that in late June of last year, shortly after the government demanded the surveillance footage as part of its inquiry, Mr. Trump called Mr. De Oliveira and they spoke for 24 minutes.

Two days later, the indictment said, Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira “went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the storage room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

 

djt confidential markings

The warrant authorizing the search of former president Donald Trump’s home said agents were seeking documents possessed in violation of the Espionage Act.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Trump Classified Documents Indictment, Annotated, Charlie Savage, Updated July 27, 2023. The Justice Department on Thursday released an updated version of an indictment charging former President Donald J. Trump with 40 criminal counts. They relate to Mr. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents after he left office and his refusal to return them, even after being subpoenaed for all remaining records in his possession that were marked as classified. The indictment supersedes one released June 8, adding three criminal charges for Mr. Trump and naming an additional defendant.

Federal prosecutors said former President Trump told the property manager that he wanted security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago to be deleted.

A Times investigation went inside Mar-a-Lago, where thousands partied near secret files.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Passes Bipartisan Defense Bill, Setting Up a Clash With the House, Karoun Demirjian. July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Senators steered clear of the social policies that sapped Democratic support for the House bill, but the legislation was headed for a contentious negotiation.

The Senate on Thursday gave overwhelming approval to the annual defense policy bill, sidestepping a contentious debate over abortion access for service members and quashing efforts to limit aid for Ukraine in a show of bipartisanship that set up a bitter showdown with the House.

The vote was 86 to 11 to pass the bill, which would authorize $886 billion for national defense over the next year. It includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops and civilian employees, investments in hypersonic missile and drone technology, and measures to improve competition with China.

But its fate is deeply in doubt as the measure heads for what is expected to be a contentious negotiation between the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House, where right-wing hard-liners have attached a raft of conservative social policy mandates.

Republicans in the Senate decided not to pick such fights in that chamber, shelving amendments to restrict abortion access and transgender health care services for military personnel. The result is vastly different bills that could make it difficult for the House and Senate to hash out a bipartisan final agreement, something that has not eluded Congress in more than six decades.

ny times logoNew York Times, As McConnell Tries to Convey Business as Usual, His Future Is in Doubt, Annie Karni and Carl Hulse, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The minority leader’s health episode at the Capitol has intensified talk about a possible succession, a prospect that his colleagues have not seriously grappled with for years. 

It has been decades since there was any real uncertainty at the top of the Republican Party in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell’s alarming freeze-up at a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol, as well as new disclosures about other recent falls, have shaken his colleagues and intensified quiet discussion about how long he can stay in his position as minority leader, and whether change is coming at the top.

For months even before he had an apparent medical episode on camera on Wednesday while speaking to the press, Mr. McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader from Kentucky, has been weakened, both physically and politically. The latest incident made those issues glaringly apparent: Mr. McConnell, 81, froze mid-remarks, unable to continue speaking, and appeared disoriented with his mouth shut as his aides and colleagues led him gently away.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, quickly stepped in behind the lectern and picked up where Mr. McConnell had left off, in a scene that underscored how the lanky 62-year-old has positioned himself as the leader’s most obvious successor. It was a reminder that no one — even Mr. McConnell, who this year became the longest-serving Senate leader in history — is irreplaceable and raised questions about how long Mr. McConnell could continue to simply gut it out.

“Good afternoon, everyone. We’re on a path to finishing the N.D.A.A. this week. There’s been good bipartisan cooperation and a string of —” “Are you good, Mitch?” “You OK, Mitch? Anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office? Do you want to say anything else to the press?” “Go ahead, John.” “We’ll take a break.” “Let’s go back.” “Go ahead, John.” “Could you address what happened here at the start of the press conference, and was it related to your injury from earlier this year where you suffered a concussion? Is that —” “No, I’m fine.” “You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” “Yeah.”

Months ago, there seemed to be a developing race to succeed him among Mr. Thune, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the former whip; they are known around the Capitol as “the three Johns.” But during Mr. McConnell’s extended absence earlier this year following a serious fall, Mr. Thune moved into the position of taking charge of the conference.

Washington hotel during a fund-raising event, and was absent from the Senate for weeks while giving almost no updates on his health status. Since then, he has had at least two more falls, one at a Washington airport and one in Helsinki, during an official trip to meet the Finnish president. His office disclosed neither, and has stayed mum about his medical condition on Wednesday after the episode, which some physicians who viewed video of it said could have been a mini stroke or partial seizure.

Mr. McConnell, who had polio as a child, often has trouble with stairs and has long walked with a wobbly, uneven gait. But in recent months, he has been using a wheelchair to get around at the airport, which a spokesman said was “simply a prudent and precautionary measure in a crowded area.”

His diminished state has been evident in his role in the Capitol as well. Some of his Senate colleagues were surprised at the back-seat role he took throughout the debt ceiling negotiations, where he did little and left Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy in charge. The old McConnell, they said, would have not stayed on the sidelines, and many Senate Republicans were ultimately unhappy with the outcome.

Last year, Mr. McConnell weathered a rare challenge to his leadership when Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, decided to oppose him and received 10 votes. In the past, Mr. McConnell has been named leader with no contest.

 Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by Erin Schaff). 

ny times logoNew York Times, More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-Dollar Book Deals, Steve Eder, Abbie VanSickle and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Only three months into Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first Supreme Court term, she announced a book deal negotiated by the same powerhouse lawyer who represented the Obamas and James Patterson.

The deal was worth about $3 million, according to people familiar with the agreement, and made Justice Jackson the latest Supreme Court justice to parlay her fame into a big book contract.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had made $650,000 for a book of essays and personal reflections on the role of judges, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett received a $2 million advance for her forthcoming book about keeping personal feelings out of judicial rulings. Those newer justices joined two of their more senior colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, in securing payments that eclipse their government salaries.

In recent months reports by ProPublica, The New York Times and others have highlighted a lack of transparency at the Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports have centered on Justice Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors, in addition to a luxury fishing trip by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a Republican megadonor and the lucrative legal recruiting work of the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on the justices’ annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Earlier this year, Justice Jackson confirmed her publishing agreement with an imprint of Penguin Random House for her forthcoming memoir, “Lovely One.” But like her colleagues, her first public acknowledgment of the financial arrangement behind the deal is likely to be in her future annual financial disclosures. The New York Times learned the rough dollar amount of her advance, a figure that had not previously been disclosed, from people familiar with the deal.

Justice Sotomayor has received about $3.7 million total for a memoir documenting her path from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench and her children’s books. The justice’s administrative court staff urged organizers of events where her books were sold to buy more copies, according to a recent report in The Associated Press, which cited public records.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Biden Is Weighing a Big Middle East Deal, Thomas L. Friedman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). For the hundreds of thousands of Israeli democracy defenders who tried to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial coup on Monday, the stripping of the Israeli Supreme Court’s key powers to curb the executive branch surely feels like a stinging defeat. I get it, but don’t totally despair. Help may be on the way from talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you read that right.

joe biden twitterWhen I interviewed President Biden in the Oval Office last week, my column focused on his urging Netanyahu not to ram through the judicial overhaul without even a semblance of national consensus. But that’s not all we talked about. The president is wrestling with whether to pursue the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi mutual security pact that would involve Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

After discussions in the past few days among Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Brett McGurk, the top White House official handling Middle East policy, Biden has dispatched Sullivan and McGurk to Saudi Arabia, where they arrived Thursday morning, to explore the possibility of some kind of U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian understanding.

The president still has not made up his mind whether to proceed, but he gave a green light for his team to probe with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to see if some kind of deal is possible and at what price. Closing such a multinational deal would be time-consuming, difficult and complex, even if Biden decides to take it to the next level right away. But the exploratory talks are moving ahead now — faster than I thought — and they’re important.

 

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

ny times logoNew York Times, War Brought Putin Closer to Africa. Now It’s Pushing Them Apart, Declan Walsh and Paul Sonne, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). As President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to host African leaders at a summit, a collapsed grain deal and the uncertain fate of Wagner mercenaries have cast a shadow.

Shunned in the West, his authority tested by a failed mutiny at home, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia needs to project normalcy and shore up support from his allies. So on Thursday, he will host African leaders at a flashy summit in St. Petersburg, part of his continuing outreach to a continent that has become critical to Moscow’s foreign policy.

Russian FlagSince Russia invaded Ukraine, some African countries have backed Mr. Putin at the United Nations, welcomed his envoys and his warships, and offered control of lucrative assets, like a gold mine in the Central African Republic that U.S. officials estimate contains $1 billion in reserves.

But if Mr. Putin sought to move closer to African leaders as he prosecuted his war, the 17-month-old conflict is now straining those ties. This summit is expected to draw only half the number of African heads of state or government as the last gathering in 2019, a situation that the Kremlin on Wednesday blamed on “brazen interference” from the United States and its allies.

The summit comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Black Sea over Mr. Putin’s recent decision to terminate a deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain to global markets. Russia’s withdrawal has caused food prices to spike, adding to the misery of the world’s poorest countries, including some of those attending the Russia-Africa summit.

As African leaders prepare to meet Mr. Putin, Russian warplanes have pulverized the Ukrainian port of Odesa that is a key distribution point for grain exports. And in recent days, American and British officials have warned about Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions in the Black Sea.

The outcry over the end of the grain deal — the Kenyan foreign ministry called Mr. Putin’s decision a “stab in the back” — has put the Russian leader on the defensive. In an article previewing the summit, he offered to make up for the shortfall to African countries by supplying them with Russian grain, even for free.

At the same time, Western nations have seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Putin and his African guests.

“President Putin seems dead set on causing as much suffering around the world as he can,” Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday. “Russia is driving Africa into poverty.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Doctors who put lives at risk with covid misinformation rarely punished, Lena H. Sun, Lauren Weber and Hayden Godfrey, July 28, 2023 (print ed.).. Medical boards received more than 480 complaints related to covid misinformation. A Post investigation found at least 20 doctors have been punished.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine launches new push, claims gains against Russians in south, John Hudson, Robyn Dixon and David L. Stern, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, severing Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces have launched a new push in their counteroffensive against Russian invaders and made advances south of Orikhiv in the country’s Zaporizhzhia region, officials said Wednesday.

Kyiv’s goal is to reach the Sea of Azov, which would sever Moscow’s land bridge to occupied Crimea, a key conduit for moving Russian troops, equipment and supplies into Ukraine.

Ukrainian forces remain far from the sea, which lies about 60 miles south of Orikhiv, according to a Ukrainian official familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Ukrainian forces are “gradually advancing” in the direction of the coastal cities Melitopol and Berdyansk, but she did not say how far they had moved.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Vicious cycle’: Heat waves ramp up U.S. burning of fossil fuels, Timothy Puko, July 28, 2023. Americans, cranking up their air conditioners, are helping to break summertime records for daily consumption of natural gas, a contributor to climate change.

America’s historic heat wave is producing a big winner: fossil fuels.

As temperatures have soared, so has natural-gas consumption, burned for the electricity needed to run air conditioners across much of the Northern Hemisphere. The United States this week has twice broken its summertime record for daily gas consumption, and it could break it again Friday, according to estimates from S&P Global Commodity Insights.

The trends illustrate how extreme heat is complicating efforts by the United States and other countries to phase down use of fossil fuels, despite how these fuels contribute to climate change and more intense heat waves. While the build-out of renewable energy is increasing, the world’s power grids are so reliant on gas and coal that burning more of them — and thus producing more planet-warming emissions — is often the only way to cool buildings and protect people from often life-threatening conditions.

“The projection for how much energy you need is higher and higher because the cooling needs to go up,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “There are these tragic ironies all over the climate space.”

The problem is global and set to intensify. The International Energy Agency last week said that only a tenth of the 2.8 billion people who live in the hottest parts of the world already have air conditioning, foreshadowing what is likely to become “a vicious cycle.” Use of air conditioning is expected to increase in the years to come, further driving fast-rising energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world, the Paris-based watchdog said.

  • Washington Post, Ocean temperatures are off the charts. Here’s where they’re hottest, Tim Meko and Dan Stillman, July 28, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Infrastructure and green energy spending are powering the economy, Abha Bhattarai, July 28, 2023. Biden’s policies are fueling a surge in private investments and contributing to GDP growth. But will voters notice — or care?

 

More On Assaults On Democracy

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden Takes His Battle for Democracy Case by Case, Peter Baker, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). When they involve American allies like Israel, President Biden’s decisions on when to speak out forcefully for democracy can prove tricky.

President Biden has made it his mission to wage what he momentously calls “the battle between democracy and autocracy.” But what to do when the ones he believes are undermining democracy are friends?

In the case of Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday pushed through Parliament new curbs on an independent judiciary, Mr. Biden has chosen to speak out. The vote in Jerusalem, he declared, was “unfortunate,” the fourth time in a week he chastised Mr. Netanyahu for his drive to enhance his own power.

But the president’s battle for democracy can be situational when it comes to America’s allies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, who has presided over a wave of Hindu nationalist violence and repression of dissent, was feted at the White House with a state dinner and little public criticism. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia was rewarded with a visit and a presidential fist bump despite his murderous reign.

“Consistency is a challenge for most administrations when it comes to democracy and human rights concerns around the world, and this administration is no exception,” said David J. Kramer, who was assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor under President George W. Bush. “It’s easier to speak up when our enemies and competitors engage in authoritarian abuses,” he added. “It’s harder when it comes to friends and allies.”

The democracy-versus-autocracy framework has been central to Mr. Biden’s vision of his presidency since the beginning, fueled by the struggle against his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump, who tried to overturn an election to hold onto power after being voted out of office. Mr. Biden has likewise defined the central foreign policy challenge of his term — defeating Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — as part of that overall cause.

It is, after all, a politically appealing construct — right and wrong, good guys versus bad guys. But it is one that predictably becomes more complicated in the Situation Room than it seems at the podium during a grandiloquent speech. Given other American interests, like military bases or intelligence cooperation or economic entanglements, deciding when to speak out forcefully for democracy can prove tricky.

Even some senior officials around Mr. Biden privately feel uncomfortable with the duality of his black-and-white approach, noting that some of America’s friends have rule of law without being particularly free (Singapore leaps to mind) while others are even less committed to Western notions of human rights but still are helpful allies (the United Arab Emirates, for example).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Telltale Signs of a Politically Motivated Investigation, Jesse Wegman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). As the criminal indictments of Donald Trump continue to pile up like boxes in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, the former president’s defenders have settled on a response: They don’t claim their man is innocent of the scores of federal and state charges against him — a tough case to make under the circumstances.

Instead they accuse the Biden administration and Democratic prosecutors of politicizing law enforcement and cooking up an insurance policy to protect President Biden, who trails Mr. Trump in some polls about a very possible 2024 rematch.

kevin mccarthy“So what do they do now?” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, right, asked last week, after Mr. Trump announced that he had received a second target letter from the special counsel Jack Smith, this time over his role in the Jan. 6 attack. “Weaponize government to go after their No. 1 opponent.”

If you’re feeling bewildered by all the claims and counterclaims of politicization, you’re not alone. Take the F.B.I.’s probe of ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, which is still being hashed out in the halls of Congress seven years later: In February, Democratic lawmakers demanded an investigation of the investigators who investigated the investigators who were previously investigated for their investigation of a transnational plot to interfere in a presidential election. Got that?

The key thing to remember is that even if the subject is a politically powerful person or the outcome of a trial could have a political impact, that doesn’t necessarily mean the action itself is political. To assume otherwise is to “immunize all high-ranking powerful political people from ever being held accountable for the wrongful things they do,” said Kristy Parker, a lawyer with the advocacy group Protect Democracy. “And if you do that, you subvert the idea that this is a rule-of-law society where everybody is subject to equal justice, and at the same time you remove from the public the ability to impose any accountability for misconduct, which enables it to happen again.”

In May, Protect Democracy published a very useful report, co-written by Ms. Parker, laying out several factors that help the public assess whether a prosecution is political.

First, what is the case about? Is there straightforward evidence of criminal behavior by a politician? Have people who are not powerful politicians been prosecuted in the past for similar behavior?

Second, what are top law-enforcement officials saying? Is the president respecting due process, or is he demanding investigations or prosecutions of specific people? Is he keeping his distance from the case, or is he publicly attacking prosecutors, judges and jurors? Is the attorney general staying quiet, or is he offering public opinions on the guilt of the accused?

Third, is the Justice Department following its internal procedures and guidelines for walling off political interference? Most of these guidelines arose in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, during which President Richard Nixon ordered the department to go after his political enemies and later obstructed the investigation into his own behavior. Until recently, the guidelines were observed by presidents and attorneys general of both parties.
Finally, how have other institutions responded? Did judges and juries follow proper procedure in the case, and did they agree that the defendant was guilty? Did an agency’s inspector general find any wrongdoing by investigators or prosecutors?

None of these factors are decisive by themselves. An investigation might take a novel legal approach; an honest case may still lose in court. But considering them together makes it easier to identify when law enforcement has been weaponized for political ends.

joe biden fist in airwashington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What 8 left-leaning columnists think about Biden’s 2024 campaign so far, Chris Suellentrop, July 26, 2023. President Biden is 80 years old and is running for a second term, more or less unopposed, in the Democratic primary. So I gathered a group of our left-leaning columnists for a conversation over email and asked: How do you feel about that?

Has Biden failed to be a “bridge” to a new generation of leaders, as he pledged to be in 2020? Should he have declared himself “one (term) and done,” like a college basketball star? Should the party have held a competitive primary instead of clearing the field, as is traditional for an incumbent president? Is the fascination with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s not-gonna-happen campaign a sign of nervousness about Biden 2024 in some portion of the Democratic primary electorate? And will you change your mind about any of these things if someone other than Donald Trump is the 2024 Republican nominee?

 

Other Relevant Recent Headlines

patriot front idaho cullen mulvany idaho spokesman review

 

U.S. Immigration

 

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Gov. Abbott’s Policing of Texas Border Pushes Limits of State Power, J. David Goodman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Gov. Greg Abbott brought in razor wire and floating barriers to deter unauthorized migration. The federal government is mounting a legal pushback.

Along Texas’ 1,200-mile-long border with Mexico, state troopers routinely arrest migrants for trespassing. Texas National Guard troops unspool razor wire along the banks of the Rio Grande. State game wardens patrol the river in fast-moving boats.

Greg Abbott CustomFor more than two years, Gov. Greg Abbott, right, has been testing the legal limits of what a state can do to enforce immigration law. The effort, known as Operation Lone Star, has been broadly popular in Texas, including among many Democrats, while its cost, already more than $4 billion, texas mapwas expected to top $9 billion by the end of next year.

Even as the number of migrants has gone down in recent months, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, has pushed the boundaries further. He has overseen aggressive deterrence by state police officers at the border and mounted a brazen challenge to federal authority by placing a floating barrier in the middle of the Rio Grande. In the small border city of Eagle Pass, the state police bulldozed vegetation from a sandbar in the middle of the river last month to create a new security outpost.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The GOP claim that Biden is running a ‘shell game’ on the border, Glenn Kessler, right, July 27, 2023.

glenn kessler“The numbers are not going down. CBP’s One app shell game, not releasing the OFO numbers, moving the numbers from crossing over to the ports of entry and then getting automatic parole to those individuals.”

— Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, July 19

“That’s the shell game. They’ve simply taken those that were previously illegally here in between the ports of entry, and now they just shepherd them to the ports of entry, release them and they’re calling the victory.”

— Former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan, in an interview with Just the News, July 20

Ever since the southern border became “eerily quiet” after a policy shift by the Biden administration, Republicans have charged that officials are playing a “shell game” with the numbers.

A shell game usually involves sleight of hand to trick players, but in politics, the phrase refers to deceptive actions used to hide bad news or figures. Twice in a recent hearing, Green incorrectly claimed the administration was not releasing “OFO numbers,” referring to Office of Field Operations data — encounters with undocumented immigrants at ports of entry, as opposed to people caught crossing the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In reality, those numbers are being released.

Morgan, in an interview, said he was not accusing the administration of hiding data. “The data is usually there,” he said, but instead he believes the administration is engaging in what he called a “messaging shell game” that is misleading the public about border encounters with migrants seeking to enter the country.

The surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border since early 2021 has been a major political headache for the Biden administration — and a major attack line for Republicans. When the administration in May ended a Trump-era pandemic policy known as Title 42, which had allowed for quick expulsions of migrants who entered the country illegally, the GOP was flummoxed when the number of encounters on the southern border suddenly dropped. Wouldn’t more migrants attempt to enter if they weren’t going to be expelled summarily?

“CBP’s total encounters along the Southwest border in June were the lowest in over two years, dropping nearly a third from May,” CBP said in its news release on the June numbers. The release added that “the U.S. Border Patrol recorded 99,545 encounters between ports of entry along the Southwest border: a 42 percent decrease from May 2023.”

About a third of the encounters were with Mexican nationals, while just over 22,000 were from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That means the remaining 43,000 came from other countries, primarily Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, India and China, signaling the continuing shift from the primarily Mexican migration of the past.

About 36,000 were released on their recognizance, down from nearly 70,000 in May, CBP said. Many of the rest were detained, slated for expedited removal or agreed to a voluntary return to Mexico. Voluntary returns, in fact, showed a tenfold increase in May and June compared to early months in the year.

To the frustration of Republicans, the Biden administration has managed to reduce the headline numbers along the border. That’s no excuse for repeatedly suggesting, as Green did, that the numbers have not been properly released. The numbers are there, no matter how painful they may be to the administration’s critics.

washington post logoWashington Post, States siphoned away $750 million in infrastructure law climate funds, Ian Duncan, July 27, 2023. The 2021 infrastructure law created two new climate-related programs to tackle emissions and protect roads, but states are free to use half the money for other projects.

With $14 billion in new federal funding, the infrastructure law was supposed to jolt efforts to protect the U.S. highway network from a changing climate and curb carbon emissions that are warming the planet. New records show the effort is off to an unsteady start as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent elsewhere.
Want to know how your actions can help make a difference for our planet? Sign up for the Climate Coach newsletter, in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.

Last year, 38 states made use of a provision in the law to shift about $755 million to general-purpose highway construction accounts, according to Federal Highway Administration records. The sum is more than one-quarter of the total annual amount made available to states in two new climate-related programs.

California shifted $97 million to pay for safety projects. New York moved $36 million to fund what officials called the state’s “core capital program.” Arizona said it used $20 million for its five-year highway construction program, largely for “pavement preservation,” and Louisiana used $8.2 million to fund roundabouts near an outlet mall.

The nibbling away of climate funding highlights a fundamental tension in the 2021 law, which was crafted to secure bipartisan support. Protections to long-standing flexibility in how states use federal highway funding are hampering efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration to make progress on environmental goals. Amid clashes over federal guidance, the financial transfers from two climate programs — coming as weather events batter the nation’s infrastructure with increased intensity — illustrate how states have wide latitude to discount the wishes of leaders in Washington.

The records, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show several states said they were still putting together plans for how to use the money, typically an injection of tens of millions of dollars annually for each state. Some blamed slow guidance on how to spend the money.

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme heat is covering more U.S. territory than it has all summer, Matthew Cappucci and Jason Same, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). It will be the hottest weather of the summer averaged over the nation, with triple digit heat swelling into the Midwest and Northeast.

An unrelenting heat wave that’s baked the southern United States for weeks is expanding and will cover the most territory of the summer between Wednesday and Friday, swelling into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Between 250 and 275 million Americans will face heat indexes of at least 90 degrees, and more than 130 million people are under heat alerts from southern California to Maine, including Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Louisville, Washington, New York and Boston.

washington post logoWashington Post, An ocean heat wave has become a full-blown emergency for Florida’s coral reef, Brady Dennis, Amudalat Ajasa and Chris Mooney, July 27, 2023 (print ed.).‘This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,’ one veteran researcher said, as a marine heat wave shows few signs of ending.

As a blistering marine heat wave persists off the coast, a full-blown emergency is unfolding along the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

“If it remains this hot for the next six weeks, we are going to see a lot more coral mortality out there,” said Lewis, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory.

Already, scientists have reported widespread coral bleaching along parts of the roughly 360-mile-long reef, the third largest on the planet. If the heat drags on, they say, a massive coral die-off could follow, with grave consequences for fish and other ocean organisms that depend on the reefs, tourism, commercial fishing and part of the state’s very identity.

“This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” said Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin, Robert Barnes, July 27, 2023. The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Without comment, the justices lifted a lower court’s halt on the remaining construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will stretch 300 miles through rugged mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. Environmentalists claim that the pipeline threatens lands, water resources and endangered species along the way, and have found some success blocking final approval at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

But much of the pipeline is already built. During the tense negotiations earlier this summer to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts, House Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III wrangled a deal with the Biden administration to cut the courts out of the process.

How a pipeline helped grease the debt ceiling deal

The bill at issue acted in three ways. It ratified and approved “all federal authorizations” for the project. It expressly stripped courts of jurisdiction to review “any action” by a federal agency granting authorization for the construction and operation of the pipeline. And it said that any claim about the constitutionality of the law could be heard only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va., on June 22, 2018, to make a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass under the highway. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Nonetheless, a 4th Circuit panel on July 10 issued a stay on part of the pipeline that remains to be built, which runs through the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia. The panel judges did not provide their reasoning, but environmentalists had argued that the action by Congress improperly cut out the judiciary and violated separation of powers.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a former Obama administration solicitor general who now represents the pipeline builders. “Congress has made clear that there is a paramount national interest in expeditious completion of the pipeline.”

The $6 billion pipeline is a joint venture between some of the largest gas companies in Appalachia and the power company NextEra Energy. Its largest investor is Equitrans Midstream, which has a 48.1 percent ownership interest and will operate the pipeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Labor Department Denounces Surge in Exploited Migrant Children, Hannah Dreier, July 27, 2023. The agency said thousands of minors were employed in illegal, often dangerous, jobs. Congress has accused the health secretary of failing to protect them.

The Labor Department on Thursday decried a national surge in child labor, saying that the agency’s inspectors had found thousands of violations and were investigating a slaughterhouse where a 16-year-old boy from Guatemala was killed this month.

The update followed a hearing on Wednesday in which lawmakers from both parties accused the Health and Human Services secretary, Xavier Becerra, of failing to protect migrant children from exploitation. His agency is tasked with releasing them to safe living conditions after they cross the border by themselves.

“There are some terrible things that are wrong,” Representative Anna G. Eshoo, a Democrat from California, told him. “At the end of the day, as H.H.S. secretary, the buck stops with you.”

Some 300,000 minors have come to this country alone since 2021, fueling a dramatic increase in migrant child labor. In an online report, the Labor Department announced an 87 percent increase in fines on employers in recent months. Companies including lumber mills and roofing contractors have been hit with $6.6 million in penalties.

  • New York Times, Busloads of Migrants Keep Arriving in L.A. From Texas, July 27, 2023.

 

Trump Watch

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Trump needed $225 million. A little-known bank came to the rescue, Michael Kranish, July 27, 2023. Gregory Garrabrants, a GOP donor and CEO of online Axos Bank, approved the loans after the former president’s main lender had cut ties.

As Donald Trump considered another White House run last year, his company’s finances were at risk of spiraling into crisis.

The former president’s longtime lender and several banks with his deposits had cut ties in the days around the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters, at a time when Trump had hundreds of millions in loans coming due. In February 2022, the accounting firm that had worked for him for two decades dropped Trump and advised against relying on his “statement of financial condition,” a metric banks use to evaluate the risks of a loan.

Unless he found a new lender, Trump’s business empire could have been in jeopardy.

Then a new partner came to the rescue: A little known, online-only financial firm headquartered in a suburban San Diego office park.

Axos Bank, formerly known as Bank of Internet USA, had grown from one of the first digital banks into a profitable, publicly traded company in part by specializing in loans to borrowers other banks had shied away from — all while navigating federal regulator scrutiny over its internal operations and a congressional hearing that cited its involvement in high interest rates on some loans.

One day after the warning by Trump’s accounting firm became public, Axos’s blunt-spoken president and CEO — a Republican donor named Gregory Garrabrants — signed off on a $100 million loan for Trump Tower, the 58-story Manhattan skyscraper that had long been Trump’s home and base of operations, according to the bank.

Three months later, Garrabrants approved a second deal that provided $125 million for Trump’s Doral resort, a sprawling golf course complex in Miami-Dade County he had owned since 2012. Axos also financed part of a loan that helped facilitate the $375 million purchase of Trump’s D.C. hotel by a group of investors.

The Axos loans to Trump were vital to stabilizing his post-presidential finances and enabling him to mount the campaign that now has him leading the GOP pack for the 2024 presidential nomination, according to disclosure records, loan documents and financial experts.

“It was crucial … that someone gave him credit or he could have had loans going into foreclosure,” said Bert Ely, a longtime independent banking analyst. “And that was also an important factor for him politically.”

The loans have drawn scrutiny from New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) as part of her broader suit that accuses Trump of “falsifying” records to inflate the value of his properties on financial statements to obtain earlier loans at lower interest rates. Trump “sought to avoid submitting a statement of financial condition” to Axos and instead pushed the bank to calculate his worth, James asserted in the suit, which does not accuse Axos of wrongdoing.

For more than a year, Garrabrants, 51, has refrained from speaking publicly about his decision to approve the loans. But in his first interview about the matter, he told The Washington Post in June at the bank’s headquarters and a telephone follow-up in July that the deals had nothing to do with his Republican politics. He said he made the loans because they will be profitable for his bank, adding that he did not agree with other bankers who stayed away from Trump due to allegations that he had incited the insurrection or concerns about his honesty.

The $100 million Trump Tower loan was made at a 4.25 percent interest rate and the $125 million loan for the Doral property at a 4.9 percent interest rate, with both maturing in 2032, according to property records. The rates are within the range of commercial loans during that period, according to Federal Reserve data, and came before much of the interest rate spike occurred last year; public records do not say whether the rates will change over the life of the loan, which analysts said makes it difficult to directly compare them to other commercial loans.

Garrabrants declined to discuss some details of the loans, including the long-term interest rate or how they are secured, while saying they were done on “market terms.” The Trump loans, which represent about 1 percent of the bank’s $20 billion in assets, are structured to guarantee profits for Axos, Garrabrants said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump lawyers meeting with special counsel’s office as grand jury convenes, Josh Dawsey, Spencer S. Hsu, Devlin Barrett and Perry Stein, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Lawyers for former president Donald Trump met Thursday morning with prosecutors from special counsel Jack Smith’s office, more than a week after Trump said he received a letter from the Justice Department telling him he could face criminal charges in connection with his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The meeting, confirmed by a person familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss it, is another sign that Smith could be close to seeking an indictment of Trump in the long-running elections probe.

The grand jury that has been hearing evidence in the investigation was meeting Thursday morning at the federal courthouse in downtown Washington, and a prosecutor from Smith’s office was seen there as well.

It is not uncommon in high-profile cases for defense lawyers to get a meeting with Justice Department officials toward the end of an investigation, essentially so they can present their best argument for why their client should not be charged. But such presentations rarely change prosecutors’ minds, current and former officials say.

Smith and his team have been examining efforts by Trump and his allies to block Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, including the events that led up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Investigators have looked at ads and email messages that sought to fundraise off false claims of election fraud, as well as the decision by Republican electors in some states won by Biden to send signed statements purporting to affirm Trump as the victor.

Relevant Recent Headlines

djt jan 6 charges msnbc

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 tommy tuberville washpo

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Tuberville’s tales about his father in World War II have false elements, Glenn Kessler, below right, July 26, 2023.

glenn kessler“My father, Charles Tuberville, made the D-Day landing at Normandy as a tank commander with the 101st infantry. He served with honor during World War II, earning five Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.”

— Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), shown above in a Washington Post photo, in a tweet posted with a Fox News interview, June 6

“He lied about his age at 16, joined the Army.”

— Tuberville, in the Fox interview

“He was a tank commander with the 101st Infantry and landed at Normandy Beach on D-Day and drove a tank through the streets of Paris when the U.S. forces liberated the city.”

— Tuberville, on the archived website of the Tommy Tuberville Foundation

For nearly a decade, Tuberville has described the World War II exploits of his father, Charles R. Tuberville Jr., in a relatively consistent way — that he was a tank commander, that he earned five Bronze Stars, that he participated in the D-Day landing and that he lied about his age to join the army. News organizations have tended to accept Tuberville’s version and either reprint or broadcast it.

Yet an examination of army histories, newspaper reports and other materials calls into question many of the claims put forth by Tuberville, who sits on both the Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs committees and is now in a high-profile battle with the Biden administration over a Defense Department policy offering time off and travel reimbursement to service members who need to go out of state for abortions. Since February, he has blocked every senior personnel move in the U.S. military that requires Senate confirmation, stalling the promotions of more than 265 military officers. The Pentagon has said Tuberville’s holds are putting the nation’s military readiness at risk, as 650 general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation by year’s end.

In effect, Tuberville has promoted his father to highly decorated tank commander — but based on our research, that claim is dubious.

Family histories often include myths or stories that become exaggerated as they are handed down from generation to generation. Most of the Army personnel records from World War II were destroyed in a 1973 fire, making confirmation difficult. There is no doubt that Tuberville’s father faced difficult and dangerous combat under trying conditions, including during the Battle of the Bulge, the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. We are not questioning his heroism or service.

ny times logoNew York Times, How George Santos Used Political Connections to Fuel Get-Rich Schemes, Grace Ashford, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Mr. Santos, the first-term House member under federal indictment, tried to use his candidacy and ties to G.O.P. donors to create moneymaking opportunities.

George Santos and three other men approached a loyal campaign donor with a potentially lucrative opportunity. The donor was immediately skeptical.

In the years since Mr. Santos first ran for the House in 2020, he has become adept at finding ways to extract money from politics. He founded a political consulting group that he marketed to other Republicans. He sought to profit from the Covid crisis, using campaign connections. And he solicited investments for and from political donors, raising ethical questions.

Mr. Santos has been charged with 13 felonies for misrepresenting his earnings, collecting $24,000 in unemployment while employed, and pocketing $50,000 he solicited from political supporters through what he claimed was a super PAC.

George Santos has told so many stories they can be hard to keep straight. We cataloged them, including major questions about his personal finances and his campaign fund-raising and spending.

Mr. Santos, who has pleaded not guilty, has not been charged with personal use of campaign funds. But a review of his political career found several previously unreported examples of how he sought to use the connections he made as a candidate for public office to enrich himself.

The proposition involving the wealthy Polish national is a prime example, as Mr. Santos partnered with a former Republican state assemblyman, Michael LiPetri; and Bryant Park Associates, a company run by a Republican donor, Dominick Sartorio, according to the investor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said his business interests would be harmed if he was publicly associated with Mr. Santos.

 

Crisis In Israel

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel’s High Court to Hear Case Against Netanyahu’s Judicial Overhaul, Aaron Boxerman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). The justices will hear petitions in September against a law that curbs their authority. Benjamin Netanyahu pushed the law through despite political turmoil.

Israel’s Supreme Court said Wednesday that it would hear petitions by the opposition in September to strike down the first part of the government’s contentious plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which passed earlier this week.

Defying widespread protests and warnings from key allies such as the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition enacted the law on Monday, aimed at curbing the Supreme Court’s longstanding practice of overruling some policies and appointments made by the national government on grounds they are “unreasonable.”

The case poses thorny questions for Israel’s top court, which will now consider a law aimed at limiting its own authority.

Yair Lapid, the leader of the country’s political opposition, and other opposition groups immediately filed petitions against the law, which they said removed a key check on executive power.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: ‘Joe Biden May Be the Last Pro-Israel Democratic President,’ Thomas Friedman, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). Despite forceful opposition, tom friedman twitterIsrael’s government passed a judicial reform law that limits the ability of the country’s Supreme Court to overrule the government.

In this audio short, our columnist Tom Friedman explains how the new law could destabilize the United States’ relationship with Israel and complicate American interests in the Middle East. “We are in a completely new phase now of relations between America and the Jewish state,” Friedman says.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 President Isaac Herzog of Israel met with President Biden in the Oval Office on Tuesday, July 17 (New York Times photo by Doug Mills).

President Isaac Herzog of Israel met with President Biden in the Oval Office last Tuesday (New York Times photo by Doug Mills).

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 climate change photo

 

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: The GOP claim that Biden is running a ‘shell game’ on the border, Glenn Kessler, July 27, 2023.

“The numbers are not going down. CBP’s One app shell game, not releasing the OFO numbers, moving the numbers from crossing over to the ports of entry and then getting automatic parole to those individuals.”

— Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, July 19

“That’s the shell game. They’ve simply taken those that were previously illegally here in between the ports of entry, and now they just shepherd them to the ports of entry, release them and they’re calling the victory.”

— Former acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Mark Morgan, in an interview with Just the News, July 20

Ever since the southern border became “eerily quiet” after a policy shift by the Biden administration, Republicans have charged that officials are playing a “shell game” with the numbers.

A shell game usually involves sleight of hand to trick players, but in politics, the phrase refers to deceptive actions used to hide bad news or figures. Twice in a recent hearing, Green incorrectly claimed the administration was not releasing “OFO numbers,” referring to Office of Field Operations data — encounters with undocumented immigrants at ports of entry, as opposed to people caught crossing the border by U.S. Border Patrol agents. In reality, those numbers are being released.

Morgan, in an interview, said he was not accusing the administration of hiding data. “The data is usually there,” he said, but instead he believes the administration is engaging in what he called a “messaging shell game” that is misleading the public about border encounters with migrants seeking to enter the country.

Let’s unpack what’s going on.
The sudden decline in encounters

The surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border since early 2021 has been a major political headache for the Biden administration — and a major attack line for Republicans. When the administration in May ended a Trump-era pandemic policy known as Title 42, which had allowed for quick expulsions of migrants who entered the country illegally, the GOP was flummoxed when the number of encounters on the southern border suddenly dropped. Wouldn’t more migrants attempt to enter if they weren’t going to be expelled summarily?

“CBP’s total encounters along the Southwest border in June were the lowest in over two years, dropping nearly a third from May,” CBP said in its news release on the June numbers. The release added that “the U.S. Border Patrol recorded 99,545 encounters between ports of entry along the Southwest border: a 42 percent decrease from May 2023.”

About a third of the encounters were with Mexican nationals, while just over 22,000 were from the “Northern Triangle” countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That means the remaining 43,000 came from other countries, primarily Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, India and China, signaling the continuing shift from the primarily Mexican migration of the past.

About 36,000 were released on their recognizance, down from nearly 70,000 in May, CBP said. Many of the rest were detained, slated for expedited removal or agreed to a voluntary return to Mexico. Voluntary returns, in fact, showed a tenfold increase in May and June compared to early months in the year.

Month by month, numbers can be an unreliable snapshot. May is often the month that migrants surge to the border, hoping to avoid the heat of the summer.

Still, the June showing was the best for this metric since February 2021, when border agents encountered 97,643 people seeking to cross the border. That was also President Biden’s first full month in office.
Ports of Entry

But Border Patrol encounters make up a narrow metric — people crossing between ports of entry (such as deserts and rivers) on the southern border who are greeted by Border Patrol agents who wear green uniforms. Remember how Green complained about the OFO numbers? Office of Field Operations refers to people encountered at ports of entry by CBP officers who wear blue uniforms. That number, by contrast, has soared in recent months. In June, 45,026 people showed up at ports of entry, compared to 26,112 in February.

To the frustration of Republicans, the Biden administration has managed to reduce the headline numbers along the border. That’s no excuse for repeatedly suggesting, as Green did, that the numbers have not been properly released. The numbers are there, no matter how painful they may be to the administration’s critics.

In the first seven weeks of the post-Title 42 environment, CBP data suggests a slight decrease in migrants seeking to enter and a more orderly process in place as the CBP One app has sent more migrants to ports of entry.

But now a federal judge’s ruling has put the administration’s policies in doubt — and hundreds of thousands of people a month are still seeking refuge in the United States.

washington post logoWashington Post, States siphoned away $750 million in infrastructure law climate funds, Ian Duncan, July 27, 2023. The 2021 infrastructure law created two new climate-related programs to tackle emissions and protect roads, but states are free to use half the money for other projects.

With $14 billion in new federal funding, the infrastructure law was supposed to jolt efforts to protect the U.S. highway network from a changing climate and curb carbon emissions that are warming the planet. New records show the effort is off to an unsteady start as hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent elsewhere.
Want to know how your actions can help make a difference for our planet? Sign up for the Climate Coach newsletter, in your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday.

Last year, 38 states made use of a provision in the law to shift about $755 million to general-purpose highway construction accounts, according to Federal Highway Administration records. The sum is more than one-quarter of the total annual amount made available to states in two new climate-related programs.

California shifted $97 million to pay for safety projects. New York moved $36 million to fund what officials called the state’s “core capital program.” Arizona said it used $20 million for its five-year highway construction program, largely for “pavement preservation,” and Louisiana used $8.2 million to fund roundabouts near an outlet mall.

The nibbling away of climate funding highlights a fundamental tension in the 2021 law, which was crafted to secure bipartisan support. Protections to long-standing flexibility in how states use federal highway funding are hampering efforts by Democrats and the Biden administration to make progress on environmental goals. Amid clashes over federal guidance, the financial transfers from two climate programs — coming as weather events batter the nation’s infrastructure with increased intensity — illustrate how states have wide latitude to discount the wishes of leaders in Washington.

The records, released under a Freedom of Information Act request, show several states said they were still putting together plans for how to use the money, typically an injection of tens of millions of dollars annually for each state. Some blamed slow guidance on how to spend the money.

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme heat is covering more U.S. territory than it has all summer, Matthew Cappucci and Jason Same, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). It will be the hottest weather of the summer averaged over the nation, with triple digit heat swelling into the Midwest and Northeast.

An unrelenting heat wave that’s baked the southern United States for weeks is expanding and will cover the most territory of the summer between Wednesday and Friday, swelling into the Upper Midwest and Northeast.

Between 250 and 275 million Americans will face heat indexes of at least 90 degrees, and more than 130 million people are under heat alerts from southern California to Maine, including Phoenix, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, Louisville, Washington, New York and Boston.

washington post logoWashington Post, An ocean heat wave has become a full-blown emergency for Florida’s coral reef, Brady Dennis, Amudalat Ajasa and Chris Mooney, July 27, 2023 (print ed.).‘This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,’ one veteran researcher said, as a marine heat wave shows few signs of ending.

As a blistering marine heat wave persists off the coast, a full-blown emergency is unfolding along the only living coral barrier reef in the continental United States.

“If it remains this hot for the next six weeks, we are going to see a lot more coral mortality out there,” said Lewis, director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography’s Keys Marine Laboratory.

Already, scientists have reported widespread coral bleaching along parts of the roughly 360-mile-long reef, the third largest on the planet. If the heat drags on, they say, a massive coral die-off could follow, with grave consequences for fish and other ocean organisms that depend on the reefs, tourism, commercial fishing and part of the state’s very identity.

“This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” said Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin, Robert Barnes, July 27, 2023. The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Without comment, the justices lifted a lower court’s halt on the remaining construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), which will stretch 300 miles through rugged mountains in West Virginia and Virginia. Environmentalists claim that the pipeline threatens lands, water resources and endangered species along the way, and have found some success blocking final approval at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond.

But much of the pipeline is already built. During the tense negotiations earlier this summer to keep the nation from defaulting on its debts, House Republicans and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III wrangled a deal with the Biden administration to cut the courts out of the process.

How a pipeline helped grease the debt ceiling deal

The bill at issue acted in three ways. It ratified and approved “all federal authorizations” for the project. It expressly stripped courts of jurisdiction to review “any action” by a federal agency granting authorization for the construction and operation of the pipeline. And it said that any claim about the constitutionality of the law could be heard only by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va., on June 22, 2018, to make a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass under the highway. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP)

Nonetheless, a 4th Circuit panel on July 10 issued a stay on part of the pipeline that remains to be built, which runs through the Jefferson National Forest in Southwest Virginia. The panel judges did not provide their reasoning, but environmentalists had argued that the action by Congress improperly cut out the judiciary and violated separation of powers.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote Donald B. Verrilli Jr., a former Obama administration solicitor general who now represents the pipeline builders. “Congress has made clear that there is a paramount national interest in expeditious completion of the pipeline.”

The $6 billion pipeline is a joint venture between some of the largest gas companies in Appalachia and the power company NextEra Energy. Its largest investor is Equitrans Midstream, which has a 48.1 percent ownership interest and will operate the pipeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Some July Heat: ‘Virtually Impossible’ Without Climate Change, Analysis Finds, Delger Erdenesanaa, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). An international group of scientists predicts that extreme heat waves will return more frequently.

Some of the extreme temperatures recorded in the Southwestern United States, southern Europe and northern Mexico at the beginning of the month would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to research made public Tuesday.

During the first half of July hundreds of millions of people in North America, Europe and Asia sweltered under intense heat waves. A heat wave in China was made 50 times as likely by climate change, the researchers said.

World Weather Attribution, an international group of scientists who measure how much climate change influences extreme weather events, focused on the worst heat so far during the northern hemisphere summer. In the United States, temperatures in Phoenix have reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit, roughly 43 Celsius, or higher for more than 20 days in a row. Many places in southern Europe are experiencing record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures. A remote township in Xinjiang, China, hit 126 degrees, breaking the national record.

“Without climate change, we wouldn’t see this at all,” said Friederike Otto, a senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London and co-founder of World Weather Attribution. “Or it would be so rare that it basically would not be happening.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Blistering Heat Spreads to U.S. Midwest as Wildfire Smoke Lingers, Julie Bosman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Midwestern residents sweltered in the heat wave that has scorched the South and Southwest for many days.

illinois mapThe heat wave that has scorched much of the American South and Southwest is now spreading throughout the Midwest, bringing temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, dangerous conditions for millions of people and pleas from state and local officials to avoid the outdoors.

The extreme heat and humidity will spread misery across the region, particularly on Wednesday, meteorologists said, while warning that the intense heat and humidity could linger for days. In cities like St. Louis, Wichita, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., temperatures could be 10 to 20 degrees above normal, and heat index readings, which consider both temperature and humidity, will reach into the 100s.

The blistering weather arrived just as another health menace swept in: Canadian wildfire smoke that has once again settled over parts of the Midwest.

In Chicago on Tuesday, the Air Quality Index reached 187 — a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups — leaving the skies over Lake Michigan hazy and prompting some people to return to wearing masks as they walked dogs and ran errands.

ny times logoNew York Times, Warming Could Push the Atlantic Past a ‘Tipping Point’ This Century, Raymond Zhong, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). The system of ocean currents that regulates the climate for a swath of the planet could collapse sooner than expected, a new analysis found.

The last time there was a major slowdown in the mighty network of ocean currents that shapes the climate around the North Atlantic, it seems to have plunged Europe into a deep cold for over a millennium.

That was roughly 12,800 years ago, when not many people were around to experience it. But in recent decades, human-driven warming could be causing the currents to slow once more, and scientists have been working to determine whether and when they might undergo another great weakening, which would have ripple effects for weather patterns across a swath of the globe.

A pair of researchers in Denmark this week put forth a bold answer: A sharp weakening of the currents, or even a shutdown, could be upon us by century’s end.

It was a surprise even to the researchers that their analysis showed a potential collapse coming so soon, one of them, Susanne Ditlevsen, a professor of statistics at the University of Copenhagen, said in an interview. Climate scientists generally agree that the Atlantic circulation will decline this century, but there’s no consensus on whether it will stall out before 2100.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

WhoWhatWhy, Going Deep Investigative Commentary: RFK Jr.’s Panel of Health Hoaxers, Hucksters & Hustlers, Russ Baker, right, July 26-27, 2023. The russ baker cropped david welkerquestion is, what are they really selling?

Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)

whowhatwhy logoHe tried to squirm out of it, claiming he never said it, but those words will not go away. To wit, they have already settled into the fertile soil of a neo-Nazi website.

So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.

One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theory that COVID-19 is a bioweapon designed to spare Chinese and Jewish people — almost exactly what Kennedy later claimed publicly, although she may have only confirmed ideas he already had.

Tenpenny is quite the character. She has shared numerous antisemitic claims on social media, including Holocaust denial and praise for the notorious forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,

In early 2022, she claimed Jews were using the Ukraine conflict to distract the world from a meeting in Europe about pandemic preparedness.

Kennedy will have a hard time disassociating himself from Tenpenny and her beliefs, given that she is right next to him in the image below for Kennedy’s June 27 “Health Policy Roundtable.”

Virtual Health Policy Roundtable tweet. Photo credit: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. / Twitter

Let’s take a closer look at Tenpenny, who Kennedy says is “leading this movement against vaccines,” and a brief look at the others.

Kennedy’s Brain Trust

Tenpenny has claimed that vaccines leave people magnetized. This was her proof:

They can put a key on their forehead. It sticks. They can put spoons and forks all over them and they can stick, because now we think that there’s a metal piece to that.

She explained this — as an “expert witness” — to lawmakers in the Ohio House at a hearing in favor of a bill that would prevent businesses and government from requiring proof of vaccination. A nurse tried to demonstrate the phenomenon, with embarrassing results.

Tenpenny also claimed that vaccines interface with 5G cellular towers, and that “we’re trying to figure out what it is that’s being transmitted to these unvaccinated [sic] people that is causing health problems.” She also spread the idea that vaccinated people “shed” — leading at least one private school to instruct immunized teachers to stay away from unvaccinated students, claiming they could develop menstrual irregularities and other reproductive harm, merely from interacting with them.

Tenpenny, author of the book Saying No to Vaccines, is an osteopath, a type of doctor deploying a holistic approach to disease — but with no expertise in magnetism, epidemiology, virology, immunology, or infectious disease. The Center for Countering Digital Hate said she is one of the top 12 spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation.

Politico, DeSantis suggests he could pick RFK Jr. to lead the FDA or CDC, Andrew Zhang, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Kennedy, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, has taken heat from liberals for his views on vaccines and Covid.

politico CustomDemocratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. might have an offer to run a federal agency in 2025 — but not for the party he is running to gain the nomination from.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is struggling to gain steam in the GOP primary, mused on Wednesday in an interview with Clay Travis on OutKick that he generally aligns with Kennedy’s conservative views on Covid-19 policies and vaccines. Those views, DeSantis indicated, could make him a pick to lead a federal agency with medical jurisdiction.

ron desantis hands out“If you’re president, sic him on the FDA if he’d be willing to serve. Or sic him on CDC,” DeSantis, right, said, in response to a question about whether he would pick Kennedy as a running mate. “In terms of being veep, if there’s 70 percent of the issues that he may be averse to our base on, that just creates an issue.”

Kennedy, who remains a long shot for the Democratic presidential nomination, has aired contentious views over vaccines, having questioned their effectiveness on several occasions. In the past few weeks, he came under sharp fire from liberals for suggesting that Covid was engineered to be less lethal to Asian and Jewish people. He has also been a critic of Anthony Fauci, the former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, commenting once that he would prosecute him if “crimes were committed.”
RFK Jr. testifies: I never said anything 'racist or antisemitic'

cdc logo CustomDeSantis’ comments fit into the governor’s ongoing criticism of the federal bureaucracy, which he has described over recent years as becoming too “woke” and corrupted. DeSantis has pledged to abolish several government agencies and departments if elected president, including the IRS and the Department of Education.

Conservatives like DeSantis have railed against health-related agencies in particular, animating fervor over pandemic-related lockdowns and mandates. As Florida governor, DeSantis has waged a verbal and legal war against the CDC and FDA — two agencies with broad jurisdiction over health matters that he especially targeted during the peak of the pandemic for mandates.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden lawyer who defended affirmative action grapples with diversity in her own office, Tobi Raji and Theodoric Meyer, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). When Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar defended college affirmative action programs before the Supreme Court in October, she cited the lack of diversity in a group of people the justices know well: the lawyers who argue before them.

Just two of 27 lawyers who appeared before the court over the next two weeks would be women, Prelogar told the justices — a statistic that she argued could lead women to wonder whether they have a shot at arguing before the Supreme Court.

Prelogar cited only the dearth of women and not of Black and Hispanic lawyers arguing before the court, but her message in a case dealing with race-conscious admissions programs was clear.

“When there is that kind of gross disparity in representation, it can matter and it’s common sense,” she told the justices.
Elizabeth B. Prelogar at her nomination hearing to be solicitor general on Sept. 14, 2021. (Rod Lamkey/Consolidated News Photos)

Her argument didn’t sway the court’s conservative majority, which ruled last month that Harvard and the University of North Carolina’s affirmative action programs were unconstitutional.

It did garner the attention of the court’s three liberal justices, who cited Prelogar’s remarks in a dissent, warning that “inequality in the pipeline to this institution, too, will deepen.”

But a similar lack of diversity to the one Prelogar pointed out in her argument has persisted for years in the solicitor general’s office, which is part of the Justice Department and represents the federal government before the Supreme Court.

Over the past dozen terms, nearly three-quarters of Supreme Court arguments made by lawyers in the office have been delivered by men, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

More than 80 percent have been made by White lawyers, according to the analysis of the office’s attorneys whose race could be confirmed. No Hispanic lawyer has argued a case for the office since 2016. No Black lawyer has done so since 2012.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

supreme court amazon images

 

More on Russia, Ukraine

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Officials Say Ukraine Has Launched New Push in South, Staff Reports, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). A Russian occupation official said Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons had begun a significant attack in the Zaporizhzhia region.

ukraine flagPro-Russian officials said on Wednesday that Ukrainian forces had launched a significant attack south of the town of Orikhiv in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine, suggesting that a new phase of Kyiv’s counteroffensive may be underway in that part of the front line.

There was no direct comment from Ukrainian authorities, and the Russian claims could not be independently confirmed. But Orikhiv is an important location in Ukraine’s push to expel Russian forces from the south and east of the country, and both sides have built up their forces in the area.

Vladimir Rogov, an official appointed by Moscow in southern Ukraine, said that fierce battles were underway south of Orikhiv, a Ukrainian-held town around 60 miles north of the Sea of Azov, a key goal of Ukraine’s forces as they pursue a counteroffensive to take back Russian-controlled territory. He said on the Telegram app that the Ukrainians fighting there had been trained abroad and were equipped with about 100 German-made Leopard tanks and American-made Bradley Fighting Vehicles.

A Russian occupation official said Ukrainian forces equipped with Western weapons had begun a significant attack in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Here’s what we’re covering:

  • The area south of Orikhiv is a key battleground in Ukraine’s counteroffensive.
  • British military intelligence says Russia plans to enforce a blockade against Ukraine.
  • The U.N. Security Council will meet as Russian attacks on Odesa have escalated.
  • Internet trolls propelled Prigozhin’s rise. Now some celebrate his fall.
  • A former U.S. Marine freed in a prisoner swap was injured while fighting in Ukraine.

 

vladimir putin cbs 5 13 2022ny times logoNew York Times, President Vladimir Putin promised free grain to at least six African countries at a summit, hoping to shore up Russia’s image, Anton Troianovski and Declan Walsh, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). At a summit for African countries, the Russian president insisted that Western hypocrisy rather than his invasion of Ukraine was to blame for disruptions in the global food supply.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia pledged on Thursday to ship free grain to at least six African countries over the next four months, scrambling to shore up Moscow’s image on the continent in the wake of the Kremlin’s refusal to extend a deal that had protected Ukrainian grain exports that help feed millions of people around the world.

Mr. Putin, speaking at a summit for African countries in St. Petersburg that drew far fewer African leaders than its 2019 iteration, insisted in a keynote speech that Western hypocrisy rather than Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was to blame for disruptions in the global food supply.

“Nothing happened of what was discussed and promised to us,” Mr. Putin said, repeating his assertion that the West had failed to fulfill its end of the grain deal and had done nothing to clear the way for Russian food and fertilizer exports.

He added that those casting Russia as an unreliable food supplier were “telling lies,” which he said had “been the practice of some Western states for decades, if not centuries.”

Russia’s exit from the grain deal last week drew a global outcry, putting Mr. Putin on the defensive amid his long-running effort to draw African countries to Russia’s side in its geopolitical conflict with the United States. The pomp of the summit on Thursday in the storied city St. Petersburg — the Russian imperial capital built by Peter the Great, and also Mr. Putin’s hometown — appeared intended to signal to African leaders that Russia was their true friend.

Mr. Putin said that Russia would deliver 25,000 to 50,000 tons of free grain each to Burkina Faso, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Mali, Somalia and Zimbabwe in the next three to four months.

“We will also provide for the free delivery of the products to the consumers,” he said.

Despite Mr. Putin’s profession of charity, there appeared to be a geopolitical undertone to the list of recipients of free Russian grain. Of the six, only Somalia voted against Russia at the United Nations in February in supporting a resolution that called for an end to the war in Ukraine. In Mali and the Central African Republic, Russia’s Wagner mercenary group has propped up authoritarian governments.

The Kremlin also sought to portray Russia as a spiritual ally of Africa — as a bastion of conservative values, in contrast to a godless West. The summit was officially billed as not only an economic forum, but also a “humanitarian” one, as Mr. Putin increasingly deploys conservative rhetoric to win international, and not just domestic, support.

Patriarch Kirill I, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, used Thursday’s session to castigate the West for promoting “anti-values” such as gay rights.

“Most African countries categorically reject the legalization on the legislative level of so-called same-sex unions, euthanasia and other sinful phenomena from a religious point of view,” the patriarch told the African delegates, speaking after Mr. Putin and President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros, the current African Union chairman.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Ukraine Pushes in Southern Ukraine, Putin Claims ‘Intensified’ Fighting, Staff Reports, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). President Vladimir Putin said hostilities had escalated significantly, a day after the U.S. said Ukraine had begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive.

A day after U.S. officials said that Ukraine had begun the main thrust of its counteroffensive, the Russian president said hostilities had escalated “in a significant way.” The Ukrainian military said on Thursday that its forces were pushing in two directions in southern Ukraine, aiming to rip through Moscow’s heavily fortified defensive lines, as President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia acknowledged a major uptick in fighting.

“We confirm that hostilities have intensified and in a significant way,” Mr. Putin said on the sidelines of a summit of African leaders in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was the Russian president’s first direct comments on what U.S. officials have described as the start of Ukraine’s main thrust of its counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region, involving thousands of soldiers newly outfitted with Western arms.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia launched blistering artillery and aerial bombardments across southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said, an apparent effort to repel the intensifying Ukrainian assault. Russian forces are focusing their “main efforts on preventing the further advance of Ukrainian troops,” the Ukrainian military’s general staff reported.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More Global News

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: African nations aren’t tilting toward Putin’s Russia, Adam Taylor, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Since the very start, Africa has found itself in the middle of the geopolitical divide over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Just days after the invasion last year, its leaders sparked consternation in Western capitals as 17 of Africa’s 54 states abstained from a vote to condemn Russian aggression in the U.N. General Assembly. Another eight African nations made up the bulk of voters absent.

After that, there was an effort in Europe and North America to push the continent into line. It wasn’t always so charming: During a trip last summer to one of the absentee nations, Cameroon, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he had “seen too much hypocrisy, particularly on the African continent,” on the war.

But if Russian President Vladimir Putin thought that he could use Western condescension to charm African leaders, he has once again been overconfident. On Thursday, Putin hosts a high-profile summit for African leaders in his hometown of St. Petersburg. Just 16 African heads of state are expected to attend, according to reporting from my colleagues Robyn Dixon and Katharine Houreld.

That’s less than half of the 43 who came to the first Russia-Africa summit in 2019. And that lower scale comes despite a full-scale diplomatic push from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has made multiple trips to the continent since Russia invaded Ukraine.

Any idea that Africa as a whole leans toward Russia is clearly mistaken. Through the Wagner mercenary group, Russia has played a decisive, though often destructive, role in nations including Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan, and Moscow has friendly relations with major powers like Egypt and South Africa.

But look at the totality of the five votes against condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine at the United Nations; things aren’t rosy for Moscow. Yes, the majority of Africa’s 54 member states abstained in most of the several votes condemning Russia’s war, but Moscow has only had two African states actually vote with it — pariah states Eritrea and Mali — and even those didn’t do so each time, instead abstaining in some votes. Meanwhile, 19 African states have voted with Ukraine and its allies at least once.

There’s no easy way to summarize the continent’s views of the war in Ukraine. There are 1.3 billion people living across an array of countries, all with their own politics. Whether to support Ukraine, Russia, or neither comes down to a long list of local factors, only some of which overlap. Historically, most countries in Africa have been officially nonaligned.

ny times logoNew York Times, Niger’s President Vows to Save Democracy as Army Says It Backs Coup, Declan Walsh and Elian Peltier, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The army chief declared his support for a group of mutineers that seized power on Wednesday. President Mohamed Bazoum and his allies insisted the coup could be reversed.

Hours after soldiers seized power in the West African nation of Niger, the country’s ousted president sounded a defiant note on Thursday morning, vowing to protect his “hard won” democratic gains, even as he was being held by his own guards.

But a statement by the army high command later on Thursday poured cold water on such hopes. The army was backing the mutineers “to avoid bloodshed” and prevent infighting in the security forces, it said in a statement signed by its chief, Gen. Abdou Sidikou Issa.

The president, Mohamed Bazoum, appeared to be still in detention at the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, where his guards turned on him early Wednesday, prompting a crisis in the vast, largely desert nation twice the size of France.

“The hard-won gains will be safeguarded,” Mr. Bazoum said in a message on social media. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

  • New York Times, The European Central Bank raised interest rates again, saying that inflation remained “too high,” July 27, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Ousting a Top Official, China Erases Him and Evades Questions, David Pierson, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). China denounced “malicious hype” around the removal of Qin Gang. The Foreign Ministry’s fumbling response signaled its diminished influence under Xi Jinping.

qin gangChina is failing to stop the questions that had dogged Chinese officials in the month since he vanished from public view: Where is Mr. Qin? Does he have health issues? Is he under investigation?

Representatives of the Foreign Ministry have struggled to respond when pressed by reporters, repeatedly saying that they had no information to provide. After China replaced him on Tuesday, nearly all references to Mr. Qin, right, were scrubbed from the ministry’s website, an unusual erasure that has only deepened the intrigue. On Thursday, asked by a reporter if China had been transparent about Mr. Qin’s ousting, a spokeswoman lashed out at what she called “malicious hype.”

For a department tasked with speaking to the outside world, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s floundering response to the disappearance of one of its own top officials highlights the weakness of China’s diplomatic apparatus under President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has concentrated power under himself and enforced secrecy in an already highly opaque system, no matter the cost to China’s international image.

Mr. Xi has diminished the sway of the Foreign Ministry, analysts say, as he’s pursued an increasingly assertive, and some say risky, foreign policy.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Student Loans

 

federal reserve building designed by marriner eccles

ny times logoNew York Times, Fed Raises Rates and Leaves the Door Open to More Increases, Jeanna Smialek and Ben Casselman, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Federal Reserve officials raised interest rates to their highest level in 22 years, continuing their 16-month-long campaign to wrestle inflation lower by cooling the American economy.

Officials pushed rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent, their highest level since 2001, while leaving the door open to further rate increases in the statement announcing their unanimous decision. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, is speaking to journalists to explain the move — and, potentially, to offer some hint at how the central bank is thinking about its next step. Here’s what to know about the Fed’s latest decision:

federal reserve system CustomFed policymakers began to raise rates from near-zero in March 2022 and pushed them up rapidly last year before adjusting them more slowly in 2023, even pausing in June. Because officials think that rates are now high enough to weigh on the economy, they have been moving more gradually to give themselves time to see how growth, the job market and inflation data are responding to the shift in policy. “We’ve covered a lot of ground, and the full effects of our tightening have yet to be felt,” Mr. Powell said during his news conference.

Economists have recently become increasingly hopeful that the Fed might be able to slow inflation without causing an outright downturn, clinching what is often called a soft landing. Inflation has finally begun to subside notably at a time when hiring still remains strong and the unemployment is hovering at very low levels. In a nod to that resilience, officials noted on Wednesday that the economy is expanding at a “moderate” pace, an upgrade from “modest” in their June statement. Mr. Powell said that wrangling inflation would probably require “some softening” in labor market conditions.

Fed officials may not feel comfortable that inflation will return fully to their 2 percent goal at a time when growth remains so robust. Although the slowdown in inflation so far is welcome news, it has not been driven primarily by their policy changes, but by a slow return to normal after years of pandemic-related disruptions across a range of products, from cars to couches. Mr. Powell said that the process of getting inflation back to 2 percent has “a long way to go.”

“The committee will continue to assess additional information and its implications for monetary policy,” Fed officials said in their statement. Central bankers reiterated that they will take into account how much rates have already climbed and both economic and financial developments as they weigh to what extent further policy change “may be appropriate.”

The Fed projected in June that it would make two more rate increases this year — the one it ushered in on Wednesday, and then a follow-up at some point in the future. Investors and some economists have speculated that officials may hold off on that second rate move in light of the recent slowdown in inflation. Policymakers do not need to make another decision on interest rates until Sept. 20. “We haven’t made any decisions about any future meetings,” Mr. Powell said.

Powell says that monetary policy is “restrictive,” meaning that interest rates are high enough to slow down economic growth. One interesting effect of cooling inflation is that it will tend to make Fed policy more restrictive, even without further rate increases. That’s because what matters are inflation-adjusted (or “real”) interest rates. As inflation falls, real rates will move higher, putting a further brake on growth.

Federal Reserve officials lifted borrowing costs by a quarter-point after pausing in June. The question now is: What comes next?

ny times logoNew York Times, Consumers Kept U.S. Economic Recovery on Track in Second Quarter, Ben Casselman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). Gross domestic product rose at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the spring, far stronger than forecasters expected a few months ago.Consumers Kept U.S. Economic Recovery on Track in Second Quarter.

The economic recovery gained momentum in the spring as American consumers continued spending despite rising interest rates and warnings of a looming recession.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, rose at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was up from a 2 percent growth rate in the first three months of the year and far stronger than forecasters expected a few months ago.

Consumers led the way, as they have throughout the recovery from the severe but short-lived pandemic recession. Spending rose at a 1.6 percent rate, slower than in the first quarter but still solid. Much of that growth came from spending on services, as consumers shelled out for vacation travel, restaurant meals and Taylor Swift tickets.

Consumers didn’t carry all the weight, however. Business investment rebounded in the second quarter, and increased spending by state and local governments contributed to growth.

The resilience of the economy has surprised economists, many of whom thought that high inflation — and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stamp it out through aggressive interest-rate increases — would lead to a recession, or at least a clear slowdown in the first half of the year. For a while, it looked as if they were going to be right: Tech companies were laying off tens of thousands of workers, the housing market was in a deep slump and a series of bank failures set up fears of a financial crisis.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

 

 

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

ny times logoNew York Times, Giuliani Admits to Making False Statements About Georgia Election Workers, Alan Feuer, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Rudolph Giuliani said he still had “legal defenses” in a case brought by two workers who said he had defamed them in claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

Rudolph W. Giuliani has conceded that while acting as a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump, he made false statements by asserting that two Georgia election workers had mishandled ballots while counting votes in Atlanta during the 2020 election.

The concession by Mr. Giuliani came in court papers filed on Tuesday night as part of a defamation lawsuit that the two workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, had brought against him in Federal District Court in Washington in December 2021.

The suit accused Mr. Giuliani and others of promoting a video that purported to show Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss — who are mother and daughter — of manipulating ballots while working at the State Farm Arena for the Fulton County Board of Elections.

In a two-page declaration, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had in fact made the statements about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss that led to the filing of the suit and that the remarks “carry meaning that is defamatory per se.” He also admitted that his statements were “actionable” and “false” and that he no longer disputed the “factual elements of liability” the election workers had raised in their suit.

But Mr. Giuliani, insisting that he still had “legal defenses” in the case, said that he continued to believe his accusations about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were “constitutionally protected” under the First Amendment. He also refused to acknowledge that his statements had caused the women any damage — a key element required to collect a judgment in a defamation case.

The declaration, which was filed as Mr. Giuliani was confronting potentially painful sanctions for having purportedly failed to live up to his discovery obligations in the case, appeared to be part of an effort to limit the amount of money he might have to spend on the case.

In the declaration, he acknowledged making his admissions “to avoid unnecessary expenses in litigating what he believes to be unnecessary disputes.”

Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Giuliani, said he had made the concessions to move the case more quickly to a point where a motion to dismiss could be filed.

Michael J. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, said that Mr. Giuliani’s declaration conceded that his clients had “honorably performed their civic duties in the 2020 presidential election in full compliance with the law, and the allegations of election fraud he and former President Trump made against them have been false since Day 1.”New York Times, The Very Private Life of Melania Trump, July 26, 2023. The former first lady has steered clear of the campaign trail while her husband fights to return to the White House and faces increasing legal peril.

  Proof, The Trump Trials, Vol. 19 Investigative Commentary: An Urgent Primer on the Apparently Imminent Federal Criminal Indictment of Donald Trump in seth abramson graphicWashington, D.C., Seth Abramson, left, July 24, 2023. This Proof series—authored by a longtime criminal defense lawyer and leading Trump biographer—unpacks recent events in the historic trials of disgraced former president Donald Trump.

Introduction: The primary goal of this new entry in the Trump Trials series is to define in simple terms the key words and phrases likely to be associated with the upcoming federal criminal indictment(s) of former president Donald Trump in Washington, DC. Too many Americans have heard Trump’s falsehoods about the Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith—and/or the cultish denials and dismissals of Trump followers, who most recently were seen casually brushing aside the federal judicial finding that Trump is indeed a rapist—and too few fully understand the scope and dimensions of the ongoing federal criminal investigation into the events preceding and occurring on January 6, 2021.

Given this, a second goal of this report is to situate the ongoing investigations and prosecutions of Donald Trump in our historical moment—contextualizing a moment in which what’s happening in courthouses in DC and Florida and Georgia and NYC may actually be both less and more significant than many realize or anyone is saying.

 Recent Relevant Headlines

 

U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith announces indictment of former U.S. President Trump on June 9, 2023.

U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Jack Smith announces indictment of former U.S. President Trump on June 9, 2023.

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

hunter biden beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s plea deal in jeopardy over questions about immunity, Perry Stein, Karl Baker, Devlin Barrett and Matt Viser, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors and defense lawyers could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize President Biden’s son, above, from future charges.

The plea deal for Hunter Biden was on the brink of falling apart Wednesday, when the two sides could not agree on whether admitting to two tax crimes would immunize the president’s son from possible additional charges.

irs logoU.S. District Court Judge Maryellen Noreika pressed federal prosecutors and Biden’s lawyers to come to some “meeting of the minds.” But that appeared unlikely, as the two sides said they did not see eye to eye about the precise terms of their own plea agreement.

Justice Department log circularAt one point in the hearing, Biden’s lawyer declared there was no deal — meaning that a long-running criminal investigation that Republicans have used to accuse both the president and his son of corruption might lead to a trial after all.

“As far as I’m concerned, the plea agreement is null and void,” Biden lawyer Chris Clark said.

The confusion over what, exactly, Biden would get or not get by pleading guilty stems in part from the unusual way his plea deal was structured — with a guilty plea to two tax misdemeanors, and a diversion program, not a guilty plea, for an illegal gun possession charge.

That arrangement allowed Biden to admit the facts of the gun case without technically pleading guilty to the charge. It also created a bifurcated deal in which the assurances Biden wants that he won’t be pursued for other tax or foreign lobbying charges were not part of the tax case, but part of the gun diversion agreement, lawyers said in court.

Deals to plead guilty can sometimes fall apart under closer scrutiny from a federal judge, but even when that happens, the two sides often find a way to eventually resolve the issue and enter a deal acceptable to the court.

On Wednesday, the judge urged the prosecutors and defense lawyers to spend some more time talking, in the hopes that the guilty plea hearing might be salvaged. As the two sides spoke to each other, it became more clear how far apart they were.

“I don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish by blowing this up,” Clark told prosecutors. One of those prosecutors, Leo Wise, pointed to papers related to the case and said he was bound by the terms in them.

Clark shot back: “Then we misunderstood, we’re ripping it up.”

The deal Biden struck in June meant he would likely stay out of jail if he stays drug-free for two years.

At the start of Wednesday’s hearing, Biden said he was prepared to enter the plea. Then Noreika asked whether he would still enter the plea if it was possible additional charges might be filed against him in the future. When Biden answered no, he would not, the judge ordered a break in the proceeding.

The probe was opened in 2018, during the Trump administration, and has been a favorite talking point for Republican critics of President Biden and his family. Republican politicians have repeatedly accused Hunter Biden of broad wrongdoing in his overseas business deals and, since his father was elected, predicted that the Biden administration would be reluctant to pursue the case.

Papers filed in federal court in Wilmington when the plea agreement was reached indicate that Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges of failure to pay in 2017 and 2018. A court document says that in both those years, Biden was a resident of D.C., received taxable income of more than $1.5 million and owed more than $100,000 in income tax that he did not pay on time.

Prosecutors planned to recommend a sentence of probation for those counts, according to people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe elements of the case that are not yet public. Hunter Biden’s representatives have previously said that he eventually paid the IRS what he owed.

A second court filing is about the charge of illegally possessing a weapon, which involves a handgun Biden purchased at a time when he was abusing drugs. In that case, the letter says, “the defendant has agreed to enter a Pretrial Diversion Agreement with respect to the firearm Information.” Handling the gun charge as a diversion case means Biden will not technically be pleading guilty to that crime.

ny times logoNew York Times, Man Sentenced to 5 Years in Scheme Tied to Trump-Inspired Border Wall, Colin Moynihan, July 26, 2023 (print ed.). Prosecutors said Timothy Shea and his group stole over a million dollars, spending some on jewelry, boat payments and a Trump-themed energy drink.

timothy shea wall caseA Colorado man convicted last year of conspiring to defraud people who donated money to build the kind of border wall championed by Donald J. Trump was sentenced Tuesday to five years and three months in prison.

The defendant, Timothy Shea, right, began raising money for a wall between the United States and Mexico in late 2018, working with a disabled veteran named Brian Kolfage. In early 2019 Stephen K. Bannon, the former Trump adviser, and Andrew Badolato, a financier from Florida, joined them to form a group called We Build the Wall.

The group raised more than $25 million, saying that everything it took in would go toward the wall. Mr. Kolfage, We Build the Wall’s public face, promised he would “not take a penny.”

Prosecutors said that instead the defendants stole more than a million dollars from the group, spending some on jewelry, boat payments and cases of a Trump-themed energy drink that claimed to contain “liberal tears.”

Mr. Shea was convicted last fall of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to launder money and falsifying records. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors wrote to the court that he had “viewed this fund-raising project as a cash cow.”

The defense countered that Mr. Shea had believed that Mr. Kolfage’s pledge not to take money was “more like a salesman’s boast than an actual promise.”

“Mr. Shea is a very good man who succumbed to some bad activity because he was carried away with the prospect of making a really big income,” wrote his lawyer, Thomas H. Nooter.

On Tuesday, Mr. Shea addressed Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court in Manhattan.

“I regret all of the We Build the Wall stuff,” he said. “I would ask that you be lenient.”

Just before imposing her sentence, Judge Torres told Mr. Shea that by taking money under false pretenses he had eroded “the public’s faith in the political process.”

We Build the Wall’s stated aim was to advance Mr. Trump’s goal of a “big, beautiful” barrier along the southern border. Its advisory board included Trump allies like Kris Kobach, who is a former Kansas secretary of state, and Erik Prince, the founder of the private military company Blackwater, now known as Academi. Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., praised the group.

Prosecutors said money from We Build the Wall was funneled into companies controlled by Mr. Bannon and Mr. Shea, with each keeping some money and sending some to Mr. Kolfage.

Mr. Shea was the only one of the four defendants to go to trial. Mr. Kolfage and Mr. Badolato pleaded guilty to charges connected to We Build the Wall. Mr. Kolfage was sentenced this year to four years and three months in prison and Mr. Badolato was sentenced to three.

Mr. Bannon was dropped from the federal case after Mr. Trump pardoned him but is now facing trial on state charges related to We Build the Wall.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, Once Wary, Biden to Host Italy’s New Leader at the White House, Peter Baker, July 27, 2023. President Biden had concerns about Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right politics. But she has proved an ally in the U.S.-led effort to support Ukraine.

Just a few days after a once fringe far-right party came out ahead in last fall’s elections in Italy, President Biden warned that it could be a sign of trouble for democracy.

italy decalAt an evening political fund-raiser that September, he told donors that China’s president had argued that “democracies can’t be sustained in the 21st century” and then added, “you just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election,” as if it were an indicator.

But as Mr. Biden hosts Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, the fears of last fall have largely dissipated. Italy’s new leader has emerged as a strong ally in the president’s central foreign policy priority, the war in Ukraine, and he hopes to strengthen his bond with her during a high-profile visit.

“The president has enjoyed working with her,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Wednesday. “Certainly on issues of foreign policy, there’s been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we’re taking with Italy.” He noted that Italy is sheltering 170,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing security assistance in the fight against Russian invaders.

That was not always a given. Ms. Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, traces its roots to the neo-fascist political factions that emerged after World War II. In forming a coalition government after last September’s elections, Ms. Meloni became the first far-right nationalist to lead Italy since Benito Mussolini. To Mr. Biden’s chagrin, she seemed to be an Italian version of former President Donald J. Trump, having addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, a group broadly supportive of Mr. Trump.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

ny times logoNew York Times, How George Santos Used Political Connections to Fuel Get-Rich Schemes, Grace Ashford, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Mr. Santos, the first-term House member under federal indictment, tried to use his candidacy and ties to G.O.P. donors to create moneymaking opportunities.

George Santos and three other men approached a loyal campaign donor with a potentially lucrative opportunity. The donor was immediately skeptical.

In the years since Mr. Santos first ran for the House in 2020, he has become adept at finding ways to extract money from politics. He founded a political consulting group that he marketed to other Republicans. He sought to profit from the Covid crisis, using campaign connections. And he solicited investments for and from political donors, raising ethical questions.

Mr. Santos has been charged with 13 felonies for misrepresenting his earnings, collecting $24,000 in unemployment while employed, and pocketing $50,000 he solicited from political supporters through what he claimed was a super PAC.

George Santos has told so many stories they can be hard to keep straight. We cataloged them, including major questions about his personal finances and his campaign fund-raising and spending.

Mr. Santos, who has pleaded not guilty, has not been charged with personal use of campaign funds. But a review of his political career found several previously unreported examples of how he sought to use the connections he made as a candidate for public office to enrich himself.

The proposition involving the wealthy Polish national is a prime example, as Mr. Santos partnered with a former Republican state assemblyman, Michael LiPetri; and Bryant Park Associates, a company run by a Republican donor, Dominick Sartorio, according to the investor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said his business interests would be harmed if he was publicly associated with Mr. Santos.

 Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: The Ohio GOP’s bold abortion gambit has imploded, Aaron Blake, July 24, 2023. The year 2022 put Republicans in a pickle on abortion rights — and nowhere was that clearer than on ballot measures.

First, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, leaving the issue to the states. But then every state in which the issue was put to voters directly wound up supporting abortion rights — and often by large margins. The six states included swing-state Michigan, but also red states Kansas, Kentucky and Montana.

That cued up what may be the biggest ballot-measure battle of 2023 — in Ohio, where Republicans quickly signaled they’d forge a brazen strategy to prevent themselves from joining the other states in enshrining abortion rights in their constitutions.

That strategy appears to be going up in flames.

Facing such a ballot measure, Ohio Republicans moved to raise the threshold for constitutional amendments to 60 percent, from 50 percent plus one. Ohioans will vote on this — via ballot measure — on Aug. 8.

It turns out that not only do voters overwhelmingly oppose changing the rules for amending the state constitution, but also that the abortion rights measure might have gotten to 60 percent anyway.

Suffolk University provided the data.

We learned last week that Ohioans opposed State Issue 1 — raising the ballot measure threshold, among other restrictions on the process — 57 percent to 26 percent.

Now Suffolk has released numbers on the abortion measure specifically, and the deficit for the GOP is similarly lopsided: Ohioans support the amendment 58 percent to 32 percent.

Those margins in increasingly red Ohio reinforce just how much of a political loser restricting abortion rights appears to be.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, The Steep Cost of Ron DeSantis’s Covid Vaccine Turnabout, Sharon LaFraniere, Patricia Mazzei and Albert Sun, July 23, 2023 (print ed.). The Florida governor lost enthusiasm for the shot before the Delta wave. It’s a grim chapter he now leaves out of his retelling of his pandemic response.

600 Americans daily and hundreds of thousands of deaths still to come, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, heard her cellphone ring. It was Dr. Scott Rivkees, the Florida surgeon general. He was distraught.

“‘You won’t believe what happened,’” she said he told her. Months before Covid vaccines would become available, Gov. Ron DeSantis had decided that the worst was over for Florida, he said. Mr. DeSantis had begun listening to doctors who believed the virus’s threat was overstated, and he no longer supported preventive measures like limiting indoor dining.

Mr. DeSantis was going his own way on Covid.

Nearly three years later, the governor now presents his Covid strategy not only as his biggest accomplishment, but as the foundation for his presidential campaign. Mr. DeSantis argues that “Florida got it right” because he was willing to stand up for the rights of individuals despite pressure from health “bureaucrats.” On the campaign trail, he says liberal bastions like New York and California needlessly traded away freedoms while Florida preserved jobs, in-person schooling and quality of life.

But a close review by The New York Times of Florida’s pandemic response, including a new analysis of the data on deaths, hospitalizations and vaccination rates in the state, suggests that Mr. DeSantis’s account of his record leaves much out.

As he notes at most campaign stops, he moved quickly to get students back in the classroom, even as many of the nation’s school districts were still in remote learning. National research has suggested there was less learning loss in school districts with more in-person instruction.

Some other policies remain a matter of intense debate. Mr. DeSantis’s push to swiftly reopen businesses helped employment rebound, but also likely contributed to the spread of infections.

But on the single factor that those experts say mattered most in fighting Covid — widespread vaccinations — Mr. DeSantis’s approach proved deeply flawed. While the governor personally crusaded for Floridians 65 and older to get shots, he laid off once younger age groups became eligible.

Tapping into suspicion of public health authorities, which the Republican right was fanning, he effectively stopped preaching the virtues of Covid vaccines. Instead, he emphasized his opposition to requiring anyone to get shots, from hospital workers to cruise ship guests.

That left the state particularly vulnerable when the Delta variant hit that month. Floridians died at a higher rate, adjusted for age, than residents of almost any other state during the Delta wave, according to the Times analysis. With less than 7 percent of the nation’s population, Florida accounted for 14 percent of deaths between the start of July and the end of October.

Of the 23,000 Floridians who died, 9,000 were younger than 65. Despite the governor’s insistence at the time that “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated,” a vast majority of the 23,000 were either unvaccinated or had not yet completed the two-dose regimen.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Education

washington post logoWashington Post, Five school employees arrested for not reporting teen’s sexual assault, Brittany Shammas, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). The letter was handwritten in pink ink and addressed “to whom it may concern.” In it, a Florida teenager warned school staff that her friend was struggling after being sexually assaulted by two boys.

“I have witnessed both of them not taking no for an answer,” wrote the student at Palm Beach Central High School, adding that for her 15-year-old friend, “many anxiety and panic attacks were caused by this leading to self-harm.”

The teen handed the note to her chorus teacher on June 16, 2021, asking that he get it to the right people. But, according to court records, the sexual assault allegations would not reach authorities for months — even as the letter was passed between leadership at the school in Wellington, about 70 miles north of Miami. Law enforcement officials would later find evidence corroborating the assault claims.

Now, the principal and four other Palm Beach County School District employees have been arrested on felony charges over their alleged failures to report the incident, which reportedly occurred off school grounds in the spring of 2021. Each faces up to five years in prison if convicted.

Under Florida law, all of the staffers — principal Darren Edgecomb, assistant principals Nereyda Cayado de Garcia and Daniel Snider, choral teacher Scott Houchins and former counselor Priscilla Carter — were considered “mandatory reporters” of child abuse. That means they were required to report any suspected abuse involving a child to the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

They did not, court records state, and during a school trip to D.C., the victim of the alleged assault tried to kill herself. A Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy told the school employees that if what was reported in the letter “had been properly addressed before the summer,” the girl’s attempted suicide “could have potentially not taken place.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Biden’s Fight With Harvard Is a Political Winner but a Policy ‘Band-Aid,’ Reid J. Epstein, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). A Supreme Court ruling made legacy admissions a ripe target for President Biden, but Americans see tuition costs and student debt as bigger issues.

In the final month of his 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden stood before a drive-in crowd in Toledo, Ohio, and announced he had “a chip on my shoulder” about people with fancy college degrees.

He would, Mr. Biden said, be the first president in “80 or 90 years” without an Ivy League degree — an exaggerated biographical detail that spoke to the image he sought to convey as the blue-collar, workingman’s candidate.

“I went to the University of Delaware, I was proud of it,” Mr. Biden said. “Hard to get there, hard to get through in terms of money. But folks, since when can someone who went to a state university not be qualified to be president?”

harvard logoMr. Biden — the first president without an Ivy League degree since Ronald Reagan, a Eureka College alumnus who left the White House 32 years before Mr. Biden entered it — has now set his administration on a collision course with Harvard, one of the Ivy League’s flagship universities.

His administration’s fight, in the form of a civil rights investigation into Harvard’s legacy admissions process by the Education Department, gives Mr. Biden an opportunity to show himself opposed to the country’s elites as he ramps up a presidential campaign in which he will need support from working-class voters culturally far afield from the Ivy League.

The inquiry serves as an early bank shot for Mr. Biden to show voters that his administration is trying to do something to respond to the Supreme Court’s ruling last month gutting affirmative action in higher education — a decision that led Mr. Biden to declare, “This is not a normal court.” The department’s Office of Civil Rights has significant enforcement authority and Mr. Biden, should he choose to use it, has the White House bully pulpit to negotiate a settlement with Harvard.

This week, the Education Department is hosting a “national summit on equal opportunity” in Washington. Mr. Biden has asked the department to produce a report by September with proposals of what the government should do in response to the court’s decision and singled out legacy admissions as an issue of concern.

But while the Biden administration’s investigation into legacy admissions will surely grab attention among a political and media class overrepresented by Ivy League alumni, it is far less likely to address enduring roadblocks to higher education like skyrocketing tuition costs and mountains of debt incurred by students.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Big Is the Legacy Boost at Elite Colleges? Claire Cain Miller and Aatish Bhatia, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). In the same week as an inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacy students are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

harvard logoIn the same week as a civil rights inquiry into Harvard, new data shows legacies are slightly more qualified yet are four times as likely to get into top schools.

The Education Department’s civil rights investigation into Harvard’s preference for admitting the children of alumni and donors is based on a complaint that it gives less-qualified applicants an edge over those who are more deserving, including students of color.

New data shows that at elite private colleges, the children of alumni, known as legacies, are in fact slightly more qualified than typical applicants, as judged by admissions offices. Even if their legacy status weren’t considered, they would still be about 33 percent more likely to be admitted than applicants with the same test scores, based on all their other qualifications, demographic characteristics and parents’ income and education, according to an analysis conducted by Opportunity Insights, a research group at Harvard.

Researchers said that was unsurprising, given that these students grow up in more educated families. Their parents may be more able to invest in their educations, pay for things like private schools or exclusive sports, and offer insight into what the college is looking for.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Harvard’s legacy of White privilege should end — voluntarily, Jennifer Rubin, right, July 27, 2023. It’s well past time for the United jennifer rubin new headshotStates’ oldest college to get with the times. Harvard University can show real leadership on the diversity front — before it winds up in court, again.

Within hours of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, President Biden told Americans, “I’m directing the Department of Education to analyze what practices help build a more inclusive and diverse student bodies and what practices hold that back, practices like legacy admissions and other systems that expand privilege instead of opportunity.”

 

U.S. Media, Arts, High Tech

x logo twitter

 ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What’s in a Name? Musk/Twitter Edition, Paul Krugman, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). I have (well-managed) arthritis and take pain reducers every day. I normally buy generic acetaminophen; but many people still buy brand-name Tylenol, even though it costs much more.

There’s a long-running debate among economists about why people are willing to pay a premium for name brands. Some emphasize ignorance — one influential study found that health professionals are more likely than the public at large to buy generic painkillers, because they realize that they’re just as effective as name brands. Others suggest that there may be a rational calculation involved: The quality of name brands may be more reliable, because the owners of these brands have a reputation to preserve. It doesn’t have to be either-or; the story behind the brand premium may depend on the product.

What’s clear is that brand names that for whatever reason inspire customer loyalty have real value to the company that owns them and shouldn’t be changed casually.

So what the heck does Elon Musk, the owner of TAFKAT — the app formerly known as Twitter — think he’s doing, changing the platform’s name to X, with a new logo many people, myself included, find troubling?

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why did Elon rebrand Twitter as ‘X’? The mystery, Johanna Drucker, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). The letter X is versatile. It can mean kisses or be a sign of faith. What attracts Elon Musk?

“I like the letter X,” Elon Musk posted, shortly after he renamed and rebranded Twitter. “X will become the most valuable brand on Earth.” X? Can you imagine Musk picking J for the job? Or H? There would be puzzlement, as there is now, and not much else. But X also creates a certain frisson. Why?

The letter X carries so many connotations — many more than almost any other letter — though it was not among the original alphabetic signs in the Proto-Canaanite script that stabilized around 1700 B.C. Long before then, however, human sign systems consisted of very basic marks — stick figures for humans and animals, straight lines for tallies, circles, crosses and X signs. They show up on prehistoric masonry in Crete; they show up in prehistoric Byblos in Syria; they show up on stones marked between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago in the French area of Mas d’Azil.

Johanna Drucker is Breslauer professor and distinguished professor emerita in information studies at UCLA. She is the author of “Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.”

ny times logoNew York Times, What Happened When 15 of Twitter’s Top Celebrities Joined Threads, Yiwen Lu, July 27, 2023. What does the daily activity of Ellen DeGeneres, Wiz Khalifa, Selena Gomez and others say about the staying power of the new platform?

Threads, the new social app from Meta, had a fast start this month when it racked up 100 million downloads in less than a week. With so much momentum, the app seemed well on its way to dethroning Twitter.

But rapid downloads do not necessarily translate to long-term success. Now the question is whether Threads has staying power.

meta logoSo we embarked on an experiment. We compiled a list of 15 of some of the most-followed celebrities and high-profile figures on Twitter who joined Threads, including Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Britney Spears, Shakira and Oprah Winfrey. Then we compared their activity on Twitter with their activity on Threads every day since July 5, when Threads was released. We also looked at what they did on Instagram, which is owned by Meta and developed Threads.

The idea was to see which social platform kept the celebrities — who either declined to comment or didn’t respond to requests for comment — the most active. What we found is just an early snapshot, but it may provide some clues to where Threads is headed.

chat gpt logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Researchers See Flaws in Safety Controls of ChatGPT and Other Chatbots, Cade Metz, July 28, 2023 (print ed.). A new report indicates that the guardrails for widely used chatbots can be thwarted, leading to an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

When artificial intelligence companies build online chatbots, like ChatGPT, Claude and Google Bard, they spend months adding guardrails that are supposed to apple logo rainbowprevent their systems from generating hate speech, disinformation and other toxic material.

Now there is a way to easily poke holes in those safety systems.

In a report released on Thursday, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Center for A.I. Safety in San Francisco showed how anyone could circumvent A.I. safety measures and use any of the leading chatbots to generate nearly unlimited amounts of harmful information.

Their research underscored increasing concern that the new chatbots could flood the internet with false and dangerous information despite attempts by their creators to ensure that would not happen. It also showed how disagreements among leading A.I. companies were creating an increasingly unpredictable environment for the technology.

The researchers found that they could use a method gleaned from open source A.I. systems — systems whose underlying computer code has been released for anyone to use — to target the more tightly controlled and more widely used systems from Google, OpenAI and Anthropic.

ny times logoNew York Times, Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, died at 56, Ben Sisario and Joe Coscarelli, Updated July 27, 2023. She broke out with the single “Nothing Compares 2 U,” then caused an uproar a few years later by ripping up a photo of Pope John Paul II on “S.N.L.”

Sinead O’Connor, the outspoken Irish singer-songwriter known for her powerful, evocative voice, as showcased on her biggest hit, a breathtaking rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” and for her political provocations onstage and off, has died. She was 56.

“The death is not being treated as suspicious,” the police said in a statement.

Recognizable by her shaved head and by wide eyes that could appear pained or full of rage, Ms. O’Connor released 10 studio albums, beginning with the alternative hit “The Lion and the Cobra” in 1987. She went on to sell millions of albums worldwide, breaking out with “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” in 1990.

That album, featuring “Nothing Compares 2 U,” a No. 1 hit around the world and an MTV staple, won a Grammy Award in 1991 for best alternative music performance — although Ms. O’Connor boycotted the ceremony over what she called the show’s excessive commercialism.

Ms. O’Connor rarely shrank from controversy, but it often came with consequences for her career.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

July 27

Top Headlines

 

More On Assaults On Democracy

 

U.S. Immigration

ICE logo

 

Trump Watch

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Civil Rights, Immigration

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

More On Russia, Ukraine

 

Climate, Environment, Disasters, Transportation, Energy

 

More On 2024 Presidential Race

ron desantis mouth open uncredited

 

Crisis In Israel

 

More Global Stories

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

U.S. Economy, Student Loans, Jobs, Budgets, Politics

 

More On Trump Probes, Pro-Trump Rioters, Election Deniers

djt jan 6 charges msnbc

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Trump wanted Ukraine to impugn Biden. Republicans finally delivered, Philip Bump

 

U.S. Military, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education Policy

 

More On U.S. Media, Arts, Sports, Culture

 

Top Stories

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Faces Major New Charges in Documents Case, Alan Feuer, Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, July 27, 2023. The office of the special counsel accused the former president of seeking to delete security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago. The manager of the property, Carlos De Oliveira, was also named as a new defendant.

Federal prosecutors on Thursday added major accusations to an indictment charging former President Donald J. Trump with mishandling classified documents after he left office, presenting evidence that he told the property manager of Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, that he wanted security camera footage there to be deleted.

The new accusations were revealed in a superseding indictment that named the property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, as a new defendant in the case. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Miami on Monday.

The original indictment filed last month in the Southern District of Florida accused Mr. Trump of violating the Espionage Act by illegally holding on to 31 classified documents containing national defense information after he left office. It also charged Mr. Trump and Walt Nauta, one of his personal aides, with a conspiracy to obstruct the government’s repeated attempts to reclaim the classified material.

The revised indictment added three serious charges against Mr. Trump: attempting to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”; inducing someone else to do so; and a new count under the Espionage Act related to a classified national security document that he showed to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

The updated indictment was released on the same day that Mr. Trump’s lawyers met in Washington with prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, to discuss a so-called target letter that Mr. Trump received this month suggesting that he might soon face an indictment in a case related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It served as a powerful reminder that the documents investigation is ongoing, and could continue to yield additional evidence, new counts and even new defendants.

Prosecutors under Mr. Smith had been investigating Mr. De Oliveira for months, concerned, among other things, by his communications with an information technology expert at Mar-a-Lago, Yuscil Taveras, who oversaw the surveillance camera footage at the property.

That footage was central to Mr. Smith’s investigation into whether Mr. Nauta, at Mr. Trump’s request, had moved boxes in and out of a storage room at Mar-a-Lago to avoid complying with a federal subpoena for all classified documents in the former president’s possession. Many of those movements were caught on the surveillance camera footage.

The revised indictment said that in late June of last year, shortly after the government demanded the surveillance footage as part of its inquiry, Mr. Trump called Mr. De Oliveira and they spoke for 24 minutes.

Two days later, the indictment said, Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira “went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the storage room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Trump Classified Documents Indictment, Annotated, Charlie Savage, Updated July 27, 2023. The Justice Department on Thursday released an updated version of an indictment charging former President Donald J. Trump with 40 criminal counts. They relate to Mr. Trump’s hoarding of sensitive government documents after he left office and his refusal to return them, even after being subpoenaed for all remaining records in his possession that were marked as classified. The indictment supersedes one released June 8, adding three criminal charges for Mr. Trump and naming an additional defendant.

Federal prosecutors said former President Trump told the property manager that he wanted security camera footage at Mar-a-Lago to be deleted.

A Times investigation went inside Mar-a-Lago, where thousands partied near secret files.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Passes Bipartisan Defense Bill, Setting Up a Clash With the House, Karoun Demirjian. July 27, 2023. Senators steered clear of the social policies that sapped Democratic support for the House bill, but the legislation was headed for a contentious negotiation.

The Senate on Thursday gave overwhelming approval to the annual defense policy bill, sidestepping a contentious debate over abortion access for service members and quashing efforts to limit aid for Ukraine in a show of bipartisanship that set up a bitter showdown with the House.

The vote was 86 to 11 to pass the bill, which would authorize $886 billion for national defense over the next year. It includes a 5.2 percent pay raise for troops and civilian employees, investments in hypersonic missile and drone technology, and measures to improve competition with China.

But its fate is deeply in doubt as the measure heads for what is expected to be a contentious negotiation between the Democratic-led Senate and the Republican-led House, where right-wing hard-liners have attached a raft of conservative social policy mandates.

Republicans in the Senate decided not to pick such fights in that chamber, shelving amendments to restrict abortion access and transgender health care services for military personnel. The result is vastly different bills that could make it difficult for the House and Senate to hash out a bipartisan final agreement, something that has not eluded Congress in more than six decades.

ny times logoNew York Times, As McConnell Tries to Convey Business as Usual, His Future Is in Doubt, Annie Karni and Carl Hulse, July 27, 2023.  The minority leader’s health episode at the Capitol has intensified talk about a possible succession, a prospect that his colleagues have not seriously grappled with for years. 

It has been decades since there was any real uncertainty at the top of the Republican Party in the Senate. But Senator Mitch McConnell’s alarming freeze-up at a news conference on Wednesday at the Capitol, as well as new disclosures about other recent falls, have shaken his colleagues and intensified quiet discussion about how long he can stay in his position as minority leader, and whether change is coming at the top.

For months even before he had an apparent medical episode on camera on Wednesday while speaking to the press, Mr. McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader from Kentucky, has been weakened, both physically and politically. The latest incident made those issues glaringly apparent: Mr. McConnell, 81, froze mid-remarks, unable to continue speaking, and appeared disoriented with his mouth shut as his aides and colleagues led him gently away.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, quickly stepped in behind the lectern and picked up where Mr. McConnell had left off, in a scene that underscored how the lanky 62-year-old has positioned himself as the leader’s most obvious successor. It was a reminder that no one — even Mr. McConnell, who this year became the longest-serving Senate leader in history — is irreplaceable and raised questions about how long Mr. McConnell could continue to simply gut it out.

“Good afternoon, everyone. We’re on a path to finishing the N.D.A.A. this week. There’s been good bipartisan cooperation and a string of —” “Are you good, Mitch?” “You OK, Mitch? Anything else you want to say or should we just go back to your office? Do you want to say anything else to the press?” “Go ahead, John.” “We’ll take a break.” “Let’s go back.” “Go ahead, John.” “Could you address what happened here at the start of the press conference, and was it related to your injury from earlier this year where you suffered a concussion? Is that —” “No, I’m fine.” “You’re fine, you’re fully able to do your job?” “Yeah.”

Months ago, there seemed to be a developing race to succeed him among Mr. Thune, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican, and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the former whip; they are known around the Capitol as “the three Johns.” But during Mr. McConnell’s extended absence earlier this year following a serious fall, Mr. Thune moved into the position of taking charge of the conference.

Washington hotel during a fund-raising event, and was absent from the Senate for weeks while giving almost no updates on his health status. Since then, he has had at least two more falls, one at a Washington airport and one in Helsinki, during an official trip to meet the Finnish president. His office disclosed neither, and has stayed mum about his medical condition on Wednesday after the episode, which some physicians who viewed video of it said could have been a mini stroke or partial seizure.

Mr. McConnell, who had polio as a child, often has trouble with stairs and has long walked with a wobbly, uneven gait. But in recent months, he has been using a wheelchair to get around at the airport, which a spokesman said was “simply a prudent and precautionary measure in a crowded area.”

His diminished state has been evident in his role in the Capitol as well. Some of his Senate colleagues were surprised at the back-seat role he took throughout the debt ceiling negotiations, where he did little and left Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Speaker Kevin McCarthy in charge. The old McConnell, they said, would have not stayed on the sidelines, and many Senate Republicans were ultimately unhappy with the outcome.

Last year, Mr. McConnell weathered a rare challenge to his leadership when Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, decided to oppose him and received 10 votes. In the past, Mr. McConnell has been named leader with no contest.

 Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by

Members of the Supreme Court pose for a portrait in 2022. With the limits on how justices can make money, book deals have long been enticing (New York Times photo by Erin Schaff). 

ny times logoNew York Times, More Income for the Supreme Court: Million-Dollar Book Deals, Steve Eder, Abbie VanSickle and Elizabeth A. Harris, July 27, 2023. The deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Only three months into Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s first Supreme Court term, she announced a book deal negotiated by the same powerhouse lawyer who represented the Obamas and James Patterson.

The deal was worth about $3 million, according to people familiar with the agreement, and made Justice Jackson the latest Supreme Court justice to parlay her fame into a big book contract.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch had made $650,000 for a book of essays and personal reflections on the role of judges, while Justice Amy Coney Barrett received a $2 million advance for her forthcoming book about keeping personal feelings out of judicial rulings. Those newer justices joined two of their more senior colleagues, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor, in securing payments that eclipse their government salaries.

In recent months reports by ProPublica, The New York Times and others have highlighted a lack of transparency at the Supreme Court, as well as the absence of a binding ethics code for the justices. The reports have centered on Justice Thomas’s travels and relationships with wealthy benefactors, in addition to a luxury fishing trip by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. with a Republican megadonor and the lucrative legal recruiting work of the wife of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The book deals are not prohibited under the law, and income from the advances and royalties are reported on the justices’ annual financial disclosure forms. But the deals have become highly lucrative for the justices, including for those who have used court staff members to help research and promote their books.

Earlier this year, Justice Jackson confirmed her publishing agreement with an imprint of Penguin Random House for her forthcoming memoir, “Lovely One.” But like her colleagues, her first public acknowledgment of the financial arrangement behind the deal is likely to be in her future annual financial disclosures. The New York Times learned the rough dollar amount of her advance, a figure that had not previously been disclosed, from people familiar with the deal.

Justice Sotomayor has received about $3.7 million total for a memoir documenting her path from a Bronx housing project to the federal bench and her children’s books. The justice’s administrative court staff urged organizers of events where her books were sold to buy more copies, according to a recent report in The Associated Press, which cited public records.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

Italian Prime Minister Giorgi Meloni and U.S. President Joe Biden shown at the 2023 NATO Summit in Lithuania (Reuters photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, Once Wary, Biden to Host Italy’s New Leader at the White House Today, Peter Baker, July 27, 2023. President Biden had concerns about Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s far-right politics. But she has proved an ally in the U.S.-led effort to support Ukraine.

Just a few days after a once fringe far-right party came out ahead in last fall’s elections in Italy, President Biden warned that it could be a sign of trouble for democracy.

italy decalAt an evening political fund-raiser that September, he told donors that China’s president had argued that “democracies can’t be sustained in the 21st century” and then added, “you just saw what’s happened in Italy in that election,” as if it were an indicator.

But as Mr. Biden hosts Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Thursday, the fears of last fall have largely dissipated. Italy’s new leader has emerged as a strong ally in the president’s central foreign policy priority, the war in Ukraine, and he hopes to strengthen his bond with her during a high-profile visit.

“The president has enjoyed working with her,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said on Wednesday. “Certainly on issues of foreign policy, there’s been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that we’re taking with Italy.” He noted that Italy is sheltering 170,000 Ukrainian refugees and providing security assistance in the fight against Russian invaders.

That was not always a given. Ms. Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, traces its roots to the neo-fascist political factions that emerged after World War II. In forming a coalition government after last September’s elections, Ms. Meloni became the first far-right nationalist to lead Italy since Benito Mussolini. To Mr. Biden’s chagrin, she seemed to be an Italian version of former President Donald J. Trump, having addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in the United States, a group broadly supportive of Mr. Trump.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Biden Is Weighing a Big Middle East Deal, Thomas L. Friedman, July 27, 2023. For the hundreds of thousands of Israeli democracy defenders who tried to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial coup on Monday, the stripping of the Israeli Supreme Court’s key powers to curb the executive branch surely feels like a stinging defeat. I get it, but don’t totally despair. Help may be on the way from talks between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Yes, you read that right.

joe biden twitterWhen I interviewed President Biden in the Oval Office last week, my column focused on his urging Netanyahu not to ram through the judicial overhaul without even a semblance of national consensus. But that’s not all we talked about. The president is wrestling with whether to pursue the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi mutual security pact that would involve Saudi Arabia normalizing relations with Israel, provided that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians that would preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.

After discussions in the past few days among Biden; his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan; Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Brett McGurk, the top White House official handling Middle East policy, Biden has dispatched Sullivan and McGurk to Saudi Arabia, where they arrived Thursday morning, to explore the possibility of some kind of U.S.-Saudi-Israeli-Palestinian understanding.

The president still has not made up his mind whether to proceed, but he gave a green light for his team to probe with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to see if some kind of deal is possible and at what price. Closing such a multinational deal would be time-consuming, difficult and complex, even if Biden decides to take it to the next level right away. But the exploratory talks are moving ahead now — faster than I thought — and they’re important.

ny times logoNew York Times, Consumers Kept U.S. Economic Recovery on Track in Second Quarter, Ben Casselman, July 27, 2023. Gross domestic product rose at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the spring, far stronger than forecasters expected a few months ago.Consumers Kept U.S. Economic Recovery on Track in Second Quarter.

The economic recovery gained momentum in the spring as American consumers continued spending despite rising interest rates and warnings of a looming recession.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, rose at a 2.4 percent annual rate in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. That was up from a 2 percent growth rate in the first three months of the year and far stronger than forecasters expected a few months ago.

Consumers led the way, as they have throughout the recovery from the severe but short-lived pandemic recession. Spending rose at a 1.6 percent rate, slower than in the first quarter but still solid. Much of that growth came from spending on services, as consumers shelled out for vacation travel, restaurant meals and Taylor Swift tickets.

Consumers didn’t carry all the weight, however. Business investment rebounded in the second quarter, and increased spending by state and local governments contributed to growth.

The resilience of the economy has surprised economists, many of whom thought that high inflation — and the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stamp it out through aggressive interest-rate increases — would lead to a recession, or at least a clear slowdown in the first half of the year. For a while, it looked as if they were going to be right: Tech companies were laying off tens of thousands of workers, the housing market was in a deep slump and a series of bank failures set up fears of a financial crisis.

 

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, center with his hand raised, poses heads of African countries at a 2019 summit in Sochi, Russia (Pool photo by Sergei Chirikov).

ny times logoNew York Times, War Brought Putin Closer to Africa. Now It’s Pushing Them Apart, Declan Walsh and Paul Sonne, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). As President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia prepares to host African leaders at a summit, a collapsed grain deal and the uncertain fate of Wagner mercenaries have cast a shadow.

Shunned in the West, his authority tested by a failed mutiny at home, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia needs to project normalcy and shore up support from his allies. So on Thursday, he will host African leaders at a flashy summit in St. Petersburg, part of his continuing outreach to a continent that has become critical to Moscow’s foreign policy.

Russian FlagSince Russia invaded Ukraine, some African countries have backed Mr. Putin at the United Nations, welcomed his envoys and his warships, and offered control of lucrative assets, like a gold mine in the Central African Republic that U.S. officials estimate contains $1 billion in reserves.

But if Mr. Putin sought to move closer to African leaders as he prosecuted his war, the 17-month-old conflict is now straining those ties. This summit is expected to draw only half the number of African heads of state or government as the last gathering in 2019, a situation that the Kremlin on Wednesday blamed on “brazen interference” from the United States and its allies.

The summit comes against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Black Sea over Mr. Putin’s recent decision to terminate a deal allowing Ukraine to ship grain to global markets. Russia’s withdrawal has caused food prices to spike, adding to the misery of the world’s poorest countries, including some of those attending the Russia-Africa summit.

As African leaders prepare to meet Mr. Putin, Russian warplanes have pulverized the Ukrainian port of Odesa that is a key distribution point for grain exports. And in recent days, American and British officials have warned about Russia’s increasingly aggressive actions in the Black Sea.

The outcry over the end of the grain deal — the Kenyan foreign ministry called Mr. Putin’s decision a “stab in the back” — has put the Russian leader on the defensive. In an article previewing the summit, he offered to make up for the shortfall to African countries by supplying them with Russian grain, even for free.

At the same time, Western nations have seized the opportunity to drive a wedge between Mr. Putin and his African guests.

“President Putin seems dead set on causing as much suffering around the world as he can,” Barbara Woodward, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday. “Russia is driving Africa into poverty.”

 

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

Trump lawyers, with Rudy Giuliani at center between Sidney Powell, left, and Jenna Ellis, making false election claims at a news conference on Nov. 19, 2020.

ny times logoNew York Times, Giuliani Admits to Making False Statements About Georgia Election Workers, Alan Feuer, July 27, 2023 (print ed.). Rudolph Giuliani said he still had “legal defenses” in a case brought by two workers who said he had defamed them in claims about fraud in the 2020 election.

Rudolph W. Giuliani has conceded that while acting as a lawyer for former President Donald J. Trump, he made false statements by asserting that two Georgia election workers had mishandled ballots while counting votes in Atlanta during the 2020 election.

The concession by Mr. Giuliani came in court papers filed on Tuesday night as part of a defamation lawsuit that the two workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, had brought against him in Federal District Court in Washington in December 2021.

The suit accused Mr. Giuliani and others of promoting a video that purported to show Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss — who are mother and daughter — of manipulating ballots while working at the State Farm Arena for the Fulton County Board of Elections.

In a two-page declaration, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that he had in fact made the statements about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss that led to the filing of the suit and that the remarks “carry meaning that is defamatory per se.” He also admitted that his statements were “actionable” and “false” and that he no longer disputed the “factual elements of liability” the election workers had raised in their suit.

But Mr. Giuliani, insisting that he still had “legal defenses” in the case, said that he continued to believe his accusations about Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss were “constitutionally protected” under the First Amendment. He also refused to acknowledge that his statements had caused the women any damage — a key element required to collect a judgment in a defamation case.

The declaration, which was filed as Mr. Giuliani was confronting potentially painful sanctions for having purportedly failed to live up to his discovery obligations in the case, appeared to be part of an effort to limit the amount of money he might have to spend on the case.

In the declaration, he acknowledged making his admissions “to avoid unnecessary expenses in litigating what he believes to be unnecessary disputes.”

Ted Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Giuliani, said he had made the concessions to move the case more quickly to a point where a motion to dismiss could be filed.

Michael J. Gottlieb, a lawyer for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss, said that Mr. Giuliani’s declaration conceded that his clients had “honorably performed their civic duties in the 2020 presidential election in full compliance with the law, and the allegations of election fraud he and former President Trump made against them have been false since Day 1.”New York Times, The Very Private Life of Melania Trump, July 26, 2023. The former first lady has steered clear of the campaign trail while her husband fights to return to the White House and faces increasing legal peril.

 

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others testify on censorship and free speech before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Weaponization of the Federal Government. Photo credit: C-SPAN

WhoWhatWhy, Going Deep Investigative Commentary: RFK Jr.’s Panel of Health Hoaxers, Hucksters & Hustlers, Russ Baker, right, July 26-27, 2023. The russ baker cropped david welkerquestion is, what are they really selling?

Although he subsequently sought to deny it, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. really did say that wacky stuff suggesting that COVID-19 was bioengineered — targeted at specific ethnicities and races, while sparing others (those supposedly being spared were Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.)

whowhatwhy logoHe tried to squirm out of it, claiming he never said it, but those words will not go away. To wit, they have already settled into the fertile soil of a neo-Nazi website.

So where does he get such material? Who are his sources? And how well is he able to evaluate them? That, we don’t know. What we do know is that a pretty strange group of self-anointed experts harboring extreme views on COVID-19, and more broadly on public health, are part of his brain trust.

One such person is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, an early promoter of the theor