Dec. 2023 News

 

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

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

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With warm wishes to all for the season and New Year!

 

Dec. 31

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

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

 

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More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

Israeli army troops are seen near the GazaStrip board in southern Israelon Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The army is battling Palestinian militaynts across Gaza in the war ignited by HaHmas' Oct. 7 attack in to Israel (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

 

Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 

U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

 

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U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration

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Climate Summit in Dubai, More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, High Tech

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. Education, Sports, Religion, Media, High Tech, Free Speech, Culture

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 
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, Prosecutors Ask Appeals Court to Reject Donald Trump’s Immunity Claims, Alan Feuer, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The filing by the special counsel, Jack Smith, was the latest move in an ongoing battle over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did while in office.

Federal prosecutors asked an appeals court on Saturday to reject former President Donald J. Trump’s claims that he is immune from criminal charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election and said the indictment should remain in place even though it arose from actions he took while in the White House.

The government’s filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was part of an ongoing struggle between Mr. Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did in office.

The fight over immunity is arguably the most important aspect of the election interference case, involving both new questions of law and consequential issues of timing. The case is set to go to trial in Federal District Court in Washington in early March but has been put on hold until Mr. Trump’s attempts to dismiss the charges on grounds of immunity are resolved.

The appeal is legally significant because it centers on a question that has never before been asked or fully answered. That is because Mr. Trump is the first former president to have been charged with crimes and because he has chosen to defend himself in this case with a novel claim: that the office he held at the time should shield him entirely from prosecution.

But the fight has revolved around more than the technical issue of whether the indictment should survive and Mr. Trump should eventually stand trial. The defense and prosecution have been waging a separate, but no less critical, battle about when the trial will happen — specifically about whether it will take place before or after the 2024 election. If the trial is held after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he would have the power to order the charges he is facing to be dropped.

In their 82-page filing to the appeals court, prosecutors focused on legal arguments and said that nothing in the Constitution or the country’s other founding documents supported the idea that a former president should not be subject to federal criminal law.

“The presidency plays a vital role in our constitutional system, but so does the principle of accountability for criminal acts — particularly those that strike at the heart of the democratic process,” wrote James I. Pearce, one of Mr. Smith’s deputies. “Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license presidents to commit crimes to remain in office. The founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”
New York Times,

Politico, Special counsel: Trump immunity claim threatens democracy, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Dec. 30, 2023. Special counsel Jack Smith rejected Donald Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him is constitutionally invalid.

politico CustomDonald Trump’s bold claims that he’s immune from criminal prosecution over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “threaten to undermine democracy,” special counsel Jack Smith warned a federal appeals court Saturday.

Justice Department log circularIn a brief filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith rejected Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him for trying to reverse his loss at the polls three years ago is constitutionally invalid because he was serving as president at the time and also because he was acquitted by the Senate after he was impeached for those actions.

“Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license Presidents to commit crimes to remain in office,” Smith and his team wrote in an 82-page filing. “The Founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”

While Trump has argued that allowing a prosecution such as the one he faces in Washington would chill future presidents from carrying out their duties due to the prospect of future criminal indictment, Smith contends that fear is overblown.

“Multiple safeguards — ultimately enforced by the Article III courts — protect against any potential burdens on the Presidency that the defendant claims to fear,” prosecutors wrote. “Any burdens of post-Presidency criminal liability have minimal impact on the functions of an incumbent and are outweighed by the paramount public interest in upholding the rule of law through federal prosecution.”

Smith’s argument sets the framework for the most crucial test of his prosecution of Trump for seeking to subvert the 2020 election, the beginning of a must-win legal battle that is likely headed for the Supreme Court as soon as next month.

Smith used his brief to pick apart Trump’s assertion that he’s immune from criminal prosecution for his efforts to seize a second term despite losing the election. On Dec. 1, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan turned down Trump’s motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, prompting the former president’s appeal.

Smith argues that while presidents deserve protection from civil lawsuits, there is no blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, particularly for a former president charged with making grave threats to the transfer of power. Even if presidents did enjoy immunity for their official duties, he argues, Trump’s actions would not qualify for such protection because he was acting well outside the bounds of his proper duties.

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Was the Israeli Military on Oct. 7? Adam Goldman, Ronen Bergman, Mark Mazzetti, Natan Odenheimer, Alexander Cardia, Ainara Tiefenthäler and Sheera Frenkel, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A Times investigation found that troops were disorganized, relied on social media to choose targets, and had no battle plan for a massive Hamas invasion.

Israel FlagThe full reasons behind the military’s slow response may take months to understand. The government has promised an inquiry. But a New York Times investigation found that Israel’s military was undermanned, out of position and so poorly organized that soldiers communicated in impromptu WhatsApp groups and relied on social media posts for targeting information. Commandos rushed into battle armed only for brief combat. Helicopter pilots were ordered to look to news reports and Telegram channels to choose targets.

And perhaps most damning: The Israel Defense Forces did not even have a plan to respond to a large-scale Hamas attack on Israeli soil, according to current and former soldiers and officers. If such a plan existed on a shelf somewhere, the soldiers said, no one had trained on it and nobody followed it. The soldiers that day made it up as they went along.

“In practice, there wasn’t the right defensive preparation, no practice, and no equipping and building strength for such an operation,” said Yom Tov Samia, a major general in the Israeli reserves and former head of the military’s Southern Command.

“There was no defense plan for a surprise attack such as the kind we have seen on Oct. 7,” said Amir Avivi, a brigadier general in the reserves and a former deputy commander of the Gaza Division, which is responsible for protecting the region.

That lack of preparation is at odds with a founding principle of Israeli military doctrine. From the days of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister, the goal was to always be on the offensive — to anticipate attacks and fight battles in enemy territory.

In response to a series of questions from The Times, including why soldiers and officers alike said there had been no plan, the Israel Defense Forces replied: “The I.D.F. is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas. Questions of this kind will be looked into at a later stage.”

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Helicopters Sink 3 Houthi Boats in Red Sea, Pentagon Says, Vivek Shankar, Dec. 31, 2023. Iranian-backed Houthi gunmen from Yemen had fired on the helicopters, which were responding to an attack on a commercial ship, the U.S. military said.

American military helicopters came under fire from Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in the Red Sea on Sunday morning and shot back, sinking three Houthi boats and killing those aboard, U.S. Central Command said.

The episode occurred after a commercial container ship was attacked by Houthi fighters in small boats and issued a distress call, prompting U.S. Navy helicopters to respond, the military said.

“In the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew-served weapons and small arms,” Central Command said in a statement on social media. “The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews.”

It was the latest and perhaps deadliest such incident involving the Houthis, who control a large swath of northern Yemen, since Israel went to war with Hamas on Oct. 7.

In solidarity with Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks against commercial ships and seized an Israeli-linked vessel. The attacks have prompted the United States and allies to deploy warships to the Red Sea, which is crucial for global shipping.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two States Ruled Trump Off the Ballot. Will It Help or Hurt Him? Jack Healy, Anna Betts, Mike Baker and Jill Cowan, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Some critics say the battles over Donald Trump’s ballot status are turning him into a martyr and eroding faith in U.S. elections.

steve hobbsAs the top elections official in Washington State, Steve Hobbs, right, says he is troubled by the threat former President Donald J. Trump poses to democracy and fears the prospect of his return to power. But he also worries that recent decisions in Maine and Colorado to bar Mr. Trump from presidential primary ballots there could backfire, further eroding Americans’ fraying faith in U.S. elections.

“Removing him from the ballot would, on its face value, seem very anti-democratic,” said Mr. Hobbs, a Democrat who is in his first term as secretary of state. Then he added a critical caveat: “But so is trying to overthrow your country.”

Mr. Hobbs’s misgivings reflect deep divisions and unease among elected officials, democracy experts and voters over how to handle Mr. Trump’s campaign to reclaim the presidency four years after he went to extraordinary lengths in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. While some, like Mr. Hobbs, think it best that voters settle the matter, others say that Mr. Trump’s efforts require accountability and should be legally disqualifying.

Challenges to Mr. Trump’s candidacy have been filed in at least 32 states, though many of those challenges have gained little or no traction, and some have languished on court dockets for months.

The decisions happening right now come amid a collapse of faith in the American electoral system, said Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law and democracy.

“We are walking in new constitutional snow here to try and figure out how to deal with these unprecedented developments,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Attack on a Russian City Kills at Least 18, Constant Méheut and Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The bombardment of Belgorod, apparently in response to an air assault on Friday, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the war began.

Russian FlagThe bombardment of Belgorod on Saturday, apparently in response to an enormous air assault by Moscow a day earlier, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the start of the war.

The Russian authorities said on Saturday that a Ukrainian attack on the city of Belgorod had killed at least 18 people and injured more than 110 others, in the deadliest strike against a Russian city since the beginning of the war nearly two years ago.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine had hit Belgorod — a regional center of around 330,000 residents about 25 miles north of the Ukrainian border — with two missiles and several rockets, adding that the strike was “indiscriminate” and would “not go unpunished.”

The ministry said that most of the rockets had been shot down, but that some debris had fallen on the city. The Ukrainian government has not officially commented on the Belgorod attack, and Russian claims could not be immediately verified.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region, said that three children were among those killed on Saturday and that a residential area in the city center had been hit.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry posted a video of the aftermath of the bombardment that showed cars on fire, injured people being carried to shelter and broken glass on the city’s buildings. And Russian state television broadcast videos posted by residents of Belgorod that showed plumes of smoke over the city, shattered glass near residential buildings and people lying on pavements.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting would be convened on Saturday to discuss the attack.

The strike on Belgorod was in response to Russia’s air assault on Friday against Ukraine, said an official from Ukraine’s intelligence services, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, adding that only military facilities had been targeted. The assault on Ukraine — one of the largest of the war — killed at least 39 people, wounded about 160 others and hit civilian and military infrastructure.

Ukraine has said several times that it does not fear taking the war to Russian territory, and it has previously targeted the Belgorod region with cross-border strikes and even brief ground assaults by Kyiv-backed, anti-Kremlin Russian fighters.

So far, such attacks have resulted in at least 50 deaths inside Russia, according to the United Nations, as well as the evacuation of a few thousand civilians and minor clashes with the Russian military.

While the details of Saturday’s attack by Ukraine were not immediately clear, the death toll alone made it noteworthy, shattering the sense of relative normalcy that has prevailed in Russia despite the war, and bringing to Russia the kind of suffering that Ukrainians have endured on an almost daily basis for nearly two years.

ny times logo

New York Times, Russia launched one of its largest missile attacks in months, pounding Ukrainian cities and killing several people, Constant Méheut and Daria Mitiuk, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The missile and drone attacks killed at least 16 people and damaged critical industrial and military infrastructure, part of a wintertime campaign that Ukraine had been dreading.

Russia targeted Ukrainian cities with more than 150 missiles and drones on Friday morning, killing several people, injuring dozens of others and damaging critical infrastructure in what Ukrainian officials said was one of the largest air assaults of the war.

ukraine flag“This is the biggest attack since the counting began,” Yurii Ihnat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that the military did not track air assaults in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.

For several hours on Friday, missiles, drones and debris slammed into factories, hospitals and schools in cities across Ukraine, from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east, straining the country’s air defenses and sending people scrambling for shelter. At least 16 people were killed, and nearly 100 were wounded, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

Although the level of destruction countrywide has yet to come into full focus, the scale of the Russian strikes appeared to have overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. The Ukrainian military said that it had shot down 114 missiles and drones, out of a total of 158.

“Today, Russia was fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, noting that Moscow had launched a complex barrage of weapons including hypersonic, cruise and air defense missiles.

Ukraine has been struggling to contain renewed Russian assaults all along the front line and is concerned about a possible shortfall in Western military assistance as the war stretches into another new year. The Ukrainian authorities had warned for months that Russia was likely to pound Ukrainian cities and target their infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, in an echo of last year’s winter campaign against civilian targets and the country’s energy grid, which plunged many areas into cold and darkness.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mutiny Erupts in a Michigan G.O.P. Overtaken by Chaos, Nick Corasaniti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans are pushing for the removal of Kristina Karamo, an election-denying activist who rose to lead the state party this year, amid mounting financial problems and persistent infighting.

michigan mapThe mutiny took hold on Mackinac Island. The Michigan Republican Party’s revered two-day policy and politics gathering, the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, was an utter mess.

Attendance had plummeted. Top-tier presidential candidates skipped the September event, and some speakers didn’t show. Guests were baffled by a scoring system that rated their ideology on a scale, from a true conservative to a so-called RINO, or Republican in name only.

And the state party, already deeply in debt, had taken out a $110,000 loan to pay the keynote speaker, Jim Caviezel, an actor who has built an ardent following among the far right after starring in a hit movie this summer about child sex trafficking. The loan came from a trust tied to the wife of the party’s executive director, according to party records.

For some Michigan Republicans, it was the final straw for a chaotic state party leadership that has been plagued by mounting kristina karamofinancial problems, lackluster fund-raising, secretive meetings and persistent infighting. Blame has centered on the fiery chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, left, who skyrocketed to the top of the state party through a combative brand of election denialism but has failed to make good on her promises for new fund-raising sources and armies of activists.

This month, the internal dissension has erupted into an attempt to oust Ms. Karamo, which, if successful, would be the first removal of a leader of the Michigan Republican Party in decades. Nearly 40 members of the Michigan Republican Party’s state committee called for a meeting in late December to explore forcing out Ms. Karamo. But that meeting has now been delayed, with no definite date on the calendar. Ms. Karamo has vowed to fight back, railing against the effort as illegitimate.

The pitched battle for control of the state party in a pre-eminent presidential battleground is the most extreme example of conflicts brewing in state Republican parties across the country. Once dominated largely by moneyed establishment donors and their allies, many state parties have been taken over by grass-roots Republican activists energized by former President Donald J. Trump and his broadsides against the legitimacy of elections.

These activists, now holding positions of state and local power, have elevated others who share their views, prioritizing election denialism over experience and credentials.

washington post logoWashington Post, Notable deaths of 2023, in photos, Washington Post staff, Dec. 29, 2023. Some deaths loom so large that they come to signify the passing of an entire era. This year, it seemed as though the 1970s faded away, along with so many figures from the political and cultural life of the decade.

Among them were Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, first lady Rosalynn Carter, filmmaker William Friedkin and stars of show business as varied as David Crosby, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett and Richard Roundtree.

The word “last” appeared with painful frequency in obituaries for people of the 1940s, the World War II generation. Ben Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, and Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, both died at 103.

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

washington post logoWashington Post, American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why, Dan Balz and Clara Ence Morse, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Many Americans believe the political system is broken. A Post analysis examined the forces fueling the sense that government fails to represent the people.

Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach compromise.

 

djt maga hat speech uncredited Custom

Politico, The 14th Amendment is the ‘most democratic’ disqualifier, Jamie Raskin says, Kelly Garrity, Dec 30, 2023. The Maryland Democrat said it is the only disqualifier over which the person has control.

politico CustomThe constitutional amendment that election officials in Colorado and Maine are relying on to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot is clear — and isn’t undemocratic, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued Sunday.

jamin raskin american university Custom 2“Is it undemocratic that [former California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger and [Energy Secretary] Jennifer Granholm can’t run for president because they weren’t born in the country? If you think about it, of all of the forms of disqualification that we have, the one that disqualifies people for engaging in insurrection is the most democratic because it’s the one where people choose themselves to be disqualified,” Raskin, right, a former constitutional law professor, said Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” (Schwarzenegger was born in Austria, Granholm in Canada.)

“Donald Trump is in that tiny, tiny number of people who have essentially disqualified themselves,” he added.

Officials in Colorado and Maine have blocked Trump from the ballot in their states, on the grounds that he engaged in insurrection via his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and, thereby, is disqualified based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

The backlash from Republicans — and some Democrats — has been swift and fierce, and the heated legal debate is expected to soon come before the Supreme Court.

“We have a number of disqualifications in the Constitution for serving as president,” Raskin pointed out Sunday. “For example, age. I mean, I’ve got a colleague who’s a great young politician, Maxwell Frost, he’s 26. He can’t run for president. Now would we say that that’s undemocratic? Well, that’s the rules of the Constitution. If you don’t like the rules of the Constitution, change the Constitution.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The nose knows Trump: he stinks to high heaven, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec 31, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2023. Here at WMR we’ve seen and heard enough. Donald Trump’s campaign will soon sink under the heavy weight of his adult diaper.

wayne madesen report logoConfirmation Trump often reeks of feces, urine, cheap cologne, and an oft-putting hair chemical mixture has come from various sources who include former Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, one-time The Apprentice production assistant Noel Casler, comedian and Celebrity Apprentice cast member Kathy Griffin, and a host of others who have encountered Trump during his lifetime.

President Donald Trump officialKinzinger commented on Trump’s smelly aura on a podcast, saying, “I’m genuinely surprised how people close to Trump haven’t talked about the odor. It’s truly something to behold. Wear a mask if you can.” Casler said, “He [Trump] would often soil himself on The Apprentice set. He’s incontinent from all the speed, all the Adderall he does, all the cocaine that he’s done for decades . . . His [bowels] are uncontrollable.”

Accounts that Trump smelled to high heaven are buoyed by various social media posts, mainly from those who claimed they caught Trump’s staggering whiff while doing business with him in the 1980s and 90s.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Lies Low in St. Croix During Holiday Week, Lisa Friedman, Dec. 31, 2023. President Biden is enjoying a working vacation, a White House official said. Residents hope to bring attention to the Virgin Islands’ economic troubles.

joe biden jill biden wh new year 2024Here on tropical St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Mr. Biden; the first lady, Jill Biden; and their granddaughter Natalie are spending New Year’s week in a secluded oceanfront villa overlooking the turquoise Caribbean, the president is staying mostly out of the spotlight.

On Saturday, Mr. Biden made his first public appearance, venturing out to attend mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted, the largest town in St. Croix. He and Dr. Biden later taped an interview with Ryan Seacrest, due to air on New Year’s Eve as part of ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” In the evening, the president and first lady (shown in a New Year's message released to the public by the White House) dined at Too Chez, one of the island’s top restaurants, and he afterward revealed his New Year’s resolution.

“To come back next year,” Mr. Biden said.

Republicans have roundly criticized Mr. Biden’s island getaway, which began just a day after he returned to the White House from spending Christmas with family at Camp David.

Several lawmakers accused the president of failing to address the migrant surge along the southern U.S. border by taking time away. And on Thursday, when the White House announced in the morning that there would be no public events for Mr. Biden that day as temperatures hovered in the 80s on St. Croix, an arm of the Republican National Committee pounced.

“Illegal immigrants are pouring across the open southern border by the tens of thousands every day,” the group RNC Research wrote on the social media site X, adding that Mr. Biden, “on his second vacation in a week — called it a day before noon.”

Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University, said that presidential vacations are virtually always denounced by the opposing party.

But even a commander in chief needs to unwind sometimes, Mr. Zelizer noted, and, in this day and age, no president is ever truly unplugged.

“It’s not as if the president takes a vacation like many of us and just sits around on the beach or something,” he said. “They go with their full presidential apparatus and they’re surrounded by their advisers.”

A White House official described Mr. Biden’s trip as a working vacation. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, accompanied the president to St. Croix and has briefed him multiple times since arriving, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s schedule.

 

herb kohl

ny times logoNew York Times, Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88, Robert D. McFadden, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A member of the family that founded Kohl’s department stores, he guarded federal budgets as a U.S. senator while spending lavishly to revive the N.B.A. team he owned.

senate democrats logoHerbert H. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who kept watch over federal budgets in four terms as a United States senator, but who as the die-hard owner of the National Basketball Association’s often mediocre Milwaukee Bucks spent lavishly to keep the team afloat in his hometown, died on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Milwaukee. He was 88. A photo from a Bucks tribute to him is shown above.

His death, after a brief illness, was announced by the Herb Kohl Foundation, his nonprofit organization.

By his own account, Milwaukee meant everything to Mr. Kohl. His parents had immigrated to the city from Poland and Russia early in the 20th century, and his father, Maxwell Kohl, had opened a corner grocery store there in 1927. Herbert and his three siblings were born and raised in the city, scions of a family that in one generation had built an empire of Kohl’s stores across the Upper Midwest.

In Wisconsin and surrounding states, the Kohl name became almost as familiar as Schlitz, which called itself “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” By 1972, when the British American Tobacco Company bought a controlling interest in Kohl’s, the company, still managed by the Kohl family, had 50 grocery stores, six department stores and several networks of pharmacies and liquor stores.

In 2012, under new owners, Kohl’s became the largest department store chain in the United States, surpassing J.C. Penney, its biggest competitor.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ohio governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care for minors, Anumita Kaur, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Ohio Gov. Mike mike dewine oDeWine (R) struck down a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, preserving such care for residents beyond his state as well, because families of transgender youths who live in states with bans have been traveling to Ohio for treatment.

Republicans, who have a supermajority in the legislature, could override DeWine’s veto and are expected to push back.

“This bill would impact a very small number of Ohio’s children. But for those children who face gender dysphoria, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound. Ultimately I believe this is about protecting human life,” DeWine said Friday during a news conference announcing the decision. “Many parents have told me that their child would not have survived, would be dead today, if they had not received the treatment they received from one of Ohio’s children’s hospitals.”

“These are gut-wrenching decisions that should be made by parents and should be informed by teams of doctors who are advising them,” DeWine continued. “Were I to sign House Bill 68, or were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government knows better what is medically best for a child than the two people who love that child the most: The parents.”

Hundreds of anti-trans bills have wound their way through dozens of state legislatures across the country. Almost half the states in the nation have passed laws targeting transgender people — including states that border Ohio. Many of these bills ban gender-affirming care for minors and restrict trans girls’ participation in school athletics.

washington post logoWashington Post, Her story fueled anti-trans bills. Now, she’s fighting them, Casey Parks, Dec. 27, 2023. Carey Callahan was once a prominent critic of gender-affirming care for minors. Then she began to worry her words were leading to outcomes she didn’t support.

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More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

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 ny times logoNew York Times, Maine Law ‘Required That I Act’ to Disqualify Trump, Secretary of State Says, Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Barring former President Donald J. Trump from the primary ballot was a hard but necessary call, Shenna Bellows said in an interview.

shenna bellowsBefore she decided to bar former President Donald J. Trump from Maine’s primary ballot, Shenna Bellows, left, the secretary of state, was not known for courting controversy.

She began her career in public office as a state senator in 2016, winning in a politically mixed district. She prided herself on finding common ground with Republicans, an approach she said was shaped by growing up in a politically diverse family.

maine mapAs the former head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Bellows did not shy away from divisive issues. But her ballot decision on Thursday was perhaps the weightiest and most politically fraught that she had faced — and it sparked loud rebukes from Republicans in Maine and beyond.

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Bellows defended her decision, arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol made it necessary to exclude him from the ballot next year.

“This is not a decision I made lightly,” Ms. Bellows, 48, said. “The United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Maine election law required that I act in response.”

Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, is among many election officials around the country who have considered legal challenges to Mr. Trump’s latest bid for the White House based on an obscure clause of the 14th Amendment that bars government officials who have engaged in “insurrection” from serving in the U.S. government.

After holding a hearing this month in which she considered arguments from both Mr. Trump’s lawyers and his critics, Ms. Bellows explained her decision in a 34-page order issued on Thursday night.

World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic News Summary and Pro-Democracy Reform Agenda: In 2024, Americans have a rendez-vous webster tarpley 2007with destiny, with the future of human civilization at stake! Webster G. Tarpley, (right, historian and commentator), Dec. 30, 2023 (130:12 mins). Coming year must see the decisive electoral defeat, conviction, and incarceration of Trump, with the breakup of the moribund Republican Party, and three branches of the federal government entirely controlled by Biden Democrats elected on a strong reform agenda!

Insurrection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment is the sacred embodiment of Lincoln’s new birth of freedom and reflects the sacrifices of the Union dead; As part of Constitution, the Insurrection Clause is an integral part of the supreme Abraham Lincoln (Alexander Gardner via Library of Congress and Getty Images)law of the land and is binding and compulsory for all officials at all levels of government, whatever their preferences;

Alleged aversion to ”patchwork” of election rules and demand for lockstep among states are no argument in a variegated federal system in which election practices have long diverged; Trump is unquestionably guilty of aggravated insurrection; Only an imbecile could suggest that a president is not an officer of United States; Some say they prefer to defeat Trump at polls, but the advanced fascist emergency does not permit this luxury;

Defeatist spirit of McClellan 1864 grips milquetoast Democrats who propose to ignore a clear Constitutional imperative in favor of their own fears and preferences for appeasement of MAGA fascists; Standard fascist seizure of power involves cynical gaming of democratic systems and guarantees to impose totalitarian dictatorship;

”Let the voters decide” is a catchy slogan but collapses utterly when it becomes a direct attack on the Constitution, where some critical points are deliberately placed beyond the reach of majority votes;

gavin newsom headshotGov. Newsom, right, and Dems must understand their only chance to prevail against Trump subversion is to run strong candidates pledged to defend constitution, not populist demagogues pandering to masses by tampering with it;

Corrupt, discredited, bribed, and hated Supremes should contemplate not just the threats of the shrinking MAGA hooligan minority, but also the pro-constitution supermajority who reject a return to the MAGA fascist yoke; Given their claims to represent originalism, textualism, and state’s rights, the only valid choice for Supremes is full implementation of Insurrection Clause against Trump;

scott perryRep. Scott Perry’s phone messages now scrutinized by Jack Smith could implicate other MAGA Hill bigwigs as January 6 co-conspirators, with potential to break legislative logjam and flip chamber as they are brought to justice;

House GOP sabotage of Ukraine military aid facilitates deadly Russian attacks and makes these MAGA bosses accessories to war crimes eligible for prosecution in The Hague, starting with MAGA Mike;

djt maga hatMAGA dirty tricks against Ukraine feed Putin’s hope for new orgy of appeasement on model of 1938 Munich sellout, with himself cast as Hitler, Ukraine cast as Czechoslovakia, and Biden-led NATO cast as appeasers Chamberlain and Daladier!

As their hour of reckoning approaches, Netanyahu, Gallant & Co. are trying harder than ever to embroil US in war with Hezbollah and Iran; These schemers must receive a decisive rebuff;

In US, fratricidal ultra-lefts and assorted squadristi are eager to blame Biden for war crimes committed by Netanyahu, but stubbornly refuse to condemn Putin for the war crimes Putin has unquestionably committed! Reviewing Toni Negri, in whose career postmodern anarcho-syndicalism turned into the ideology of terrorism.

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump’s team is preparing to file challenges to the ballot decisions, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The cases in Colorado, Maine and other states are requiring former President Donald J. Trump to devote resources already spread thin across four criminal indictments.

Former President Donald J. Trump’s advisers are preparing as soon as Tuesday to file challenges to decisions in Colorado and Maine to disqualify Mr. Trump from the Republican primary ballot because of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Every state is different,” Maine’s secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, told a local CBS affiliate on Friday morning. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. I fulfilled my duty.”

Mr. Trump has privately told some people that he believes the Supreme Court will overwhelmingly rule against the Colorado and Maine decisions, according to a person familiar with what he has said. But he has also been critical of the Supreme Court, to which he appointed three conservative justices, creating a supermajority. The court has generally shown little appetite for Mr. Trump’s election-related cases.

Emptywheel, Analysis: What Jack Smith Didn't Say in His Double Jeopardy Response, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Dec. 30, 2023/
JacK Smith repeated some language in his response to Trump's double jeopardy claim that keeps options open regarding an incitement of insurrection charge.

ny times logoNew York Times, What to Know About the Efforts to Remove Trump From the 2024 Ballot, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). There are lawsuits pending in more than a dozen states seeking to have Donald Trump disqualified from appearing on primary ballots.

djt march 2020 CustomThe campaign to have former President Donald J. Trump removed from the ballot over his efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election has kicked into high gear, with decisions in two states, Maine and Colorado, barring him from the primary ballots.

Challenges are still underway in many more states, based on an obscure clause of a constitutional amendment enacted after the Civil War that disqualifies government officials who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.

Over the years, the courts and Congress have done little to clarify how that criterion should apply, adding urgency to the calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the politically explosive dispute before the upcoming election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: 2024 resolution: Save democracy, Jennifer Rubin, right, Dec. 29, 2023. jennifer rubin new headshotSome approach 2024 with a sense of foreboding. Could this be the year we lose our democracy for good? Will Russia destroy Ukraine while Republicans refuse to lift a hand? What other constitutional rights will the Supreme Court strip away?

Let’s remember the opposite outcomes are within our grasp. The 2024 election provides an opportunity to crush the MAGA movement. Congress can get its act together to support Ukraine. And the Supreme Court’s outrages might continue to fuel an anti-Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization surge that blasts Republicans out of office.

However, rather than play the prognostication game, let me suggest a few ways to navigate through the new year. 

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Colorado Supreme Court Building

The Colorado Supreme Court, with 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter, Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

The Colorado Supreme Court, 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

 

More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

gaza war 7 18 2014

The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel said it destroyed a hideout used by a Hamas leader it believed to be a mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks, Staff Reports, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Israeli airstrikes and artillery pounded central and southern Gaza again on Saturday as the military pushed its ground offensive deeper into the enclave, striking areas where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have congregated in an effort to seek safety from the onslaught across the territory, according to Palestinian media.

Israel FlagUnverified video footage from local journalists in the southern city of Rafah, where large numbers of displaced people have fled, showed the immediate aftermath of strikes on residential homes. In chaotic scenes in narrow crowded streets, people carried the injured out from the rubble, wrapped in blankets. Other wounded were ferried by hand, as several men struggled to quickly carry a man’s limp body.

Yahya Sinwar reutersThe Israeli army says it has destroyed a Gaza City apartment used as a hide-out by its most wanted man in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader (shown above in a Reuters file photo) it considers the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks that the Israeli authorities say killed an estimated 1,200 people.

The army said in a statement late Friday that it had also destroyed a tunnel shaft discovered by its troops in the apartment’s basement floor and an underground headquarters that served as a meeting place and nerve center for senior officials from Hamas’s military and political wings.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed “absolute victory” over Hamas, Staff Reports, Dec. 31, 2023. Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.

Rebuffing growing international pressure to stop the fighting in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed on Saturday to continue until “absolute victory.”

Israel FlagThe goal requires more time, he said at a televised prime-time news conference. Echoing the words of his military chief of staff, he added, “The war will last for many more months.”

Here’s what we know:

  • Rebuffing pressure to stop the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to keep fighting “for many more months.”
  • Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.
  • U.S. helicopters repel a Houthi attack in the Red Sea, killing the gunmen, the Pentagon says.
  • Israel names a new foreign minister, part of a prewar political agreement.
  • An Israeli hostage describes her time in captivity in searing detail.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli-Gaza War: A Gaza hospital said at least 18 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in an area where many had sought refuge, Anushka Patil, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). An airstrike on Thursday hit a house in southern Gaza where people had sought shelter from Israel’s military offensive, according to a nearby hospital, which said that at least 18 people were killed and dozens of others injured.

The hospital, the Kuwait Specialty Hospital, said the strike had occurred in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost area, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following Israeli military orders to move south.

Here’s what we know:

  • A hospital in Rafah said that a house where displaced Palestinians were staying was hit with an airstrike, killing at least 18 people.
  • A strike hits near a hospital in Gaza’s southernmost area.
  • Gazans face an endless trek for safety as the evacuation orders keep coming.
  • Israeli military admits fault in two Dec. 24 strikes.
  • An Israeli American thought to be taken hostage was killed during the Oct. 7 attacks, her family says.
  • A report on a leaked Supreme Court judicial draft has Israeli politicians on edge.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What Is Happening to Our World? Thomas L. Friedman, right, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). As The Times’s foreign affairs tom friedman twittercolumnist since 1995, one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that there are good seasons and bad seasons in this business, which are defined by the big choices made by the biggest players.

Among the most ignorant and vile things that have been said about this Gaza war is that Hamas had no choice — that its wars with Israel culminating on Oct. 7 with a murderous rampage, the kidnappings of Israelis as young as 10 months and as old as 86 and the rape of Israeli women could somehow be excused as a justifiable jailbreak by pent-up males.

No.

The reason I insist on talking about these choices now is because Israel is being surrounded by what I call Iran’s landcraft carriers (as opposed to our aircraft carriers): Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran is squeezing Israel into a multi-front war with its proxies. I truly worry for Israel.

But Israel will have neither the sympathy of the world that it needs nor the multiple allies it needs to confront this Iranian octopus, nor the Palestinian partners it needs to govern any post-Hamas Gaza, nor the lasting support of its best friend in the world, Joe Biden, unless it is ready to choose a long-term pathway for separating from the Palestinians with an improved, legitimate Palestinian partner.

Biden has been shouting that in Netanyahu’s ears in their private calls.

For all these reasons, if Netanyahu keeps refusing because, once again, politically, the time is not right for him, Biden will have to choose, too — between America’s interests and Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest.

In sum, this war is so ugly, deadly and painful, it is no wonder that so many Palestinians and Israelis want to just focus on survival and not on any of the choices that got them here. The Haaretz writer Dahlia Scheindlin put it beautifully in a recent essay:

The situation today is so terrible that people run from reality as they run from rockets — and hide in the shelter of their blind spots. It’s pointless to wag fingers. The only thing left to do is try and change that reality.

For me, choosing that path will always be in season.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Palestinians must be a part of any postwar Gaza peacekeeping force, David Ignatius, right, Dec. 28, 2023. david ignatiusAs New Year’s Day approaches in a blood-soaked Gaza, the Biden administration must prod Israel to face a reality: There is no endgame for this war that doesn’t require a Palestinian security force to help maintain order in Gaza after Hamas is deposed.

And where will this post-Hamas Palestinian force come from? The obvious answer is that it should be drawn from the thousands of Palestinians who serve in the roughly half-dozen security organizations now under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority.

The authority is incompetent and corrupt — so this is hardly an ideal option. Israel rightly faults the authority for doing a poor job in maintaining law and order in the West Bank. But the authority, for all its faults, provides the best bridge to a postwar international peacekeeping force for Gaza, with Arab support. The authority has supporters in Gaza who despise Hamas. But they need help — not more bombs.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: Report of Leaked Judicial Draft Threatens Israel’s Wartime Unity, Aaron Boxerman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A looming Supreme Court decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive plan to overhaul Israel’s courts threatened to disrupt his fragile wartime government, after an Israeli television report revived the fissures around the ruling.

Israel FlagChannel 12 reported on what it called a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to strike down part of his plan, which would weaken the judiciary and strengthen the government. Before the war, the plan, backed by Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-right allies, had been opposed by huge, monthslong protests.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s courts said on Thursday that “the writing of the ruling is not yet complete.” The court is expected to rule by mid-January.

Whatever the decision, it has potential to throw Israel’s unity government, formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attacks, into disarray as the country wages war in Gaza and faces international pressure over the scope of its military campaign.

Two members of Israel’s war cabinet, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime rivals, Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, both criticized the government’s pursuit of the overhaul. Mr. Netanyahu had tried to fire Mr. Gallant after the defense minister criticized the pace of the plan, only to reverse the decision amid widespread outrage.

And should the court rule against Mr. Netanyahu, it could set off a constitutional crisis within Israel if his allies try to defy it. Regardless of the outcome, the case is considered one of the most consequential in Israel’s history, because it could determine the extent to which politicians will be subject to judicial oversight.

Israel’s Channel 12 broadcaster reported on Wednesday night that a slim majority of the court — eight of 15 judges — are set to overturn a law passed in July that stripped Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable.” Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition had passed the law in an effort to remove what it said was the court’s ability to overrule the will of the majority.

palestinian flagThe law was part of Mr. Netanyahu’s wider plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which divided the country and led hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stage months of street protests. Opponents, including Israel’s chief justice and attorney general, said the plan — if fully carried out — would deal a fatal blow to the country’s separation of powers.

The dispute posed one of the gravest domestic political crises Israel had faced in the 75 years since the nation’s founding. But it faded to the background after the Hamas attacks, in which roughly 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage to Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

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gaza destruction

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia is working to subvert French support for Ukraine, documents show, Catherine Belton, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). From the top floor of the house he shares here with a senior Russian diplomat — to whom he rents the apartment below — the man who helped bankroll the French presidential bid of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has been working on plans to propel pro-Moscow politicians to power.

“We have to change all the governments … All the governments in Western Europe will be changed,” Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a former member of the European Parliament for Le Pen’s party, said in an interview. “We have to control this. Take the leadership of this.”

For Schaffhauser, such ambitions are part of a decades-long effort to forge an alliance between Russia and Europe, the prospects of which, however distant, were shattered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But now, as Kyiv’s counteroffensive — and Western funding for it — falters and as governments in Europe battle rising living costs, plunging approval ratings and the rise of far-right populists, Schaffhauser and his Russian associates see fresh opportunity.

Russia has been increasing its efforts to undermine French support for Kyiv — a hidden propaganda front in Western Europe that is part of the war against Ukraine, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with European security officials and far-right political figures.

 

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

ap logoAssociated Press, Sweden moves a step closer to NATO membership after Turkey’s parliamentary committee gives approval, Suzan Fraser, Dec. 26, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday, drawing the previously nonaligned Nordic country closer to membership in the Western military alliance.

Sweden’s accession protocol will now need to be approved in the Turkish parliament’s general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process in Turkey. No date has been set.

Turkey, a NATO member, has delayed ratification of Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee had begun discussing Sweden’s membership in NATO last month. But the meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed more clarification and that negotiations with Sweden hadn’t “matured” enough.

On Tuesday, the committee resumed its deliberations and a large majority of legislators in the committee voted in favor of Sweden’s application to join.

Briefing the committee members before the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken steps to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws in ways that “no one could have imaged five or six years ago.”

“It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfill all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort,” he said, adding that Turkey would continue to monitor Sweden’s progress.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström welcomed the committee’s decision on a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The next step is for parliament to vote on the matter. We look forward to becoming a member of NATO,” he tweeted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the development, saying that he counts on Turkey and Hungary “to now complete their ratifications as soon as possible. Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary hasn’t announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

recep erdogan with flagEarlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above) had openly linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Erdogan also also called on Canada and other NATO allies to life arms embargoes imposed on Turkey.

The White House has backed the Turkish F-16 request but there is opposition in Congress to military sales to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

ny times logoNew York Times, There’s No Other Job’: The Colonial Roots of Philippine Poverty, Peter S. Goodman, Photographs and Video philippines flagby Jes Aznar, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The desperation confronting tens of millions of landless Filipinos stems in part from policies imposed by the powers that controlled the archipelago for centuries — first Spain, and then the United States.

Decades after independence, the Philippines lacks the kind of factory economy that has lifted up other Asian nations, tying millions to farm work.

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Property Crisis Blew Up Bets That Couldn’t Lose, Claire Fu and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Citic said its new fund was as safe as they come because it would invest in real estate. Then the developer defaulted and the projects stalled.

China FlagOne of China’s largest investment firms, Citic Trust, had a clear pitch to investors when it was aiming to raise $1.7 billion to fund property development in 2020: There is no safer Chinese investment than real estate.

The trust, the investment arm of the state-owned financial conglomerate Citic, called housing “China’s economic ballast” and “an indispensable value investment.” The money it raised would be put toward four projects from Sunac China Holdings, a major developer.

Three years later, investors who put their money in the Citic fund have recouped only a small fraction of their investment. Three of the fund’s construction projects are on hold or significantly delayed because of financing problems or poor sales. Sunac has defaulted and is trying to restructure its debt.

The unraveling of the Citic fund provides a window into the broader problems facing China’s ailing property sector. What started as a housing slump has escalated into a full-blown crisis. The budgets of local governments, which depended on revenue from real estate, have been destabilized. The shock to the country’s financial system has drained China’s capital markets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Death of ‘Parasite’ Star Highlights South Korea’s Latest Crackdown on Drugs, John Yoon, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The actor, Lee Sun-kyun, had been questioned on suspicion of drug use in a country that takes a hard line against anything other than total abstinence.

south korea flag SmallLee Sun-kyun, the “Parasite” actor who was found dead on Wednesday, was far from the only celebrity entangled in South Korea’s latest antidrug crackdown.

Yoo Ah-in, the actor known for his roles in the 2018 film “Burning” and the 2021 Netflix series “Hellbound,” is facing trial after testing positive for propofol, marijuana, ketamine and cocaine, officials say. Several South Korean retailers have cut ties with the actor since the drug accusations became public. He is no longer listed as a cast member for the second season of “Hellbound.”

G-Dragon, the rapper and former member of the K-pop boy group BigBang, had been under investigation for possible drug use until the police dropped the case earlier this month after he tested negative on several drug tests. Nevertheless, BMW Korea removed images of him from its online advertisements.

The recent accusations against high-profile entertainers here have highlighted the continuation of a strict antidrug policy and attitudes in South Korea that have drawn a hard line against anything other than total abstinence from drug use.

ny times logoNew York Times, Criticize This African Country’s Army and You Might Be Drafted, Monika Pronczuk, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The military burkina faso locationjunta in Burkina Faso, a West African nation struggling to defeat extremist groups, has been forcibly conscripting critics, human rights groups said.

Burkina Faso, a previously stable, landlocked nation of 20 million, has been torn apart in the past eight burkino fasoyears by violence from extremist groups loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In the ensuing chaos, the country went through two coups in just 10 months, the second last year by a military junta vowing to contain militant groups by any means.

ny times logoNew York Times, In a British Town, a New Way of Caring for Older People Is Bringing Hope, Megan Specia, Dec. 29, 2023. An “integrated care center” brings doctors, physiotherapists and social workers under one roof. It could help Britain’s underlying social care crisis.

For 12 years after her husband died, Norma Fitzgerald tried to maintain her independence, living alone in an apartment on the outskirts of Hull, in northern England, despite her mobility worsening as she reached her mid-80s.

Then one day in the spring of 2022, she suddenly grew dizzy. Her legs gave out, and she collapsed on her apartment floor, unable to find the strength to get up.

She lay there for two days.

Eventually, a neighbor realized she hadn’t seen her for some time and called an ambulance.

“They had to force the door open,” Ms. Fitzgerald, who is now 87, recalled. She was severely dehydrated and spent the next five days in a hospital.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tesla Strike Is a Culture Clash: Swedish Labor vs. American Management, Melissa Eddy, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Workers seeking a collective agreement from the automaker say they are pushing for their rights, but car owners see them as taking the fight too far.

tesla logoThe Tesla technicians who walked off their jobs in Sweden say they still support the mission of the American company and its headline-grabbing chief executive. But they also want Tesla to accept the Swedish way of doing business.

They call it the Swedish Model, a way of life that has defined the country’s economy for decades. At its heart is cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that both sides benefit from a company’s profit.

Instead, four technicians who walked off their jobs on Oct. 27 said, they have been subjected to what they described as a “typical U.S. model”: six-day workweeks, unavoidable overtime and an unclear evaluation system for promotion.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

sudan sudanese flag on the map of africa

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Portrait of a year in migration turmoil, with more uncertainty ahead, Maria Sacchetti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Deportations of migrants rise to more than 142,000 under Biden, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2023, nearly double the number from the year before, as the Biden administration ramped up enforcement to stem illegal border crossings, according to the agency’s annual report, published Friday.

Just 2,500 of the 72,000 non-criminals deported from the United States in fiscal 2023 were in the interior of the country, where dozens of sanctuary cities and towns have passed ordinances seeking to limit ICE from detaining migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in 2021 that being undocumented should not be the sole basis for removing someone from the country.

President Biden took office promising to create a more humane immigration system, and he attempted to pause deportations temporarily in the hope that Congress would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Nearly 18,000 of those deported were parents and children traveling as family units, surpassing the 14,400 removed under the Trump administration in fiscal 2020.

Federal officials said the removals adhered to the Biden administration’s enforcement strategy, which the Supreme Court upheld in June. Migrants who cross the border illegally and those who commit violent crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat are priorities for removal. The ICE report covered the period from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30.

The increase in deportations is more a reflection of the high numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border than interior enforcement, which Biden has discouraged in most cases.

ny times logoNew York Times, He Killed His Molester as a Teenager. Should He Be Spared Deportation? Maria Cramer and Jenna Russell, Dec. 31, 2023. After 13 years in prison in Massachusetts, Marco Flores is fighting his deportation to El Salvador, which he left when he was 6.

Marco Flores was months away from finishing his prison sentence when an immigration agent showed up last spring at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, west of Boston, and handed him a sheaf of papers.

The documents confirmed what he had long feared: Upon his release, the U.S. government planned to deport him to his native El Salvador — a place he had not seen since he was 6 years old.

He has been incarcerated since he was 17. Now 30, he had hoped to start a new life when his sentence ended — as an electrical engineer, a husband and a father. But on that day in May, he was forced to acknowledge that his dreams had next to no chance of becoming reality.

His crime was violent: He killed his former neighbor and babysitter, Jaime Galdamez, 31, who was accused of raping Mr. Flores for years beginning when he was 9.

Mr. Flores pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2013, not understanding what it would mean for his immigration status. Federal law prioritizes deporting people convicted of crimes, especially those found guilty of killing someone.

Still, he hoped that given the circumstances that led him to to kill Mr. Galdamez, a judge might allow him to stay. His mother and brother both have legal residence in the United States. His sister is a citizen and so is his wife, Diana Flores, a childhood friend who had begun writing to him after his conviction, eventually leading to a wedding in the prison visiting room.

But at a time when the country has hardened its stance on immigration as record numbers of people cross the border illegally, convicted felons like Mr. Flores stand little chance — no matter how much growth and remorse they demonstrate.

Immigration courts routinely deport people who have worked in the United States for years and have committed no offense worse than a traffic infraction. Among them are parents forced to leave their families behind and beloved community members with successful businesses. Even the several million young immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as small children and often have stellar records of achievement, still have no certain path to permanent residency.

And as record numbers of migrants cross the Southern border, a major political vulnerability for President Biden going into next year’s election, lawmakers in Washington are discussing proposals to increase deportations and make it harder to win asylum.

ny times logoNew York Times, They’re Paid Billions to Root Out Child Labor in the U.S. Why Do They Fail? Hannah Dreier, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Private auditors have failed to detect migrant children working for U.S. suppliers of Oreos, Gerber, McDonald’s and many other brands.

One morning in 2019, an auditor arrived at a meatpacking plant in rural Minnesota. He was there on behalf of the national drugstore chain Walgreens to ensure that the factory, which made the company’s house brand of beef jerky, was safe and free of labor abuses.

He ran through a checklist of hundreds of possible problems, like locked emergency exits, sexual harassment and child labor. By the afternoon, he had concluded that the factory had no major violations. It could keep making jerky, and Walgreens customers could shop with a clear conscience.

When night fell, another 150 workers showed up at the plant. Among them were migrant children who had come to the United States by themselves looking for work. Children as young as 15 were operating heavy machinery capable of amputating fingers and crushing bones.

Migrant children would work at the Monogram Meat Snacks plant in Chandler, Minn., for almost four more years, until the Department of Labor visited this spring and found such severe child labor violations that it temporarily banned the shipment of any more jerky.

In the past two decades, private audits have become the solution to a host of public relations headaches for corporations. When scandal erupts over labor practices, or shareholders worry about legal risks, or advocacy groups demand a boycott, companies point to these inspections as evidence that they have eliminated abuses in their supply chains. Known as social compliance audits, they have grown into an $80 billion global industry, with firms performing hundreds of thousands of inspections each year.

But a New York Times review of confidential audits conducted by several large firms shows that they have consistently missed child labor.

Children were overlooked by auditors who were moving quickly, leaving early or simply not sent to the part of the supply chain where minors were working, The Times found in audits performed at 20 production facilities used by some of the nation’s most recognizable brands.

Auditors did not catch instances in which children were working on Skittles and Starburst candies, Hefty brand party cups, the pork in McDonald’s sandwiches, Gerber baby snacks, Oreos, Cheez-Its or the milk that comes with Happy Meals.

In a series of articles this year, The Times has revealed that migrant children, who have been coming to America in record numbers, are working dangerous jobs in every state, in violation of labor laws. Children often use forged documents that slip by auditors who check paperwork but do not speak with most workers face-to-face. Corporations suggest that supply chains are reviewed from start to finish, but sub-suppliers such as industrial farms remain almost entirely unscrutinized.

The expansion of social compliance audits comes as the Labor Department has shrunk, with staffing levels now so low that it would take more than 100 years for inspectors to visit every workplace in the department’s jurisdiction once. For many factories, a private inspection is the only one they will ever get.

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U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

Newsweek, Mike Flynn's Hall of Fame Induction Halted After Board Resignations, Dec 30, 2023. Following a flurry of resignations and public outcry, the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame announced it will defer its 2024 induction of Michael Flynn.

newsweek logoIn a guest column to the Providence Journal, Patrick Conley, the Hall of Fame's past president, stated Flynn's induction would be deferred "to a more peaceful and rational time and a more secure place."

"Discretion is the better part of valor,'' said Conley, who currently serves as the board's volunteer general counsel.

In the guest column, Conley defended the board's December 14 vote to induct Flynn, former President Donald Trump's National Security Adviser. However, he said "the Hall of Fame exhibited 'poor timing' by choosing to honor General Flynn in this turbulent and politically charged environment."

According to The Journal, at least eight board members have resigned as a result of the vote to induct Flynn. Conley's column said the Hall of Fame received 100 letters in protest of Flynn's pending induction.

Flynn, a retired three-star general who grew up in Rhode Island, was let go as Trump's national security advisor after three weeks in office when it was revealed that he was not truthful about a conversation he had with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak while speaking with former Vice President Mike Pence.

In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the conversation with Kislyak. Trump pardoned him in November 2020.

Since then, Flynn has been associated with members of the QAnon conspiracy movement who have made baseless claims that a globalist cabal, made up of Democrats and wealthy businessmen, is involved in a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring.

He also falsely claimed COVID was invented in order to steal the 2020 election from Trump. Last year, Flynn suggested a Myanmar-like military coup "should happen" in the U.S.

"A majority of the board that voted to induct Flynn relied upon his 30-year record of public service and high attainments," Conley wrote in his guest column. "It accepted as true the grant of clemency from the president of the United States asserting that no crime was actually committed and the fact that charges against Flynn were dropped by a weaponized Department of Justice."

John Parrillo, a history professor, was among the recent board resignations.

In a resignation letter obtained by the Journal, Parrillo said he was "saddened to the core" by the vote to induct a man with Flynn's "politics and far-right militaristic vision for America" and by the board's unwillingness to reconsider his Hall of Fame merits.

"For the last seven years, it has been my [privilege] to nominate at least seven Rhode Islanders into our RI Hall of Fame. A fresco painter. A Naval historian. A Hollywood filmmaker. Two creators of a music festival. An early father of the American Industrial Revolution and the creator of at least 14 Black colleges," Parrillo wrote in his letter.

"With a most heavy heart," he said he must resign.

In another letter obtained by the Journal, former Rhode Island state Senator Bea Lanzi and lawyer John Tarantino wrote: "There is an overall right and wrong in the universe, and what has happened here, in our view, and according to our moral compasses, and consciences, compels us to resign."

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

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GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens


lev parnas ivanka jared kushnerPalm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn't testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment? Antonio Fins, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Lev Parnas, shown at center between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, was a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Trump and is at the heart of the current inquiry of President Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas is telling his side of the story whether a congressional panel wants to listen or not.

lev parnas coverThe man who was a central figure in the 2019 Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump is now revealing insights into and details of the diplomatic impropriety that is, today, at the heart of the current inquiry into President Joe Biden. But it's a message that House Republicans intent on exposing the so-called "Biden crime family" may not be eager to broadcast to the U.S. electorate.

"The whole motive and the whole Biden stuff was never about getting justice, and getting to the bottom of Biden criminality or doing an investigation in Ukraine," Parnas said. "It was all about announcing an investigation and using that in the media to be able to destroy the Biden campaign and have Trump win."

That much itself is not a novel revelation. The argument was adjudicated in Trump's impeachment probe and trial in the U.S. Senate in early 2020, which ended with the president's acquittal.

But Parnas, a 51-year-old Boca Raton resident, is laying out what he calls a complete story with added pieces of information at a critical juncture as the attempt to impeach Biden rolls into the high-stakes 2024 election year. It all amounts to, Parnas admits, a costly "escapade" which ultimately helped land embattled Ukraine in the crosshairs of U.S. politics.

Whether the House Oversight Committee and its Republican chair, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, will mind what Parnas has to say seems a highly unlikely proposition. But Parnas is taking his case to the American public.

In December, he will release a book, Shadow Diplomacy, and a podcast, "Lev Remembers," will follow. He also is cooperating on a documentary. The common denominator among all the productions is a singular narrative, he said, aimed at "getting the truth out" about what happened with Trump and Ukraine.

"It's all because of one individual that wanted to stay in power, that didn't want to relinquish power," he said.
Genesis of Ukraine scandal was a phone call, but not the one you have heard about

Among the twists disclosed in a pre-publication, limited version of Shadow Diplomacy was a phone call that kicked off five years of alleged Ukraine political "witch hunts."

 Igor Fruman, top left, and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney at bottom of a Wall Street Journal graphic above by Laura Kammermann, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal.

In the fall of 2018, Parnas, above right, and an associate, Igor Fruman, above left, were busy networking global and Trump administration connections to get their energy trading and exploration company on sure financial footing. Parnas writes that he was working one of his key administration contacts, Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani, above center.

The pair frequented a Manhattan locale, The Grand Havana Room, where Parnas wrote that one evening that November the two "were talking about ways to get my business off the ground." That's when Giuliani, Parnas writes, excused himself to answer a phone call from a former associate with a tip about the former vice president and his son, Hunter.

The associate told Giuliani in that call, according to Parnas, that the Bidens "had been involved in something perhaps a bit shadier than mere conflict of interest in Ukraine." And, Parnas relates, there were receipts — purportedly "a couple of letters, whistleblower complaints."

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Roberts sidesteps Supreme Court’s ethics controversies in yearly report, Ann E. Marimow, Dec. 31, 2023. The Supreme Court will be tested in the coming weeks to untangle politically consequential legal questions with the potential to reshape the 2024 presidential election. The court’s reputation remains marred by ethics controversies involving lavish travel and gifts, and public approval ratings remain low following high court rulings to overturn long-standing precedent.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. did not address any of those contemporary issues Sunday in his annual “Year-end Report on the Federal Judiciary.” Instead, he looked back on technological advancements in the nation’s court system, detailing developments from the quill pens used by justices in the 19th century to electronic databases of the 1980s to online trial proceedings prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roberts, a history buff, also expounded on the potential for artificial intelligence to both enhance and detract from the work of judges, lawyers and litigants. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, he noted, AI could increase access to justice.
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“AI obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. But just as it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law,” Roberts wrote, adding that “machines cannot fully replace key actors in court.”

Public approval of the Supreme Court remains at historically low levels, reflecting a dip that followed its 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the nationwide right to abortion. The court has also faced immense public pressure and criticism following news reports that some justices accepted, but did not disclose, luxury travel funded by billionaire friends.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts's 2023 year-end report

Roberts also did not mention in his 13-page report the court’s adoption for the first time of a formal code of conduct, announced in November, specific to the nine justices and intended to promote “integrity and impartiality.” For years, the justices said they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges and resisted efforts by Congress to impose a policy on the high court.

But the lack of a code became a persistent complaint from Capitol Hill that the justices were forced to address in 2023. In the weeks before the court’s announcement, several justices said publicly it would be a good idea for the court to embrace its own plan rather than giving Congress an opening to pass a law.

Supreme Court, under pressure, issues ethics code specific to justices

The policy was praised by some as a positive initial step, but criticized by legal ethics experts for giving the justices too much discretion over recusal decisions and for not including a process for holding the justices accountable if they violate their own rules.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dueling Primary Ballot Rulings on Trump Put Pressure on Supreme Court, Jenna Russell, Ernesto Londoño and Shawn Hubler, Updated Dec. 29, 2023. Maine found Donald Trump ineligible to hold office because of his actions after the 2020 election. California said his name would remain on the ballot there.

maine mapMaine on Thursday became the second state to bar Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot after its top election official ruled that the former president’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election rendered him ineligible to hold office again.

Hours later, her counterpart in California announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the shenna bellowsnation’s most populous state, where election officials have limited power to remove candidates.

The official in Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, left, wrote in her decision that Mr. Trump did not qualify for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A handful of citizens had challenged his eligibility by claiming that he had incited an insurrection and was thus barred from seeking the presidency again under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection,” Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, wrote.

Ms. Bellows’s decision follows a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week to keep Mr. Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot.

The decisions in Maine and Colorado underscore national tensions over democracy, ballot access and the rule of law. They also add urgency to calls for the United States Supreme Court to insert itself into the politically explosive dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said Thursday night that both the Maine and Colorado rulings were “partisan election interference efforts” that were “a hostile assault on American democracy.”

 

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

In late August, amid a rising outcry over revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas had received decades of undisclosed gifts and free luxury travel, a lawyer in Chicago fired off an email to her fellow former Thomas clerks.

“Many of us have been asked recently about the justice,” wrote the lawyer, Taylor Meehan. “In response, there’s not always the opportunity to tell his story and share what it was like to work for him. And there’s rarely the opportunity for us to do so all together.”

Ms. Meehan attached a letter in support of Justice Thomas. Minutes later came a reply. “I just had to jump up right away and say bravo for this,” wrote Steven G. Bradbury, a Heritage Foundation fellow who served in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations. Within days Fox News viewers were hearing about the letter, now signed by 112 former clerks and testifying that the justice’s “integrity is unimpeachable.” Among the signers was the popular Fox host Laura Ingraham.

In turn, the justice’s wife, the conservative activist Virginia Thomas, soon took to the clerks’ private email listserv. “We feel less alone today, because of you all!!! 🙏💕💕💕” she wrote, offering special thanks to the letter’s coordinators and all “who stepped into our fire!!!”

In the 32 years since Justice Thomas came through the fire of his confirmation hearings and onto the Supreme Court, he has assembled an army of influential acolytes unlike any other — a network of like-minded former clerks who have not only rallied to his defense but carried his idiosyncratic brand of conservative legal thinking out into the nation’s law schools, top law firms, the judiciary and the highest reaches of government.

 

leonard leo ap carolyn kaster

 Ultra-right Republican dark money legal powerbroker Leonard Leo is shown above. He is known as an honorary "clerk" because of his special attention to the justice's financial well-being.

The former clerks’ public defense of the justice was “unparalleled in the history of the court,” said Todd C. Peppers, a professor of public affairs at Roanoke College and the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. “It’s frankly astonishing.”

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Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley’s bold strategy to beat Donald Trump is to play it safe, Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Ms. Haley still trails far behind the former president in polls. Yet she is not deviating from the cautious approach that has led her this far.

nikki haley oAt a packed community center in southwestern Iowa, Nikki Haley, right, broke from her usual remarks this month to offer a warning to her top Republican presidential rivals, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, deploying a favorite line: “If they punch me, I punch back — and I punch back harder.”

But in that Dec. 18 appearance and over the next few days, Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, did not exactly pummel her opponents as promised. Her jabs were instead surgical, dry and policy-driven.

“He went into D.C. saying that he was going to stop the spending and instead, he voted to raise the debt limit,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. DeSantis, a former congressman, in Treynor, near the Nebraska border. At that same stop, she also defended herself against his attack ads and criticized Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor, over offshore drilling and fracking, and questioned his choice of a political surrogate in Iowa.

She was even more careful about going after Mr. Trump, continuing to draw only indirect contrasts and noting pointedly that his allied super PAC had begun running anti-Haley ads.

“He said two days ago I wasn’t surging,” she said, but now had “attack ads going up against me.”

With under three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Haley is treading cautiously as she enters the crucial final stretch of her campaign to shake the Republican Party loose from the clutches of Mr. Trump. Even as the former president maintains a vast lead in polls, Ms. Haley has insistently played it safe, betting that an approach that has left her as the only non-Trump candidate with any sort of momentum can eventually prevail as primary season unfolds.

On the trail, she rarely takes questions from reporters. She hardly deviates from her stump speech or generates headlines. And she keeps walking a fine line on her greatest obstacle to the Republican nomination — Mr. Trump. 

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley, in Retreat, Says ‘Of Course the Civil War Was About Slavery,’ Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023. A day after giving a stumbling answer about the conflict’s origin, Ms. Haley told an interviewer: “Yes, I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential hopeful, on Thursday walked back her stumbling answer about the cause of the Civil War, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.”

Her retreat came about 12 hours after a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, a state that is central to her presidential hopes, where she was asked what caused the Civil War. She stumbled through an answer about government overreach and “the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do,” after jokingly telling the questioner he had posed a tough one. He then noted she never uttered the word “slavery.”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Ms. Haley replied. “Next question.”

Speaking on the radio show The Pulse of New Hampshire on Thursday morning, Ms. Haley, who famously removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia, said: “Yes I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

But she also insinuated that the question had come not from a Republican voter but from a political detractor, accusing President Biden and Democrats of “sending plants” to her town-hall events.

“Why are they hitting me? See this for what it is,” she said, adding, “They want to run against Trump.”

In recent polls, Ms. Haley has surged into second place in New Hampshire, edging closer to striking distance of former President Donald J. Trump. To win the Granite State contest on Jan. 23, the first primary election of 2024, she will most likely need independent voters — and possibly Democrats who registered as independents. That is how Senator John McCain of Arizona upset George W. Bush in the state’s 2000 primary.

But the Civil War gaffe may have put a crimp in that strategy.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” she said Wednesday night, “the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

The answer echoed a century’s argument from segregationists that the Civil War was fundamentally about states’ rights and economics, not about ending slavery.

Late Wednesday night, even Mr. Biden rebuked the answer: “It was about slavery,” he wrote on social media.

She tried to walk back her comments on Thursday, asking: “What’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is never relive it. Never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Trump Conviction Could Cost Him Enough Voters to Tip the Election, Norman Eisen, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Recent general-election polling has generally shown Donald Trump maintaining a slight lead over President Biden. Yet many of those polls also reveal an Achilles’ heel for Mr. Trump that has the potential to change the shape of the race.

It relates to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles: If he is criminally convicted by a jury of his peers, voters say they are likely to punish him for it.

A trial on criminal charges is not guaranteed, and if there is a trial, neither is a conviction. But if Mr. Trump is tried and convicted, a mountain of public opinion data suggests voters would turn away from the former president.

Still likely to be completed before Election Day remains Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecution of Mr. Trump for his alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election, which had been set for trial on March 4, 2024. That date has been put on hold pending appellate review of the trial court’s rejection of Mr. Trump‘s presidential immunity. On Friday, the Supreme Court declined Mr. Smith’s request for immediate review of the question, but the appeal is still headed to the high court on a rocket docket. That is because the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument on Jan. 9 and likely issue a decision within days of that, setting up a prompt return to the Supreme Court. Moreover, with three other criminal cases also set for trial in 2024, it is entirely possible that Mr. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction before November 2024.

The negative impact of conviction has emerged in polling as a consistent through line over the past six months nationally and in key states. We are not aware of a poll that offers evidence to the contrary. The swing in this data away from Mr. Trump varies — but in a close election, as 2024 promises to be, any movement can be decisive.

Mr. Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of Donald Trump. Ms. Lake is a Democratic Party strategist and was a lead pollster for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Ms. Shenker-Osorio is a political researcher and campaign adviser.

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ron desantis hands out

 

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration

ny times logoNew York Times, Powerful Realtors Group Loses Its Grip on the Industry, Debra Kamin, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The National Association of Realtors is facing antitrust lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations, and real estate agents are now looking for alternatives.

ny times logoNew York Times, After a Rise in Murders During the Pandemic, a Sharp Decline in 2023, Tim Arango and Campbell Robertson, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The U.S. is on track for a record drop in homicides, and many other categories of crime are also in decline, according to the F.B.I.

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial : Face it: A smart ban on ski masks can help fight crime and protect rights, Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Tucked into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Addressing Crime Trends Now Act, a bill intended to help police fight crime in D.C., is an under-discussed proposal: a prohibition on ski masks and face coverings.

The mayor’s proposal would revive the anti-mask section of a 1982 law, the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Act. That statute prohibited those 16 and older from covering their faces while in public, intending to commit a crime, intimidate, threaten, or harass others or in cases in which masking would recklessly “cause another person to fear for his or her personal safety.”

The provision, which carried a one-year maximum sentence, was rarely enforced even when it was on the books. And D.C. repealed it in 2020 to encourage the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That reasonable public health policy had an unintended consequence: normalizing masking for all sorts of purposes, legal and otherwise. Now, identity-obscuring ski masks have become a de facto uniform for those who commit retail thefts, carjackings and robberies. The disguises make crimes scarier and perpetrators more difficult to identify — which of course is the point. One of the more remarkable aspects of last week’s CityCenter Chanel store robbery was that a video camera recorded one of the suspects without a face covering.

Other cities are debating anti-mask measures or have already adopted them: Philadelphia in November banned ski masks in public places — parks, schools, day-care centers, city-owned buildings and public transit — and at least 11 states have some kind of anti-mask ordinance on their books, most decades old. The goal is to prevent citizens from feeling “under siege,” as one Philadelphia council member put it, and to promote a sense of public safety.

Safety, actual and perceived, is a valid goal, especially urgent in the District. Still, the case for mask bans is more complicated than it might seem. There is a tension between the security mask bans seek to protect and the First Amendment liberties some mask wearers can legitimately claim in certain contexts.

At the same time, anonymity has a long association with criminality or deviance, and social science research shows that it can enable untoward behavior and make crimes more terrorizing.

Probably the biggest potential problem with anti-mask decrees is a practical one: enforcement. D.C. police are not eager to enforce such a ban; some officers have told us that it is a distraction from more important tasks and could heighten the risk of discrimination claims. The fact that ski masks are particularly popular among youths of color all but guarantees that enforcement will appear targeted.

Fortunately, relatively minor tweaks could address the concerns. A mask ban could be limited to particular and clearly delineated spaces — public transit, for instance, or city property and places of commerce, where mask-wearing is commonly understood to induce anxiety and serve little public good. Reasonable exceptions for religious practice or political expression should be spelled out in the statute. An anti-mask provision could be used to enhance penalties for other crimes of which the masked perpetrator is accused, rather than a stand-alone offense. A law that clearly provides that wearing a mask itself is not criminal, but committing a crime with one is, would be harder to use as a pretext for selective enforcement or harassment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rikers Island Has Become New York’s Largest Mental Institution, Jan Ransom and Amy Julia Harris, Photographs by José A. Alvarado Jr., Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A seemingly endless rotation between forensic hospitals and jails means that some mentally ill detainees stay in the system for years without standing trial.

One night in fall 2015, an 18-year-old woman was standing on a subway platform in the Bronx when a homeless man named James Dolo came up from behind and used both hands to push her onto the tracks, the police said, injuring her.

Jailed on an attempted murder charge, Mr. Dolo, then 38, soon was seated in front of a court evaluator for a review of his competency to stand trial. Mr. Dolo smelled of urine, the evaluator noted, had described a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of doing.

The evaluator marked him down as unfit, citing schizophrenia, and a judge ordered Mr. Dolo committed to a state forensic psychiatric hospital — a secure facility for incarcerated people — to be restored to mental competency. He spent nearly two years there before he was shuttled to a public hospital in Manhattan, and then to the city jails on Rikers Island, and then to the forensic hospital again.

Now, eight years later, having never been convicted of a crime in the subway shoving, he is back on Rikers Island, where guards once found him sitting in his own excrement and refusing to eat or leave his cell.

Mr. Dolo’s case, which has not been previously reported, illustrates one reason Rikers Island has become a warehouse for thousands of people with psychiatric problems: Many detainees with severe mental illness have moved back and forth between the jails and state forensic psychiatric facilities for months or even years before standing trial. Some have spent more time in this cycle than they might have served in prison had they been convicted.

Records show that more than half the people in city custody — some 3,000 men and women — have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and, on any given day, hundreds of them are awaiting evaluations or in line for beds at state forensic psychiatric hospitals, with scores more being treated at those facilities.

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More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Many on Gulf Coast say time is running out for EPA to act on toxic air, Anna Phillips, Amudalat Ajasa and Timothy Puko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration vowed to protect Gulf Coast communities from dangerous pollution. But refineries continue to exceed safe levels.

As a girl growing up near refineries and chemical factories in this part of the Gulf Coast, 77-year-old Lois Malvo thought nothing of the way her eyes burned when she played outside. Now she sees dangers all around her.

The smell of rotten eggs and gasoline frequently fills her low-slung home, which lacks running water and leans to one side. Most days, she wakes up in the grips of a coughing fit. Cancer, which she blames on the toxic chemicals in the air, killed her sister and afflicted both of her brothers as well as herself.

“Our health lets us know that something isn’t right,” she said. “We’re being attacked by the industry because we’re vulnerable people and really, nobody cares about us.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tried to change perceptions of those like Malvo when he toured pollution-choked communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas two years ago, assuring residents that the Biden administration was committed to reversing years of inaction.

washington post logoWashington Post, Massive waves hammer West Coast, with more storms expected, Nicolás Rivero and Diana Leonard, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Ventura and Santa Cruz counties could see more damage amid stormy conditions this weekendWaves as high as 25 feet continue to pummel the West Coast after a damaging barrage flooded beaches as far south as Los Angeles on Thursday and left logs scattered across roads as far north as southern Oregon.

Powerful cyclones over the North Pacific are combining with higher-than-normal tides to create dangerous waves and flooding.

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, Stalled on the Front, Ukraine Steps Up Sabotage and Targets Trains, Marc Santora, Dec. 31, 2023. As conventional forces struggle to break through defensive lines, Russia and Ukraine are increasingly turning to guerrilla tactics. The saboteurs managed to place four explosives on a Russian freight train carrying diesel and jet fuel, roughly 3,000 miles from the Ukrainian border. But more important than the destruction of the train, Ukrainian intelligence officials said, was the timing of the blast.

They needed it to blow up as the 50 rail cars were traveling through the nine-mile-long tunnel through the Severomuysky mountains, the longest train tunnel in Russia.

The Ukrainians were hoping to compromise a vital conduit for weapons being shipped to Russia from North Korea, at a moment when Ukrainian forces on the front are struggling to stave off relentless Russian assaults. Trains can be replaced and tracks quickly repaired. But serious damage to this tunnel, which took decades to build, might not be so easy to fix.

Russia and Ukraine continue to battle on a large scale, both on the ground and with aerial strikes. Russian officials accused Ukraine of attacking a Russian city, Belgorod, on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others, in apparent response to a huge Russian missile barrage on several Ukrainian cities the day before.

But guerrilla tactics — including sabotage, commando raids, targeted assassinations and attempts to blow up ammunition depots, oil pipelines and railways — have taken on added importance as the two sides fail to make substantial advances at the front.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia pounded the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv ahead of the New Year, Constant Méheut, Dec. 31, 2023. Moscow said that it had struck Kharkiv with missiles in retaliation for what it said was a deadly Ukrainian air assault on the Russian city of Belgorod.

Residents of the Ukrainian city, Kharkiv, which is just 60 miles across the border from Belgorod, were jolted by multiple air raid sirens overnight, as several waves of ballistic missiles and attack drones rained on the city center, injuring nearly 30 people and damaging private homes, hospitals and a hotel, according to Ukrainian officials.

“These are not military facilities, but cafes, residential buildings and offices,” Ihor Terekhov, Kharkiv’s mayor, said in a post on social media that included a video of firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze amid a pile of rubble.

 

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Strike Hits Russian Warship in Occupied Crimea, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Russia acknowledged that the ship (shown above in a 2021 Reuters photo) had been damaged in what appeared to be one of the most significant attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in months.

ukraine flagThe Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement that it had destroyed the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, in the southeastern Crimean port of Feodosia overnight. Russia’s Defense Ministry told the Tass state news agency that the ship had been damaged in an attack using “aircraft-guided missiles,” but did not say whether the vessel had been permanently disabled.

Videos of the attack that appeared to be taken by residents and were released by the Ukrainian Air Force showed a huge explosion that produced a large fireball, followed by a giant cloud of smoke and fire billowing into the night sky.

The footage could not be immediately verified, but Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the attack had started a fire in Feodosia. One person was killed and two others were wounded in the assault, he added.

“The fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller!” Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s Air Force, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app celebrating the strike, which he noted came after Ukrainian missiles sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last year.

The Ukrainian military has long maintained that the war cannot be won without taking aim at Russian assets and operations in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. In recent months, Ukraine has sharply accelerated the pace of strikes on the peninsula, which Russia’s military uses as a logistics hub for its hold on southern Ukraine — stockpiling fuel, ammunition and other supplies to be funneled to the battlefields — but also as a launchpad for attacks.

The Black Sea Fleet has fired devastating precision cruise missiles at cities and towns deep inside Ukraine. In an attempt to reduce the threat, the Ukrainian military has repeatedly targeted the fleet this year — damaging a warship in August and hitting the fleet’s headquarters a month later.

Those attacks were significant achievements for a country without warships of its own, and rare successes in a year marked by disappointing efforts to break through Russian defensive lines on the battlefield.

ny times logoNew York Times, As War Rages in Ukraine, Denmark Turns an Office Park Back Into an Arsenal, Lara Jakes, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The conflict and surging arms production in Russia have spurred demand for ammunition manufacturing across Europe.

The old Krudten ammunition plant, near the northernmost tip of Denmark, is a quiet shell of a factory that has sat empty for years despite its legacy of churning out bullets, artillery and explosives for the Danish military.

But that is about to change: With the war in Ukraine fueling growing demand for Western weapons, the Danish government has decided to revive its role in the ammunition business.

In 2008, amid defense cutbacks that swept across Europe and cratering global economies, Denmark sold off Krudten, its military’s main munitions plant. It was passed around among private firms until October, when the government decided to buy it back, becoming one of the latest countries to increase its focus on weapons manufacturing and counter Russia’s rapidly expanding arms industry.

“It was crucial to get this plant,” the Danish defense minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, said in an interview this month, noting “a greater demand for ammunition” across Europe.

“We should be concerned because Russia is ramping up production of ammunition and also other kinds of military equipment,” Mr. Poulsen said. “That’s the reason why we have decided in the European Union that you have to support countries doing what they can to ramp up production.”

Officials from NATO countries worry that Ukraine will run out of weapons early next year, given that Republicans in Congress have blocked additional U.S. military aid and Hungary has vetoed another financial package from the European Union. Russia’s skyrocketing weapons industry has triggered palpable anxiety within NATO — not only because it has helped stall Ukraine’s six-month counteroffensive, but also as a sign of Moscow’s growing might.

That has sent European countries searching for ways to increase their own weapons production, including loosening regulations and incentivizing investment.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Ukraine, Success in the Black Sea and a Setback in the East, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). A major military success at sea against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was tempered by Ukraine’s acknowledgment that it had all but retreated from Marinka.

Ukraine scored a major success on Tuesday when it struck a Russian warship at port in Crimea, one of the most significant attacks against Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet in months. But in another setback for their ground campaign, Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they had all but retreated from the eastern city of Marinka after a monthslong battle to defend it.

ukraine flagThe two developments underscored the diverging fortunes of the two combatants this winter in a war that has largely settled into a deadlock: Ukraine racking up naval successes in the Black Sea and Crimea, where it is putting Russia on the defensive, and Russia pressing its attack on battlefields in the east after blunting a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A day after Russia said it had taken complete control of Marinka, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military commander, spoke in sober terms about the fight, comparing it to the scorched-earth battle for Bakhmut, the eastern city that fell to Russia in May. Like Bakhmut, Marinka held limited strategic value, but is now a trophy in ruins for Moscow.

“The situation is exactly the same as it was in Bakhmut,” General Zaluzhny said at a news conference. “Street by street, block by block, and our soldiers were being targeted. And the result is what it is.”

Ukraine’s forces, he said, have retreated to the outskirts of the city and set up some positions behind it, indicating that the cost of staying and fighting was too high. Every inch of Ukrainian land is vital, General Zaluzhny said, but “the lives of our fighters are more important to us.”

  • Update from Ukraine. Commentary: One of the Worst days for the Ruzzian Army, Denys Davydov, Dec. 28, 2023. All Failed; Crazy Tactics.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia once again took control of land that Ukraine had won back during its counteroffensive, Constant Méheut, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Russia’s recent progress around the southern village of Robotyne is a sobering development for Ukraine amid dwindling Western military aid.

Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne.

The situation has reinforced the war’s latest reality: With their counteroffensive stalled, Ukrainian troops are now on the back foot in many places. Besides Robotyne in the south, they are also struggling in the east, having all but retreated from the town of Marinka, officials said this week.

Deepening their challenges, Kyiv is increasingly worried that its military will not have the resources to keep up the fight. Washington announced on Wednesday that it was releasing the last remaining Congress-approved package of military aid available to Kyiv.

ny times logoNew York Times, Foreigners Who Made Ukraine Home Stay Put, Despite War, Megan Specia, Photographs by Laura Boushnak, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). As millions fled, some expatriates made the unlikely decision to remain in Ukraine.

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, In a letter heavy with irony, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny described his transfer to an Arctic prison, Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 26, 2023. The comments from the Russian opposition leader were written with a heavy dose of humor, and seemed intended to assuage concerns among allies after his three-week disappearance.

ny times logoNew York Times, Christmas Comes Early in Ukraine, but Not a Moment Too Soon, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally changed the date for celebrating to Dec. 25, departing from the Russian tradition of celebrating on Jan. 7.

Of Ukraine’s many Western-oriented changes, put in place bit by bit since independence and accelerated during the war, one brought special joy this year: Christmas came early.

After centuries of marking the holiday on Jan. 7 under the Julian church calendar, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church this year formally switched to celebrating on Dec. 25 with most of the rest of Europe — and pointedly not with Russia.

For 6-year-old Darynka, that meant practicing carols early and enjoying the excitement of receiving gifts like a Rainbow High doll and a paint set two weeks earlier than she did than last year.

“I love Christmas!” she said.

Her mother, Halyna Shvets, saw a step toward Europe in the Ukrainian church’s decision to shift the date away from Russia’s tradition, not only for Christmas celebrations but for other religious holidays as well.

“We are really happy,” she said. “Faith in God is a fundamental pillar of our lives. Celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, is an opportunity for us to gather for this beautiful Ukrainian religious tradition.”

Christmas, like so much else in Ukraine these days, is tightly tangled up in the country’s war with Russia. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has taken the position that the Julian calendar used in the Russian church does not have religious significance, and that holidays should be celebrated according to the calendar by which people live their daily lives. Even before this year’s formal switch, some Ukrainian Orthodox believers, in the first year after Russia’s invasion, had moved Christmas to December.

Technically, the change in the celebration is a recommendation; individual parishes are deciding when to mark the holiday. But of the roughly 7,500 parishes in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, all but 120 shifted the date of Christmas this year, as Russia’s invasion approaches its second full year.

Most eastern Orthodox churches had already taken this position. After the Ukrainian church’s switch, only four of 15 eastern Orthodox denominations — in Russia, Serbia, Finland and Jerusalem — still follow the Julian calendar, which lags by 13 days owing to a difference in calculating the length of the year. Some religious communities in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, known as Old Feasters, have also continued to follow the old calendar.

In his Christmas address, President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the second Christmas at war, and the shift in the date so that Orthodox and Catholic Ukrainians will celebrate on the same day. “Today, all Ukrainians are together,” he said. “We all meet Christmas together. On the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country.”

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was Ready to Die, but Not to Surrender, Marc Santora, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). A Ukrainian soldier escaped from an embattled steel plant and sneaked 125 miles to home territory.

After seven days hiding in a dank and dark tunnel deep in the bowels of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as the city burned around him, Pfc. Oleksandr Ivantsov was on the verge of collapse.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had ordered Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their weapons after 80 days of resistance and surrender. But Private Ivantsov had other ideas.

“When I signed up for this mission, I realized that most likely I would die,” he recalled. “I was ready to die in battle, but morally I was not ready to surrender.”

He knew his plan might sound a little crazy, but at the time, he was convinced he had a better chance of surviving by hiding out than by surrendering himself to Russians, whose widespread abuse of prisoners of war was well known to Ukrainian troops.

So he knocked a hole in a wall to get to a small tunnel, stashed some supplies and made plans to stay hidden for 10 days, hoping that the Russians who had taken control of the ruined plant would let down their guard by then, allowing him to creep through the ruins unnoticed and make his way into the city he once called home.

But after a week, he had gone through the six cans of stewed chicken and 10 cans of sardines and almost all of the eight 1.5 liter bottles of water he had secreted away.

“I felt very bad, I was dehydrated, and my thoughts were getting confused,” he said. “I realized that I had to leave because I could not live there for three more days.”

Mr. Ivantsov’s account of his escape from Azovstal is supported by photographs and videos from the city and factory that he shared with The New York Times. It was verified by superior officers and by medical records documenting his treatment after he made it to Ukrainian-controlled territory. Still, his tale seemed so far-fetched that Ukraine’s security services made him take a polygraph test to assure them he was not a double agent.

Mr. Ivantsov is still fighting for Ukraine, helping a drone unit outside the pulverized city of Bakhmut, where he recalled his story one sunny afternoon. He told it reluctantly, saying he could not share certain details in order to protect the Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal still being held as prisoners of war and the civilians in the occupied territories who aided in his escape.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Europe Eye Russian Assets to Aid Ukraine as Funding Dries Up, David E. Sanger and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). Despite legal reservations, policymakers are weighing the consequences of using $300 billion in Russian assets to help Kyiv’s war effort. 

The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials.

Until recently, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had argued that without action by Congress, seizing the funds was “not something that is legally permissible in the United States.” There has also been concern among some top American officials that nations around the world would hesitate to keep their funds at the New York Federal Reserve, or in dollars, if the United States established a precedent for seizing the money.

But the administration, in coordination with the Group of 7 industrial nations, has begun taking another look at whether it can use its existing authorities or if it should seek congressional action to use the funds. Support for such legislation has been building in Congress, giving the Biden administration optimism that it could be granted the necessary authority.

The talks among finance ministers, central bankers, diplomats and lawyers have intensified in recent weeks, officials said, with the Biden administration pressing Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan to come up with a strategy by Feb. 24, the second anniversary of the invasion.

The more than $300 billion of Russian assets under discussion have already been out of Moscow’s control for more than a year. After the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with Europe and Japan, used sanctions to freeze the assets, denying Russia access to its international reserves.

But seizing the assets would take matters a significant step further and require careful legal consideration.

President Biden has not yet signed off on the strategy, and many of the details remain under heated discussion. Policymakers must determine if the money will be channeled directly to Ukraine or used to its benefit in other ways.

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Consumers, High Tech

ny times logoNew York Times, Your Car Is Tracking You. Abusive Partners May Be, Too, Kashmir Hill, Dec. 31, 2023. Apps that remotely track and control cars are being weaponized by abusive partners. Car companies have been slow to respond, according to victims and experts.

A car, to its driver, can feel like a sanctuary. A place to sing favorite songs off key, to cry, to vent or to drive somewhere no one knows you’re going.

But in truth, there are few places in our lives less private.

Modern cars have been called “smartphones with wheels” because they are internet-connected and have myriad methods of data collection, from cameras and seat weight sensors to records of how hard you brake and corner. Most drivers don’t realize how much information their cars are collecting and who has access to it, said Jen Caltrider, a privacy researcher at Mozilla who reviewed the privacy policies of more than 25 car brands and found surprising disclosures, such as Nissan saying it might collect information about “sexual activity.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Building Spree That Reshaped Manhattan’s Skyline? It’s Over, Matthew Haag, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). New office buildings flourished over the past 25 years in Manhattan, but a construction drought has begun.

The Manhattan office construction boom is over.

Just three large office towers — of more than 500,000 square feet — are being built across New York City, with two expected to open in 2024 or 2025 and nothing else projected to go up for years. Normally, a handful of sites that size would be in various stages of construction, with at least one opening every year since 2018, according to JLL, a real estate services firm.

Nearly 20 large office buildings that developers have proposed, including the final tower near ground zero, have yet to break ground. Many are on indefinite hold as developers face numerous challenges.

Rising construction costs and interest rates have significantly driven up the price to build. Banks are increasingly reluctant to finance such construction while Manhattan has record office vacancies. And there are few large tenants, which lenders require to be lined up before a new office can be built, actively looking to move.

As a result, Manhattan is entering its most significant office construction drought since after the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Developers now concede that the next wave of large office towers may not open until the early 2030s, if not later.

ny times logoNew York Times, Downturn or Not? At Year’s End, Wall St. Is Split on What’s Ahead, Joe Rennison, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Analysts bullish on 2023 were largely right and expect more of the same in 2024. Bears caution that the Federal Reserve’s impact is yet to be determined.

Twelve months ago, Tom Lee bet that 2023 was going to turn out just fine.

While many of his peers on Wall Street were sounding the alarm over an impending economic downturn, Mr. Lee, a stock market strategist who spent more than a decade running J.P. Morgan’s equity research before setting up his own firm, forecast in December 2022 that falling inflation and economic resilience would buck the broadly bearish mood.

Mr. Lee was right. Despite political brinkmanship over the nation’s debt ceiling, a banking crisis in March, fears over the cost of funding the government’s fiscal deficit, a continuing war in Ukraine and fresh conflict in Israel, the core of Mr. Lee’s prediction came to fruition in 2023. Inflation has fallen, unemployment remains low, and the S&P 500 has risen 24 percent.

Most investors disagreed with Mr. Lee’s prognosis; in 2023, they pulled more than $70 billion out of funds that buy U.S. stocks, according to data from EPFR Global. Only a quarter of fund managers whose performance is benchmarked to the S&P 500 have beaten the index’s returns this year, according to Morningstar Direct.

Heading into 2024, prognosticators tracked by Bloomberg share Mr. Lee’s optimism more broadly, including analysts at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Binky Chadha, an equity strategist at Deutsche Bank who bet against the consensus with Mr. Lee last year, is also predicting that the bull rally will continue.

ny times logoNew York Times, Holiday Spending Increased, Defying Fears of a Decline, Jordyn Holman, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). While the pace of growth slowed, spending stayed strong because of robust job growth and strong wage gains.

joe biden resized oDespite lingering inflation, Americans increased their spending this holiday season, early data shows. That comes as a big relief for retailers that had spent much of the year fearing the economy would soon weaken and consumer spending would fall.

Retail sales increased 3.1 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The numbers, released Tuesday, are not adjusted for inflation.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, When Being a Spokeswoman Attracts Leering Internet Trolls, Caity Weaver, Dec. 28, 2023. When you lend your likeness to a nationwide ad campaign, things don’t always go perfectly. Just ask Milana Vayntrub.

 

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Forgotten Chapter of Abortion History Repeats Itself, Linda Greenhouse (shown at right on the cover of her memoir), Dec. 22, 2023. Much of the linda greenhouse cover just a journalistcountry no doubt watched in amazement as a woman with a doomed pregnancy was forced to flee her home state, Texas, to get the abortion her doctors deemed necessary to protect her future ability to bear children. Could this really be happening in the United States in 2023?

But then, should anyone who has followed the recent dystopian course of abortion in America have been surprised? After all, on the other side of the half-century during which abortion was a constitutional right, something eerily similar had happened in an episode that shocked the country when abortion was a subject not discussed in polite society.

It was 1962, and Sherri Chessen Finkbine, a 29-year-old mother of four and host of a popular children’s television program in Phoenix, was pregnant again. Suffering from morning sickness, she tried some pills, marketed in Europe as a sleeping aid, that her husband had brought back from a trip to London. Only after having taken multiple doses did she read about an outbreak in Europe of devastating birth defects in babies born to women who had used a drug called thalidomide. Her doctor confirmed that thalidomide was what she had taken.

The doctor recommended a “therapeutic” abortion and arranged for one to be performed quietly at a Phoenix hospital. Ms. Chessen — the media called her by her husband’s last name, Finkbine, but she had always preferred Chessen — felt obliged to warn other women who might unknowingly be facing the same situation. She talked to The Arizona Republic’s medical editor, who granted her anonymity. But her name became known, and in part because of her prominence — she was “Miss Sherri” of the popular “Romper Room — the story exploded. The hospital declined to go ahead with the scheduled procedure and, with abortion illegal in every state, there was no place in the country she could go.

She and her husband, a public-school teacher, went to Sweden for the abortion. By that time, she was 13 weeks pregnant. When they got back to Phoenix, she lost her job, and her husband was suspended from his teaching post.

Ms. Chessen’s trauma 61 years ago was even more jarring than Kate Cox’s was this month, because a subject largely hidden from public view was suddenly national news. I still remember, as a 15-year-old, being mesmerized by Life magazine’s extended account that covered not only Ms. Chessen’s experience but the abortion issue itself; included in the coverage were wrenching photographs of surviving “thalidomide babies” missing arms or legs or both.

Her story brought the once forbidden topic into the country’s living rooms in the most sympathetic light imaginable. “Her wholesome image clashed so dramatically with the public’s concept of abortion — the lawless choice of wayward women — that her decision to go through with the procedure sparked a heated national debate,” Jennifer Vanderbes writes in a new book, “Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims.”

Although Ms. Chessen received plenty of hate mail, along with condemnation by the Vatican, a Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans thought she had made the right decision. It’s possible to see the episode as a spark that helped ignite the abortion reform movement that culminated in Roe v. Wade 11 years later. “Here is a need for common sense,” The Tulsa Tribune wrote in an editorial.

Linda Greenhouse, the winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008. She is the author of “Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court.”

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, In reversal, U.S. to heighten efforts to collect billions in unpaid covid loans, Tony Romm, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration will try to recover an estimated $30 billion in unpaid loans made to small businesses during the pandemic, months after federal watchdogs said the lenient approach risked violating the law.

The new approach, announced Thursday, arrives months after federal watchdogs and congressional lawmakers first blasted the administration for its leniency, warning that the government risked breaking the law — and exacerbating its losses — if it didn’t try harder to get the money back.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress created two generous stimulus programs to help cash-starved firms stay afloat: the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan, known as EIDL, and the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. Over their life span, the lending initiatives provided more than $1 trillion in assistance to companies large and small, helping to blunt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

sba logo bestCongress allowed borrowers to request their PPP loans be forgiven, while those who obtained aid under EIDL were supposed to repay the money. Before most of those EIDL bills became due, however, the Small Business Administration enacted a policy in April 2022 to forgo some collection activities on past-due loans of $100,000 or less, The Washington Post first reported earlier this year.

Explaining its policy, SBA officials said at the time it would have cost too much money to refer each delinquent loan to the Treasury Department, which can impose the toughest punishments on late borrowers, including wage garnishment.

But the rationale troubled the agency’s inspector general, Hannibal “Mike” Ware, whose office in September warned that the SBA policy “could incentivize other COVID-19 EIDL recipients to stop paying on their loans.”

The potentially staggering loss amounts to about 2.5 percent of those programs’ total portfolios, the agency said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Questions to ask before choosing an assisted living facility, Yeganeh Torbati and Julie Zauzmer Weil,  Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Here’s what to look for, some questions to ask and what you should know about safety when deciding on long-term care.

Choosing an assisted-living facility for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. In many states, it’s difficult to find reliable information about a facility’s practices and track record for resident safety.

The choice matters, especially if you need care for someone with memory problems or dementia: Residents with memory problems wander away from assisted-living facilities unnoticed just about every day in America, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. Since 2018, nearly 100 have died. These incidents occurred even at some facilities that charged families more for extra vigilance.

Based on recommendations from advocacy groups and interviews with former staff at assisted-living facilities, The Post has compiled a short guide to getting the information you need to find a home for yourself or a loved one.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the anti-vaccine movement is gaining power in statehouses, Lauren Weber, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Louisiana is a harbinger of the growing power of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses, as more candidates supporting once-fringe policies win and sign onto laws gutting vaccine requirements.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The victories come as part of a political backlash to pandemic restrictions and the proliferation of misinformation about the safety of vaccines introduced to fight the coronavirus.

In Louisiana, 29 candidates endorsed by Stand for Health Freedom, a national group that works to defeat mandatory vaccinations, won in the state’s off-year elections this fall.

Fred Mills, the retiring Republican chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s health and welfare committee, said he fears that once-fringe anti-vaccine policies that endanger people’s lives will have a greater chance of passing come January when newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in and more than a dozen Republican moderates like himself leave office.

Louisiana’s shift is a sign of the growing clout of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses as bills that once died in committee make it onto the legislative floor for a vote.

Since spring, Tennessee lawmakers dropped all vaccine requirements for home-schooled children. Iowa Republicans passed a bill eliminating the requirement that schools educate students about the HPV vaccine. And the Florida legislature passed a law preemptively barring school districts from requiring coronavirus vaccines, a move health advocates fear opens the door to further vaccine limitations.

“Politics is going to win over medicine,” said Mills, a pharmacist who has weakened or defeated bills that would have limited vaccine access and promoted vaccine exemptions in schools and workplaces. But after 13 years in the Senate, Mills has hit the state’s three-term limit.

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Media, Religion, High Tech, Sports, Education, Free Speech, Culture.

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees above. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A.I. Is the Future of Photography. Does That Mean Photography Is Dead? Gideon Jacobs, Dec. 26, 2023. Mr. Jacobs is a critic and writer on photography.

John Szarkowski, the legendary curator at the MoMA, once described photography as “the act of pointing.” And for the nearly 200 years since its inception, photography has consisted of capturing a visual perspective from the physical world using light — first with light-sensitive plates, then film, then digital sensors. When digital cameras became widely available, many photographers lamented the move away from analog technology but basically Szarkowski’s definition still held: Photography consists of pointing, as a reaction to something that exists in the world.

With advent of A.I. image generators, however, this definition feels obsolete.

Generative A.I. tools can produce photorealistic images, typically in response to written prompts. These images are available for purchase from major stock photography agencies, alongside traditional photos. They routinely go viral before being debunked. They even occasionally win prestigious photography prizes. All if which has reignited a two-centuries-old debate: What exactly qualifies as a photograph?

This is not a matter of etymological nit-picking. Calling A.I. images “photographs” — a practice I encounter often — can add to a sense of disorientation in what already feels like a profoundly disorienting moment. Thanks to the ubiquity of digital cameras, we live in a world that’s already flooded with photographs — more than a trillion are taken each year. These digital images can already be easily manipulated through existing tools, including ones built into your phone. Yet they still have some direct relationship to real scenes and events that have occurred.

Now we face a new deluge of images that, however artful or convincing, are at a remove from the world. A.I. images are typically digital composites of countless existing photographs, so by what definition are they themselves real? No wonder some observers are asking “how can we believe anything we see?”

Aside from very real concerns about the livelihoods of professional photographers, especially those who work in commercial photography, I worry that A.I. image generators may leave society as a whole more vulnerable to widespread manipulation — as presaged by hoax A.I. images of Donald Trump violently resisting arrest or, somewhat more comically, of Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga-inspired coat.

But for all the negative potential, I can also see a possibility that these developments will start a conversation about — and foster an educated skepticism of — all visual media and the relationship of these images, however they are made, to so-called truth.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the News Industry’s Uneasy Negotiations With OpenAI, Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 29, 2023. Several major publishers have been in talks to license content to the creator of ChatGPT, but agreement on the price and terms has been elusive.

For months, some of the biggest players in the U.S. media industry have been in confidential talks with OpenAI on a tricky issue: the price and terms of licensing their content to the artificial intelligence company.

The curtain on those negotiations was pulled back this week when The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, alleging that the companies used its content without permission to build artificial intelligence products.

ny times logoNew York Times, Boom in A.I. Prompts a Test of Copyright Law, J. Edward Moreno, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The use of content from news and information providers to train artificial intelligence systems may force a reassessment of where to draw legal lines.

Authors and a leading photo agency have brought suit over the past year, contending that their intellectual property was illegally used to train A.I. systems, which can produce humanlike prose and power applications like chatbots.

Now they have been joined in the spotlight by the news industry. The New York Times filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing OpenAI and Microsoft of copyright infringement, the first such challenge by a major American news organization over the use of artificial intelligence.

The lawsuit contends that OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat can produce content nearly identical to Times articles, allowing the companies to “free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment.”

OpenAI and Microsoft have not had an opportunity to respond in court. But after the lawsuit was filed, those companies noted that they were in discussions with a number of news organizations on using their content — and, in the case of OpenAI, had begun to sign deals.

Without such agreements, the limits may be worked out in the courts, with significant repercussions. Data is crucial to developing generative A.I. technologies — which can generate text, images and other media on their own — and to the business models of companies doing that work.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.’s Use of Copyrighted Work, Michael M. Grynbaum and Ryan Mac, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with it, the lawsuit said.

microsoft logo CustomThe New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. chat gpt logoplatforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

Representatives of OpenAI and Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is among a small number of outlets that have built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hobbled by readers’ migration to the internet.

At the same time, OpenAI and other A.I. tech firms — which use a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

ny times logoNew York Times, A.I. Can Make Art That Feels Human. Whose Fault Is That? Jason Farago, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A fake Drake/Weeknd mash-up is not a threat to culture. It’s a warning, our critic writes: We can’t let our imaginations shrink to machine size.

This was the year — ask your stockbroker, or the disgraced management of Sports Illustrated — that artificial intelligence went from a dreamy projection to an ambient menace and perpetual sales pitch. Does it feel like the future to you, or has A.I. already taken on the staleness and scamminess of the now-worthless nonfungible token?

Artists have been deploying A.I. technologies for a while, after all: Ed Atkins, Martine Syms, Ian Cheng and Agnieszka Kurant have made use of neural networks and large language models for years, and orchestras were playing A.I.-produced Bach variations back in the 1990s. I suppose there was something nifty the first time I tried ChatGPT — a slightly more sophisticated grandchild of Eliza, the ’60s therapist chatbot — though I’ve barely used it since then; the hallucinatory falsehoods of ChatGPT make it worthless for journalists, and even its tone seems an insult to my humanity. (I asked: “Who was the better painter, Manet or Degas?” Response: “It is not appropriate to compare artists in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ as art is a highly subjective field.”)

Still, the explosive growth of text-to-image generators such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E (the last is named after the corniest artist of the 20th century; that should have been a clue) provoked anxieties that A.I. was coming for culture — that certain capabilities once understood as uniquely human now faced computational rivals. Is this really the case?

ny times logoNew York Times, ChatGPT Helps, and Worries, Business Consultants, Study Finds, David Berreby, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The A.I. tool helped most with creative tasks. With more analytical work, however, the technology led to more mistakes.

washington post logoWashington Post, College chancellor fired for adult videos says it’s a free-speech issue, Kim Bellware, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). In 2007, when Joseph Gow was welcomed to his new post as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he sketched out a wish for the future. “In a few years,” he told the school’s alumni magazine, “I want people to be saying the same kind of nice things they’re saying about me as I start: That that guy came in, he showed us a certain way and wow, he has stuck to it, and it worked.”

Gow stuck to his ways for 16 years, becoming UW-La Crosse’s second-longest-serving chancellor, a role formerly called president. But on Wednesday, his tenure ended abruptly when the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire him after discovering sexually explicit videos Gow, 63, had produced and filmed with his wife.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomIn statements, university officials used language such as “abhorrent” and “disgusted,” with University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman saying “specific conduct” by Gow had “subjected the university to significant reputational harm.”

Gow had already announced this fall that he was stepping down in the springtime and planned to return to the classroom, where he is a tenured communications professor. That plan is now in jeopardy as Rothman seeks to have the professor’s tenure status reviewed.

The firing and the fallout has come as a surprise to Gow, who said the regents never specified which policy he violated and did not invite him to speak or defend himself at their hastily called meeting Wednesday night. He is also surprised that videos of legal, consensual sex with his wife, Carmen Wilson, made in their private time, have run afoul of standards in a university system that just six years ago adopted a sweeping new policy on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The sexuality and relationship books the couple have co-written under pseudonyms and the videos they have filmed and produced would be covered under the school’s free-expression policy, Gow argued.

Wilson, 56, was even more succinct, arguing that the board’s actions against her husband demonstrate that “free speech is free — as long as it aligns with [their] values.”

Gow’s case comes amid a broader discussion over the extent to which employers can punish or marginalize employees for legal behavior they pursue in their private lives. In the past few years, nurses, teachers, paramedics, judges and professionals in other fields have lost their jobs after they were outed as having an account on the adult content site OnlyFans or other pornography sites. In Virginia, a woman running for a state House of Delegates seat faced backlash for performing sex acts online for tips.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Columbia’s President Has Avoided Fallout Over Israel-Gaza Protests, Sharon Otterman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The university has faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

columbia logoIn the weeks after Oct. 7, Columbia University was the scene of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war on American college campuses.

A Jewish student said he was assaulted after putting up posters of hostages. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students accused one another of support for genocide in a series of heated protests and counter-protests.

But as the fall semester ended, Columbia faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in particular, were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

Supporters of Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, credit her diplomatic skills in avoiding a similar public relations crisis. But detractors said she has bent too far to the demands of Israel supporters, angering students and some faculty members but keeping powerful donors and trustees mostly happy.

She might also have benefited from a bit of luck.

When Congress invited her to a congressional hearing on antisemitism on Dec. 5 with her peers from Harvard, Penn and M.I.T., Dr. Shafik said she could not go. She told representatives that she had already planned to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, where she introduced a panel about women leaders.

The Congressional hearing did not go well. The University of Pennsylvania president lost her job and the Harvard president became mired in weeks of controversy.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It? Emily Cochrane, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Birmingham-Southern College was about to receive a multimillion-dollar loan, but a state official said it was not a justifiable use of taxpayer money.

On a crisp fall day at Birmingham-Southern College, the students were making their way to class, stealing a few cold minutes under the golden ginkgo trees. Inside the red brick buildings that dot the 192-acre campus, professors were preparing exams for finals week, while administrators readied the first round of acceptance letters for the next school year.

Yet looming over those quintessential scenes of college life was an unsettling question: Would the school even make it to another fall semester?

The private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of overly ambitious investments and hulking debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

For many outside the school, its fate is simply about whether a private school that has mismanaged its finances deserves any kind of taxpayer support, especially in a state that has chronically underfunded its public education system. But for alumni and the school’s supporters, it is also a question of whether a classical liberal arts education is still valued at a moment when colleges and universities are facing intense scrutiny over their curricula, admissions and cultures.

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Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 
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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.

Politico, Special counsel: Trump immunity claim threatens democracy, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Dec. 30, 2023. Special counsel Jack Smith rejected Donald Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him is constitutionally invalid.

politico CustomDonald Trump’s bold claims that he’s immune from criminal prosecution over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “threaten to undermine democracy,” special counsel Jack Smith warned a federal appeals court Saturday.

Justice Department log circularIn a brief filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith rejected Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him for trying to reverse his loss at the polls three years ago is constitutionally invalid because he was serving as president at the time and also because he was acquitted by the Senate after he was impeached for those actions.

“Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license Presidents to commit crimes to remain in office,” Smith and his team wrote in an 82-page filing. “The Founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”

While Trump has argued that allowing a prosecution such as the one he faces in Washington would chill future presidents from carrying out their duties due to the prospect of future criminal indictment, Smith contends that fear is overblown.

“Multiple safeguards — ultimately enforced by the Article III courts — protect against any potential burdens on the Presidency that the defendant claims to fear,” prosecutors wrote. “Any burdens of post-Presidency criminal liability have minimal impact on the functions of an incumbent and are outweighed by the paramount public interest in upholding the rule of law through federal prosecution.”

Smith’s argument sets the framework for the most crucial test of his prosecution of Trump for seeking to subvert the 2020 election, the beginning of a must-win legal battle that is likely headed for the Supreme Court as soon as next month.

Smith used his brief to pick apart Trump’s assertion that he’s immune from criminal prosecution for his efforts to seize a second term despite losing the election. On Dec. 1, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan turned down Trump’s motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, prompting the former president’s appeal.

Smith argues that while presidents deserve protection from civil lawsuits, there is no blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, particularly for a former president charged with making grave threats to the transfer of power. Even if presidents did enjoy immunity for their official duties, he argues, Trump’s actions would not qualify for such protection because he was acting well outside the bounds of his proper duties.

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Was the Israeli Military on Oct. 7? Adam Goldman, Ronen Bergman, Mark Mazzetti, Natan Odenheimer, Alexander Cardia, Ainara Tiefenthäler and Sheera Frenkel, Dec. 30, 2023. A Times investigation found that troops were disorganized, relied on social media to choose targets, and had no battle plan for a massive Hamas invasion.

Israel FlagThe full reasons behind the military’s slow response may take months to understand. The government has promised an inquiry. But a New York Times investigation found that Israel’s military was undermanned, out of position and so poorly organized that soldiers communicated in impromptu WhatsApp groups and relied on social media posts for targeting information. Commandos rushed into battle armed only for brief combat. Helicopter pilots were ordered to look to news reports and Telegram channels to choose targets.

And perhaps most damning: The Israel Defense Forces did not even have a plan to respond to a large-scale Hamas attack on Israeli soil, according to current and former soldiers and officers. If such a plan existed on a shelf somewhere, the soldiers said, no one had trained on it and nobody followed it. The soldiers that day made it up as they went along.

“In practice, there wasn’t the right defensive preparation, no practice, and no equipping and building strength for such an operation,” said Yom Tov Samia, a major general in the Israeli reserves and former head of the military’s Southern Command.

“There was no defense plan for a surprise attack such as the kind we have seen on Oct. 7,” said Amir Avivi, a brigadier general in the reserves and a former deputy commander of the Gaza Division, which is responsible for protecting the region.

That lack of preparation is at odds with a founding principle of Israeli military doctrine. From the days of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister, the goal was to always be on the offensive — to anticipate attacks and fight battles in enemy territory.

In response to a series of questions from The Times, including why soldiers and officers alike said there had been no plan, the Israel Defense Forces replied: “The I.D.F. is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas. Questions of this kind will be looked into at a later stage.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Two States Ruled Trump Off the Ballot. Will It Help or Hurt Him? Jack Healy, Anna Betts, Mike Baker and Jill Cowan, Dec. 30, 2023. Some critics say the battles over Donald Trump’s ballot status are turning him into a martyr and eroding faith in U.S. elections.

steve hobbsAs the top elections official in Washington State, Steve Hobbs, right, says he is troubled by the threat former President Donald J. Trump poses to democracy and fears the prospect of his return to power. But he also worries that recent decisions in Maine and Colorado to bar Mr. Trump from presidential primary ballots there could backfire, further eroding Americans’ fraying faith in U.S. elections.

“Removing him from the ballot would, on its face value, seem very anti-democratic,” said Mr. Hobbs, a Democrat who is in his first term as secretary of state. Then he added a critical caveat: “But so is trying to overthrow your country.”

Mr. Hobbs’s misgivings reflect deep divisions and unease among elected officials, democracy experts and voters over how to handle Mr. Trump’s campaign to reclaim the presidency four years after he went to extraordinary lengths in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. While some, like Mr. Hobbs, think it best that voters settle the matter, others say that Mr. Trump’s efforts require accountability and should be legally disqualifying.

Challenges to Mr. Trump’s candidacy have been filed in at least 32 states, though many of those challenges have gained little or no traction, and some have languished on court dockets for months.

The decisions happening right now come amid a collapse of faith in the American electoral system, said Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law and democracy.

“We are walking in new constitutional snow here to try and figure out how to deal with these unprecedented developments,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Attack on a Russian City Kills at Least 18, Constant Méheut and Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 30, 2023. The bombardment of Belgorod, apparently in response to an air assault on Friday, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the war began.

Russian FlagThe bombardment of Belgorod on Saturday, apparently in response to an enormous air assault by Moscow a day earlier, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the start of the war.

The Russian authorities said on Saturday that a Ukrainian attack on the city of Belgorod had killed at least 18 people and injured more than 110 others, in the deadliest strike against a Russian city since the beginning of the war nearly two years ago.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that Ukraine had hit Belgorod — a regional center of around 330,000 residents about 25 miles north of the Ukrainian border — with two missiles and several rockets, adding that the strike was “indiscriminate” and would “not go unpunished.”

The ministry said that most of the rockets had been shot down, but that some debris had fallen on the city. The Ukrainian government has not officially commented on the Belgorod attack, and Russian claims could not be immediately verified.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the Belgorod region, said that three children were among those killed on Saturday and that a residential area in the city center had been hit.

The Russian Emergency Situations Ministry posted a video of the aftermath of the bombardment that showed cars on fire, injured people being carried to shelter and broken glass on the city’s buildings. And Russian state television broadcast videos posted by residents of Belgorod that showed plumes of smoke over the city, shattered glass near residential buildings and people lying on pavements.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting would be convened on Saturday to discuss the attack.

The strike on Belgorod was in response to Russia’s air assault on Friday against Ukraine, said an official from Ukraine’s intelligence services, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter, adding that only military facilities had been targeted. The assault on Ukraine — one of the largest of the war — killed at least 39 people, wounded about 160 others and hit civilian and military infrastructure.

Ukraine has said several times that it does not fear taking the war to Russian territory, and it has previously targeted the Belgorod region with cross-border strikes and even brief ground assaults by Kyiv-backed, anti-Kremlin Russian fighters.

So far, such attacks have resulted in at least 50 deaths inside Russia, according to the United Nations, as well as the evacuation of a few thousand civilians and minor clashes with the Russian military.

While the details of Saturday’s attack by Ukraine were not immediately clear, the death toll alone made it noteworthy, shattering the sense of relative normalcy that has prevailed in Russia despite the war, and bringing to Russia the kind of suffering that Ukrainians have endured on an almost daily basis for nearly two years.

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New York Times, Russia launched one of its largest missile attacks in months, pounding Ukrainian cities and killing several people, Constant Méheut and Daria Mitiuk, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The missile and drone attacks killed at least 16 people and damaged critical industrial and military infrastructure, part of a wintertime campaign that Ukraine had been dreading.

Russia targeted Ukrainian cities with more than 150 missiles and drones on Friday morning, killing several people, injuring dozens of others and damaging critical infrastructure in what Ukrainian officials said was one of the largest air assaults of the war.

ukraine flag“This is the biggest attack since the counting began,” Yurii Ihnat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that the military did not track air assaults in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.

For several hours on Friday, missiles, drones and debris slammed into factories, hospitals and schools in cities across Ukraine, from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east, straining the country’s air defenses and sending people scrambling for shelter. At least 16 people were killed, and nearly 100 were wounded, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

Although the level of destruction countrywide has yet to come into full focus, the scale of the Russian strikes appeared to have overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. The Ukrainian military said that it had shot down 114 missiles and drones, out of a total of 158.

“Today, Russia was fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, noting that Moscow had launched a complex barrage of weapons including hypersonic, cruise and air defense missiles.

Ukraine has been struggling to contain renewed Russian assaults all along the front line and is concerned about a possible shortfall in Western military assistance as the war stretches into another new year. The Ukrainian authorities had warned for months that Russia was likely to pound Ukrainian cities and target their infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, in an echo of last year’s winter campaign against civilian targets and the country’s energy grid, which plunged many areas into cold and darkness.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mutiny Erupts in a Michigan G.O.P. Overtaken by Chaos, Nick Corasaniti, Dec. 30, 2023. Republicans are pushing for the removal of Kristina Karamo, an election-denying activist who rose to lead the state party this year, amid mounting financial problems and persistent infighting.

michigan mapThe mutiny took hold on Mackinac Island. The Michigan Republican Party’s revered two-day policy and politics gathering, the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, was an utter mess.

Attendance had plummeted. Top-tier presidential candidates skipped the September event, and some speakers didn’t show. Guests were baffled by a scoring system that rated their ideology on a scale, from a true conservative to a so-called RINO, or Republican in name only.

And the state party, already deeply in debt, had taken out a $110,000 loan to pay the keynote speaker, Jim Caviezel, an actor who has built an ardent following among the far right after starring in a hit movie this summer about child sex trafficking. The loan came from a trust tied to the wife of the party’s executive director, according to party records.

For some Michigan Republicans, it was the final straw for a chaotic state party leadership that has been plagued by mounting kristina karamofinancial problems, lackluster fund-raising, secretive meetings and persistent infighting. Blame has centered on the fiery chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, left, who skyrocketed to the top of the state party through a combative brand of election denialism but has failed to make good on her promises for new fund-raising sources and armies of activists.

This month, the internal dissension has erupted into an attempt to oust Ms. Karamo, which, if successful, would be the first removal of a leader of the Michigan Republican Party in decades. Nearly 40 members of the Michigan Republican Party’s state committee called for a meeting in late December to explore forcing out Ms. Karamo. But that meeting has now been delayed, with no definite date on the calendar. Ms. Karamo has vowed to fight back, railing against the effort as illegitimate.

The pitched battle for control of the state party in a pre-eminent presidential battleground is the most extreme example of conflicts brewing in state Republican parties across the country. Once dominated largely by moneyed establishment donors and their allies, many state parties have been taken over by grass-roots Republican activists energized by former President Donald J. Trump and his broadsides against the legitimacy of elections.

These activists, now holding positions of state and local power, have elevated others who share their views, prioritizing election denialism over experience and credentials.

washington post logoWashington Post, Notable deaths of 2023, in photos, Washington Post staff, Dec. 29, 2023. Some deaths loom so large that they come to signify the passing of an entire era. This year, it seemed as though the 1970s faded away, along with so many figures from the political and cultural life of the decade.

Among them were Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, first lady Rosalynn Carter, filmmaker William Friedkin and stars of show business as varied as David Crosby, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett and Richard Roundtree.

The word “last” appeared with painful frequency in obituaries for people of the 1940s, the World War II generation. Ben Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, and Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, both died at 103.

 

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 ny times logoNew York Times, Maine Law ‘Required That I Act’ to Disqualify Trump, Secretary of State Says, Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Barring former President Donald J. Trump from the primary ballot was a hard but necessary call, Shenna Bellows said in an interview.

shenna bellowsBefore she decided to bar former President Donald J. Trump from Maine’s primary ballot, Shenna Bellows, left, the secretary of state, was not known for courting controversy.

She began her career in public office as a state senator in 2016, winning in a politically mixed district. She prided herself on finding common ground with Republicans, an approach she said was shaped by growing up in a politically diverse family.

maine mapAs the former head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Bellows did not shy away from divisive issues. But her ballot decision on Thursday was perhaps the weightiest and most politically fraught that she had faced — and it sparked loud rebukes from Republicans in Maine and beyond.

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Bellows defended her decision, arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol made it necessary to exclude him from the ballot next year.

“This is not a decision I made lightly,” Ms. Bellows, 48, said. “The United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Maine election law required that I act in response.”

Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, is among many election officials around the country who have considered legal challenges to Mr. Trump’s latest bid for the White House based on an obscure clause of the 14th Amendment that bars government officials who have engaged in “insurrection” from serving in the U.S. government.

After holding a hearing this month in which she considered arguments from both Mr. Trump’s lawyers and his critics, Ms. Bellows explained her decision in a 34-page order issued on Thursday night.

World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic News Summary and Pro-Democracy Reform Agenda: In 2024, Americans have a rendez-vous webster tarpley 2007with destiny, with the future of human civilization at stake! Webster G. Tarpley, (right, historian and commentator), Dec. 30, 2023 (130:12 mins). Coming year must see the decisive electoral defeat, conviction, and incarceration of Trump, with the breakup of the moribund Republican Party, and three branches of the federal government entirely controlled by Biden Democrats elected on a strong reform agenda!

Insurrection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment is the sacred embodiment of Lincoln’s new birth of freedom and reflects the sacrifices of the Union dead; As part of Constitution, the Insurrection Clause is an integral part of the supreme Abraham Lincoln (Alexander Gardner via Library of Congress and Getty Images)law of the land and is binding and compulsory for all officials at all levels of government, whatever their preferences;

Alleged aversion to ”patchwork” of election rules and demand for lockstep among states are no argument in a variegated federal system in which election practices have long diverged; Trump is unquestionably guilty of aggravated insurrection; Only an imbecile could suggest that a president is not an officer of United States; Some say they prefer to defeat Trump at polls, but the advanced fascist emergency does not permit this luxury;

Defeatist spirit of McClellan 1864 grips milquetoast Democrats who propose to ignore a clear Constitutional imperative in favor of their own fears and preferences for appeasement of MAGA fascists; Standard fascist seizure of power involves cynical gaming of democratic systems and guarantees to impose totalitarian dictatorship;

”Let the voters decide” is a catchy slogan but collapses utterly when it becomes a direct attack on the Constitution, where some critical points are deliberately placed beyond the reach of majority votes;

gavin newsom headshotGov. Newsom, right, and Dems must understand their only chance to prevail against Trump subversion is to run strong candidates pledged to defend constitution, not populist demagogues pandering to masses by tampering with it;

Corrupt, discredited, bribed, and hated Supremes should contemplate not just the threats of the shrinking MAGA hooligan minority, but also the pro-constitution supermajority who reject a return to the MAGA fascist yoke; Given their claims to represent originalism, textualism, and state’s rights, the only valid choice for Supremes is full implementation of Insurrection Clause against Trump;

scott perryRep. Scott Perry’s phone messages now scrutinized by Jack Smith could implicate other MAGA Hill bigwigs as January 6 co-conspirators, with potential to break legislative logjam and flip chamber as they are brought to justice;

House GOP sabotage of Ukraine military aid facilitates deadly Russian attacks and makes these MAGA bosses accessories to war crimes eligible for prosecution in The Hague, starting with MAGA Mike;

djt maga hatMAGA dirty tricks against Ukraine feed Putin’s hope for new orgy of appeasement on model of 1938 Munich sellout, with himself cast as Hitler, Ukraine cast as Czechoslovakia, and Biden-led NATO cast as appeasers Chamberlain and Daladier!

As their hour of reckoning approaches, Netanyahu, Gallant & Co. are trying harder than ever to embroil US in war with Hezbollah and Iran; These schemers must receive a decisive rebuff;

In US, fratricidal ultra-lefts and assorted squadristi are eager to blame Biden for war crimes committed by Netanyahu, but stubbornly refuse to condemn Putin for the war crimes Putin has unquestionably committed! Reviewing Toni Negri, in whose career postmodern anarcho-syndicalism turned into the ideology of terrorism.

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump’s team is preparing to file challenges to the ballot decisions, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Swan, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The cases in Colorado, Maine and other states are requiring former President Donald J. Trump to devote resources already spread thin across four criminal indictments.

Former President Donald J. Trump’s advisers are preparing as soon as Tuesday to file challenges to decisions in Colorado and Maine to disqualify Mr. Trump from the Republican primary ballot because of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Every state is different,” Maine’s secretary of state, Shenna Bellows, told a local CBS affiliate on Friday morning. “I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. I fulfilled my duty.”

Mr. Trump has privately told some people that he believes the Supreme Court will overwhelmingly rule against the Colorado and Maine decisions, according to a person familiar with what he has said. But he has also been critical of the Supreme Court, to which he appointed three conservative justices, creating a supermajority. The court has generally shown little appetite for Mr. Trump’s election-related cases.

Emptywheel, Analysis: What Jack Smith Didn't Say in His Double Jeopardy Response, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Dec. 30, 2023/
JacK Smith repeated some language in his response to Trump's double jeopardy claim that keeps options open regarding an incitement of insurrection charge.

ny times logoNew York Times, What to Know About the Efforts to Remove Trump From the 2024 Ballot, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). There are lawsuits pending in more than a dozen states seeking to have Donald Trump disqualified from appearing on primary ballots.

djt march 2020 CustomThe campaign to have former President Donald J. Trump removed from the ballot over his efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election has kicked into high gear, with decisions in two states, Maine and Colorado, barring him from the primary ballots.

Challenges are still underway in many more states, based on an obscure clause of a constitutional amendment enacted after the Civil War that disqualifies government officials who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.

Over the years, the courts and Congress have done little to clarify how that criterion should apply, adding urgency to the calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the politically explosive dispute before the upcoming election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: 2024 resolution: Save democracy, Jennifer Rubin, right, Dec. 29, 2023. jennifer rubin new headshotSome approach 2024 with a sense of foreboding. Could this be the year we lose our democracy for good? Will Russia destroy Ukraine while Republicans refuse to lift a hand? What other constitutional rights will the Supreme Court strip away?

Let’s remember the opposite outcomes are within our grasp. The 2024 election provides an opportunity to crush the MAGA movement. Congress can get its act together to support Ukraine. And the Supreme Court’s outrages might continue to fuel an anti-Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization surge that blasts Republicans out of office.

However, rather than play the prognostication game, let me suggest a few ways to navigate through the new year. 

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Colorado Supreme Court Building

The Colorado Supreme Court, with 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter, Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

The Colorado Supreme Court, 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

 

More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

gaza war 7 18 2014

The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Israel said it destroyed a hideout used by a Hamas leader it believed to be a mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks, Staff Reports, Dec. 30, 2023. Israeli airstrikes and artillery pounded central and southern Gaza again on Saturday as the military pushed its ground offensive deeper into the enclave, striking areas where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have congregated in an effort to seek safety from the onslaught across the territory, according to Palestinian media.

Israel FlagUnverified video footage from local journalists in the southern city of Rafah, where large numbers of displaced people have fled, showed the immediate aftermath of strikes on residential homes. In chaotic scenes in narrow crowded streets, people carried the injured out from the rubble, wrapped in blankets. Other wounded were ferried by hand, as several men struggled to quickly carry a man’s limp body.

Yahya Sinwar reutersThe Israeli army says it has destroyed a Gaza City apartment used as a hide-out by its most wanted man in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader (shown above in a Reuters file photo) it considers the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks that the Israeli authorities say killed an estimated 1,200 people.

The army said in a statement late Friday that it had also destroyed a tunnel shaft discovered by its troops in the apartment’s basement floor and an underground headquarters that served as a meeting place and nerve center for senior officials from Hamas’s military and political wings.

  • Here’s what we know:
  • Israel struck central and southern Gaza again as its military pressed deeper into the enclave.
  • Israeli military strikes hit Gaza areas filled with displaced civilians.
  • Israel says it destroyed a hide-out used by Hamas’s leader in Gaza.
  • The Biden administration again bypasses Congress for a weapons sale to Israel.
  • Needing labor, Israel recruits workers from South Asia.
  • Israel’s military releases new details on the killing of 3 hostages in Gaza.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli-Gaza War: A Gaza hospital said at least 18 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in an area where many had sought refuge, Anushka Patil, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). An airstrike on Thursday hit a house in southern Gaza where people had sought shelter from Israel’s military offensive, according to a nearby hospital, which said that at least 18 people were killed and dozens of others injured.

The hospital, the Kuwait Specialty Hospital, said the strike had occurred in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost area, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following Israeli military orders to move south.

Here’s what we know:

  • A hospital in Rafah said that a house where displaced Palestinians were staying was hit with an airstrike, killing at least 18 people.
  • A strike hits near a hospital in Gaza’s southernmost area.
  • Gazans face an endless trek for safety as the evacuation orders keep coming.
  • Israeli military admits fault in two Dec. 24 strikes.
  • An Israeli American thought to be taken hostage was killed during the Oct. 7 attacks, her family says.
  • A report on a leaked Supreme Court judicial draft has Israeli politicians on edge.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What Is Happening to Our World? Thomas L. Friedman, right, Dec. 29, 2023. As The Times’s foreign affairs tom friedman twittercolumnist since 1995, one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that there are good seasons and bad seasons in this business, which are defined by the big choices made by the biggest players.

Among the most ignorant and vile things that have been said about this Gaza war is that Hamas had no choice — that its wars with Israel culminating on Oct. 7 with a murderous rampage, the kidnappings of Israelis as young as 10 months and as old as 86 and the rape of Israeli women could somehow be excused as a justifiable jailbreak by pent-up males.

No.

The reason I insist on talking about these choices now is because Israel is being surrounded by what I call Iran’s landcraft carriers (as opposed to our aircraft carriers): Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran is squeezing Israel into a multi-front war with its proxies. I truly worry for Israel.

But Israel will have neither the sympathy of the world that it needs nor the multiple allies it needs to confront this Iranian octopus, nor the Palestinian partners it needs to govern any post-Hamas Gaza, nor the lasting support of its best friend in the world, Joe Biden, unless it is ready to choose a long-term pathway for separating from the Palestinians with an improved, legitimate Palestinian partner.

Biden has been shouting that in Netanyahu’s ears in their private calls.

For all these reasons, if Netanyahu keeps refusing because, once again, politically, the time is not right for him, Biden will have to choose, too — between America’s interests and Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest.

In sum, this war is so ugly, deadly and painful, it is no wonder that so many Palestinians and Israelis want to just focus on survival and not on any of the choices that got them here. The Haaretz writer Dahlia Scheindlin put it beautifully in a recent essay:

The situation today is so terrible that people run from reality as they run from rockets — and hide in the shelter of their blind spots. It’s pointless to wag fingers. The only thing left to do is try and change that reality.

For me, choosing that path will always be in season.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Palestinians must be a part of any postwar Gaza peacekeeping force, David Ignatius, right, Dec. 28, 2023. david ignatiusAs New Year’s Day approaches in a blood-soaked Gaza, the Biden administration must prod Israel to face a reality: There is no endgame for this war that doesn’t require a Palestinian security force to help maintain order in Gaza after Hamas is deposed.

And where will this post-Hamas Palestinian force come from? The obvious answer is that it should be drawn from the thousands of Palestinians who serve in the roughly half-dozen security organizations now under the nominal control of the Palestinian Authority.

The authority is incompetent and corrupt — so this is hardly an ideal option. Israel rightly faults the authority for doing a poor job in maintaining law and order in the West Bank. But the authority, for all its faults, provides the best bridge to a postwar international peacekeeping force for Gaza, with Arab support. The authority has supporters in Gaza who despise Hamas. But they need help — not more bombs.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: Report of Leaked Judicial Draft Threatens Israel’s Wartime Unity, Aaron Boxerman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A looming Supreme Court decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive plan to overhaul Israel’s courts threatened to disrupt his fragile wartime government, after an Israeli television report revived the fissures around the ruling.

Israel FlagChannel 12 reported on what it called a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to strike down part of his plan, which would weaken the judiciary and strengthen the government. Before the war, the plan, backed by Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-right allies, had been opposed by huge, monthslong protests.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s courts said on Thursday that “the writing of the ruling is not yet complete.” The court is expected to rule by mid-January.

Whatever the decision, it has potential to throw Israel’s unity government, formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attacks, into disarray as the country wages war in Gaza and faces international pressure over the scope of its military campaign.

Two members of Israel’s war cabinet, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime rivals, Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, both criticized the government’s pursuit of the overhaul. Mr. Netanyahu had tried to fire Mr. Gallant after the defense minister criticized the pace of the plan, only to reverse the decision amid widespread outrage.

And should the court rule against Mr. Netanyahu, it could set off a constitutional crisis within Israel if his allies try to defy it. Regardless of the outcome, the case is considered one of the most consequential in Israel’s history, because it could determine the extent to which politicians will be subject to judicial oversight.

Israel’s Channel 12 broadcaster reported on Wednesday night that a slim majority of the court — eight of 15 judges — are set to overturn a law passed in July that stripped Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable.” Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition had passed the law in an effort to remove what it said was the court’s ability to overrule the will of the majority.

palestinian flagThe law was part of Mr. Netanyahu’s wider plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which divided the country and led hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stage months of street protests. Opponents, including Israel’s chief justice and attorney general, said the plan — if fully carried out — would deal a fatal blow to the country’s separation of powers.

The dispute posed one of the gravest domestic political crises Israel had faced in the 75 years since the nation’s founding. But it faded to the background after the Hamas attacks, in which roughly 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage to Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

Relevant Recent Headlines

gaza destruction

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia is working to subvert French support for Ukraine, documents show, Catherine Belton, Dec. 30, 2023. From the top floor of the house he shares here with a senior Russian diplomat — to whom he rents the apartment below — the man who helped bankroll the French presidential bid of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has been working on plans to propel pro-Moscow politicians to power.

“We have to change all the governments … All the governments in Western Europe will be changed,” Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a former member of the European Parliament for Le Pen’s party, said in an interview. “We have to control this. Take the leadership of this.”

For Schaffhauser, such ambitions are part of a decades-long effort to forge an alliance between Russia and Europe, the prospects of which, however distant, were shattered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But now, as Kyiv’s counteroffensive — and Western funding for it — falters and as governments in Europe battle rising living costs, plunging approval ratings and the rise of far-right populists, Schaffhauser and his Russian associates see fresh opportunity.

Russia has been increasing its efforts to undermine French support for Kyiv — a hidden propaganda front in Western Europe that is part of the war against Ukraine, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with European security officials and far-right political figures.

 

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

ap logoAssociated Press, Sweden moves a step closer to NATO membership after Turkey’s parliamentary committee gives approval, Suzan Fraser, Dec. 26, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday, drawing the previously nonaligned Nordic country closer to membership in the Western military alliance.

Sweden’s accession protocol will now need to be approved in the Turkish parliament’s general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process in Turkey. No date has been set.

Turkey, a NATO member, has delayed ratification of Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee had begun discussing Sweden’s membership in NATO last month. But the meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed more clarification and that negotiations with Sweden hadn’t “matured” enough.

On Tuesday, the committee resumed its deliberations and a large majority of legislators in the committee voted in favor of Sweden’s application to join.

Briefing the committee members before the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken steps to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws in ways that “no one could have imaged five or six years ago.”

“It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfill all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort,” he said, adding that Turkey would continue to monitor Sweden’s progress.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström welcomed the committee’s decision on a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The next step is for parliament to vote on the matter. We look forward to becoming a member of NATO,” he tweeted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the development, saying that he counts on Turkey and Hungary “to now complete their ratifications as soon as possible. Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary hasn’t announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

recep erdogan with flagEarlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above) had openly linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Erdogan also also called on Canada and other NATO allies to life arms embargoes imposed on Turkey.

The White House has backed the Turkish F-16 request but there is opposition in Congress to military sales to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

ny times logoNew York Times, There’s No Other Job’: The Colonial Roots of Philippine Poverty, Peter S. Goodman, Photographs and Video by Jes Aznar, Dec. 30, 2023. The desperation confronting tens of millions of landless Filipinos stems in part from policies imposed by the powers that controlled the archipelago for centuries — first Spain, and then the United States.

Decades after independence, the Philippines lacks the kind of factory economy that has lifted up other Asian nations, tying millions to farm work.

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Property Crisis Blew Up Bets That Couldn’t Lose, Claire Fu and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Citic said its new fund was as safe as they come because it would invest in real estate. Then the developer defaulted and the projects stalled.

China FlagOne of China’s largest investment firms, Citic Trust, had a clear pitch to investors when it was aiming to raise $1.7 billion to fund property development in 2020: There is no safer Chinese investment than real estate.

The trust, the investment arm of the state-owned financial conglomerate Citic, called housing “China’s economic ballast” and “an indispensable value investment.” The money it raised would be put toward four projects from Sunac China Holdings, a major developer.

Three years later, investors who put their money in the Citic fund have recouped only a small fraction of their investment. Three of the fund’s construction projects are on hold or significantly delayed because of financing problems or poor sales. Sunac has defaulted and is trying to restructure its debt.

The unraveling of the Citic fund provides a window into the broader problems facing China’s ailing property sector. What started as a housing slump has escalated into a full-blown crisis. The budgets of local governments, which depended on revenue from real estate, have been destabilized. The shock to the country’s financial system has drained China’s capital markets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Death of ‘Parasite’ Star Highlights South Korea’s Latest Crackdown on Drugs, John Yoon, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The actor, Lee Sun-kyun, had been questioned on suspicion of drug use in a country that takes a hard line against anything other than total abstinence.

south korea flag SmallLee Sun-kyun, the “Parasite” actor who was found dead on Wednesday, was far from the only celebrity entangled in South Korea’s latest antidrug crackdown.

Yoo Ah-in, the actor known for his roles in the 2018 film “Burning” and the 2021 Netflix series “Hellbound,” is facing trial after testing positive for propofol, marijuana, ketamine and cocaine, officials say. Several South Korean retailers have cut ties with the actor since the drug accusations became public. He is no longer listed as a cast member for the second season of “Hellbound.”

G-Dragon, the rapper and former member of the K-pop boy group BigBang, had been under investigation for possible drug use until the police dropped the case earlier this month after he tested negative on several drug tests. Nevertheless, BMW Korea removed images of him from its online advertisements.

The recent accusations against high-profile entertainers here have highlighted the continuation of a strict antidrug policy and attitudes in South Korea that have drawn a hard line against anything other than total abstinence from drug use.

ny times logoNew York Times, Criticize This African Country’s Army and You Might Be Drafted, Monika Pronczuk, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The military burkina faso locationjunta in Burkina Faso, a West African nation struggling to defeat extremist groups, has been forcibly conscripting critics, human rights groups said.

Burkina Faso, a previously stable, landlocked nation of 20 million, has been torn apart in the past eight burkino fasoyears by violence from extremist groups loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In the ensuing chaos, the country went through two coups in just 10 months, the second last year by a military junta vowing to contain militant groups by any means.

ny times logoNew York Times, In a British Town, a New Way of Caring for Older People Is Bringing Hope, Megan Specia, Dec. 29, 2023. An “integrated care center” brings doctors, physiotherapists and social workers under one roof. It could help Britain’s underlying social care crisis.

For 12 years after her husband died, Norma Fitzgerald tried to maintain her independence, living alone in an apartment on the outskirts of Hull, in northern England, despite her mobility worsening as she reached her mid-80s.

Then one day in the spring of 2022, she suddenly grew dizzy. Her legs gave out, and she collapsed on her apartment floor, unable to find the strength to get up.

She lay there for two days.

Eventually, a neighbor realized she hadn’t seen her for some time and called an ambulance.

“They had to force the door open,” Ms. Fitzgerald, who is now 87, recalled. She was severely dehydrated and spent the next five days in a hospital.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tesla Strike Is a Culture Clash: Swedish Labor vs. American Management, Melissa Eddy, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Workers seeking a collective agreement from the automaker say they are pushing for their rights, but car owners see them as taking the fight too far.

tesla logoThe Tesla technicians who walked off their jobs in Sweden say they still support the mission of the American company and its headline-grabbing chief executive. But they also want Tesla to accept the Swedish way of doing business.

They call it the Swedish Model, a way of life that has defined the country’s economy for decades. At its heart is cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that both sides benefit from a company’s profit.

Instead, four technicians who walked off their jobs on Oct. 27 said, they have been subjected to what they described as a “typical U.S. model”: six-day workweeks, unavoidable overtime and an unclear evaluation system for promotion.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

sudan sudanese flag on the map of africa

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Portrait of a year in migration turmoil, with more uncertainty ahead, Maria Sacchetti, Dec. 30, 2023. Deportations of migrants rise to more than 142,000 under Biden, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2023, nearly double the number from the year before, as the Biden administration ramped up enforcement to stem illegal border crossings, according to the agency’s annual report, published Friday.

Just 2,500 of the 72,000 non-criminals deported from the United States in fiscal 2023 were in the interior of the country, where dozens of sanctuary cities and towns have passed ordinances seeking to limit ICE from detaining migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in 2021 that being undocumented should not be the sole basis for removing someone from the country.

President Biden took office promising to create a more humane immigration system, and he attempted to pause deportations temporarily in the hope that Congress would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Nearly 18,000 of those deported were parents and children traveling as family units, surpassing the 14,400 removed under the Trump administration in fiscal 2020.

Federal officials said the removals adhered to the Biden administration’s enforcement strategy, which the Supreme Court upheld in June. Migrants who cross the border illegally and those who commit violent crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat are priorities for removal. The ICE report covered the period from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30.

The increase in deportations is more a reflection of the high numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border than interior enforcement, which Biden has discouraged in most cases.

ny times logoNew York Times, They’re Paid Billions to Root Out Child Labor in the U.S. Why Do They Fail? Hannah Dreier, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Private auditors have failed to detect migrant children working for U.S. suppliers of Oreos, Gerber, McDonald’s and many other brands.

One morning in 2019, an auditor arrived at a meatpacking plant in rural Minnesota. He was there on behalf of the national drugstore chain Walgreens to ensure that the factory, which made the company’s house brand of beef jerky, was safe and free of labor abuses.

He ran through a checklist of hundreds of possible problems, like locked emergency exits, sexual harassment and child labor. By the afternoon, he had concluded that the factory had no major violations. It could keep making jerky, and Walgreens customers could shop with a clear conscience.

When night fell, another 150 workers showed up at the plant. Among them were migrant children who had come to the United States by themselves looking for work. Children as young as 15 were operating heavy machinery capable of amputating fingers and crushing bones.

Migrant children would work at the Monogram Meat Snacks plant in Chandler, Minn., for almost four more years, until the Department of Labor visited this spring and found such severe child labor violations that it temporarily banned the shipment of any more jerky.

In the past two decades, private audits have become the solution to a host of public relations headaches for corporations. When scandal erupts over labor practices, or shareholders worry about legal risks, or advocacy groups demand a boycott, companies point to these inspections as evidence that they have eliminated abuses in their supply chains. Known as social compliance audits, they have grown into an $80 billion global industry, with firms performing hundreds of thousands of inspections each year.

But a New York Times review of confidential audits conducted by several large firms shows that they have consistently missed child labor.

Children were overlooked by auditors who were moving quickly, leaving early or simply not sent to the part of the supply chain where minors were working, The Times found in audits performed at 20 production facilities used by some of the nation’s most recognizable brands.

Auditors did not catch instances in which children were working on Skittles and Starburst candies, Hefty brand party cups, the pork in McDonald’s sandwiches, Gerber baby snacks, Oreos, Cheez-Its or the milk that comes with Happy Meals.

In a series of articles this year, The Times has revealed that migrant children, who have been coming to America in record numbers, are working dangerous jobs in every state, in violation of labor laws. Children often use forged documents that slip by auditors who check paperwork but do not speak with most workers face-to-face. Corporations suggest that supply chains are reviewed from start to finish, but sub-suppliers such as industrial farms remain almost entirely unscrutinized.

The expansion of social compliance audits comes as the Labor Department has shrunk, with staffing levels now so low that it would take more than 100 years for inspectors to visit every workplace in the department’s jurisdiction once. For many factories, a private inspection is the only one they will ever get.

Relevant Recent Headlines 

 

U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

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GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens


lev parnas ivanka jared kushnerPalm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn't testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment? Antonio Fins, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Lev Parnas, shown at center between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, was a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Trump and is at the heart of the current inquiry of President Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas is telling his side of the story whether a congressional panel wants to listen or not.

lev parnas coverThe man who was a central figure in the 2019 Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump is now revealing insights into and details of the diplomatic impropriety that is, today, at the heart of the current inquiry into President Joe Biden. But it's a message that House Republicans intent on exposing the so-called "Biden crime family" may not be eager to broadcast to the U.S. electorate.

"The whole motive and the whole Biden stuff was never about getting justice, and getting to the bottom of Biden criminality or doing an investigation in Ukraine," Parnas said. "It was all about announcing an investigation and using that in the media to be able to destroy the Biden campaign and have Trump win."

That much itself is not a novel revelation. The argument was adjudicated in Trump's impeachment probe and trial in the U.S. Senate in early 2020, which ended with the president's acquittal.

But Parnas, a 51-year-old Boca Raton resident, is laying out what he calls a complete story with added pieces of information at a critical juncture as the attempt to impeach Biden rolls into the high-stakes 2024 election year. It all amounts to, Parnas admits, a costly "escapade" which ultimately helped land embattled Ukraine in the crosshairs of U.S. politics.

Whether the House Oversight Committee and its Republican chair, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, will mind what Parnas has to say seems a highly unlikely proposition. But Parnas is taking his case to the American public.

In December, he will release a book, Shadow Diplomacy, and a podcast, "Lev Remembers," will follow. He also is cooperating on a documentary. The common denominator among all the productions is a singular narrative, he said, aimed at "getting the truth out" about what happened with Trump and Ukraine.

"It's all because of one individual that wanted to stay in power, that didn't want to relinquish power," he said.
Genesis of Ukraine scandal was a phone call, but not the one you have heard about

Among the twists disclosed in a pre-publication, limited version of Shadow Diplomacy was a phone call that kicked off five years of alleged Ukraine political "witch hunts."

 Igor Fruman, top left, and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney at bottom of a Wall Street Journal graphic above by Laura Kammermann, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal.

In the fall of 2018, Parnas, above right, and an associate, Igor Fruman, above left, were busy networking global and Trump administration connections to get their energy trading and exploration company on sure financial footing. Parnas writes that he was working one of his key administration contacts, Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani, above center.

The pair frequented a Manhattan locale, The Grand Havana Room, where Parnas wrote that one evening that November the two "were talking about ways to get my business off the ground." That's when Giuliani, Parnas writes, excused himself to answer a phone call from a former associate with a tip about the former vice president and his son, Hunter.

The associate told Giuliani in that call, according to Parnas, that the Bidens "had been involved in something perhaps a bit shadier than mere conflict of interest in Ukraine." And, Parnas relates, there were receipts — purportedly "a couple of letters, whistleblower complaints."

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More On U.S. National Politics, Government

washington post logoWashington Post, American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why, Dan Balz and Clara Ence Morse, Dec. 30, 2023. Many Americans believe the political system is broken. A Post analysis examined the forces fueling the sense that government fails to represent the people.

Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach compromise.

herb kohl

ny times logoNew York Times, Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88, Robert D. McFadden, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A member of the family that founded Kohl’s department stores, he guarded federal budgets as a U.S. senator while spending lavishly to revive the N.B.A. team he owned.

senate democrats logoHerbert H. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who kept watch over federal budgets in four terms as a United States senator, but who as the die-hard owner of the National Basketball Association’s often mediocre Milwaukee Bucks spent lavishly to keep the team afloat in his hometown, died on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Milwaukee. He was 88. A photo from a Bucks tribute to him is shown above.

His death, after a brief illness, was announced by the Herb Kohl Foundation, his nonprofit organization.

By his own account, Milwaukee meant everything to Mr. Kohl. His parents had immigrated to the city from Poland and Russia early in the 20th century, and his father, Maxwell Kohl, had opened a corner grocery store there in 1927. Herbert and his three siblings were born and raised in the city, scions of a family that in one generation had built an empire of Kohl’s stores across the Upper Midwest.

In Wisconsin and surrounding states, the Kohl name became almost as familiar as Schlitz, which called itself “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” By 1972, when the British American Tobacco Company bought a controlling interest in Kohl’s, the company, still managed by the Kohl family, had 50 grocery stores, six department stores and several networks of pharmacies and liquor stores.

In 2012, under new owners, Kohl’s became the largest department store chain in the United States, surpassing J.C. Penney, its biggest competitor.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge approves Georgia’s Republican-drawn congressional districts, Azi Paybarah, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A federal judge in Georgia signed off Thursday on congressional districts redrawn this month by the state’s Republican-led legislature, ruling that the new map did not continue to illegally dilute the power of Black voters as Democrats and civil rights groups have argued.

steve jones judge“The Court finds that the General Assembly fully complied with this Court’s order requiring the creation of Black-majority districts in the regions of the State where vote dilution was found,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones, right, of the Northern District of Georgia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ohio governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care for minors, Anumita Kaur, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Ohio Gov. Mike mike dewine oDeWine (R) struck down a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, preserving such care for residents beyond his state as well, because families of transgender youths who live in states with bans have been traveling to Ohio for treatment.

Republicans, who have a supermajority in the legislature, could override DeWine’s veto and are expected to push back.

“This bill would impact a very small number of Ohio’s children. But for those children who face gender dysphoria, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound. Ultimately I believe this is about protecting human life,” DeWine said Friday during a news conference announcing the decision. “Many parents have told me that their child would not have survived, would be dead today, if they had not received the treatment they received from one of Ohio’s children’s hospitals.”

“These are gut-wrenching decisions that should be made by parents and should be informed by teams of doctors who are advising them,” DeWine continued. “Were I to sign House Bill 68, or were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government knows better what is medically best for a child than the two people who love that child the most: The parents.”

Hundreds of anti-trans bills have wound their way through dozens of state legislatures across the country. Almost half the states in the nation have passed laws targeting transgender people — including states that border Ohio. Many of these bills ban gender-affirming care for minors and restrict trans girls’ participation in school athletics.

washington post logoWashington Post, Her story fueled anti-trans bills. Now, she’s fighting them, Casey Parks, Dec. 27, 2023. Carey Callahan was once a prominent critic of gender-affirming care for minors. Then she began to worry her words were leading to outcomes she didn’t support.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, Dueling Primary Ballot Rulings on Trump Put Pressure on Supreme Court, Jenna Russell, Ernesto Londoño and Shawn Hubler, Updated Dec. 29, 2023. Maine found Donald Trump ineligible to hold office because of his actions after the 2020 election. California said his name would remain on the ballot there.

maine mapMaine on Thursday became the second state to bar Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot after its top election official ruled that the former president’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election rendered him ineligible to hold office again.

Hours later, her counterpart in California announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the shenna bellowsnation’s most populous state, where election officials have limited power to remove candidates.

The official in Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, left, wrote in her decision that Mr. Trump did not qualify for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A handful of citizens had challenged his eligibility by claiming that he had incited an insurrection and was thus barred from seeking the presidency again under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection,” Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, wrote.

Ms. Bellows’s decision follows a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week to keep Mr. Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot.

The decisions in Maine and Colorado underscore national tensions over democracy, ballot access and the rule of law. They also add urgency to calls for the United States Supreme Court to insert itself into the politically explosive dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said Thursday night that both the Maine and Colorado rulings were “partisan election interference efforts” that were “a hostile assault on American democracy.”

 

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

In late August, amid a rising outcry over revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas had received decades of undisclosed gifts and free luxury travel, a lawyer in Chicago fired off an email to her fellow former Thomas clerks.

“Many of us have been asked recently about the justice,” wrote the lawyer, Taylor Meehan. “In response, there’s not always the opportunity to tell his story and share what it was like to work for him. And there’s rarely the opportunity for us to do so all together.”

Ms. Meehan attached a letter in support of Justice Thomas. Minutes later came a reply. “I just had to jump up right away and say bravo for this,” wrote Steven G. Bradbury, a Heritage Foundation fellow who served in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations. Within days Fox News viewers were hearing about the letter, now signed by 112 former clerks and testifying that the justice’s “integrity is unimpeachable.” Among the signers was the popular Fox host Laura Ingraham.

In turn, the justice’s wife, the conservative activist Virginia Thomas, soon took to the clerks’ private email listserv. “We feel less alone today, because of you all!!! 🙏💕💕💕” she wrote, offering special thanks to the letter’s coordinators and all “who stepped into our fire!!!”

In the 32 years since Justice Thomas came through the fire of his confirmation hearings and onto the Supreme Court, he has assembled an army of influential acolytes unlike any other — a network of like-minded former clerks who have not only rallied to his defense but carried his idiosyncratic brand of conservative legal thinking out into the nation’s law schools, top law firms, the judiciary and the highest reaches of government.

 

leonard leo ap carolyn kaster

 Ultra-right Republican dark money legal powerbroker Leonard Leo is shown above. He is known as an honorary "clerk" because of his special attention to the justice's financial well-being.

The former clerks’ public defense of the justice was “unparalleled in the history of the court,” said Todd C. Peppers, a professor of public affairs at Roanoke College and the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. “It’s frankly astonishing.”

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Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley’s bold strategy to beat Donald Trump is to play it safe, Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Ms. Haley still trails far behind the former president in polls. Yet she is not deviating from the cautious approach that has led her this far.

nikki haley oAt a packed community center in southwestern Iowa, Nikki Haley, right, broke from her usual remarks this month to offer a warning to her top Republican presidential rivals, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, deploying a favorite line: “If they punch me, I punch back — and I punch back harder.”

But in that Dec. 18 appearance and over the next few days, Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, did not exactly pummel her opponents as promised. Her jabs were instead surgical, dry and policy-driven.

“He went into D.C. saying that he was going to stop the spending and instead, he voted to raise the debt limit,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. DeSantis, a former congressman, in Treynor, near the Nebraska border. At that same stop, she also defended herself against his attack ads and criticized Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor, over offshore drilling and fracking, and questioned his choice of a political surrogate in Iowa.

She was even more careful about going after Mr. Trump, continuing to draw only indirect contrasts and noting pointedly that his allied super PAC had begun running anti-Haley ads.

“He said two days ago I wasn’t surging,” she said, but now had “attack ads going up against me.”

With under three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Haley is treading cautiously as she enters the crucial final stretch of her campaign to shake the Republican Party loose from the clutches of Mr. Trump. Even as the former president maintains a vast lead in polls, Ms. Haley has insistently played it safe, betting that an approach that has left her as the only non-Trump candidate with any sort of momentum can eventually prevail as primary season unfolds.

On the trail, she rarely takes questions from reporters. She hardly deviates from her stump speech or generates headlines. And she keeps walking a fine line on her greatest obstacle to the Republican nomination — Mr. Trump. 

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley, in Retreat, Says ‘Of Course the Civil War Was About Slavery,’ Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023. A day after giving a stumbling answer about the conflict’s origin, Ms. Haley told an interviewer: “Yes, I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential hopeful, on Thursday walked back her stumbling answer about the cause of the Civil War, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.”

Her retreat came about 12 hours after a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, a state that is central to her presidential hopes, where she was asked what caused the Civil War. She stumbled through an answer about government overreach and “the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do,” after jokingly telling the questioner he had posed a tough one. He then noted she never uttered the word “slavery.”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Ms. Haley replied. “Next question.”

Speaking on the radio show The Pulse of New Hampshire on Thursday morning, Ms. Haley, who famously removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia, said: “Yes I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

But she also insinuated that the question had come not from a Republican voter but from a political detractor, accusing President Biden and Democrats of “sending plants” to her town-hall events.

“Why are they hitting me? See this for what it is,” she said, adding, “They want to run against Trump.”

In recent polls, Ms. Haley has surged into second place in New Hampshire, edging closer to striking distance of former President Donald J. Trump. To win the Granite State contest on Jan. 23, the first primary election of 2024, she will most likely need independent voters — and possibly Democrats who registered as independents. That is how Senator John McCain of Arizona upset George W. Bush in the state’s 2000 primary.

But the Civil War gaffe may have put a crimp in that strategy.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” she said Wednesday night, “the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

The answer echoed a century’s argument from segregationists that the Civil War was fundamentally about states’ rights and economics, not about ending slavery.

Late Wednesday night, even Mr. Biden rebuked the answer: “It was about slavery,” he wrote on social media.

She tried to walk back her comments on Thursday, asking: “What’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is never relive it. Never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Trump Conviction Could Cost Him Enough Voters to Tip the Election, Norman Eisen, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Recent general-election polling has generally shown Donald Trump maintaining a slight lead over President Biden. Yet many of those polls also reveal an Achilles’ heel for Mr. Trump that has the potential to change the shape of the race.

It relates to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles: If he is criminally convicted by a jury of his peers, voters say they are likely to punish him for it.

A trial on criminal charges is not guaranteed, and if there is a trial, neither is a conviction. But if Mr. Trump is tried and convicted, a mountain of public opinion data suggests voters would turn away from the former president.

Still likely to be completed before Election Day remains Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecution of Mr. Trump for his alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election, which had been set for trial on March 4, 2024. That date has been put on hold pending appellate review of the trial court’s rejection of Mr. Trump‘s presidential immunity. On Friday, the Supreme Court declined Mr. Smith’s request for immediate review of the question, but the appeal is still headed to the high court on a rocket docket. That is because the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument on Jan. 9 and likely issue a decision within days of that, setting up a prompt return to the Supreme Court. Moreover, with three other criminal cases also set for trial in 2024, it is entirely possible that Mr. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction before November 2024.

The negative impact of conviction has emerged in polling as a consistent through line over the past six months nationally and in key states. We are not aware of a poll that offers evidence to the contrary. The swing in this data away from Mr. Trump varies — but in a close election, as 2024 promises to be, any movement can be decisive.

Mr. Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of Donald Trump. Ms. Lake is a Democratic Party strategist and was a lead pollster for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Ms. Shenker-Osorio is a political researcher and campaign adviser.

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ron desantis hands out

 

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration 

ny times logoNew York Times, After a Rise in Murders During the Pandemic, a Sharp Decline in 2023, Tim Arango and Campbell Robertson, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The U.S. is on track for a record drop in homicides, and many other categories of crime are also in decline, according to the F.B.I.

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial : Face it: A smart ban on ski masks can help fight crime and protect rights, Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Tucked into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Addressing Crime Trends Now Act, a bill intended to help police fight crime in D.C., is an under-discussed proposal: a prohibition on ski masks and face coverings.

The mayor’s proposal would revive the anti-mask section of a 1982 law, the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Act. That statute prohibited those 16 and older from covering their faces while in public, intending to commit a crime, intimidate, threaten, or harass others or in cases in which masking would recklessly “cause another person to fear for his or her personal safety.”

The provision, which carried a one-year maximum sentence, was rarely enforced even when it was on the books. And D.C. repealed it in 2020 to encourage the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That reasonable public health policy had an unintended consequence: normalizing masking for all sorts of purposes, legal and otherwise. Now, identity-obscuring ski masks have become a de facto uniform for those who commit retail thefts, carjackings and robberies. The disguises make crimes scarier and perpetrators more difficult to identify — which of course is the point. One of the more remarkable aspects of last week’s CityCenter Chanel store robbery was that a video camera recorded one of the suspects without a face covering.

Other cities are debating anti-mask measures or have already adopted them: Philadelphia in November banned ski masks in public places — parks, schools, day-care centers, city-owned buildings and public transit — and at least 11 states have some kind of anti-mask ordinance on their books, most decades old. The goal is to prevent citizens from feeling “under siege,” as one Philadelphia council member put it, and to promote a sense of public safety.

Safety, actual and perceived, is a valid goal, especially urgent in the District. Still, the case for mask bans is more complicated than it might seem. There is a tension between the security mask bans seek to protect and the First Amendment liberties some mask wearers can legitimately claim in certain contexts.

At the same time, anonymity has a long association with criminality or deviance, and social science research shows that it can enable untoward behavior and make crimes more terrorizing.

Probably the biggest potential problem with anti-mask decrees is a practical one: enforcement. D.C. police are not eager to enforce such a ban; some officers have told us that it is a distraction from more important tasks and could heighten the risk of discrimination claims. The fact that ski masks are particularly popular among youths of color all but guarantees that enforcement will appear targeted.

Fortunately, relatively minor tweaks could address the concerns. A mask ban could be limited to particular and clearly delineated spaces — public transit, for instance, or city property and places of commerce, where mask-wearing is commonly understood to induce anxiety and serve little public good. Reasonable exceptions for religious practice or political expression should be spelled out in the statute. An anti-mask provision could be used to enhance penalties for other crimes of which the masked perpetrator is accused, rather than a stand-alone offense. A law that clearly provides that wearing a mask itself is not criminal, but committing a crime with one is, would be harder to use as a pretext for selective enforcement or harassment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rikers Island Has Become New York’s Largest Mental Institution, Jan Ransom and Amy Julia Harris, Photographs by José A. Alvarado Jr., Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A seemingly endless rotation between forensic hospitals and jails means that some mentally ill detainees stay in the system for years without standing trial.

One night in fall 2015, an 18-year-old woman was standing on a subway platform in the Bronx when a homeless man named James Dolo came up from behind and used both hands to push her onto the tracks, the police said, injuring her.

Jailed on an attempted murder charge, Mr. Dolo, then 38, soon was seated in front of a court evaluator for a review of his competency to stand trial. Mr. Dolo smelled of urine, the evaluator noted, had described a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of doing.

The evaluator marked him down as unfit, citing schizophrenia, and a judge ordered Mr. Dolo committed to a state forensic psychiatric hospital — a secure facility for incarcerated people — to be restored to mental competency. He spent nearly two years there before he was shuttled to a public hospital in Manhattan, and then to the city jails on Rikers Island, and then to the forensic hospital again.

Now, eight years later, having never been convicted of a crime in the subway shoving, he is back on Rikers Island, where guards once found him sitting in his own excrement and refusing to eat or leave his cell.

Mr. Dolo’s case, which has not been previously reported, illustrates one reason Rikers Island has become a warehouse for thousands of people with psychiatric problems: Many detainees with severe mental illness have moved back and forth between the jails and state forensic psychiatric facilities for months or even years before standing trial. Some have spent more time in this cycle than they might have served in prison had they been convicted.

Records show that more than half the people in city custody — some 3,000 men and women — have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and, on any given day, hundreds of them are awaiting evaluations or in line for beds at state forensic psychiatric hospitals, with scores more being treated at those facilities.

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More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Many on Gulf Coast say time is running out for EPA to act on toxic air, Anna Phillips, Amudalat Ajasa and Timothy Puko,  Dec. 30, 2023. The Biden administration vowed to protect Gulf Coast communities from dangerous pollution. But refineries continue to exceed safe levels.

As a girl growing up near refineries and chemical factories in this part of the Gulf Coast, 77-year-old Lois Malvo thought nothing of the way her eyes burned when she played outside. Now she sees dangers all around her.

The smell of rotten eggs and gasoline frequently fills her low-slung home, which lacks running water and leans to one side. Most days, she wakes up in the grips of a coughing fit. Cancer, which she blames on the toxic chemicals in the air, killed her sister and afflicted both of her brothers as well as herself.

“Our health lets us know that something isn’t right,” she said. “We’re being attacked by the industry because we’re vulnerable people and really, nobody cares about us.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tried to change perceptions of those like Malvo when he toured pollution-choked communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas two years ago, assuring residents that the Biden administration was committed to reversing years of inaction.

washington post logoWashington Post, Massive waves hammer West Coast, with more storms expected, Nicolás Rivero and Diana Leonard, Dec. 30, 2023. Ventura and Santa Cruz counties could see more damage amid stormy conditions this weekendWaves as high as 25 feet continue to pummel the West Coast after a damaging barrage flooded beaches as far south as Los Angeles on Thursday and left logs scattered across roads as far north as southern Oregon.

Powerful cyclones over the North Pacific are combining with higher-than-normal tides to create dangerous waves and flooding.

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

 

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Strike Hits Russian Warship in Occupied Crimea, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Russia acknowledged that the ship (shown above in a 2021 Reuters photo) had been damaged in what appeared to be one of the most significant attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in months.

ukraine flagThe Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement that it had destroyed the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, in the southeastern Crimean port of Feodosia overnight. Russia’s Defense Ministry told the Tass state news agency that the ship had been damaged in an attack using “aircraft-guided missiles,” but did not say whether the vessel had been permanently disabled.

Videos of the attack that appeared to be taken by residents and were released by the Ukrainian Air Force showed a huge explosion that produced a large fireball, followed by a giant cloud of smoke and fire billowing into the night sky.

The footage could not be immediately verified, but Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the attack had started a fire in Feodosia. One person was killed and two others were wounded in the assault, he added.

“The fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller!” Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s Air Force, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app celebrating the strike, which he noted came after Ukrainian missiles sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last year.

The Ukrainian military has long maintained that the war cannot be won without taking aim at Russian assets and operations in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. In recent months, Ukraine has sharply accelerated the pace of strikes on the peninsula, which Russia’s military uses as a logistics hub for its hold on southern Ukraine — stockpiling fuel, ammunition and other supplies to be funneled to the battlefields — but also as a launchpad for attacks.

The Black Sea Fleet has fired devastating precision cruise missiles at cities and towns deep inside Ukraine. In an attempt to reduce the threat, the Ukrainian military has repeatedly targeted the fleet this year — damaging a warship in August and hitting the fleet’s headquarters a month later.

Those attacks were significant achievements for a country without warships of its own, and rare successes in a year marked by disappointing efforts to break through Russian defensive lines on the battlefield.

ny times logoNew York Times, As War Rages in Ukraine, Denmark Turns an Office Park Back Into an Arsenal, Lara Jakes, Dec. 30, 2023. The conflict and surging arms production in Russia have spurred demand for ammunition manufacturing across Europe.

The old Krudten ammunition plant, near the northernmost tip of Denmark, is a quiet shell of a factory that has sat empty for years despite its legacy of churning out bullets, artillery and explosives for the Danish military.

But that is about to change: With the war in Ukraine fueling growing demand for Western weapons, the Danish government has decided to revive its role in the ammunition business.

In 2008, amid defense cutbacks that swept across Europe and cratering global economies, Denmark sold off Krudten, its military’s main munitions plant. It was passed around among private firms until October, when the government decided to buy it back, becoming one of the latest countries to increase its focus on weapons manufacturing and counter Russia’s rapidly expanding arms industry.

“It was crucial to get this plant,” the Danish defense minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, said in an interview this month, noting “a greater demand for ammunition” across Europe.

“We should be concerned because Russia is ramping up production of ammunition and also other kinds of military equipment,” Mr. Poulsen said. “That’s the reason why we have decided in the European Union that you have to support countries doing what they can to ramp up production.”

Officials from NATO countries worry that Ukraine will run out of weapons early next year, given that Republicans in Congress have blocked additional U.S. military aid and Hungary has vetoed another financial package from the European Union. Russia’s skyrocketing weapons industry has triggered palpable anxiety within NATO — not only because it has helped stall Ukraine’s six-month counteroffensive, but also as a sign of Moscow’s growing might.

That has sent European countries searching for ways to increase their own weapons production, including loosening regulations and incentivizing investment.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Ukraine, Success in the Black Sea and a Setback in the East, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). A major military success at sea against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was tempered by Ukraine’s acknowledgment that it had all but retreated from Marinka.

Ukraine scored a major success on Tuesday when it struck a Russian warship at port in Crimea, one of the most significant attacks against Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet in months. But in another setback for their ground campaign, Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they had all but retreated from the eastern city of Marinka after a monthslong battle to defend it.

ukraine flagThe two developments underscored the diverging fortunes of the two combatants this winter in a war that has largely settled into a deadlock: Ukraine racking up naval successes in the Black Sea and Crimea, where it is putting Russia on the defensive, and Russia pressing its attack on battlefields in the east after blunting a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A day after Russia said it had taken complete control of Marinka, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military commander, spoke in sober terms about the fight, comparing it to the scorched-earth battle for Bakhmut, the eastern city that fell to Russia in May. Like Bakhmut, Marinka held limited strategic value, but is now a trophy in ruins for Moscow.

“The situation is exactly the same as it was in Bakhmut,” General Zaluzhny said at a news conference. “Street by street, block by block, and our soldiers were being targeted. And the result is what it is.”

Ukraine’s forces, he said, have retreated to the outskirts of the city and set up some positions behind it, indicating that the cost of staying and fighting was too high. Every inch of Ukrainian land is vital, General Zaluzhny said, but “the lives of our fighters are more important to us.”

  • Update from Ukraine. Commentary: One of the Worst days for the Ruzzian Army, Denys Davydov, Dec. 28, 2023. All Failed; Crazy Tactics.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia once again took control of land that Ukraine had won back during its counteroffensive, Constant Méheut, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Russia’s recent progress around the southern village of Robotyne is a sobering development for Ukraine amid dwindling Western military aid.

Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne.

The situation has reinforced the war’s latest reality: With their counteroffensive stalled, Ukrainian troops are now on the back foot in many places. Besides Robotyne in the south, they are also struggling in the east, having all but retreated from the town of Marinka, officials said this week.

Deepening their challenges, Kyiv is increasingly worried that its military will not have the resources to keep up the fight. Washington announced on Wednesday that it was releasing the last remaining Congress-approved package of military aid available to Kyiv.

ny times logoNew York Times, Foreigners Who Made Ukraine Home Stay Put, Despite War, Megan Specia, Photographs by Laura Boushnak, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). As millions fled, some expatriates made the unlikely decision to remain in Ukraine.

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, In a letter heavy with irony, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny described his transfer to an Arctic prison, Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 26, 2023. The comments from the Russian opposition leader were written with a heavy dose of humor, and seemed intended to assuage concerns among allies after his three-week disappearance.

ny times logoNew York Times, Christmas Comes Early in Ukraine, but Not a Moment Too Soon, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally changed the date for celebrating to Dec. 25, departing from the Russian tradition of celebrating on Jan. 7.

Of Ukraine’s many Western-oriented changes, put in place bit by bit since independence and accelerated during the war, one brought special joy this year: Christmas came early.

After centuries of marking the holiday on Jan. 7 under the Julian church calendar, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church this year formally switched to celebrating on Dec. 25 with most of the rest of Europe — and pointedly not with Russia.

For 6-year-old Darynka, that meant practicing carols early and enjoying the excitement of receiving gifts like a Rainbow High doll and a paint set two weeks earlier than she did than last year.

“I love Christmas!” she said.

Her mother, Halyna Shvets, saw a step toward Europe in the Ukrainian church’s decision to shift the date away from Russia’s tradition, not only for Christmas celebrations but for other religious holidays as well.

“We are really happy,” she said. “Faith in God is a fundamental pillar of our lives. Celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, is an opportunity for us to gather for this beautiful Ukrainian religious tradition.”

Christmas, like so much else in Ukraine these days, is tightly tangled up in the country’s war with Russia. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has taken the position that the Julian calendar used in the Russian church does not have religious significance, and that holidays should be celebrated according to the calendar by which people live their daily lives. Even before this year’s formal switch, some Ukrainian Orthodox believers, in the first year after Russia’s invasion, had moved Christmas to December.

Technically, the change in the celebration is a recommendation; individual parishes are deciding when to mark the holiday. But of the roughly 7,500 parishes in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, all but 120 shifted the date of Christmas this year, as Russia’s invasion approaches its second full year.

Most eastern Orthodox churches had already taken this position. After the Ukrainian church’s switch, only four of 15 eastern Orthodox denominations — in Russia, Serbia, Finland and Jerusalem — still follow the Julian calendar, which lags by 13 days owing to a difference in calculating the length of the year. Some religious communities in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, known as Old Feasters, have also continued to follow the old calendar.

In his Christmas address, President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the second Christmas at war, and the shift in the date so that Orthodox and Catholic Ukrainians will celebrate on the same day. “Today, all Ukrainians are together,” he said. “We all meet Christmas together. On the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country.”

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was Ready to Die, but Not to Surrender, Marc Santora, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). A Ukrainian soldier escaped from an embattled steel plant and sneaked 125 miles to home territory.

After seven days hiding in a dank and dark tunnel deep in the bowels of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as the city burned around him, Pfc. Oleksandr Ivantsov was on the verge of collapse.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had ordered Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their weapons after 80 days of resistance and surrender. But Private Ivantsov had other ideas.

“When I signed up for this mission, I realized that most likely I would die,” he recalled. “I was ready to die in battle, but morally I was not ready to surrender.”

He knew his plan might sound a little crazy, but at the time, he was convinced he had a better chance of surviving by hiding out than by surrendering himself to Russians, whose widespread abuse of prisoners of war was well known to Ukrainian troops.

So he knocked a hole in a wall to get to a small tunnel, stashed some supplies and made plans to stay hidden for 10 days, hoping that the Russians who had taken control of the ruined plant would let down their guard by then, allowing him to creep through the ruins unnoticed and make his way into the city he once called home.

But after a week, he had gone through the six cans of stewed chicken and 10 cans of sardines and almost all of the eight 1.5 liter bottles of water he had secreted away.

“I felt very bad, I was dehydrated, and my thoughts were getting confused,” he said. “I realized that I had to leave because I could not live there for three more days.”

Mr. Ivantsov’s account of his escape from Azovstal is supported by photographs and videos from the city and factory that he shared with The New York Times. It was verified by superior officers and by medical records documenting his treatment after he made it to Ukrainian-controlled territory. Still, his tale seemed so far-fetched that Ukraine’s security services made him take a polygraph test to assure them he was not a double agent.

Mr. Ivantsov is still fighting for Ukraine, helping a drone unit outside the pulverized city of Bakhmut, where he recalled his story one sunny afternoon. He told it reluctantly, saying he could not share certain details in order to protect the Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal still being held as prisoners of war and the civilians in the occupied territories who aided in his escape.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Europe Eye Russian Assets to Aid Ukraine as Funding Dries Up, David E. Sanger and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). Despite legal reservations, policymakers are weighing the consequences of using $300 billion in Russian assets to help Kyiv’s war effort. 

The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials.

Until recently, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had argued that without action by Congress, seizing the funds was “not something that is legally permissible in the United States.” There has also been concern among some top American officials that nations around the world would hesitate to keep their funds at the New York Federal Reserve, or in dollars, if the United States established a precedent for seizing the money.

But the administration, in coordination with the Group of 7 industrial nations, has begun taking another look at whether it can use its existing authorities or if it should seek congressional action to use the funds. Support for such legislation has been building in Congress, giving the Biden administration optimism that it could be granted the necessary authority.

The talks among finance ministers, central bankers, diplomats and lawyers have intensified in recent weeks, officials said, with the Biden administration pressing Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan to come up with a strategy by Feb. 24, the second anniversary of the invasion.

The more than $300 billion of Russian assets under discussion have already been out of Moscow’s control for more than a year. After the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with Europe and Japan, used sanctions to freeze the assets, denying Russia access to its international reserves.

But seizing the assets would take matters a significant step further and require careful legal consideration.

President Biden has not yet signed off on the strategy, and many of the details remain under heated discussion. Policymakers must determine if the money will be channeled directly to Ukraine or used to its benefit in other ways.

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Consumers, High Tech

ny times logoNew York Times, The Building Spree That Reshaped Manhattan’s Skyline? It’s Over, Matthew Haag, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). New office buildings flourished over the past 25 years in Manhattan, but a construction drought has begun.

The Manhattan office construction boom is over.

Just three large office towers — of more than 500,000 square feet — are being built across New York City, with two expected to open in 2024 or 2025 and nothing else projected to go up for years. Normally, a handful of sites that size would be in various stages of construction, with at least one opening every year since 2018, according to JLL, a real estate services firm.

Nearly 20 large office buildings that developers have proposed, including the final tower near ground zero, have yet to break ground. Many are on indefinite hold as developers face numerous challenges.

Rising construction costs and interest rates have significantly driven up the price to build. Banks are increasingly reluctant to finance such construction while Manhattan has record office vacancies. And there are few large tenants, which lenders require to be lined up before a new office can be built, actively looking to move.

As a result, Manhattan is entering its most significant office construction drought since after the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Developers now concede that the next wave of large office towers may not open until the early 2030s, if not later.

ny times logoNew York Times, Downturn or Not? At Year’s End, Wall St. Is Split on What’s Ahead, Joe Rennison, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Analysts bullish on 2023 were largely right and expect more of the same in 2024. Bears caution that the Federal Reserve’s impact is yet to be determined.

Twelve months ago, Tom Lee bet that 2023 was going to turn out just fine.

While many of his peers on Wall Street were sounding the alarm over an impending economic downturn, Mr. Lee, a stock market strategist who spent more than a decade running J.P. Morgan’s equity research before setting up his own firm, forecast in December 2022 that falling inflation and economic resilience would buck the broadly bearish mood.

Mr. Lee was right. Despite political brinkmanship over the nation’s debt ceiling, a banking crisis in March, fears over the cost of funding the government’s fiscal deficit, a continuing war in Ukraine and fresh conflict in Israel, the core of Mr. Lee’s prediction came to fruition in 2023. Inflation has fallen, unemployment remains low, and the S&P 500 has risen 24 percent.

Most investors disagreed with Mr. Lee’s prognosis; in 2023, they pulled more than $70 billion out of funds that buy U.S. stocks, according to data from EPFR Global. Only a quarter of fund managers whose performance is benchmarked to the S&P 500 have beaten the index’s returns this year, according to Morningstar Direct.

Heading into 2024, prognosticators tracked by Bloomberg share Mr. Lee’s optimism more broadly, including analysts at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Binky Chadha, an equity strategist at Deutsche Bank who bet against the consensus with Mr. Lee last year, is also predicting that the bull rally will continue.

ny times logoNew York Times, Holiday Spending Increased, Defying Fears of a Decline, Jordyn Holman, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). While the pace of growth slowed, spending stayed strong because of robust job growth and strong wage gains.

joe biden resized oDespite lingering inflation, Americans increased their spending this holiday season, early data shows. That comes as a big relief for retailers that had spent much of the year fearing the economy would soon weaken and consumer spending would fall.

Retail sales increased 3.1 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The numbers, released Tuesday, are not adjusted for inflation.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, When Being a Spokeswoman Attracts Leering Internet Trolls, Caity Weaver, Dec. 28, 2023. When you lend your likeness to a nationwide ad campaign, things don’t always go perfectly. Just ask Milana Vayntrub.

 

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Forgotten Chapter of Abortion History Repeats Itself, Linda Greenhouse (shown at right on the cover of her memoir), Dec. 22, 2023. Much of the linda greenhouse cover just a journalistcountry no doubt watched in amazement as a woman with a doomed pregnancy was forced to flee her home state, Texas, to get the abortion her doctors deemed necessary to protect her future ability to bear children. Could this really be happening in the United States in 2023?

But then, should anyone who has followed the recent dystopian course of abortion in America have been surprised? After all, on the other side of the half-century during which abortion was a constitutional right, something eerily similar had happened in an episode that shocked the country when abortion was a subject not discussed in polite society.

It was 1962, and Sherri Chessen Finkbine, a 29-year-old mother of four and host of a popular children’s television program in Phoenix, was pregnant again. Suffering from morning sickness, she tried some pills, marketed in Europe as a sleeping aid, that her husband had brought back from a trip to London. Only after having taken multiple doses did she read about an outbreak in Europe of devastating birth defects in babies born to women who had used a drug called thalidomide. Her doctor confirmed that thalidomide was what she had taken.

The doctor recommended a “therapeutic” abortion and arranged for one to be performed quietly at a Phoenix hospital. Ms. Chessen — the media called her by her husband’s last name, Finkbine, but she had always preferred Chessen — felt obliged to warn other women who might unknowingly be facing the same situation. She talked to The Arizona Republic’s medical editor, who granted her anonymity. But her name became known, and in part because of her prominence — she was “Miss Sherri” of the popular “Romper Room — the story exploded. The hospital declined to go ahead with the scheduled procedure and, with abortion illegal in every state, there was no place in the country she could go.

She and her husband, a public-school teacher, went to Sweden for the abortion. By that time, she was 13 weeks pregnant. When they got back to Phoenix, she lost her job, and her husband was suspended from his teaching post.

Ms. Chessen’s trauma 61 years ago was even more jarring than Kate Cox’s was this month, because a subject largely hidden from public view was suddenly national news. I still remember, as a 15-year-old, being mesmerized by Life magazine’s extended account that covered not only Ms. Chessen’s experience but the abortion issue itself; included in the coverage were wrenching photographs of surviving “thalidomide babies” missing arms or legs or both.

Her story brought the once forbidden topic into the country’s living rooms in the most sympathetic light imaginable. “Her wholesome image clashed so dramatically with the public’s concept of abortion — the lawless choice of wayward women — that her decision to go through with the procedure sparked a heated national debate,” Jennifer Vanderbes writes in a new book, “Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims.”

Although Ms. Chessen received plenty of hate mail, along with condemnation by the Vatican, a Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans thought she had made the right decision. It’s possible to see the episode as a spark that helped ignite the abortion reform movement that culminated in Roe v. Wade 11 years later. “Here is a need for common sense,” The Tulsa Tribune wrote in an editorial.

Linda Greenhouse, the winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008. She is the author of “Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court.”

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, In reversal, U.S. to heighten efforts to collect billions in unpaid covid loans, Tony Romm, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration will try to recover an estimated $30 billion in unpaid loans made to small businesses during the pandemic, months after federal watchdogs said the lenient approach risked violating the law.

The new approach, announced Thursday, arrives months after federal watchdogs and congressional lawmakers first blasted the administration for its leniency, warning that the government risked breaking the law — and exacerbating its losses — if it didn’t try harder to get the money back.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress created two generous stimulus programs to help cash-starved firms stay afloat: the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan, known as EIDL, and the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. Over their life span, the lending initiatives provided more than $1 trillion in assistance to companies large and small, helping to blunt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

sba logo bestCongress allowed borrowers to request their PPP loans be forgiven, while those who obtained aid under EIDL were supposed to repay the money. Before most of those EIDL bills became due, however, the Small Business Administration enacted a policy in April 2022 to forgo some collection activities on past-due loans of $100,000 or less, The Washington Post first reported earlier this year.

Explaining its policy, SBA officials said at the time it would have cost too much money to refer each delinquent loan to the Treasury Department, which can impose the toughest punishments on late borrowers, including wage garnishment.

But the rationale troubled the agency’s inspector general, Hannibal “Mike” Ware, whose office in September warned that the SBA policy “could incentivize other COVID-19 EIDL recipients to stop paying on their loans.”

The potentially staggering loss amounts to about 2.5 percent of those programs’ total portfolios, the agency said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Questions to ask before choosing an assisted living facility, Yeganeh Torbati and Julie Zauzmer Weil,  Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Here’s what to look for, some questions to ask and what you should know about safety when deciding on long-term care.

Choosing an assisted-living facility for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. In many states, it’s difficult to find reliable information about a facility’s practices and track record for resident safety.

The choice matters, especially if you need care for someone with memory problems or dementia: Residents with memory problems wander away from assisted-living facilities unnoticed just about every day in America, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. Since 2018, nearly 100 have died. These incidents occurred even at some facilities that charged families more for extra vigilance.

Based on recommendations from advocacy groups and interviews with former staff at assisted-living facilities, The Post has compiled a short guide to getting the information you need to find a home for yourself or a loved one.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the anti-vaccine movement is gaining power in statehouses, Lauren Weber, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Louisiana is a harbinger of the growing power of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses, as more candidates supporting once-fringe policies win and sign onto laws gutting vaccine requirements.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The victories come as part of a political backlash to pandemic restrictions and the proliferation of misinformation about the safety of vaccines introduced to fight the coronavirus.

In Louisiana, 29 candidates endorsed by Stand for Health Freedom, a national group that works to defeat mandatory vaccinations, won in the state’s off-year elections this fall.

Fred Mills, the retiring Republican chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s health and welfare committee, said he fears that once-fringe anti-vaccine policies that endanger people’s lives will have a greater chance of passing come January when newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in and more than a dozen Republican moderates like himself leave office.

Louisiana’s shift is a sign of the growing clout of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses as bills that once died in committee make it onto the legislative floor for a vote.

Since spring, Tennessee lawmakers dropped all vaccine requirements for home-schooled children. Iowa Republicans passed a bill eliminating the requirement that schools educate students about the HPV vaccine. And the Florida legislature passed a law preemptively barring school districts from requiring coronavirus vaccines, a move health advocates fear opens the door to further vaccine limitations.

“Politics is going to win over medicine,” said Mills, a pharmacist who has weakened or defeated bills that would have limited vaccine access and promoted vaccine exemptions in schools and workplaces. But after 13 years in the Senate, Mills has hit the state’s three-term limit.

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Media, Religion, High Tech, Sports, Education, Free Speech, Culture.

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees above. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A.I. Is the Future of Photography. Does That Mean Photography Is Dead? Gideon Jacobs, Dec. 26, 2023. Mr. Jacobs is a critic and writer on photography.

John Szarkowski, the legendary curator at the MoMA, once described photography as “the act of pointing.” And for the nearly 200 years since its inception, photography has consisted of capturing a visual perspective from the physical world using light — first with light-sensitive plates, then film, then digital sensors. When digital cameras became widely available, many photographers lamented the move away from analog technology but basically Szarkowski’s definition still held: Photography consists of pointing, as a reaction to something that exists in the world.

With advent of A.I. image generators, however, this definition feels obsolete.

Generative A.I. tools can produce photorealistic images, typically in response to written prompts. These images are available for purchase from major stock photography agencies, alongside traditional photos. They routinely go viral before being debunked. They even occasionally win prestigious photography prizes. All if which has reignited a two-centuries-old debate: What exactly qualifies as a photograph?

This is not a matter of etymological nit-picking. Calling A.I. images “photographs” — a practice I encounter often — can add to a sense of disorientation in what already feels like a profoundly disorienting moment. Thanks to the ubiquity of digital cameras, we live in a world that’s already flooded with photographs — more than a trillion are taken each year. These digital images can already be easily manipulated through existing tools, including ones built into your phone. Yet they still have some direct relationship to real scenes and events that have occurred.

Now we face a new deluge of images that, however artful or convincing, are at a remove from the world. A.I. images are typically digital composites of countless existing photographs, so by what definition are they themselves real? No wonder some observers are asking “how can we believe anything we see?”

Aside from very real concerns about the livelihoods of professional photographers, especially those who work in commercial photography, I worry that A.I. image generators may leave society as a whole more vulnerable to widespread manipulation — as presaged by hoax A.I. images of Donald Trump violently resisting arrest or, somewhat more comically, of Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga-inspired coat.

But for all the negative potential, I can also see a possibility that these developments will start a conversation about — and foster an educated skepticism of — all visual media and the relationship of these images, however they are made, to so-called truth.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the News Industry’s Uneasy Negotiations With OpenAI, Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 29, 2023. Several major publishers have been in talks to license content to the creator of ChatGPT, but agreement on the price and terms has been elusive.

For months, some of the biggest players in the U.S. media industry have been in confidential talks with OpenAI on a tricky issue: the price and terms of licensing their content to the artificial intelligence company.

The curtain on those negotiations was pulled back this week when The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, alleging that the companies used its content without permission to build artificial intelligence products.

ny times logoNew York Times, Boom in A.I. Prompts a Test of Copyright Law, J. Edward Moreno, Dec. 30, 2023. The use of content from news and information providers to train artificial intelligence systems may force a reassessment of where to draw legal lines.

Authors and a leading photo agency have brought suit over the past year, contending that their intellectual property was illegally used to train A.I. systems, which can produce humanlike prose and power applications like chatbots.

Now they have been joined in the spotlight by the news industry. The New York Times filed a lawsuit on Wednesday accusing OpenAI and Microsoft of copyright infringement, the first such challenge by a major American news organization over the use of artificial intelligence.

The lawsuit contends that OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing Chat can produce content nearly identical to Times articles, allowing the companies to “free-ride on The Times’s massive investment in its journalism by using it to build substitutive products without permission or payment.”

OpenAI and Microsoft have not had an opportunity to respond in court. But after the lawsuit was filed, those companies noted that they were in discussions with a number of news organizations on using their content — and, in the case of OpenAI, had begun to sign deals.

Without such agreements, the limits may be worked out in the courts, with significant repercussions. Data is crucial to developing generative A.I. technologies — which can generate text, images and other media on their own — and to the business models of companies doing that work.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.’s Use of Copyrighted Work, Michael M. Grynbaum and Ryan Mac, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with it, the lawsuit said.

microsoft logo CustomThe New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. chat gpt logoplatforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

Representatives of OpenAI and Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is among a small number of outlets that have built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hobbled by readers’ migration to the internet.

At the same time, OpenAI and other A.I. tech firms — which use a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

ny times logoNew York Times, A.I. Can Make Art That Feels Human. Whose Fault Is That? Jason Farago, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A fake Drake/Weeknd mash-up is not a threat to culture. It’s a warning, our critic writes: We can’t let our imaginations shrink to machine size.

This was the year — ask your stockbroker, or the disgraced management of Sports Illustrated — that artificial intelligence went from a dreamy projection to an ambient menace and perpetual sales pitch. Does it feel like the future to you, or has A.I. already taken on the staleness and scamminess of the now-worthless nonfungible token?

Artists have been deploying A.I. technologies for a while, after all: Ed Atkins, Martine Syms, Ian Cheng and Agnieszka Kurant have made use of neural networks and large language models for years, and orchestras were playing A.I.-produced Bach variations back in the 1990s. I suppose there was something nifty the first time I tried ChatGPT — a slightly more sophisticated grandchild of Eliza, the ’60s therapist chatbot — though I’ve barely used it since then; the hallucinatory falsehoods of ChatGPT make it worthless for journalists, and even its tone seems an insult to my humanity. (I asked: “Who was the better painter, Manet or Degas?” Response: “It is not appropriate to compare artists in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ as art is a highly subjective field.”)

Still, the explosive growth of text-to-image generators such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E (the last is named after the corniest artist of the 20th century; that should have been a clue) provoked anxieties that A.I. was coming for culture — that certain capabilities once understood as uniquely human now faced computational rivals. Is this really the case?

ny times logoNew York Times, ChatGPT Helps, and Worries, Business Consultants, Study Finds, David Berreby, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The A.I. tool helped most with creative tasks. With more analytical work, however, the technology led to more mistakes.

washington post logoWashington Post, College chancellor fired for adult videos says it’s a free-speech issue, Kim Bellware, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). In 2007, when Joseph Gow was welcomed to his new post as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he sketched out a wish for the future. “In a few years,” he told the school’s alumni magazine, “I want people to be saying the same kind of nice things they’re saying about me as I start: That that guy came in, he showed us a certain way and wow, he has stuck to it, and it worked.”

Gow stuck to his ways for 16 years, becoming UW-La Crosse’s second-longest-serving chancellor, a role formerly called president. But on Wednesday, his tenure ended abruptly when the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire him after discovering sexually explicit videos Gow, 63, had produced and filmed with his wife.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomIn statements, university officials used language such as “abhorrent” and “disgusted,” with University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman saying “specific conduct” by Gow had “subjected the university to significant reputational harm.”

Gow had already announced this fall that he was stepping down in the springtime and planned to return to the classroom, where he is a tenured communications professor. That plan is now in jeopardy as Rothman seeks to have the professor’s tenure status reviewed.

The firing and the fallout has come as a surprise to Gow, who said the regents never specified which policy he violated and did not invite him to speak or defend himself at their hastily called meeting Wednesday night. He is also surprised that videos of legal, consensual sex with his wife, Carmen Wilson, made in their private time, have run afoul of standards in a university system that just six years ago adopted a sweeping new policy on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The sexuality and relationship books the couple have co-written under pseudonyms and the videos they have filmed and produced would be covered under the school’s free-expression policy, Gow argued.

Wilson, 56, was even more succinct, arguing that the board’s actions against her husband demonstrate that “free speech is free — as long as it aligns with [their] values.”

Gow’s case comes amid a broader discussion over the extent to which employers can punish or marginalize employees for legal behavior they pursue in their private lives. In the past few years, nurses, teachers, paramedics, judges and professionals in other fields have lost their jobs after they were outed as having an account on the adult content site OnlyFans or other pornography sites. In Virginia, a woman running for a state House of Delegates seat faced backlash for performing sex acts online for tips.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Columbia’s President Has Avoided Fallout Over Israel-Gaza Protests, Sharon Otterman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The university has faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

columbia logoIn the weeks after Oct. 7, Columbia University was the scene of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war on American college campuses.

A Jewish student said he was assaulted after putting up posters of hostages. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students accused one another of support for genocide in a series of heated protests and counter-protests.

But as the fall semester ended, Columbia faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in particular, were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

Supporters of Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, credit her diplomatic skills in avoiding a similar public relations crisis. But detractors said she has bent too far to the demands of Israel supporters, angering students and some faculty members but keeping powerful donors and trustees mostly happy.

She might also have benefited from a bit of luck.

When Congress invited her to a congressional hearing on antisemitism on Dec. 5 with her peers from Harvard, Penn and M.I.T., Dr. Shafik said she could not go. She told representatives that she had already planned to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, where she introduced a panel about women leaders.

The Congressional hearing did not go well. The University of Pennsylvania president lost her job and the Harvard president became mired in weeks of controversy.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It? Emily Cochrane, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Birmingham-Southern College was about to receive a multimillion-dollar loan, but a state official said it was not a justifiable use of taxpayer money.

On a crisp fall day at Birmingham-Southern College, the students were making their way to class, stealing a few cold minutes under the golden ginkgo trees. Inside the red brick buildings that dot the 192-acre campus, professors were preparing exams for finals week, while administrators readied the first round of acceptance letters for the next school year.

Yet looming over those quintessential scenes of college life was an unsettling question: Would the school even make it to another fall semester?

The private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of overly ambitious investments and hulking debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

For many outside the school, its fate is simply about whether a private school that has mismanaged its finances deserves any kind of taxpayer support, especially in a state that has chronically underfunded its public education system. But for alumni and the school’s supporters, it is also a question of whether a classical liberal arts education is still valued at a moment when colleges and universities are facing intense scrutiny over their curricula, admissions and cultures.

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Israeli army troops are seen near the GazaStrip board in southern Israelon Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The army is battling Palestinian militaynts across Gaza in the war ignited by HaHmas' Oct. 7 attack in to Israel (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

 

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 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 

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Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 
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ny times logoNew York Times, Dueling Primary Ballot Rulings on Trump Put Pressure on Supreme Court, Jenna Russell, Ernesto Londoño and Shawn Hubler Updated Dec. 29, 2023. Maine found Donald Trump ineligible to hold office because of his actions after the 2020 election. California said his name would remain on the ballot there.

maine mapMaine on Thursday became the second state to bar Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot after its top election official ruled that the former president’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election rendered him ineligible to hold office again.

Hours later, her counterpart in California announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the shenna bellowsnation’s most populous state, where election officials have limited power to remove candidates.

The official in Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, left, wrote in her decision that Mr. Trump did not qualify for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A handful of citizens had challenged his eligibility by claiming that he had incited an insurrection and was thus barred from seeking the presidency again under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection,” Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, wrote.

Ms. Bellows’s decision follows a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week to keep Mr. Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot.

The decisions in Maine and Colorado underscore national tensions over democracy, ballot access and the rule of law. They also add urgency to calls for the United States Supreme Court to insert itself into the politically explosive dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said Thursday night that both the Maine and Colorado rulings were “partisan election interference efforts” that were “a hostile assault on American democracy.”

ny times logoNew York Times, What to Know About the Efforts to Remove Trump From the 2024 Ballot, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Dec. 29, 2023. There are lawsuits pending in more than a dozen states seeking to have Donald Trump disqualified from appearing on primary ballots.

The campaign to have former President Donald J. Trump removed from the ballot over his efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election has kicked into high gear, with decisions in two states, Maine and Colorado, barring him from the primary ballots.

Challenges are still underway in many more states, based on an obscure clause of a constitutional amendment enacted after the Civil War that disqualifies government officials who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” from holding office.

Over the years, the courts and Congress have done little to clarify how that criterion should apply, adding urgency to the calls for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the politically explosive dispute before the upcoming election.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: Report of Leaked Judicial Draft Threatens Israel’s Wartime Unity, Aaron Boxerman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A looming Supreme Court decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive plan to overhaul Israel’s courts threatened to disrupt his fragile wartime government, after an Israeli television report revived the fissures around the ruling.

Israel FlagChannel 12 reported on what it called a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to strike down part of his plan, which would weaken the judiciary and strengthen the government. Before the war, the plan, backed by Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-right allies, had been opposed by huge, monthslong protests.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s courts said on Thursday that “the writing of the ruling is not yet complete.” The court is expected to rule by mid-January.

Whatever the decision, it has potential to throw Israel’s unity government, formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attacks, into disarray as the country wages war in Gaza and faces international pressure over the scope of its military campaign.

Two members of Israel’s war cabinet, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime rivals, Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, both criticized the government’s pursuit of the overhaul. Mr. Netanyahu had tried to fire Mr. Gallant after the defense minister criticized the pace of the plan, only to reverse the decision amid widespread outrage.

And should the court rule against Mr. Netanyahu, it could set off a constitutional crisis within Israel if his allies try to defy it. Regardless of the outcome, the case is considered one of the most consequential in Israel’s history, because it could determine the extent to which politicians will be subject to judicial oversight.

Israel’s Channel 12 broadcaster reported on Wednesday night that a slim majority of the court — eight of 15 judges — are set to overturn a law passed in July that stripped Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable.” Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition had passed the law in an effort to remove what it said was the court’s ability to overrule the will of the majority.

The law was part of Mr. Netanyahu’s wider plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which divided the country and led hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stage months of street protests. Opponents, including Israel’s chief justice and attorney general, said the plan — if fully carried out — would deal a fatal blow to the country’s separation of powers.

The dispute posed one of the gravest domestic political crises Israel had faced in the 75 years since the nation’s founding. But it faded to the background after the Hamas attacks, in which roughly 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage to Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

Here’s what we know:

  • An Israeli television channel reported that the country’s top court was prepared to overturn a law limiting its ability to restrain the government, reviving deep pre-war political fissures.
  • Here’s what to know about the judicial law that divided Israel before Oct. 7.
  • A war cabinet member warns that Israel could open a new front against Hezbollah.
  • Deadly strikes deepen the suffering at one of southern Gaza’s last working hospitals.
  • The human rights situation in the West Bank has ‘deteriorated rapidly,’ a U.N. report finds.
  • Israeli raids in the West Bank target money changing businesses.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: The human rights situation in the West Bank has ‘deteriorated rapidly,’ a U.N. report finds, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The United Nations said on Thursday that respect for human rights had “deteriorated rapidly” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since Oct. 7, calling on Israel to take immediate action to end settler violence palestinian flagand the excessive use of force by its military.

UN logoThe office of the U.N.’s human rights commissioner said it had documented the deaths of 300 Palestinians, along with mass arrests and ill treatment that it said could amount to torture in the West Bank after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: Israeli Warning Raises Prospect of a Broader War, Johnatan Reiss, Nadav Gavrielov and Thomas Fuller, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, said Israel could take stronger action against Hezbollah on the northern border, after weeks of rocket fire.

Israel FlagAs Israel pounded targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a member of the country’s war cabinet threatened action on a second front, along the northern border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah has fired rocket barrages into Israel.

“The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out,” Benny Gantz, left, a member of Israel’s war cabinet and former defense benny grantz cropped flickr as israel defense forces chief of staffjpg Smallminister, told reporters Wednesday. “If the world and the Lebanese government don’t act in order to prevent the firing on Israel’s northern residents, and to distance Hezbollah from the border, the I.D.F. will do it,” he said, referring to Israel’s military.

“The next stages in fighting will also be deep, forceful, and surprising,” added Mr. Gantz. “The campaign will continue and expand, according to necessity, to more foci or fronts.”

The threat of a wider war has preoccupied the United States and its allies since the start of the conflict in Gaza, and has only grown as three Iranian-backed groups — Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis in Yemen — have launched attacks toward Israel as well as on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The concern prompted the United States to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel that started the war in Gaza.

Tensions rose even higher this week after Iran accused Israel of killing Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in a missile strike in Syria. On Wednesday, a cortege of mourners accompanied his body through the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, and a representative of the Revolutionary Guards, Ramezan Sharif, again threatened retaliation against Israel, The Associated Press reported.

But hints of division among Israel’s adversaries emerged on Wednesday, when Mr. Sharif claimed that Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack was prompted not by longstanding grievances with Israel, but by the 2020 killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Hamas promptly rejected the suggestion.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that its northern command, along the border with Lebanon, was in a “state of very high readiness.” The military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said, “We need to be prepared to strike if required.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Notable deaths of 2023, in photos, Washington Post staff, Dec. 29, 2023. Some deaths loom so large that they come to signify the passing of an entire era. This year, it seemed as though the 1970s faded away, along with so many figures from the political and cultural life of the decade.

Among them were Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, first lady Rosalynn Carter, filmmaker William Friedkin and stars of show business as varied as David Crosby, Gordon Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett and Richard Roundtree.

The word “last” appeared with painful frequency in obituaries for people of the 1940s, the World War II generation. Ben Ferencz, the last living Nuremberg prosecutor, and Traute Lafrenz, the last known survivor of the White Rose anti-Nazi resistance group, both died at 103.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, They’re Paid Billions to Root Out Child Labor in the U.S. Why Do They Fail? Hannah Dreier, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Private auditors have failed to detect migrant children working for U.S. suppliers of Oreos, Gerber, McDonald’s and many other brands.

One morning in 2019, an auditor arrived at a meatpacking plant in rural Minnesota. He was there on behalf of the national drugstore chain Walgreens to ensure that the factory, which made the company’s house brand of beef jerky, was safe and free of labor abuses.

He ran through a checklist of hundreds of possible problems, like locked emergency exits, sexual harassment and child labor. By the afternoon, he had concluded that the factory had no major violations. It could keep making jerky, and Walgreens customers could shop with a clear conscience.

When night fell, another 150 workers showed up at the plant. Among them were migrant children who had come to the United States by themselves looking for work. Children as young as 15 were operating heavy machinery capable of amputating fingers and crushing bones.

Migrant children would work at the Monogram Meat Snacks plant in Chandler, Minn., for almost four more years, until the Department of Labor visited this spring and found such severe child labor violations that it temporarily banned the shipment of any more jerky.

In the past two decades, private audits have become the solution to a host of public relations headaches for corporations. When scandal erupts over labor practices, or shareholders worry about legal risks, or advocacy groups demand a boycott, companies point to these inspections as evidence that they have eliminated abuses in their supply chains. Known as social compliance audits, they have grown into an $80 billion global industry, with firms performing hundreds of thousands of inspections each year.

But a New York Times review of confidential audits conducted by several large firms shows that they have consistently missed child labor.

Children were overlooked by auditors who were moving quickly, leaving early or simply not sent to the part of the supply chain where minors were working, The Times found in audits performed at 20 production facilities used by some of the nation’s most recognizable brands.

Auditors did not catch instances in which children were working on Skittles and Starburst candies, Hefty brand party cups, the pork in McDonald’s sandwiches, Gerber baby snacks, Oreos, Cheez-Its or the milk that comes with Happy Meals.

In a series of articles this year, The Times has revealed that migrant children, who have been coming to America in record numbers, are working dangerous jobs in every state, in violation of labor laws. Children often use forged documents that slip by auditors who check paperwork but do not speak with most workers face-to-face. Corporations suggest that supply chains are reviewed from start to finish, but sub-suppliers such as industrial farms remain almost entirely unscrutinized.

The expansion of social compliance audits comes as the Labor Department has shrunk, with staffing levels now so low that it would take more than 100 years for inspectors to visit every workplace in the department’s jurisdiction once. For many factories, a private inspection is the only one they will ever get.

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The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli-Gaza War Live Updates: A Gaza hospital said at least 18 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in an area where many had sought refuge, Anushka Patil, Dec. 29, 2023.  An airstrike on Thursday hit a house in southern Gaza where people had sought shelter from Israel’s military offensive, according to a nearby hospital, which said that at least 18 people were killed and dozens of others injured.

The hospital, the Kuwait Specialty Hospital, said the strike had occurred in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost area, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following Israeli military orders to move south.

Here’s what we know:

  • A hospital in Rafah said that a house where displaced Palestinians were staying was hit with an airstrike, killing at least 18 people.
  • A strike hits near a hospital in Gaza’s southernmost area.
  • Gazans face an endless trek for safety as the evacuation orders keep coming.
  • Israeli military admits fault in two Dec. 24 strikes.
  • An Israeli American thought to be taken hostage was killed during the Oct. 7 attacks, her family says.
  • A report on a leaked Supreme Court judicial draft has Israeli politicians on edge.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What Is Happening to Our World? Thomas L. Friedman, Dec. 29, 2023. As The Times’s foreign affairs columnist since 1995, one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that there are good seasons and bad seasons in this business, which are defined by the big choices made by the biggest players.

Among the most ignorant and vile things that have been said about this Gaza war is that Hamas had no choice — that its wars with Israel culminating on Oct. 7 with a murderous rampage, the kidnappings of Israelis as young as 10 months and as old as 86 and the rape of Israeli women could somehow be excused as a justifiable jailbreak by pent-up males.

No.

The reason I insist on talking about these choices now is because Israel is being surrounded by what I call Iran’s landcraft carriers (as opposed to our aircraft carriers): Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran is squeezing Israel into a multi-front war with its proxies. I truly worry for Israel.

But Israel will have neither the sympathy of the world that it needs nor the multiple allies it needs to confront this Iranian octopus, nor the Palestinian partners it needs to govern any post-Hamas Gaza, nor the lasting support of its best friend in the world, Joe Biden, unless it is ready to choose a long-term pathway for separating from the Palestinians with an improved, legitimate Palestinian partner.

Biden has been shouting that in Netanyahu’s ears in their private calls.

For all these reasons, if Netanyahu keeps refusing because, once again, politically, the time is not right for him, Biden will have to choose, too — between America’s interests and Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest.

In sum, this war is so ugly, deadly and painful, it is no wonder that so many Palestinians and Israelis want to just focus on survival and not on any of the choices that got them here. The Haaretz writer Dahlia Scheindlin put it beautifully in a recent essay:

The situation today is so terrible that people run from reality as they run from rockets — and hide in the shelter of their blind spots. It’s pointless to wag fingers. The only thing left to do is try and change that reality.

For me, choosing that path will always be in season.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nearly Two Million Crowd Into Gaza’s South as Fighting Intensifies, Zach Levitt, Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Lauren Leatherby and Leanne Abraham, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). As Israel’s ground campaign broadens in southern Gaza, thousands more people are pouring into areas that are struggling to offer shelter or security.

Since the end of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in early December, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has deepened, with evacuation orders and intense fighting squeezing civilians into an ever-shrinking area.

On Friday, the Israeli military again ordered civilians to move south immediately, this time out of an area in central Gaza that was home to almost 90,000 people before the war. At least 60,000 displaced people, most of whom had fled from northern Gaza, had been sheltering there.

Gazans are struggling without sanitation, food or water. More than 1.7 million displaced people are registered in shelters in the south, including a few hundred thousand people who cannot fit within their walls and are sleeping along roads and in open spaces.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Skepticism Grows Over Israel’s Ability to Dismantle Hamas, Neil MacFarquhar, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Israel has vowed time and again to eliminate the group responsible for the brutal Oct. 7 attack, but critics increasingly see that goal as unrealistic or even impossible.

Israel FlagStanding before a gray backdrop decorated with Hamas logos and emblems of a gunman that commemorate the bloody Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s representative in Lebanon, professed no concern about his Palestinian faction being dislodged from Gaza.

“We are not worried about the future of the Gaza Strip,” he recently told a crowded news conference in his offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “The decision maker is the Palestinian people alone.”

Mr. Hamdan thus dismissed one of Israel’s key objectives since the beginning of its assault on Gaza: to dismantle the Islamist political and military organization that was behind the massacre of about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and which still holds more than 100 hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly emphasized that objective even while facing mounting international pressure to scale back military operations. The Biden administration has dispatched senior envoys to Israel to push for a new phase of the war focused on more targeted operations rather than sweeping destruction.

And critics both within Israel and outside have questioned whether resolving to destroy such a deeply entrenched organization was ever realistic. One former Israeli national security adviser called the plan “vague.”

“I think that we have reached a moment when the Israeli authorities will have to define more clearly what their final objective is,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said this month. “The total destruction of Hamas? Does anybody think that’s possible? If it’s that, the war will last 10 years.”

Since it first emerged in 1987, Hamas has survived repeated attempts to eliminate its leadership. The organization’s very structure was designed to absorb such contingencies, according to political and military specialists. In addition, Israel’s devastating tactics in the Gaza war threaten to radicalize a broader segment of the population, inspiring new recruits.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Gaza War’s Toll Grows, Mediators Seek a Way Out of the Fighting, Aaron Boxerman and Ben Hubbard, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.).Both Israel and Hamas have staked out seemingly intractable positions in public, leading diplomats to say they believe that a truce remains far off.

Israel FlagAs casualties rise in the war between Israel and Hamas and global pressure to de-escalate the violence grows, international mediators are floating proposals for a new cease-fire. But both sides, at least in public, have staked out seemingly intractable conditions, leading diplomats to say they believe a deal for a durable truce remains far off.

In late November, a weeklong cease-fire saw Hamas release more than 100 hostages abducted during their Oct. 7 attack on Israel. In turn, Israel freed roughly 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and allowed more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Mediators in Qatar hoped the pause would lay the basis for an end to the fighting.

Here’s what we know:

  • Both Israel and Hamas have staked out seemingly intractable positions in public, leading diplomats to say they believe that a truce remains far off.
  • Truce proposals circulate, but prospects for a new cease-fire appear remote.
  • Satellite imagery shows Israel’s advance into central Gaza.
  • The number of Palestinians in Israeli jails is at a 14-year high, a rights group says.
  • The latest Israeli raid in the West Bank kills 6, Palestinian officials say.
  • Another video shows Gazan detainees stripped to their underwear.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, exempt from military service, now enlisting, Ruby Mellen, Itay Stern and Heidi Levine, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Mordechai Porat leaves his home each morning in a crisp black suit and hat. It isn’t until he arrives at this army base in central Israel that he changes into his green military fatigues.

Porat, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, doesn’t want his family or neighbors in Bnei Brak spotting him in uniform and discovering his secret: He has enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces.

The 36-year-old social worker is one of a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, who have responded to the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 by enlisting in Israel’s campaign to eradicate the militant group, sometimes quietly, despite the community’s exemption from military service.

Since that surprise attack, when Hamas and allied fighters streamed out of Gaza, killing around 1,200 people and taking 240 more hostage, volunteers from all walks of Israeli life have sought to join the war effort. But the 2,000 new Haredi applicants stand out.

Their exemption from mandatory conscription has long been a point of contention in a country where military service is an integral part of the national identity. It led to the downfall of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019, the start of a four-year election crisis.

ny times logoNew York Times, As World’s Gaze Shifts to Gaza, Israel’s Psyche Remains Defined by Oct. 7, Patrick Kingsley, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Hamas’s brutal raid and taking of hostages has left Israelis deeply traumatized and is expected to reshape the country for years to come.

The Oct. 7 attack on Israel has prompted soul-searching on the Israeli left, undermining faith in a shared future with Palestinians. It has created a crisis of confidence on the Israeli right, sapping support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has drawn ultra-Orthodox Jews, often ambivalent about their relationship to the Israeli state, closer to the mainstream.

Across religious and political divides, Israelis are coming to terms with what the Hamas-led terrorist attack meant for Israel as a state, for Israelis as a society, and for its citizens as individuals. Just as Israel’s failures in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war ultimately upended its political and cultural life, the Oct. 7 assault and its aftershocks are expected to reshape Israel for years to come.

The attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, has collapsed Israelis’ sense of security and shaken their trust in Israel’s leaders. It has shattered the idea that Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank could continue indefinitely without significant fallout for Israelis. And for Israel’s Jewish majority, it has broken the country’s central promise.

When Israel was founded in 1948, the defining goal was to provide a sanctuary for Jews, after 2,000 years of statelessness and persecution. On Oct. 7, that same state proved unable to prevent the worst day of violence against Jews since the Holocaust.

“At that moment, our Israeli identity felt so crushed. It felt like 75 years of sovereignty, of Israeliness, had — in a snap — disappeared,” said Dorit Rabinyan, an Israeli novelist.

“We used to be Israelis,” she added. “Now we are Jewish.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Skepticism Grows Over Israel’s Ability to Dismantle Hamas, Neil MacFarquhar, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Israel has vowed time and again to eliminate the group responsible for the brutal Oct. 7 attack, but critics increasingly see that goal as unrealistic or even impossible.

Israel FlagStanding before a gray backdrop decorated with Hamas logos and emblems of a gunman that commemorate the bloody Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s representative in Lebanon, professed no concern about his Palestinian faction being dislodged from Gaza.

“We are not worried about the future of the Gaza Strip,” he recently told a crowded news conference in his offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “The decision maker is the Palestinian people alone.”

Mr. Hamdan thus dismissed one of Israel’s key objectives since the beginning of its assault on Gaza: to dismantle the Islamist political and military organization that was behind the massacre of about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and which still holds more than 100 hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly emphasized that objective even while facing mounting international pressure to scale back military operations. The Biden administration has dispatched senior envoys to Israel to push for a new phase of the war focused on more targeted operations rather than sweeping destruction.

And critics both within Israel and outside have questioned whether resolving to destroy such a deeply entrenched organization was ever realistic. One former Israeli national security adviser called the plan “vague.”

“I think that we have reached a moment when the Israeli authorities will have to define more clearly what their final objective is,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said this month. “The total destruction of Hamas? Does anybody think that’s possible? If it’s that, the war will last 10 years.”

Since it first emerged in 1987, Hamas has survived repeated attempts to eliminate its leadership. The organization’s very structure was designed to absorb such contingencies, according to political and military specialists. In addition, Israel’s devastating tactics in the Gaza war threaten to radicalize a broader segment of the population, inspiring new recruits.

 

gaza destruction

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, How Trump Plans to Wield Power in 2025: What We Know, Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Charlie Savage, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Donald J. Trump and his allies are already laying the groundwork for a possible second Trump presidency, forging plans for an even more extreme agenda than his first term.

Since beginning his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said the “termination” of the Constitution would have been justified to overturn the 2020 election, told followers “I am your retribution” and vowed to use the Justice Department to prosecute his adversaries — starting with President Biden and his family.

FBI logoBeneath these public threats is a series of plans by Mr. Trump and his allies that would upend core elements of American governance, democracy, foreign policy and the rule of law if he regains the White House.

Some of these themes trace back to the final period of Mr. Trump’s term in office. By that stage, his key advisers had learned how to more effectively wield power and Mr. Trump had fired officials who resisted some of his impulses and replaced them with loyalists. Then he lost the 2020 election and was cast out of power.

CIA LogoSince leaving office, Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies at a network of well-funded groups have advanced policies, created lists of potential personnel and started shaping new legal scaffolding — laying the groundwork for a second Trump presidency they hope will commence on Jan. 20, 2025.

In a vague statement, two top officials on Mr. Trump’s campaign have sought to distance his campaign team from some of the plans being developed by Mr. Trump’s outside allies, groups led by former senior Trump administration officials who remain in direct contact with him. The statement called news reports about the campaign’s personnel and policy intentions “purely speculative and theoretical.”

The plans described here generally derive from what Mr. Trump has trumpeted on the campaign trail, what has appeared on his campaign website and interviews with Trump advisers, including some who spoke with The New York Times at the request of the campaign.
Trump wants to use the Justice Department to take vengeance on his political adversaries.

If he wins another term, Mr. Trump has said he would use the Justice Department to have his adversaries investigated and charged with crimes, including saying in June that he would appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” President Biden and his family. He later declared in an interview with Univision that he could, if someone challenged him politically, have that person indicted.

Allies of Mr. Trump have also been developing an intellectual blueprint to cast aside the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department investigatory independence from White House political direction.

Foreshadowing such a move, Mr. Trump had already violated norms in his 2016 campaign by promising to “lock up” his opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. While president, he repeatedly told aides he wanted the Justice Department to indict his political enemies, including officials he had fired such as James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director. The Justice Department opened various such investigations but did not bring charges — infuriating Mr. Trump and leading to a split in 2020 with his attorney general, William P. Barr.

Politico, Trump shares cryptic ‘dictatorship’ word cloud on Truth Social, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). It’s not the first time Trump has called himself a dictator, but it’s the first time he’s said it via word cloud.

politico CustomVoters surveyed by the Daily Mail described former President Donald Trump’s political goals as “corruption,” “revenge” and “dictatorship.”

On Tuesday, Trump appeared to voice his agreement with their assessments.

djt maga hatIn a cryptic post on Truth Social, Trump shared a word cloud with the results of a Daily Mail survey released Tuesday that prominently displayed the words “corruption,” “revenge,” “dictatorship” and “power,” indicating that those answers were provided by a large number of participants asked about Trump’s plans for a second term in office.

There was no caption or comment attached to the post. The Trump campaign also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s not the first time Trump has called himself a dictator or hinted at his authoritarian desires, but it’s the first time he’s embraced the label via word cloud. Earlier this month, the Republican frontrunner told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would not be a dictator “except for day one.”

Trump has doubled down on those comments, telling a gathering of the New York Young Republican Club in Manhattan a few days later that “I said I want to be a dictator for one day” and added, “you know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

Trump has also lavished praise on authoritarian leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un.

The former president has said a second Trump administration would “root out” detractors “who live like vermin” from within the government. Allies and surrogates of the former president have also hinted at possible retribution and retaliation at media figures. Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist who served at the Department of Defense and National Security Council during his presidency, said in a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast that “we will go out and find the conspirators not just in government, but in the media.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Trump Is Not the Only Reason to Fix This Uniquely Dangerous Law, Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, robert bauerDec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Mr. Bauer, right, and Mr. Goldsmith are chairs of the Presidential Reform Project and authors of “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency.”

The Insurrection Act is a dangerous centuries-old federal statute that authorizes the president, with few restraints, to deploy the U.S. military inside the United States to suppress threats the president perceives to the constitutional order. Commentators have recently proposed tightening the law following reports that former President Donald Trump and his advisers are planning to use it aggressively for law enforcement and to quell domestic disturbances if Mr. Trump is once more elected.

This focus on Trump is understandable but inadequate in capturing the compelling case for reform. It has been clear for decades that the poorly drafted and antiquated law needs revision. There is an opportunity in 2024 to make targeted changes to the statute’s main flaws — and, critically, in a way that both parties would have good reason to support.

The Insurrection Act empowers the president to order the armed forces and state militias into action within the United States and against American citizens in numerous ill-defined circumstances. The president can, for example, deploy military force where states call upon federal assistance in quelling an “insurrection”; or as the president “considers necessary” to enforce federal law against “obstructions,” “combinations” or “assemblages”; or alternatively to quell any “domestic violence” or “conspiracy” that impedes the enforcement of constitutional rights or even “the course of justice” under federal law.

The Insurrection Act has been invoked a more than two dozen times in American history. Presidents have relied on it, for example, to respond to riots (as President George H.W. Bush did in 1992 in response to violent protests following the failed prosecution of the police officers who beat Rodney King) and to meet defiance of federal law (as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower did to enforce court-ordered desegregation of public schools in Southern states).

The problem is that the act has very broad and imprecise triggers to its operation and no temporal constraints, and it does not specify any role for Congress to assess, shape or limit the president’s response to an emergency. It is in many respects like the Electoral Count Act, which Congress by large bipartisan majorities revised in 2022 to govern the final tally of the state electoral votes for presidents and vice presidents: a statute widely recognized to be poorly designed and clearly susceptible to harmful misinterpretation and application, yet left on the books for too long because the dangers it presented had not yet come to pass.

Both major political parties in Congress supported Electoral Count Act reform last year and now appear to support broad emergency power reform in other contexts. For the same general reasons, Democrats and Republicans should want to deny any president unchecked authority to use the military in the homeland.

There is no serious dispute, on the merits, that the Insurrection Act gives any president far too much unchecked power. It is hard for anyone to argue that a president should be able to unleash U.S. troops or state militias without any accountability beyond public opinion or impeachment.

Also, reform of the act gives no inherent advantage to one party over the other. We hear much now about Mr. Trump’s potential use of troops at home, but in our polarized society it is easy to imagine each party fearing that a president affiliated with the other may use this tool to his or her political advantage — especially once a president sets a precedent by invoking it aggressively for this reason. In a norm-busting era, Congress should check this foreseeable tit for tat now.

Republicans should have particular interest in Insurrection Act reform, despite the current focus on Mr. Trump. Many members of the Republican Party have been worried about possible politicization of the military, as well as the Pentagon’s recruitment and retention difficulties. As military leaders have long understood, few things politicize the military more than its deployment for domestic control.

Tightening the Insurrection Act would also check abuses of the statute to trample on traditional state law enforcement prerogatives. The act gives presidents full license to call out the military or the militia if they unilaterally conclude that they must enforce state laws because the president determines that the states themselves “are unable, fail or refuse” to do so.

Insurrection Act reform has many potential moving parts. There are three vital elements.

First, Congress should tighten the triggers to presidential invocation of the act. It should eliminate vague and obsolete terms like “assemblage” and “combination”; clearly define other terms like “insurrection” and “domestic violence”; and narrow the president’s seemingly boundless discretion to determine when the act’s triggers are satisfied.

Second, it should require the president to consult with state and local authorities to ensure that troop deployment is needed to address a serious threat to safety; to make findings to that effect; and to report to and consult with Congress on a regular basis.

Third, and perhaps most important, Congress should place a relatively short sunset provision on a president’s invocation of the act — weeks, not months — subject to additional short-term continued deployments approved by Congress. This is where the rubber meets the road, since Congress might not approve the president’s continued use of the military.

But any threat that justifies using the military for domestic law enforcement should be severe enough for majorities of Congress to approve the action, and the dangers of presidential abuse here outweigh the dangers of congressional gridlock.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump falsely claims U.S. soldier killed abroad in burst of misstatements, Isaac Arnsdorf and Dan Lamothe, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Republican polling leader Donald Trump incorrectly said a U.S. soldier died in recent days, appearing to exaggerate the injuries from an attack in northern Iraq on Monday as he sought to criticize President Biden.

The attack left one U.S. service member in critical condition and two others injured, according to a statement released by U.S. military officials Monday night. The United States responded with retaliatory airstrikes against an Iran-backed armed group.

But the former president, who is a heavy favorite in the 2024 GOP primary, inaccurately described the situation in an interview Wednesday with pro-Trump journalist John Solomon.

“Last night, a young soldier was killed, U.S., and the two were very, very badly hurt and nobody even talks about it,” Trump said, describing the assault two nights prior. “It’s not even believable.”

ny times logoNew York Times, True-Crime Podcasts About Trump Are Everywhere, Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). MSNBC, NPR, Vox Media and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are all aiming to capitalize on interest in the criminal cases against President Donald J. Trump with the shows.

True crime is among the most popular genres in podcasting. One of the biggest stories in the coming months is the wave of criminal charges facing former President Donald J. Trump.

The result: a boomlet of podcasts dedicated to the criminal cases against him.

MSNBC, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, NPR, Vox Media and The First TV, an upstart conservative media company, have all introduced or are about to start new shows examining Mr. Trump’s courtroom travails as he campaigns to win back the White House.

On MSNBC’s “Prosecuting Donald Trump,” the legal commentators Andrew Weissmann and Mary McCord offer analysis gleaned from their years serving as prosecutors. A recent episode of “Breakdown,” from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, includes a newsy interview with Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney. Recently on “Trump’s Trials,” the NPR host Scott Detrow discussed whether Mr. Trump could claim presidential immunity.

The criminal charges against Mr. Trump — brought by state prosecutors in New York and Georgia, as well as in two federal indictments — involve allegations of election interference, his role in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, his handling of sensitive documents and payments to cover up a sex scandal. Mr. Trump denies any wrongdoing.

Many of the hosts interviewed by The New York Times cited the newsworthiness of the story — a former president and a leading candidate for the office is facing a legal onslaught while battling for the White House — as the impetus to go wall to wall with dedicated podcasts.

“He is the far and away front-runner to the nomination and has a real chance of being president again,” Mr. Detrow said. “That, to me, is an enormous legal story, an enormous political story.”

But there is a significant potential economic upside as well: capturing a slice of the $2.4 billion that advertisers are expected to spend on podcasts in 2024, according to the data firm eMarketer. For years, news organizations have benefited financially from the public’s interest in Mr. Trump — colloquially known as the “Trump bump.”

“The number of users is up, but the number of people vying for those users in terms of dollars is also way up,” said Chris Balfe, founder of The First TV.

Mr. Trump’s legal challenges present an unusual twist on the true-crime genre, which often focuses on grisly murders or dramatic heists. “Serial,” a podcast from the creators of “This American Life,” was a pioneer of the category, which has also included entrants like “Exit Scam” (about a vanished cryptocurrency mogul) and “Last Seen,” a suspenseful yarn about the theft of 13 irreplaceable artworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. (The New York Times Company now owns Serial Productions, maker of “Serial.”)

The Trump cases, by contrast, involve complicated questions about the Constitution and democracy. Adding to the complexity: They span state and federal jurisdictions in Florida, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.

Podcasts are an ideal format to explain the nuances to the public, because they give journalists the time and space to examine complicated issues at length, Mr. Balfe said. They also allow news organizations to create a listener destination for coverage quickly and relatively inexpensively, with two mics and a simple distribution feed for Spotify and Apple Podcasts, he said.

“You don’t have to go lease a beautiful studio on Sixth Avenue and hire a crew and all this other stuff,” Mr. Balfe said. “A podcast is a low-floor, high-ceiling way to start a new product. And if it works, it can be very successful, very quickly.”

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the largest newspaper in Georgia, dedicated the latest season of its true-crime podcast, “Breakdown,” to the criminal investigation. Since then, it has been all Trump, all the time, with 22 episodes on the topic since August.

This year, the podcast garnered more than one million downloads, making it the newspaper’s most popular, finding audiences in Florida, California and New York, according to a spokeswoman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The newspaper also has three full-time reporters covering Mr. Trump’s case in Fulton County, where he faces 13 felony charges, including racketeering.

Tamar Hallerman, one of those reporters, co-anchors the podcast. She describes herself as a “recovering Washington correspondent.” (She was previously a reporter at Roll Call.)

“All of these legal cases that Trump is in the middle of are already creating a unique set of circumstances for a leading presidential candidate,” said Ms. Hallerman, who covered the 2016 presidential campaign. “This is absolutely not business as usual for the campaign press corps.”

Preet Bharara, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has dedicated much of one of his three podcasts for Vox Media to the criminal investigations facing Mr. Trump. Mr. Bharara has covered Mr. Trump’s legal issues since 2018, saying, “There’s really been no shortage of legal-based news.”

Yet “the dam broke” in April, he said, after Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, brought the first criminal charges against Mr. Trump.

“Every month or two, there was another one,” Mr. Bharara said. “And it became clear that that was going to be a central focus.”

Political coverage of Mr. Trump should focus on the criminal investigations into the former president, rather than traditional horse-race coverage, said Timothy Crouse, whose 1973 book, “The Boys on the Bus,” about the media’s coverage of the previous year’s presidential campaign, became a classic of the genre.

Investigative reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, not campaign reporters, did the most enduring political journalism of that era, Mr. Crouse said. At the time, many campaign reporters were skeptical of those stories. He added that sustained exploration of Mr. Trump’s criminal charges would probably follow the same pattern.

“Fewer political reporters might be OK, but only if that decrease were to be balanced by an increase in investigative reporters,” Mr. Crouse said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Michigan Supreme Court Decides Trump Can Stay on Ballot, Julie Bosman and Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). After Colorado’s top court ruled that former President Trump was disqualified for engaging in insurrection, justices in Michigan considered a similar challenge.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday paved the way for Donald J. Trump to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a victory for the former president in a battleground state.

The state’s top court upheld an appeals court decision that found that the former president could appear on the ballot despite questions about his eligibility to hold elected office because of his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

The Michigan decision followed a bombshell ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court, which on Dec. 19 determined in a 4-3 opinion that Mr. Trump should be removed from the state’s 2024 Republican primary ballot for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The question of Mr. Trump’s eligibility is widely expected to be answered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some form of challenge to Mr. Trump’s eligibility has been lodged in more than 30 states, but many of those have already been dismissed.

The challengers’ arguments are based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies anyone from holding federal office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution after having taken an oath to support it.

ny times logoNew York Times, One of the 16 fake electors for Donald Trump in Michigan expressed deep regret about his participation, Danny Hakim, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The Trump supporter is the only one of the 16 fake Michigan electors who has agreed to cooperate with the authorities and had charges against him dropped.

One of the Republicans in Michigan who acted as a fake elector for Donald J. Trump expressed deep regret about his participation, according to a recording of his interview with the state attorney general’s office that was obtained by The New York Times.

The elector, James Renner, is thus far the only Trump elector who has reached an agreement with the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, which brought criminal charges in July against all 16 of the state’s fake Trump electors. In October, Ms. Nessel’s office dropped all charges against Mr. Renner after he agreed to cooperate.

Mr. Renner, 77, was a late substitution to the roster of electors in December 2020 after two others dropped out. He told the attorney general’s office that he later realized, after reviewing testimony from the House investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, that he and other electors had acted improperly.

“I can’t overemphasize how once I read the information in the J6 transcripts how upset I was that the legitimate process had not been followed,” he said in the interview. “I felt that I had been walked into a situation that I shouldn’t have ever been involved in.”

 

Colorado Supreme Court Building

The Colorado Supreme Court, with 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter
Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

The Colorado Supreme Court, 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

washington post logoWashington Post, Law enforcement investigating threats to Colorado justices after Trump ruling, Maegan Vazquez, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). In the wake of the ruling, law enforcement officials say they’ve become aware of both phone and social media threats to the justices who ruled in favor of barring him from the ballot.

Local and federal law enforcement officials say they are investigating a surge in threats that justices on Colorado’s Supreme Court are facing after their decision this week to bar Donald Trump from running in the state’s presidential primary.
Keeping up with politics is easy with The 5-Minute Fix Newsletter, in your inbox weekdays.

djt maga hatIn a 4 to 3 decision Tuesday, the court ruled that Trump should be kept off the ballot because he engaged in an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, violating the part of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits insurrectionists from holding high office.

After the ruling, law enforcement say they’ve become aware of telephone and social media threats to the justices who ruled to bar Trump from the ballot.

FBI logo“The FBI is aware of the situation and working with local law enforcement,” Vikki Migoya, a public affairs officer for the FBI’s Denver field office, said in a statement. “We will vigorously pursue investigations of any threat or use of violence committed by someone who uses extremist views to justify their actions regardless of motivation.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

arthur engoron djt  New York Justice Arthur F. Engoron, above left, whose decisions in the civil fraud trial are already facing scrutiny as Donald Trump counts on an appeal.

New York Justice Arthur F. Engoron, above left, whose decisions in the civil fraud trial are already facing scrutiny as Donald Trump counts on an appeal.

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

ap logoAssociated Press, Sweden moves a step closer to NATO membership after Turkey’s parliamentary committee gives approval, Suzan Fraser, Dec. 26, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday, drawing the previously nonaligned Nordic country closer to membership in the Western military alliance.

Sweden’s accession protocol will now need to be approved in the Turkish parliament’s general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process in Turkey. No date has been set.

Turkey, a NATO member, has delayed ratification of Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee had begun discussing Sweden’s membership in NATO last month. But the meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed more clarification and that negotiations with Sweden hadn’t “matured” enough.

On Tuesday, the committee resumed its deliberations and a large majority of legislators in the committee voted in favor of Sweden’s application to join.

Briefing the committee members before the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken steps to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws in ways that “no one could have imaged five or six years ago.”

“It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfill all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort,” he said, adding that Turkey would continue to monitor Sweden’s progress.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström welcomed the committee’s decision on a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The next step is for parliament to vote on the matter. We look forward to becoming a member of NATO,” he tweeted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the development, saying that he counts on Turkey and Hungary “to now complete their ratifications as soon as possible. Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary hasn’t announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

recep erdogan with flagEarlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above) had openly linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Erdogan also also called on Canada and other NATO allies to life arms embargoes imposed on Turkey.

The White House has backed the Turkish F-16 request but there is opposition in Congress to military sales to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Property Crisis Blew Up Bets That Couldn’t Lose, Claire Fu and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Citic said its new fund was as safe as they come because it would invest in real estate. Then the developer defaulted and the projects stalled.

China FlagOne of China’s largest investment firms, Citic Trust, had a clear pitch to investors when it was aiming to raise $1.7 billion to fund property development in 2020: There is no safer Chinese investment than real estate.

The trust, the investment arm of the state-owned financial conglomerate Citic, called housing “China’s economic ballast” and “an indispensable value investment.” The money it raised would be put toward four projects from Sunac China Holdings, a major developer.

Three years later, investors who put their money in the Citic fund have recouped only a small fraction of their investment. Three of the fund’s construction projects are on hold or significantly delayed because of financing problems or poor sales. Sunac has defaulted and is trying to restructure its debt.

The unraveling of the Citic fund provides a window into the broader problems facing China’s ailing property sector. What started as a housing slump has escalated into a full-blown crisis. The budgets of local governments, which depended on revenue from real estate, have been destabilized. The shock to the country’s financial system has drained China’s capital markets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Death of ‘Parasite’ Star Highlights South Korea’s Latest Crackdown on Drugs, John Yoon, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The actor, Lee Sun-kyun, had been questioned on suspicion of drug use in a country that takes a hard line against anything other than total abstinence.

south korea flag SmallLee Sun-kyun, the “Parasite” actor who was found dead on Wednesday, was far from the only celebrity entangled in South Korea’s latest antidrug crackdown.

Yoo Ah-in, the actor known for his roles in the 2018 film “Burning” and the 2021 Netflix series “Hellbound,” is facing trial after testing positive for propofol, marijuana, ketamine and cocaine, officials say. Several South Korean retailers have cut ties with the actor since the drug accusations became public. He is no longer listed as a cast member for the second season of “Hellbound.”

G-Dragon, the rapper and former member of the K-pop boy group BigBang, had been under investigation for possible drug use until the police dropped the case earlier this month after he tested negative on several drug tests. Nevertheless, BMW Korea removed images of him from its online advertisements.

The recent accusations against high-profile entertainers here have highlighted the continuation of a strict antidrug policy and attitudes in South Korea that have drawn a hard line against anything other than total abstinence from drug use.

ny times logoNew York Times, Criticize This African Country’s Army and You Might Be Drafted, Monika Pronczuk, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The military burkina faso locationjunta in Burkina Faso, a West African nation struggling to defeat extremist groups, has been forcibly conscripting critics, human rights groups said.

Burkina Faso, a previously stable, landlocked nation of 20 million, has been torn apart in the past eight burkino fasoyears by violence from extremist groups loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In the ensuing chaos, the country went through two coups in just 10 months, the second last year by a military junta vowing to contain militant groups by any means.

ny times logoNew York Times, In a British Town, a New Way of Caring for Older People Is Bringing Hope, Megan Specia, Dec. 29, 2023. An “integrated care center” brings doctors, physiotherapists and social workers under one roof. It could help Britain’s underlying social care crisis.

For 12 years after her husband died, Norma Fitzgerald tried to maintain her independence, living alone in an apartment on the outskirts of Hull, in northern England, despite her mobility worsening as she reached her mid-80s.

Then one day in the spring of 2022, she suddenly grew dizzy. Her legs gave out, and she collapsed on her apartment floor, unable to find the strength to get up.

She lay there for two days.

Eventually, a neighbor realized she hadn’t seen her for some time and called an ambulance.

“They had to force the door open,” Ms. Fitzgerald, who is now 87, recalled. She was severely dehydrated and spent the next five days in a hospital.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hong Kong Stocks Plunge to Losses for 4th Straight Year, Alexandra Stevenson, Dec. 29, 2023. Investors worried about China’s economy shunned Hong Kong’s stock market, once one of the biggest and most important in the world.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pilot Pulled the Wrong Levers in Nepal Crash That Killed 72, Investigators Find, Bhadra Sharma and John Yoon, Dec. 29, 2023. One pilot changed the propeller angle instead of that of the wing flaps while trying to land a Yeti Airlines plane in January, a report said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tesla Strike Is a Culture Clash: Swedish Labor vs. American Management, Melissa Eddy, Dec. 29, 2023. Workers seeking a collective agreement from the automaker say they are pushing for their rights, but car owners see them as taking the fight too far.

tesla logoThe Tesla technicians who walked off their jobs in Sweden say they still support the mission of the American company and its headline-grabbing chief executive. But they also want Tesla to accept the Swedish way of doing business.

They call it the Swedish Model, a way of life that has defined the country’s economy for decades. At its heart is cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that both sides benefit from a company’s profit.

Instead, four technicians who walked off their jobs on Oct. 27 said, they have been subjected to what they described as a “typical U.S. model”: six-day workweeks, unavoidable overtime and an unclear evaluation system for promotion.

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sudan sudanese flag on the map of africa

 

U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

ny times logoNew York Times, Flynn’s Rhode Island Hall of Fame Inclusion Prompts Resignations, Christine Hauser and Amanda Holpuch, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). At least five board members resigned and said that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser for President Trump, should not be recognized.

michael flynn djtAt least five board members who oversee the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame have resigned from the organization after Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser under Donald J. Trump, was chosen to be inducted in 2024.

In resignation letters seen by The New York Times and in interviews, the board members said that Mr. Flynn (shown below at center taking what was reported to have been an "oath" to the fringe movement QAnon), who has embraced conspiracy theories and is a prominent election denier, should not be recognized by the organization.

michael flynn qanon oath summer 2000

The hall of fame was founded in 1965 and recognizes people from Rhode Island “who made significant contributions” or who came to prominence for work they did while they lived in the state. Inductees in 2023 included Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, the first Black person and the second woman confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and J.L. “Lynn” Singleton, the president and chief executive of the Providence Performing Arts Center.

Mr. Flynn, who is from Rhode Island, was among those chosen to be inducted into the 2024 Hall of Fame class in a Dec. 13 vote by 19 board members. A cascade of board resignations followed, The Providence Journal and The Boston Globe first reported.

John Tarantino, a lawyer, and Bea Lanzi, a former state senator, resigned in a letter to Lawrence Reid, the president of the hall of fame’s board, and other board members. A copy of their joint letter, which was dated Dec. 14 and was provided to The Times on Friday, said that the vote result was “both disappointing and astounding to us.”

“There is an overall right and wrong in the universe, and what has happened here, in our view, and according to our moral compasses, and consciences, compels us to resign,” the letter said.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Prosecutors oppose Menendez’s effort to delay bribery trial until July, Staff Report, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The New Jersey senator and his wife stand accused in a corruption case.

robert menendez offFederal prosecutors on Tuesday urged a judge to reject Sen. Bob Menendez’s request to delay his bribery trial scheduled for next spring by two months, until July.

politico CustomProsecutors argued against the postponement a week after defense lawyers offered multiple reasons why they say a trial of the New Jersey Democrat, right, and co-defendants, including his wife, should be delayed.

The senator gave up his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his September arrest, but he is seeking reelection in 2024. The state typically holds its primary in June.

Prosecutors said the original May 6 trial date was appropriate and drew no objections when it was announced even though circumstances were the same.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. struck Iran-backed groups in Iraq during a round of retaliation for a series of assaults, Helene Cooper, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The strikes followed an attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq that injured three U.S. service members, officials said, one critically.

Tuesday in Iraq, most likely killing militants and destroying three facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. officials said.

The American strikes were in retaliation for a series of assaults, including a drone attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq, according to Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman. The drone attack injured three American service members, one of them critically, she said.

“My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The latest strikes targeted facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group in Iraq that is considered a proxy of Iran. The United States blames Iran and the militias aligned with it for what has become a near-daily barrage of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The Biden administration has sought to calibrate retaliatory airstrikes to ultimately deter such groups while avoiding a wider war.

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GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

Palm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn't testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment?

lev parnas ivanka jared kushnerPalm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn't testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment? Antonio Fins, Dec. 29, 2023. Lev Parnas, shown at center between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, was a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Trump and is at the heart of the current inquiry of President Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas is telling his side of the story whether a congressional panel wants to listen or not.

The man who was a central figure in the 2019 Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump is now revealing insights into and details of the diplomatic impropriety that is, today, at the heart of the current inquiry into President Joe Biden. But it's a message that House Republicans intent on exposing the so-called "Biden crime family" may not be eager to broadcast to the U.S. electorate.

"The whole motive and the whole Biden stuff was never about getting justice, and getting to the bottom of Biden criminality or doing an investigation in Ukraine," Parnas said. "It was all about announcing an investigation and using that in the media to be able to destroy the Biden campaign and have Trump win."

That much itself is not a novel revelation. The argument was adjudicated in Trump's impeachment probe and trial in the U.S. Senate in early 2020, which ended with the president's acquittal.

But Parnas, a 51-year-old Boca Raton resident, is laying out what he calls a complete story with added pieces of information at a critical juncture as the attempt to impeach Biden rolls into the high-stakes 2024 election year. It all amounts to, Parnas admits, a costly "escapade" which ultimately helped land embattled Ukraine in the crosshairs of U.S. politics.

Whether the House Oversight Committee and its Republican chair, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, will mind what Parnas has to say seems a highly unlikely proposition. But Parnas is taking his case to the American public.

In December, he will release a book, Shadow Diplomacy, and a podcast, "Lev Remembers," will follow. He also is cooperating on a documentary. The common denominator among all the productions is a singular narrative, he said, aimed at "getting the truth out" about what happened with Trump and Ukraine.

"It's all because of one individual that wanted to stay in power, that didn't want to relinquish power," he said.
Genesis of Ukraine scandal was a phone call, but not the one you have heard about

Among the twists disclosed in a pre-publication, limited version of Shadow Diplomacy was a phone call that kicked off five years of alleged Ukraine political "witch hunts."

In the fall of 2018, Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, were busy networking global and Trump administration connections to get their energy trading and exploration company on sure financial footing. Parnas writes that he was working one of his key administration contacts, Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani.

The pair frequented a Manhattan locale, The Grand Havana Room, where Parnas wrote that one evening that November the two "were talking about ways to get my business off the ground." That's when Giuliani, Parnas writes, excused himself to answer a phone call from a former associate with a tip about the former vice president and his son, Hunter.

The associate told Giuliani in that call, according to Parnas, that the Bidens "had been involved in something perhaps a bit shadier than mere conflict of interest in Ukraine." And, Parnas relates, there were receipts — purportedly "a couple of letters, whistleblower complaints."

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, First Amendment claim struck down in Project Veritas case focused on diary of Biden’s daughter, Staff Report, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Criminal prosecutors may soon get to see over 900 documents pertaining to the alleged theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden.

politico CustomCriminal prosecutors may soon get to see over 900 documents pertaining to the alleged theft of a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter after a judge rejected the conservative group Project Veritas’ First Amendment claim.

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said on behalf of the nonprofit Monday that attorneys are considering appealing last Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan. In the written decision, the judge said the documents can be given to investigators by Jan. 5.

james okeefeThe documents were produced from raids that were authorized in November 2021. Electronic devices were also seized from the residences of three members of Project Veritas, including two mobile phones from the home of James O’Keefe, above, the group’s since-fired founder.

Project Veritas, founded in 2010, identifies itself as a news organization. It is best known for conducting hidden camera stings that have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians.

In written arguments, lawyers for Project Veritas and O’Keefe said the government’s investigation “seems undertaken not to vindicate any real interests of justice, but rather to stifle the press from investigating the President’s family.”

“It is impossible to imagine the government investigating an abandoned diary (or perhaps the other belongings left behind with it), had the diary not been written by someone with the last name ‘Biden,’” they added.

The judge rejected the First Amendment arguments, saying in the ruling that they were “inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.” She also noted that Project Veritas could not claim it was protecting the identity of a confidential source from public disclosure after two individuals publicly pleaded guilty in the case.

She was referencing the August 2022 guilty pleas of Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander to conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Both await sentencing.

The pleas came two years after Harris and Kurlander — two Florida residents who are not employed by Project Veritas — discovered that Ashley Biden, the president’s daughter, had stored items including a diary at a friend’s Delray Beach, Florida, house.

They said they initially hoped to sell some of the stolen property to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign, but a representative turned them down and told them to take the material to the FBI, prosecutors say.

Politico, House GOP traps itself in impeachment box, Jordain Carney, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans are barreling toward an impeachment vote, still short of a majority. But if they skip one altogether, it might look like failure to the base.

politico CustomNow that House Republicans have formalized the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, anything less than voting to remove him could look like failure.

republican elephant logoRight now, though, they don’t have the votes to do that — putting them in a bind of their own making.

Much of the House GOP has tried to keep the question of a full-scale removal vote at arm’s length, despite the course they’ve charted U.S. House logotoward formal articles of impeachment. It’s not hard to see why: They’ll start the election year with only a three-vote majority, which could shrink even further, and 17 incumbents who represent districts Biden won. Plus, Democrats are almost guaranteed to unanimously oppose impeachment.

All that means a vote to recommend booting the president from office would be highly risky.

Republicans stress they’ve only endorsed giving their investigations more legal teeth, as they’ve struggled to find clear evidence linking decisions made by Joe Biden to his family’s business deals. And that’s the bar some centrists have emphasized that investigators need to clear in order to earn enough votes.

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More On U.S. National Politics, Government

herb kohl

ny times logoNew York Times, Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88, Robert D. McFadden, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A member of the family that founded Kohl’s department stores, he guarded federal budgets as a U.S. senator while spending lavishly to revive the N.B.A. team he owned.

senate democrats logoHerbert H. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who kept watch over federal budgets in four terms as a United States senator, but who as the die-hard owner of the National Basketball Association’s often mediocre Milwaukee Bucks spent lavishly to keep the team afloat in his hometown, died on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Milwaukee. He was 88. A photo from a Bucks tribute to him is shown above.

His death, after a brief illness, was announced by the Herb Kohl Foundation, his nonprofit organization.

By his own account, Milwaukee meant everything to Mr. Kohl. His parents had immigrated to the city from Poland and Russia early in the 20th century, and his father, Maxwell Kohl, had opened a corner grocery store there in 1927. Herbert and his three siblings were born and raised in the city, scions of a family that in one generation had built an empire of Kohl’s stores across the Upper Midwest.

In Wisconsin and surrounding states, the Kohl name became almost as familiar as Schlitz, which called itself “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” By 1972, when the British American Tobacco Company bought a controlling interest in Kohl’s, the company, still managed by the Kohl family, had 50 grocery stores, six department stores and several networks of pharmacies and liquor stores.

In 2012, under new owners, Kohl’s became the largest department store chain in the United States, surpassing J.C. Penney, its biggest competitor.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Home-schoolers got rid of state oversight. Now they face unexpected pushback, Peter Jamison and Laura Meckler, Dec. 28, 2023. Some states are considering new regulations amid efforts by school-choice advocates to give home-school families taxpayer funding.

When Melanie Elsey stepped up to the lectern at the Ohio Statehouse in April, it looked like a triumphant season for home-schoolers.

Lawmakers would soon roll back what little oversight the state exercised over its booming population of home educators. Now they were discussing what should have been an equally welcome policy. As part of an expansive school-choice bill, Republican legislators wanted to offer home-schoolers thousands of dollars in taxpayer funding each year.

Yet Elsey, a former home-school mom representing Christian Home Educators of Ohio — the state’s oldest and most influential home-schooling association — delivered a surprising message to members of a House education committee: Home-schoolers didn’t want the money.

“These families value their freedom to direct and provide educational opportunities for their children,” she said. Ohio home-schooling leaders worried that if they accepted government funding they would also be forced to accept government regulation of the kind that the home-schooling movement had spent decades dismantling.

The situation in Ohio illustrates the extraordinary moment at which America’s home-schooling movement finds itself after nearly a half-century of activism.

Few causes have enjoyed more success. In the 1980s, it was illegal in most of the United States for parents who weren’t trained educators to teach their children at home.

Today home schooling is not only legal for parents without teaching credentials; many states don’t require them to have graduated from high school. In much of the country, oversight of home educators is scant, or nonexistent.

After an Ohio couple was exposed running a Nazi home-schooling network earlier this year, state officials promised to investigate but eventually declared themselves powerless to do anything. And five months later, state lawmakers eliminated a decades-old requirement that home-school parents submit assessments of their children’s academic progress to school districts.

Only three states impose mandatory testing on most home-schooled children. A majority of states don’t require any form of academic assessment — and even in those that do, the results are often ignored. Over the summer, Vermont Education Agency officials persuaded legislators to end a requirement that home-schoolers send instructional plans and assessment results to the state, saying it lacked the staff to review them.

The number of families in this largely unmonitored educational landscape has soared, growing at a rate far faster than the population of public or private schools. A Washington Post analysis estimated there could be as many as 2.7 million home-schooled children in the United States, up from about 1.5 million before the pandemic.

But there are signs that the mainstream may be a less comfortable place than the margins for the activists who shaped America’s hands-off approach to home education.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge approves Georgia’s Republican-drawn congressional districts, Azi Paybarah, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A federal judge in Georgia signed off Thursday on congressional districts redrawn this month by the state’s Republican-led legislature, ruling that the new map did not continue to illegally dilute the power of Black voters as Democrats and civil rights groups have argued.

steve jones judge“The Court finds that the General Assembly fully complied with this Court’s order requiring the creation of Black-majority districts in the regions of the State where vote dilution was found,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones, right, of the Northern District of Georgia.

The ruling by Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, is likely to maintain the 9-5 majority that Republicans hold in Georgia’s delegation to the U.S. House. Georgia is among several states where challenges to congressional maps could affect the makeup of the U.S. House next year.

In October, Jones found that Georgia’s congressional map, which was previously redrawn by Republican lawmakers in 2021, violated the Voting Rights Act, writing that Black voters in Georgia have “suffered significant harm.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Ohio governor vetoes ban on gender-affirming care for minors, Anumita Kaur, Dec. 29, 2023. Ohio Gov. Mike mike dewine oDeWine (R) struck down a bill that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, preserving such care for residents beyond his state as well, because families of transgender youths who live in states with bans have been traveling to Ohio for treatment.

Republicans, who have a supermajority in the legislature, could override DeWine’s veto and are expected to push back.

“This bill would impact a very small number of Ohio’s children. But for those children who face gender dysphoria, the consequences of this bill could not be more profound. Ultimately I believe this is about protecting human life,” DeWine said Friday during a news conference announcing the decision. “Many parents have told me that their child would not have survived, would be dead today, if they had not received the treatment they received from one of Ohio’s children’s hospitals.”

“These are gut-wrenching decisions that should be made by parents and should be informed by teams of doctors who are advising them,” DeWine continued. “Were I to sign House Bill 68, or were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government knows better what is medically best for a child than the two people who love that child the most: The parents.”

Hundreds of anti-trans bills have wound their way through dozens of state legislatures across the country. Almost half the states in the nation have passed laws targeting transgender people — including states that border Ohio. Many of these bills ban gender-affirming care for minors and restrict trans girls’ participation in school athletics.

washington post logoWashington Post, Her story fueled anti-trans bills. Now, she’s fighting them, Casey Parks, Dec. 27, 2023. Carey Callahan was once a prominent critic of gender-affirming care for minors. Then she began to worry her words were leading to outcomes she didn’t support.

washington post logoWashington Post, Plan for new Caps, Wizards arena in Va. stirs up its would-be neighbors, Teo Armus, Dec. 28, 2023. Just weeks after an official announcement, the sports complex proposed for Alexandria’s Potomac Yard has become the city’s biggest source of debate

When Virginia officials and corporate executives formally announced their plans earlier this month to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards to a new arena in Alexandria, the audience watching them inside a heated tent cheered the deal with unwavering applause.

But less than 12 hours after celebrating the news onstage, Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson (D) found himself fielding a very different reaction: a volley of pointed questions from hundreds of constituents over what the project would mean for them.

They wanted to know who would build the arena and where spectators would park. How it might impact the Northern Virginia city’s storm pipes and traffic on its already-clogged roads. Why the deal, subject to a nonbinding agreement, was all becoming public now.

Wilson answered nearly every question, at least in part, with the same response: “We will work on it.”

The hour-long virtual meeting, much like a few sharp comments at a city council meeting a few days later on Dec. 16, points to the fierce debate that is rapidly emerging in Alexandria, where knock-down-drag-out civic fights are just as much a part of the city’s fabric as the colonial relics dotting its historic Old Town.

ny times logoNew York Times, Representative Lauren Boebert will run in a more conservative Colorado district after facing a strong primary challenger, Chris Cameron, Dec. 28, 2023. Facing a strong primary challenger and the fallout from the “Beetlejuice” scandal, Ms. Boebert is turning to a more conservative district in hopes of victory.

Representative Lauren Boebert, a far-right House Republican, announced on Wednesday that she would run in a more conservative district in Colorado — seeking to increase her chances after a strong primary challenger emerged in her district.

The move — from the Third Congressional District to the Fourth — will thrust Ms. Boebert into a crowded primary to replace Representative Ken Buck, a conservative who is not seeking re-election. She has fervently promoted false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump. Mr. Buck attributed his decision not to run in part to the widespread belief in his party of these false claims — as well as to the refusal of many of his Republican colleagues to condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

In a video posted on social media, Ms. Boebert said that the move was a “fresh start,” alluding to a “pretty difficult year for me and my family,” pointing to her divorce. “It’s the right move for me personally, and it’s the right decision for those who support our conservative movement,” Ms. Boebert said.

In September, then in the midst of finalizing the divorce, she was caught on a security camera vaping and groping her date shortly before being ejected from a performance of the musical “Beetlejuice” for causing a disturbance.

A primary challenger has since emerged with significant backers among prominent former Republican officials in the state. Jeff Hurd, a 44-year-old lawyer from Grand Junction, has been endorsed by former Gov. Bill Owens and former Senator Hank Brown. The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette also endorsed Mr. Hurd over Ms. Boebert this month.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How to Boost Voter Turnout With Just One Signature, Mara Gay, Dec. 26, 2023. In a rare bit of political good maya gay twitter croppednews in the final days of 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York has signed into law legislation aimed at increasing voter turnout.

For so many people, the temptation to tune out in this moment of uninspiring politics is stronger than ever. But in Albany, as in Washington, one of the clearest ways to build a saner, more responsive political system is to vastly increase the number of voters who cast ballots.

The bill enacted by Ms. Hochul and the State Legislature would do just that, by moving many county and local elections across New York to even-numbered years, aligning them with federal, statewide and State Legislature elections that draw more voters to the polls.

Abysmally low turnout in New York is a key culprit behind Albany’s dysfunctional politics, which sometimes seem mystifyingly divorced from the urgent needs of millions of residents. Consider, for example, the state’s failure over the past year to address a brutal housing crisis by adopting policies to build housing in the New York City suburbs and enact protections for tenants such as requiring a good cause for evictions.

When smaller numbers of people show up at the polls, elections are less competitive, enhancing the power of special interests — from donors to industry lobbyists and the so-called NIMBYs who have resisted the development of much-needed housing across New York State.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

In late August, amid a rising outcry over revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas had received decades of undisclosed gifts and free luxury travel, a lawyer in Chicago fired off an email to her fellow former Thomas clerks.

“Many of us have been asked recently about the justice,” wrote the lawyer, Taylor Meehan. “In response, there’s not always the opportunity to tell his story and share what it was like to work for him. And there’s rarely the opportunity for us to do so all together.”

Ms. Meehan attached a letter in support of Justice Thomas. Minutes later came a reply. “I just had to jump up right away and say bravo for this,” wrote Steven G. Bradbury, a Heritage Foundation fellow who served in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations. Within days Fox News viewers were hearing about the letter, now signed by 112 former clerks and testifying that the justice’s “integrity is unimpeachable.” Among the signers was the popular Fox host Laura Ingraham.

In turn, the justice’s wife, the conservative activist Virginia Thomas, soon took to the clerks’ private email listserv. “We feel less alone today, because of you all!!! 🙏💕💕💕” she wrote, offering special thanks to the letter’s coordinators and all “who stepped into our fire!!!”

In the 32 years since Justice Thomas came through the fire of his confirmation hearings and onto the Supreme Court, he has assembled an army of influential acolytes unlike any other — a network of like-minded former clerks who have not only rallied to his defense but carried his idiosyncratic brand of conservative legal thinking out into the nation’s law schools, top law firms, the judiciary and the highest reaches of government.

 

leonard leo ap carolyn kaster

 Ultra-right Republican dark money legal powerbroker Leonard Leo is shown above. He is known as an honorary "clerk" because of his special attention to the justice's financial well-being.

The former clerks’ public defense of the justice was “unparalleled in the history of the court,” said Todd C. Peppers, a professor of public affairs at Roanoke College and the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. “It’s frankly astonishing.”

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Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley’s bold strategy to beat Donald Trump is to play it safe, Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Ms. Haley still trails far behind the former president in polls. Yet she is not deviating from the cautious approach that has led her this far.

nikki haley oAt a packed community center in southwestern Iowa, Nikki Haley, right, broke from her usual remarks this month to offer a warning to her top Republican presidential rivals, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, deploying a favorite line: “If they punch me, I punch back — and I punch back harder.”

But in that Dec. 18 appearance and over the next few days, Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, did not exactly pummel her opponents as promised. Her jabs were instead surgical, dry and policy-driven.

“He went into D.C. saying that he was going to stop the spending and instead, he voted to raise the debt limit,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. DeSantis, a former congressman, in Treynor, near the Nebraska border. At that same stop, she also defended herself against his attack ads and criticized Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor, over offshore drilling and fracking, and questioned his choice of a political surrogate in Iowa.

She was even more careful about going after Mr. Trump, continuing to draw only indirect contrasts and noting pointedly that his allied super PAC had begun running anti-Haley ads.

“He said two days ago I wasn’t surging,” she said, but now had “attack ads going up against me.”

With under three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Haley is treading cautiously as she enters the crucial final stretch of her campaign to shake the Republican Party loose from the clutches of Mr. Trump. Even as the former president maintains a vast lead in polls, Ms. Haley has insistently played it safe, betting that an approach that has left her as the only non-Trump candidate with any sort of momentum can eventually prevail as primary season unfolds.

On the trail, she rarely takes questions from reporters. She hardly deviates from her stump speech or generates headlines. And she keeps walking a fine line on her greatest obstacle to the Republican nomination — Mr. Trump. 

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley, in Retreat, Says ‘Of Course the Civil War Was About Slavery,’ Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023. A day after giving a stumbling answer about the conflict’s origin, Ms. Haley told an interviewer: “Yes, I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential hopeful, on Thursday walked back her stumbling answer about the cause of the Civil War, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.”

Her retreat came about 12 hours after a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, a state that is central to her presidential hopes, where she was asked what caused the Civil War. She stumbled through an answer about government overreach and “the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do,” after jokingly telling the questioner he had posed a tough one. He then noted she never uttered the word “slavery.”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Ms. Haley replied. “Next question.”

Speaking on the radio show The Pulse of New Hampshire on Thursday morning, Ms. Haley, who famously removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia, said: “Yes I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

But she also insinuated that the question had come not from a Republican voter but from a political detractor, accusing President Biden and Democrats of “sending plants” to her town-hall events.

“Why are they hitting me? See this for what it is,” she said, adding, “They want to run against Trump.”

In recent polls, Ms. Haley has surged into second place in New Hampshire, edging closer to striking distance of former President Donald J. Trump. To win the Granite State contest on Jan. 23, the first primary election of 2024, she will most likely need independent voters — and possibly Democrats who registered as independents. That is how Senator John McCain of Arizona upset George W. Bush in the state’s 2000 primary.

But the Civil War gaffe may have put a crimp in that strategy.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” she said Wednesday night, “the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

The answer echoed a century’s argument from segregationists that the Civil War was fundamentally about states’ rights and economics, not about ending slavery.

Late Wednesday night, even Mr. Biden rebuked the answer: “It was about slavery,” he wrote on social media.

She tried to walk back her comments on Thursday, asking: “What’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is never relive it. Never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Trump Conviction Could Cost Him Enough Voters to Tip the Election, Norman Eisen, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Recent general-election polling has generally shown Donald Trump maintaining a slight lead over President Biden. Yet many of those polls also reveal an Achilles’ heel for Mr. Trump that has the potential to change the shape of the race.

It relates to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles: If he is criminally convicted by a jury of his peers, voters say they are likely to punish him for it.

A trial on criminal charges is not guaranteed, and if there is a trial, neither is a conviction. But if Mr. Trump is tried and convicted, a mountain of public opinion data suggests voters would turn away from the former president.

Still likely to be completed before Election Day remains Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecution of Mr. Trump for his alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election, which had been set for trial on March 4, 2024. That date has been put on hold pending appellate review of the trial court’s rejection of Mr. Trump‘s presidential immunity. On Friday, the Supreme Court declined Mr. Smith’s request for immediate review of the question, but the appeal is still headed to the high court on a rocket docket. That is because the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument on Jan. 9 and likely issue a decision within days of that, setting up a prompt return to the Supreme Court. Moreover, with three other criminal cases also set for trial in 2024, it is entirely possible that Mr. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction before November 2024.

The negative impact of conviction has emerged in polling as a consistent through line over the past six months nationally and in key states. We are not aware of a poll that offers evidence to the contrary. The swing in this data away from Mr. Trump varies — but in a close election, as 2024 promises to be, any movement can be decisive.

Mr. Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of Donald Trump. Ms. Lake is a Democratic Party strategist and was a lead pollster for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Ms. Shenker-Osorio is a political researcher and campaign adviser.

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More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration 

ny times logoNew York Times, After a Rise in Murders During the Pandemic, a Sharp Decline in 2023, Tim Arango and Campbell Robertson, Dec. 29, 2023. The U.S. is on track for a record drop in homicides, and many other categories of crime are also in decline, according to the F.B.I.

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial : Face it: A smart ban on ski masks can help fight crime and protect rights, Editorial Board, Dec. 29, 2023. Tucked into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Addressing Crime Trends Now Act, a bill intended to help police fight crime in D.C., is an under-discussed proposal: a prohibition on ski masks and face coverings.

The mayor’s proposal would revive the anti-mask section of a 1982 law, the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Act. That statute prohibited those 16 and older from covering their faces while in public, intending to commit a crime, intimidate, threaten, or harass others or in cases in which masking would recklessly “cause another person to fear for his or her personal safety.”

The provision, which carried a one-year maximum sentence, was rarely enforced even when it was on the books. And D.C. repealed it in 2020 to encourage the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
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That reasonable public health policy had an unintended consequence: normalizing masking for all sorts of purposes, legal and otherwise. Now, identity-obscuring ski masks have become a de facto uniform for those who commit retail thefts, carjackings and robberies. The disguises make crimes scarier and perpetrators more difficult to identify — which of course is the point. One of the more remarkable aspects of last week’s CityCenter Chanel store robbery was that a video camera recorded one of the suspects without a face covering.

Other cities are debating anti-mask measures or have already adopted them: Philadelphia in November banned ski masks in public places — parks, schools, day-care centers, city-owned buildings and public transit — and at least 11 states have some kind of anti-mask ordinance on their books, most decades old. The goal is to prevent citizens from feeling “under siege,” as one Philadelphia council member put it, and to promote a sense of public safety.

Safety, actual and perceived, is a valid goal, especially urgent in the District. Still, the case for mask bans is more complicated than it might seem. There is a tension between the security mask bans seek to protect and the First Amendment liberties some mask wearers can legitimately claim in certain contexts.

At the same time, anonymity has a long association with criminality or deviance, and social science research shows that it can enable untoward behavior and make crimes more terrorizing.

Probably the biggest potential problem with anti-mask decrees is a practical one: enforcement. D.C. police are not eager to enforce such a ban; some officers have told us that it is a distraction from more important tasks and could heighten the risk of discrimination claims. The fact that ski masks are particularly popular among youths of color all but guarantees that enforcement will appear targeted.

Fortunately, relatively minor tweaks could address the concerns. A mask ban could be limited to particular and clearly delineated spaces — public transit, for instance, or city property and places of commerce, where mask-wearing is commonly understood to induce anxiety and serve little public good. Reasonable exceptions for religious practice or political expression should be spelled out in the statute. An anti-mask provision could be used to enhance penalties for other crimes of which the masked perpetrator is accused, rather than a stand-alone offense. A law that clearly provides that wearing a mask itself is not criminal, but committing a crime with one is, would be harder to use as a pretext for selective enforcement or harassment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rikers Island Has Become New York’s Largest Mental Institution, Jan Ransom and Amy Julia Harris, Photographs by José A. Alvarado Jr., Dec. 29, 2023. A seemingly endless rotation between forensic hospitals and jails means that some mentally ill detainees stay in the system for years without standing trial.

One night in fall 2015, an 18-year-old woman was standing on a subway platform in the Bronx when a homeless man named James Dolo came up from behind and used both hands to push her onto the tracks, the police said, injuring her.

Jailed on an attempted murder charge, Mr. Dolo, then 38, soon was seated in front of a court evaluator for a review of his competency to stand trial. Mr. Dolo smelled of urine, the evaluator noted, had described a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of doing.

The evaluator marked him down as unfit, citing schizophrenia, and a judge ordered Mr. Dolo committed to a state forensic psychiatric hospital — a secure facility for incarcerated people — to be restored to mental competency. He spent nearly two years there before he was shuttled to a public hospital in Manhattan, and then to the city jails on Rikers Island, and then to the forensic hospital again.

Now, eight years later, having never been convicted of a crime in the subway shoving, he is back on Rikers Island, where guards once found him sitting in his own excrement and refusing to eat or leave his cell.

Mr. Dolo’s case, which has not been previously reported, illustrates one reason Rikers Island has become a warehouse for thousands of people with psychiatric problems: Many detainees with severe mental illness have moved back and forth between the jails and state forensic psychiatric facilities for months or even years before standing trial. Some have spent more time in this cycle than they might have served in prison had they been convicted.

Records show that more than half the people in city custody — some 3,000 men and women — have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and, on any given day, hundreds of them are awaiting evaluations or in line for beds at state forensic psychiatric hospitals, with scores more being treated at those facilities.

ny times logoNew York Times, A man charged in the stabbings of two sisters at Grand Central Terminal later slashed a detainee at Rikers, officials said, Claire Fahy and Chelsia Rose Marcius, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.).

ny times logoNew York Times, Gaston Glock, Inventor of the Gun That Bears His Name, Dies at 94, Robert D. McFadden, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A reclusive Austrian billionaire, he created the handgun worn by two-thirds of America’s police officers and the security forces of at least 48 countries.

Gaston Glock, the Austrian engineer who invented the boxy Glock handgun, which has become a weapon of choice for national security forces, law enforcement officials, violent criminals and gun enthusiasts in America and around the world, died on Wednesday. He was 94.

The Glock company announced his death on its website. Their statement did not provide further details.

The Glock is almost everywhere: fired in massacres and shootouts, glamorized in Hollywood movies, featured in television dramas, jammed into the belts of killers and thugs, worn by two-thirds of America’s police officers and the security forces of at least 48 countries. Its praises are sung by gangsta rappers, its silhouette is posted at airports, and it is a focus of gun-control debates.

Its creator was almost nowhere: a reclusive billionaire who owned his company and lived on a lakefront estate in Austria shielded by guards, lawyers, financiers and servants.

ny times logoNew York Times, Who Investigates the Sheriff? In Mississippi, Often No One, Ilyssa Daly, Jerry Mitchell and Rachel Axon, Photographs by Rory Doyle, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The state ignored or was unaware of allegations of jailhouse rape, brutal beatings and corrupt acts by sheriffs and their deputies, a Times investigation found.

As Marquise Tillman led deputies on a high-speed chase through rural Mississippi in March 2019, Sheriff Todd Kemp issued a blunt order over the radio: “Shut him down and beat his ass.”

When the Clarke County deputies caught Mr. Tillman, they did just that, he later alleged in a lawsuit. He said they pummeled and stomped on him while he was handcuffed, leaving him with a fractured eye socket and broken bones in his face and chest.

The sheriff denied giving the order. But it was captured on tape and described under oath by four of his deputies.
Sheriff Todd Kemp was recorded ordering deputies to use force. Four of them corroborated it in depositions.

Such an explosive revelation might have roiled a community elsewhere in the country and led state or federal officials to investigate. But in Mississippi, it was largely ignored, even after the county paid Mr. Tillman an undisclosed amount to settle his claim.

There was no news coverage and no state investigation. In an interview, Sheriff Kemp said he had turned the case over to the state’s police agency. But the agency could find no record of having pursued it.

That is not unusual in Mississippi, where allegations like those leveled against Sheriff Kemp often go nowhere, an investigation by The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today has found.

State authorities are responsible for investigating shootings and in-custody deaths involving sheriffs and deputies. But they are not obligated to investigate other potential wrongdoing by sheriffs’ offices, and may not even know about it: The sheriffs’ offices are also not obligated to report incidents to them.

The Times and Mississippi Today examined dozens of publicly available federal lawsuits that described severe brutality and other abuses of power, reviewing thousands of pages of court records and interviewing people involved in cases across the state.

At least 27 claims do not appear to have led to a state investigation, including accusations of rape, brutal assault and retaliation against sheriffs’ enemies.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, The Covenant Parents Aren’t Going to Keep Quiet on Guns, Emily Cochrane, Photographs by Jon Cherry, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Parents reeling from a mass shooting at their children’s Tennessee school found the state’s legislature more hostile than they had imagined.

Mary Joyce told herself she would be kind, just as she always had been. Say enough, but not too much, she reminded herself.

Surely, the members of the Tennessee General Assembly before her would be moved by her testimony at a special session dedicated to public safety.

A moderate conservative herself, she would tell them about the day in March when she dropped off her 9-year-old daughter at the Covenant School, a private Christian school tucked into one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Nashville. She would remind them how an assailant wielding powerful rifles killed three of her daughter’s third-grade classmates, the head of the school, a beloved custodian and a substitute teacher.

What she wanted now were modest measures that she believed could have prevented the violence and still be accepted by other Republicans.

Several parents understood that, for many, the right to bear arms, without any caveat, was an intrinsic piece of American identity. They knew this was particularly true in Tennessee, a state with an official rifle and a history of political retribution for conservatives who disregard the gun lobbyists and their hard-line base.

They had watched efforts led by other parents, galvanized by similar tragedy in Texas and other states, become snarled by politics.

But the Tennessee legislature proved more hostile than the Covenant parents imagined. And when Ms. Joyce heard just one more gun rights supporter dismiss the parents’ concerns after days of restraint, her patience snapped.

The shooter at Covenant “hunted our children with a high-capacity rifle,” Ms. Joyce cried out, her voice cracking, as she confronted the gun rights supporter in the Capitol rotunda. He walked away, but not before suggesting she listen more closely to his arguments.

“I have held my composure,” she said, now openly angry despite the crowd that had gathered. “I have stayed calm. I have been silent and quiet and composed. And I am sick of it. Listen to me.”

Roll Call, Appeals court tosses convictions of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Todd Ruger, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Appellate panel says Nebraska Republican should not have been tried in California.

jeff fortenberryThe 2022 conviction of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., was overturned by a federal appeals court that ruled he should not have been tried in California on charges of lying to investigators in a probe into illegal foreign campaign contributions.

A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out the 2022 conviction of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., ruling that federal prosecutors brought the charges in the wrong location.

U.S. House logoThe opinion from a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit said that prosecutors would be able to retry Fortenberry “if at all, in a proper venue.”

Fortenberry resigned from Congress shortly after a federal jury in the Central District of California convicted him on one count of scheming to falsify and conceal material facts and two counts of making false statements to federal investigators.

Those California-based agents were investigating allegations of illegal campaign contributions made in California to Fortenberry’s 2016 reelection campaign by a foreign national through conduit donors, the 9th Circuit decision states.

Although Fortenberry was not charged with violating federal election laws, a Los Angeles-based jury found that he had made false statements to investigators in a March 2019 interview in Nebraska and a July 2019 interview in the District of Columbia.

The 9th Circuit ruled that the Constitution plainly requires that a criminal defendant be tried in the place where the criminal conduct occurred, and it is not enough to say the false statements made in Nebraska and D.C. had an effect on a federal investigation in California.

“Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed, and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant,” the ruling concludes. “The Constitution does not permit this.”

A federal judge in California in 2022 sentenced Fortenberry to two years of probation.

Throughout the legal process, Fortenberry had criticized the investigation and the prosecution as politically motivated, and his spokesperson referred to them as “California prosecutors.”

Fortenberry, in a written statement provided through an attorney Tuesday, said he was “gratified” by the decision.

“Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship,” Fortenberry said.

The federal investigators interviewed Fortenberry as part of a wider inquiry into Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, who illegally funneled foreign money into U.S. political campaigns. It is illegal for foreign nationals, such as Chagoury, to make campaign donations to a candidate for federal office in the U.S.

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More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Bad air forces Pakistan to shut schools and markets and seed the clouds, Shaiq Hussain and Rick Noack, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). Air pollution in the Pakistani city of Lahore is estimated to reduce average life expectancy by over seven years.

Pakistani authorities are closing schools and markets and deploying artificial rain amid growing alarm over worsening levels of air pollution.

pakistan flag wavingEnvironmental activists say pollution levels are approaching or may have exceeded levels in the most polluted parts of neighboring India, where smog has for years practically paralyzed the capital of New Delhi during the winter months.

Lahore, long known as Pakistan’s green “city of gardens,” has emerged as the country’s most polluted city. It now regularly tops global air pollution rankings, according to Swiss technology company IQAir, which tracks more than 7,000 cities around the world. Lahore’s 11 million residents may be losing more than seven years in average life expectancy due to poor air quality, according to a University of Chicago estimate.

The smog choking this Indian city is visible from space

Pakistani officials have in recent weeks resorted to unprecedented short-term measures. In addition to closing schools and markets, the government has imposed traffic restrictions, and — when those efforts showed too little effect — turned to cloud-seeding technology, which involves dropping salts from a plane to trigger the formation of rain droplets.

ny times logoNew York Times, How America’s Diet Is Feeding the Groundwater Crisis, Christopher Flavelle and Somini Sengupta, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). As dinner tables and snack menus feature far more chicken and cheese, farms are expanding where water is scarce.

America’s striking dietary shift in recent decades, toward far more chicken and cheese, has not only contributed to concerns about American health but has taken a major, undocumented toll on underground water supplies.

The effects are being felt in key agricultural regions nationwide as farmers have drained groundwater to grow animal feed.

In Arkansas for example, where cotton was once king, the land is now ruled by fields of soybeans to feed the chickens, a billion or so of them, that have come to dominate the region’s economy. And Idaho, long famous for potatoes, is now America’s largest producer of alfalfa to feed the cows that supply the state’s huge cheese factories.

Today alfalfa, a particularly water-intensive crop used largely for animal feed, covers 6 million acres of irrigated land, much of it in the driest parts of the American West.

These transformations are tied to the changing American diet. Since the early 1980s, America’s per-person cheese consumption has doubled, largely in the form of mozzarella-covered pizza pies. And last year, for the first time, the average American ate 100 pounds of chicken, twice the amount 40 years ago.

ny times logoNew York Times, America’s Truckers Face a Chronic Headache: Finding Parking, Mark Walker, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Parking spots for trucks are in short supply around the country, and the problem can lead to unsafe situations for long-haul truck drivers and other motorists.

In the wee hours one night in July, a Greyhound bus heading to St. Louis turned onto an exit ramp leading to a rest area in Southern Illinois and hit three parked tractor-trailers, smashing its front, crumpling its roof and ripping off part of its side.

Three passengers were killed. The tractor-trailers were parked along the ramp’s shoulder, a common sight on the nation’s highways.

“It’s scary because it can happen in the blink of an eye,” said Carmen Anderson, 64, a South Dakota-based truck driver for America’s Service Line, who recently had to park on an off-ramp in North Carolina after not being able to find parking at rest areas or truck stops.

The accident in Illinois highlighted a widespread complaint among the nation’s truckers: Parking spots for commercial trucks are hard to come by.

As a result, truckers often take refuge in store parking lots, along the shoulder of highways and on ramps, though the legality of doing so varies by location. The shortage of parking is both inconvenient and financially costly for truck drivers, and it can lead to dangerous situations when truckers are forced to improvise.

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

 

 

 

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia launched one of its largest missile attacks in months, pounding Ukrainian cities and killing several people, Constant Méheut and Daria Mitiuk, Dec. 29, 2023. The missile and drone attacks killed at least 16 people and damaged critical industrial and military infrastructure, part of a wintertime campaign that Ukraine had been dreading.

Russia targeted Ukrainian cities with more than 150 missiles and drones on Friday morning, killing several people, injuring dozens of others and damaging critical infrastructure in what Ukrainian officials said was one of the largest air assaults of the war.

ukraine flag“This is the biggest attack since the counting began,” Yurii Ihnat, a Ukrainian Air Force spokesman, said in a brief telephone interview, adding that the military did not track air assaults in the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.

For several hours on Friday, missiles, drones and debris slammed into factories, hospitals and schools in cities across Ukraine, from Lviv in the west to Kharkiv in the east, straining the country’s air defenses and sending people scrambling for shelter. At least 16 people were killed, and nearly 100 were wounded, according to Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

Although the level of destruction countrywide has yet to come into full focus, the scale of the Russian strikes appeared to have overwhelmed Ukraine’s air defenses. The Ukrainian military said that it had shot down 114 missiles and drones, out of a total of 158.

“Today, Russia was fighting with almost everything it has in its arsenal,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said in a statement, noting that Moscow had launched a complex barrage of weapons including hypersonic, cruise and air defense missiles.

Ukraine has been struggling to contain renewed Russian assaults all along the front line and is concerned about a possible shortfall in Western military assistance as the war stretches into another new year. The Ukrainian authorities had warned for months that Russia was likely to pound Ukrainian cities and target their infrastructure when cold weather began to bite, in an echo of last year’s winter campaign against civilian targets and the country’s energy grid, which plunged many areas into cold and darkness.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Strike Hits Russian Warship in Occupied Crimea, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Russia acknowledged that the ship (shown above in a 2021 Reuters photo) had been damaged in what appeared to be one of the most significant attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in months.

ukraine flagThe Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement that it had destroyed the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, in the southeastern Crimean port of Feodosia overnight. Russia’s Defense Ministry told the Tass state news agency that the ship had been damaged in an attack using “aircraft-guided missiles,” but did not say whether the vessel had been permanently disabled.

Videos of the attack that appeared to be taken by residents and were released by the Ukrainian Air Force showed a huge explosion that produced a large fireball, followed by a giant cloud of smoke and fire billowing into the night sky.

The footage could not be immediately verified, but Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the attack had started a fire in Feodosia. One person was killed and two others were wounded in the assault, he added.

“The fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller!” Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s Air Force, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app celebrating the strike, which he noted came after Ukrainian missiles sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last year.

The Ukrainian military has long maintained that the war cannot be won without taking aim at Russian assets and operations in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. In recent months, Ukraine has sharply accelerated the pace of strikes on the peninsula, which Russia’s military uses as a logistics hub for its hold on southern Ukraine — stockpiling fuel, ammunition and other supplies to be funneled to the battlefields — but also as a launchpad for attacks.

The Black Sea Fleet has fired devastating precision cruise missiles at cities and towns deep inside Ukraine. In an attempt to reduce the threat, the Ukrainian military has repeatedly targeted the fleet this year — damaging a warship in August and hitting the fleet’s headquarters a month later.

Those attacks were significant achievements for a country without warships of its own, and rare successes in a year marked by disappointing efforts to break through Russian defensive lines on the battlefield.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Ukraine, Success in the Black Sea and a Setback in the East, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). A major military success at sea against Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was tempered by Ukraine’s acknowledgment that it had all but retreated from Marinka.

Ukraine scored a major success on Tuesday when it struck a Russian warship at port in Crimea, one of the most significant attacks against Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet in months. But in another setback for their ground campaign, Ukrainian officials acknowledged that they had all but retreated from the eastern city of Marinka after a monthslong battle to defend it.

ukraine flagThe two developments underscored the diverging fortunes of the two combatants this winter in a war that has largely settled into a deadlock: Ukraine racking up naval successes in the Black Sea and Crimea, where it is putting Russia on the defensive, and Russia pressing its attack on battlefields in the east after blunting a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A day after Russia said it had taken complete control of Marinka, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, Ukraine’s top military commander, spoke in sober terms about the fight, comparing it to the scorched-earth battle for Bakhmut, the eastern city that fell to Russia in May. Like Bakhmut, Marinka held limited strategic value, but is now a trophy in ruins for Moscow.

“The situation is exactly the same as it was in Bakhmut,” General Zaluzhny said at a news conference. “Street by street, block by block, and our soldiers were being targeted. And the result is what it is.”

Ukraine’s forces, he said, have retreated to the outskirts of the city and set up some positions behind it, indicating that the cost of staying and fighting was too high. Every inch of Ukrainian land is vital, General Zaluzhny said, but “the lives of our fighters are more important to us.”

  • Update from Ukraine. Commentary: One of the Worst days for the Ruzzian Army, Denys Davydov, Dec. 28, 2023. All Failed; Crazy Tactics.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia once again took control of land that Ukraine had won back during its counteroffensive, Constant Méheut, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Russia’s recent progress around the southern village of Robotyne is a sobering development for Ukraine amid dwindling Western military aid.

Russia has recaptured land hard won by Ukrainian troops at the peak of their summer counteroffensive in the south, making progress around the southern village of Robotyne.

The situation has reinforced the war’s latest reality: With their counteroffensive stalled, Ukrainian troops are now on the back foot in many places. Besides Robotyne in the south, they are also struggling in the east, having all but retreated from the town of Marinka, officials said this week.

Deepening their challenges, Kyiv is increasingly worried that its military will not have the resources to keep up the fight. Washington announced on Wednesday that it was releasing the last remaining Congress-approved package of military aid available to Kyiv.

ny times logoNew York Times, Foreigners Who Made Ukraine Home Stay Put, Despite War, Megan Specia, Photographs by Laura Boushnak, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). As millions fled, some expatriates made the unlikely decision to remain in Ukraine.

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

The Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, who disappeared on Dec. 5, confirmed in his letter that he had been transferred to a penal colony in the Arctic. Navalny looked toward a video camera with his arms outstretched, palms up, while in a room painted a bright shade of green (Associated Press photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, In a letter heavy with irony, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny described his transfer to an Arctic prison, Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 26, 2023. The comments from the Russian opposition leader were written with a heavy dose of humor, and seemed intended to assuage concerns among allies after his three-week disappearance.

ny times logoNew York Times, Christmas Comes Early in Ukraine, but Not a Moment Too Soon, Andrew E. Kramer, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Ukrainian Orthodox Church formally changed the date for celebrating to Dec. 25, departing from the Russian tradition of celebrating on Jan. 7.

Of Ukraine’s many Western-oriented changes, put in place bit by bit since independence and accelerated during the war, one brought special joy this year: Christmas came early.

After centuries of marking the holiday on Jan. 7 under the Julian church calendar, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church this year formally switched to celebrating on Dec. 25 with most of the rest of Europe — and pointedly not with Russia.

For 6-year-old Darynka, that meant practicing carols early and enjoying the excitement of receiving gifts like a Rainbow High doll and a paint set two weeks earlier than she did than last year.

“I love Christmas!” she said.

Her mother, Halyna Shvets, saw a step toward Europe in the Ukrainian church’s decision to shift the date away from Russia’s tradition, not only for Christmas celebrations but for other religious holidays as well.

“We are really happy,” she said. “Faith in God is a fundamental pillar of our lives. Celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, is an opportunity for us to gather for this beautiful Ukrainian religious tradition.”

Christmas, like so much else in Ukraine these days, is tightly tangled up in the country’s war with Russia. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has taken the position that the Julian calendar used in the Russian church does not have religious significance, and that holidays should be celebrated according to the calendar by which people live their daily lives. Even before this year’s formal switch, some Ukrainian Orthodox believers, in the first year after Russia’s invasion, had moved Christmas to December.

Technically, the change in the celebration is a recommendation; individual parishes are deciding when to mark the holiday. But of the roughly 7,500 parishes in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, all but 120 shifted the date of Christmas this year, as Russia’s invasion approaches its second full year.

Most eastern Orthodox churches had already taken this position. After the Ukrainian church’s switch, only four of 15 eastern Orthodox denominations — in Russia, Serbia, Finland and Jerusalem — still follow the Julian calendar, which lags by 13 days owing to a difference in calculating the length of the year. Some religious communities in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, known as Old Feasters, have also continued to follow the old calendar.

In his Christmas address, President Volodymyr Zelensky noted the second Christmas at war, and the shift in the date so that Orthodox and Catholic Ukrainians will celebrate on the same day. “Today, all Ukrainians are together,” he said. “We all meet Christmas together. On the same date, as one big family, as one nation, as one united country.”

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was Ready to Die, but Not to Surrender, Marc Santora, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). A Ukrainian soldier escaped from an embattled steel plant and sneaked 125 miles to home territory.

After seven days hiding in a dank and dark tunnel deep in the bowels of the sprawling Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol as the city burned around him, Pfc. Oleksandr Ivantsov was on the verge of collapse.

President Volodymyr Zelensky had ordered Ukrainian soldiers to lay down their weapons after 80 days of resistance and surrender. But Private Ivantsov had other ideas.

“When I signed up for this mission, I realized that most likely I would die,” he recalled. “I was ready to die in battle, but morally I was not ready to surrender.”

He knew his plan might sound a little crazy, but at the time, he was convinced he had a better chance of surviving by hiding out than by surrendering himself to Russians, whose widespread abuse of prisoners of war was well known to Ukrainian troops.

So he knocked a hole in a wall to get to a small tunnel, stashed some supplies and made plans to stay hidden for 10 days, hoping that the Russians who had taken control of the ruined plant would let down their guard by then, allowing him to creep through the ruins unnoticed and make his way into the city he once called home.

But after a week, he had gone through the six cans of stewed chicken and 10 cans of sardines and almost all of the eight 1.5 liter bottles of water he had secreted away.

“I felt very bad, I was dehydrated, and my thoughts were getting confused,” he said. “I realized that I had to leave because I could not live there for three more days.”

Mr. Ivantsov’s account of his escape from Azovstal is supported by photographs and videos from the city and factory that he shared with The New York Times. It was verified by superior officers and by medical records documenting his treatment after he made it to Ukrainian-controlled territory. Still, his tale seemed so far-fetched that Ukraine’s security services made him take a polygraph test to assure them he was not a double agent.

Mr. Ivantsov is still fighting for Ukraine, helping a drone unit outside the pulverized city of Bakhmut, where he recalled his story one sunny afternoon. He told it reluctantly, saying he could not share certain details in order to protect the Ukrainian soldiers from Azovstal still being held as prisoners of war and the civilians in the occupied territories who aided in his escape.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Europe Eye Russian Assets to Aid Ukraine as Funding Dries Up, David E. Sanger and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). Despite legal reservations, policymakers are weighing the consequences of using $300 billion in Russian assets to help Kyiv’s war effort. 

The Biden administration is quietly signaling new support for seizing more than $300 billion in Russian central bank assets stashed in Western nations, and has begun urgent discussions with allies about using the funds to aid Ukraine’s war effort at a moment when financial support is waning, according to senior American and European officials.

Until recently, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had argued that without action by Congress, seizing the funds was “not something that is legally permissible in the United States.” There has also been concern among some top American officials that nations around the world would hesitate to keep their funds at the New York Federal Reserve, or in dollars, if the United States established a precedent for seizing the money.

But the administration, in coordination with the Group of 7 industrial nations, has begun taking another look at whether it can use its existing authorities or if it should seek congressional action to use the funds. Support for such legislation has been building in Congress, giving the Biden administration optimism that it could be granted the necessary authority.

The talks among finance ministers, central bankers, diplomats and lawyers have intensified in recent weeks, officials said, with the Biden administration pressing Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan to come up with a strategy by Feb. 24, the second anniversary of the invasion.

The more than $300 billion of Russian assets under discussion have already been out of Moscow’s control for more than a year. After the invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with Europe and Japan, used sanctions to freeze the assets, denying Russia access to its international reserves.

But seizing the assets would take matters a significant step further and require careful legal consideration.

President Biden has not yet signed off on the strategy, and many of the details remain under heated discussion. Policymakers must determine if the money will be channeled directly to Ukraine or used to its benefit in other ways.

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Poverty, Consumers, High Tech

ny times logoNew York Times, The Building Spree That Reshaped Manhattan’s Skyline? It’s Over, Matthew Haag, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). New office buildings flourished over the past 25 years in Manhattan, but a construction drought has begun.

The Manhattan office construction boom is over.

Just three large office towers — of more than 500,000 square feet — are being built across New York City, with two expected to open in 2024 or 2025 and nothing else projected to go up for years. Normally, a handful of sites that size would be in various stages of construction, with at least one opening every year since 2018, according to JLL, a real estate services firm.

Nearly 20 large office buildings that developers have proposed, including the final tower near ground zero, have yet to break ground. Many are on indefinite hold as developers face numerous challenges.

Rising construction costs and interest rates have significantly driven up the price to build. Banks are increasingly reluctant to finance such construction while Manhattan has record office vacancies. And there are few large tenants, which lenders require to be lined up before a new office can be built, actively looking to move.

As a result, Manhattan is entering its most significant office construction drought since after the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Developers now concede that the next wave of large office towers may not open until the early 2030s, if not later.

ny times logoNew York Times, Downturn or Not? At Year’s End, Wall St. Is Split on What’s Ahead, Joe Rennison, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Analysts bullish on 2023 were largely right and expect more of the same in 2024. Bears caution that the Federal Reserve’s impact is yet to be determined.

Twelve months ago, Tom Lee bet that 2023 was going to turn out just fine.

While many of his peers on Wall Street were sounding the alarm over an impending economic downturn, Mr. Lee, a stock market strategist who spent more than a decade running J.P. Morgan’s equity research before setting up his own firm, forecast in December 2022 that falling inflation and economic resilience would buck the broadly bearish mood.

Mr. Lee was right. Despite political brinkmanship over the nation’s debt ceiling, a banking crisis in March, fears over the cost of funding the government’s fiscal deficit, a continuing war in Ukraine and fresh conflict in Israel, the core of Mr. Lee’s prediction came to fruition in 2023. Inflation has fallen, unemployment remains low, and the S&P 500 has risen 24 percent.

Most investors disagreed with Mr. Lee’s prognosis; in 2023, they pulled more than $70 billion out of funds that buy U.S. stocks, according to data from EPFR Global. Only a quarter of fund managers whose performance is benchmarked to the S&P 500 have beaten the index’s returns this year, according to Morningstar Direct.

Heading into 2024, prognosticators tracked by Bloomberg share Mr. Lee’s optimism more broadly, including analysts at Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Binky Chadha, an equity strategist at Deutsche Bank who bet against the consensus with Mr. Lee last year, is also predicting that the bull rally will continue.

ny times logoNew York Times, Holiday Spending Increased, Defying Fears of a Decline, Jordyn Holman, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). While the pace of growth slowed, spending stayed strong because of robust job growth and strong wage gains.

joe biden resized oDespite lingering inflation, Americans increased their spending this holiday season, early data shows. That comes as a big relief for retailers that had spent much of the year fearing the economy would soon weaken and consumer spending would fall.

Retail sales increased 3.1 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment. The numbers, released Tuesday, are not adjusted for inflation.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

Sherri Chessen with one of her children (Arizona Republic photo via USA Today Network).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Forgotten Chapter of Abortion History Repeats Itself, Linda Greenhouse (shown at right on the cover of her memoir), Dec. 22, 2023. Much of the linda greenhouse cover just a journalistcountry no doubt watched in amazement as a woman with a doomed pregnancy was forced to flee her home state, Texas, to get the abortion her doctors deemed necessary to protect her future ability to bear children. Could this really be happening in the United States in 2023?

But then, should anyone who has followed the recent dystopian course of abortion in America have been surprised? After all, on the other side of the half-century during which abortion was a constitutional right, something eerily similar had happened in an episode that shocked the country when abortion was a subject not discussed in polite society.

It was 1962, and Sherri Chessen Finkbine, a 29-year-old mother of four and host of a popular children’s television program in Phoenix, was pregnant again. Suffering from morning sickness, she tried some pills, marketed in Europe as a sleeping aid, that her husband had brought back from a trip to London. Only after having taken multiple doses did she read about an outbreak in Europe of devastating birth defects in babies born to women who had used a drug called thalidomide. Her doctor confirmed that thalidomide was what she had taken.

The doctor recommended a “therapeutic” abortion and arranged for one to be performed quietly at a Phoenix hospital. Ms. Chessen — the media called her by her husband’s last name, Finkbine, but she had always preferred Chessen — felt obliged to warn other women who might unknowingly be facing the same situation. She talked to The Arizona Republic’s medical editor, who granted her anonymity. But her name became known, and in part because of her prominence — she was “Miss Sherri” of the popular “Romper Room — the story exploded. The hospital declined to go ahead with the scheduled procedure and, with abortion illegal in every state, there was no place in the country she could go.

She and her husband, a public-school teacher, went to Sweden for the abortion. By that time, she was 13 weeks pregnant. When they got back to Phoenix, she lost her job, and her husband was suspended from his teaching post.

Ms. Chessen’s trauma 61 years ago was even more jarring than Kate Cox’s was this month, because a subject largely hidden from public view was suddenly national news. I still remember, as a 15-year-old, being mesmerized by Life magazine’s extended account that covered not only Ms. Chessen’s experience but the abortion issue itself; included in the coverage were wrenching photographs of surviving “thalidomide babies” missing arms or legs or both.

Her story brought the once forbidden topic into the country’s living rooms in the most sympathetic light imaginable. “Her wholesome image clashed so dramatically with the public’s concept of abortion — the lawless choice of wayward women — that her decision to go through with the procedure sparked a heated national debate,” Jennifer Vanderbes writes in a new book, “Wonder Drug: The Secret History of Thalidomide in America and Its Hidden Victims.”

Although Ms. Chessen received plenty of hate mail, along with condemnation by the Vatican, a Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans thought she had made the right decision. It’s possible to see the episode as a spark that helped ignite the abortion reform movement that culminated in Roe v. Wade 11 years later. “Here is a need for common sense,” The Tulsa Tribune wrote in an editorial.

Linda Greenhouse, the winner of a 1998 Pulitzer Prize, reported on the Supreme Court for The Times from 1978 to 2008. She is the author of “Justice on the Brink: The Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Rise of Amy Coney Barrett, and Twelve Months That Transformed the Supreme Court.”

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, In reversal, U.S. to heighten efforts to collect billions in unpaid covid loans, Tony Romm, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration will try to recover an estimated $30 billion in unpaid loans made to small businesses during the pandemic, months after federal watchdogs said the lenient approach risked violating the law.

The new approach, announced Thursday, arrives months after federal watchdogs and congressional lawmakers first blasted the administration for its leniency, warning that the government risked breaking the law — and exacerbating its losses — if it didn’t try harder to get the money back.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Congress created two generous stimulus programs to help cash-starved firms stay afloat: the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan, known as EIDL, and the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. Over their life span, the lending initiatives provided more than $1 trillion in assistance to companies large and small, helping to blunt the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

sba logo bestCongress allowed borrowers to request their PPP loans be forgiven, while those who obtained aid under EIDL were supposed to repay the money. Before most of those EIDL bills became due, however, the Small Business Administration enacted a policy in April 2022 to forgo some collection activities on past-due loans of $100,000 or less, The Washington Post first reported earlier this year.

Explaining its policy, SBA officials said at the time it would have cost too much money to refer each delinquent loan to the Treasury Department, which can impose the toughest punishments on late borrowers, including wage garnishment.

But the rationale troubled the agency’s inspector general, Hannibal “Mike” Ware, whose office in September warned that the SBA policy “could incentivize other COVID-19 EIDL recipients to stop paying on their loans.”

The potentially staggering loss amounts to about 2.5 percent of those programs’ total portfolios, the agency said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Questions to ask before choosing an assisted living facility, Yeganeh Torbati and Julie Zauzmer Weil,  Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Here’s what to look for, some questions to ask and what you should know about safety when deciding on long-term care.

Choosing an assisted-living facility for yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. In many states, it’s difficult to find reliable information about a facility’s practices and track record for resident safety.

The choice matters, especially if you need care for someone with memory problems or dementia: Residents with memory problems wander away from assisted-living facilities unnoticed just about every day in America, according to an investigation by The Washington Post. Since 2018, nearly 100 have died. These incidents occurred even at some facilities that charged families more for extra vigilance.

Based on recommendations from advocacy groups and interviews with former staff at assisted-living facilities, The Post has compiled a short guide to getting the information you need to find a home for yourself or a loved one.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the anti-vaccine movement is gaining power in statehouses, Lauren Weber, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Louisiana is a harbinger of the growing power of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses, as more candidates supporting once-fringe policies win and sign onto laws gutting vaccine requirements.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The victories come as part of a political backlash to pandemic restrictions and the proliferation of misinformation about the safety of vaccines introduced to fight the coronavirus.

In Louisiana, 29 candidates endorsed by Stand for Health Freedom, a national group that works to defeat mandatory vaccinations, won in the state’s off-year elections this fall.

Fred Mills, the retiring Republican chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s health and welfare committee, said he fears that once-fringe anti-vaccine policies that endanger people’s lives will have a greater chance of passing come January when newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in and more than a dozen Republican moderates like himself leave office.

Louisiana’s shift is a sign of the growing clout of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses as bills that once died in committee make it onto the legislative floor for a vote.

Since spring, Tennessee lawmakers dropped all vaccine requirements for home-schooled children. Iowa Republicans passed a bill eliminating the requirement that schools educate students about the HPV vaccine. And the Florida legislature passed a law preemptively barring school districts from requiring coronavirus vaccines, a move health advocates fear opens the door to further vaccine limitations.

“Politics is going to win over medicine,” said Mills, a pharmacist who has weakened or defeated bills that would have limited vaccine access and promoted vaccine exemptions in schools and workplaces. But after 13 years in the Senate, Mills has hit the state’s three-term limit.

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Media, Religion, High Tech, Sports, Education, Free Speech, Culture.

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees above. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A.I. Is the Future of Photography. Does That Mean Photography Is Dead? Gideon Jacobs, Dec. 26, 2023. Mr. Jacobs is a critic and writer on photography.

John Szarkowski, the legendary curator at the MoMA, once described photography as “the act of pointing.” And for the nearly 200 years since its inception, photography has consisted of capturing a visual perspective from the physical world using light — first with light-sensitive plates, then film, then digital sensors. When digital cameras became widely available, many photographers lamented the move away from analog technology but basically Szarkowski’s definition still held: Photography consists of pointing, as a reaction to something that exists in the world.

With advent of A.I. image generators, however, this definition feels obsolete.

Generative A.I. tools can produce photorealistic images, typically in response to written prompts. These images are available for purchase from major stock photography agencies, alongside traditional photos. They routinely go viral before being debunked. They even occasionally win prestigious photography prizes. All if which has reignited a two-centuries-old debate: What exactly qualifies as a photograph?

This is not a matter of etymological nit-picking. Calling A.I. images “photographs” — a practice I encounter often — can add to a sense of disorientation in what already feels like a profoundly disorienting moment. Thanks to the ubiquity of digital cameras, we live in a world that’s already flooded with photographs — more than a trillion are taken each year. These digital images can already be easily manipulated through existing tools, including ones built into your phone. Yet they still have some direct relationship to real scenes and events that have occurred.

Now we face a new deluge of images that, however artful or convincing, are at a remove from the world. A.I. images are typically digital composites of countless existing photographs, so by what definition are they themselves real? No wonder some observers are asking “how can we believe anything we see?”

Aside from very real concerns about the livelihoods of professional photographers, especially those who work in commercial photography, I worry that A.I. image generators may leave society as a whole more vulnerable to widespread manipulation — as presaged by hoax A.I. images of Donald Trump violently resisting arrest or, somewhat more comically, of Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga-inspired coat.

But for all the negative potential, I can also see a possibility that these developments will start a conversation about — and foster an educated skepticism of — all visual media and the relationship of these images, however they are made, to so-called truth.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the News Industry’s Uneasy Negotiations With OpenAI, Benjamin Mullin, Dec. 29, 2023. Several major publishers have been in talks to license content to the creator of ChatGPT, but agreement on the price and terms has been elusive.

For months, some of the biggest players in the U.S. media industry have been in confidential talks with OpenAI on a tricky issue: the price and terms of licensing their content to the artificial intelligence company.

The curtain on those negotiations was pulled back this week when The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement, alleging that the companies used its content without permission to build artificial intelligence products.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I.’s Use of Copyrighted Work, Michael M. Grynbaum and Ryan Mac, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Millions of articles from The New York Times were used to train chatbots that now compete with it, the lawsuit said.

microsoft logo CustomThe New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft for copyright infringement on Wednesday, opening a new front in the increasingly intense legal battle over the unauthorized use of published work to train artificial intelligence technologies.

The Times is the first major American media organization to sue the companies, the creators of ChatGPT and other popular A.I. chat gpt logoplatforms, over copyright issues associated with its written works. The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, contends that millions of articles published by The Times were used to train automated chatbots that now compete with the news outlet as a source of reliable information.

The suit does not include an exact monetary demand. But it says the defendants should be held responsible for “billions of dollars in statutory and actual damages” related to the “unlawful copying and use of The Times’s uniquely valuable works.” It also calls for the companies to destroy any chatbot models and training data that use copyrighted material from The Times.

Representatives of OpenAI and Microsoft could not be immediately reached for comment.

The lawsuit could test the emerging legal contours of generative A.I. technologies — so called for the text, images and other content they can create after learning from large data sets — and could carry major implications for the news industry. The Times is among a small number of outlets that have built successful business models from online journalism, but dozens of newspapers and magazines have been hobbled by readers’ migration to the internet.

At the same time, OpenAI and other A.I. tech firms — which use a wide variety of online texts, from newspaper articles to poems to screenplays, to train chatbots — are attracting billions of dollars in funding.

ny times logoNew York Times, A.I. Can Make Art That Feels Human. Whose Fault Is That? Jason Farago, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A fake Drake/Weeknd mash-up is not a threat to culture. It’s a warning, our critic writes: We can’t let our imaginations shrink to machine size.

This was the year — ask your stockbroker, or the disgraced management of Sports Illustrated — that artificial intelligence went from a dreamy projection to an ambient menace and perpetual sales pitch. Does it feel like the future to you, or has A.I. already taken on the staleness and scamminess of the now-worthless nonfungible token?

Artists have been deploying A.I. technologies for a while, after all: Ed Atkins, Martine Syms, Ian Cheng and Agnieszka Kurant have made use of neural networks and large language models for years, and orchestras were playing A.I.-produced Bach variations back in the 1990s. I suppose there was something nifty the first time I tried ChatGPT — a slightly more sophisticated grandchild of Eliza, the ’60s therapist chatbot — though I’ve barely used it since then; the hallucinatory falsehoods of ChatGPT make it worthless for journalists, and even its tone seems an insult to my humanity. (I asked: “Who was the better painter, Manet or Degas?” Response: “It is not appropriate to compare artists in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse,’ as art is a highly subjective field.”)

Still, the explosive growth of text-to-image generators such as Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E (the last is named after the corniest artist of the 20th century; that should have been a clue) provoked anxieties that A.I. was coming for culture — that certain capabilities once understood as uniquely human now faced computational rivals. Is this really the case?

ny times logoNew York Times, ChatGPT Helps, and Worries, Business Consultants, Study Finds, David Berreby, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The A.I. tool helped most with creative tasks. With more analytical work, however, the technology led to more mistakes.

washington post logoWashington Post, College chancellor fired for adult videos says it’s a free-speech issue, Kim Bellware, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). In 2007, when Joseph Gow was welcomed to his new post as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he sketched out a wish for the future. “In a few years,” he told the school’s alumni magazine, “I want people to be saying the same kind of nice things they’re saying about me as I start: That that guy came in, he showed us a certain way and wow, he has stuck to it, and it worked.”

Gow stuck to his ways for 16 years, becoming UW-La Crosse’s second-longest-serving chancellor, a role formerly called president. But on Wednesday, his tenure ended abruptly when the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents unanimously voted to fire him after discovering sexually explicit videos Gow, 63, had produced and filmed with his wife.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomIn statements, university officials used language such as “abhorrent” and “disgusted,” with University of Wisconsin System President Jay Rothman saying “specific conduct” by Gow had “subjected the university to significant reputational harm.”

Gow had already announced this fall that he was stepping down in the springtime and planned to return to the classroom, where he is a tenured communications professor. That plan is now in jeopardy as Rothman seeks to have the professor’s tenure status reviewed.

The firing and the fallout has come as a surprise to Gow, who said the regents never specified which policy he violated and did not invite him to speak or defend himself at their hastily called meeting Wednesday night. He is also surprised that videos of legal, consensual sex with his wife, Carmen Wilson, made in their private time, have run afoul of standards in a university system that just six years ago adopted a sweeping new policy on academic freedom and freedom of expression.

The sexuality and relationship books the couple have co-written under pseudonyms and the videos they have filmed and produced would be covered under the school’s free-expression policy, Gow argued.

Wilson, 56, was even more succinct, arguing that the board’s actions against her husband demonstrate that “free speech is free — as long as it aligns with [their] values.”

Gow’s case comes amid a broader discussion over the extent to which employers can punish or marginalize employees for legal behavior they pursue in their private lives. In the past few years, nurses, teachers, paramedics, judges and professionals in other fields have lost their jobs after they were outed as having an account on the adult content site OnlyFans or other pornography sites. In Virginia, a woman running for a state House of Delegates seat faced backlash for performing sex acts online for tips.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Columbia’s President Has Avoided Fallout Over Israel-Gaza Protests, Sharon Otterman, Dec. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The university has faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

columbia logoIn the weeks after Oct. 7, Columbia University was the scene of rising tensions over the Israel-Hamas war on American college campuses.

A Jewish student said he was assaulted after putting up posters of hostages. Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students accused one another of support for genocide in a series of heated protests and counter-protests.

But as the fall semester ended, Columbia faded from the spotlight even as its peer schools, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania in particular, were scrutinized over their responses to the war and claims of antisemitism on campus.

Supporters of Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, credit her diplomatic skills in avoiding a similar public relations crisis. But detractors said she has bent too far to the demands of Israel supporters, angering students and some faculty members but keeping powerful donors and trustees mostly happy.

She might also have benefited from a bit of luck.

When Congress invited her to a congressional hearing on antisemitism on Dec. 5 with her peers from Harvard, Penn and M.I.T., Dr. Shafik said she could not go. She told representatives that she had already planned to attend the COP28 climate conference in Dubai, where she introduced a panel about women leaders.

The Congressional hearing did not go well. The University of Pennsylvania president lost her job and the Harvard president became mired in weeks of controversy.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Private Liberal Arts College Is Drowning in Debt. Should Alabama Rescue It? Emily Cochrane, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Birmingham-Southern College was about to receive a multimillion-dollar loan, but a state official said it was not a justifiable use of taxpayer money.

On a crisp fall day at Birmingham-Southern College, the students were making their way to class, stealing a few cold minutes under the golden ginkgo trees. Inside the red brick buildings that dot the 192-acre campus, professors were preparing exams for finals week, while administrators readied the first round of acceptance letters for the next school year.

Yet looming over those quintessential scenes of college life was an unsettling question: Would the school even make it to another fall semester?

The private liberal arts school in Birmingham, Ala., has been plagued by financial instability for years, with the 2009 recession and the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the consequences of overly ambitious investments and hulking debts.

Closure seemed imminent earlier this year, until Alabama lawmakers appeared to offer a lifeline: a law tailored toward saving the 167-year-old school with a program that could loan millions of dollars. But in October, the state treasurer denied the school’s loan application, sending administrators scrambling once again to save the school.

For many outside the school, its fate is simply about whether a private school that has mismanaged its finances deserves any kind of taxpayer support, especially in a state that has chronically underfunded its public education system. But for alumni and the school’s supporters, it is also a question of whether a classical liberal arts education is still valued at a moment when colleges and universities are facing intense scrutiny over their curricula, admissions and cultures.

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Dec. 28

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U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

Israeli army troops are seen near the GazaStrip board in southern Israelon Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The army is battling Palestinian militaynts across Gaza in the war ignited by HaHmas' Oct. 7 attack in to Israel (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

 

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 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 

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The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

 

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Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 
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ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Skepticism Grows Over Israel’s Ability to Dismantle Hamas, Neil MacFarquhar, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Israel has vowed time and again to eliminate the group responsible for the brutal Oct. 7 attack, but critics increasingly see that goal as unrealistic or even impossible.

Israel FlagStanding before a gray backdrop decorated with Hamas logos and emblems of a gunman that commemorate the bloody Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s representative in Lebanon, professed no concern about his Palestinian faction being dislodged from Gaza.

“We are not worried about the future of the Gaza Strip,” he recently told a crowded news conference in his offices in Beirut’s southern suburbs. “The decision maker is the Palestinian people alone.”

Mr. Hamdan thus dismissed one of Israel’s key objectives since the beginning of its assault on Gaza: to dismantle the Islamist political and military organization that was behind the massacre of about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and which still holds more than 100 hostages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has repeatedly emphasized that objective even while facing mounting international pressure to scale back military operations. The Biden administration has dispatched senior envoys to Israel to push for a new phase of the war focused on more targeted operations rather than sweeping destruction.

And critics both within Israel and outside have questioned whether resolving to destroy such a deeply entrenched organization was ever realistic. One former Israeli national security adviser called the plan “vague.”

“I think that we have reached a moment when the Israeli authorities will have to define more clearly what their final objective is,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said this month. “The total destruction of Hamas? Does anybody think that’s possible? If it’s that, the war will last 10 years.”

Since it first emerged in 1987, Hamas has survived repeated attempts to eliminate its leadership. The organization’s very structure was designed to absorb such contingencies, according to political and military specialists. In addition, Israel’s devastating tactics in the Gaza war threaten to radicalize a broader segment of the population, inspiring new recruits.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Report of Leaked Judicial Draft Threatens Israel’s Wartime Unity, Aaron Boxerman, Dec. 28, 2023. A looming Supreme Court decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive plan to overhaul Israel’s courts threatened to disrupt his fragile wartime government, after an Israeli television report revived the fissures around the ruling.

Israel FlagChannel 12 reported on what it called a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision to strike down part of his plan, which would weaken the judiciary and strengthen the government. Before the war, the plan, backed by Mr. Netanyahu’s hard-right allies, had been opposed by huge, monthslong protests.

A spokeswoman for Israel’s courts said on Thursday that “the writing of the ruling is not yet complete.” The court is expected to rule by mid-January.

Whatever the decision, it has potential to throw Israel’s unity government, formed after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led terrorist attacks, into disarray as the country wages war in Gaza and faces international pressure over the scope of its military campaign.

Two members of Israel’s war cabinet, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime rivals, Benny Gantz, and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, both criticized the government’s pursuit of the overhaul. Mr. Netanyahu had tried to fire Mr. Gallant after the defense minister criticized the pace of the plan, only to reverse the decision amid widespread outrage.

And should the court rule against Mr. Netanyahu, it could set off a constitutional crisis within Israel if his allies try to defy it. Regardless of the outcome, the case is considered one of the most consequential in Israel’s history, because it could determine the extent to which politicians will be subject to judicial oversight.

Israel’s Channel 12 broadcaster reported on Wednesday night that a slim majority of the court — eight of 15 judges — are set to overturn a law passed in July that stripped Israel’s Supreme Court of the power to overturn government actions and appointments it deems “unreasonable.” Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing governing coalition had passed the law in an effort to remove what it said was the court’s ability to overrule the will of the majority.

The law was part of Mr. Netanyahu’s wider plan to weaken the country’s judiciary, which divided the country and led hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stage months of street protests. Opponents, including Israel’s chief justice and attorney general, said the plan — if fully carried out — would deal a fatal blow to the country’s separation of powers.

The dispute posed one of the gravest domestic political crises Israel had faced in the 75 years since the nation’s founding. But it faded to the background after the Hamas attacks, in which roughly 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 were taken hostage to Gaza, according to the Israeli authorities.

Here’s what we know:

  • An Israeli television channel reported that the country’s top court was prepared to overturn a law limiting its ability to restrain the government, reviving deep pre-war political fissures.
  • Here’s what to know about the judicial law that divided Israel before Oct. 7.
  • A war cabinet member warns that Israel could open a new front against Hezbollah.
  • Deadly strikes deepen the suffering at one of southern Gaza’s last working hospitals.
  • The human rights situation in the West Bank has ‘deteriorated rapidly,’ a U.N. report finds.
  • Israeli raids in the West Bank target money changing businesses.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: The human rights situation in the West Bank has ‘deteriorated rapidly,’ a U.N. report finds, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Dec. 28, 2023. The United Nations said on Thursday that respect for human rights had “deteriorated rapidly” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since Oct. 7, calling on Israel to take immediate action to end settler violence palestinian flagand the excessive use of force by its military.

UN logoThe office of the U.N.’s human rights commissioner said it had documented the deaths of 300 Palestinians, along with mass arrests and ill treatment that it said could amount to torture in the West Bank after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War Live Updates: Israeli Warning Raises Prospect of a Broader War, Johnatan Reiss, Nadav Gavrielov and Thomas Fuller, Dec. 28, 2023. Benny Gantz, a member of the war cabinet, said Israel could take stronger action against Hezbollah on the northern border, after weeks of rocket fire.

Israel FlagAs Israel pounded targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a member of the country’s war cabinet threatened action on a second front, along the northern border with Lebanon, where the Iranian-backed militia Hezbollah has fired rocket barrages into Israel.

“The stopwatch for a diplomatic solution is running out,” Benny Gantz, left, a member of Israel’s war cabinet and former defense benny grantz cropped flickr as israel defense forces chief of staffjpg Smallminister, told reporters Wednesday. “If the world and the Lebanese government don’t act in order to prevent the firing on Israel’s northern residents, and to distance Hezbollah from the border, the I.D.F. will do it,” he said, referring to Israel’s military.

“The next stages in fighting will also be deep, forceful, and surprising,” added Mr. Gantz. “The campaign will continue and expand, according to necessity, to more foci or fronts.”

The threat of a wider war has preoccupied the United States and its allies since the start of the conflict in Gaza, and has only grown as three Iranian-backed groups — Hamas, Hezbollah and Houthis in Yemen — have launched attacks toward Israel as well as on commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The concern prompted the United States to dispatch two aircraft carriers to the eastern Mediterranean after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks on Israel that started the war in Gaza.

Tensions rose even higher this week after Iran accused Israel of killing Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in a missile strike in Syria. On Wednesday, a cortege of mourners accompanied his body through the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, and a representative of the Revolutionary Guards, Ramezan Sharif, again threatened retaliation against Israel, The Associated Press reported.

But hints of division among Israel’s adversaries emerged on Wednesday, when Mr. Sharif claimed that Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack was prompted not by longstanding grievances with Israel, but by the 2020 killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Hamas promptly rejected the suggestion.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that its northern command, along the border with Lebanon, was in a “state of very high readiness.” The military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said, “We need to be prepared to strike if required.”

Politico, Maine kicks Trump off ballot under 14th Amendment, Zach Montellaro, Dec. 28, 2023. Activists and voters have filed numerous lawsuits around the country claiming the former president is barred from office under the “insurrection clause.”

politico CustomMaine on Thursday became the second state to declare former President Donald Trump ineligible to serve as president for his involvement in an insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows made the decision booting Trump off the state’s ballot under an interpretation of the 14th Amendment that argues Trump cannot serve again because he supported or “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”

The decision follows a similar ruling from the Colorado Supreme Court last week, which will almost assuredly end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks.

Bellows, a Democrat, made the call in Maine because state law requires the secretary to adjudicate ballot challenges to candidates’ eligibility. Her decision can be appealed through the state judiciary.

Residents in the state had challenged Trump’s eligibility to appear on the primary ballot.

“I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Bellows wrote in her determination. “I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.”

The decision will almost assuredly be appealed by Trump. But by becoming the second state to kick Trump off the ballot, it marks a major milestone for the effort by activists to bar Trump from seeking the Oval Office again — breaking out of the confines from an isolated incident in one state to the beginning of a pattern.

Activists and voters have filed numerous lawsuits around the country claiming that Trump is barred from office under the 14th Amendment’s “insurrection clause.” That clause states that anyone who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” after taking an oath of office to support the Constitution is forbidden from holding any public office.

Bellows’ decision followed an hourslong hearing in the state earlier this month in which Trump’s attorneys argued that she doesn’t have the discretion to make a decision on Trump’s eligibility and that he hadn’t participated or aided in an insurrection.

The challenge to Trump’s eligibility propels Bellows into the spotlight in an unusual way. Many of her secretary of state colleagues across the country have similarly been pressured to kick Trump off the ballot, but they’ve argued that the courts — not election officials — are the proper jurisdiction to make that call.

But Maine state law effectively has Bellows serve in a quasi-judicial role for eligibility challenges that many of her colleagues do not.

In a statement, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung attacked Bellows as “a former ACLU attorney, a virulent leftist and a hyper-partisan Biden-supporting Democrat.”

He called it the the push to have Trump disqualified “partisan election interference efforts,” and said the campaign “will quickly file a legal objection in state court to prevent this atrocious decision in Maine from taking effect.”

A second state invoking the 14th Amendment to block Trump from the ballot makes it even more likely that the nation’s top court will step in to adjudicate the dispute. Colorado’s justices pointedly noted that they were unlikely to have the final say.

On Wednesday, Michigan’s state Supreme Court ruled that Trump can appear on the state’s primary ballot, finding that the secretary of state there did not have the power to make that determination.

While a significant legal headache, the Colorado ruling further rallied Republicans to Trump’s side. Following the ruling, President Joe Biden said it was “self-evident” that Trump supported an insurrection, but that “whether the 14th Amendment applies, I’ll let the court make that decision.”

 

The Russian ship Novocherkassk is shown in a 2021 file photo by Murad Sexer for Reuters).

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Strike Hits Russian Warship in Occupied Crimea, Constant Méheut, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Russia acknowledged that the ship (shown above in a 2021 Reuters photo) had been damaged in what appeared to be one of the most significant attacks on the Black Sea Fleet in months.

ukraine flagThe Ukrainian Air Force said in a statement that it had destroyed the Novocherkassk, a large landing ship, in the southeastern Crimean port of Feodosia overnight. Russia’s Defense Ministry told the Tass state news agency that the ship had been damaged in an attack using “aircraft-guided missiles,” but did not say whether the vessel had been permanently disabled.

Videos of the attack that appeared to be taken by residents and were released by the Ukrainian Air Force showed a huge explosion that produced a large fireball, followed by a giant cloud of smoke and fire billowing into the night sky.

The footage could not be immediately verified, but Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-installed governor of Crimea, said that the attack had started a fire in Feodosia. One person was killed and two others were wounded in the assault, he added.

“The fleet in Russia is getting smaller and smaller!” Mykola Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s Air Force, wrote in a post on the Telegram messaging app celebrating the strike, which he noted came after Ukrainian missiles sank the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet last year.

The Ukrainian military has long maintained that the war cannot be won without taking aim at Russian assets and operations in Crimea, which Moscow illegally annexed in 2014. In recent months, Ukraine has sharply accelerated the pace of strikes on the peninsula, which Russia’s military uses as a logistics hub for its hold on southern Ukraine — stockpiling fuel, ammunition and other supplies to be funneled to the battlefields — but also as a launchpad for attacks.

The Black Sea Fleet has fired devastating precision cruise missiles at cities and towns deep inside Ukraine. In an attempt to reduce the threat, the Ukrainian military has repeatedly targeted the fleet this year — damaging a warship in August and hitting the fleet’s headquarters a month later.

Those attacks were significant achievements for a country without warships of its own, and rare successes in a year marked by disappointing efforts to break through Russian defensive lines on the battlefield.

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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ny times logoNew York Times, They’re Paid Billions to Root Out Child Labor in the U.S. Why Do They Fail? Hannah Dreier, Dec. 28, 2023. Private auditors have failed to detect migrant children working for U.S. suppliers of Oreos, Gerber, McDonald’s and many other brands.

One morning in 2019, an auditor arrived at a meatpacking plant in rural Minnesota. He was there on behalf of the national drugstore chain Walgreens to ensure that the factory, which made the company’s house brand of beef jerky, was safe and free of labor abuses.

He ran through a checklist of hundreds of possible problems, like locked emergency exits, sexual harassment and child labor. By the afternoon, he had concluded that the factory had no major violations. It could keep making jerky, and Walgreens customers could shop with a clear conscience.

When night fell, another 150 workers showed up at the plant. Among them were migrant children who had come to the United States by themselves looking for work. Children as young as 15 were operating heavy machinery capable of amputating fingers and crushing bones.

Migrant children would work at the Monogram Meat Snacks plant in Chandler, Minn., for almost four more years, until the Department of Labor visited this spring and found such severe child labor violations that it temporarily banned the shipment of any more jerky.

In the past two decades, private audits have become the solution to a host of public relations headaches for corporations. When scandal erupts over labor practices, or shareholders worry about legal risks, or advocacy groups demand a boycott, companies point to these inspections as evidence that they have eliminated abuses in their supply chains. Known as social compliance audits, they have grown into an $80 billion global industry, with firms performing hundreds of thousands of inspections each year.

But a New York Times review of confidential audits conducted by several large firms shows that they have consistently missed child labor.

Children were overlooked by auditors who were moving quickly, leaving early or simply not sent to the part of the supply chain where minors were working, The Times found in audits performed at 20 production facilities used by some of the nation’s most recognizable brands.

Auditors did not catch instances in which children were working on Skittles and Starburst candies, Hefty brand party cups, the pork in McDonald’s sandwiches, Gerber baby snacks, Oreos, Cheez-Its or the milk that comes with Happy Meals.

In a series of articles this year, The Times has revealed that migrant children, who have been coming to America in record numbers, are working dangerous jobs in every state, in violation of labor laws. Children often use forged documents that slip by auditors who check paperwork but do not speak with most workers face-to-face. Corporations suggest that supply chains are reviewed from start to finish, but sub-suppliers such as industrial farms remain almost entirely unscrutinized.

The expansion of social compliance audits comes as the Labor Department has shrunk, with staffing levels now so low that it would take more than 100 years for inspectors to visit every workplace in the department’s jurisdiction once. For many factories, a private inspection is the only one they will ever get.

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Migrant Children Are Living, and Often Working, in the U.S., Eli Murray, Hannah Dreier and K.K. Rebecca Lai, Dec. 28, 2023 (interactive). Data shows where a record number of unaccompanied children traveling to the U.S. from Central America and other countries have ended up.

Since 2021, migrant children have been traveling alone to the United States in record numbers: Nearly 400,000 children have crossed the southern border by themselves, most of them fleeing extreme poverty.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Thousands join migrant caravan in Mexico ahead of Blinken’s visit to the capital, Staff Report, Dec. 25-26, 2023. The caravan is estimated at around 6,000 people, many of them families with young children.

A sprawling caravan of migrants from Central America, Venezuela, Cuba and other countries trekked through Mexico on Sunday, heading toward the U.S. border. The procession came just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Mexico City to hammer out new agreements to control the surge of migrants seeking entry into the United States.

The caravan, estimated at around 6,000 people, many of them families with young children, is the largest in more than a year, a clear indication that joint efforts by the Biden administration and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government to deter migration are falling short.

The Christmas Eve caravan departed from the city of Tapachula, near the country’s southern border with Guatemala. Security forces looked on in what appeared to be a repeat of past tactics when authorities waited for the marchers to tire out and then offered them a form of temporary legal status that is used by many to continue their journey northward.

“We’ve been waiting here for three or four months without an answer,” said Cristian Rivera, traveling alone, having left his wife and child in his native Honduras. “Hopefully with this march there will be a change and we can get the permission we need to head north.”

López Obrador in May agreed to take in migrants from countries such as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba turned away by the U.S. for not following rules that provided new legal pathways to asylum and other forms of migration.

But that deal, aimed at curbing a post-pandemic jump in migration, appears to be insufficient as the number of migrants once again surges, disrupting bilateral trade and stoking anti-migrant sentiment among conservative voters in the U.S.

This month, as many as 10,000 migrants were arrested per day at the U.S. southwest border. Meanwhile, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had to suspend cross-border rail traffic in the Texas cities of Eagle Pass and El Paso as migrants were riding atop freight trains.

Arrests for illegal crossing topped 2 million in each of the U.S. government’s last two fiscal years, reflecting technological changes that have made it easier for migrants to leave home to escape poverty, natural disasters, political repression and organized crime.

On Friday, López Obrador said he was willing to work again with the U.S. to address concerns about migration. But he also urged the Biden administration to ease sanctions on leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela — where about 20% of 617,865 migrants encountered nationwide in October and November hail from — and send more aid to developing countries in Latin America and beyond.

“That is what we are going to discuss, it is not just contention,” López Obrador said at a press briefing Friday following a phone conversation the day before with President Joe Biden to pave the way for the high level U.S. delegation.

The U.S. delegation, which will meet the Mexican president on Wednesday, will also include Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and White House homeland security adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall.

Mexico’s ability to assist the U.S. may be limited, however. In December, the government halted a program to repatriate and transfer migrants inside Mexico due to a lack of funds. So far this year, Mexico has detected more than 680,000 migrants living illegally in the country, while the number of foreigners seeking asylum in the country has reached a record 137,000.

Sunday’s caravan was the largest since June 2022, when a similarly sized group departed as Biden hosted leaders in Los Angeles for the Summit of the Americas. Another march departed Mexico in October, coinciding with a summit organized by López Obrador to discuss the migration crisis with regional leaders. A month later, 3,000 migrants blocked for more than 30 hours the main border crossing with Guatemala. 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Chaos, Fury, Mistakes: 600 Days Inside New York’s Migrant Crisis, Andy Newman and Dana Rubinstein, Dec. 26, 2023. More than 150,000 people have arrived in less than two years, throwing the city into crisis. Missed opportunities made things even harder.

Nearly 70,000 migrants crammed into hundreds of emergency shelters. People sleeping on floors, or huddled on sidewalks in the December cold. Families packed into giant tents at the edge of the city, miles from schools or services.

And New York City is spending hundreds of millions of dollars a month to care for them all.

This fall, an official in the administration of Mayor Eric Adams referred to the city’s obligation to house and feed the 500 new migrants still arriving each day as “our new normal.”

It is a normal that could scarcely have been imagined 18 months ago, when migrants began gravitating to the city in large numbers from the nation’s southern border.

The migrant crisis in New York is the product of some factors beyond the city’s control, including global upheaval, a federal government letting migrants enter in record numbers without giving most of them a way to work legally, and a unique local rule requiring the city to offer a bed to every homeless person.

But the dimensions of the problem — the $2.4 billion cost so far, the harsh conditions, the number of migrants stuck in shelters — can also be traced to actions taken, and not taken, by the Adams administration, The New York Times found in dozens of interviews with officials, advocates and migrants.

As the city raced to improvise a system that has processed more than 150,000 people since last year, it stumbled in myriad ways, many never reported before.

For most of the crisis, the city failed to take basic steps to help migrants move out of shelters and find homes in a city famed for its sky-high rents. It waited a year to help large numbers of migrants file for asylum, likely closing a pathway to legal employment for thousands.

The city has signed more than $2 billion in no-bid contracts, some with vendors that have been accused of abusing migrants. It has paid more than twice as much to house each migrant household as it did to house a homeless family before the crisis.

 

More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

gaza war 7 18 2014

The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nearly Two Million Crowd Into Gaza’s South as Fighting Intensifies, Zach Levitt, Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Lauren Leatherby and Leanne Abraham, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). As Israel’s ground campaign broadens in southern Gaza, thousands more people are pouring into areas that are struggling to offer shelter or security.

Since the end of the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in early December, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has deepened, with evacuation orders and intense fighting squeezing civilians into an ever-shrinking area.

On Friday, the Israeli military again ordered civilians to move south immediately, this time out of an area in central Gaza that was home to almost 90,000 people before the war. At least 60,000 displaced people, most of whom had fled from northern Gaza, had been sheltering there.

Gazans are struggling without sanitation, food or water. More than 1.7 million displaced people are registered in shelters in the south, including a few hundred thousand people who cannot fit within their walls and are sleeping along roads and in open spaces.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Gaza War’s Toll Grows, Mediators Seek a Way Out of the Fighting, Aaron Boxerman and Ben Hubbard, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.).Both Israel and Hamas have staked out seemingly intractable positions in public, leading diplomats to say they believe that a truce remains far off.

Israel FlagAs casualties rise in the war between Israel and Hamas and global pressure to de-escalate the violence grows, international mediators are floating proposals for a new cease-fire. But both sides, at least in public, have staked out seemingly intractable conditions, leading diplomats to say they believe a deal for a durable truce remains far off.

In late November, a weeklong cease-fire saw Hamas release more than 100 hostages abducted during their Oct. 7 attack on Israel. In turn, Israel freed roughly 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees, and allowed more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza. Mediators in Qatar hoped the pause would lay the basis for an end to the fighting.

Here’s what we know:

  • Both Israel and Hamas have staked out seemingly intractable positions in public, leading diplomats to say they believe that a truce remains far off.
  • Truce proposals circulate, but prospects for a new cease-fire appear remote.
  • Satellite imagery shows Israel’s advance into central Gaza.
  • The number of Palestinians in Israeli jails is at a 14-year high, a rights group says.
  • The latest Israeli raid in the West Bank kills 6, Palestinian officials say.
  • Another video shows Gazan detainees stripped to their underwear.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox, exempt from military service, now enlisting, Ruby Mellen, Itay Stern and Heidi Levine, Dec. 28, 2023. Mordechai Porat leaves his home each morning in a crisp black suit and hat. It isn’t until he arrives at this army base in central Israel that he changes into his green military fatigues.

Porat, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, doesn’t want his family or neighbors in Bnei Brak spotting him in uniform and discovering his secret: He has enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces.

The 36-year-old social worker is one of a growing number of ultra-Orthodox Jews, or Haredim, who have responded to the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 by enlisting in Israel’s campaign to eradicate the militant group, sometimes quietly, despite the community’s exemption from military service.

Since that surprise attack, when Hamas and allied fighters streamed out of Gaza, killing around 1,200 people and taking 240 more hostage, volunteers from all walks of Israeli life have sought to join the war effort. But the 2,000 new Haredi applicants stand out.

Their exemption from mandatory conscription has long been a point of contention in a country where military service is an integral part of the national identity. It led to the downfall of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2019, the start of a four-year election crisis.

ny times logoNew York Times, As World’s Gaze Shifts to Gaza, Israel’s Psyche Remains Defined by Oct. 7, Patrick Kingsley, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Hamas’s brutal raid and taking of hostages has left Israelis deeply traumatized and is expected to reshape the country for years to come.

The Oct. 7 attack on Israel has prompted soul-searching on the Israeli left, undermining faith in a shared future with Palestinians. It has created a crisis of confidence on the Israeli right, sapping support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It has drawn ultra-Orthodox Jews, often ambivalent about their relationship to the Israeli state, closer to the mainstream.

Across religious and political divides, Israelis are coming to terms with what the Hamas-led terrorist attack meant for Israel as a state, for Israelis as a society, and for its citizens as individuals. Just as Israel’s failures in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war ultimately upended its political and cultural life, the Oct. 7 assault and its aftershocks are expected to reshape Israel for years to come.

The attack, which killed an estimated 1,200 people, has collapsed Israelis’ sense of security and shaken their trust in Israel’s leaders. It has shattered the idea that Israel’s blockade of Gaza and occupation of the West Bank could continue indefinitely without significant fallout for Israelis. And for Israel’s Jewish majority, it has broken the country’s central promise.

When Israel was founded in 1948, the defining goal was to provide a sanctuary for Jews, after 2,000 years of statelessness and persecution. On Oct. 7, that same state proved unable to prevent the worst day of violence against Jews since the Holocaust.

“At that moment, our Israeli identity felt so crushed. It felt like 75 years of sovereignty, of Israeliness, had — in a snap — disappeared,” said Dorit Rabinyan, an Israeli novelist.

“We used to be Israelis,” she added. “Now we are Jewish.”

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More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, How Trump Plans to Wield Power in 2025: What We Know, Jonathan Swan, Maggie Haberman and Charlie Savage, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Donald J. Trump and his allies are already laying the groundwork for a possible second Trump presidency, forging plans for an even more extreme agenda than his first term.

Since beginning his 2024 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump has said the “termination” of the Constitution would have been justified to overturn the 2020 election, told followers “I am your retribution” and vowed to use the Justice Department to prosecute his adversaries — starting with President Biden and his family.

FBI logoBeneath these public threats is a series of plans by Mr. Trump and his allies that would upend core elements of American governance, democracy, foreign policy and the rule of law if he regains the White House.

Some of these themes trace back to the final period of Mr. Trump’s term in office. By that stage, his key advisers had learned how to more effectively wield power and Mr. Trump had fired officials who resisted some of his impulses and replaced them with loyalists. Then he lost the 2020 election and was cast out of power.

CIA LogoSince leaving office, Mr. Trump’s advisers and allies at a network of well-funded groups have advanced policies, created lists of potential personnel and started shaping new legal scaffolding — laying the groundwork for a second Trump presidency they hope will commence on Jan. 20, 2025.

In a vague statement, two top officials on Mr. Trump’s campaign have sought to distance his campaign team from some of the plans being developed by Mr. Trump’s outside allies, groups led by former senior Trump administration officials who remain in direct contact with him. The statement called news reports about the campaign’s personnel and policy intentions “purely speculative and theoretical.”

The plans described here generally derive from what Mr. Trump has trumpeted on the campaign trail, what has appeared on his campaign website and interviews with Trump advisers, including some who spoke with The New York Times at the request of the campaign.
Trump wants to use the Justice Department to take vengeance on his political adversaries.

If he wins another term, Mr. Trump has said he would use the Justice Department to have his adversaries investigated and charged with crimes, including saying in June that he would appoint “a real special prosecutor to go after” President Biden and his family. He later declared in an interview with Univision that he could, if someone challenged him politically, have that person indicted.

Allies of Mr. Trump have also been developing an intellectual blueprint to cast aside the post-Watergate norm of Justice Department investigatory independence from White House political direction.

Foreshadowing such a move, Mr. Trump had already violated norms in his 2016 campaign by promising to “lock up” his opponent, Hillary Clinton, over her use of a private email server. While president, he repeatedly told aides he wanted the Justice Department to indict his political enemies, including officials he had fired such as James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director. The Justice Department opened various such investigations but did not bring charges — infuriating Mr. Trump and leading to a split in 2020 with his attorney general, William P. Barr.

Politico, Trump shares cryptic ‘dictatorship’ word cloud on Truth Social, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). It’s not the first time Trump has called himself a dictator, but it’s the first time he’s said it via word cloud.

politico CustomVoters surveyed by the Daily Mail described former President Donald Trump’s political goals as “corruption,” “revenge” and “dictatorship.”

On Tuesday, Trump appeared to voice his agreement with their assessments.

djt maga hatIn a cryptic post on Truth Social, Trump shared a word cloud with the results of a Daily Mail survey released Tuesday that prominently displayed the words “corruption,” “revenge,” “dictatorship” and “power,” indicating that those answers were provided by a large number of participants asked about Trump’s plans for a second term in office.

There was no caption or comment attached to the post. The Trump campaign also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s not the first time Trump has called himself a dictator or hinted at his authoritarian desires, but it’s the first time he’s embraced the label via word cloud. Earlier this month, the Republican frontrunner told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he would not be a dictator “except for day one.”

Trump has doubled down on those comments, telling a gathering of the New York Young Republican Club in Manhattan a few days later that “I said I want to be a dictator for one day” and added, “you know why I wanted to be a dictator? Because I want a wall, and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

Trump has also lavished praise on authoritarian leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un.

The former president has said a second Trump administration would “root out” detractors “who live like vermin” from within the government. Allies and surrogates of the former president have also hinted at possible retribution and retaliation at media figures. Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist who served at the Department of Defense and National Security Council during his presidency, said in a recent appearance on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast that “we will go out and find the conspirators not just in government, but in the media.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Trump Is Not the Only Reason to Fix This Uniquely Dangerous Law, Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, Dec. 27, 2023. Mr. Bauer and Mr. Goldsmith are chairs of the Presidential Reform Project and authors of “After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency.”

The Insurrection Act is a dangerous centuries-old federal statute that authorizes the president, with few restraints, to deploy the U.S. military inside the United States to suppress threats the president perceives to the constitutional order. Commentators have recently proposed tightening the law following reports that former President Donald Trump and his advisers are planning to use it aggressively for law enforcement and to quell domestic disturbances if Mr. Trump is once more elected.

This focus on Trump is understandable but inadequate in capturing the compelling case for reform. It has been clear for decades that the poorly drafted and antiquated law needs revision. There is an opportunity in 2024 to make targeted changes to the statute’s main flaws — and, critically, in a way that both parties would have good reason to support.

The Insurrection Act empowers the president to order the armed forces and state militias into action within the United States and against American citizens in numerous ill-defined circumstances. The president can, for example, deploy military force where states call upon federal assistance in quelling an “insurrection”; or as the president “considers necessary” to enforce federal law against “obstructions,” “combinations” or “assemblages”; or alternatively to quell any “domestic violence” or “conspiracy” that impedes the enforcement of constitutional rights or even “the course of justice” under federal law.

The Insurrection Act has been invoked a more than two dozen times in American history. Presidents have relied on it, for example, to respond to riots (as President George H.W. Bush did in 1992 in response to violent protests following the failed prosecution of the police officers who beat Rodney King) and to meet defiance of federal law (as Presidents John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower did to enforce court-ordered desegregation of public schools in Southern states).

The problem is that the act has very broad and imprecise triggers to its operation and no temporal constraints, and it does not specify any role for Congress to assess, shape or limit the president’s response to an emergency. It is in many respects like the Electoral Count Act, which Congress by large bipartisan majorities revised in 2022 to govern the final tally of the state electoral votes for presidents and vice presidents: a statute widely recognized to be poorly designed and clearly susceptible to harmful misinterpretation and application, yet left on the books for too long because the dangers it presented had not yet come to pass.

Both major political parties in Congress supported Electoral Count Act reform last year and now appear to support broad emergency power reform in other contexts. For the same general reasons, Democrats and Republicans should want to deny any president unchecked authority to use the military in the homeland.

There is no serious dispute, on the merits, that the Insurrection Act gives any president far too much unchecked power. It is hard for anyone to argue that a president should be able to unleash U.S. troops or state militias without any accountability beyond public opinion or impeachment.

Also, reform of the act gives no inherent advantage to one party over the other. We hear much now about Mr. Trump’s potential use of troops at home, but in our polarized society it is easy to imagine each party fearing that a president affiliated with the other may use this tool to his or her political advantage — especially once a president sets a precedent by invoking it aggressively for this reason. In a norm-busting era, Congress should check this foreseeable tit for tat now.

Republicans should have particular interest in Insurrection Act reform, despite the current focus on Mr. Trump. Many members of the Republican Party have been worried about possible politicization of the military, as well as the Pentagon’s recruitment and retention difficulties. As military leaders have long understood, few things politicize the military more than its deployment for domestic control.

Tightening the Insurrection Act would also check abuses of the statute to trample on traditional state law enforcement prerogatives. The act gives presidents full license to call out the military or the militia if they unilaterally conclude that they must enforce state laws because the president determines that the states themselves “are unable, fail or refuse” to do so.

Insurrection Act reform has many potential moving parts. There are three vital elements.

First, Congress should tighten the triggers to presidential invocation of the act. It should eliminate vague and obsolete terms like “assemblage” and “combination”; clearly define other terms like “insurrection” and “domestic violence”; and narrow the president’s seemingly boundless discretion to determine when the act’s triggers are satisfied.

Second, it should require the president to consult with state and local authorities to ensure that troop deployment is needed to address a serious threat to safety; to make findings to that effect; and to report to and consult with Congress on a regular basis.

Third, and perhaps most important, Congress should place a relatively short sunset provision on a president’s invocation of the act — weeks, not months — subject to additional short-term continued deployments approved by Congress. This is where the rubber meets the road, since Congress might not approve the president’s continued use of the military.

But any threat that justifies using the military for domestic law enforcement should be severe enough for majorities of Congress to approve the action, and the dangers of presidential abuse here outweigh the dangers of congressional gridlock.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump falsely claims U.S. soldier killed abroad in burst of misstatements, Isaac Arnsdorf and Dan Lamothe, Dec. 28, 2023. Republican polling leader Donald Trump incorrectly said a U.S. soldier died in recent days, appearing to exaggerate the injuries from an attack in northern Iraq on Monday as he sought to criticize President Biden.

The attack left one U.S. service member in critical condition and two others injured, according to a statement released by U.S. military officials Monday night. The United States responded with retaliatory airstrikes against an Iran-backed armed group.

But the former president, who is a heavy favorite in the 2024 GOP primary, inaccurately described the situation in an interview Wednesday with pro-Trump journalist John Solomon.

“Last night, a young soldier was killed, U.S., and the two were very, very badly hurt and nobody even talks about it,” Trump said, describing the assault two nights prior. “It’s not even believable.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Michigan Supreme Court Decides Trump Can Stay on Ballot, Julie Bosman and Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). After Colorado’s top court ruled that former President Trump was disqualified for engaging in insurrection, justices in Michigan considered a similar challenge.

The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday paved the way for Donald J. Trump to appear on the state’s primary ballot, a victory for the former president in a battleground state.

The state’s top court upheld an appeals court decision that found that the former president could appear on the ballot despite questions about his eligibility to hold elected office because of his attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

The Michigan decision followed a bombshell ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court, which on Dec. 19 determined in a 4-3 opinion that Mr. Trump should be removed from the state’s 2024 Republican primary ballot for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

The question of Mr. Trump’s eligibility is widely expected to be answered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Some form of challenge to Mr. Trump’s eligibility has been lodged in more than 30 states, but many of those have already been dismissed.

The challengers’ arguments are based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which disqualifies anyone from holding federal office if they “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution after having taken an oath to support it.

ny times logoNew York Times, One of the 16 fake electors for Donald Trump in Michigan expressed deep regret about his participation, Danny Hakim, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The Trump supporter is the only one of the 16 fake Michigan electors who has agreed to cooperate with the authorities and had charges against him dropped.

One of the Republicans in Michigan who acted as a fake elector for Donald J. Trump expressed deep regret about his participation, according to a recording of his interview with the state attorney general’s office that was obtained by The New York Times.

The elector, James Renner, is thus far the only Trump elector who has reached an agreement with the office of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, which brought criminal charges in July against all 16 of the state’s fake Trump electors. In October, Ms. Nessel’s office dropped all charges against Mr. Renner after he agreed to cooperate.

Mr. Renner, 77, was a late substitution to the roster of electors in December 2020 after two others dropped out. He told the attorney general’s office that he later realized, after reviewing testimony from the House investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, that he and other electors had acted improperly.

“I can’t overemphasize how once I read the information in the J6 transcripts how upset I was that the legitimate process had not been followed,” he said in the interview. “I felt that I had been walked into a situation that I shouldn’t have ever been involved in.”

 

Colorado Supreme Court Building

The Colorado Supreme Court, with 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter
Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

The Colorado Supreme Court, 2021 photos shown below: Top from left: Justice Carlos A. Samour, Jr., Justice Richard L. Gabriel, Justice Melissa Hart, Justice Maria E. Berkenkotter Bottom from left: Justice Monica M. Márquez, Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright, Justice William W. Hood, III.

washington post logoWashington Post, Law enforcement investigating threats to Colorado justices after Trump ruling, Maegan Vazquez, Dec. 23, 2023 (print ed.). In the wake of the ruling, law enforcement officials say they’ve become aware of both phone and social media threats to the justices who ruled in favor of barring him from the ballot.

Local and federal law enforcement officials say they are investigating a surge in threats that justices on Colorado’s Supreme Court are facing after their decision this week to bar Donald Trump from running in the state’s presidential primary.
Keeping up with politics is easy with The 5-Minute Fix Newsletter, in your inbox weekdays.

djt maga hatIn a 4 to 3 decision Tuesday, the court ruled that Trump should be kept off the ballot because he engaged in an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, violating the part of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits insurrectionists from holding high office.

After the ruling, law enforcement say they’ve become aware of telephone and social media threats to the justices who ruled to bar Trump from the ballot.

FBI logo“The FBI is aware of the situation and working with local law enforcement,” Vikki Migoya, a public affairs officer for the FBI’s Denver field office, said in a statement. “We will vigorously pursue investigations of any threat or use of violence committed by someone who uses extremist views to justify their actions regardless of motivation.”

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arthur engoron djt  New York Justice Arthur F. Engoron, above left, whose decisions in the civil fraud trial are already facing scrutiny as Donald Trump counts on an appeal.

New York Justice Arthur F. Engoron, above left, whose decisions in the civil fraud trial are already facing scrutiny as Donald Trump counts on an appeal.

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

ap logoAssociated Press, Sweden moves a step closer to NATO membership after Turkey’s parliamentary committee gives approval, Suzan Fraser, Dec. 26, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee gave its consent to Sweden’s bid to join NATO on Tuesday, drawing the previously nonaligned Nordic country closer to membership in the Western military alliance.

Sweden’s accession protocol will now need to be approved in the Turkish parliament’s general assembly for the last stage of the legislative process in Turkey. No date has been set.

Turkey, a NATO member, has delayed ratification of Sweden’s membership for more than a year, accusing the country of being too lenient toward groups that Ankara regards as threats to its security, including Kurdish militants and members of a network that Ankara blames for a failed coup in 2016.

The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee had begun discussing Sweden’s membership in NATO last month. But the meeting was adjourned after legislators from Erdogan’s ruling party submitted a motion for a postponement on grounds that some issues needed more clarification and that negotiations with Sweden hadn’t “matured” enough.

On Tuesday, the committee resumed its deliberations and a large majority of legislators in the committee voted in favor of Sweden’s application to join.

Briefing the committee members before the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Burak Akcapar cited steps Sweden had taken steps to meet Turkish demands, including lifting restrictions on defense industry sales and amending anti-terrorism laws in ways that “no one could have imaged five or six years ago.”

“It is unrealistic to expect that the Swedish authorities will immediately fulfill all of our demands. This is a process, and this process requires long-term and consistent effort,” he said, adding that Turkey would continue to monitor Sweden’s progress.

Swedish Foreign Minister Tobias Billström welcomed the committee’s decision on a message posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

“The next step is for parliament to vote on the matter. We look forward to becoming a member of NATO,” he tweeted.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the development, saying that he counts on Turkey and Hungary “to now complete their ratifications as soon as possible. Sweden’s membership will make NATO stronger.”

Hungary has also stalled Sweden’s bid, alleging that Swedish politicians have told “blatant lies” about the condition of Hungary’s democracy. Hungary hasn’t announced when the country’s ratification may occur.

recep erdogan with flagEarlier this month, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (above) had openly linked ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership to the U.S. Congress’ approval of a Turkish request to purchase 40 new F-16 fighter jets and kits to modernize Turkey’s existing fleet.

Erdogan also also called on Canada and other NATO allies to life arms embargoes imposed on Turkey.

The White House has backed the Turkish F-16 request but there is opposition in Congress to military sales to Turkey.

Sweden and Finland abandoned their traditional positions of military nonalignment to seek protection under NATO’s security umbrella, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Finland joined the alliance in April, becoming NATO’s 31st member, after Turkey’s parliament ratified the Nordic country’s bid.

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Property Crisis Blew Up Bets That Couldn’t Lose, Claire Fu and Daisuke Wakabayashi, Dec. 28, 2023. Citic said its new fund was as safe as they come because it would invest in real estate. Then the developer defaulted and the projects stalled.

China FlagOne of China’s largest investment firms, Citic Trust, had a clear pitch to investors when it was aiming to raise $1.7 billion to fund property development in 2020: There is no safer Chinese investment than real estate.

The trust, the investment arm of the state-owned financial conglomerate Citic, called housing “China’s economic ballast” and “an indispensable value investment.” The money it raised would be put toward four projects from Sunac China Holdings, a major developer.

Three years later, investors who put their money in the Citic fund have recouped only a small fraction of their investment. Three of the fund’s construction projects are on hold or significantly delayed because of financing problems or poor sales. Sunac has defaulted and is trying to restructure its debt.

The unraveling of the Citic fund provides a window into the broader problems facing China’s ailing property sector. What started as a housing slump has escalated into a full-blown crisis. The budgets of local governments, which depended on revenue from real estate, have been destabilized. The shock to the country’s financial system has drained China’s capital markets.

ny times logoNew York Times, Death of ‘Parasite’ Star Highlights South Korea’s Latest Crackdown on Drugs, John Yoon, Dec. 28, 2023. The actor, Lee Sun-kyun, had been questioned on suspicion of drug use in a country that takes a hard line against anything other than total abstinence.

south korea flag SmallLee Sun-kyun, the “Parasite” actor who was found dead on Wednesday, was far from the only celebrity entangled in South Korea’s latest antidrug crackdown.

Yoo Ah-in, the actor known for his roles in the 2018 film “Burning” and the 2021 Netflix series “Hellbound,” is facing trial after testing positive for propofol, marijuana, ketamine and cocaine, officials say. Several South Korean retailers have cut ties with the actor since the drug accusations became public. He is no longer listed as a cast member for the second season of “Hellbound.”

G-Dragon, the rapper and former member of the K-pop boy group BigBang, had been under investigation for possible drug use until the police dropped the case earlier this month after he tested negative on several drug tests. Nevertheless, BMW Korea removed images of him from its online advertisements.

The recent accusations against high-profile entertainers here have highlighted the continuation of a strict antidrug policy and attitudes in South Korea that have drawn a hard line against anything other than total abstinence from drug use.

ny times logoNew York Times, Criticize This African Country’s Army and You Might Be Drafted, Monika Pronczuk, Dec. 28, 2023. The military burkina faso locationjunta in Burkina Faso, a West African nation struggling to defeat extremist groups, has been forcibly conscripting critics, human rights groups said.

Burkina Faso, a previously stable, landlocked nation of 20 million, has been torn apart in the past eight burkino fasoyears by violence from extremist groups loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

In the ensuing chaos, the country went through two coups in just 10 months, the second last year by a military junta vowing to contain militant groups by any means.

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sudan sudanese flag on the map of africa

 

U.S. Military, Security, Intelligence, Foreign Policy

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

ny times logoNew York Times, Flynn’s Rhode Island Hall of Fame Inclusion Prompts Resignations, Christine Hauser and Amanda Holpuch, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). At least five board members resigned and said that Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser for President Trump, should not be recognized.

michael flynn djtAt least five board members who oversee the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame have resigned from the organization after Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser under Donald J. Trump, was chosen to be inducted in 2024.

In resignation letters seen by The New York Times and in interviews, the board members said that Mr. Flynn (shown at left taking what was reported to have been an "oath" to the fringe movement QAnon), who has embraced conspiracy theories and is a prominent election denier, should not be recognized by the organization.

The hall of fame was founded in 1965 and recognizes people from Rhode Island “who made significant contributions” or who came to prominence for work they did while they lived in the state. Inductees in 2023 included Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, the first Black person and the second woman confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and J.L. michael flynn qanon oath summer 2000“Lynn” Singleton, the president and chief executive of the Providence Performing Arts Center.

Mr. Flynn, who is from Rhode Island, was among those chosen to be inducted into the 2024 Hall of Fame class in a Dec. 13 vote by 19 board members. A cascade of board resignations followed, The Providence Journal and The Boston Globe first reported.

John Tarantino, a lawyer, and Bea Lanzi, a former state senator, resigned in a letter to Lawrence Reid, the president of the hall of fame’s board, and other board members. A copy of their joint letter, which was dated Dec. 14 and was provided to The Times on Friday, said that the vote result was “both disappointing and astounding to us.”

“There is an overall right and wrong in the universe, and what has happened here, in our view, and according to our moral compasses, and consciences, compels us to resign,” the letter said.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Prosecutors oppose Menendez’s effort to delay bribery trial until July, Staff Report, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The New Jersey senator and his wife stand accused in a corruption case.

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday urged a judge to reject Sen. Bob Menendez’s request to delay his bribery trial scheduled for next spring by two months, until July.

politico CustomProsecutors argued against the postponement a week after defense lawyers offered multiple reasons why they say a trial of the New Jersey Democrat and co-defendants, including his wife, should be delayed.

The senator gave up his position as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after his September arrest, but he is seeking reelection in 2024. The state typically holds its primary in June.

Prosecutors said the original May 6 trial date was appropriate and drew no objections when it was announced even though circumstances were the same.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. struck Iran-backed groups in Iraq during a round of retaliation for a series of assaults, Helene Cooper, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The strikes followed an attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq that injured three U.S. service members, officials said, one critically.

Tuesday in Iraq, most likely killing militants and destroying three facilities used by Iranian proxies that had been targeting American and coalition troops, U.S. officials said.

The American strikes were in retaliation for a series of assaults, including a drone attack hours earlier by members of Kataib Hezbollah and affiliated groups on Erbil air base in Iraq, according to Adrienne Watson, a National Security Council spokeswoman. The drone attack injured three American service members, one of them critically, she said.

“My prayers are with the brave Americans who were injured,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement.

The latest strikes targeted facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah, a militia group in Iraq that is considered a proxy of Iran. The United States blames Iran and the militias aligned with it for what has become a near-daily barrage of rocket and drone attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The Biden administration has sought to calibrate retaliatory airstrikes to ultimately deter such groups while avoiding a wider war.

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GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, First Amendment claim struck down in Project Veritas case focused on diary of Biden’s daughter, Staff Report, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Criminal prosecutors may soon get to see over 900 documents pertaining to the alleged theft of a diary belonging to Ashley Biden.

politico CustomCriminal prosecutors may soon get to see over 900 documents pertaining to the alleged theft of a diary belonging to President Joe Biden’s daughter after a judge rejected the conservative group Project Veritas’ First Amendment claim.

Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said on behalf of the nonprofit Monday that attorneys are considering appealing last Thursday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan. In the written decision, the judge said the documents can be given to investigators by Jan. 5.

james okeefeThe documents were produced from raids that were authorized in November 2021. Electronic devices were also seized from the residences of three members of Project Veritas, including two mobile phones from the home of James O’Keefe, above, the group’s since-fired founder.

Project Veritas, founded in 2010, identifies itself as a news organization. It is best known for conducting hidden camera stings that have embarrassed news outlets, labor organizations and Democratic politicians.

In written arguments, lawyers for Project Veritas and O’Keefe said the government’s investigation “seems undertaken not to vindicate any real interests of justice, but rather to stifle the press from investigating the President’s family.”

“It is impossible to imagine the government investigating an abandoned diary (or perhaps the other belongings left behind with it), had the diary not been written by someone with the last name ‘Biden,’” they added.

The judge rejected the First Amendment arguments, saying in the ruling that they were “inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent.” She also noted that Project Veritas could not claim it was protecting the identity of a confidential source from public disclosure after two individuals publicly pleaded guilty in the case.

She was referencing the August 2022 guilty pleas of Aimee Harris and Robert Kurlander to conspiracy to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Both await sentencing.

The pleas came two years after Harris and Kurlander — two Florida residents who are not employed by Project Veritas — discovered that Ashley Biden, the president’s daughter, had stored items including a diary at a friend’s Delray Beach, Florida, house.

They said they initially hoped to sell some of the stolen property to then-President Donald Trump’s campaign, but a representative turned them down and told them to take the material to the FBI, prosecutors say.

Politico, House GOP traps itself in impeachment box, Jordain Carney, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans are barreling toward an impeachment vote, still short of a majority. But if they skip one altogether, it might look like failure to the base.

politico CustomNow that House Republicans have formalized the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, anything less than voting to remove him could look like failure.

republican elephant logoRight now, though, they don’t have the votes to do that — putting them in a bind of their own making.

Much of the House GOP has tried to keep the question of a full-scale removal vote at arm’s length, despite the course they’ve charted U.S. House logotoward formal articles of impeachment. It’s not hard to see why: They’ll start the election year with only a three-vote majority, which could shrink even further, and 17 incumbents who represent districts Biden won. Plus, Democrats are almost guaranteed to unanimously oppose impeachment.

All that means a vote to recommend booting the president from office would be highly risky.

Republicans stress they’ve only endorsed giving their investigations more legal teeth, as they’ve struggled to find clear evidence linking decisions made by Joe Biden to his family’s business deals. And that’s the bar some centrists have emphasized that investigators need to clear in order to earn enough votes.

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More On U.S. National Politics, Government

herb kohl

ny times logoNew York Times, Herbert Kohl, Former Wisconsin Senator and Milwaukee Bucks Owner, Dies at 88, Robert D. McFadden, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A member of the family that founded Kohl’s department stores, he guarded federal budgets as a U.S. senator while spending lavishly to revive the N.B.A. team he owned.

senate democrats logoHerbert H. Kohl, a Wisconsin Democrat who kept watch over federal budgets in four terms as a United States senator, but who as the die-hard owner of the National Basketball Association’s often mediocre Milwaukee Bucks spent lavishly to keep the team afloat in his hometown, died on Wednesday afternoon at his home in Milwaukee. He was 88. A photo from a Bucks tribute to him is shown above.

His death, after a brief illness, was announced by the Herb Kohl Foundation, his nonprofit organization.

By his own account, Milwaukee meant everything to Mr. Kohl. His parents had immigrated to the city from Poland and Russia early in the 20th century, and his father, Maxwell Kohl, had opened a corner grocery store there in 1927. Herbert and his three siblings were born and raised in the city, scions of a family that in one generation had built an empire of Kohl’s stores across the Upper Midwest.

In Wisconsin and surrounding states, the Kohl name became almost as familiar as Schlitz, which called itself “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” By 1972, when the British American Tobacco Company bought a controlling interest in Kohl’s, the company, still managed by the Kohl family, had 50 grocery stores, six department stores and several networks of pharmacies and liquor stores.

In 2012, under new owners, Kohl’s became the largest department store chain in the United States, surpassing J.C. Penney, its biggest competitor.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Home-schoolers got rid of state oversight. Now they face unexpected pushback, Peter Jamison and Laura Meckler, Dec. 28, 2023. Some states are considering new regulations amid efforts by school-choice advocates to give home-school families taxpayer funding.

When Melanie Elsey stepped up to the lectern at the Ohio Statehouse in April, it looked like a triumphant season for home-schoolers.

Lawmakers would soon roll back what little oversight the state exercised over its booming population of home educators. Now they were discussing what should have been an equally welcome policy. As part of an expansive school-choice bill, Republican legislators wanted to offer home-schoolers thousands of dollars in taxpayer funding each year.

Yet Elsey, a former home-school mom representing Christian Home Educators of Ohio — the state’s oldest and most influential home-schooling association — delivered a surprising message to members of a House education committee: Home-schoolers didn’t want the money.

“These families value their freedom to direct and provide educational opportunities for their children,” she said. Ohio home-schooling leaders worried that if they accepted government funding they would also be forced to accept government regulation of the kind that the home-schooling movement had spent decades dismantling.

The situation in Ohio illustrates the extraordinary moment at which America’s home-schooling movement finds itself after nearly a half-century of activism.

Few causes have enjoyed more success. In the 1980s, it was illegal in most of the United States for parents who weren’t trained educators to teach their children at home.

Today home schooling is not only legal for parents without teaching credentials; many states don’t require them to have graduated from high school. In much of the country, oversight of home educators is scant, or nonexistent.

After an Ohio couple was exposed running a Nazi home-schooling network earlier this year, state officials promised to investigate but eventually declared themselves powerless to do anything. And five months later, state lawmakers eliminated a decades-old requirement that home-school parents submit assessments of their children’s academic progress to school districts.

Only three states impose mandatory testing on most home-schooled children. A majority of states don’t require any form of academic assessment — and even in those that do, the results are often ignored. Over the summer, Vermont Education Agency officials persuaded legislators to end a requirement that home-schoolers send instructional plans and assessment results to the state, saying it lacked the staff to review them.

The number of families in this largely unmonitored educational landscape has soared, growing at a rate far faster than the population of public or private schools. A Washington Post analysis estimated there could be as many as 2.7 million home-schooled children in the United States, up from about 1.5 million before the pandemic.

But there are signs that the mainstream may be a less comfortable place than the margins for the activists who shaped America’s hands-off approach to home education.

washington post logoWashington Post, Federal judge approves Georgia’s Republican-drawn congressional districts, Azi Paybarah, Updated Dec. 28, 2023. A federal judge in Georgia signed off Thursday on congressional districts redrawn this month by the state’s Republican-led legislature, ruling that the new map did not continue to illegally dilute the power of Black voters as Democrats and civil rights groups have argued.

steve jones judge“The Court finds that the General Assembly fully complied with this Court’s order requiring the creation of Black-majority districts in the regions of the State where vote dilution was found,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones, right, of the Northern District of Georgia.

The ruling by Jones, an appointee of President Barack Obama, is likely to maintain the 9-5 majority that Republicans hold in Georgia’s delegation to the U.S. House. Georgia is among several states where challenges to congressional maps could affect the makeup of the U.S. House next year.

In October, Jones found that Georgia’s congressional map, which was previously redrawn by Republican lawmakers in 2021, violated the Voting Rights Act, writing that Black voters in Georgia have “suffered significant harm.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Plan for new Caps, Wizards arena in Va. stirs up its would-be neighbors, Teo Armus, Dec. 28, 2023. Just weeks after an official announcement, the sports complex proposed for Alexandria’s Potomac Yard has become the city’s biggest source of debate

When Virginia officials and corporate executives formally announced their plans earlier this month to move the Washington Capitals and Wizards to a new arena in Alexandria, the audience watching them inside a heated tent cheered the deal with unwavering applause.

But less than 12 hours after celebrating the news onstage, Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson (D) found himself fielding a very different reaction: a volley of pointed questions from hundreds of constituents over what the project would mean for them.

They wanted to know who would build the arena and where spectators would park. How it might impact the Northern Virginia city’s storm pipes and traffic on its already-clogged roads. Why the deal, subject to a nonbinding agreement, was all becoming public now.

Wilson answered nearly every question, at least in part, with the same response: “We will work on it.”

The hour-long virtual meeting, much like a few sharp comments at a city council meeting a few days later on Dec. 16, points to the fierce debate that is rapidly emerging in Alexandria, where knock-down-drag-out civic fights are just as much a part of the city’s fabric as the colonial relics dotting its historic Old Town.

ny times logoNew York Times, Representative Lauren Boebert will run in a more conservative Colorado district after facing a strong primary challenger, Chris Cameron, Dec. 28, 2023. Facing a strong primary challenger and the fallout from the “Beetlejuice” scandal, Ms. Boebert is turning to a more conservative district in hopes of victory.

Representative Lauren Boebert, a far-right House Republican, announced on Wednesday that she would run in a more conservative district in Colorado — seeking to increase her chances after a strong primary challenger emerged in her district.

The move — from the Third Congressional District to the Fourth — will thrust Ms. Boebert into a crowded primary to replace Representative Ken Buck, a conservative who is not seeking re-election. She has fervently promoted false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald J. Trump. Mr. Buck attributed his decision not to run in part to the widespread belief in his party of these false claims — as well as to the refusal of many of his Republican colleagues to condemn the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

In a video posted on social media, Ms. Boebert said that the move was a “fresh start,” alluding to a “pretty difficult year for me and my family,” pointing to her divorce. “It’s the right move for me personally, and it’s the right decision for those who support our conservative movement,” Ms. Boebert said.

In September, then in the midst of finalizing the divorce, she was caught on a security camera vaping and groping her date shortly before being ejected from a performance of the musical “Beetlejuice” for causing a disturbance.

A primary challenger has since emerged with significant backers among prominent former Republican officials in the state. Jeff Hurd, a 44-year-old lawyer from Grand Junction, has been endorsed by former Gov. Bill Owens and former Senator Hank Brown. The editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette also endorsed Mr. Hurd over Ms. Boebert this month.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: How to Boost Voter Turnout With Just One Signature, Mara Gay, Dec. 26, 2023. In a rare bit of political good maya gay twitter croppednews in the final days of 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York has signed into law legislation aimed at increasing voter turnout.

For so many people, the temptation to tune out in this moment of uninspiring politics is stronger than ever. But in Albany, as in Washington, one of the clearest ways to build a saner, more responsive political system is to vastly increase the number of voters who cast ballots.

The bill enacted by Ms. Hochul and the State Legislature would do just that, by moving many county and local elections across New York to even-numbered years, aligning them with federal, statewide and State Legislature elections that draw more voters to the polls.

Abysmally low turnout in New York is a key culprit behind Albany’s dysfunctional politics, which sometimes seem mystifyingly divorced from the urgent needs of millions of residents. Consider, for example, the state’s failure over the past year to address a brutal housing crisis by adopting policies to build housing in the New York City suburbs and enact protections for tenants such as requiring a good cause for evictions.

When smaller numbers of people show up at the polls, elections are less competitive, enhancing the power of special interests — from donors to industry lobbyists and the so-called NIMBYs who have resisted the development of much-needed housing across New York State.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

In late August, amid a rising outcry over revelations that Justice Clarence Thomas had received decades of undisclosed gifts and free luxury travel, a lawyer in Chicago fired off an email to her fellow former Thomas clerks.

“Many of us have been asked recently about the justice,” wrote the lawyer, Taylor Meehan. “In response, there’s not always the opportunity to tell his story and share what it was like to work for him. And there’s rarely the opportunity for us to do so all together.”

Ms. Meehan attached a letter in support of Justice Thomas. Minutes later came a reply. “I just had to jump up right away and say bravo for this,” wrote Steven G. Bradbury, a Heritage Foundation fellow who served in the George W. Bush and Trump administrations. Within days Fox News viewers were hearing about the letter, now signed by 112 former clerks and testifying that the justice’s “integrity is unimpeachable.” Among the signers was the popular Fox host Laura Ingraham.

In turn, the justice’s wife, the conservative activist Virginia Thomas, soon took to the clerks’ private email listserv. “We feel less alone today, because of you all!!! 🙏💕💕💕” she wrote, offering special thanks to the letter’s coordinators and all “who stepped into our fire!!!”

In the 32 years since Justice Thomas came through the fire of his confirmation hearings and onto the Supreme Court, he has assembled an army of influential acolytes unlike any other — a network of like-minded former clerks who have not only rallied to his defense but carried his idiosyncratic brand of conservative legal thinking out into the nation’s law schools, top law firms, the judiciary and the highest reaches of government.

 

leonard leo ap carolyn kaster

 Ultra-right Republican dark money legal powerbroker Leonard Leo is shown above. He is known as an honorary "clerk" because of his special attention to the justice's financial well-being.

The former clerks’ public defense of the justice was “unparalleled in the history of the court,” said Todd C. Peppers, a professor of public affairs at Roanoke College and the author of Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. “It’s frankly astonishing.”

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Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley’s bold strategy to beat Donald Trump is to play it safe, Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Ms. Haley still trails far behind the former president in polls. Yet she is not deviating from the cautious approach that has led her this far.

nikki haley oAt a packed community center in southwestern Iowa, Nikki Haley, right, broke from her usual remarks this month to offer a warning to her top Republican presidential rivals, Donald J. Trump and Ron DeSantis, deploying a favorite line: “If they punch me, I punch back — and I punch back harder.”

But in that Dec. 18 appearance and over the next few days, Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, did not exactly pummel her opponents as promised. Her jabs were instead surgical, dry and policy-driven.

“He went into D.C. saying that he was going to stop the spending and instead, he voted to raise the debt limit,” Ms. Haley said of Mr. DeSantis, a former congressman, in Treynor, near the Nebraska border. At that same stop, she also defended herself against his attack ads and criticized Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor, over offshore drilling and fracking, and questioned his choice of a political surrogate in Iowa.

She was even more careful about going after Mr. Trump, continuing to draw only indirect contrasts and noting pointedly that his allied super PAC had begun running anti-Haley ads.

“He said two days ago I wasn’t surging,” she said, but now had “attack ads going up against me.”

With under three weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Haley is treading cautiously as she enters the crucial final stretch of her campaign to shake the Republican Party loose from the clutches of Mr. Trump. Even as the former president maintains a vast lead in polls, Ms. Haley has insistently played it safe, betting that an approach that has left her as the only non-Trump candidate with any sort of momentum can eventually prevail as primary season unfolds.

On the trail, she rarely takes questions from reporters. She hardly deviates from her stump speech or generates headlines. And she keeps walking a fine line on her greatest obstacle to the Republican nomination — Mr. Trump. 

ny times logoNew York Times, Nikki Haley, in Retreat, Says ‘Of Course the Civil War Was About Slavery,’ Jonathan Weisman and Jazmine Ulloa, Dec. 28, 2023. A day after giving a stumbling answer about the conflict’s origin, Ms. Haley told an interviewer: “Yes, I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and Republican presidential hopeful, on Thursday walked back her stumbling answer about the cause of the Civil War, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.”

Her retreat came about 12 hours after a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire, a state that is central to her presidential hopes, where she was asked what caused the Civil War. She stumbled through an answer about government overreach and “the freedoms of what people could and couldn’t do,” after jokingly telling the questioner he had posed a tough one. He then noted she never uttered the word “slavery.”

“What do you want me to say about slavery?” Ms. Haley replied. “Next question.”

Speaking on the radio show The Pulse of New Hampshire on Thursday morning, Ms. Haley, who famously removed the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia, said: “Yes I know it was about slavery. I am from the South.”

But she also insinuated that the question had come not from a Republican voter but from a political detractor, accusing President Biden and Democrats of “sending plants” to her town-hall events.

“Why are they hitting me? See this for what it is,” she said, adding, “They want to run against Trump.”

In recent polls, Ms. Haley has surged into second place in New Hampshire, edging closer to striking distance of former President Donald J. Trump. To win the Granite State contest on Jan. 23, the first primary election of 2024, she will most likely need independent voters — and possibly Democrats who registered as independents. That is how Senator John McCain of Arizona upset George W. Bush in the state’s 2000 primary.

But the Civil War gaffe may have put a crimp in that strategy.

“I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run,” she said Wednesday night, “the freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do.”

The answer echoed a century’s argument from segregationists that the Civil War was fundamentally about states’ rights and economics, not about ending slavery.

Late Wednesday night, even Mr. Biden rebuked the answer: “It was about slavery,” he wrote on social media.

She tried to walk back her comments on Thursday, asking: “What’s the lesson in all this? That freedom matters. And individual rights and liberties matter for all people. That’s the blessing of America. That was a stain on America when we had slavery. But what we want is never relive it. Never let anyone take those freedoms away again.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: A Trump Conviction Could Cost Him Enough Voters to Tip the Election, Norman Eisen, Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Recent general-election polling has generally shown Donald Trump maintaining a slight lead over President Biden. Yet many of those polls also reveal an Achilles’ heel for Mr. Trump that has the potential to change the shape of the race.

It relates to Mr. Trump’s legal troubles: If he is criminally convicted by a jury of his peers, voters say they are likely to punish him for it.

A trial on criminal charges is not guaranteed, and if there is a trial, neither is a conviction. But if Mr. Trump is tried and convicted, a mountain of public opinion data suggests voters would turn away from the former president.

Still likely to be completed before Election Day remains Special Counsel Jack Smith’s federal prosecution of Mr. Trump for his alleged scheme to overturn the 2020 election, which had been set for trial on March 4, 2024. That date has been put on hold pending appellate review of the trial court’s rejection of Mr. Trump‘s presidential immunity. On Friday, the Supreme Court declined Mr. Smith’s request for immediate review of the question, but the appeal is still headed to the high court on a rocket docket. That is because the D.C. Circuit will hear oral argument on Jan. 9 and likely issue a decision within days of that, setting up a prompt return to the Supreme Court. Moreover, with three other criminal cases also set for trial in 2024, it is entirely possible that Mr. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction before November 2024.

The negative impact of conviction has emerged in polling as a consistent through line over the past six months nationally and in key states. We are not aware of a poll that offers evidence to the contrary. The swing in this data away from Mr. Trump varies — but in a close election, as 2024 promises to be, any movement can be decisive.

Mr. Eisen was special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first impeachment and trial of Donald Trump. Ms. Lake is a Democratic Party strategist and was a lead pollster for Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Ms. Shenker-Osorio is a political researcher and campaign adviser.

ny times logoNew York Times, Vivek Ramaswamy Stops TV Ad Spending, Chris Cameron, Dec. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The campaign’s abrupt shift, focusing on other voter outreach efforts, reflects a significant change in strategy less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses.

vivek ramaswamy linked inVivek Ramaswamy, right, the wealthy entrepreneur seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, has stopped spending money on cable television ads, a campaign representative said on Tuesday.

With just weeks to go until the Iowa caucuses kick off the voting for the nomination, Mr. Ramaswamy’s campaign is maintaining its total advertising outlays, Tricia McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the campaign, said. However, it is shifting away from traditional television toward other methods of voter outreach for a “higher return on investment,” she added. NBC News first reported the campaign’s halt in TV ad spending.

“We’re just following the data,” Ms. McLaughlin said in a statement, adding that “we are focused on bringing out the voters we’ve identified — best way to reach them is using addressable advertising, mail, text, live calls and doors to communicate with our voters.”

But Mr. Ramaswamy has struggled to make headway in Iowa, despite the intense spending and a packed schedule of campaign appearances. He estimated to reporters last month that he had spent around $20 million on his run to that point.

He maintains a distant fourth place in state polls, with less than 10 percent support. His approval ratings among Republicans nationally have also steadily declined since September, and his disapproval ratings among all Americans hit a new peak in national polls.

ny times logoNew York Times, A New Tax on Imports and a Split From China: Trump’s 2025 Trade Agenda, Charlie Savage, Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, Dec. 26, 2023. Former President Trump plans to sharply expand his use of tariffs if he returns to power, risking disruption to the economy in an attempt to transform it.

Former President Donald J. Trump is planning an aggressive expansion of his first-term efforts to upend America’s trade policies if he returns to power in 2025 — including imposing a new tax on “most imported goods” that would risk alienating allies and igniting a global trade war.

While the Biden administration has kept tariffs that Mr. Trump imposed on China, Mr. Trump would go far beyond that and try to wrench apart the world’s two largest economies, which exchanged some $758 billion in goods and services last year. Mr. Trump has said he would “enact aggressive new restrictions on Chinese ownership” of a broad range of assets in the United States, bar Americans from investing in China and phase in a complete ban on imports of key categories of Chinese-made goods like electronics, steel and pharmaceuticals.

“We will impose stiff penalties on China and all other nations as they abuse us,” Mr. Trump declared at a recent rally in Durham, N.H.

In an interview, Robert Lighthizer, who was the Trump administration’s top trade negotiator and would most likely play a key role in a second term, gave the most expansive and detailed explanation yet of Mr. Trump’s trade agenda. Mr. Trump’s campaign referred questions for this article to Mr. Lighthizer, and campaign officials were on the phone for the discussion.

Essentially, Mr. Trump’s trade agenda aims at backing the United States away from integration with the global economy and steering the country toward becoming more self-contained: producing a larger share of what it consumes and wielding its might through one-on-one dealings with other countries.

Mr. Trump, who calls himself a “tariff man,” took steps in that direction as president, including placing tariffs on various imports, hamstringing the World Trade Organization and starting a trade war with China. If he is elected, he plans a more audacious intervention in hopes of eliminating the trade deficit and bolstering manufacturing — with potentially seismic consequences for jobs, prices, diplomatic relations and the global trading system.

His plans — which he has described as “a sweeping pro-American overhaul of our tax and trade policy” — would amount to a high-stakes gamble with the economy’s health, given that unemployment has dropped to 3.7 percent, inflation has substantially cooled from its post-pandemic spike, about 200,000 jobs are being created each month and the stock market is near a record high.

ny times logoNew York Times, What Went Wrong for Ron DeSantis in 2023, Shane Goldmacher, Maggie Haberman and Nicholas Nehamas, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Florida governor entered the year flush with cash and momentum. But internal chaos and Donald Trump’s indictments have sapped his supporters.

Boxed in by a base enamored with Mr. Trump that has instinctively rallied to the former president’s defense, Mr. DeSantis has struggled for months to match the hype that followed his landslide 2022 re-election. Now, with the first votes in the Iowa caucuses only weeks away on Jan. 15, Mr. DeSantis has slipped in some polls into third place, behind Nikki Haley, and has had to downsize his once-grand national ambitions to the simple hopes that a strong showing in a single state — Iowa — could vault him back into contention.

For a candidate who talks at length about his own disinterest in “managing America’s decline,” people around Mr. DeSantis are increasingly talking about managing his.

Ryan Tyson, Mr. DeSantis’s longtime pollster and one of his closest advisers, has privately said to multiple people that they are now at the point in the campaign where they need to “make the patient comfortable,” a phrase evoking hospice care. Others have spoken of a coming period of reputation management, both for the governor and themselves, after a slow-motion implosion of the relationship between the campaign and an allied super PAC left even his most ardent supporters drained and demoralized.

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More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration 

ny times logoNew York Times, Who Investigates the Sheriff? In Mississippi, Often No One, Ilyssa Daly, Jerry Mitchell and Rachel Axon, Photographs by Rory Doyle, Dec. 28, 2023. The state ignored or was unaware of allegations of jailhouse rape, brutal beatings and corrupt acts by sheriffs and their deputies, a Times investigation found.

As Marquise Tillman led deputies on a high-speed chase through rural Mississippi in March 2019, Sheriff Todd Kemp issued a blunt order over the radio: “Shut him down and beat his ass.”

When the Clarke County deputies caught Mr. Tillman, they did just that, he later alleged in a lawsuit. He said they pummeled and stomped on him while he was handcuffed, leaving him with a fractured eye socket and broken bones in his face and chest.

The sheriff denied giving the order. But it was captured on tape and described under oath by four of his deputies.
Sheriff Todd Kemp was recorded ordering deputies to use force. Four of them corroborated it in depositions.

Such an explosive revelation might have roiled a community elsewhere in the country and led state or federal officials to investigate. But in Mississippi, it was largely ignored, even after the county paid Mr. Tillman an undisclosed amount to settle his claim.

There was no news coverage and no state investigation. In an interview, Sheriff Kemp said he had turned the case over to the state’s police agency. But the agency could find no record of having pursued it.

That is not unusual in Mississippi, where allegations like those leveled against Sheriff Kemp often go nowhere, an investigation by The New York Times and the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting at Mississippi Today has found.

State authorities are responsible for investigating shootings and in-custody deaths involving sheriffs and deputies. But they are not obligated to investigate other potential wrongdoing by sheriffs’ offices, and may not even know about it: The sheriffs’ offices are also not obligated to report incidents to them.

The Times and Mississippi Today examined dozens of publicly available federal lawsuits that described severe brutality and other abuses of power, reviewing thousands of pages of court records and interviewing people involved in cases across the state.

At least 27 claims do not appear to have led to a state investigation, including accusations of rape, brutal assault and retaliation against sheriffs’ enemies.

ny times logoNew York Times, About 3,500 migrant families in New York City shelters have received eviction notices, Troy Closson and Liset Cruz, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Since last summer, tens of thousands of migrant families living in homeless shelters have enrolled children in New York City schools. Their arrival buoyed the system, which had been losing students, prompting the mayor to declare that “public schools are back.”

But now, the city is forcing many of those families to reapply for shelter beds, threatening what educators say is a hard-fought and fragile stability for migrant children, many of whom endured upheaval and trauma on their journey to America.

About 3,500 migrant families have received eviction notices that will go into effect starting in early January. They will be required to leave their shelters and request a new placement if they have lived there longer than 60 days. It remains unclear whether they’ll be given beds right away and whether the new shelters will be in the same neighborhoods.

The orders come as the influx from the southern border continues unabated and Mayor Eric Adams has sought to push people to leave the strained homeless shelter system more quickly.

But more than two dozen principals, educators, parents and advocates said in interviews that the policy could lead to the biggest disruption since schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

As the eviction notices go into effect next month, the mig