Feb. News 2024

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and February 2024 news and views

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

 

 

 

Feb. 29

Top Headlines

 

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Reactions To Supreme Court's Pro-Trump 'Immunity Claim' Delay

 

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

 

More On Israel's War With Hamas

 

Russia-Ukraine War, Navalny Death, Russian Goals

 

More On Trump's Cases, Claims, Allies

 

More On U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

U.S. Reproductive Rights, Culture Wars

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More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

 

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

 

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Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

 

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

 

More On U.S. Supreme Court

 

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

 

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Climate Change, Environment, Energy, Disasters, Transportation

 

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Pandemics, Public Health, Covid, Privacy

 

More On U.S. Abortion, #Me Too, Trafficking

 

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

 

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

 

Top Stories

 


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ny times logoNew York Times, Biden and Trump to Make Dueling Visits to Southern Border, Shane Goldmacher, Feb. 29, 2024.  In separate events in Texas on Thursday, President Biden and Donald Trump will present contrasting goals and clashing messages.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Dual Border Visits, Biden and Trump Try to Score Points at a Political Hot Spot, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Erica L. Green and Michael Gold, Feb. 29, 2024. In South Texas, President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump each emphasized the urgency of securing the U.S.-Mexico border, but took sharply different approaches.

President Biden issued a political dare to his biggest rival, former President Donald J. Trump, as the men took dueling trips to the southern border in Texas on Thursday in an effort to leverage a dominant issue of the 2024 presidential campaign.

In remarks delivered some 300 miles away, Mr. Trump highlighted crimes committed by migrants in an attempt to portray Mr. Biden as a president plunging the nation into crime and disorder.

Mr. Biden, by contrast, focused on compromise, but he also baited his rival, using a bipartisan bill that fell apart in the Senate at Mr. Trump’s urging.

“Instead of telling members of Congress to block this legislation, join me,” Mr. Biden said of the bill that had been a breakthrough after years of paralysis on one of the nation’s most intractable issues.

Mr. Biden’s push to collaborate on what he called the “toughest” border legislation in decades shows how the Democratic Party has shifted to the right on this issue.

Here’s what else to know:

Mr. Biden arrived on Air Force One in Brownsville, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley that has historically seen large influxes of migrants, and met with Border Patrol, law enforcement and asylum officers. He said it was “long past time” to fix the border and immigration system, and that message from Border Patrol agents and others involved in security was plain: They wanted more officers, more judges and more resources.

Mr. Biden also denounced Republicans for thwarting the bipartisan immigration bill — one that he championed and they themselves had demanded — that would have resulted in a crackdown at the border.

Mr. Trump spoke in Eagle Pass, which has become a common backdrop for politicians who want to show they are tough on immigration. He was met there by Gov. Greg Abbott and Brandon Judd, the president of the National Border Patrol Council, the main union for Border Patrol agents, and began his remarks by commending Mr. Abbott on his efforts on the border. “The United States is being overrun,” Mr. Trump said, as he criticized Mr. Biden’s border policies and “what he has done to our country.”

Mr. Trump also focused on the death of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student found dead in Georgia, blaming it on Mr. Biden. The man charged with killing her is an immigrant from Venezuela who crossed the border illegally, and her death has become a political flashpoint.

Record numbers of migrants have crossed into the United States during the Biden administration, a surge that Mr. Trump and other Republicans have used to attack the president as weak on the border.

A Gallup poll released on Tuesday found that Americans are most likely to name immigration as the most important problem in the country.

ny times logoNew York Times, The U.S. Economy Is Surpassing Expectations. Immigration Is One Reason, Lydia DePillis, Feb. 29, 2024. Immigrants aided the pandemic recovery and may be crucial to future needs. The challenge is processing newcomers and getting them where the jobs are.

The U.S. economic recovery from the pandemic has been stronger and more durable than many experts had expected, and a rebound in immigration is a big reason.

A resumption in visa processing in 2021 and 2022 jump-started employment, allowing foreign-born workers to fill some holes in the labor force that persisted across industries and locations after the pandemic shutdowns. Immigrants also address a longer-term need: replenishing the work force, a key to meeting labor demands as birthrates decline and older people retire.

Net migration in the year that ended July 1, 2023, reached the highest level since 2017. The foreign-born now make up 18.6 percent of the labor force, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that over the next 10 years, immigration will keep the number of working Americans from sinking. Balancing job seekers and opportunities is also critical to moderating wage inflation and keeping prices in check.

International instability, economic crises, war and natural disasters have brought a new surge of arrivals who could help close the still-elevated gap between labor demand and job candidates. But that potential economic dividend must contend with the incendiary politics, logistical hurdles and administrative backlogs that the surge has created.

Visits to Texas on Thursday by President Biden and his likely election opponent, former President Donald J. Trump, highlight the political tensions. Mr. Biden is seeking to address a border situation that he recently called “chaos,” and Mr. Trump has vowed to shut the door after record numbers crossed the border under the Biden administration.

Since the start of the 2022 fiscal year, about 116,000 have arrived as refugees, a status that comes with a federally funded resettlement network and immediate work eligibility. A few hundred thousand others who have arrived from Ukraine and Afghanistan are entitled to similar benefits.

But far more — about 5.5 million — have been apprehended at the borders and at airports and seaports. Not all are allowed to stay, but a vast majority of those who do receive little government assistance. People seeking asylum have faced long delays before they can work legally, and a busing campaign by Southern governors has concentrated them in a few cities that are struggling to absorb them.

Americans will get their first look at the likely presidential rematch coming this fall as President Biden and Donald J. Trump make dueling visits to the Texas border on Thursday, a rare convergence on the campaign trail that shows just how volatile and potent a political issue immigration has already become in the 2024 race.

trump 2024For Mr. Trump, the border is a familiar backdrop and represents almost the background music of his candidacy, as he warns of a nation slipping out of reach and an “invasion” he promises to stop. For Mr. Biden, immigration represents a top vulnerability as border crossings reached record highs in late 2023 and images of mass migration and its fallout have become fixtures on the news.

Republicans have long had an edge politically on the issue, with the G.O.P. advantage swelling even larger of late. In the fall of 2020, Mr. Trump was more trusted on immigration by a sizable 16 percentage points, according to NBC News polling at the time. That margin has more than doubled to 35 percentage points as of this January — the largest advantage either Mr. Biden or Mr. Trump had on any of the nine issues tested.

biden harris 2024 logoBut Biden allies believe the recent decision by Republican congressional leaders — at Mr. Trump’s urging — to abandon a potential bipartisan border deal has provided the party a rare opening to cut into that deficit. The package would have made asylum claims more difficult, expanded detention capacity, increased fentanyl screening and paid for more border officers.

Democrats hope they can draw attention to the package’s failure and contrast Mr. Biden’s pursuit of bipartisanship with Mr. Trump’s belligerence.

“Donald Trump doesn’t want a solution,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a top Biden surrogate, in a call arranged by the Biden campaign before the Texas trip. “He wants a campaign slogan.”

ny times logoNew York Times, On the Arizona Border, Even a Slow Day Is Busy, Jack Healy, Feb. 29, 2024. Illegal crossings have dropped, but the migrant crisis still defines life on the border, where many are skeptical that politicians can help.

Helen Ramajo, 11 years old, reached the U.S.-Mexico border before the American presidents did.

arizona mapAs President Biden and former President Donald J. Trump prepared for the political stagecraft of dueling visits to two Texas border towns, Helen slipped through a gap in the wall in southern Arizona on Tuesday morning, her fuzzy bear-eared hoodie pulled up against the chill.

“A dream!” she said. She, her father and older sister left Guatemala a month ago, and they now trudged toward a makeshift camp with other tired, dehydrated migrants to wait beside the wall to surrender to U.S. immigration authorities.

Illegal crossings across the Southern border have plummeted in the last month, but even a slow day means dozens of migrants arriving every few hours, a ritual that has come to define life in border towns and nearby cities. Migrant aid workers say they often see around 200 people a day crossing in this area of the border outside the tiny town of Sasabe, southwest of Tucson.

A visit from two presidential candidates seeking to persuade voters they can tackle the border crisis may check an election-year box. But in this corner of southern Arizona, which now has the most undocumented crossings of any stretch of the entire Southern border, ranchers, aid workers and other residents who live and breathe the border crisis said the problem had become too intractable and complicated for any politician to tackle.

“I have no faith that it will ever be solved,” said Lori Lindsay, a cattle rancher whose Tres Bellotas ranch runs along a slice of the border wall.

The surge in illegal crossings has become a threat to Mr. Biden’s re-election hopes and a political attack line for Mr. Trump. There were 2.4 million migrant apprehensions along the Southern border in the last fiscal year, the third record-breaking year in a row.

As dozens of migrants threaded their way along the border wall on Tuesday, several said they had not been deterred by renewed construction to fill in gaps along the 30-foot-tall border wall, or by the threat of tough new enforcement measures from Washington.

washington post logoWashington Post, Live Updates: More than 100 killed in Gaza City, officials say; Israel cites stampede at aid drop, Staff Reports, Feb. 29, 2024. Officials in the Gaza Strip said more than 100 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Gaza City on Thursday, accusing Israeli forces of opening fire on a crowd of people waiting for humanitarian aid.

Israel FlagIsrael said an unspecified number of the casualties were caused by a stampede as residents scrambled to reach a convoy of trucks. Israeli forces opened fire on members of the crowd who approached soldiers in a manner deemed threatening, according to Israeli officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

palestinian flagAt least 30,035 people have been killed in Gaza and 70,457 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 242 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

Gaza is on the brink of famine, humanitarian groups say, as the volume of aid has plummeted in recent weeks and as convoys have struggled to make deliveries amid intense bombardment and disruption at border crossings.

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin threatens nuclear response to NATO troops if they go to Ukraine, Francesca Ebel and Robyn Dixon, Feb. 29, 2024.  In a speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened strikes against the West if there are attacks on Russian territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual State of the Nation address on Thursday to take aim at the West, threatening to use nuclear weapons against NATO countries if they send forces to help defend Ukraine from a Russian victory.

Russian FlagIn a speech to Russia’s Federal Assembly that was predominantly dedicated to Russia’s domestic affairs, Putin delivered a tough warning, threatening retaliatory strikes against the West in the event of attacks on Russian territory.

“They must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets on their territory,” he said, warning of “tragic consequences” if NATO forces were ever deployed to Ukraine. “All this really threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilization. Don’t they get that?”

  • Washington Post, Analysis: Foreign troops in Ukraine? They’re already there.

Western leaders, he continued, thought that war “is a cartoon,” adding that Russia’s “strategic nuclear forces are in a state of full readiness.” He boasted that Russia’s most advanced hypersonic nuclear-capable weapons, such as the Kinzhal and Zircon missiles, had been used in Ukraine, while others were in the final stages of testing.

Putin has hinted before of Russia’s readiness to use its nuclear weapons, but Thursday’s warning was unusually sharp.

 

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

The official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Justices set oral argument for week of April 20 on whether Donald Trump can be criminally prosecuted for acts he took while president, Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme Court will review Donald Trump’s unprecedented claim that he is shielded from prosecution for actions taken while in office, further delaying the former president’s D.C. trial on charges of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to remain in power.

The justices set argument for the week of April 22 to consider a unanimous ruling from a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that rejected Trump’s sweeping assertion of immunity from prosecution.

Trump’s pretrial proceedings in D.C. will remain on hold until a ruling is issued, putting the Supreme Court in the politically fraught position of influencing the timing of a federal election-obstruction trial for the leading Republican presidential candidate.

The brief unsigned order issued Wednesday said the justices were not “expressing a view on the merits” of the case and would consider only the question of whether and to what extent a former president has "immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.

djt indicted proof

Trump faces four felony counts brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in connection with what prosecutors allege was a plan to overturn Biden’s 2020 presidential victory: conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of President Biden’s victory, obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiracy against rights — in this case, the right to vote.

He challenged the indictment, saying former presidents are immune from prosecution, at least for actions related to their official duties, unless first impeached and convicted by Congress. On Feb. 6, the D.C. Circuit delivered a forceful rebuke of that novel argument.

“We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a president has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results,” wrote the three judges, two nominated by Biden and the third by President George H.W. Bush.

Trump asked the Supreme Court to put the appeals court ruling on pause and give him time to seek rehearing by a full complement of D.C. Circuit judges. His lawyers argued that he should not be sidelined from the campaign trail by a months-long criminal trial, and said voters have the right to hear from Trump on the stump.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

ny times logoNew York Times, McConnell to Step Down as Party Leader at the End of the Year, Carl Hulse, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Mitch McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader, said he would step aside at the end of his leadership term but remain in the Senate.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the longtime top Senate Republican, said on Wednesday that he would give up his spot as the party’s leader at the end of this year, acknowledging that his Reaganite national security views had put him out of step with a party now headed by former President Donald J. Trump.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular time,” Mr. McConnell, who turned 82 last week, said in a speech on the Senate floor announcing his intentions. “I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.”

His decision, reported earlier by The Associated Press, was not a surprise. Mr. McConnell suffered a serious fall last year and experienced some episodes where he momentarily froze in front of the media. He has also faced rising resistance within his ranks for his push to provide continued military assistance to Ukraine as well as his close-to-the-vest leadership style.

Mr. McConnell had said that he would serve out his full Senate term ending in 2027, but had been more opaque about whether he would try to remain leader after the November elections.

His announcement followed a White House meeting on Tuesday where he strongly advocated congressional passage of a foreign aid bill that includes more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and urged Speaker Mike Johnson to put the proposal on the House floor.

“I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed,” Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. McConnell became the longest serving Senate leader in history at the start of this Congress, surpassing Mike Mansfield of Montana and fulfilling a personal goal. Though he worked closely with Mr. Trump in placing conservative judges on the federal bench and three justices on the Supreme Court, Mr. McConnell broke with Mr. Trump over his refusal to acknowledge that President Biden had won the 2020 election and over the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, which Mr. McConnell blamed on Mr. Trump even though he voted against convicting him on impeachment grounds.

Politico, Senate sends government shutdown patch to Biden’s desk, Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes, Feb. 29, 2024. Congress now has another week to pass six of the dozen government spending bills. The other half expire on March 22.

politico CustomThe Senate approved a stopgap funding bill Thursday night for President Joe Biden’s signature, thwarting a partial government shutdown on Saturday and buying more time to finalize half a dozen spending bills that congressional leaders aim to pass next week.

Congress now officially has until March 8 to clear that initial six-bill bundle, which leaders struck a deal on earlier this week. But they're still working on an agreement to fund the rest of the government, including the military and some of the biggest domestic programs, before a second deadline on March 22. The upper chamber cleared the measure in a 77-13 vote, following votes on four Republican amendments that were defeated on the floor.

Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on the floor Thursday night that leaders plan to release bill text of the six finalized bills "in the coming days" to give lawmakers time to review them before a vote next week. "We are genuinely close. And if bipartisan cooperation prevails, I am very confident we can, at long last — at long last — wrap up our FY24 bills," she said. "It is full speed ahead."

U.S. House logoAppropriators are optimistic that this latest stopgap — the fourth enacted by Congress this fiscal year alone — will finally deliver enough time to wrap up funding negotiations after a particularly chaotic cycle largely derailed by House Republican infighting. If congressional leaders can successfully pass the six bills next week to fund the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans’ Affairs and Transportation, they’ll face an even bigger test in trying to strike a compromise on the remaining six bills that fund the rest of the federal government.

“I think people are optimistic right now. This has been a slog. It has kind of worn people down a little bit,” said Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.), a senior appropriator. “The first six are, I mean, they’re not easy by any means, but they’re easier than what we’re going to deal with by the 22nd.”

Under the deal to fast-track passage of the stopgap, Senate leaders agreed to a vote by the end of next week on a bill sponsored by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) that would compensate people diagnosed with cancer after being exposed to nuclear waste stored as a byproduct of the top-secret program to make an atomic bomb during World War II.

Before passage, the chamber rejected three different proposals from Republican Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas, Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas that would fund federal agencies at current levels through the end of the fiscal year, triggering an estimated $73 billion in cuts to non-defense programs and forgoing billions of dollars in agreed-upon funding for the Pentagon. Marshall's plan also included emergency aid to Israel, and Cruz's proposal included H.R. 2, the House-passed border security bill.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hunter Biden Calls G.O.P. Impeachment Inquiry a ‘Partisan Political Pursuit,’ Luke Broadwater, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden’s son was being deposed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the Republican impeachment inquiry into his father.

Hunter Biden, the president’s son, blasted House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry during a closed-door deposition on Wednesday, condemning their investigation as a “partisan political pursuit” that was based on a “false premise” and fueled by “lies.”

Conducted in an office building on Capitol Hill, the interview was the latest bid by Republicans to unearth evidence that President Biden was inappropriately involved in his son’s foreign business dealings. So far, their impeachment investigation has turned up no proof.

U.S. House logoHunter Biden, 54, made clear in his opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, that he planned to cede no ground to the G.O.P.

“You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion and sensationalism — all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face,” Mr. Biden said in the prepared remarks. “You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”

“I did not involve my father in my business,” Mr. Biden added. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member and not as an artist. Never.”

The interview, which was expected to last into the evening, came at a make-or-break moment for the inquiry. Republicans have sought for months to tie President Biden to the alleged misdeeds of his second-born son, but they have struggled with a series of setbacks, including the indictment of an F.B.I. informant accused of making up a story that the elder Mr. Biden took a $5 million bribe.

In his opening statement, Hunter Biden mocked the way Republicans have relied on accused criminals to build the case against his father.

“Rather than follow the facts as they have been laid out before you in bank records, financial statements, correspondence and other witness testimony, you continue your frantic search to prove the lies you, and those you rely on, keep peddling,” he said. “Yes, they are lies.”

The deposition is the culmination of a multiyear Republican pursuit of Mr. Biden, whose business dealings and descent into debauchery have long made him a punching bag for the G.O.P. After years of asking “Where’s Hunter?” and spreading the lurid contents of a laptop that contained graphic material of his exploits while he struggled with drug addiction, Republicans finally had their chance to question him.

The interview also was a major moment in the drawn-out feud between Republicans and Mr. Biden about whether he would cooperate in the impeachment inquiry. He had refused repeatedly to sit for a private deposition, and Republicans threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress for defying an earlier subpoena to do so.

Mr. Biden had maintained that he was worried that House Republicans would selectively leak portions of his testimony to misrepresent his account and try to harm his father. He made two surprise appearances on Capitol Hill in which he challenged Republicans to question him at a public hearing. But after the contempt threat, Mr. Biden relented.

 

Reactions To Supreme Court's Pro-Trump 'Immunity Claim' Delay

 

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

Hartmann Report, Opinion: Will the Most Corrupt Supreme Court in History Assist the Trump Coup? Thom Hartmann, right, Feb. 29, 2024. SCOTUS thom hartmannintroduced what will be at least a 130-day delay in Trump’s trial. They won’t even hear arguments until April 22. Democracy be damned...

At least four members of the most corrupt Supreme Court in American history have decided to help Trump delay his trial for trying to overthrow the government of the United States.

Just like in 2000, when five Republicans on the Court ignored Al Gore’s probable (later found to be definite) win in Florida to put Bush in the White House, today’s Court is doing as much as they can to help Trump win this November.

In a hail-Mary attempt to push his trials beyond the election, hoping he’d win with Putin’s help and could then pardon himself and gut the DOJ, Trump’s attorneys filed a claim that his efforts to overturn the 2020 election were “official acts” and that all presidents have “absolute immunity” while in office and for the rest of their lives thereafter.

Nobody took it seriously. Even the appeals court his bid first went to pointed out how absurd it was.

“Could a president who ordered SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival,” Judge Florence Pan, one of the appeals court judges, asked Trump’s lawyers, “[and not] be subject to criminal prosecution?”

The answer from Trump’s attorney D. John Sauer was that Trump can’t be prosecuted unless he’s first impeached, which, as noted, is absurd on its face. Under this logic, President Biden could today order Trump assassinated and dare Congress to impeach him for it.

But absurd is nothing new to the six bought-off Republicans on the Supreme Court.

As I laid out in detail in The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America, Republicans on the Court have, for almost a century, taken the side of autocracy over democracy, billionaires over workers, and corporations over consumers and the environment.

And now they’re doing everything they can to get Donald Trump back into office so Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito, both well into their seventies, can retire confident in the knowledge they’ll be replaced by rightwing judges chosen by the Federalist Society.

MSNBC, Andrew Weissmann: The Supreme Court has given Trump the win, Feb. 29, 2024. The Supreme Court on Wednesday laid out a hearing schedule on former President Donald Trump's claims of presidential immunity that raises significant doubts that the election interference case against him will go to trial before the 2024 election. Former Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann discusses.

Lawyers Defending American Democracy, Opinion: Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to hear the appeal of the presidential immunity claim is the ultimate example of the adage: justice delayed is justice denied, Staff Report, Feb. 29, 2024. Faith in the Supreme Court’s impartiality can only continue to plummet after this inexplicable action.

In a decision which surprised legal experts, the Supreme Court has scheduled its oral argument for late April, giving the gift of time to a criminal defendant who is the master of manipulating time to his advantage. The presidential immunity claim was found to be meritless by the district and appellate courts in meticulously reasoned opinions. Yet after taking more than two weeks to issue a one-page ruling taking the case, the Supreme Court gave an additional gift of seven more weeks until oral argument.

As former Judge Michael Luttig stated, the Court’s decision will likely not issue before the end of their term, throwing the timing of an actual trial before November into doubt.

Faith in the courts has also been undermined by the Alabama Supreme Court, which recently decided to allow a wrongful death claim to proceed for the accidental destruction of IVF test tubes. This ruling has created chaos within the state, and is impacting reproductive health care across the country.

The concurring opinion by Chief Justice Parker offered a glimpse of a future in which our courts rule based upon their religious beliefs, rather than principles of Constitutional law. LDAD board member and former Massachusetts Appeals Court Justice James McHugh wrote elegantly about this concurrence for The Fulcrum: Alabama, Religious Freedom and Frozen Embryos.

We know that accountability is a fundamental underpinning to the rule of law. We are pleased to share with you an interview of three LDAD board members conducted by Renee Knake Jefferson, an author and Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center, in her Substack column entitled Legal Ethics Roundup.

Merrick Garland, Biden's choice as Attorney General (White House file photo from 2021).

Merrick Garland, Biden's choice as Attorney General (White House file photo from 2021).

OpEd News, Opinion: Merrick Garland Must Go, Arlen Grossman, Feb. 29, 2024. President Joe Biden made a consequential and significant mistake when he appointed Merrick Garland to be Attorney General of the United States. Garland has turned out to be weak, clueless, and ineffective, to the point that his actions are currently endangering our very democracy.

At first Biden's appointment of Garland seemed sensible. Most of us remember when Senate Leader Mitch McConnell blocked President Obama's plans to put the moderate jurist on the Supreme Court, the seat eventually going to right-wing religious fanatic Amy Comey Barrett.

When Biden took office in 2021, he likely figured Merrick Garland would be acceptable to both parties, and would be objective, serious about the law, and could be counted on to do the right thing.

Merrick Garland turned out to be a major disappointment in so many ways. President Biden, reportedly, and most Democrats now are not happy with the A.G.'s decisions, and most people deem it unlikely he will return to head the Justice Department if Biden wins a second term.

But so much damage by Garland's inept performance as Attorney General has already been done. The worst was his foot-dragging in holding Donald Trump accountable for his many crimes and abuses of power while president.

By the time Garland appointed special prosecutor Jack Smith in November of 2021 to look into Trump's transgressions,, almost two years after the January 6 insurrection, too much time was wasted. And everyone knows Trump is a master at delaying justice and avoiding accountability.

Trump has a full docket of court cases from now to the election, and 91 felony counts to attend to. But if he can appeal, distract, and delay his accountability for his numerous crimes, he could conceivably win the presidential election, and make all the legal charges against him and his cronies disappear. Were he to win the presidency, this country would quickly transform from a democracy (albeit imperfect) to a fascist-style autocracy that would be virtually impossible to overcome.

Some Biden aides say that in his decisions to select Trump-appointed prosecutors as special counsels in both the classified documents investigation and the probe into Hunter Biden, Garland 's attempts to go out of his way to not appear biased often led to over-correcting toward Trump-friendly prosecutors.

When Biden announced he would be nominating Garland as Attorney General at the beginning of his term, he told him "Your loyalty is not to me. You won't work for me. You are not the president or the vice president's lawyer." Democrats close to Biden fear Garland has become too consumed by that instruction to appear impartial.

"I had refused to criticize [Garland] but appointing Hur, who is obviously a Republican tool and who issued what I think is an irresponsible report which violates DOJ standards, was a mistake," Democratic consultant Robert Shrum said. "I think Garland will be criticized by historians."

Garland's selection of Robert Hur, a Republican-leaning, Trump-appointed federal prosecutor, to look into President Biden's mishandling of official documents was a major mistake. Hur glossed over the potential crime and zeroed in on Biden's mental state, which was beyond the scope of his duties, and changed the narrative of the election to whether Biden is capable of performing his presidential duties. That he has performed his job so far quite capably has taken a back seat to concerns about his age.

"Garland is far and away Biden's worst appointee by an order of magnitude," Robert Kuttner, co-founder of the liberal American Prospect. "And we all pay the price. If Biden goes down the drain because Garland has mishandled the investigation of Trump and gave Republicans a weapon " then the country pays the price. It's not just that Biden gets punished for the stupidity of appointing Garland."

Laurence Tribe, professor emeritus of constitutional law at Harvard University, wrote this on X: "I've long respected my friend and former student Merrick Garland, but he has bent too far backwards in order to avoid seeming pro-Biden."

President Biden made a regretable blunder appointing Garland as the United States Attorney General. He needs to find a way to correct his poor judgement before further damage results from it.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Supreme Court order gives Trump’s long-shot immunity claim a boost, Ruth Marcus, right, Feb. 29, 2024. The Supreme ruth marcus twitter CustomCourt’s decision to hear Donald Trump’s audacious claim of presidential immunity from prosecution — with oral argument a leisurely seven weeks off — all but guarantees one of two terrible outcomes.

Either the former president’s trial on charges of attempting to subvert the 2020 election, a trial that was supposed to start next week, will now not take place until after the 2024 election, or it will be held in the final months before Election Day. The justices are not entirely responsible for this mess, but they have just made a bad situation far worse than it needed to be.

My beef isn’t with the court’s decision to hear the case — it’s with the outrageously lethargic timing. It would have been far better for the court to have taken up the issue back in December, when special counsel Jack Smith urged the justices to leapfrog the federal appeals court. Now, two and a half months have gone by. It took the justices two weeks after Trump sought their intervention to announce that they would hear the case. Worse, they set oral argument for the week of April 22, a delay that means a decision could easily take until May or even linger until the term finishes at the end of June.

Worst of all, especially given this timetable, the justices could have allowed trial preparations to go forward while the case was briefed, argued and decided. That would have prevented Trump from accomplishing what has been his aim all along: to use the immunity claim as a ploy to delay his trial until after the election.

Hopium Chronicles, Opinion: Democrats Really Like Their President, The Republican Party Is Splintering, Mitch's Dark Legacy, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. simon rosenberg twitter29, 2024. The Republican Party’s corruption of the judiciary is a central reason why illiberalism is on the rise here in America. We need to stop counting on or even paying attention to Trump’s trials and just go out and win the election with what we have, which is, in my view, more than enough to get it done this November.

Some have asked about Biden getting fewer votes in MI on Tuesday. Of course he did! Rs had a competitive primary and we didn’t. As I’ve been writing the story of Trump/GOP so far is one of weakness and struggle, not strength. Remember, since Dobbs, when we’ve had competitive elections, we just keep overperforming and they keep struggling. In MI, Biden broke 80%, Uncommitted disappointed, Dean Phillips is now officially defeated and Trump for the fourth straight state underperformed public polls. We had a good night. We are strong and united, they are weak and divided. In every way possible I would much rather be us than them as head deeper into 2024.

washington post logoWashington Post, What happens next after Supreme Court agrees to hear Trump immunity case, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 29, 2024. Answers to questions you have about the prosecution of the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: What the Supreme Court told us, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 29, 2024. The Supreme Court on Wednesday granted certiorari to jennifer rubin new headshothear four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump’s claim that he has absolute immunity for official acts while he was in office. With oral argument set for April 22, the prospect for a trial on charges related to election interference and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection to be completed before the election wanes considerably.

One fascinating aspect is how the court defined the case.

The court determined that the only question to be addressed is whether a former president enjoys absolute “immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.” The language is telling in a number of respects.

Had the court entertained the possibility the answer would be yes (e.g., yes, he can order Seal Team Six to kill his enemies; yes, he can exile his opponent in his reelection bid), it would have had to address subsidiary questions such as “Was the president engaged in an official act?” or “What is the ambit of an official act?” Only if the answer is “no” — that is, affirming Judge Tanya S. Chutkan and the D.C. Circuit’s unanimous ruling — would there be no need for further inquiry. The presence of the single question tells us where the court is heading. 

Furthermore, if the court’s order is limited to considering official acts, then special counsel Jack Smith almost certainly could effectively argue that Trump’s attempt to overthrow an election for which he has no constitutional role must be deemed “unofficial” at the trial court level. That would allow Smith to proceed to trial. In other words, if the Supreme Court wanted to spare Trump, it simply would have asked, “Is a president immune from criminal prosecution?”

In addition, the court framed the question with regard to a “former president” only. Again, this sets up the case to disadvantage Trump. After all, saying a president cannot be prosecuted either during or after his presidency would make him a king. As lower courts have held, no court has remotely approached this conclusion. To hold that a president could never be held to account for his actions, no matter how egregious, no matter if he had left office, would create a single class of individuals — criminal ex-presidents — immune from the law. Though that might attract support from right-wing, authoritarian-friendly Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., it defies imagination that Trump could accumulate five votes for such an outrageous proposition.

Whether a trial could begin and finish before Election Day, we most certainly will have a decision addressing what is essentially his only defense: “I cannot be punished for official acts. Interfering with my own election was an official act. Therefore, I go free!” At the very least, if my analysis is correct, heading into an election, voters will know that this cannot possibly be the law. Voting for him would amount to allowing someone going to trial (or already on trial) for serious crimes to waltz into the White House.

Meanwhile, keep your eye out for a ruling on whether Trump is disqualified under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Though the letter of the Constitution suggests he should be, few think that is what the court will hold, especially after an oral argument in which no justice seemed inclined to knock him off the ballot. How the court rules, however, now takes on major significance. If, for example, the Supreme Court does not dispute that Jan. 6 was an insurrection, it would leave unchallenged the Colorado Supreme Court’s decision, the Maine secretary of state’s decision and the Jan. 6 House select committee’s conclusions that he did instigate an insurrection. Refusing to spare Trump from the conclusion of those bodies — and of the voters — would speak volumes about how the justices regard his conduct.

 

U.S. Reproductive Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Alabama Republicans Race to Pass an I.V.F. Shield Law, Emily Cochrane, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republicans have long maintained that life begins at conception, but they must now reconcile that stance with broad support for I.V.F. treatment.

Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday were racing to protect the routine practice of in vitro fertilization, moving to assuage families and fertility clinics alarmed by a recent State Supreme Court ruling that found that frozen embryos should be considered children.

The lawmakers’ urgency underscores the bind for Republicans, who have long maintained that life begins at conception — a tenet of their opposition to abortion — but must now reconcile that stance with the realities of how I.V.F. is practiced and the broad public support for it.

Republican leaders across the nation have been quick to express their support for I.V.F., with the party already struggling to counter the backlash over stringent anti-abortion laws it has backed in a critical election year.

Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, called on the Alabama Legislature to protect I.V.F. treatment, while in Florida, lawmakers sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

In Alabama, top Republicans are now coalescing around a proposal that would provide immunity to I.V.F. clinics, barring any intentional destruction of embryos outside the usual medical process.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Republicans appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for I.V.F. treatment, Kayla Guo, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republicans, many of whom have said they support access to the treatment, argued that it should be left to states to ensure its legality after an Alabama court ruled that frozen embryos were children.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments in the wake of a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos should be considered children.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, planned to try to bring the bill up on Wednesday under a procedure that allows any one senator to object and stop it in its tracks, effectively daring Republicans to oppose the measure and highlighting divisions within the G.O.P. on how to handle the issue. The bill would establish a federal right to access to I.V.F. and fertility treatments.

Democrats orchestrated the action as they sought to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who have rushed to voice support for I.V.F. after the Alabama ruling, even though many of them have sponsored legislation that declares that life begins at the moment of fertilization. Such a bill could severely curtail or even outlaw aspects of the treatments.

“This is really to call out my Republican colleagues,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview on Wednesday. “If this is urgent and you care deeply about this as you say you do — like you’ve been saying in the last 72-plus hours since the Alabama Supreme Court ruling — then don’t object. Let this bill pass.” She argued that the bill’s protections were all the more essential since the decision by Alabama’s Republican-majority court.

The legislation was the latest instance of Republicans trying to walk a political tightrope — made more perilous by the Alabama ruling — since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and made real many Americans’ fears of losing their access to reproductive health care. Democrats have vowed to pummel Republicans on the issue this election year, buoyed by polls that show that access to abortion and contraception is a major concern for voters that could drive them away from Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it: What happened in Alabama is a direct consequence — a direct consequence — of the hard-right MAGA Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “And make no mistake about it: There will be other awful, restrictive decisions emanating from the Dobbs decision.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican lawmakers in Florida suspended a bill that aimed to protect an “unborn child” after the Alabama ruling, David W. Chen, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Republican lawmakers in Florida sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

Those on both sides of the abortion debate attributed the pause to fallout from the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.

If it moves ahead, the bill would add Florida to the ranks of about a dozen other states that allow parents to receive financial damages in some instances when a fetus has died. The bill says in cases of wrongful death, parents of an “unborn child” are considered survivors who can sue in civil court.

But in recent weeks, Democrats and others warned that the bill amounts to “fetal personhood,” assigning full rights of a person to a fetus. Such a designation, they said, would imperil doctors and anyone who assisted women in obtaining an abortion and would also adversely affect fertility treatments.

On Monday, Republican legislative leaders in Florida announced that they had postponed the bill.

ny times logoNew York Times, At least one in six abortions was conducted via telehealth from July through September, data shows, Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A growing share of abortions is now being administered through telemedicine, with clinicians prescribing mail-order abortion pills after online consultations, according to the first nationwide count of telehealth abortions in the U.S. medical system. At least one in six abortions, around 14,000 a month, was conducted via telehealth from July through September, the most recent months with available data.

How It Works

Pills are prescribed by virtual-only providers and by clinics that also offer in-person services. Patients fill out an online questionnaire or meet with a clinician via video or text chat. This method began nationwide in 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion providers to mail pills without an in-clinic visit during the pandemic.

Some of the prescriptions included in the new count were given to patients in states where abortion is banned, a new development made possible by shield laws. These laws protect clinicians in states where abortion is legal when they prescribe and mail pills to patients in states where it is not. Shield laws were in effect in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington during the period covered by the new data, and California has since passed one.

Why It Matters

The growth of telemedicine abortion has made it easier and often less expensive for women to get abortions, particularly if they live far from an abortion clinic or in one of the roughly one-third of states that have banned or substantially restricted abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022.

Activists, legislators and prosecutors in the states with bans are working to stem the flow of these mail-order pills. But they have so far proven hard to regulate.

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

 

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Politico, Schumer challenges Johnson to ‘step up’ ahead of Friday shutdown cliff, Caitlin Emma, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Negotiators are still haggling over the four spending measures set to expire at week’s end.

politico CustomSenate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to colleagues Sunday afternoon that House Republicans “need more time to sort themselves out” on funding bills, with a partial government shutdown threatening to shutter many federal agencies in five days.

Top lawmakers and appropriators had hoped to unveil the text of a small spending package over the weekend, possibly alongside another short-term funding patch to buy more time for talks on fiscal 2024 bills, beyond the March 1 and March 8 shutdown deadlines. But any hope of reaching an agreement is now slipping into the week, risking a funding lapse at midnight on Friday for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and others.

“It is my sincere hope that in the face of a disruptive shutdown that would hurt our economy and make American families less safe, Speaker Johnson will step up to once again buck the extremists in his caucus and do the right thing,” Schumer wrote.

“While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out,” he said. “With the uncertainty of how the House will pass the appropriations bills and avoid a shutdown this week, I ask all Senators to keep their schedules flexible, so we can work to ensure a pointless and harmful lapse in funding doesn’t occur.”

Key context: Appropriations staff has been working around the clock in the hopes of clinching a deal on some or all of the first four bills set to expire, including the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures.

mike johnson oSpeaker Mike Johnson, right, is facing tremendous pressure from his right flank to secure policy wins across the bills on topics ranging from abortion to guns. During a conference call with Republicans on Friday night, he said he couldn’t rule out the possibility of a partial government shutdown at week’s end.

Negotiators in recent days have sparred over cuts to agriculture programs and limits on how USDA spends money, for example. Both sides have also warred over a policy rider that would ban mail delivery of abortion pills, a heated impasse over nutrition funding for low-income mothers and babies, as well as a pilot program proposed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that would restrict SNAP food aid purchases.

The timeline for any legislative action is exceedingly tight. The House, which has been expected to move first on any bills, won’t be in session until Wednesday. The Senate, set to deal with impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, returns from recess on Monday.

Ukraine aid: On the heels of his trip with several other Senate Democrats to Ukraine, Schumer challenged Johnson to visit the country “and witness what we witnessed, because I believe it is virtually impossible for anyone with decency and goodwill to turn their back on Ukraine if they saw the horrors of that war with their own eyes.”

The Senate’s national security supplemental, which would deliver tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, now sits at Johnson’s feet, Schumer wrote.

“If Speaker Johnson put the national security supplemental on the floor today, it would pass with a large number of both Democrats and Republicans,” the New York Democrat wrote. “Now is the time for action. Speaker Johnson cannot let politics or blind obeisance to Donald Trump get in the way.”

ny times logoWashington Post, Analysis: GOP elder statesmen’s message to House Speaker Johnson: Stop dithering, Paul Kane, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Two GOP veterans are urging the new House speaker to make his own decisions and not kowtow to the far-right flank.

Some Republican elder statesmen are trying to send a message to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) by urging him to make forceful decisions that will not please portions of the GOP conference.

Two early March deadlines on government funding are looming, as is the ongoing dispute over funding Ukraine’s defenses. On these and other issues, two veteran Republicans believe that the relatively new speaker has been too timid.

Johnson, who marks four months as speaker Sunday, will need to stare down far-right forces who keep threatening to oust him and instead forge the best deals possible. He can call the far right’s bluff and win, or he can continue to try to placate it, weakening himself for the long haul.

Johnson reaches a crossroads in leading an unruly House GOP conference

“I don’t think you can be good at these jobs unless you’re willing to lose them,” former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday during a Washington Post Live “Election 2024 Series” event, pausing to reflect on his own troubled tenure from late 2015 through 2018.

In a podcast also released Wednesday, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) delivered a more blunt assessment of Johnson’s tenure by saying that his tendency to wait so long before making a decision cuts into his leverage with Senate Democrats and President Biden. In the process, those poorly negotiated deals further empower the far-right antagonists, who already ousted his predecessor, ex-speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in October.

“You can either die as speaker and worry about them taking you out, or live every day as your last. Get something out of it. If you lead and get big things done, your reputation enhances. Your ability to get the next deal done is enhanced,” McHenry told CBS’s Major Garrett.
To think of Ryan, 54, and McHenry, 48, as elder statesmen will make some readers blink and reread those sentences. But in today’s House GOP — where half of the Republicans took office after Ryan retired in January 2019 — these two have been around the congressional block more than once.

washington post logoWashington Post, Government funding bills not ‘home runs’, Johnson says, but include GOP policies, Jacob Bogage, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Leaders in Congress slipped Sunday in their last-minute scramble to head off a looming government shutdown deadline that could shutter vital services at the Transportation Department, strain food stamp programs and put housing assistance for millions of families in jeopardy.

With some federal funding set to expire in less than a week, House Republican policy demands — on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights and abortion to national security concerns on immigration and competition from China — have slowed talks that had appeared to be close to yielding a breakthrough. Lawmakers abandoned tentative plans to announce legislative text on a deal Sunday evening.

Instead, legislators privately say another temporary spending extension could be necessary to avert a partial shutdown that could ripple into the winder economy. Roughly 20 percent of the federal government will close on March 2 without action. A deadline for the remaining 80 percent awaits just a week later.

mike johnson oAlready, Congress has passed stopgap spending legislation three times since Sept. 30 as government funding debates revealed internecine brawls in the House GOP and tested the party’s brittle and minuscule majority.

President Biden summoned House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), right, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to the White House for a meeting Tuesday to discuss the shutdown deadlines and the White House’s push to pass new defense assistance for Ukraine.

Even a partial shutdown would trouble federal food assistance programs — including WIC, an emergency nutrition program for women, infants and children that is already contending with a budget shortfall. Air traffic controllers would remain on the job, but would go unpaid. Federal housing vouchers, which support 5 million families, could be temporarily endangered. Government scientists would stop tracing and studying animal-borne diseases.

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More On Israel's War With Hamas

ny times logoNew York Times, Parties to Gaza Cease-Fire Talks Offer Mixed Signals, Staff Reports, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The president of Egypt said he hoped a truce could be reached “in the next few days,” even as Hamas signaled it was far from a breakthrough with Israel.

Parties haggling over a possible cease-fire in Gaza offered mixed signals on Wednesday, with Hamas’s political leader saying that the group was ready to keep fighting Israel while the president of Egypt said that a truce could be reached “in the next few days.”

The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said in a televised speech that the group was open to the mediated talks with Israel, but that “any flexibility we show in the negotiation process is a commitment to protecting the blood of our people, matched by a readiness to defend them.”

At least a quarter of Gaza’s population is “one step away from famine,” a U.N. humanitarian aid official has warned, as aid groups say that people are so hungry they are resorting to eating leaves, donkey feed and food scraps.

One in six children under 2 years old in northern Gaza, where the United Nations says it has not been able to deliver any aid since early this month because of security risks and Israeli restrictions, is suffering from acute malnutrition, the official, Ramesh Rajasingham, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

The president of Egypt said he hoped a truce could be reached “in the next few days,” even as Hamas signaled it was far from a breakthrough with Israel.

  • Hamas insists it is being flexible in talks, but is prepared to continue the war.
  • A U.N. aid official warns that Gaza is close to famine.
  • ‘The bag of flour or your life’: Gazans are in a desperate search for food.
  • Families of hostages are marching from the Gaza border area to Jerusalem.
  • A new aid package brings U.S. assistance to Gaza during the war to $180 million.

 

 

joe biden benjamin netanyahu split

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: After 4 Months of War, Biden and Netanyahu Are on Different Timetables, Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The divergent goals of President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are playing out as negotiators try to reach a hostage deal.

President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel each addressed the future of the battle in Gaza this week, speaking just a day apart but worlds removed from one another in a way that captured the essential tension between the two men after more than four months of fighting.

Mr. Netanyahu spoke of war and how it would continue even if there is a temporary cease-fire to secure the release of hostages, just “delayed somewhat.” Mr. Biden spoke of peace and how such a cease-fire deal could “change the dynamic,” leading to a broader realignment that would finally end the underlying conflict that has defined the Middle East for generations.

The disparity in visions reflects the opposing political calendars on which the two leaders are operating. Mr. Netanyahu has a compelling interest in prolonging the war against Hamas to postpone the day of reckoning when he will face accountability for failing to prevent the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Mr. Biden conversely has a powerful incentive to end the war as soon as possible to tamp down anger in the left wing of his party before the fall re-election campaign when he will need all the support he can get.

At the same time, each has reason to think he may yet get a better deal if the other loses his post. Mr. Biden’s advisers are acutely aware that Mr. Netanyahu’s government could fall in response to the terrorist attack while the Israeli prime minister, who goes by the nickname Bibi, may prefer to buy time until November in case former President Donald J. Trump recaptures the White House.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Israel Is Losing Its Greatest Asset: Acceptance, Thomas L. Friedman, right, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). I’ve spent the past few tom friedman twitterdays traveling from New Delhi to Dubai and Amman, and I have an urgent message to deliver to President Biden and the Israeli people: I am seeing the increasingly rapid erosion of Israel’s standing among friendly nations — a level of acceptance and legitimacy that was painstakingly built up over decades. And if Biden is not careful, America’s global standing will plummet right along with Israel’s.

I don’t think Israelis or the Biden administration fully appreciate the rage that is bubbling up around the world, fueled by social media and TV footage, over the deaths of so many thousands of Palestinian civilians, particularly children, with U.S.-supplied weapons in Israel’s war in Gaza. Hamas has much to answer for in triggering this human tragedy, but Israel and the U.S. are seen as driving events now and getting most of the blame.

Israel FlagThat such anger is boiling over in the Arab world is obvious, but I heard it over and over again in conversations in India during the past week — from friends, business leaders, an official and journalists both young and old. That is even more telling because the Hindu-dominated government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only major power in the global south that has supported Israel and consistently blamed Hamas for inviting the massive Israeli retaliation and the deaths of an estimated 30,000 people, according to Gazan health officials, the majority of them civilians.

That many civilian deaths in a relatively short war would be problematic in any context. But when so many civilians die in a retaliatory invasion that was launched by an Israeli government without any political horizon for the morning after — and then, when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, finally offers a morning-after plan that essentially says to the world that Israel now intends to occupy both the West Bank and Gaza indefinitely — it is no surprise that Israel’s friends will edge away and the Biden team will start to look hapless.

As Shekhar Gupta, the veteran editor of the Indian newspaper ThePrint, put it to me: “There’s enormous love and admiration for Israel in India. But a war with no end will strain it. Initial shock and awe apart, Netanyahu’s war is damaging Israel’s greatest asset: the widely held belief in the invincibility of its army, the infallibility of its intelligence services and the justness of its mission.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Signals a Willingness to Free High-Profile Palestinians, Officials Say, Ronen Bergman, Patrick Kingsley and Michael Levenson, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Hamas had not yet responded to the proposal, but the shift in Israel’s stance could jump-start negotiations toward a hostage swap and possible cease-fire.

Israeli negotiators have offered a significant concession in cease-fire talks with Hamas, signaling that they might be open to releasing high-profile Palestinians jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for some Israeli hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with knowledge of the talks.

President Biden said Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week, though earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was still talking about further military action.

Mr. Netanyahu said that the Israeli military had presented a plan to the war cabinet to evacuate civilians from “areas of fighting” in Gaza. He appeared to be speaking of Israel’s long-expected invasion of Rafah, the southern city where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, many in makeshift tents.

washington post logoWashington Post, Palestinian prime minister, cabinet offer to resign in step toward post-Gaza war overhaul, Staff Reports, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Palestinian Authority shake-up paves way for post-war governance of Gaza; U.S. hopes cease-fire agreement in Gaza can be reached in ‘coming days’.

palestinian flagPalestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh offered the resignation of his government on Monday, opening the door for a new technocratic administration under President Mahmoud Abbas. The United States and Arab allies have been seeking to revitalize the governing body with the hope it can take on a role in Gaza following the war.

Here's what to know

  • An Israeli delegation is attending “lower-level technical talks” on Monday in Doha, Qatar, on a deal to pause fighting and release more hostages, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations. He said there was “not much optimism” that it would bring progress.
  • Israel’s military struck two targets in Lebanon’s Baalbek region on Monday, a Hezbollah spokesperson said, in the deepest strikes by Israeli forces within Lebanese territory since the recent escalation in fighting. The Israel Defense Forces said it targeted Hezbollah militants with attacks “deep inside Lebanon.”
  • “Very little” aid has entered the Gaza Strip in February, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said, noting a 50 percent reduction in delivered supplies compared with January.
  • At least 29,782 people have been killed in Gaza and 70,043 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 240 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

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gaza destruction

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Hungary’s Parliament Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid After Stalling, Andrew Higgins, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Budapest had been the final obstacle to the Nordic country’s joining the alliance, which has been trying to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

hungary flagHungary’s Parliament voted on Monday to approve Sweden as a new member of NATO, allowing the Nordic country to clear a final hurdle that had blocked its membership and held up efforts by the military alliance to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

The measure passed after a vote of 188 for and only 6 against in the 199-member Parliament, which is dominated by legislators from the governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Swedish flagOn Friday, after his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, made a visit to Budapest, the Hungarian capital, Mr. Orban declared the end of a monthslong spat with Sweden over its membership of NATO.

Hungary had been stalling for 19 months on ratifying Sweden’s admission, a delay that had puzzled and exasperated the United States and other members of the alliance, raising questions about Hungary’s reliability as a member of the alliance.

The parliamentary vote on Monday followed a decision by Sweden to provide Hungary with four Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to add to the 14 that the Hungarian Air Force already uses. Stockholm also promised that Saab, which manufactures the warplanes, would open an A.I. research center in Hungary.

Hungary, which had repeatedly promised not to be the last holdout, became the final obstacle to Swedish entry into NATO after the Turkish Parliament voted on Jan. 23 to approve membership.

viktor orbánMr. Orban, right, who has maintained cordial relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia despite the war in Ukraine, has a long record of using his country’s veto power over key decisions in Europe to try to extract money or other rewards. That pattern was on display during not only his foot-dragging over Sweden’s NATO membership but also his opposition to a European Union financial package for Ukraine worth $54 billion.

Mr. Orban relented this month on approving E.U. aid for Ukraine, a retreat that raised hopes he would quickly order his Fidesz party to hold a vote in Parliament on Sweden. Mr. Orban had assured the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Jan. 24 that Hungary would ratify Sweden’s entry “at the first possible opportunity.”

But when opposition legislators called a session of Parliament on Feb. 5 to vote on Sweden’s membership, the Fidesz party boycotted the session.

The vote on Monday ended a standoff that had soured Hungary’s relations with the United States and other members of NATO. With the exception of Turkey, all approved Sweden’s membership more than a year ago after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even with Hungary’s acceptance of Sweden into the alliance, the long, drawn-out process to get to this point is likely to leave a bitter aftertaste. And the belated assent to the expansion of NATO, to which Hungary makes only a modest contribution, will not quickly change Mr. Orban’s reputation as a troublemaker more interested in cozying up to Mr. Putin, with whom he held an amicable meeting in October during a visit to China, than in supporting the alliance.

Hungary, whose air force depends heavily on Gripen jets from Sweden, has offered multiple and often shifting explanations for the long delay in voting on Swedish membership. It has cited scheduling hiccups, criticism in Sweden of democratic backsliding by Mr. Orban’s increasingly authoritarian government, teaching materials used in Swedish schools and comments made by Mr. Kristersson years before he took office.

Mr. Orban’s tough stance on Sweden, as well as his initial blocking of the Ukraine aid package, reflected his penchant for trying to establish his small country — Hungary has only 10 million people and accounts for just 1 percent of economic output in the European Union — as a force to be reckoned with on the European political stage.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ghana’s Parliament Passes Anti-Gay Bill With Jail Terms, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The legislation would sentence those who identify as L.G.B.T.Q. to three years in jail and punish those who promote gay issues as well.

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More On  U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

djt biden resized smiles

Hopium Chronicles, U.S. Political Commentary: Biden Breaks 80% in Michigan, Trump Continues To Struggle, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. 28, 2024 simon rosenberg twitterMarianne Williamson, who dropped out a month ago, beat Dean Phillips last night!

In Michigan, Biden Keeps Cruising, Trump Continues To Struggle - In my post yesterday, I argued that the opposition to Biden’s foreign policy inside the Democratic Party was very limited, but intense. And that’s what we saw last night. Biden broke 80%, and for all the hype Uncommitted got to a very modest 13%, just 2 points higher than Uncommitted got against Obama in 2012. Biden is very popular in the Democratic Party, and the opposition he has is very narrow and limited. But it’s there, and Biden world has work to do to bring everyone along, as all campaigns do. It’s doable work in my view, the work we have to do, well within the normal debates and dissensions that happen in these very large, big-tent parties we have in America. 

Let’s review some data. 100,000 people voted uncommitted in Michigan last night. About 100,000 Arab Americans voted for Biden in Michigan in 2020. Let’s assume that 50,000 of those people stay home this November. That’s a little less than 1% of the total vote this fall. Can we make it up other places? Can we work really hard to get number down? Yes and yes. I characterize what’s happening right now as more of a challenge to Biden than a threat. But we have work to do.

I think the work Trump has to do is much harder. The opposition to him in his party is much greater, and we have data now from the early GOP primary states showing a sizeable chunk of Republicans are open to voting for Biden this fall. In my view something broke inside the GOP with Dobbs in the spring of 2022. At that moment the GOP became too ugly, too menacing even for many Republican voters. And in all these elections since the Republicans have struggled. They struggled in the battlegrounds in 2022; struggled in elections throughout 2023; struggled in Orlando last month, in NY-3 two weeks ago and Trump is struggling in these early states.

I talked about Trump’s underperformance of public polling in the first 3 primary states in this post from over the weekend. Let’s look at what happened in Michigan:

  • Trump is leading in all national polls against Haley by over 60 points
  • The last 2 public polls in Michigan had Trump up over Haley by more than 50 points
  • He won last night by 42 points. It’s a similar level of underperformance that we saw in IA, NH, SC.
  • As in all these elections since Dobbs, when it comes time to actually vote, Trump just keeps struggling and underperforming.
  • As I detailed in this Monday post, Trump’s problems right now go way beyond these ongoing performance issues:

He’s spending more than he’s taking in, Haley outraised him last month, the RNC is broke, the Party is in a messy leadership transition, dozens of party leaders in critical battleground states have been indicted, several state parties have functionally collapsed, House Rs are abandoning ship

Trump and his party are far more dangerous and extreme than they were in in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023 - elections they lost. The IVF fiasco has reminded all of us that for them Dobbs was just the beginning of their assault on women, and reproductive rights and freedoms. It’s devastating for them

Trump has serially betrayed the country, and he and his family have corruptly taken more money from foreign governments than any political family in US history

As I wrote recently, due to Biden’s successful Presidency Trump’s core attacks against Biden are evaporating, leaving him with very little to run on other than his madness

He keeps losing in court, badly, and we know from polling 20%-30% of Republicans view these legal challenges/his criminality as a potential reason to abandon him in November. He and Rudy now owe $700m!!!!!

Trump himself is diminished. His appearances on the stump are far more erratic, delusional, distributing. His color is far more orange, and in general he is far more freakish and buffoonish than he has ever been. It really does feel like he is descending deeper into madness.

We cannot forget for one moment what Trump’s agenda for the country is:

He wants Putin to win, the West to lose. The border to be in chaos, and migrants to keep flowing into the country. The economy to crash. Women, people of color to lose more freedoms and rights. The planet to warm faster. 10 year olds to carry their rapist's baby to term, and for more women to die on an operating room table. Tens of millions to lose their health insurance. More dead kids in schools. Verified rapists in positions of authority. A restoration of pre-Civil Rights era white supremacy. Big tax cuts for their donors, higher deficits and less for everyone else. Books banned across the US. Seniors to pay more for insulin and prescription drugs. Foreign governments free to pollute our daily discourse and harass our citizens. Teenagers to work night shifts in meat packing plants and not go to school. The minimum wage to stay at $7.25. Mass arrests and mass deportations of immigrants long settled in the US. Insurrectionists to get pardoned. To end American democracy for all time.

 djt biden resized smiles

ny times logoNew York Times, Michigan Primary Takeaways: ‘Uncommitted’ Makes Itself Heard, Reid J. Epstein and Shane Goldmacher, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden endured a protest vote, Donald Trump fended off Nikki Haley again, and both may face challenges with their party coalitions as they start to look toward November.

biden harris 2024 logoJoseph R. Biden Jr. and Donald J. Trump won Michigan’s primary elections on Tuesday as the president and his predecessor hurtle toward a rematch in November.

But the results showed some of the fragility of the political coalitions they have constructed in a critical state for the fall. Losing any slice of support is perilous for both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden won Michigan in 2020 by about 150,000 votes, and Mr. Trump carried it in 2016 by about 11,000 votes.

trump 2024The results of the primaries on Tuesday carried extra weight because Michigan was the first state that is a top general-election battleground to hold its primary in 2024.

michigan map‘Uncommitted’ succeeded in grabbing Biden’s attention. When the movement to persuade Democrats to vote “uncommitted” began three weeks ago, its public goal was clear: Pile enough pressure on Mr. Biden that he would call for an unconditional cease-fire in Gaza.

Since then, top White House officials told Arab American leaders in Dearborn, Mich., that they had regrets over how the administration had responded to the crisis. Mr. Biden called Israel’s military action “over the top.” And on the eve of the primary, he said he hoped a cease-fire agreement would be in place within a week. (The view from Israel and Gaza suggested Mr. Biden was being a bit optimistic.)

In the early hours of Wednesday, roughly 13 percent of primary voters had chosen “uncommitted” — a share that paled next to Mr. Biden’s 81 percent, but represented more than 75,000 people in Michigan who made the effort to lodge their disapproval of the president.

The movement is now likely to spread to other states, many of which have an option for voters to choose “uncommitted” or “no preference” in their primaries.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Biden Dominates MI Primary Despite Fake Media Narrative, Ron Filipkowski, right, Feb. 28, 2024. Biden wins another ron filipowskiprimary by a wide margin.

mtn meidas touch networkSignifying a Democratic Party more unified behind it's leader than ever, Michigan overwhelmingly voted to return President Joe Biden to the top of the Democratic ticket. Despite a media narrative that Democrats don't want Biden to run, they have shown almost unanimously that they will stick by him if that's what he chooses to do.

biden harris 2024 logoThe narrative that there was dissatisfaction with Biden among Democrats was played up in Michigan more than any other state. This was the place that their voices were supposed to finally be heard, led by the Muslim community who were upset about the Biden Administration's support for Israel despite their dissatisfaction with Netanyahu. However, while the media amplified a small handful of loud voices, people at the ballot box responded loudly with their votes.

At a polling place in Dearborn, national media gathered to await the throng of disgruntled Muslim voters against Biden that never materialized, and to get a statement from their Mayor, who already stated he would lodge an "Uncommitted" protest vote against Biden and urged others to do the same. It was the "Uncommitted" vote tally that was supposed to be the protest vote against Biden, but 10.69% voted Uncommitted against Obama in 2012 when there was little controversy about his candidacy.

With 27% of the precincts reporting, Biden won 79.9% with just 2.7% for Dean Phillips and 14.4% Uncommitted. However, that number of Uncommitted is expected to drop as the votes continue to come in from counties that are very favorable to Biden.

Meanwhile, in primary after primary, Donald Trump's margins of victory are less than the polls indicated and far less than he predicted. He defeated Nikki Haley by 67-28% with 31% reporting. The 538 polling average had Trump winning by 57 points. Not quite. The reality is that the Democratic Party is united behind their president, and the Republican Party under Trump has never been more divided or dissatisfied with their candidate.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden testifies that he never involved his father in business, Matt Viser and Jacqueline Alemany, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). President’s son opens with a defiant statement accusing Republicans of ‘partisan house of cards’ built on ‘lies.’

Hunter Biden testified on Wednesday that he never involved his father in any of his business decisions, and he accused House Republicans of having “built your entire partisan house of cards on lies.”

President Biden’s son, ahead of what is expected to be a lengthy and long-awaited closed-door deposition for a GOP-led impeachment inquiry, wrote an opening statement that was defiant, emotional and combative.

“I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business,” he said, according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Washington Post. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist. Never.”

House Republicans have struggled to uncover firm evidence that Joe Biden benefited from — or played a role in — the business pursuits of his family members. The testimony from Hunter Biden follows an appearance from President Biden’s younger brother James Biden, who testified last week that Joe Biden never played a role in his businesses. Several other former associates of Hunter and James Biden have made similar statements under oath.

Hunter Biden’s appearance before the Oversight and Judiciary committees could provide Republicans with a final chance to alter the trajectory of an impeachment inquiry that so far has produced mostly exculpatory statements, despite Republicans’ efforts to prove that the president benefited improperly from his family’s businesses.

“This has been a comedy of errors from the beginning,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said ahead of the hearing. He urged Republicans to “fold up the circus tent” and end the impeachment inquiry.

“We have gotten extremely far afield from the constitutional standard,” Raskin said. “Nobody on their side can state what they think Joe Biden did, even as a private citizen, that would constitute some kind of criminal offense.”

The GOP leaders of the inquiry dispute that, saying they have uncovered information suggesting that the president did benefit from the foreign business dealings of his family members and that he used his position to help them.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the inquiry would link the business ventures of Hunter Biden directly to his father.

“There’s a pattern with the Biden family: Hunter Biden goes out and tries to get business, but the agreements and the deals never get done until Joe Biden shows up, either on a phone call or dropping by a lunch, dropping by a dinner,” he told Fox News.

In his opening statement Wednesday, Hunter Biden noted that the credibility of several witnesses cited by Republicans has since been undermined, including Alexander Smirnov, who has recently been charged with lying to the FBI about the Bidens. He also provided as an exhibit a two-page résumé, making the case that he had the necessary qualifications for the jobs and business opportunities that he was pursuing.

“For more than a year, your Committees have hunted me in your partisan political pursuit of my dad,” Hunter Biden said. “You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion, and sensationalism — all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face. You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”

Hunter Biden, who has acknowledged that he spiraled into a major drug addiction for a period, said he has had his share of failures and flaws, but he said that those should reflect on him and not his father.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign, Ashley Parker, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). In February alone, Donald Trump encouraged Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to the military alliance.

He refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny, 47, a Kremlin critic who died suddenly on Feb. 16 in a trump 2024Russian penal colony — instead likening himself to Navalny, arguing they were both political prisoners.

And in a Fox News town hall Tuesday evening, he praised Russia for being “a war machine.”

“They defeated Hitler,” Trump declared, apparently referring to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.

Since announcing his first presidential campaign in 2015, Russia has followed Trump like an unshakable thunder cloud. The former president has Russian Flagrepeatedly expressed a fascination with Russia, lavished praise on Putin and refused to stand up to the Russian president on a range of issues — from interfering in the 2016 presidential election to invading Ukraine almost exactly two years ago.

Trump’s reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do “all roads lead djt maga hatto Putin?” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019 during a contentious Cabinet Room meeting.

His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. Putin critics are calling the death of Navalny — who had survived a previous Russian attempt to poison him — a murder. And under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party has drifted in a remarkably isolationist direction on foreign policy, with House Republicans currently holding up much-needed aid to Ukraine.

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Clash: U.S. Culture Wars Meets Public Health

alabama capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos, Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

 

alabama locator mapLetters from an American, Commentary: February 22, 2024 (Alabama Supreme Court), Heather Cox Richardson, right, Feb. 23, 2023. The Alabama Supreme heather cox richardsonCourt on February 16, 2024, decided that cells awaiting implantation for in vitro fertilization are children and that the accidental destruction of such an embryo falls under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In an opinion concurring with the ruling, Chief Justice Tom Parker declared that the people of Alabama have adopted the “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” and said that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Payton Armstrong of media watchdog Media Matters for America reported today that on the same day the Alabama decision came down, an interview Parker did on the program of a self-proclaimed “prophet” and Q-Anon conspiracy theorist appeared. In it, Parker claimed that “God created government” and called it “heartbreaking” that “we have let it go into the possession of others.”

Parker referred to the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a theory that appeared in 1975, which claims that Christians must take over the “seven mountains” of U.S. life: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business…and government. He told his interviewer that “we’ve abandoned those Seven Mountains and they’ve been occupied by the other side.” God “is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now,” he said.

While Republicans are split on the decision about embryos after a number of hospitals have ended their popular IVF programs out of fear of prosecution, others, like Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley agreed that “embryos, to me, are babies.”

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) identifies himself as a Christian, has argued that the United States is a Christian nation, and has called for “biblically sanctioned government.” At a retreat of Republican leaders this weekend, as the country is grappling with both the need to support Ukraine and the need to fund the government, he tried to rally the attendees with what some called a “sermon” arguing that the Republican Party needed to save the country from its lack of morality.

As Charles Blow of the New York Times put it: “If you don’t think this country is sliding toward theocracy, you’re not paying attention.”

In the United States, theocracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama embryo ruling may have devastating effects on cancer patients, Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 25, 2024. A cancer diagnosis often comes with a host of difficult decisions, including what to do about the impact of treatment on a person’s fertility. Many individuals grappling with this dual burden turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a way to preserve their reproductive options.

alabama state mapThat’s why cancer patients and oncologists are expressing shock and anxiety about the recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos are considered children under the law.

The ruling is already having a chilling effect on IVF clinics in the state. Worries are mounting that other states could adopt similar rulings that would impede fertility medicine for people, including many cancer patients, who say assisted reproductive technology might be their only way of having a family after treatments.

“We’re leaving a lot of young men and women to deal with the long-lasting effects of the cancer treatments, and some of those effects could be infertility and premature menopause,” said Deanna Gerber, a gynecologic oncologist at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center who is a triple-negative breast cancer survivor.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama justice who quoted Bible in IVF case often invokes religion, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). In the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said frozen embryos are people, Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a concurring opinion that sought to define the “sanctity of unborn life,” citing heavily from scripture and theology. His opinion, which drew criticism from abortion rights activists for instilling religious beliefs into a judicial decision, was the latest in nearly 20 years on the bench in which he has repeatedly invoked religion on his way to laying the groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade.

tom parker mickey welsh advertiser reutersParker, shown at right in a photo by Mickey Welsh via the Advertiser and Reuters,  has also openly criticized other judges for not sufficiently considering religion in their rulings and has expressed support for the theory known as the Seven Mountain Mandate, which calls for conservative Christians to run the government and broadly influence American life.

Parker, 72, was first elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004 and won the chief justice’s seat in 2018. His term ends in 2025; state law prohibits judges older than 70 from being elected. Parker has for years been lauded by abortion foes and condemned by reproductive rights advocates for writing opinions that would help spawn the fall of Roe and further restrict abortion access.

ny times logoNew York Times, Abortion Shield Laws Pit U.S. States Against One Another, Pam Belluck, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Doctors in six states where abortion is legal are using new laws to send abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

Behind an unmarked door in a boxy brick building outside Boston, a quiet rebellion is taking place. Here, in a 7-by-12-foot room, abortion is being made available to thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

The patients do not have to travel here to terminate their pregnancies, and they do not have to wait weeks to receive abortion medication from overseas.

Instead, they are obtaining abortion pills prescribed by licensed Massachusetts providers, packaged in the little room and mailed from a nearby post office, arriving days later in Texas, Missouri and other states where abortion is largely outlawed.

This service and others like it are operating under novel laws enacted in a half-dozen states — Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California — that have sought to preserve abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in June 2022. The laws have been in use only since the summer and have not been tested in the courts, but they are already providing abortion access to tens of thousands of women in states with bans, especially low-income patients and others who cannot travel.

Called telemedicine abortion shield laws, they promise to protect doctors, nurse practitioners and midwives licensed in those six states who prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in the nearly two dozen states that ban or sharply restrict abortion.

The laws stipulate that officials and agencies of their states will not cooperate with another state’s efforts to investigate or penalize such providers — a stark departure from typical interstate practices of extraditing, honoring subpoenas and sharing information, legal experts on both sides of the abortion issue say. Many expect them to ultimately be challenged in federal court.

Abortion opponents see the laws as brazen infringement on state sovereignty.

“You have states not just picking their own strategy but really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life, said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

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GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

Impeachment Probe of President Biden, Son Hunter Biden

hunter biden nbc beardLetters from an American, Commentary: Feb. 21 (Biden Probes), Heather Cox Richardson, right, American academic historian at Boston College heather cox richardsonand author of seven books, most recently, Democracy Awakening, which relates how history can teach us about ourselves, and how can it serve as a roadmap for the future of American democracy), Feb. 22, 2024.

The centerpiece of Republicans’ case for impeaching Democratic president Joe Biden is the allegation that he and his son Hunter, above, each accepted a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma when Biden Sr. was vice president. But in the last week, that accusation has revealed quite a different problem, one that implicates Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: The Biden impeachment inquiry has utterly collapsed, Editorial Board, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Until this month, House Republicans referred to information provided by a “highly credible” FBI informant as the core of their case to impeach President Biden. This week, they quietly deleted any mention of that source from official documents. This one small move speaks volumes about an ill-founded GOP crusade that seems finally to be reaching an embarrassing denouement.

david weiss o 2018Special counsel David Weiss, left  — the man in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal case against Hunter Biden — last week filed charges against Alexander Smirnov. The 43-year-old U.S.-Israeli citizen, prosecutors say, lied to federal investigators about the Biden family’s business dealings. These lies, crucially, included claims that the president and his son each sought $5 million bribes from Ukrainian energy company Burisma when Mr. Biden was vice president, in exchange for protecting the firm from scrutiny by Ukraine’s national authorities. Now, Mr. Smirnov has also disclosed that “officials associated with Russian intelligence” fed him his information.

Justice Department log circularOf course, there’s reason for skepticism about that latest explosive allegation from this supplier of apparently bogus bombshells. The memo released on Tuesday portrays Mr. Smirnov as a con man hawking “an amalgam of otherwise unremarkable business meetings and contacts,” none of which occurred during the time period he purported, as proof of corruption. He apparently lied about his wealth, his profession and more. Prosecutors even refer to “new lies” Mr. Smirnov is “actively peddling … that could impact U.S. elections,” involving suggestions that Moscow “may use as ‘kompromat’ ” information taken from intercepted phone calls of Hunter Biden in a foreign hotel.

Might Mr. Smirnov also be lying about Russian officials providing him with dirt on the president? Absolutely. But that is the point. Either Mr. Smirnov is an asset in a current Kremlin plot to spread disinformation about the president, an eerie echo of 2016’s election interference, or he is dissembling about that, too. Either way, congressional Republicans have staked their impeachment inquiry on the words of a fabulist.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: How a Bill Barr ‘assignment’ led to a Biden impeachment effort based on a lie, Glenn Kessler, right, Feb. 23, glenn kessler2024. The indictment of Alexander Smirnov, a trusted FBI confidential source, on charges of lying about an alleged Ukrainian bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son Hunter is a new twist in a saga that has its roots in a project launched by then-Attorney General William P. Barr soon after President Donald Trump was impeached for the first time.

Trump was impeached Dec. 18, 2019, charged with pressuring the Ukrainian government to turn up dirt on Biden, potentially his most formidable rival in 2020. Sixteen days later, on Jan. 3, 2020, Barr tasked Brady, a U.S. attorney in Western Pennsylvania, rudy giuliani wwith vetting material regarding Biden and Ukraine — some of it supplied by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — for possible distribution to prosecutors who could use a grand jury to investigate further.

To some extent, this story mirrors that of the “Steele dossier,” a string of unverified and derogatory pieces of information on Trump collected during the 2016 election by a confidential source trusted by the FBI, Christopher Steele, on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Steele’s reports, leaked to the media, created a firestorm of speculation by Democrats about Trump’s ties to Russia — even though much of it turned out to be false. (Steele has said he stands by his work.)

Justice Department log circularIn the same vein, the Smirnov tale has its roots in a Republican effort to target Biden. His story didn’t gain much traction among investigators in 2020 but emerged in 2023 and was immediately embraced as true by many GOP lawmakers. A detailed review of information contained in the indictment, Brady’s testimony before congressional investigators, public statements and other documents shows that — absent Barr’s creation of a Biden task force — Smirnov’s allegations probably never would have appeared in the FBI document that led to his indictment and to the possible collapse of the Republicans’ impeachment case with Smirnov as its star.

Here is a timeline of the years-long events ending in Smirnov’s arrest.

Drug-Related Gun and Tax Charges Against Hunter Biden

 

hunter biden beard

 Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden To Appear At Closed Door Deposition Today, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 28, 2024. This comes after an embarrassing week for House Republicans. 

mtn meidas touch networkPresident Biden's son, Hunter Biden, will appear at a closed door deposition later today in front of the House Oversight Committee. Biden is expected to testify about his alleged business dealings overseas, along with any connection with his business dealings and the President. This testimony is being taken to further the Republican Party's impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

The only problem for House Republicans is that their inquiry has already fallen apart in advance of this closed-door deposition. During the past week, the Republican Party's star witness, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested and charged by Special Counsel David Weiss for lying to investigators about the nature and veracity of many of the claims that House Republicans are using to try to impeach the President. Special Counsel Weiss is the same special counsel who also charged Hunter Biden in an unrelated tax crimes case.

Specifically, prosecutors revealed that Smirnov had high level contacts with Russian officials who potentially used Smirnov as a conduit to spread lies about Hunter and Joe Biden in an attempt to influence American politics. Smirnov was the individual who pushed the story that Hunter Biden used his status as President Biden's son to peddle influence for foreign officials. Years later, Smirnov is now indicted for lying to law enforcement about that exact story. Currently, due to him being a flight risk, Smirnov is incarcerated pending trial in the Central District of California and faces the potential of decades in federal prison.

Following the closed door deposition, expect Republicans to come out and try to get ahead of the story by spinning Hunter Biden's testimony. Make no mistake, the impeachment inquiry has already failed, no matter how much they or the mainstream media try to say otherwise.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Lesley Wolf Vindicated by Alexander Smirnov Indictment, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 26, 2024. You know who is marcy wheelervindicated by the Alexander Smirnov indictment? Lesley Wolf, who made an effort to prevent Trump's efforts to interfere in the investigation from tainting the investigation into Hunter Biden and then faced death threats because she did so.

In the wake of the Alexander Smirnov indictment, the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter stating their opinion that the release of Hunter Biden emails to the NY Post is consistent with a Russian information operation have claimed vindication. That has led to this problematic Justice Department log circularKen Dilanian report parroting David Weiss filings that deliberately obscured the evidence in the Hunter Biden case. And that, in turn, has led to a flood of people expressing opinions about the laptop turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac (Olivia Nuzzi, Reese Gorman) that exhibit no clue about how precarious that evidence is now.

In other words, that has renewed a debate consisting of misrepresenting the 51-spook letter, then misstating what the public evidence about the laptop shows.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden Attorneys Say Prosecution Confused Sawdust with Cocaine, Brett Meiselas, Feb. 20, 2024. His legal team says the prosecution still has not met their discovery obligations.

mtn meidas touch networkA new filing by Hunter Biden’s attorneys in their reply in support of Hunter’s motion to compel discovery and set discovery deadlines raises some very troubling lapses in the case brought by Special Counsel David Weiss.

The filing accuses the prosecution of sidestepping addressing actual disputes identified in the case, accusing them of instead focusing on tangential issues.

Stunningly, the filing reveals discrepancies in the interpretation of photographic evidence that further exacerbates doubts surrounding the prosecution's handling of the case. These misinterpretations not only cast doubt on the accuracy of the evidence presented but also raise questions about the overall integrity of the prosecution's investigative methods.

Specifically, Hunter Biden’s lawyers criticize the special counsel for their reliance in the indictment on a photo of a brown leather pouch they claimed belong to Hunter Biden and supposedly contained cocaine residue. Hunter’s attorneys reveal that what prosecution claimed to be cocaine was actually sawdust from an expert carpenter – and the photo was sent to Hunter Biden, not vice versa.

Problems With Special Prosecutors

Emptywheel, Analysis: Navel-Gazing: The Ethics Problem Caused by Merrick Garland's Brad Weinsheimer Solution, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 25, 2024. Merrick Garland's reliance on the career Associate Deputy Attorney General rather than a PADAG to oversee Special Counsel investigations seems to have created a kind of navel-gazing that only encourages ethical problems with the investigations.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Leo Wise Keeps Digging Through Difficulties Caused by a Dumb Prosecutorial Decision, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 26, 2024. Leo Wise keeps digging himself bigger holes, all of which stem from making rash prosecutorial decisions without considering the complexity of the case against Hunter Biden.

william barr resized donald trump

Emptywheel Opinion: Ken Vogel Covers Up Rudy Giuliani and His Alleged Russian Spies, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.).  In a story struggling to explain how Alexander Smirnov relates to the side channel Bill Barr, above left, set up to launder dirt from Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel covers up the role of Rudy and the alleged Russian spies from whom he solicited dirt on Hunter Biden.

Vogel wrote a story with Glenn Thrush that really struggled with basic details about the Hunter Biden investigation.

It’s not the struggle with basic facts about the Hunter Biden investigation that I find so remarkable, though. It’s the shamelessness by longtime Rudy Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel of his cover-up of Rudy’s role in all this.

Ken Vogel knows Rudy’s role in the side channel that led to the Smirnov claim as well as anybody. But his story about the side channel covered up Rudy’s role — two dozen mentions at one of his links and over a hundred at the other — and in the process covered up the Russian spies that necessitated the side channel.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant's psychiatrist).

 

Russia-Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Charges Key Figure in Arms Trade With Corruption, Daria Mitiuk, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A Times investigation showed how the war helped Serhiy Pashinsky rehabilitate his reputation. Now he faces charges related to accusations about his past.

ukraine flagA high-profile Ukrainian former politician who has become central to the country’s effort to obtain weapons was arrested on corruption charges earlier this month, officials said.

The ex-politician, Serhiy Pashinsky, was a longtime member of Ukraine’s Parliament who spent much of his career denying accusations of self-dealing. After Russia’s invasion, senior government officials called on him to help arm the military.

The New York Times reported last year that a company tied to Mr. Pashinsky, Ukrainian Armored Technology, had become the biggest private arms supplier in Ukraine and that authorities were investigating the company.

Prosecutors recently accused Mr. Pashinsky and five other men of participating in a convoluted fuel-buying scheme that they said had defrauded the Ukrainian government out of about $25 million several years before the war started. Mr. Pashinsky denied the charges.

The accusations do not relate to weapons procurement.

Mr. Pashinsky’s arrest reflects the tensions of wartime Ukraine under President Volodymyr Zelensky. His government has made a series of high-profile moves to root out corruption and assure Western allies that Ukraine is a reliable ally committed to the rule of law. But Ukraine also urgently needs weapons and has rolled back years of anticorruption measures in order to speed up procurement.

Mr. Zelensky once criticized Mr. Pashinsky on national television. “Go out on the streets and ask whether Pashinsky is a criminal,” Mr. Zelensky he said in 2019. “I guarantee you that out of 100 people, 100 will say that he is a criminal.”

When the war broke out, his government turned for help to Mr. Pashinsky and other figures from a more rough-and-tumble era. Mr. Pashinsky excelled at the job, military officials said.

Mr. Pashinsky has denied running Ukrainian Armored Technology. In a hearing earlier this month, a prosecutor said that the authorities had found evidence that he indeed controlled the company.

ny times logoNew York Times, Seeking to Unsettle Russia, Macron Provokes Allies, Roger Cohen, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The openness of President Emmanuel Macron of France to Western troops in Ukraine signaled a quest for military resolve. But some allies felt blindsided.

With his jolting unexpected statement that sending Western troops to Ukraine “should not be ruled out,” President Emmanuel Macron of France has shattered a taboo, ignited debate, spread dismay among allies and forced a reckoning on Europe’s future.

For an embattled leader who loathes lazy thinking, longs for a Europe of military strength and loves the limelight, this was typical enough. It was Mr. Macron, after all, who in 2019 described NATO as suffering from “brain death” and who last year warned Europe against becoming America’s strategic “vassal.”

But bold pronouncements are one thing and patiently putting the pieces in place to attain those objectives, another. Mr. Macron has often favored provocation over preparation, even if he often has a point, as in arguing since 2017 that Europe needed to bolster its defense industry to attain greater strategic heft.

This week was no exception. By lurching forward without building consensus among allies, Mr. Macron may have done more to illustrate Western divisions and the limits of how far NATO allies are willing to go in defense of Ukraine than achieve the “strategic ambiguity” he says is needed to keep President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia guessing.

Mr. Macron’s provocation looked in part like a quest for relevance at a time when he is isolated at home and has appeared a marginal figure in the war between Israel and Hamas. France has played a central role in coordinating European Union aid to Ukraine, including a $54 billion program to support Kyiv approved this month, but its own aid contribution lags Germany, Britain and the United States.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kremlin Warns Against NATO Ground Intervention in Ukraine, Paul Sonne and Constant Méheut, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The warning came in response to comments by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who said “nothing should be ruled out” when asked about the possibility.

Russian FlagA provocative comment by President Emmanuel Macron of France about the possibility of putting troops from NATO countries in Ukraine has prompted a warning from the Kremlin and hurried efforts by European leaders to distance themselves from the suggestion.

The fractured messaging underscores how Ukraine’s allies are struggling to agree on new ways to help Kyiv as resolve weakens in the United States and Russia advances on the battlefield.

The Kremlin warned Tuesday that a ground intervention by any NATO country would lead to a direct clash between the Western military alliance and Russian forces, fraught with potential dangers, and called the open discussion of such a step as “a very important new element.”

“This is of course not in the interest of these countries,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said in comments to reporters.

The warning came a day after Mr. Macron said “nothing should be ruled out” regarding the possibility of a NATO country sending troops to Ukraine, though he said there was no consensus on the matter.

“Anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” Mr. Macron said, speaking after a meeting with European leaders in Paris about future support for Kyiv. Reminding leaders that the West was doing things it didn’t imagine two years ago, like sending sophisticated missiles and tanks, he said the goal was to ensure “Russia cannot win this war.”

Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic rushed to emphasize they were not considering putting troops on the ground in Ukraine. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also told The Associated Press the alliance itself had no such plans.

France clarified that Mr. Macron was trying to emphasize how Europe must consider new actions to support Ukraine.

The French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, said new assistance to Ukraine in the areas of mine clearance, cyberdefense and weapons production “could require a presence on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin, Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). A C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases has been constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border.

ukraine flagFor more than a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine that is now critical for both countries in countering Russia.

CIA LogoNow entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks. It has transformed Ukraine, whose intelligence agencies were long seen as thoroughly compromised by Russia, into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today.

The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border. Before the war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepts that helped prove Russia’s involvement in the 2014 downing of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainians also helped the Americans go after the Russian operatives who meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow’s encryption systems. (One officer in the unit was Kyrylo Budanov, now the general leading Ukraine’s military intelligence.)

And the C.I.A. also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who operated inside Russia, across Europe, and in Cuba and other places where the Russians have a large presence.

The relationship is so ingrained that C.I.A. officers remained at a remote location in western Ukraine when the Biden administration evacuated U.S. personnel in the weeks before Russia invaded in February 2022. During the invasion, the officers relayed critical intelligence, including where Russia was planning strikes and which weapons systems they would use.

“Without them, there would have been no way for us to resist the Russians, or to beat them,” said Ivan Bakanov, who was then head of Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, the S.B.U.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia-Ukraine War: Senate Aide Investigated Over Unofficial Actions in Ukraine, Lara Jakes, Justin Scheck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Kyle Parker said he delivered sniper gear as part of his unabashed support for Ukraine. Investigators said there may be “counterintelligence issues.”

A senior Capitol Hill staff member who is a longtime voice on Russia policy is under congressional investigation over his frequent trips to Ukraine’s war zones and providing what he said was $30,000 in sniper gear to its military, documents show.

The staff member, Kyle Parker, is the senior Senate adviser for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. The commission is led by members of Congress and staffed by congressional aides. It is influential on matters of democracy and security and has been vocal in supporting Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission’s director and general counsel, which The New York Times reviewed, said that the equipment transfer could make Mr. Parker an unregistered foreign agent. It said that Mr. Parker had traveled Ukraine’s front lines wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and had hired a Ukrainian official for a U.S. government fellowship over the objections of congressional ethics and security officials.

And it raised the possibility that he was “wittingly or unwittingly being targeted and exploited by a foreign intelligence service,” citing unspecified “counterintelligence issues” that should be referred to the F.B.I.

A representative for Mr. Parker said he had done nothing wrong. He said Mr. Parker was the target of a “campaign of retaliation” for making accusations of misconduct against the report’s authors.

ny times logo

New York Times, Volodymyr Zelensky said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began, a toll that is far lower than U.S. estimates, Carlotta Gall and Constant Méheut, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The tally that President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed on Sunday differs sharply from that given by U.S. officials, who have said the number is closer to 70,000.

Some 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, acknowledging for the first time in the war a concrete figure for Ukraine’s toll.

“This is a big loss for us,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But he declined to disclose the number of wounded or missing, saying that Russia could use the information to gauge the number of Ukraine’s active forces.

Mr. Zelensky’s tally could not be independently verified. It differs sharply from estimates by U.S. officials, who, this past summer, put the losses much higher, saying that close to 70,000 Ukrainians had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 had been wounded. Russia’s military casualties, the officials said, were about twice as high.

By revealing Ukraine’s losses, Mr. Zelensky said he wanted to counter Russian propaganda and other estimates that have placed Ukrainian casualties at a much higher level. He said Russia had wrongly claimed that Ukraine had lost 60,000 soldiers.

Mr. Zelensky’s unusual acknowledgment came as his country’s armed forces have been on the defensive, running low on manpower and ammunition along most of the 600-mile front line, with Russian troops pressing attacks in the east and south. A week ago, Moscow captured the city of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold in the east, and its troops have been slowly pushing westward in recent days, trying to build on their momentum in the area.

Ukraine’s top general, Oleksandr Syrsky, said he had ordered his troops to withdraw from Avdiivka to “preserve the lives and health of the soldiers,” which he described as the army’s “highest value.”

But soldiers on the ground said the retreat should have been ordered earlier since Ukrainian forces were outgunned by Russian artillery and Russian air superiority in the region.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

alexny navalny ap denis kaminev

 Alexei Navalny was President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent and a fierce critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Denis Kaminev photo via the Associated Press)

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Britain Carry Out Large-Scale Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Feb. 24, 2024. The strikes were aimed at degrading the capabilities of the Iranian-backed militants that have continued to attack ships in the Red Sea.

washington post logoWashington Post, War in Ukraine: What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine, Alex Horton, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). With hundreds of thousands dead or wounded and still no end in sight, the war has shown the Pentagon that its calculations must evolve.

As the general paced the briefing room, he displayed a piece of lethal technology and detailed the death and chaos it has caused in Ukraine.

Almost 90 Russian soldiers were slain in a single attack in 2022, explained Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Taylor, when Ukrainian forces dropped U.S.-provided rockets on buildings pulsing with electronic signals.

Here in the Mojave Desert, where Taylor oversees simulated war designed to prepare U.S. troops for the real thing, the same behavior abounds, he warned.

Taylor held up his cellphone. “This device,” he said, “is going to get our soldiers killed.”

The U.S. military is undertaking an expansive revision of its approach to war fighting, having largely abandoned the counterinsurgency playbook that was a hallmark of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to focus instead on preparing for an even larger conflict with more sophisticated adversaries such as Russia or China.

What’s transpired in Ukraine, where this week the war enters its third year with hundreds of thousands dead or wounded on both sides and still no end in sight, has made clear to the Pentagon that battlefield calculations have fundamentally changed in the years since it last deployed forces in large numbers. Precision weapons, fleets of drones and digital surveillance can reach far beyond the front lines, posing grave risk to personnel wherever they are.

The war remains an active and bountiful research opportunity for American military planners as they look to the future, officials say. A classified year-long study on the lessons learned from both sides of the bloody campaign will help inform the next National Defense Strategy, a sweeping document that aligns the Pentagon’s myriad priorities. The 20 officers who led the project examined five areas: ground maneuver, air power, information warfare, sustaining and growing forces and long range fire capability.

ny times logoNew York Times, Leaked Files Show the Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire, Paul Mozur, Keith Bradsher, John Liu and Aaron Krolik, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). The country has increasingly turned to private companies in campaigns to hack foreign governments and control its domestic population.

The hackers offered a menu of services, at a variety of prices.

China FlagA local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 for access to the private website of traffic police in Vietnam. Software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X cost $100,000. For $278,000 Chinese customers could get a trove of personal information behind social media accounts on platforms like Telegram and Facebook.

Relevant Recent Headlines

charles mcgonigle

 

More On Trump's Cases, Claims, Allies

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump Media co-founders sue company, alleging a scheme to dilute shares, Drew Harwell, Feb. 29, 2024. The case could complicate a long-delayed bid by the owner of Truth Social to go public — and deliver former president Donald Trump a financial lifeline

The co-founders of former president Donald Trump’s media company filed a lawsuit Wednesday, claiming that Trump and other leaders had schemed to deprive them of a stake in the company that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
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The case could complicate a long-delayed bid by Trump Media & Technology Group, owner of the social network Truth Social, to merge with a special purpose acquisition company called Digital World Acquisition and become a publicly traded company.

That merger deal, which could value Trump’s stake in the company at more than $3 billion, would offer the former president a financial lifeline at a time when he is facing more than $454 million in penalties from a civil fraud judgment this month in New York.

Representatives for Trump, Trump Media and Digital World did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Andy Litinsky and Wes Moss, who met Trump as contestants on his reality show “The Apprentice,” pitched Trump on the idea of a Trump-branded tech start-up and social media platform in early 2021 after he lost the White House and was banned from Twitter, now called X.

Trump agreed to the deal and was given 90 percent of the company, according to a motion for expedited proceedings filed Wednesday in the Delaware Court of Chancery by the co-founders’ partnership, United Atlantic Ventures. The partnership took 8.6 percent, while an attorney on the deal, Bradford Cohen, was given the remaining 1.4 percent, the motion states.

UAV launched the Trump Media business, hired employees and raised funding while receiving no “fee or payment for its work,” the motion said. And though Litinsky and Moss left Trump Media that year amid a dispute with its current leadership, UAV retained its shares, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing this month from Digital World.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Says He Might Have to Sell Properties to Pay $454 Million Penalty, Ben Protess and Kate Christobek, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Former President Trump, who is appealing the penalty in his civil fraud case, offered a bond of only $100 million to pause the judgment.

ICE logoDonald J. Trump offered a New York appeals court on Wednesday a bond of only $100 million to pause the more than $450 million judgment he faces in his civil fraud case, saying that he might need to sell some of his properties unless he gets relief.

It was a stunning acknowledgment that Mr. Trump, who is racing the clock to either secure a bond from a company or produce the full amount himself, lacks the resources to do so. Without a bond, the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the fraud case, could seek to collect from Mr. Trump at any moment.

djt maga hatIn a filing with the appeals court, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also asked to delay a wide range of other punishments that the trial judge in the fraud case, Arthur F. Engoron, levied in a decision this month. They include a prohibition on obtaining a loan from a New York bank for three years and a ban on running a company in the state during that same period.

One appellate court judge was hearing the request from Mr. Trump on Wednesday afternoon and was expected to issue a decision by the end of the day. If the judge were to grant the pause, it would be only temporary; Mr. Trump would still have to persuade a larger panel of appellate judges to keep the judgment on hold.

In seeking relief, Mr. Trump’s lawyers disclosed that he would be unable to secure a bond for the full $454 million, raising the prospect that he might soon default on the judgment if the appeals court denies his request.

Justice Engoron’s decision to bar Mr. Trump from obtaining new loans from New York banks further constrains his ability to either produce the money himself or have enough cash to pledge as collateral for a bond, they argued. Under New York law, a defendant also owes 9 percent interest to the plaintiff until the judgment is paid or the appeal resolved, meaning a full bond in this case might reach $500 million or more.

If the appeals court denies the request, Mr. Trump’s lawyers warned, he likely would have to sell some New York properties “under exigent circumstances,” in what would be a punishing blow to the former president.

ny times logoNew York Times, Suspicious Powder Found at Courthouse Where Trump Judge Has Offices, Claire Fahy, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). An envelope containing white powder was found Wednesday morning at the New York State Supreme Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, officials said. The court building, at 60 Centre Street, contains offices belonging to Justice Arthur F. Engoron, the judge who oversaw former President Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial.

Police officers responded to a 911 call at 9:29 a.m. regarding the suspicious powder. A court officer had opened an envelope, and white powder fell onto his pants, the police said.

No injuries were reported, and the building was not evacuated. The police said that the Fire Department had responded to the discovery of the powder and that the investigation continued.

The officer declined medical attention, according to the Fire Department, as did another court officer who was exposed to the powder.

Justice Engoron and the Supreme Court building have been targets in the past. Last month, the Nassau County Police Department responded to a hoax bomb threat at the judge’s home on Long Island.

In December, a man set a small fire on the fourth floor of the courthouse that he then quickly extinguished. The Fire Department responded, and three floors of the building were evacuated, but no serious injuries were reported. It was unclear whether the fire was related to Mr. Trump’s trial.

djt maga hatOver the course of the 11-week civil fraud trial, which ended this month, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked Justice Engoron on Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s website, and in statements he made in court. In November, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies also went after Justice Engoron publicly, with Representative Elise Stefanik of New York filing an ethics complaint accusing him of “inappropriate bias and judicial intemperance,” and Laura Loomer, a far-right activist close to the former president, repeatedly attacking the judge and his family on social media.

arthur engoron djt

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). After losing two civil trials, the former president must find a bonding company that will vouch for him — or his real estate empire is threatened.

Donald J. Trump is on the clock.

The $454 million judgment that a New York judge imposed on Mr. Trump in his civil fraud case took effect on Friday, placing the former president in a precarious position.

Now, he must either come up with the money quickly or persuade a company to post a bond on his behalf, essentially vouching for him to the court with an I.O.U.

The bond is likely to be his best bet: Mr. Trump, who also faces an $83.3 million judgment in an unrelated defamation case, does not have enough cash on hand to do it all himself, according to a recent New York Times analysis of his finances. If Mr. Trump can find a bond company willing to do a deal this big, it will require him to pay the firm a fee as high as 3 percent of the judgment and to pledge collateral.

The bond would prevent the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the civil fraud case against Mr. Trump, from collecting the $454 million while Mr. Trump’s appeal is heard. Without it, the attorney general, Letitia James, is entitled to collect at any moment.

Ms. James is expected to allow Mr. Trump up to 30 days, but if he fails to secure a bond by March 25, and an appeals court denies him extra time, he has a lot to lose. The attorney general’s office could seek to seize some of Mr. Trump’s properties in New York, perhaps even a crown jewel like Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.

“The attorney general is in the catbird seat and can make this a very unpleasant experience for Trump,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer who is a veteran New York business litigator and has secured many appeal bonds.

As Mr. Trump races to secure a bond, here is what we know about this perilous new phase.
Why does Trump owe $454 Million?

Ms. James took Mr. Trump to trial last year, accusing him of orchestrating a conspiracy to inflate his net worth to receive favorable loans. This month, the judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Mr. Trump had done so and meted out several punishments.

The most severe was a $355 million penalty — $454,156,783.05 as of Friday afternoon, thanks to interest that continues to accrue. The judge said the sum accounted for Mr. Trump’s ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

ny times logoNew York Times, Key Witness in Georgia Hearing Says He Does Not Know When Relationship Began, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). A judge has brought the witness back to court as he weighs whether the prosecutors in Donald Trump’s case in Georgia have a disqualifying conflict of interest.

In a potential setback to former President Donald J. Trump and his co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case, a key witness testified on Tuesday that he had no knowledge of when a romantic relationship began between the two prosecutors leading the case.

Defense attorneys are seeking to disqualify Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, claiming that her romantic relationship with the lawyer she hired to run the case, Nathan Wade, has created an untenable conflict of interest.

Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade have said that the relationship began only after she hired him in November 2021. Mr. Trump’s lawyer has accused them of lying.

For weeks, the defense had suggested that the key witness, Terrence Bradley, the former divorce lawyer and law partner of Mr. Wade, could provide crucial testimony contradicting Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade. But Mr. Bradley testified in court on Tuesday that “I don’t know when the relationship started,” and that he “never witnessed anything.”

Lawyers for Mr. Trump and other defendants hammered at Mr. Bradley’s credibility on Tuesday, reading aloud text messages he wrote in January that appeared to suggest that he knew more about the prosecutors’ relationship than he was letting on. In text exchanges, Mr. Bradley told a defense lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, that the romance between the prosecutors had begun before Nov. 1, 2021, when Ms. Willis hired Mr. Wade.

“Do you think it happened before she hired him?” Ms. Merchant asked Mr. Bradley in one text exchange, which was entered into evidence. “Absolutely,” Mr. Bradley replied.

But on the stand on Tuesday, Mr. Bradley insisted that he had been only “speculating” about the relationship in those texts, and was not speaking from personal knowledge.

It was Mr. Bradley’s third time on the witness stand this month, in a series of hearings that have threatened to upend the prosecution of Mr. Trump and his allies for seeking to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. The defense team contends that the two prosecutors engaged in “self-dealing,” because Mr. Wade spent money on vacations that he took with Ms. Willis while he was being paid by her office.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Trump Criminal Case, Manhattan D.A. Asks for Gag Order Before Trial, Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Lawyers for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, are seeking to protect jurors and witnesses in the first criminal prosecution of a former president.

Manhattan prosecutors on Monday asked the judge overseeing their criminal case against Donald J. Trump to prohibit the former president from attacking witnesses or exposing jurors’ identities.

The requests, made in filings by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, noted Mr. Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

In outlining a narrowly crafted gag order, the office hewed closely to the terms of a similar order upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington in another of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases.

The gag order in the Manhattan case, if the judge approves it, would bar Mr. Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case. The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, also asked that Mr. Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case — other than Mr. Bragg himself — as well as court staff members.

Although Mr. Bragg carved himself out of the gag order request, the district attorney has received the brunt of the attacks from Mr. Trump and his supporters. In an affidavit released Monday, the head of his security detail listed some of the worst of the dozens of attacks directed at Mr. Bragg last year, including racial slurs and death threats.

In a separate filing, Mr. Bragg placed a special emphasis on the protection of jurors. His prosecutors asked that Mr. Trump be barred from publicly revealing their identities. And although Mr. Trump and his legal team are allowed to know the jurors’ names, Mr. Bragg asked that their addresses be kept secret from the former president.

If the judge, Juan M. Merchan, accepts the restrictions, he would be just the latest judge to impose a gag order on the former president. There was an order in the Washington case, a federal case that involves accusations that Mr. Trump plotted to overturn the 2020 election. And the judge in Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial that recently concluded ordered Mr. Trump not to comment on court staff members.

In a federal trial in Florida in which Mr. Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents, the special counsel, Jack Smith, is also seeking to protect witnesses. The prosecutors have vehemently opposed an attempt by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to include the names of about 24 potential witnesses in a public filing, claiming that the witnesses could face harassment or intimidation. The prosecutors have even opened a separate criminal investigation of threats made on social media against one of the witnesses.

The Manhattan criminal case was the first of Mr. Trump’s four indictments to be filed and is scheduled to go to trial on March 25. Last year, the district attorney’s office accused Mr. Trump of 34 felonies, saying he had orchestrated a cover-up of a potential sex scandal with a porn star that could have hindered his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers will be likely to oppose the gag order and could appeal it if Justice Merchan adopts it. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Todd Blanche, declined to comment on the prosecutors’ proposal, saying that the defense’s court papers spoke for themselves.

In a separate motion filed on Monday, prosecutors provided something of a guide to their case, signaling that they hope to include other hush-money payoffs they say Mr. Trump orchestrated: one with a former Playboy model, and another involving a doorman who sought to sell an embarrassing story about Mr. Trump in 2015.

As they laid the groundwork to tell that expansive story, they asked Justice Merchan to allow them to introduce evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign, including the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump boasts about groping women, as well as three public allegations of sexual assault made against him after the recording was released.

It is far from clear that Justice Merchan will grant those requests. Persuading him that allegations of sexual assault should be allowed could be particularly difficult, given that judges are supposed to carefully evaluate evidence that could unfairly harm a defendant in the eyes of the jury.

Prosecutors on Monday were more worried about the defendant harming jurors. In seeking to limit Mr. Trump from disclosing their names, the district attorney’s office cited recent instances of his attacking jury members, including in the 2020 trial of his associate Roger Stone. While still president, prosecutors noted, Mr. Trump had called the head of that jury “totally biased,” “tainted” and “DISGRACEFUL!”

ny times logoWashington Post, How Justice Engoron’s numbers add up for Trump’s penalty in the N.Y. fraud trial, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 25, 2024. Donald Trump this month was ordered by a New York Supreme Court justice to pay a penalty of $354,868,768, plus interest that continues to accrue, because the former president and his company were found to have used false financial statements that deceived banks and insurance companies.

ny times logoNew York Times, A prominent Republican is seeking to shield the party from paying Donald Trump’s legal bills, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A veteran Republican National Committee member has initiated a long-shot effort to prevent Donald J. Trump from taking over the party committee before he has enough delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee in an effort to prevent the R.N.C. from paying his legal bills.

Henry Barbour, a committee member from Mississippi, has sponsored two resolutions, one that would require the committee to remain neutral in the primary and another that would assure it does not spend committee funds to assist Mr. Trump in his legal battles. The proposals, which would not be binding even if passed, come as Mr. Trump seeks to install new leadership in the organization, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, who has said she would be open to the committee paying his legal bills.

The resolutions, which were first reported by The Dispatch, have come under fire from the Trump campaign.

“The primary is over, and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser who is expected to move into a top role at the R.N.C. “Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen.”

The neutrality proposal is directly related to the primary: After the South Carolina primary, only four early states will have held contests. Mr. Trump has a fraction of the delegates he needs, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is still running, although she has yet to win a state.

The other resolution has been more in the forefront of some R.N.C. members’ minds: It seeks to bar the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees as he faces four criminal indictments and two enormous civil lawsuits.

It seeks to codify that “the Republican National Committee should focus its spending on political efforts associated with winning elections and make clear from this point forward that the RNC’s financial resources are to be used to assist candidates across the country winning elections” this year and that the committee “will not pay the legal bills of any of our candidates for any federal or state office, but will focus our spending on efforts directly related to the 2024 election.”

Mr. Barbour, in an interview, conceded that neither resolution was likely to pass, given Mr. Trump’s strength in the party, but he said that sending a message was important.

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Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

 

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

In Georgia, a Push to Disqualify the Main Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim. A judge in Atlanta hears evidence about the defense’s claim of a disqualifying conflict of interest among the main prosecutors, shown above.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Georgia Lawyers Surface Phone Records in Effort to Remove Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). The lawyers presented an affidavit describing cellphone records they will likely use to try to prove the prosecutors lied about when they began a romantic relationship.

Lawyers representing former President Donald J. Trump are continuing to press their argument that the lead prosecutors in the Georgia election interference case are lying about when their romantic relationship began, surfacing phone records on Friday that they will likely use to try to undercut the prosecutors’ testimony.

In a court filing that Ms. Willis’s office challenged later in the day, Mr. Trump’s lawyers in Atlanta presented an affidavit describing phone records obtained through a subpoena that they said showed “just under 12,000” calls and text messages between Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, and Nathan Wade, the lawyer she hired to help oversee the case, in the first 11 months of 2021.

The affidavit from Charles Mittelstadt, an investigator hired by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, also described cellphone location data that the lawyers said showed Mr. Wade’s phone, on at least 35 occasions, being connected “for an extended period” to a cell tower near a condominium where Ms. Willis was living.

The investigator said the data suggested that on two occasions, Mr. Wade was in the vicinity of Ms. Willis’s residence from late at night until dawn. One of those occasions was on the night of Sept. 11, 2021.

Ms. Willis’s office responded with its own filing on Friday night, saying that the records “do not prove that Special Prosecutor Wade was ever at any particular location or address.” The response also said that the phone records showed only that Mr. Wade “was located somewhere within a densely populated, multiple-mile radius where various residences, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses are located.”

The district attorney’s office included copies of some of Ms. Willis’s emails and calendars that it said refuted specific claims made by Mr. Trump’s legal team about her whereabouts.

There is no dispute that Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis were in contact in 2021. They are longtime friends, and after Ms. Willis was elected district attorney in 2020, she appointed Mr. Wade to a hiring committee to screen applicants for jobs in the district attorney’s office. She also consulted with Mr. Wade on a number of issues, including strategic questions about big cases, after taking office in January 2021.

His advisory role extended into the period covered by the cellphone data that Mr. Trump’s new motion cites, Jan. 1, 2021 to Nov. 30, 2021. At a hearing in the case last week, former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, an experienced trial lawyer, recalled that Ms. Willis and a team that included Mr. Wade met with him in October 2021 and asked if he wanted to take the job that Ms. Willis eventually gave to Mr. Wade.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Testimony in Atlanta, Fani Willis Receives Both Praise and Condemnation, Rick Rojas, Christian Boone and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Feb. 18, 2024 (print ed.). With her testimony, the Fulton Country district attorney earned plaudits for standing firm under pressure and drew doubts about her judgment.

 

Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

 Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024,  at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Fani Willis turns the tables on her attackers, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 20, 2024. Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani jennifer rubin new headshotWillis took the stand last week under attack from Michael Roman, former henchman 0f four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump, and many in the media and legal community.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, Supreme Court Appears Split Over Bump Stock Ban, Abbie VanSickle, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether former President Trump’s administration overstepped its bounds by imposing the ban.

The Supreme Court wrestled on Wednesday over whether the Trump administration had acted lawfully in banning bump stocks, a firearm accessory used by the gunman during a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether the administration overstepped its bounds by imposing a ban without action by Congress. Some raised concerns about the broader implications of reversing course for an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire at speeds rivaling a machine gun.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Supreme Court arguments could fundamentally change how social media sites are policed, David McCabe, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Here’s what to know: Both Florida and Texas passed laws regulating how social media companies moderate speech online. The laws, if upheld, could fundamentally alter how the platforms police their sites.

Social media companies are bracing for Supreme Court arguments on Monday that could fundamentally alter the way they police their sites.

After Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barred President Donald J. Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, Florida made it illegal for technology companies to ban from their sites a candidate for office in the state. Texas later passed its own law prohibiting platforms from taking down political content.

Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to block the laws from taking effect. They argued that the companies have the right to make decisions about their own platforms under the First Amendment, much as a newspaper gets to decide what runs in its pages.
So what’s at stake?

The Supreme Court’s decision in those cases — Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton — is a big test of the power of social media companies, potentially reshaping millions of social media feeds by giving the government influence over how and what stays online.

“What’s at stake is whether they can be forced to carry content they don’t want to,” said Daphne Keller, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the tech groups’ challenge to the Texas and Florida laws. “And, maybe more to the point, whether the government can force them to carry content they don’t want to.”

If the Supreme Court says the Texas and Florida laws are constitutional and they take effect, some legal experts speculate that the companies could create versions of their feeds specifically for those states. Still, such a ruling could usher in similar laws in other states, and it is technically complicated to accurately restrict access to a website based on location.

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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

 

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

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. launches probe into possible fraud by organ collection groups, Lenny Bernstein, Mark Johnson and Lisa Rein, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). The investigation led by federal prosecutors could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Federal authorities have launched a wide-ranging investigation of the nonprofit organizations that collect organs for transplant in the United States, according to six people familiar with the inquiry, which seeks to determine whether any of the groups have been defrauding the government.

The probe involves U.S. attorneys in various parts of the country who are investigating organ procurement organizations in at least five states. Their team includes investigators from the Department of Health and Human Services and the office of Michael Missal, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are seeking to determine, among other things, whether any of these groups have been overbilling the government for their costs.

georgia mapThe investigation has been underway for at least several months, the people said. But in a sign the probe is intensifying, investigators from the VA inspector general were “dispatched” to the offices and homes of 10 chief executives of organ procurement organizations at the beginning of February “as part of an inquiry,” according to a notice that Steve Miller, chief executive of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, sent to his membership.

Serious deficiencies in the nationwide organ transplant system have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny in recent years, but an investigation led by federal prosecutors — which carries the possibility of criminal charges — could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the troubled, multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Lauren Boebert’s Son Arrested in Connection to “Recent String of Vehicle Trespasses and Property Thefts, J.D. Wolf, Feb. 28, 2024. 18 year old Tyler Boebert made Lauren a Grandmother Last Year.

mtn meidas touch networkLauren Boebert’s 18 year old son Tyler Boebert’s was arrested in connection to a “recent string of vehicle trespasses and property thefts” according to the Rifle Police Department’s Facebook page.

Tyler “is facing the following charges: four felony counts of Criminal Possession ID Documents - Multiple Victims, one felony count of Conspiracy to Commit a Felony, and over 15 additional misdemeanor and petty offenses,” according to police.

In 2022, Lauren Boebert’s son was speeding and flipped his vehicle into a creek bed. An occupant during the crash accused Lauren of trying to coverup his injuries.

Tyler fathered a child with an underage teen making Lauren a grandmother in March. Lauren announced the expected grand baby at the CPAC Women’s Breakfast where she was awarded with a “Mothers of Influence” award from Moms for America.

Lauren Boebert frequently states how she has to leave her children in order to be a representative in Washington. Lauren Boebert is currently trying to win the GOP primary in her new district and these type of stories underscore why voters may want to chose someone different.
ColoradoTyler BoebertLauren BoebertArrest

washington post logoWashington Post, Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past, Emily Davies, Peter Hermann and Dan Lamothe, Updated Feb. 27, 2024. Less than two weeks before Aaron Bushnell walked toward the gates of the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, he and a friend talked by phone about their shared identities as anarchists and what kinds of risks and sacrifices were needed to be effective.

Bushnell, 25, mentioned nothing violent or self-sacrificial, the friend said.

Then on Sunday, Bushnell texted that friend, who described the exchange on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety.

“I hope you’ll understand. I love you,” Bushnell wrote in a message reviewed by The Washington Post. “This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

He sent the friend a copy of his will on Sunday. In it, he gave his cat to his neighbor and a fridge full of root beers to the friend.

Twelve minutes later, Bushnell, who was a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. He had posted a video online saying he did not want to be “complicit in genocide.” He shouted “Free Palestine” as he burned.

Secret Service officers extinguished the blaze. Bushnell died seven hours later at a hospital.

His suicidal protest instantly won him praise among some antiwar and pro-Palestinian activists, while others said they were devastated that he would take an action so extreme. But how a young man who liked The Lord of the Rings and karaoke became the man ablaze in a camouflage military uniform remains a mystery, even among some of his closest friends.

Bushnell was raised in a religious compound in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, according to Susan Wilkins, 59, who said she was a member of the group from 1970 to 2005. She said that she knew Bushnell and his family on the compound and that he was still a member when she left. Wilkins said she heard through members of Bushnell’s family that he eventually left the group.

Wilkins’s account is consistent with those of multiple others who said Bushnell had told them about his childhood in the religious group or who had heard about his affiliation from his family members.

The group, called the Community of Jesus, has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior, which it has publicly disputed. In a lawsuit against an Ontario school, where many officials were alleged to be members of the U.S.-based religious group, former students called the Community of Jesus a “charismatic sect” and alleged that it “created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation that fostered and inflicted enduring harms on its students.” The school, now defunct, disputed the allegations. Last year, an appeals court in Canada awarded 10.8 million Canadian dollars to the former students, who attended the Ontario school between 1973 and 1997.

ny times logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.R.A. Civil Corruption Case: For N.R.A.’s LaPierre, a Legacy of Guns and Money, Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024. A civil court jury’s verdict underscored the extent to which Wayne LaPierre had enriched himself in the over three decades he led the N.R.A.

Wayne LaPierre, who led the National Rifle Association for more than three decades, had long been the face of the American gun rights movement, a Beltway Clint Eastwood who insisted that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

But on Friday, a civil court jury found Mr. LaPierre, 74, liable for misspending $5.4 million of the organization’s money, after a six-week corruption trial brought by Letitia James, the attorney general of New York.

The trial, and the years of revelations leading up to it, underscored that the N.R.A. had become as much about money as about guns during his tenure.

BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power: BOMBSHELL: Potential Criminal Activity Revealed in the Kroger-Albertsons Merger, Matt Stoller, right, Feb. 20, 2024. matt stollerWith two antitrust suits filed and a big one on the way, this merger is on life support. And enforcers discovered what could be criminal collusion.

Today I’m writing about the $24 billion Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger, which is, to put it mildly, in trouble. I haven’t written about this deal in depth since late 2022, because it looks like a standard problematic big merger. It’s a private equity arrangement where the executives will get rich, consumers will pay higher prices, workers will endure lower wages, and there will be worse quality in the food system. There will be a trial where the Federal Trade Commission will argue before a judge that it should be blocked, and it’s semi-random how judges interpret the Clayton Act. I said that in late 2022, and little had changed.

But fascinating things have happened over the last few months. Most notably, enforcers found what looks like criminal behavior by Albertsons and Kroger to suppress worker wages, and are actually doing something about it beyond just challenging the merger.

But first, let’s go over the stakes of the deal itself. The Kroger-Albertsons combo is massive:

Kroger and Albertsons are both monsters, and the two of them combining would create the second largest chain in the country, after Walmart, with 15% of the national grocery business. Kroger/Albertsons would employ over 700,000 people, have over $200 billion in revenue and more than 40,000 private label brands, and own and operate brands such as Safeway, Ralphs, Smith’s, Harris Teeter, Dillons, Fred Meyer, Vons, Kings, Haggen, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Jewel-Osco, and Shaw’s.

There are already 30% fewer grocery stores than there were a few decades ago, because of consolidation. And that’s a problem. Large chains “not only secure better prices for goods than their smaller counterparts, but can also increase prices faster than costs, contributing to inflation.” This merger will worsen the situation, as “suppliers, consumers, and workers will all feel the pressure from Kroger/Albertsons, and since suppliers buy from farmers, farmers will feel it too, at least indirectly.”

kansas city chiefs parade fox

washington post logoWashington Post, Two men charged with murder in Kansas City Super Bowl parade shooting, Praveena Somasundaram, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.).  Two men were charged with murder in the shooting that killed a person and injured at least 22 others after a parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win last week, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Dominic Miller of Kansas City and Lyndell Mays of Raytown, Mo., face charges of second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of armed criminal action, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (D) said at a news conference. At Tuesday’s news conference, Baker indicated that charges would be filed against more people and did not answer questions about how many shooters there were or the numbers and types of firearms they used. Two juveniles were charged with gun-related offenses and resisting arrest last week.

Prosecutors also released new information Tuesday about what they’d previously described as a personal dispute, detailing how Mays and Miller allegedly drew firearms during a verbal altercation involving at least four other people.

Mays was arrested over the weekend and Miller was arrested Monday night, said Michael Mansur, a spokesperson for Baker. Both men, who were shot, according to court records, remain in the hospital with law enforcement officers guarding them, Baker said.

 

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Tommy Andrade)

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Andrade)

When detectives interviewed Miller, he said he had been carrying a 9mm handgun and fired four or five shots, according to the document. Detectives said a bullet recovered from the autopsy of the woman who died in the shooting, Elizabeth “Lisa” Lopez-Galvan, matched the gun Miller fired.

On Friday, when detectives asked Mays why he had taken out a firearm during the argument, he responded with: “Stupid, man. Just pulled a gun out and started shooting,” according to a probable cause statement.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, WikiLeaks founder Assange may be near end of long fight to stay out of US, Feb. 20, 2024 (print ed.). His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s fight to avoid facing spying charges in the United States may be nearing an end following a protracted legal saga in the U.K. that included seven years of self-exile inside a foreign embassy and five years in prison.

politico CustomAssange faces what could be his final court hearing in London starting Tuesday as he tries to stop his extradition to the U.S. The High Court has scheduled two days of arguments over whether Assange can ask an appeals court to block his transfer. If the court doesn’t allow the appeal to go forward, he could be sent across the Atlantic.

His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange, whose health has deteriorated during his time in custody.

“His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison,” Stella Assange said Thursday. “If he’s extradited, he will die.”

Assange, 52, an Australian computer expert, has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010.

Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Justice Department log circularHe faces 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse. If convicted, his lawyers say he could receive a prison term of up to 175 years, though American authorities have said any sentence is likely to be much lower.

Assange and his supporters argue he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing and is protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

“Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. government,” Stella Assange said. “Reporting a crime is never a crime.”

U.S. lawyers say Assange is guilty of trying to hack the Pentagon computer and that WikiLeaks’ publications created a “grave and imminent risk” to U.S. intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ny times logoNew York Times, Capital One to Acquire Discover, Creating a Consumer Lending Colossus, Lauren Hirsch and Emma Goldberg, Feb. 19, 2024. Capital One announced on Monday that it would acquire Discover Financial Services in an all-stock transaction valued at $35.3 billion, a deal that would merge two of the largest credit card companies in the United States.

capital one bank logo“A space that is already dominated by a relatively small number of megaplayers is about to get a little smaller,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

Capital One, with $479 billion in assets, is one of the nation’s largest banks, and it issues credit cards on networks run by Visa and Mastercard. Acquiring Discover will give it access to a credit card network of 305 million cardholders, adding to its base of more than 100 million customers. The country’s four major networks are American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Discover, which has far fewer cardholders than its competitors.

Justice Department log circularBut consumer advocates pushed back on the possible deal, saying it posed antitrust concerns. “It is very difficult to imagine how federal regulators could allow Capital One to buy Discover given the requirement that mergers benefit the public as well as insiders,” Jesse Van Tol, the chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said in a statement.

The acquisition by Capital One will be one of the first tests of regulatory scrutiny on bank deals since the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said last month that it intended to slow down approvals for mergers and acquisitions.

Consumer advocates pushed back against the $35.3 billion deal, which would require regulatory approval, saying that it posed antitrust concerns.

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More On Climate Change, Environment, Space, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Fast-Spreading Wildfires in Texas Panhandle Prompt Evacuations, J. David Goodman and Miglena Sternadori, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). One of the wildfires, the Smokehouse Creek fire near the cattle-country town of Canadian, is now the second largest wildfire ever recorded in Texas.

The second-largest wildfire on record in Texas raged across more than half a million acres on Wednesday, as firefighters from around the state tried to contain it. The blaze has consumed houses, burned vast ranch lands and forced evacuations across the sparsely populated Texas Panhandle.

Known as the Smokehouse Creek fire, the blaze was ignited on Monday and by Wednesday had spread to at least 500,000 acres, fueled by strong winds and dry conditions, and was uncontrolled, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service.

The fire spread around the town of Canadian, a cattle-country community of around 2,200 people northeast of Amarillo near the Oklahoma state line. Residents who had not already evacuated were forced to shelter in place overnight. The county sheriff warned on Tuesday that there were no open routes out of the town.

ny times logoNew York Times, Severe storms hit the Chicago area and parts of western Illinois, briefly grounding flights at O’Hare Airport, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Orlando Mayorquin and Judson Jones, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). A parade of severe weather was marching eastward on Wednesday, hours after parts of the Upper Midwest were hit with strong thunderstorms, damaging winds and numerous reports of tornadoes, leaving thousands without power.
Here’s what to know about the weather:

Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, tornado warnings were issued across the Midwest as the line of storms rolled east.

The storms are likely to fade in intensity throughout Wednesday.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Covid, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, CDC recommends older adults get 2nd updated coronavirus shot, Lena H. Sun, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that people 65 and older get a second dose of a coronavirus vaccine made available in the fall because they are at higher risk for severe disease from the virus.

“Most covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations last year were among people 65 years and older. An additional vaccine dose can provide added protection that may have decreased over time for those at highest risk,” CDC Director Mandy Cohen said in a statement after endorsing the recommendation from the agency’s vaccine advisory panel.

The 11-1 vote, with one abstention, by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices appeared to take some members by surprise.

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Tax records reveal the lucrative world of covid misinformation, Lauren Weber, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.).  Four major nonprofits that rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic by capitalizing on the spread of medical misinformation collectively gained more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022, enabling the organizations to deepen their influence in statehouses, courtrooms and communities across the country, a Washington Post analysis of tax records shows.

rfk jr mouth openChildren’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, received $23.5 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 alone — eight times what it collected the year before the pandemic began — allowing it to expand its state-based lobbying operations to cover half the country. Another influential anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network, nearly quadrupled its revenue during that time to about $13.4 million in 2022, giving it the resources to finance lawsuits seeking to roll back vaccine requirements as Americans’ faith in vaccines drops.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Two other groups, Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors, went from receiving $1 million combined when they formed in 2020 to collecting more than $21 million combined in 2022, according to the latest tax filings available for the groups.

The four groups routinely buck scientific consensus. Children’s Health Defense and Informed Consent Action Network raise doubts about the safety of vaccines despite assurances from federal regulators. “Vaccines have never been safer than they are today,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its webpage outlining vaccine safety.

Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors promote anti-parasitic or anti-malarial drugs as treatments for covid, long after regulators and clinical trials found the medications to be ineffective or potentially harmful. Leaders of these groups say they disagree with medical consensus and argue that their promotion of alternative treatments for covid and other conditions is safe.

Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said that in his view, the four groups endanger lives with their spread of misinformation.

“These groups gave jet fuel to misinformation at a crucial time in the pandemic,” Caplan said. “The richer they get, the worse off the public is because, indisputably, they’re spouting dangerous nonsense that kills people.”

The influx of pandemic cash sent executive compensation soaring, boosted public outreach, and seeded the ability to wage legislative and legal battles to weaken vaccine requirements and defend physicians accused of spreading misinformation.

Some doctors following guidance by Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance or America’s Frontline Doctors have been disciplined or face the possibility of discipline from state medical boards alleging substandard medical care. In cases involving two doctors alleged to have followed Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance guidance, three patients died.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Seeking social media stardom for their underage daughters, mothers post images of them on Instagram. The accounts draw men sexually attracted to children.

Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement. Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships.

The large audiences boosted by men can benefit the families, The Times found. The bigger followings look impressive to brands and bolster chances of getting discounts, products and other financial incentives, and the accounts themselves are rewarded by Instagram’s algorithm with greater visibility on the platform, which in turn attracts more followers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bobbi Althoff deepfake spotlights X’s role as a top source of AI porn, Drew Harwelll, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). When posters on message boards for AI-generated pornography began circulating deepfake videos of the comedian Bobbi Althoff, the clips reached a relatively muted audience, gaining 178,000 views over the last six months.

Then someone posted one of the videos on X. The fake, which appeared to show the 26-year-old naked and masturbating, was copied and reposted so many times that Althoff’s name was trending on the platform. In just nine hours, the clip received more than 4.5 million views — 25 times the porn sites’ viewership, according to data from an industry analyst.

X, formerly called Twitter, was one of the first social platforms to set clear rules against AI-generated fakes, with executives saying in 2020 that they recognized the threat of misleading “synthetic media” and were “committed to doing this right.”

elon musk thumbs up

But under owner Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo), X has become one of the most powerful and prominent distribution channels for nonconsensual deepfake porn. The platform not only helps the phony photos and videos go viral in a low-moderation environment, but it can also end up rewarding deepfake spreaders who can use the manipulated porn to make a buck.

“Twitter is 4chan 2,” said Genevieve Oh, an analyst who studies deepfakes, referring to the noxious no-rules message board that is known for hosting not just deepfake porn, but also antisemitic memes and tributes to mass shooters. “It’s emboldening future malicious figures to coordinate toward demeaning more popular women with synthetic footage and imagery,” she said.

There is no federal law that regulates deepfakes, though some states, such as Georgia and Virginia, ban AI-generated nonconsensual porn.

X bans “nonconsensual nudity,” but enforcement has been limited because the company, at Musk’s direction, has laid off thousands of employees and gutted the “trust and safety” team that traditionally removed such imagery.

Musk has laughed off the need for content moderation. One day before the Althoff video spread, he shared a message from X’s chatbot, Grok, calling content moderation a “digital chastity belt” and “steaming pile of horse manure” enforced only by “digital tyrants.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos,Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Alabama ushers in the theocracy, Ruth Marcus, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). I don’t use that word lightly, not about life in the United States. But read the Alabama Supreme Court ruling declaring that frozen embryos — “extrauterine children” in a “cryogenic nursery,” the court calls them — are human beings.

Especially read the concurring opinion of Chief Justice Tom Parker on the meaning of the Alabama Constitution, which declares that “it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” Parker cites Genesis (man is created “in the image of God”), the prophet Jeremiah (“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”), Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and other Christian thinkers to support his view that the state constitution adopts a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life.”

This is no surprise coming from Parker. An ally of then-Chief Justice Roy Moore of Ten Commandments-in-the-courthouse fame, Parker has denounced Roe v. Wade as a “constitutional aberration” and suggested that state courts should resist implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

I’ll quote at length so you know I’m not exaggerating about theocracy. The Alabama constitution’s “sanctity of unborn life” provision, he wrote, “encompasses the following: (1) God made every person in His image; (2) each person therefore has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate; and (3) human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.”

Alabama law, he said, “recognizes that this is true of unborn human life no less than it is of all other human life — that even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Commentary: If the Supreme Court upholds an earlier ruling, patients might need in-person doctor visits to obtain the medications, Pam Belluck, Feb. 22, 2024. Doctors in a handful of blue states are using shield laws to provide abortions to women in red states.

Doctors in a handful of blue states have found a way to provide abortions to women in red states where it is banned or restricted. They are doing it with a new tool: laws that protect them from prosecutors elsewhere.

These telemedicine shield laws block officials in red states who might prosecute or sue the abortion providers in Massachusetts, New York, California, Vermont, Colorado and Washington State. Those states won’t extradite doctors. They won’t turn over records. They won’t aid in any investigation. It’s a sharp break from the usual pattern of interstate cooperation, as I report in a news story today.

I’ve been covering abortion for over a decade. Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade and triggered a wave of bans in conservative states, abortion rights advocates have worked to preserve access. They’ve used mobile clinics across the border from red states — and funds that cover the cost of travel to places where abortion is legal. In today’s newsletter, I’ll talk about one of the newest approaches.
A new tool

The providers started mailing abortion pills under the shield laws just last summer. But their reach has surprised even some advocates. They’ve already prescribed and mailed abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in Texas, Idaho and other places that banned abortion after the high court’s 2022 decision. Patients find them online and fill out forms about their medical history. Providers then evaluate whether patients are eligible. They can be up to 12 weeks’ pregnant and must have no disqualifying medical issues like an ectopic pregnancy or a blood-clotting disorder.

Being able to receive abortion medication at their homes by mail saves patients the time, money and difficulty of traveling to a state where abortion is legal. It also avoids the weekslong wait for pills ordered from overseas. Shield law services charge $150 or $250, but they allow poorer patients to pay less or even nothing.

Abortion opponents in conservative states are outraged. The shield laws are “really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” said John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life. “It can’t stand, and we can’t be content with this new development.”

The practice has not yet been challenged in court, but observers think it’s only a matter of time. Law enforcement officials in anti-abortion states may be waiting for a case they think will be persuasive. A senior government official in a conservative state told me about one possible strategy: State officials could first file charges or a complaint against a provider in a blue state. Then, when that state refused to cooperate, a red state could sue the shield-law state itself, claiming that the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause prevents one state from interfering with another’s laws.

States with abortion bans will also watch a lawsuit the Supreme Court will hear next month, in which opponents of abortion have sued the Food and Drug Administration to try to bar abortion pills. (My colleague Emily Bazelon has written for The Morning about how much of the abortion struggle now revolves around pills.) If the justices uphold an appeals court ruling, patients might need in-person doctor visits to obtain the medications.
Doctors tread cautiously

Regardless of the court’s decision in that case, some shield-law providers say they intend to find a way to continue.

Still, they are taking precautions. Most shield-law providers have decided not to travel to states with abortion bans, and some have established trusts to protect their assets from civil suits. Some identify themselves publicly, but others fly under the radar.

washington post logoWashington Post, Youngkin joins Va. antiabortion march despite issue’s political cost, Gregory S. Schneider, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) joined hundreds of abortion protesters Wednesday outside the Virginia Capitol in a “March for Life,” saying he remains committed to seeking limits on abortion access even after his embrace of the issue seemed to work against Republicans in the fall’s legislative elections.

“I think we should continue to talk about it,” Youngkin told reporters in brief comments before the march got underway. Behind him, activists from across the state held signs with slogans such as “Pray to end abortion” and “Virginia is for life.”

Youngkin, who also participated in the annual event last year, declined to express his views on several bills aimed at protecting abortion rights that are making their way to his desk from the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

“As I’ve said on all legislation, the General Assembly is working their process now and I will review every bill. That’s my job,” he said.

With an electorate motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade abortion rights, Democrats flipped control of the House of Delegates and protected their majority in the Senate last year after campaigning heavily against Youngkin’s proposal for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Virginia law allows abortion through the second trimester — about 26 weeks — and in the third trimester if three doctors agree the procedure is necessary.

Asked whether he thought it was a political mistake for Republicans to run last year on a 15-week abortion restriction, Youngkin said, “No, I firmly believe that this idea that we can come together and recognize that there is a place that Virginians can agree on is real.”

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nasa logo ny times logoNew York Times, Odysseus Moon Lander to Power Down, With Aim to Extend Time on Surface, Kenneth Chang, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The commercial spacecraft’s builder released new images from the moon’s surface as the company described plans to try to wake it up in two to three weeks.

Odysseus is not dead yet. But it will soon be time to say, “Good night, moon lander.”

Last week, Odysseus, a privately built robotic lunar lander, became the first American spacecraft to set down on the moon in more than 50 years, and the first nongovernmental effort ever to accomplish that feat.

But like the Homeric Greek hero it was named after, the lander has not had an easy journey with a neat happy ending.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Intuitive Machines, the Houston-based company that built Odysseus, said the spacecraft continued to operate, but that it would be put into a planned shutdown later on Wednesday.

“We’ve conducted a very successful mission,” said Steve Altemus, the chief executive of Intuitive Machines.

The extension of the spacecraft’s lifetime was the latest twist in the mission’s timeline, after the company suggested earlier this week that the lander’s operations might cease on Tuesday, then said that day that the vehicle could have as much as 20 hours of remaining battery life.

Uncertainty about the state of Odysseus has persisted since Thursday, when the rover reached the moon. For several anxious minutes that evening after the time of landing passed, Intuitive Machines flight controllers waited for a radio signal confirming the lander’s safe arrival at its destination in the moon’s south pole region. When the signal was detected, it was faint, indicating that the spacecraft’s main antennas were pointing away from Earth.

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The Hartmann Report, Opinion: Why Won’t Our Media Say Donald Trump is America's Modern-Day Benedict Arnold? Thom Hartmann, right, Feb. 28, 2024. thom hartmannDonald Trump needs money. Apparently, many of the documents Trump stole from the White House are still missing. Including the binder with raw intelligence about American spies in Moscow.

Are they his “get out of jail free” card?

It’s as if the media doesn’t want to confront the possibility that a former president and current candidate is actually a traitor. But consider the facts.

We are right now in the midst of the third presidential election featuring massive interference from Russian intelligence. Most recently, we found that they sent an agent to the FBI to claim that Biden had taken a bribe in Ukraine: James Comer and Jim Jordan have been running with it, trying to use this Russian disinformation to damage Biden in his run against Trump this fall.

Similarly, the 2020 and 2016 elections featured substantial and persistent interventions by Russian intelligence to help get and keep Trump elected. One of the first things Trump did when he became president in 2017 was to invite the Russian Foreign Minister and their ambassador to the US for a secret meeting in the White House, where he gave them a spy we and Israel ran in Syria.

He had dozens of private phone conversations with Putin while in the White House, for which no meaningful records exist, and at Helsinki took Putin’s side against American intelligence to lie about Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

He stole thousands of top-secret (and above) classified documents from the White House, transported them to Florida, and stored them in publicly-accessible locations at Mar-a-Lago. It’s the perfect way to hand off intelligence to agents of foreign governments without getting caught.

He lied to both the National Archives, the FBI, and the American people about them. And now apparently many are missing.

Did Trump sell them already? Does he now have an overseas account with the hundreds of millions he’ll need to pay off his judgements? Or is he planning to sell documents that the FBI hasn’t yet found?

Prosecutors say that roughly 48,000 people visited Mar-a-Lago between the time in 2021 when Trump brought those documents from Washington to Florida and May 2022, when the FBI finally recovered as many as they could find. Of those people, only 2,200 had any sort of identity verification done, and only 2,900 passed through magnetometers that may have detected spying or photographing equipment.

For example, a female Chinese national, Yujing Zhang, flew into the US and went to Mar-a-Lago.

When she was finally caught by the Secret Service (after having her photo taken with Trump the day before on his golf course), they discovered on her person four mobile phones, a laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive that was later discovered to contain spyware. There were, back in her hotel room, an additional 9 USB drives, five SIM cards for burner phones, and a bug-tracking device that could identify hidden cameras and microphones.

She claims she’s just a tourist and is now back in China; nobody knows how much time she spent in any of the many publicly-available rooms where Trump had stored our nation’s most sensitive and secret documents, including those involving nuclear war and spying on Russia and China.

And there was the notorious Russian-speaking Ukrainian woman, Inna Yashchyshyn, who went by the pseudonym Anna de Rothschild (complete with fake passport) to gain entrance to Mar-a-Lago. She was photographed on the golf course with Trump and Lindsay Graham, before spending hours wandering around Mar-a-Lago doing nobody-knows-what.

As former CIA director John Brennan said:

“I’m sure Mar-a-Lago was being targeted by Russian intelligence and other intelligence services over the course of the last 18 or 20 months, and if they were able to get individuals into that facility, and access those rooms where those documents were and made copies of those documents, that’s what they would do.”

Most likely “Anna” and Yujing Zhang were among the least competent of the spies who visited Mar-a-Lago. The good ones we’ll probably never know about.

For example, because Trump thinks it’s “upper class” to have people working at his resort who have “European” accents, the bug-infested resort hired scores of young people from European countries, typically paying them between $11 and $12 an hour.

That would present another great opportunity for foreign governments to get their people installed there in ways that would give them plenty of time to peruse the secret documents Trump was keeping out in the open.

Most concerning, though, is a 10-inch-thick binder of raw intelligence and assessments of Russia’s efforts to help Trump become president in 2016, which included reports and details from American spies in Moscow. The binder is missing, and multiple American spies and people working for US intelligence have been murdered.

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Media Industry Keeps Losing the Future, David Streitfeld, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Thirty years ago, one media executive offered a reassuring vision of the future of newspapers. Now he says, “I’m not very optimistic.”

If the career of Roger Fidler has any meaning, it is this: Sometimes, you can see the future coming but get trampled by it anyway.

Thirty years ago, Mr. Fidler was a media executive pushing a reassuring vision of the future of newspapers. The digital revolution would liberate news from printing presses, giving people portable devices that kept them informed all day long. Some stories would be enhanced by video, others by sound and animation. Readers could share articles, driving engagement across diverse communities.

All that has come to pass, more or less. Everyone is online all the time, and just about everyone seems interested, if not obsessed, by national and world happenings. But the traditional media that Mr. Fidler was championing do not receive much benefit. After decades of decline, their collapse seems to be accelerating.

Every day brings bad news. Sometimes it is about recently formed digital enterprises, sometimes venerable publications whose history stretches back more than a century.

Cutbacks were just announced at Law360, The Intercept and the youth-oriented video site NowThis, which laid off half its staff. The tech news site Engadget, which comprehensively tracks tech layoffs, laid off its top editors and other staff members. Condé Nast and Time are shedding employees. The continued existence of Vice Media, once valued at $5.7 billion, and Sports Illustrated, in another era the most influential sports publication, is uncertain. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post eliminated hundreds of journalists between them. One out of four newspapers that existed in 2005 no longer does.

The slow crash of newspapers and magazines would be of limited interest save for one thing: Traditional media had at its core the exalted and difficult mission of communicating information about the world. From investigative reports on government to coverage of local politicians, the news served to make all the institutions and individuals covered a bit more transparent and, possibly, more honest.

The advice columns, movie reviews, recipes, stock data, weather report and just about everything else in newspapers moved easily online — except the news itself. Local and regional coverage had a hard time establishing itself as a paying proposition.

Now there are signs that the whole concept of “news” is fading. Asked where they get their local news, nearly as many respondents to a Gallup poll said social media as mentioned newspapers and magazines. A recent attempt to give people free subscriptions to their local papers in Pennsylvania as part of an academic study drew almost no takers.

“Soon after the printing press emerged in the 15th century, the scriptoriums for copying manuscripts in monasteries rapidly began shutting down,” said Mr. Fidler, now 81 and living in retirement in Santa Fe, N.M. “I’m not very optimistic about the survival of the majority of newspapers in the United States.”

ny times logoNew York Times, The Center for Public Integrity is considering shutting down amid financial turmoil, Benjamin Mullin, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The nonprofit had a budget shortfall of roughly $2.5 million last year amid a difficult market for fund-raising.

The Center for Public Integrity, one of the oldest and most storied nonprofit newsrooms in the United States, is considering merging with a competitor or shutting down amid turmoil in its top ranks and financial difficulties that have significantly sapped its reserves, according to two people with knowledge of the organization’s inner workings.

The nonprofit fell about $2.5 million short of its budget goal of around $6 million for 2023, according to the two people, who would speak only anonymously to protect their relationships within the organization.

This month, Paul Cheung, the organization’s chief executive, resigned after an employee accused him of unethical behavior. The board also eliminated the position of its editor in chief, Matt DeRienzo, who has left the nonprofit.

In a statement, the Center for Public Integrity said it had a “financially challenged past year” like many other nonprofit media organizations.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Acts to Stop Sales of Sensitive Personal Data to China and Russia, David McCabe, Feb. 29, 2024 (print ed.). In an attempt to limit blackmail and other harm, he will issue an executive order asking the Justice Department to write rules restricting sales to six countries.

President Biden will issue an executive order Wednesday seeking to restrict the sale of sensitive American data to China, Russia and four more countries, a first-of-its-kind attempt to keep personally identifying information from being obtained for blackmail, scams or other harm.

The president will ask the Justice Department to write rules restricting the sale of information about Americans’ locations, health and genetics to China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela, as well as any entities linked to those countries. The restrictions would also cover financial information, biometric data and other types of information that could identify individuals and sensitive information related to the government.

The White House said this kind of sensitive data could be used for blackmail, “especially for those in the military or national security community,” and against dissidents, journalists and academics.

The new restrictions would be the United States’ first-ever broad prohibition on the sale of digital data to individual countries in an era when companies known as data brokers assemble huge amounts of information on people, from favorite hobbies to household income and health conditions, and then typically sell it to marketers that target them with ads.

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Among other major global courts is the International Court of Justice (ICJ), shown above, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

 

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Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

 

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Hopium Chronicles, U.S. Political Commentary: Biden Breaks 80% in Michigan, Trump Continues To Struggle, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. 28, 2024 simon rosenberg twitterMarianne Williamson, who dropped out a month ago, beat Dean Phillips last night!

In Michigan, Biden Keeps Cruising, Trump Continues To Struggle - In my post yesterday, I argued that the opposition to Biden’s foreign policy inside the Democratic Party was very limited, but intense. And that’s what we saw last night. Biden broke 80%, and for all the hype Uncommitted got to a very modest 13%, just 2 points higher than Uncommitted got against Obama in 2012. Biden is very popular in the Democratic Party, and the opposition he has is very narrow and limited. But it’s there, and Biden world has work to do to bring everyone along, as all campaigns do. It’s doable work in my view, the work we have to do, well within the normal debates and dissensions that happen in these very large, big-tent parties we have in America. (Continued below).

 

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

The official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

The five most radical right Republican justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this view.

The five most radical right Republican justices on the Supreme Court are shown above, with the sixth Republican, Chief Justice John Roberts, omitted in this photo array.

washington post logoWashington Post, Justices set oral argument for week of April 20 on whether Donald Trump can be criminally prosecuted for acts he took while president, Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 28, 2024. The Supreme Court will review Donald Trump’s unprecedented claim that he is shielded from prosecution for actions taken while in office, further delaying the former president’s D.C. trial on charges of conspiring to overturn his 2020 election loss to remain in power.

The justices set argument for the week of April 22 to consider a unanimous ruling from a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that rejected Trump’s sweeping assertion of immunity from prosecution.

Trump’s pretrial proceedings in D.C. will remain on hold until a ruling is issued, putting the Supreme Court in the politically fraught position of influencing the timing of a federal election-obstruction trial for the leading Republican presidential candidate.

The brief unsigned order issued Wednesday said the justices were not “expressing a view on the merits” of the case and would consider only the question of whether and to what extent a former president has "immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.

djt indicted proof

Trump faces four felony counts brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith in connection with what prosecutors allege was a plan to overturn Biden’s 2020 presidential victory: conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of President Biden’s victory, obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiracy against rights — in this case, the right to vote.

He challenged the indictment, saying former presidents are immune from prosecution, at least for actions related to their official duties, unless first impeached and convicted by Congress. On Feb. 6, the D.C. Circuit delivered a forceful rebuke of that novel argument.

“We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a president has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralize the most fundamental check on executive power — the recognition and implementation of election results,” wrote the three judges, two nominated by Biden and the third by President George H.W. Bush.

Trump asked the Supreme Court to put the appeals court ruling on pause and give him time to seek rehearing by a full complement of D.C. Circuit judges. His lawyers argued that he should not be sidelined from the campaign trail by a months-long criminal trial, and said voters have the right to hear from Trump on the stump.

 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), shown in a file photo by Saul Loeb of AFP at the U.S. Capitol).

ny times logoNew York Times, McConnell to Step Down as Party Leader at the End of the Year, Carl Hulse, Feb. 28, 2024. Mitch McConnell, the long-serving Republican leader, said he would step aside at the end of his leadership term but remain in the Senate.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the longtime top Senate Republican, said on Wednesday that he would give up his spot as the party’s leader at the end of this year, acknowledging that his Reaganite national security views had put him out of step with a party now headed by former President Donald J. Trump.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular time,” Mr. McConnell, who turned 82 last week, said in a speech on the Senate floor announcing his intentions. “I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.”

His decision, reported earlier by The Associated Press, was not a surprise. Mr. McConnell suffered a serious fall last year and experienced some episodes where he momentarily froze in front of the media. He has also faced rising resistance within his ranks for his push to provide continued military assistance to Ukraine as well as his close-to-the-vest leadership style.

Mr. McConnell had said that he would serve out his full Senate term ending in 2027, but had been more opaque about whether he would try to remain leader after the November elections.

His announcement followed a White House meeting on Tuesday where he strongly advocated congressional passage of a foreign aid bill that includes more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine and urged Speaker Mike Johnson to put the proposal on the House floor.

“I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed,” Mr. McConnell said.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, said he anticipated that Mr. McConnell’s decision to step down would free him to push aggressively for the Ukraine aid.

“It is probably the case that on his way toward retirement, he’s going to work as hard as he can to make sure that the national security bill gets over the finish line in the House and the Senate to President Biden’s desk,” Mr. Jeffries said in an interview.

Mr. McConnell became the longest serving Senate leader in history at the start of this Congress, surpassing Mike Mansfield of Montana and fulfilling a personal goal. Though he worked closely with Mr. Trump in placing conservative judges on the federal bench and three justices on the Supreme Court, Mr. McConnell broke with Mr. Trump over his refusal to acknowledge that President Biden had won the 2020 election and over the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, which Mr. McConnell blamed on Mr. Trump even though he voted against convicting him on impeachment grounds.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Says He Might Have to Sell Properties to Pay $454 Million Penalty, Ben Protess and Kate Christobek, Feb. 28, 2024. Former President Trump, who is appealing the penalty in his civil fraud case, offered a bond of only $100 million to pause the judgment.

ICE logoDonald J. Trump offered a New York appeals court on Wednesday a bond of only $100 million to pause the more than $450 million judgment he faces in his civil fraud case, saying that he might need to sell some of his properties unless he gets relief.

It was a stunning acknowledgment that Mr. Trump, who is racing the clock to either secure a bond from a company or produce the full amount himself, lacks the resources to do so. Without a bond, the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the fraud case, could seek to collect from Mr. Trump at any moment.

djt maga hatIn a filing with the appeals court, Mr. Trump’s lawyers also asked to delay a wide range of other punishments that the trial judge in the fraud case, Arthur F. Engoron, levied in a decision this month. They include a prohibition on obtaining a loan from a New York bank for three years and a ban on running a company in the state during that same period.

One appellate court judge was hearing the request from Mr. Trump on Wednesday afternoon and was expected to issue a decision by the end of the day. If the judge were to grant the pause, it would be only temporary; Mr. Trump would still have to persuade a larger panel of appellate judges to keep the judgment on hold.

In seeking relief, Mr. Trump’s lawyers disclosed that he would be unable to secure a bond for the full $454 million, raising the prospect that he might soon default on the judgment if the appeals court denies his request.

Justice Engoron’s decision to bar Mr. Trump from obtaining new loans from New York banks further constrains his ability to either produce the money himself or have enough cash to pledge as collateral for a bond, they argued. Under New York law, a defendant also owes 9 percent interest to the plaintiff until the judgment is paid or the appeal resolved, meaning a full bond in this case might reach $500 million or more.

If the appeals court denies the request, Mr. Trump’s lawyers warned, he likely would have to sell some New York properties “under exigent circumstances,” in what would be a punishing blow to the former president.

“The exorbitant and punitive amount of the judgment coupled with an unlawful and unconstitutional blanket prohibition on lending transactions would make it impossible to secure and post a complete bond,” the lawyers wrote.

Mr. Trump might eventually be able to secure a bigger bond. His stake in Trump Media & Technology Group, his social media company, could be worth up to $4 billion after a long-delayed merger is final this year.

Posting a bond that the appeals court accepts would prevent the attorney general, Letitia James, from collecting the judgment until Mr. Trump’s appeal is resolved. Without a bond or pause from the court, Ms. James can seize Mr. Trump’s bank accounts and potentially take control of his New York properties. In its own filing, Ms. James’s office asked the appeals court to deny Mr. Trump’s request.

“There is no merit to defendants’ contention that a full bond or deposit is unnecessary because they are willing to post a partial undertaking of less than a quarter of the judgment amount,” the attorney general’s office wrote. “Defendants all but concede that Mr. Trump has insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Suspicious Powder Found at Courthouse Where Trump Judge Has Offices, Claire Fahy, Feb. 28, 2024. An envelope containing white powder was found Wednesday morning at the New York State Supreme Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, officials said. The court building, at 60 Centre Street, contains offices belonging to Justice Arthur F. Engoron, the judge who oversaw former President Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud trial.

Police officers responded to a 911 call at 9:29 a.m. regarding the suspicious powder. A court officer had opened an envelope, and white powder fell onto his pants, the police said.

No injuries were reported, and the building was not evacuated. The police said that the Fire Department had responded to the discovery of the powder and that the investigation continued.

The officer declined medical attention, according to the Fire Department, as did another court officer who was exposed to the powder.

Justice Engoron and the Supreme Court building have been targets in the past. Last month, the Nassau County Police Department responded to a hoax bomb threat at the judge’s home on Long Island.

In December, a man set a small fire on the fourth floor of the courthouse that he then quickly extinguished. The Fire Department responded, and three floors of the building were evacuated, but no serious injuries were reported. It was unclear whether the fire was related to Mr. Trump’s trial.

djt maga hatOver the course of the 11-week civil fraud trial, which ended this month, Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked Justice Engoron on Truth Social, Mr. Trump’s website, and in statements he made in court. In November, Mr. Trump’s Republican allies also went after Justice Engoron publicly, with Representative Elise Stefanik of New York filing an ethics complaint accusing him of “inappropriate bias and judicial intemperance,” and Laura Loomer, a far-right activist close to the former president, repeatedly attacking the judge and his family on social media.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Supreme Court Appears Split Over Bump Stock Ban, Abbie VanSickle, Feb. 28, 2024. The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether former President Trump’s administration overstepped its bounds by imposing the ban.

The Supreme Court wrestled on Wednesday over whether the Trump administration had acted lawfully in banning bump stocks, a firearm accessory used by the gunman during a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017, the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

The justices appeared divided largely along ideological lines over whether the administration overstepped its bounds by imposing a ban without action by Congress. Some raised concerns about the broader implications of reversing course for an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire at speeds rivaling a machine gun.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hunter Biden Calls G.O.P. Impeachment Inquiry a ‘Partisan Political Pursuit,’ Luke Broadwater, Feb. 28, 2024. President Biden’s son was being deposed behind closed doors on Capitol Hill in the Republican impeachment inquiry into his father.

Hunter Biden, the president’s son, blasted House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry during a closed-door deposition on Wednesday, condemning their investigation as a “partisan political pursuit” that was based on a “false premise” and fueled by “lies.”

Conducted in an office building on Capitol Hill, the interview was the latest bid by Republicans to unearth evidence that President Biden was inappropriately involved in his son’s foreign business dealings. So far, their impeachment investigation has turned up no proof.

U.S. House logoHunter Biden, 54, made clear in his opening statement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, that he planned to cede no ground to the G.O.P.

“You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion and sensationalism — all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face,” Mr. Biden said in the prepared remarks. “You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”

“I did not involve my father in my business,” Mr. Biden added. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member and not as an artist. Never.”

The interview, which was expected to last into the evening, came at a make-or-break moment for the inquiry. Republicans have sought for months to tie President Biden to the alleged misdeeds of his second-born son, but they have struggled with a series of setbacks, including the indictment of an F.B.I. informant accused of making up a story that the elder Mr. Biden took a $5 million bribe.

In his opening statement, Hunter Biden mocked the way Republicans have relied on accused criminals to build the case against his father.

“Rather than follow the facts as they have been laid out before you in bank records, financial statements, correspondence and other witness testimony, you continue your frantic search to prove the lies you, and those you rely on, keep peddling,” he said. “Yes, they are lies.”

The deposition is the culmination of a multiyear Republican pursuit of Mr. Biden, whose business dealings and descent into debauchery have long made him a punching bag for the G.O.P. After years of asking “Where’s Hunter?” and spreading the lurid contents of a laptop that contained graphic material of his exploits while he struggled with drug addiction, Republicans finally had their chance to question him.

The interview also was a major moment in the drawn-out feud between Republicans and Mr. Biden about whether he would cooperate in the impeachment inquiry. He had refused repeatedly to sit for a private deposition, and Republicans threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress for defying an earlier subpoena to do so.

Mr. Biden had maintained that he was worried that House Republicans would selectively leak portions of his testimony to misrepresent his account and try to harm his father. He made two surprise appearances on Capitol Hill in which he challenged Republicans to question him at a public hearing. But after the contempt threat, Mr. Biden relented.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee emerged from the deposition room to accuse their Republican counterparts of engaging in an “embarrassing spectacle.”

“I believe, based on this first hour, that this whole thing really has been a tremendous waste of our legislative time and resources,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee.

Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, said Mr. Biden had not invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but was far from a cooperative witness.

“Hunter Biden is being defiant, and also dishonest,” Ms. Mace said, “and his testimony, some of it, is in direct conflict with other witnesses.”

Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said Hunter Biden’s business deals were clearly corrupt.

“This was a bribe masquerading as an international business transaction,” Mr. Gaetz alleged.

Hunter Biden is already under federal indictment over accusations of tax crimes related to his overseas business interests, including with companies and partners in Ukraine and China. Testifying is a risk because anything he says could be used against him in the criminal case.

Republicans have determined through bank records that from 2014 to 2019, Biden family members received about $15 million through business deals from foreign entities. But they have yet to show that any of the deals were illegal, or that the elder Mr. Biden benefited from them.

House Republicans have uncovered evidence that the elder Mr. Biden was aware of and met some of his son’s business partners, raising questions about whether some of the president’s public statements about the deals were intentionally misleading. But a key witness also testified that such conversations were superficial in nature, extending only to niceties like the weather or fishing.

In his opening statement, Hunter Biden acknowledged making “mistakes in my life, and I have squandered opportunities and privileges that were afforded to me.” But he said his mistakes and shortcomings “are my own and not my father’s.”

“During my battle with addiction, my father was there for me,” he said. “He helped save my life. His love and support made it possible for me to get sober, stay sober and rebuild my life as a father, husband, son and brother.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Mike Johnson Floats Short-Term Spending Bill to Avert Partial Shutdown, Catie Edmondson, Feb. 28, 2024. The Republican speaker, who has come under pressure to strike a deal that his far-right members are resisting, is weighing a temporary funding patch.

mike johnson oSpeaker Mike Johnson is floating another short-term stopgap spending bill to head off a partial government shutdown at the end of the week, offering a temporary path out of a stalemate that has repeatedly threatened federal funding over the past six months.

His proposal would extend funding for some government agencies for a week, through March 8, and the rest for another two weeks, until March 22. It would be contingent on congressional leaders finalizing an emerging bipartisan agreement on six of the 12 annual spending bills.

U.S. House logoAnd it would leave time for top lawmakers to negotiate the other six measures, and then try to pass the spending bills individually before the next set of deadlines to fund the government. That would be a tall order in the House, which has struggled to pass spending legislation amid Republican divisions.

Any stopgap bill “would be part of a larger agreement to finish a number of appropriations bills, ensuring adequate time for drafting text and for members to review prior to casting votes,” said Athina Lawson, a spokeswoman for Mr. Johnson.

Congressional leaders hoped to finalize the plan as early as Wednesday, leaving time for quick votes in both chambers before the midnight deadline on Friday. The details were reported earlier by Punchbowl News.

“We continue to make very good progress on an agreement, and we are very close to getting it done,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Wednesday morning. He added later, “I’m hopeful that the four leaders can reach this agreement very soon so we can not only avoid a shutdown on Friday, but get closer to finishing the appropriations process altogether.”

The proposal offers glimmers of hope for staving off a shutdown in the immediate term, but would only punt resolution of a spending stalemate that has gripped Congress for months, as Republicans bent on steep cuts and conservative policy mandates refuse to accept a deal with Democrats. It comes after a meeting at the White House on Tuesday in which President Biden and congressional leaders from both parties escalated pressure on Mr. Johnson to accept a spending deal. Top Democrats and Republicans emerged saying they were optimistic about keeping the government funded.

 djt biden resized smiles

ny times logoNew York Times, Michigan Primary Takeaways: ‘Uncommitted’ Makes Itself Heard, Reid J. Epstein and Shane Goldmacher, Feb. 28, 2024.  President Biden endured a protest vote, Donald Trump fended off Nikki Haley again, and both may face challenges with their party coalitions as they start to look toward November.

biden harris 2024 logoJoseph R. Biden Jr. and Donald J. Trump won Michigan’s primary elections on Tuesday as the president and his predecessor hurtle toward a rematch in November.

But the results showed some of the fragility of the political coalitions they have constructed in a critical state for the fall. Losing any slice of support is perilous for both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden won Michigan in 2020 by about 150,000 votes, and Mr. Trump carried it in 2016 by about 11,000 votes.

trump 2024The results of the primaries on Tuesday carried extra weight because Michigan was the first state that is a top general-election battleground to hold its primary in 2024.

michigan map‘Uncommitted’ succeeded in grabbing Biden’s attention. When the movement to persuade Democrats to vote “uncommitted” began three weeks ago, its public goal was clear: Pile enough pressure on Mr. Biden that he would call for an unconditional cease-fire in Gaza.

Since then, top White House officials told Arab American leaders in Dearborn, Mich., that they had regrets over how the administration had responded to the crisis. Mr. Biden called Israel’s military action “over the top.” And on the eve of the primary, he said he hoped a cease-fire agreement would be in place within a week. (The view from Israel and Gaza suggested Mr. Biden was being a bit optimistic.)

In the early hours of Wednesday, roughly 13 percent of primary voters had chosen “uncommitted” — a share that paled next to Mr. Biden’s 81 percent, but represented more than 75,000 people in Michigan who made the effort to lodge their disapproval of the president.

The movement is now likely to spread to other states, many of which have an option for voters to choose “uncommitted” or “no preference” in their primaries.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Biden Dominates MI Primary Despite Fake Media Narrative, Ron Filipkowski, right, Feb. 28, 2024. Biden wins another ron filipowskiprimary by a wide margin.

mtn meidas touch networkSignifying a Democratic Party more unified behind it's leader than ever, Michigan overwhelmingly voted to return President Joe Biden to the top of the Democratic ticket. Despite a media narrative that Democrats don't want Biden to run, they have shown almost unanimously that they will stick by him if that's what he chooses to do.

biden harris 2024 logoThe narrative that there was dissatisfaction with Biden among Democrats was played up in Michigan more than any other state. This was the place that their voices were supposed to finally be heard, led by the Muslim community who were upset about the Biden Administration's support for Israel despite their dissatisfaction with Netanyahu. However, while the media amplified a small handful of loud voices, people at the ballot box responded loudly with their votes.

At a polling place in Dearborn, national media gathered to await the throng of disgruntled Muslim voters against Biden that never materialized, and to get a statement from their Mayor, who already stated he would lodge an "Uncommitted" protest vote against Biden and urged others to do the same. It was the "Uncommitted" vote tally that was supposed to be the protest vote against Biden, but 10.69% voted Uncommitted against Obama in 2012 when there was little controversy about his candidacy.

With 27% of the precincts reporting, Biden won 79.9% with just 2.7% for Dean Phillips and 14.4% Uncommitted. However, that number of Uncommitted is expected to drop as the votes continue to come in from counties that are very favorable to Biden.

Meanwhile, in primary after primary, Donald Trump's margins of victory are less than the polls indicated and far less than he predicted. He defeated Nikki Haley by 67-28% with 31% reporting. The 538 polling average had Trump winning by 57 points. Not quite. The reality is that the Democratic Party is united behind their president, and the Republican Party under Trump has never been more divided or dissatisfied with their candidate.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kremlin Warns Against NATO Ground Intervention in Ukraine, Paul Sonne and Constant Méheut, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The warning came in response to comments by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who said “nothing should be ruled out” when asked about the possibility.

A provocative comment by President Emmanuel Macron of France about the possibility of putting troops from NATO countries in Ukraine has ukraine flagprompted a warning from the Kremlin and hurried efforts by European leaders to distance themselves from the suggestion.

The fractured messaging underscores how Ukraine’s allies are struggling to agree on new ways to help Kyiv as resolve weakens in the United States and Russia advances on the battlefield.

Russian FlagThe Kremlin warned Tuesday that a ground intervention by any NATO country would lead to a direct clash between the Western military alliance and Russian forces, fraught with potential dangers, and called the open discussion of such a step as “a very important new element.”

“This is of course not in the interest of these countries,” Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said in comments to reporters.

The warning came a day after Mr. Macron said “nothing should be ruled out” regarding the possibility of a NATO country sending troops to Ukraine, though he said there was no consensus on the matter.

“Anything is possible if it is useful to reach our goal,” Mr. Macron said, speaking after a meeting with European leaders in Paris about future support for Kyiv. Reminding leaders that the West was doing things it didn’t imagine two years ago, like sending sophisticated missiles and tanks, he said the goal was to ensure “Russia cannot win this war.”

Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic rushed to emphasize they were not considering putting troops on the ground in Ukraine. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also told The Associated Press the alliance itself had no such plans.

France clarified that Mr. Macron was trying to emphasize how Europe must consider new actions to support Ukraine.

The French foreign minister, Stéphane Séjourné, said new assistance to Ukraine in the areas of mine clearance, cyberdefense and weapons production “could require a presence on Ukrainian territory, without crossing the threshold of fighting.”

The Hartmann Report, Opinion: Why Won’t Our Media Say Donald Trump is America's Modern-Day Benedict Arnold? Thom Hartmann, right, Feb. 28, 2024. thom hartmannDonald Trump needs money. Apparently, many of the documents Trump stole from the White House are still missing. Including the binder with raw intelligence about American spies in Moscow.

Are they his “get out of jail free” card?

It’s as if the media doesn’t want to confront the possibility that a former president and current candidate is actually a traitor. But consider the facts.

We are right now in the midst of the third presidential election featuring massive interference from Russian intelligence. Most recently, we found that they sent an agent to the FBI to claim that Biden had taken a bribe in Ukraine: James Comer and Jim Jordan have been running with it, trying to use this Russian disinformation to damage Biden in his run against Trump this fall.

Similarly, the 2020 and 2016 elections featured substantial and persistent interventions by Russian intelligence to help get and keep Trump elected. One of the first things Trump did when he became president in 2017 was to invite the Russian Foreign Minister and their ambassador to the US for a secret meeting in the White House, where he gave them a spy we and Israel ran in Syria.

He had dozens of private phone conversations with Putin while in the White House, for which no meaningful records exist, and at Helsinki took Putin’s side against American intelligence to lie about Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

He stole thousands of top-secret (and above) classified documents from the White House, transported them to Florida, and stored them in publicly-accessible locations at Mar-a-Lago. It’s the perfect way to hand off intelligence to agents of foreign governments without getting caught.

He lied to both the National Archives, the FBI, and the American people about them. And now apparently many are missing.

Did Trump sell them already? Does he now have an overseas account with the hundreds of millions he’ll need to pay off his judgements? Or is he planning to sell documents that the FBI hasn’t yet found?

Prosecutors say that roughly 48,000 people visited Mar-a-Lago between the time in 2021 when Trump brought those documents from Washington to Florida and May 2022, when the FBI finally recovered as many as they could find. Of those people, only 2,200 had any sort of identity verification done, and only 2,900 passed through magnetometers that may have detected spying or photographing equipment.

For example, a female Chinese national, Yujing Zhang, flew into the US and went to Mar-a-Lago.

When she was finally caught by the Secret Service (after having her photo taken with Trump the day before on his golf course), they discovered on her person four mobile phones, a laptop, an external hard drive, and a thumb drive that was later discovered to contain spyware. There were, back in her hotel room, an additional 9 USB drives, five SIM cards for burner phones, and a bug-tracking device that could identify hidden cameras and microphones.

She claims she’s just a tourist and is now back in China; nobody knows how much time she spent in any of the many publicly-available rooms where Trump had stored our nation’s most sensitive and secret documents, including those involving nuclear war and spying on Russia and China.

And there was the notorious Russian-speaking Ukrainian woman, Inna Yashchyshyn, who went by the pseudonym Anna de Rothschild (complete with fake passport) to gain entrance to Mar-a-Lago. She was photographed on the golf course with Trump and Lindsay Graham, before spending hours wandering around Mar-a-Lago doing nobody-knows-what.

As former CIA director John Brennan said:

“I’m sure Mar-a-Lago was being targeted by Russian intelligence and other intelligence services over the course of the last 18 or 20 months, and if they were able to get individuals into that facility, and access those rooms where those documents were and made copies of those documents, that’s what they would do.”

Most likely “Anna” and Yujing Zhang were among the least competent of the spies who visited Mar-a-Lago. The good ones we’ll probably never know about.

For example, because Trump thinks it’s “upper class” to have people working at his resort who have “European” accents, the bug-infested resort hired scores of young people from European countries, typically paying them between $11 and $12 an hour.

That would present another great opportunity for foreign governments to get their people installed there in ways that would give them plenty of time to peruse the secret documents Trump was keeping out in the open.

Most concerning, though, is a 10-inch-thick binder of raw intelligence and assessments of Russia’s efforts to help Trump become president in 2016, which included reports and details from American spies in Moscow. The binder is missing, and multiple American spies and people working for US intelligence have been murdered.

joe biden benjamin netanyahu split

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: After 4 Months of War, Biden and Netanyahu Are on Different Timetables, Peter Baker and Isabel Kershner, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). The divergent goals of President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel are playing out as negotiators try to reach a hostage deal.

President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel each addressed the future of the battle in Gaza this week, speaking just a day apart but worlds removed from one another in a way that captured the essential tension between the two men after more than four months of fighting.

Mr. Netanyahu spoke of war and how it would continue even if there is a temporary cease-fire to secure the release of hostages, just “delayed somewhat.” Mr. Biden spoke of peace and how such a cease-fire deal could “change the dynamic,” leading to a broader realignment that would finally end the underlying conflict that has defined the Middle East for generations.

The disparity in visions reflects the opposing political calendars on which the two leaders are operating. Mr. Netanyahu has a compelling interest in prolonging the war against Hamas to postpone the day of reckoning when he will face accountability for failing to prevent the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Mr. Biden conversely has a powerful incentive to end the war as soon as possible to tamp down anger in the left wing of his party before the fall re-election campaign when he will need all the support he can get.

At the same time, each has reason to think he may yet get a better deal if the other loses his post. Mr. Biden’s advisers are acutely aware that Mr. Netanyahu’s government could fall in response to the terrorist attack while the Israeli prime minister, who goes by the nickname Bibi, may prefer to buy time until November in case former President Donald J. Trump recaptures the White House.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Israel Is Losing Its Greatest Asset: Acceptance, Thomas L. Friedman, right, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). I’ve spent the past few tom friedman twitterdays traveling from New Delhi to Dubai and Amman, and I have an urgent message to deliver to President Biden and the Israeli people: I am seeing the increasingly rapid erosion of Israel’s standing among friendly nations — a level of acceptance and legitimacy that was painstakingly built up over decades. And if Biden is not careful, America’s global standing will plummet right along with Israel’s.

I don’t think Israelis or the Biden administration fully appreciate the rage that is bubbling up around the world, fueled by social media and TV footage, over the deaths of so many thousands of Palestinian civilians, particularly children, with U.S.-supplied weapons in Israel’s war in Gaza. Hamas has much to answer for in triggering this human tragedy, but Israel and the U.S. are seen as driving events now and getting most of the blame.

Israel FlagThat such anger is boiling over in the Arab world is obvious, but I heard it over and over again in conversations in India during the past week — from friends, business leaders, an official and journalists both young and old. That is even more telling because the Hindu-dominated government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only major power in the global south that has supported Israel and consistently blamed Hamas for inviting the massive Israeli retaliation and the deaths of an estimated 30,000 people, according to Gazan health officials, the majority of them civilians.

That many civilian deaths in a relatively short war would be problematic in any context. But when so many civilians die in a retaliatory invasion that was launched by an Israeli government without any political horizon for the morning after — and then, when the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, finally offers a morning-after plan that essentially says to the world that Israel now intends to occupy both the West Bank and Gaza indefinitely — it is no surprise that Israel’s friends will edge away and the Biden team will start to look hapless.

As Shekhar Gupta, the veteran editor of the Indian newspaper ThePrint, put it to me: “There’s enormous love and admiration for Israel in India. But a war with no end will strain it. Initial shock and awe apart, Netanyahu’s war is damaging Israel’s greatest asset: the widely held belief in the invincibility of its army, the infallibility of its intelligence services and the justness of its mission.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: As Spending Talks Intensify, Johnson’s Bind Grows Tighter, Luke Broadwater, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). Mike Johnson finds himself the odd man out in increasingly intense talks on how to fund the government and whether to continue aid to Ukraine.

mike johnson oAt an intense meeting inside the Oval Office on Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson, right, was the odd man out.

President Biden made clear that the speaker’s positions were out of step with other leaders in government, as did Vice President Kamala Harris. The top Democrats in the House and Senate did, too. Even Senator Mitch McConnell, his fellow G.O.P. leader on the other side of the Capitol, emphasized the need for the speaker to avoid a government shutdown and provide badly needed aid to Ukraine.

With time running out to respond to two crises — a partial government shutdown that is looming this weekend and the potential end to American aid to help Ukraine prevail in its war against Russia — Mr. Johnson, only months into his job, has found himself the last holdout at an increasingly agitated table of negotiators.

On the one side, he is feeling pressure from the president of the United States, both Senate leaders and the House minority leader — all demanding he cut a deal to fund the government and keep aid to Kyiv flowing. But on his right flank, he is facing a band of hard-line Republicans demanding that he hold out for conservative priorities and spurn Ukraine’s calls for help, or risk being booted from the speakership.

To put it succinctly, Mr. Johnson is in a bind.

“Boy, is it a tough one,” said former Representative Vin Weber, Republican of Minnesota, who helped advise Kevin McCarthy during his lengthy bid to secure the gavel. “There is not a solution that will make everyone happy and unite the Republican Party.”

Mr. Weber said the pressures on Mr. Johnson were coming not just from members of Congress, but also from a Republican electorate at war with itself.

“He has a divided Republican grass-roots base,” Mr. Weber said. “Isolationism has spread among the grass-roots base, but there’s also a lot of grass-roots Republicans who will be furious if we let the Russians win. He’s got problems multiple ways. But he’s got to figure out the right thing to do and do it. It may cost him his speakership.”

Mr. Johnson views himself as the last man in the room standing for conservative priorities, even as he has acknowledged he has scaled down some of the demands of the hard right. He has said he is hoping to hit singles and not home runs during the negotiations.

On the spending bills, Mr. Johnson is accusing Democrats of trying to make the legislation more liberal during negotiations. He is attempting to hold the line for conservatives on such matters as limiting spending on food stamps for the poor and eliminating funding for a firearms background check for some veterans who have been deemed mentally incompetent — even as he has abandoned other sweeping demands.

On funding for Ukraine, Mr. Johnson is insisting that the Biden administration first crack down on migration across the United States border with Mexico before he will agree to bring up a bill to provide more foreign aid. He is attuned to polls that show securing the border is a top priority of many Americans.

But it is a lonely task, with the rest of the power players in Washington arrayed against him. That was plain at the meeting at the White House on Tuesday, which participants described as a heated ganging-up on Mr. Johnson, first at the hands of Mr. Biden and the three other congressional leaders, and then in a brief one-on-one talk with the president.

“We said to the speaker, ‘Get it done,’” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, said of the Oval Office meeting, referring to the aid package for Ukraine. “History is looking over your shoulder. And if you don’t do the right thing, whatever the immediate politics are, you will regret it.”

In some ways, the jam in which Mr. Johnson finds himself is outside of his control. He is holding a weak hand. His party controls only one-half of one branch of government — with Democrats in charge of the White House and Senate — and the Republicans in his chamber have often proved themselves unruly and ungovernable.

On top of that, Mr. Johnson is operating under rules agreed to by his predecessor, Mr. McCarthy, that significantly weakened the speakership. The Rules Committee, through which most bills must pass before coming to the floor, is stacked with ultraconservatives, and any single member can make a so-called motion to vacate that would prompt a snap vote to remove him — the fate that befell Mr. McCarthy.

ny times logoNew York Times, G.O.P. Leaders Optimistic After Meeting With President Biden, Erica L. Green and Catie Edmondson, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). Speaker Mike Johnson and Senator Mitch McConnell were upbeat about efforts to avert a government shutdown. “We’re making some real headway,” Mr. McConnell said.

Congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with President Biden on Tuesday saying they were optimistic about averting a partial government shutdown at the end of the week, but remained short of a plan to do so before a Friday deadline.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who is facing intense pressure from Mr. Biden, Democrats and Senate Republicans to agree to a spending deal over the fierce objections of right-wing lawmakers in his ranks, suggested he might be ready to do so in the coming days.

“We have been working in good faith around the clock every single day, for months and weeks, and over the last several days, quite literally around the clock, to get that job done,” said Mr. Johnson, who met with the president one on one after holding a group session with Mr. Biden and the other three top congressional leaders.

“We’re very optimistic,” he added, saying that preventing a shutdown was “our first responsibility.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and minority leader, gave a similarly upbeat assessment to reporters at the Capitol.

“We are making some real headway on the appropriations process,” he said.

But it was not clear whether the progress would yield an agreement before midnight on Friday, when government funding for several agencies is slated to lapse, with money for the remainder of federal agencies on track to run out on March 8.

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden testifies that he never involved his father in business, Matt Viser and Jacqueline Alemany, Feb. 28, 2024. President’s son opens with a defiant statement accusing Republicans of ‘partisan house of cards’ built on ‘lies.’

Hunter Biden testified on Wednesday that he never involved his father in any of his business decisions, and he accused House Republicans of having “built your entire partisan house of cards on lies.”

President Biden’s son, ahead of what is expected to be a lengthy and long-awaited closed-door deposition for a GOP-led impeachment inquiry, wrote an opening statement that was defiant, emotional and combative.

“I am here today to provide the Committees with the one uncontestable fact that should end the false premise of this inquiry: I did not involve my father in my business,” he said, according to a copy of the statement obtained by The Washington Post. “Not while I was a practicing lawyer, not in my investments or transactions domestic or international, not as a board member, and not as an artist. Never.”

House Republicans have struggled to uncover firm evidence that Joe Biden benefited from — or played a role in — the business pursuits of his family members. The testimony from Hunter Biden follows an appearance from President Biden’s younger brother James Biden, who testified last week that Joe Biden never played a role in his businesses. Several other former associates of Hunter and James Biden have made similar statements under oath.

Hunter Biden’s appearance before the Oversight and Judiciary committees could provide Republicans with a final chance to alter the trajectory of an impeachment inquiry that so far has produced mostly exculpatory statements, despite Republicans’ efforts to prove that the president benefited improperly from his family’s businesses.

“This has been a comedy of errors from the beginning,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said ahead of the hearing. He urged Republicans to “fold up the circus tent” and end the impeachment inquiry.

“We have gotten extremely far afield from the constitutional standard,” Raskin said. “Nobody on their side can state what they think Joe Biden did, even as a private citizen, that would constitute some kind of criminal offense.”

The GOP leaders of the inquiry dispute that, saying they have uncovered information suggesting that the president did benefit from the foreign business dealings of his family members and that he used his position to help them.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the inquiry would link the business ventures of Hunter Biden directly to his father.

“There’s a pattern with the Biden family: Hunter Biden goes out and tries to get business, but the agreements and the deals never get done until Joe Biden shows up, either on a phone call or dropping by a lunch, dropping by a dinner,” he told Fox News.

In his opening statement Wednesday, Hunter Biden noted that the credibility of several witnesses cited by Republicans has since been undermined, including Alexander Smirnov, who has recently been charged with lying to the FBI about the Bidens. He also provided as an exhibit a two-page résumé, making the case that he had the necessary qualifications for the jobs and business opportunities that he was pursuing.

“For more than a year, your Committees have hunted me in your partisan political pursuit of my dad,” Hunter Biden said. “You have trafficked in innuendo, distortion, and sensationalism — all the while ignoring the clear and convincing evidence staring you in the face. You do not have evidence to support the baseless and MAGA-motivated conspiracies about my father because there isn’t any.”

Hunter Biden, who has acknowledged that he spiraled into a major drug addiction for a period, said he has had his share of failures and flaws, but he said that those should reflect on him and not his father.

ny times logoNew York Times, Key Witness in Georgia Hearing Says He Does Not Know When Relationship Began, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 28, 2024 (print ed.). A judge has brought the witness back to court as he weighs whether the prosecutors in Donald Trump’s case in Georgia have a disqualifying conflict of interest.

In a potential setback to former President Donald J. Trump and his co-defendants in the Georgia election interference case, a key witness testified on Tuesday that he had no knowledge of when a romantic relationship began between the two prosecutors leading the case.

Defense attorneys are seeking to disqualify Fani T. Willis, the district attorney of Fulton County, claiming that her romantic relationship with the lawyer she hired to run the case, Nathan Wade, has created an untenable conflict of interest.

Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade have said that the relationship began only after she hired him in November 2021. Mr. Trump’s lawyer has accused them of lying.

For weeks, the defense had suggested that the key witness, Terrence Bradley, the former divorce lawyer and law partner of Mr. Wade, could provide crucial testimony contradicting Ms. Willis and Mr. Wade. But Mr. Bradley testified in court on Tuesday that “I don’t know when the relationship started,” and that he “never witnessed anything.”

Lawyers for Mr. Trump and other defendants hammered at Mr. Bradley’s credibility on Tuesday, reading aloud text messages he wrote in January that appeared to suggest that he knew more about the prosecutors’ relationship than he was letting on. In text exchanges, Mr. Bradley told a defense lawyer, Ashleigh Merchant, that the romance between the prosecutors had begun before Nov. 1, 2021, when Ms. Willis hired Mr. Wade.

“Do you think it happened before she hired him?” Ms. Merchant asked Mr. Bradley in one text exchange, which was entered into evidence. “Absolutely,” Mr. Bradley replied.

But on the stand on Tuesday, Mr. Bradley insisted that he had been only “speculating” about the relationship in those texts, and was not speaking from personal knowledge.

It was Mr. Bradley’s third time on the witness stand this month, in a series of hearings that have threatened to upend the prosecution of Mr. Trump and his allies for seeking to reverse the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. The defense team contends that the two prosecutors engaged in “self-dealing,” because Mr. Wade spent money on vacations that he took with Ms. Willis while he was being paid by her office.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Fight Over Bump Stock Ban, Lawyers Take Aim at Administrative State, Abbie VanSickle, Feb. 28, 2024. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on Wednesday about the Trump administration rule put in place by the A.T.F. after the Las Vegas massacre.

A simple device that speeds up a semiautomatic weapon’s rate of fire is at the center of a case that could cast a shadow over a government agency’s ability to regulate firearms.

For Michael Cargill, a fierce defender of gun rights who sells firearms in Austin, the accessory, a bump stock, was until 2017 a niche item on the shelves of his store, Central Texas Gun Works. It mainly appealed to people who were injured or disabled, like veterans who needed support firing a gun or by “people who just wanted to have fun,” he said.

But that year, a high-stakes gambler stationed on the 32nd floor of a Las Vegas hotel opened fire on a country music festival, killing 60 people and injuring hundreds. In his arsenal were a dozen AR-15-style rifles outfitted with the device.

Government officials swiftly called for a ban, eliciting alarm among gun store owners like Mr. Cargill, 54, a gregarious Army veteran who said that the mugging and assault of his grandmother had shaped his views on gun control.

“I was one of the only people who said, hold on, wait a minute,” said Mr. Cargill, who has challenged the ban and is represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a legal advocacy group that primarily challenges what it views as unlawful uses of administrative power. “This is insane that anyone would go along with this. We need to stop this now.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will consider whether the Trump administration acted lawfully in enacting a ban that makes it illegal to buy or possess the part. It is not a case that turns on the Second Amendment. Rather, it is one of a number of challenges aimed at limiting the reach of administrative agencies — in this instance, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“During the Trump administration, the bump stock ban cropped up as a rather glaring example of unlawful administrative power,” Philip Hamburger, a founder of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, said in an email. “This rule turned half a million people into felons overnight. That’s not a power that the Constitution gives to administrative agencies — so it deserved a lawsuit.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign, Ashley Parker, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). In February alone, Donald Trump encouraged Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to the military alliance.

He refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny, 47, a Kremlin critic who died suddenly on Feb. 16 in a trump 2024Russian penal colony — instead likening himself to Navalny, arguing they were both political prisoners.

And in a Fox News town hall Tuesday evening, he praised Russia for being “a war machine.”

“They defeated Hitler,” Trump declared, apparently referring to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.

Since announcing his first presidential campaign in 2015, Russia has followed Trump like an unshakable thunder cloud. The former president has Russian Flagrepeatedly expressed a fascination with Russia, lavished praise on Putin and refused to stand up to the Russian president on a range of issues — from interfering in the 2016 presidential election to invading Ukraine almost exactly two years ago.

Trump’s reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do “all roads lead djt maga hatto Putin?” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019 during a contentious Cabinet Room meeting.

His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. Putin critics are calling the death of Navalny — who had survived a previous Russian attempt to poison him — a murder. And under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party has drifted in a remarkably isolationist direction on foreign policy, with House Republicans currently holding up much-needed aid to Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hungary’s Parliament Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid After Stalling, Andrew Higgins, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Budapest had been the final obstacle to the Nordic country’s joining the alliance, which has been trying to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

hungary flagHungary’s Parliament voted on Monday to approve Sweden as a new member of NATO, allowing the Nordic country to clear a final hurdle that had blocked its membership and held up efforts by the military alliance to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

The measure passed after a vote of 188 for and only 6 against in the 199-member Parliament, which is dominated by legislators from the governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Swedish flagOn Friday, after his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, made a visit to Budapest, the Hungarian capital, Mr. Orban declared the end of a monthslong spat with Sweden over its membership of NATO.

Hungary had been stalling for 19 months on ratifying Sweden’s admission, a delay that had puzzled and exasperated the United States and other members of the alliance, raising questions about Hungary’s reliability as a member of the alliance.

The parliamentary vote on Monday followed a decision by Sweden to provide Hungary with four Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to add to the 14 that the Hungarian Air Force already uses. Stockholm also promised that Saab, which manufactures the warplanes, would open an A.I. research center in Hungary.

Hungary, which had repeatedly promised not to be the last holdout, became the final obstacle to Swedish entry into NATO after the Turkish Parliament voted on Jan. 23 to approve membership.

viktor orbánMr. Orban, right, who has maintained cordial relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia despite the war in Ukraine, has a long record of using his country’s veto power over key decisions in Europe to try to extract money or other rewards. That pattern was on display during not only his foot-dragging over Sweden’s NATO membership but also his opposition to a European Union financial package for Ukraine worth $54 billion.

Mr. Orban relented this month on approving E.U. aid for Ukraine, a retreat that raised hopes he would quickly order his Fidesz party to hold a vote in Parliament on Sweden. Mr. Orban had assured the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Jan. 24 that Hungary would ratify Sweden’s entry “at the first possible opportunity.”

But when opposition legislators called a session of Parliament on Feb. 5 to vote on Sweden’s membership, the Fidesz party boycotted the session.

The vote on Monday ended a standoff that had soured Hungary’s relations with the United States and other members of NATO. With the exception of Turkey, all approved Sweden’s membership more than a year ago after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even with Hungary’s acceptance of Sweden into the alliance, the long, drawn-out process to get to this point is likely to leave a bitter aftertaste. And the belated assent to the expansion of NATO, to which Hungary makes only a modest contribution, will not quickly change Mr. Orban’s reputation as a troublemaker more interested in cozying up to Mr. Putin, with whom he held an amicable meeting in October during a visit to China, than in supporting the alliance.

Hungary, whose air force depends heavily on Gripen jets from Sweden, has offered multiple and often shifting explanations for the long delay in voting on Swedish membership. It has cited scheduling hiccups, criticism in Sweden of democratic backsliding by Mr. Orban’s increasingly authoritarian government, teaching materials used in Swedish schools and comments made by Mr. Kristersson years before he took office.

Mr. Orban’s tough stance on Sweden, as well as his initial blocking of the Ukraine aid package, reflected his penchant for trying to establish his small country — Hungary has only 10 million people and accounts for just 1 percent of economic output in the European Union — as a force to be reckoned with on the European political stage.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Says He Expects Gaza Cease-Fire Within a Week, Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden was hopeful about talks aimed at halting Israel’s Gaza operations and exchanging hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

President Biden said on Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week in exchange for the release of at least some of the more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas.

Speaking with reporters during a stop in New York, Mr. Biden offered the most hopeful assessment of the hostage talks by any major figure in many days, suggesting that the war might be close to a major turning point.

The president delivered the comments spontaneously in response to questions during a visit to an ice cream shop after taping a segment on Seth Meyers’s late-night talk show. They came amid an active period of talks in the region, as Israel’s war cabinet over the weekend approved the broad terms of a deal that would involve a six-week truce for the release of about 40 hostages. An Israeli delegation is expected to meet in Qatar with intermediaries from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

An agreement for a lengthy cease-fire would halt the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, which has killed thousands of Palestinians and created a humanitarian crisis. It could also provide an opening for a surge in humanitarian assistance into Gaza, where food, water, electricity and other basics are in short supply.

A negotiated deal would be a dramatic, and perhaps defining, moment in the nearly five-month-old Middle East conflict and could lead to the release of the six remaining American hostages, who were among more than 200 seized and taken to Gaza when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel.

It could also eventually mean freedom for dozens of other hostages still in captivity. Their families have been waging a pressure campaign in Israel and around the world to demand their release, even as Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks with a fierce ground and air assault.

Mr. Biden did not elaborate on Monday about the details of a cease-fire or about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had signed off on a deal. But the president’s assessment that one could be reached within a week was the clearest indication of progress in several weeks.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Signals a Willingness to Free High-Profile Palestinians, Officials Say, Ronen Bergman, Patrick Kingsley and Michael Levenson, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Hamas had not yet responded to the proposal, but the shift in Israel’s stance could jump-start negotiations toward a hostage swap and possible cease-fire.

Israeli negotiators have offered a significant concession in cease-fire talks with Hamas, signaling that they might be open to releasing high-profile Palestinians jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for some Israeli hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with knowledge of the talks.

President Biden said Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week, though earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was still talking about further military action.

Mr. Netanyahu said that the Israeli military had presented a plan to the war cabinet to evacuate civilians from “areas of fighting” in Gaza. He appeared to be speaking of Israel’s long-expected invasion of Rafah, the southern city where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, many in makeshift tents.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Trump Criminal Case, Manhattan D.A. Asks for Gag Order Before Trial, Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Lawyers for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, are seeking to protect jurors and witnesses in the first criminal prosecution of a former president.

Manhattan prosecutors on Monday asked the judge overseeing their criminal case against Donald J. Trump to prohibit the former president from attacking witnesses or exposing jurors’ identities.

The requests, made in filings by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, noted Mr. Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

In outlining a narrowly crafted gag order, the office hewed closely to the terms of a similar order upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington in another of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases.

The gag order in the Manhattan case, if the judge approves it, would bar Mr. Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case. The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, also asked that Mr. Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case — other than Mr. Bragg himself — as well as court staff members.

Although Mr. Bragg carved himself out of the gag order request, the district attorney has received the brunt of the attacks from Mr. Trump and his supporters. In an affidavit released Monday, the head of his security detail listed some of the worst of the dozens of attacks directed at Mr. Bragg last year, including racial slurs and death threats.

In a separate filing, Mr. Bragg placed a special emphasis on the protection of jurors. His prosecutors asked that Mr. Trump be barred from publicly revealing their identities. And although Mr. Trump and his legal team are allowed to know the jurors’ names, Mr. Bragg asked that their addresses be kept secret from the former president.

If the judge, Juan M. Merchan, accepts the restrictions, he would be just the latest judge to impose a gag order on the former president. There was an order in the Washington case, a federal case that involves accusations that Mr. Trump plotted to overturn the 2020 election. And the judge in Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial that recently concluded ordered Mr. Trump not to comment on court staff members.

In a federal trial in Florida in which Mr. Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents, the special counsel, Jack Smith, is also seeking to protect witnesses. The prosecutors have vehemently opposed an attempt by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to include the names of about 24 potential witnesses in a public filing, claiming that the witnesses could face harassment or intimidation. The prosecutors have even opened a separate criminal investigation of threats made on social media against one of the witnesses.

The Manhattan criminal case was the first of Mr. Trump’s four indictments to be filed and is scheduled to go to trial on March 25. Last year, the district attorney’s office accused Mr. Trump of 34 felonies, saying he had orchestrated a cover-up of a potential sex scandal with a porn star that could have hindered his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers will be likely to oppose the gag order and could appeal it if Justice Merchan adopts it. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Todd Blanche, declined to comment on the prosecutors’ proposal, saying that the defense’s court papers spoke for themselves.

In a separate motion filed on Monday, prosecutors provided something of a guide to their case, signaling that they hope to include other hush-money payoffs they say Mr. Trump orchestrated: one with a former Playboy model, and another involving a doorman who sought to sell an embarrassing story about Mr. Trump in 2015.

As they laid the groundwork to tell that expansive story, they asked Justice Merchan to allow them to introduce evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign, including the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump boasts about groping women, as well as three public allegations of sexual assault made against him after the recording was released.

It is far from clear that Justice Merchan will grant those requests. Persuading him that allegations of sexual assault should be allowed could be particularly difficult, given that judges are supposed to carefully evaluate evidence that could unfairly harm a defendant in the eyes of the jury.

Prosecutors on Monday were more worried about the defendant harming jurors. In seeking to limit Mr. Trump from disclosing their names, the district attorney’s office cited recent instances of his attacking jury members, including in the 2020 trial of his associate Roger Stone. While still president, prosecutors noted, Mr. Trump had called the head of that jury “totally biased,” “tainted” and “DISGRACEFUL!”

washington post logoWashington Post, Palestinian prime minister, cabinet offer to resign in step toward post-Gaza war overhaul, Staff Reports, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Palestinian Authority shake-up paves way for post-war governance of Gaza; U.S. hopes cease-fire agreement in Gaza can be reached in ‘coming days’.

palestinian flagPalestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh offered the resignation of his government on Monday, opening the door for a new technocratic administration under President Mahmoud Abbas. The United States and Arab allies have been seeking to revitalize the governing body with the hope it can take on a role in Gaza following the war.

Here's what to know

  • An Israeli delegation is attending “lower-level technical talks” on Monday in Doha, Qatar, on a deal to pause fighting and release more hostages, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations. He said there was “not much optimism” that it would bring progress.
  • Israel’s military struck two targets in Lebanon’s Baalbek region on Monday, a Hezbollah spokesperson said, in the deepest strikes by Israeli forces within Lebanese territory since the recent escalation in fighting. The Israel Defense Forces said it targeted Hezbollah militants with attacks “deep inside Lebanon.”
  • “Very little” aid has entered the Gaza Strip in February, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said, noting a 50 percent reduction in delivered supplies compared with January.
  • At least 29,782 people have been killed in Gaza and 70,043 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 240 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli forces strike deep within Lebanon as tensions with Hezbollah mount,Sarah Dadouch and Leo Sands, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Israel struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon's Baalbek region on Feb. 26, the deepest such attack by Israeli forces into Lebanese territory since Oct. 7. 

Israel FlagIsrael’s military struck targets deep within neighboring Lebanon on Monday, in the latest escalation in tensions as Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants continue to exchange fire on a near daily basis.

The strike in Lebanon’s Baalbek region, northeast of the capital, Beirut, was the deepest such attack by Israeli forces into Lebanese territory since Oct. 7.

A spokesperson for Hezbollah, the Iranian-aligned paramilitary that is also Lebanon’s most powerful political group, said that two of its members were killed in the strike.

In posts on social media, Israel’s military said it deployed fighter jets to strike targets “deep inside Lebanon” that it said were being used by Hezbollah militants as air defense sites. It said they were launched in response to the downing of an Israeli drone by a surface-to-air missile. Earlier in the day, the IDF said an Israeli air force drone was shot down while flying over Lebanese territory.

According to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar channel, one of the Israeli strikes targeted an empty building on the outskirts of the town of Hosh Tal Safiyeh.

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Hezbollah and Israel’s military have traded shells and rockets across the border, raising the specter of a full-blown conflict. Hezbollah has borne the brunt of most of Israeli attacks in Lebanon, where approximately 180 of its members were killed in that period.

As fighting has intensified and Israel struck targets deeper within Lebanon, the United States and its Western allies have been scrambling diplomatic efforts in the hope of heading off a full-scale war, which would be catastrophic for Lebanon. The country has been without a functioning government for almost two years and is facing the prospect of economic and financial collapse.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. launches probe into possible fraud by organ collection groups, Lenny Bernstein, Mark Johnson and Lisa Rein, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). The investigation led by federal prosecutors could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Federal authorities have launched a wide-ranging investigation of the nonprofit organizations that collect organs for transplant in the United States, according to six people familiar with the inquiry, which seeks to determine whether any of the groups have been defrauding the government.

The probe involves U.S. attorneys in various parts of the country who are investigating organ procurement organizations in at least five states. Their team includes investigators from the Department of Health and Human Services and the office of Michael Missal, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are seeking to determine, among other things, whether any of these groups have been overbilling the government for their costs.

The investigation has been underway for at least several months, the people said. But in a sign the probe is intensifying, investigators from the VA inspector general were “dispatched” to the offices and homes of 10 chief executives of organ procurement organizations at the beginning of February “as part of an inquiry,” according to a notice that Steve Miller, chief executive of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, sent to his membership.

Serious deficiencies in the nationwide organ transplant system have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny in recent years, but an investigation led by federal prosecutors — which carries the possibility of criminal charges — could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the troubled, multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

 

U.S. Reproductive Rights

ny times logoNew York Times, Alabama Republicans Race to Pass an I.V.F. Shield Law, Emily Cochrane, Feb. 28, 2024. Republicans have long maintained that life begins at conception, but they must now reconcile that stance with broad support for I.V.F. treatment.

Alabama lawmakers on Wednesday were racing to protect the routine practice of in vitro fertilization, moving to assuage families and fertility clinics alarmed by a recent State Supreme Court ruling that found that frozen embryos should be considered children.

The lawmakers’ urgency underscores the bind for Republicans, who have long maintained that life begins at conception — a tenet of their opposition to abortion — but must now reconcile that stance with the realities of how I.V.F. is practiced and the broad public support for it.

Republican leaders across the nation have been quick to express their support for I.V.F., with the party already struggling to counter the backlash over stringent anti-abortion laws it has backed in a critical election year.

Former President Donald J. Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, called on the Alabama Legislature to protect I.V.F. treatment, while in Florida, lawmakers sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

In Alabama, top Republicans are now coalescing around a proposal that would provide immunity to I.V.F. clinics, barring any intentional destruction of embryos outside the usual medical process.

ny times logoNew York Times, Senate Republicans appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for I.V.F. treatment, Kayla Guo, Feb. 28, 2024. Republicans, many of whom have said they support access to the treatment, argued that it should be left to states to ensure its legality after an Alabama court ruled that frozen embryos were children.

Senate Republicans on Wednesday appeared ready to block a bill that would establish federal protections for in vitro fertilization and other fertility treatments in the wake of a ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos should be considered children.

Senator Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois, planned to try to bring the bill up on Wednesday under a procedure that allows any one senator to object and stop it in its tracks, effectively daring Republicans to oppose the measure and highlighting divisions within the G.O.P. on how to handle the issue. The bill would establish a federal right to access to I.V.F. and fertility treatments.

Democrats orchestrated the action as they sought to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans who have rushed to voice support for I.V.F. after the Alabama ruling, even though many of them have sponsored legislation that declares that life begins at the moment of fertilization. Such a bill could severely curtail or even outlaw aspects of the treatments.

“This is really to call out my Republican colleagues,” Ms. Duckworth said in an interview on Wednesday. “If this is urgent and you care deeply about this as you say you do — like you’ve been saying in the last 72-plus hours since the Alabama Supreme Court ruling — then don’t object. Let this bill pass.” She argued that the bill’s protections were all the more essential since the decision by Alabama’s Republican-majority court.

The legislation was the latest instance of Republicans trying to walk a political tightrope — made more perilous by the Alabama ruling — since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and made real many Americans’ fears of losing their access to reproductive health care. Democrats have vowed to pummel Republicans on the issue this election year, buoyed by polls that show that access to abortion and contraception is a major concern for voters that could drive them away from Republicans.

“Make no mistake about it: What happened in Alabama is a direct consequence — a direct consequence — of the hard-right MAGA Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Tuesday. “And make no mistake about it: There will be other awful, restrictive decisions emanating from the Dobbs decision.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican lawmakers in Florida suspended a bill that aimed to protect an “unborn child” after the Alabama ruling, David W. Chen, Feb. 28, 2024. Republican lawmakers in Florida sidelined a bill this week that would allow civil lawsuits over the wrongful death of a fetus.

Those on both sides of the abortion debate attributed the pause to fallout from the Alabama Supreme Court’s ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children.

If it moves ahead, the bill would add Florida to the ranks of about a dozen other states that allow parents to receive financial damages in some instances when a fetus has died. The bill says in cases of wrongful death, parents of an “unborn child” are considered survivors who can sue in civil court.

But in recent weeks, Democrats and others warned that the bill amounts to “fetal personhood,” assigning full rights of a person to a fetus. Such a designation, they said, would imperil doctors and anyone who assisted women in obtaining an abortion and would also adversely affect fertility treatments.

On Monday, Republican legislative leaders in Florida announced that they had postponed the bill.

ny times logoNew York Times, At least one in six abortions was conducted via telehealth from July through September, data shows, Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz, Feb. 28, 2024. A growing share of abortions is now being administered through telemedicine, with clinicians prescribing mail-order abortion pills after online consultations, according to the first nationwide count of telehealth abortions in the U.S. medical system. At least one in six abortions, around 14,000 a month, was conducted via telehealth from July through September, the most recent months with available data.

How It Works

Pills are prescribed by virtual-only providers and by clinics that also offer in-person services. Patients fill out an online questionnaire or meet with a clinician via video or text chat. This method began nationwide in 2020, when the Food and Drug Administration began allowing abortion providers to mail pills without an in-clinic visit during the pandemic.

Some of the prescriptions included in the new count were given to patients in states where abortion is banned, a new development made possible by shield laws. These laws protect clinicians in states where abortion is legal when they prescribe and mail pills to patients in states where it is not. Shield laws were in effect in Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont and Washington during the period covered by the new data, and California has since passed one.

Why It Matters

The growth of telemedicine abortion has made it easier and often less expensive for women to get abortions, particularly if they live far from an abortion clinic or in one of the roughly one-third of states that have banned or substantially restricted abortions since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in 2022.

Activists, legislators and prosecutors in the states with bans are working to stem the flow of these mail-order pills. But they have so far proven hard to regulate.

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

 

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Politico, Schumer challenges Johnson to ‘step up’ ahead of Friday shutdown cliff, Caitlin Emma, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Negotiators are still haggling over the four spending measures set to expire at week’s end.

politico CustomSenate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to colleagues Sunday afternoon that House Republicans “need more time to sort themselves out” on funding bills, with a partial government shutdown threatening to shutter many federal agencies in five days.

Top lawmakers and appropriators had hoped to unveil the text of a small spending package over the weekend, possibly alongside another short-term funding patch to buy more time for talks on fiscal 2024 bills, beyond the March 1 and March 8 shutdown deadlines. But any hope of reaching an agreement is now slipping into the week, risking a funding lapse at midnight on Friday for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and others.

“It is my sincere hope that in the face of a disruptive shutdown that would hurt our economy and make American families less safe, Speaker Johnson will step up to once again buck the extremists in his caucus and do the right thing,” Schumer wrote.

“While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out,” he said. “With the uncertainty of how the House will pass the appropriations bills and avoid a shutdown this week, I ask all Senators to keep their schedules flexible, so we can work to ensure a pointless and harmful lapse in funding doesn’t occur.”

Key context: Appropriations staff has been working around the clock in the hopes of clinching a deal on some or all of the first four bills set to expire, including the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures.

mike johnson oSpeaker Mike Johnson, right, is facing tremendous pressure from his right flank to secure policy wins across the bills on topics ranging from abortion to guns. During a conference call with Republicans on Friday night, he said he couldn’t rule out the possibility of a partial government shutdown at week’s end.

Negotiators in recent days have sparred over cuts to agriculture programs and limits on how USDA spends money, for example. Both sides have also warred over a policy rider that would ban mail delivery of abortion pills, a heated impasse over nutrition funding for low-income mothers and babies, as well as a pilot program proposed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that would restrict SNAP food aid purchases.

The timeline for any legislative action is exceedingly tight. The House, which has been expected to move first on any bills, won’t be in session until Wednesday. The Senate, set to deal with impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, returns from recess on Monday.

Ukraine aid: On the heels of his trip with several other Senate Democrats to Ukraine, Schumer challenged Johnson to visit the country “and witness what we witnessed, because I believe it is virtually impossible for anyone with decency and goodwill to turn their back on Ukraine if they saw the horrors of that war with their own eyes.”

The Senate’s national security supplemental, which would deliver tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, now sits at Johnson’s feet, Schumer wrote.

“If Speaker Johnson put the national security supplemental on the floor today, it would pass with a large number of both Democrats and Republicans,” the New York Democrat wrote. “Now is the time for action. Speaker Johnson cannot let politics or blind obeisance to Donald Trump get in the way.”

ny times logoWashington Post, Analysis: GOP elder statesmen’s message to House Speaker Johnson: Stop dithering, Paul Kane, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.).  Two GOP veterans are urging the new House speaker to make his own decisions and not kowtow to the far-right flank.

Some Republican elder statesmen are trying to send a message to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) by urging him to make forceful decisions that will not please portions of the GOP conference.

Two early March deadlines on government funding are looming, as is the ongoing dispute over funding Ukraine’s defenses. On these and other issues, two veteran Republicans believe that the relatively new speaker has been too timid.

Johnson, who marks four months as speaker Sunday, will need to stare down far-right forces who keep threatening to oust him and instead forge the best deals possible. He can call the far right’s bluff and win, or he can continue to try to placate it, weakening himself for the long haul.

Johnson reaches a crossroads in leading an unruly House GOP conference

“I don’t think you can be good at these jobs unless you’re willing to lose them,” former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday during a Washington Post Live “Election 2024 Series” event, pausing to reflect on his own troubled tenure from late 2015 through 2018.

In a podcast also released Wednesday, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) delivered a more blunt assessment of Johnson’s tenure by saying that his tendency to wait so long before making a decision cuts into his leverage with Senate Democrats and President Biden. In the process, those poorly negotiated deals further empower the far-right antagonists, who already ousted his predecessor, ex-speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in October.

“You can either die as speaker and worry about them taking you out, or live every day as your last. Get something out of it. If you lead and get big things done, your reputation enhances. Your ability to get the next deal done is enhanced,” McHenry told CBS’s Major Garrett.
To think of Ryan, 54, and McHenry, 48, as elder statesmen will make some readers blink and reread those sentences. But in today’s House GOP — where half of the Republicans took office after Ryan retired in January 2019 — these two have been around the congressional block more than once.

washington post logoWashington Post, Government funding bills not ‘home runs’, Johnson says, but include GOP policies, Jacob Bogage, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Leaders in Congress slipped Sunday in their last-minute scramble to head off a looming government shutdown deadline that could shutter vital services at the Transportation Department, strain food stamp programs and put housing assistance for millions of families in jeopardy.

With some federal funding set to expire in less than a week, House Republican policy demands — on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights and abortion to national security concerns on immigration and competition from China — have slowed talks that had appeared to be close to yielding a breakthrough. Lawmakers abandoned tentative plans to announce legislative text on a deal Sunday evening.

Instead, legislators privately say another temporary spending extension could be necessary to avert a partial shutdown that could ripple into the winder economy. Roughly 20 percent of the federal government will close on March 2 without action. A deadline for the remaining 80 percent awaits just a week later.

mike johnson oAlready, Congress has passed stopgap spending legislation three times since Sept. 30 as government funding debates revealed internecine brawls in the House GOP and tested the party’s brittle and minuscule majority.

President Biden summoned House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), right, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to the White House for a meeting Tuesday to discuss the shutdown deadlines and the White House’s push to pass new defense assistance for Ukraine.

Even a partial shutdown would trouble federal food assistance programs — including WIC, an emergency nutrition program for women, infants and children that is already contending with a budget shortfall. Air traffic controllers would remain on the job, but would go unpaid. Federal housing vouchers, which support 5 million families, could be temporarily endangered. Government scientists would stop tracing and studying animal-borne diseases.

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More On Israel's War With Hamas

ny times logoNew York Times, Hamas Rejects Cease-Fire Proposal, Dashing Biden’s Hopes of Near Term Deal, Aaron Boxerman, Hwaida Saad, Raja Abdulrahim and Michael Levenson, Feb. 28, 2024. (print ed.). A day after President Biden suggested there could be a deal as soon as Monday, a Hamas official indicated the group would not trade Israeli troops held hostage for Palestinians imprisoned for terrorism.

Hamas officials said on Tuesday that there had been no breakthrough in the mediated talks with Israel aimed at pausing the war and freeing the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip, one day after President Biden said he was hopeful that a cease-fire would be in place by next week.

Basem Naim, a Hamas spokesman, said in a text message that the militant group had yet to formally receive “any new proposals” since senior Israeli officials met with Qatari, Egyptian and U.S. mediators in Paris last week to advance a possible deal.

Another Hamas official, Ahmad Abdelhadi, said that the group was sticking to its demand that Israel agree to a long-term cease-fire and that leaks about the talks were designed to pressure Hamas to soften its position.

 

international court of justice icc

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), shown above, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. As described by its website, the ICJ is a civil tribunal that hears disputes between countries. It has no prosecutor or jurisdiction to try individuals, including those joan donoghueaccused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Its current president, Joan Donoghue, right, is a United States citizen who became a justice on the court in 2010 following election by United Nations members. She then won election from other justices in 2021 to become the ICJ president for a three-year term. The court's vice president is Kiill Gevorgian of the Russian Federation. Other current members are shown here.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House reverses West Bank policy, calling Israeli settlements illegal, John Hudson and Karen DeYoung, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The decision was in response to reports that the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning further settlement expansion, an official said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a reversal of the previous administration’s position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Friday, saying they are “inconsistent with international law.”

palestinian flag“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Argentina. “In our judgment, this only weakens — it doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.”

The decision — which was also announced at the White House — was in immediate response to reports that the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning further settlement expansion, according to a U.S. official, one of several who discussed the decision on the condition of anonymity under administration rules.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced plans late Thursday for approval of 3,000 new settlement homes after Israeli police said Palestinian gunmen opened fire near the existing Maale Adumim settlement, killing one Israeli and wounding five. The expansion plans, he said, were part of “deepening our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel.”

ny times logoNew York Times, A U.S. Air Force airman set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, officials said, Aishvarya Kavi, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The man, who filmed and livestreamed the protest, was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. The U.S. Air Force confirmed he was an active-duty airman.

Officers with the U.S. Secret Service extinguished the fire outside the embassy, in northwestern Washington, around 1 p.m., said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesman with the city’s fire department. The man was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries and remains in critical condition.

No embassy staff members were injured, and all were accounted for, according to Tal Naim, a spokeswoman for the embassy.

The man appeared to have filmed the protest and livestreamed it on the social media platform Twitch at the time that the police said they responded to the incident. The New York Times could not confirm who was behind the account that posted the video, but the video featured a man walking toward the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” a man said in the video, echoing language that opponents of Israel’s military action in Gaza have used to Israel Flagdescribe the campaign. “I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest.”

Standing in front of the embassy gates, he set his phone down to film dousing himself in a clear liquid from a metal bottle. He then lit himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he fell to the ground.

The video showed law enforcement officers approaching him shortly before the fire caught. One could be heard off-camera saying: “Can I help you, sir?” The officers then scrambled for more than a minute to put out the flames.

The video was removed on Sunday afternoon and replaced with a message stating that the channel violated Twitch’s guidelines. It was the only video posted to the account, which had a Palestinian flag as its header image.

In the video, the man was dressed in fatigues, and the name he used matched a LinkedIn profile for an active-duty Air Force officer based in Texas. The authorities have not confirmed the identity of the man.

The police also investigated a suspicious vehicle nearby for explosives, but Sean Hickman, a police spokesman, said the scene had been cleared by 4 p.m. Officers with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had worked with Washington’s explosive ordnance disposal unit to investigate the incident.

Protests against Israel have become a near-daily occurrence across the country since Israel began its campaign in Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed at least 1,200 people, according to the Israeli officials. International calls for a humanitarian cease-fire have grown in the past months as the humanitarian crisis has deepened. The embassy has been the site of sustained protests against the war in Gaza as the civilian death toll in the devastated enclave continues to climb, with more than 29,000 dead, according to the local health ministry officials.

Protests have sometimes resulted in arrests but seldom in violence. In December, a protester self-immolated in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in what police said was “likely an extreme act of political protest.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Gaza Death Toll Mounts, Israel’s Isolation Grows, Mark Landler, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). A worsening humanitarian crisis has brought condemnation against Israel and is testing the support of even its staunchest ally, the United States.

Israel FlagWhen David Ben-Gurion, one of Israel’s founding fathers, was warned in 1955 that his plan to seize the Gaza Strip from Egypt would provoke a backlash in the United Nations, he famously derided the U.N., playing off its Hebrew acronym, as “Um-Shmum.”

The phrase came to symbolize Israel’s willingness to defy international organizations when it believes its core interests are at stake.

Nearly 70 years later, Israel faces another wave of condemnation in the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and from dozens of countries over its military operation in Gaza, which has killed an estimated 29,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and left much of the territory in ruins.

The huge swell in global pressure has left the Israeli government and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, deeply isolated, if not yet bowed, largely because it still has the support of its staunchest ally, the United States.

This time, though, Israel faces a rare break with Washington. The Biden administration is circulating a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would warn the Israeli military not to carry out a ground offensive in Rafah, near Egypt, where more than a million Palestinian refugees are sheltering. It would also call for a temporary cease-fire as soon as practical.

“It’s a big problem for the Israeli government because it has previously been able to hide behind the protection of the United States,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “But now Biden is signaling that Netanyahu can no longer take that protection for granted.”

biden harris 2024 logo“There is a broader context of condemnation by international public opinion, which is unprecedented in breadth and depth, and which has spread to the United States,” Mr. Indyk said. “The Democratic Party’s progressive, youth and Arab American constituencies have all become angry and harshly critical of Biden for his support of Israel.”

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. hopes cease-fire agreement in Gaza can be reached in ‘coming days,’ Niha Masih, Leo Sands, Mariana Alfaro, Silvia Foster-Frau and Lior Soroka, Feb. 25, 2024.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. stands with Israel at U.N. court as Biden-Netanyahu tension simmers, Emily Rauhala, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). The United States backed Israel in a hearing Wednesday at the International Court of Justice, once again diverging from allies despite growing tension between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israel-Gaza war.

Israel FlagIn a presentation in The Hague, the United States said that an advisory opinion from the U.N.’s top court had the potential to frustrate peace efforts if it did not account for Israel’s needs. “A movement toward Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration of Israel’s very real security needs,” State Department official Richard Visek told the court.

The remarks came on the third day of historic hearings on Israel’s control over the West Bank, Gaza and annexed East Jerusalem. In earlier presentations, representatives from South Africa and other nations slammed Israel for running an “apartheid state” and called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

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More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, who have been married for 27 years, participated in a recent sailing club rally and were spending the winter in the Caribbean (Photo viia The Salty Dawg Sailing Association).

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, who have been married for 27 years, participated in a recent sailing club rally and were spending the winter in the Caribbean (Photo via The Salty Dawg Sailing Association).

ny times logoNew York Times, American Couple Goes Missing While Sailing Off Grenada, Johnny Diaz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.).  The authorities are looking into whether the disappearance of Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry from their yacht is connected to a prisoner escape.

An American couple who had departed from Virginia and were spending the winter cruising in the Caribbean went missing this month while sailing off Grenada, and their boat turned up empty in neighboring St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Their disappearance came around the same time three men escaped from a prison in Grenada and made their getaway by boat to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the authorities in those islands said.

In a statement, the Royal Grenada Police Force did not identify the two Americans but said that it was looking into possible harm to them in connection to the prisoners’ escape.

According to the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a nonprofit that brings together sailing and cruising enthusiasts, a skipper notified it on Feb. 21 that a member’s yacht called Simplicity was found anchored and abandoned off a beach on the southern coast of St. Vincent.

The missing boat owners were identified as Ralph Hendry, 66, and Kathy Brandel, 71, by the association and Ms. Brandel’s son, Nick Buro, who said the couple, originally from Virginia, were married for 27 years.

Mr. Hendry and Ms. Brandel were experienced sailors who lived on their boat. They recently completed their sailing club’s “Caribbean Rally” — cruising from Hampton, Va., to the island of Antigua to end 2023 with a celebration — and they were spending the remainder of the winter cruising the Caribbean, according to a statement from the club.

Separately, the Royal Grenada Police Force said in a Feb. 22 statement that three men who escaped from a prison in Grenada on Feb. 18 made their way to St. Vincent using a yacht that had been docked in the St. George area of Grenada. The force said that the two boat occupants, whom it did not name, were American citizens.

The prisoners were recaptured on Feb. 21, the same day that the couple’s vessel was found. The Grenada authorities identified the prisoners as Trevon Robertson, 19; Abita Stanislaus, 25; and Ron Mitchell, 30.

They had been previously charged, jointly, in a violent robbery case in December. Mr. Mitchell also faced various separate charges that included causing harm, indecent assault and rape, the Grenada police said.

ny times logoWashington Post, As Lebanon teeters on the edge, a war with Israel would be catastrophic, Mohamad El Chamaa and Suzan Haidamous, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Wages for Lebanon’s soldiers have fallen so low that many now have second jobs driving for Uber or working as parking valets. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to support the country’s emergency response services. Angry depositors in Beirut have attacked the headquarters of a major bank with fireworks because it wouldn’t release their savings.

Even before the Israel-Gaza war, Lebanon was in economic crisis: Since 2019, the country’s gross domestic product has fallen by 50 percent, and poverty now plagues 80 percent of the population.

A wider war, long feared amid ongoing skirmishes between Israeli forces and Iranian-backed Hezbollah along Lebanon’s southern border, would be catastrophic.

Lebanese are despairing over their next meal as the economic crisis worsens

Lebanon is no stranger to disaster, having survived a 15-year civil war and a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. But this time, according to Simon Neaime, an economics professor at the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese are exhausted.

ny times logoWashington Post, U.S. struggles for influence in West Africa as military juntas rise, Rachel Chason and Michael Birnbaum, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). U.S. officials are waging urgent diplomatic efforts in West Africa, searching during public tours and private meetings for ways to partner with military governments in a region where violence wrought by Islamic extremists is soaring and Russia’s influence is expanding.

But the officials have struggled at times to articulate what that partnership would look like, especially since the types of assistance the U.S. government can legally provide has been curtailed after the ousting of democratically elected governments by soldiers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, according to interviews with a dozen current and former U.S. officials, analysts and activists.

The stakes are especially high in Niger, where the United States has deployed more than 1,000 soldiers and operates a drone base that officials say is vital for surveillance of extremist groups in the Sahel region, which runs across Africa just below the Sahara Desert.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, the State Department’s top official for African affairs, said she did not mince words when she traveled to Niamey, Niger’s capital, in December to negotiate with Niger’s prime minister and other cabinet members. Phee said that she urged Niger’s junta to rebuild its relations with other countries, particularly with the regional bloc of West African states known as the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, which is seen as an ally in efforts to restore democracy in the region. And she stressed that U.S. assistance would remain suspended until Niger sets a timeline for restoring democracy.

“We made the choice as stark and clear as we could,” Phee recalled.

But in the two months since that meeting, Niger has largely moved in the opposite direction. The government has yet to announce a timeline for holding elections and continues to detain the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum under house arrest.

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More On  U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

Hopium Chronicles, U.S. Political Commentary: Biden Breaks 80% in Michigan, Trump Continues To Struggle, Simon Rosenberg, right, Feb. 28, 2024 simon rosenberg twitterMarianne Williamson, who dropped out a month ago, beat Dean Phillips last night! (Continued from above.)

Let’s review some data. 100,000 people voted uncommitted in Michigan last night. About 100,000 Arab Americans voted for Biden in Michigan in 2020. Let’s assume that 50,000 of those people stay home this November. That’s a little less than 1% of the total vote this fall. Can we make it up other places? Can we work really hard to get number down? Yes and yes. I characterize what’s happening right now as more of a challenge to Biden than a threat. But we have work to do.

I think the work Trump has to do is much harder. The opposition to him in his party is much greater, and we have data now from the early GOP primary states showing a sizeable chunk of Republicans are open to voting for Biden this fall. In my view something broke inside the GOP with Dobbs in the spring of 2022. At that moment the GOP became too ugly, too menacing even for many Republican voters. And in all these elections since the Republicans have struggled. They struggled in the battlegrounds in 2022; struggled in elections throughout 2023; struggled in Orlando last month, in NY-3 two weeks ago and Trump is struggling in these early states.

I talked about Trump’s underperformance of public polling in the first 3 primary states in this post from over the weekend. Let’s look at what happened in Michigan:

  • Trump is leading in all national polls against Haley by over 60 points
  • The last 2 public polls in Michigan had Trump up over Haley by more than 50 points
  • He won last night by 42 points. It’s a similar level of underperformance that we saw in IA, NH, SC.
  • As in all these elections since Dobbs, when it comes time to actually vote, Trump just keeps struggling and underperforming.
  • As I detailed in this Monday post, Trump’s problems right now go way beyond these ongoing performance issues:

He’s spending more than he’s taking in, Haley outraised him last month, the RNC is broke, the Party is in a messy leadership transition, dozens of party leaders in critical battleground states have been indicted, several state parties have functionally collapsed, House Rs are abandoning ship

Trump and his party are far more dangerous and extreme than they were in in 2018, 2020, 2022 and 2023 - elections they lost. The IVF fiasco has reminded all of us that for them Dobbs was just the beginning of their assault on women, and reproductive rights and freedoms. It’s devastating for them

Trump has serially betrayed the country, and he and his family have corruptly taken more money from foreign governments than any political family in US history

As I wrote recently, due to Biden’s successful Presidency Trump’s core attacks against Biden are evaporating, leaving him with very little to run on other than his madness

He keeps losing in court, badly, and we know from polling 20%-30% of Republicans view these legal challenges/his criminality as a potential reason to abandon him in November. He and Rudy now owe $700m!!!!!

Trump himself is diminished. His appearances on the stump are far more erratic, delusional, distributing. His color is far more orange, and in general he is far more freakish and buffoonish than he has ever been. It really does feel like he is descending deeper into madness.

We cannot forget for one moment what Trump’s agenda for the country is:

He wants Putin to win, the West to lose. The border to be in chaos, and migrants to keep flowing into the country. The economy to crash. Women, people of color to lose more freedoms and rights. The planet to warm faster. 10 year olds to carry their rapist's baby to term, and for more women to die on an operating room table. Tens of millions to lose their health insurance. More dead kids in schools. Verified rapists in positions of authority. A restoration of pre-Civil Rights era white supremacy. Big tax cuts for their donors, higher deficits and less for everyone else. Books banned across the US. Seniors to pay more for insulin and prescription drugs. Foreign governments free to pollute our daily discourse and harass our citizens. Teenagers to work night shifts in meat packing plants and not go to school. The minimum wage to stay at $7.25. Mass arrests and mass deportations of immigrants long settled in the US. Insurrectionists to get pardoned. To end American democracy for all time.

 

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

ny times logoNew York Times, Gretchen Whitmer’s Biggest Electoral Test: Can She Deliver Michigan for Biden? Mitch Smith, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The Michigan governor is popular in her state, but it remains to be seen whether she can help much with those most frustrated with President Biden.

gretchen whitmer o smile CustomGretchen Whitmer, right, was planning to speak in Dearborn, Mich., at a feel-good event celebrating a health clinic founded by Muslim leaders.

It was the sort of profile-boosting appearance that Ms. Whitmer, the Democratic governor of the state, stocks her calendar with and that has helped her build a broad base of support in closely divided Michigan. But this was late October, in the first weeks of the Israel-Hamas war, and the governor’s response to the conflict had won her few friends.

First, she posted a statement that did not include the word “Israel,” infuriating some in the Jewish community. Then she said she was “unequivocally supportive of Israel,” which was seen as a betrayal by many Arab Americans.

michigan mapAs word of her Dearborn visit spread on social media, some in that largely Arab American city, usually friendly political turf for Democrats, announced plans for a protest. “WHITMER NOT WELCOME IN DEARBORN,” read one poster circulated by activists, who accused her of supporting genocide.

She called off the speech, a decision that she said recently was probably a mistake.

The episode foreshadowed the electoral turbulence her party faces this year and the difficult role she now occupies as President Biden’s chief ambassador to Michigan, a key battleground.

 

dan rather djtSteady, Commentary: Trouble in Trumpland? Dan Rather, Steady founder, author and former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor (shown above right), Feb. 26, dan rather steady logo2024. A deeper dive indicates where and how Trump is vulnerable. NBC’s “Meet The Press” this morning characterized Donald Trump’s South Carolina primary victory as “delivering a crushing blow to [Nikki] Haley in her home state on Saturday, trouncing her by 20 points with nearly 60 percent of the vote. The former president dominated nearly every key group.”

While he did indeed win handily, a deep dive into the numbers provides some interesting context.

trump 2024The part of the story missing from many news reports is that Trump is slipping from his 2020 numbers. His support is strongest among his MAGA base, which pollsters put at no more than 33% of the electorate. Clearly, he will need more than MAGA to win the White House again.

biden harris 2024 logoPresident Biden won the South Carolina Democratic primary with 96.2% of the vote. Trump, who is essentially an incumbent up against a novice at running for national office, could not muster even 60% of his party’s vote. Exit polls from Saturday night should have GOP leaders nervous.

The makeup of South Carolina’s Republican voters does not mirror the country. They are heavily weighted with hard-right “conservatives,” older, white, male, evangelical election deniers. Trump won overwhelmingly among them. But Haley won among independents, moderates, and those who care about foreign policy. And that’s the crux of it.

To win the presidency again, Trump will need to bring all Republicans into the tent. Gallop estimates that 41% of the electorate identifies as Republican. Then it gets really tough. He has to convince a large number of independents and Democrats to vote for him. But how?

  • Not by favoring a 16-week national abortion ban
  • Not by threatening to pull out of NATO
  • Not by defunding Ukraine and supporting Putin’s invasion
  • Not by promising “ultimate and absolute revenge” against his political opponents
  • Not by refusing to accept the results of elections he’s lost
  • Not by promising to be a dictator on day one of his second term
  • Not by saying things like: “These are the stakes of this election. Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

Trump is winning primaries while underperforming. Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Obama and current host of “Pod Save America,” writes: “You cannot win the White House with the coalition that Trump is getting in these primaries. He must expand his coalition, persuade people who aren’t already on board and get beyond the Big Lie-believing MAGA base. Through three primary contests, Trump has gained no ground.”

djt maga hatPolls also indicate a majority of voters in swing states would be unwilling to vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a crime. That could happen as soon as April or May.

As Axios writes: “If America were dominated by old, white, election-denying Christians who didn’t go to college, former President Trump would win the general election in as big of a landslide as his sweep of the first four GOP contests.” Fortunately, it is not. America is a rich tapestry of heritages, races, and creeds. Immigrants have long been one of our strengths.

But the likely GOP nominee continues to feed fears about immigration using language tailored to his MAGA base. “They’re coming from Asia, they’re coming from the Middle East, coming from all over the world, coming from Africa, and we’re not going to stand for it ... They’re destroying our country,” Trump said Saturday at CPAC, a conference of extreme-right Trump supporters.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos“No, Mr. Trump, they’re not,” is the answer of many Americans. There is strong public opinion that what is tearing our country apart is the divisiveness and rancor that comes from Trump, the Republican Party, and their right-wing media machine.

The mainstream press may begin to offer more of this context and perspective as we get deeper into the presidential campaign. One of the things Steady was created to do was offer reasoned context and perspective to news stories. This writing is an example.

Trump remains a real and present threat to win the presidency again in November. But that is not assured. Not nearly, as a deep analysis of early primary results indicates.

There is still a long way to go and many rivers to cross for both major candidates.

 

djt nikki haley Custom 2

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Why Trump’s South Carolina win is significant, and other primary takeaways, Aaron Blake, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Nikki Haley aaron blakehas insisted she’ll stay in the race through Super Tuesday, March 5, but the results in her home state only reinforced her lack of a path to victory.

The result was not surprising, but it was significant. For example:

trump 2024Trump was already the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s now added Nevada and South Carolina. Since those two states began having early nominating contests in 2008, he’s the only non-incumbent from either party to sweep them. (Trump won three of four in 2016, as did Barack Obama in 2008.)

Losing your home state is rare for a major candidate who remains in the race: Think Elizabeth Warren in 2020 (finishing third in Massachusetts, 12 points behind now-President Biden) and Marco Rubio in 2016 (losing Florida to Trump by 19 points). Haley’s margin of defeat looks as though it will exceed both of them. Only relatively minor candidates such as Ron Paul (2008), Dennis Kucinich (2004), Alan Keyes (2000) and Pat Robertson (1988) lost their home states by more than it looks like Haley will, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted four years ago.

South Carolina might have been Haley’s second-best shot at victory in any state. New Hampshire featured an inordinate number of independent and moderate voters — whom Haley does well with — and South Carolina had the home-state connection. But even though 8 in 10 South Carolina Republicans liked Haley during her two terms as governor, a Fox News/AP/NORC voter analysis showed nearly half of voters Saturday disliked her. And if voters in her home state don’t even like her much, the odds are voters elsewhere won’t.

It’s not likely to get better from here. Tuesday is the primary in Michigan, where Haley has trailed by even more than she lost each of the four early states. And ahead of a dozen states voting on Super Tuesday, her deficit nationally is north of 60 points.

wayne madesen report logo

Wayne Madsen Report, Commentary: Trump's name will be treated by future historians in the same manner as Quisling and Vichy France's Marshal wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallPetain, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 22, 2024. Vladimir Putin's regime has stuffed money in the pockets of politicians, flooded social media on behalf of pro-Kremlin political parties, and provided a steady stream of propaganda support on satellite news channels.

mike johnson oThe Putinista wing of the GOP, which includes Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson, right, and their acolytes, has stymied U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in failing to agree on spending measures. Opinion polls have pointed to the dominant pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party believing that Putin would make a better president of the United States than Joe Biden. Those numbers strongly suggest that Putin's influence operation targeting the United States has been extremely successful.

Russia has actively sought to interfere with democracies by mostly supporting fascist and xenophobic parties in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and other nations. Russian fascism, known as Ruscism, has infected the platforms ofparties ranging from the U.S. Republicans to the Conservative Parties of Britain and Canada. The symbol for Ruscism, the letter "Z," is as ever-present in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Serbia, Transnistria, and other countries as the Nazi swastika was in occupied Europe during the Second World War.

djt maga hatPutin, having had invested so much in Trump, is banking on his re-election. Trump and his allies are not very different from the Nazi puppet rulers installed in power by Adolf Hitler in countries occupied by German forces during World War II. The name Trump, as far as future historians will likely be concerned, will be positioned in the same ranks as Norway's Vidkun Quisling, France's Marshal Philippe Petain, Belgium's Leon Degrelle, and other treasonous collaborators.

Meida Touch Network, Commentary: Judge Engoron Denies Trump's Attempt To Stay $350+ Million Judgment, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 22, 2024. That was quick! Despite Donald Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the $350+ million civil fraud judgment, Judge Arthur Engoron has denied Trump's request in a short email to his attorney Clifford Robert.

The email notes that Trump failed to justify any basis for a stay of the judgment and asserted that the appellate courts will protect any rights Trump has. This email comes just hours after the New York Attorney General's Office slammed Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the judgment.

Trump will now be forced to seek review of the judgment from the appellate courts in New York.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump faces a cash crunch as time runs out to post half a billion dollars in bonds, Jonathan O'Connell, Shayna Jacobs and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Former president Donald Trump is contending with the results of two legal battles that have thrust his business empire into greater uncertainty than it has seen in decades.

Hours after a New York judge ordered Donald Trump to pay a $355 million penalty for submitting false data to financial institutions, the former president railed against the decision during a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago Club with some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors.

Trump claimed at that Feb. 16 gathering that the judge in the civil fraud case had made history by ordering him to pay such a staggering sum, according to two people who were there. He suggested that the judgment was so severe that the public would consider it unfair and rally in support. Over and over, he returned to the penalty, livid at its size.

The episode offered a glimpse of Trump’s preoccupation with a legal decision that threatens his wealth and has thrust his business empire into greater uncertainty than perhaps any time since the 1990s, when his Atlantic City casinos fell into extreme debt, leading six of his companies to file for bankruptcy.

Trump, who built his business and political identities around boasts of financial savvy, now faces an immediate cash crunch of more than a half-billion dollars — the combined cost of two legal battles that will now test the limits of his personal wealth.

According to state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron’s final judgment, entered Friday, Trump now owes New York at least $454 million — the $355 million penalty plus interest, which is now accruing at a rate of $112,000 per day. Separately, he faces an $83.3 million judgment in a federal defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Dim or disloyal? Republicans again ensnared in possible Russian plot, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 25, 2024. Are Republicans jennifer rubin new headshoteasy marks or willing participants in Russian anti-Biden operations? That’s a troubling question raised by the Feb. 14 grand jury indictment of a former FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, on charges of concocting a tale about President Biden’s supposed involvement in his family members’ business dealings.

Allegations by Smirnov — who appears to have ties to Russian intelligence, according to the federal indictment — have formed the backbone of the House Republicans’ laughable attempt to build an impeachment case against the president. They championed him as their star witness. Now the Republicans’ fact-deficient storyline has been shredded.

The Post reported that Smirnov, who has not entered a plea yet, is accused of “making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record” by trying to implicate Biden in corruption related to his son Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukraine energy company Burisma. “The charges,” the article said, “amount to a stark rebuke of conservatives, particularly Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, who touted Smirnov’s claims as he and other Republican lawmakers tried to build a corruption case against the president and his family.”

Even more damning, The Post subsequently reported that “Smirnov’s indictment and detention memo suggest the allegations were not only false, but possibly a Russian-inspired smear.”

In the aftermath of the indictment, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) declared, “Smirnov was the foundation of the whole thing. He was the one who came forward to say that Burisma had given Joe Biden $5 million, and that was just concocted in thin air. It was that foundation that the whole house of cards has been built on, and the entire thing has collapsed.”

Politico, Koch network stops spending on Nikki Haley's presidential campaign, Natalie Allison, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Americans for Prosperity Action said it had to “take stock” after Haley’s loss in South Carolina.

politico CustomAmericans For Prosperity Action, the powerful conservative group supporting Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary, will no longer spend money on behalf of her campaign.

In an email to staff obtained by POLITICO, Americans For Prosperity CEO Emily Seidel said Sunday that the group’s political arm, AFP Action, had to “take stock” of its spending priorities after Haley’s loss in the South Carolina primary. The Koch-aligned group, Seidel said, will now focus its efforts on competitive Senate and House races.

trump 2024“She has made it clear that she will continue to fight and we wholeheartedly support her in this effort,” Seidel wrote of Haley. “But given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory.”

AFP Action’s decision is the latest blow to Haley’s longshot presidential bid, which has sustained losses in four early nominating states and the Virgin Islands, including on Saturday, when former President Donald Trump beat Haley in her home state by 20 points. Haley declared she will continue on in her primary fight, but has only committed to running through Super Tuesday on March 5.

AFP Action had funded advertisements and field operations for months last year that were designed to persuade Republican voters to back someone other than Trump in the presidential primary. But it wasn’t until late November that AFP Action tapped Haley as its desired Trump alternative. Since then, AFP has reached out to more than 3 million voters in early nominating and Super Tuesday states, as well as purchased millions of dollars worth of ads on Haley’s behalf.

Unlike the Club for Growth — another conservative group whose political action committee funded anti-Trump ads last year before making peace with Trump — AFP is sticking by its position that Trump on the ballot will make it harder for the GOP to win in November.

“If Donald Trump is at the top of the Republican ticket, the risk of one-party rule by a Democratic Party captured by the Progressive Left is severe and would do irreparable damage to the country,” Seidel wrote Sunday. “The last three election cycles have painted a very clear picture of what we can expect from voters who consistently rejected Donald Trump and his impact on the Republican party brand.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Defeats Haley in South Carolina, a Crushing Blow in Her Home State, Michael Gold, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). The former president is barreling toward the Republican nomination with a sweep of early states, now including the one Nikki Haley had hoped would boost her.

Former President Donald J. Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, delivering a crushing blow in her home state and casting grave doubt on her long-term viability.

Mr. Trump’s victory, called by The Associated Press, was widely expected, and offers fresh fodder for his contention that the race is effectively over. Ms. Haley pledged to continue her campaign, but the former president has swept the early states and is barreling toward the nomination even as a majority of delegates have yet to be awarded.

“This was a little sooner than we anticipated,” he said in Columbia, S.C., minutes after the race was called, adding that he had “never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.”

Throughout his victory speech, Mr. Trump made it clear that he was eager to turn his attention to the general election, at one point telling the crowd: “I just wish we could do it quicker. Nine months is a long time.”

south carolina map

He also did not mention Ms. Haley by name, alluding to her only twice: once to knock her for a disappointing finish in a Nevada primary contest with no practical value, and once for supporting an opponent of his in 2016.

In her election-night speech in Charleston, S.C., Ms. Haley congratulated Mr. Trump on his victory. But she said the results — he was beating her by 60 percent to 39 percent as of late Saturday — demonstrated that “huge numbers of voters” were “saying they want an alternative.”

Mr. Trump, however, won South Carolina in 2016 and has remained popular in the state since, with polls ahead of the primary consistently showing him with double-digit leads.

Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador during Mr. Trump’s administration, had hoped to buck the odds, but her loss at the hands of voters who are arguably the most familiar with her politics will fuel further uncertainty about her path forward.

During her speech, Ms. Haley sounded more serious and less upbeat than she had after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire. But she said she planned to stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5, arguing that Americans deserved a chance to choose a candidate.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” she told supporters. “They have the right to a real choice. Not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate.”

Ms. Haley has staked her campaign on drawing support from independents and more moderate Republicans, particularly in states where primaries are not restricted to voters registered with one party.

But that strategy fell short in New Hampshire last month — the early-voting state where she was closest to Mr. Trump in polls — and in South Carolina, raising questions about whether it will succeed in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, and any of the 16 states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 5.

Still, Ms. Haley has insisted she will stay in the race, arguing that she is providing an alternative for voters opposed to Mr. Trump and maintaining that Americans deserve a chance to choose a candidate.

So far, though, Republican voters have shown no sign of turning away from Mr. Trump, even as he faces 91 felony charges in four criminal cases. Mr. Trump’s legal problems have been at the forefront of his bid, as he tries to use the unprecedented collision between the campaign trail and courtrooms to rally his base behind him.

Mr. Trump’s first criminal trial, on charges connected to a hush-money payment to a porn star in 2016, is scheduled to start on March 25 in New York City, meaning his trial could overlap with dozens of Republican primaries and caucuses.

Whether Ms. Haley will remain in the race by then is an open question. Donors have so far continued to pour money into her bid, giving her the cash to keep going. She will travel to Michigan on Sunday and has planned stops in a number of states before the Super Tuesday contests, when 36 percent of Republican delegates will be up for grabs.

ny times logoNew York Times, At CPAC, Trump Invokes Clashing Visions of America’s Future, Jonathan Swan and Michael C. Bender, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). Trump used his speech to focus on a general-election contest between him and President Biden, not once mentioning his main Republican rival, Nikki Haley.

Former President Donald J. Trump laid out what’s in store for America should he or President Biden win the 2024 presidential election, using a Saturday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to cast one nearly utopian vision of the country’s future and one reminiscent of a postapocalyptic movie.

If Mr. Biden is re-elected for a second four-year term, Mr. Trump warned in his speech, Medicare will “collapse.” Social Security will “collapse.” Health care in general will “collapse.” So, too, will public education. Millions of manufacturing jobs will be “choked off into extinction.” The U.S. economy will be “starved of energy” and there will be “constant blackouts.” The Islamist militant group Hamas will “terrorize our streets.” There will be a third world war and America will lose it. America itself will face “obliteration.”

On the other hand, Mr. Trump promised on Saturday that if he is elected America will be “richer and safer and stronger and prouder and more beautiful than ever before.” Crime in major cities? A thing of the past.

“Chicago could be solved in one day,” Mr. Trump said. “New York could be solved in a half a day there.”

It’s impossible to fact-check the future. But Mr. Trump’s speech at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland sounded familiar — like 2016 or 2020 all over again.

In his 2020 campaign, Mr. Trump warned that Mr. Biden would “confiscate your guns,” and “destroy your suburbs.” He predicted that the economy would sink into a depression worse than the 1930s Great Depression and that the “stock market will crash.” A Biden presidency, he predicted four years ago, “would mean that America’s seniors have no air conditioning during the summer, no heat during the winter and no electricity during peak hours.” And, he warned in July 2020, “you will have no more energy coming out of the great state of Texas, out of New Mexico, out of anywhere.”

Some of those past predictions are now checkable, and have turned out to be fictions. The stock market has hit record highs under the Biden administration. Guns haven’t been confiscated. Air conditioning is as good or bad as it ever was. And under Mr. Biden, the United States is producing more oil — not only more than it did under Mr. Trump but more than any country ever has.

Mr. Trump also left office with a long list of his own unfulfilled campaign promises, including completing the construction of a wall along the southwestern border. On Saturday, he pinned the blame for that failure on fellow Republicans in Congress — and on his own inexperience.

“Don’t forget, I had never done this stuff before,” he said, describing his border wall negotiations.

Still, Mr. Trump’s vision of the country delivered at CPAC on Saturday has the potential to connect powerfully to the fears and lives of millions of Americans.

When Mr. Trump said on Saturday that Mr. Biden had allowed “hordes of illegal aliens stampeding across our borders,” he was speaking to a voting public that trusts Mr. Trump significantly more to handle immigration. Under Mr. Biden, record numbers of undocumented migrants have crossed the southern border, straining local services and infuriating even Democratic mayors and governors, who have pleaded with the White House to take the problem more seriously. (Mr. Trump did not mention in his speech how he has all but killed a bipartisan effort to help solve the problem because he wanted to deprive Mr. Biden of a legislative victory in an election year.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Kristi Noem and Vivek Ramaswamy tied for first place in CPAC’s straw poll of who should be Donald Trump’s running mate, Michael C. Bender, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). Kristi Noem of South Dakota and the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy tied for the top choice to be former President Donald J. Trump’s running mate in a straw poll on Saturday at a prominent gathering of conservative activists.

The straw poll, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, was the first time in years that a question about whom Republicans should pick for vice president had overshadowed one about the presidential nominee in the survey of attendees.

  • New York Times, Donald Trump said his indictments and mug shot were helping him attract Black voters, Feb. 24, 2024.

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). After losing two civil trials, the former president must find a bonding company that will vouch for him — or his real estate empire is threatened.

Donald J. Trump is on the clock.

The $454 million judgment that a New York judge imposed on Mr. Trump in his civil fraud case took effect on Friday, placing the former president in a precarious position.

Now, he must either come up with the money quickly or persuade a company to post a bond on his behalf, essentially vouching for him to the court with an I.O.U.

The bond is likely to be his best bet: Mr. Trump, who also faces an $83.3 million judgment in an unrelated defamation case, does not have enough cash on hand to do it all himself, according to a recent New York Times analysis of his finances. If Mr. Trump can find a bond company willing to do a deal this big, it will require him to pay the firm a fee as high as 3 percent of the judgment and to pledge collateral.

The bond would prevent the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the civil fraud case against Mr. Trump, from collecting the $454 million while Mr. Trump’s appeal is heard. Without it, the attorney general, Letitia James, is entitled to collect at any moment.

Ms. James is expected to allow Mr. Trump up to 30 days, but if he fails to secure a bond by March 25, and an appeals court denies him extra time, he has a lot to lose. The attorney general’s office could seek to seize some of Mr. Trump’s properties in New York, perhaps even a crown jewel like Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.

“The attorney general is in the catbird seat and can make this a very unpleasant experience for Trump,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer who is a veteran New York business litigator and has secured many appeal bonds.

As Mr. Trump races to secure a bond, here is what we know about this perilous new phase.
Why does Trump owe $454 Million?

Ms. James took Mr. Trump to trial last year, accusing him of orchestrating a conspiracy to inflate his net worth to receive favorable loans. This month, the judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Mr. Trump had done so and meted out several punishments.

The most severe was a $355 million penalty — $454,156,783.05 as of Friday afternoon, thanks to interest that continues to accrue. The judge said the sum accounted for Mr. Trump’s ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

ny times logoNew York Times, A prominent Republican is seeking to shield the party from paying Donald Trump’s legal bills, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A veteran Republican National Committee member has initiated a long-shot effort to prevent Donald J. Trump from taking over the party committee before he has enough delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee in an effort to prevent the R.N.C. from paying his legal bills.

Henry Barbour, a committee member from Mississippi, has sponsored two resolutions, one that would require the committee to remain neutral in the primary and another that would assure it does not spend committee funds to assist Mr. Trump in his legal battles. The proposals, which would not be binding even if passed, come as Mr. Trump seeks to install new leadership in the organization, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, who has said she would be open to the committee paying his legal bills.

The resolutions, which were first reported by The Dispatch, have come under fire from the Trump campaign.

“The primary is over, and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser who is expected to move into a top role at the R.N.C. “Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen.”

The neutrality proposal is directly related to the primary: After the South Carolina primary, only four early states will have held contests. Mr. Trump has a fraction of the delegates he needs, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is still running, although she has yet to win a state.

The other resolution has been more in the forefront of some R.N.C. members’ minds: It seeks to bar the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees as he faces four criminal indictments and two enormous civil lawsuits.

It seeks to codify that “the Republican National Committee should focus its spending on political efforts associated with winning elections and make clear from this point forward that the RNC’s financial resources are to be used to assist candidates across the country winning elections” this year and that the committee “will not pay the legal bills of any of our candidates for any federal or state office, but will focus our spending on efforts directly related to the 2024 election.”

Mr. Barbour, in an interview, conceded that neither resolution was likely to pass, given Mr. Trump’s strength in the party, but he said that sending a message was important.

washington post logoWashington Post, Election 2024: Trump and allies plotting militarized mass deportations, detention camps, Isaac Arnsdorf, Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). As president, Trump sought to use military planes and bases for deportation. Now, he and his allies are talking about a new effort that current and former officials warn could be impractical and dangerous.

Faced with a surge of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 and 2019, Donald Trump’s White House discussed ways to more aggressively deploy the resources and the might of the U.S. military.
Cut through the 2024 election noise. Get The Campaign Moment newsletter.

Aides and officials spoke privately about detaining migrants on military bases and flying them out of the country on military planes — ideas that the Pentagon headed off. Throughout his presidency, Trump himself would frequently demand to send troops to the border and catch people crossing.

“He was obsessed with having the military involved,” said a former senior administration official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

That approach and unfinished business have taken on renewed significance and urgency as the country confronts another migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as Trump closes in on the Republican presidential nomination. The former president is making immigration a core campaign theme, promoting a proposal for an unprecedented deportation effort if he is returned to power.

 

donald trump money palmer report Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: There Is Much More at Stake in Trump’s Manhattan Case Than Just Hush Money, Norman Eisen, Joshua Kolb and ICE logoBarbara McQuade, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). With Justice Juan Merchan’s proclamation last week that jury selection in the Manhattan prosecution of Donald Trump will begin on March 25, it is time for a reappraisal of the case. (More detail below.)

The charges brought by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, have been overshadowed by the three other criminal prosecutions of Mr. Trump, but the 34 felony counts constitute a strong case of election interference and fraud in the place where Mr. Trump lived and conducted business for decades.

Mr. Bragg will face tough challenges ahead, fueled by lingering skepticism that critics have harbored about the strength of the evidence and whether Mr. Trump has been unfairly targeted.

But we think he can overcome those hurdles and, by seeking to secure a conviction, reinforce the principle that in Manhattan — as across the country — playing by the rules is critical to the integrity of both our businesses and our democracy.

To understand why this case matters, think about a precedent, an earlier episode of an election-related felony and its cover-up. That was the Watergate scandal, which hung over Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972. Voters did not have the information then to make an informed decision about Mr. Nixon, partly because the criminal investigation and trials of “the plumbers” had not concluded before the election and the majority of the evidence remained concealed. Because the investigation was unresolved, Mr. Nixon’s nefarious conduct worked; he was in the White House when the full revelations came out later, to devastating effect.

The salaciousness of the details in Mr. Trump’s case obscures what it is actually about: making covert payments to avoid losing an election and then further concealing it. Indeed, that is how Mr. Bragg has described the case, that it is “about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Clash: U.S. Culture Wars Meets Public Health

alabama capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos, Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

 

 

alabama locator mapLetters from an American, Commentary: February 22, 2024 (Alabama Supreme Court), Heather Cox Richardson, right, Feb. 23, 2023. The Alabama Supreme heather cox richardsonCourt on February 16, 2024, decided that cells awaiting implantation for in vitro fertilization are children and that the accidental destruction of such an embryo falls under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In an opinion concurring with the ruling, Chief Justice Tom Parker declared that the people of Alabama have adopted the “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” and said that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Payton Armstrong of media watchdog Media Matters for America reported today that on the same day the Alabama decision came down, an interview Parker did on the program of a self-proclaimed “prophet” and Q-Anon conspiracy theorist appeared. In it, Parker claimed that “God created government” and called it “heartbreaking” that “we have let it go into the possession of others.”

Parker referred to the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a theory that appeared in 1975, which claims that Christians must take over the “seven mountains” of U.S. life: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business…and government. He told his interviewer that “we’ve abandoned those Seven Mountains and they’ve been occupied by the other side.” God “is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now,” he said.

While Republicans are split on the decision about embryos after a number of hospitals have ended their popular IVF programs out of fear of prosecution, others, like Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley agreed that “embryos, to me, are babies.”

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) identifies himself as a Christian, has argued that the United States is a Christian nation, and has called for “biblically sanctioned government.” At a retreat of Republican leaders this weekend, as the country is grappling with both the need to support Ukraine and the need to fund the government, he tried to rally the attendees with what some called a “sermon” arguing that the Republican Party needed to save the country from its lack of morality.

As Charles Blow of the New York Times put it: “If you don’t think this country is sliding toward theocracy, you’re not paying attention.”

In the United States, theocracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama embryo ruling may have devastating effects on cancer patients, Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 25, 2024. A cancer diagnosis often comes with a host of difficult decisions, including what to do about the impact of treatment on a person’s fertility. Many individuals grappling with this dual burden turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a way to preserve their reproductive options.

alabama state mapThat’s why cancer patients and oncologists are expressing shock and anxiety about the recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos are considered children under the law.

The ruling is already having a chilling effect on IVF clinics in the state. Worries are mounting that other states could adopt similar rulings that would impede fertility medicine for people, including many cancer patients, who say assisted reproductive technology might be their only way of having a family after treatments.

“We’re leaving a lot of young men and women to deal with the long-lasting effects of the cancer treatments, and some of those effects could be infertility and premature menopause,” said Deanna Gerber, a gynecologic oncologist at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center who is a triple-negative breast cancer survivor.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama justice who quoted Bible in IVF case often invokes religion, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). In the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said frozen embryos are people, Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a concurring opinion that sought to define the “sanctity of unborn life,” citing heavily from scripture and theology. His opinion, which drew criticism from abortion rights activists for instilling religious beliefs into a judicial decision, was the latest in nearly 20 years on the bench in which he has repeatedly invoked religion on his way to laying the groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade.

tom parker mickey welsh advertiser reutersParker, shown at right in a photo by Mickey Welsh via the Advertiser and Reuters,  has also openly criticized other judges for not sufficiently considering religion in their rulings and has expressed support for the theory known as the Seven Mountain Mandate, which calls for conservative Christians to run the government and broadly influence American life.

Parker, 72, was first elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004 and won the chief justice’s seat in 2018. His term ends in 2025; state law prohibits judges older than 70 from being elected. Parker has for years been lauded by abortion foes and condemned by reproductive rights advocates for writing opinions that would help spawn the fall of Roe and further restrict abortion access.

ny times logoNew York Times, Abortion Shield Laws Pit U.S. States Against One Another, Pam Belluck, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Doctors in six states where abortion is legal are using new laws to send abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

Behind an unmarked door in a boxy brick building outside Boston, a quiet rebellion is taking place. Here, in a 7-by-12-foot room, abortion is being made available to thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

The patients do not have to travel here to terminate their pregnancies, and they do not have to wait weeks to receive abortion medication from overseas.

Instead, they are obtaining abortion pills prescribed by licensed Massachusetts providers, packaged in the little room and mailed from a nearby post office, arriving days later in Texas, Missouri and other states where abortion is largely outlawed.

This service and others like it are operating under novel laws enacted in a half-dozen states — Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California — that have sought to preserve abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in June 2022. The laws have been in use only since the summer and have not been tested in the courts, but they are already providing abortion access to tens of thousands of women in states with bans, especially low-income patients and others who cannot travel.

Called telemedicine abortion shield laws, they promise to protect doctors, nurse practitioners and midwives licensed in those six states who prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in the nearly two dozen states that ban or sharply restrict abortion.

The laws stipulate that officials and agencies of their states will not cooperate with another state’s efforts to investigate or penalize such providers — a stark departure from typical interstate practices of extraditing, honoring subpoenas and sharing information, legal experts on both sides of the abortion issue say. Many expect them to ultimately be challenged in federal court.

Abortion opponents see the laws as brazen infringement on state sovereignty.

“You have states not just picking their own strategy but really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life, said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

Related Recent HeadlinesWashington Post, RFK Jr. says he didn’t read Alabama IVF ruling, won’t say when life begins

 

GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

 

 

Impeachment Probe of President Biden, Son Hunter Biden

hunter biden nbc beardLetters from an American, Commentary: Feb. 21 (Biden Probes), Heather Cox Richardson, right, American academic historian at Boston College heather cox richardsonand author of seven books, most recently, Democracy Awakening, which relates how history can teach us about ourselves, and how can it serve as a roadmap for the future of American democracy), Feb. 22, 2024.

The centerpiece of Republicans’ case for impeaching Democratic president Joe Biden is the allegation that he and his son Hunter, above, each accepted a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma when Biden Sr. was vice president. But in the last week, that accusation has revealed quite a different problem, one that implicates Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: The Biden impeachment inquiry has utterly collapsed, Editorial Board, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Until this month, House Republicans referred to information provided by a “highly credible” FBI informant as the core of their case to impeach President Biden. This week, they quietly deleted any mention of that source from official documents. This one small move speaks volumes about an ill-founded GOP crusade that seems finally to be reaching an embarrassing denouement.

david weiss o 2018Special counsel David Weiss, left  — the man in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal case against Hunter Biden — last week filed charges against Alexander Smirnov. The 43-year-old U.S.-Israeli citizen, prosecutors say, lied to federal investigators about the Biden family’s business dealings. These lies, crucially, included claims that the president and his son each sought $5 million bribes from Ukrainian energy company Burisma when Mr. Biden was vice president, in exchange for protecting the firm from scrutiny by Ukraine’s national authorities. Now, Mr. Smirnov has also disclosed that “officials associated with Russian intelligence” fed him his information.

Justice Department log circularOf course, there’s reason for skepticism about that latest explosive allegation from this supplier of apparently bogus bombshells. The memo released on Tuesday portrays Mr. Smirnov as a con man hawking “an amalgam of otherwise unremarkable business meetings and contacts,” none of which occurred during the time period he purported, as proof of corruption. He apparently lied about his wealth, his profession and more. Prosecutors even refer to “new lies” Mr. Smirnov is “actively peddling … that could impact U.S. elections,” involving suggestions that Moscow “may use as ‘kompromat’ ” information taken from intercepted phone calls of Hunter Biden in a foreign hotel.

Might Mr. Smirnov also be lying about Russian officials providing him with dirt on the president? Absolutely. But that is the point. Either Mr. Smirnov is an asset in a current Kremlin plot to spread disinformation about the president, an eerie echo of 2016’s election interference, or he is dissembling about that, too. Either way, congressional Republicans have staked their impeachment inquiry on the words of a fabulist.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: How a Bill Barr ‘assignment’ led to a Biden impeachment effort based on a lie, Glenn Kessler, right, Feb. 23, glenn kessler2024. The indictment of Alexander Smirnov, a trusted FBI confidential source, on charges of lying about an alleged Ukrainian bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son Hunter is a new twist in a saga that has its roots in a project launched by then-Attorney General William P. Barr soon after President Donald Trump was impeached for the first time.

Trump was impeached Dec. 18, 2019, charged with pressuring the Ukrainian government to turn up dirt on Biden, potentially his most formidable rival in 2020. Sixteen days later, on Jan. 3, 2020, Barr tasked Brady, a U.S. attorney in Western Pennsylvania, rudy giuliani wwith vetting material regarding Biden and Ukraine — some of it supplied by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — for possible distribution to prosecutors who could use a grand jury to investigate further.

To some extent, this story mirrors that of the “Steele dossier,” a string of unverified and derogatory pieces of information on Trump collected during the 2016 election by a confidential source trusted by the FBI, Christopher Steele, on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Steele’s reports, leaked to the media, created a firestorm of speculation by Democrats about Trump’s ties to Russia — even though much of it turned out to be false. (Steele has said he stands by his work.)

Justice Department log circularIn the same vein, the Smirnov tale has its roots in a Republican effort to target Biden. His story didn’t gain much traction among investigators in 2020 but emerged in 2023 and was immediately embraced as true by many GOP lawmakers. A detailed review of information contained in the indictment, Brady’s testimony before congressional investigators, public statements and other documents shows that — absent Barr’s creation of a Biden task force — Smirnov’s allegations probably never would have appeared in the FBI document that led to his indictment and to the possible collapse of the Republicans’ impeachment case with Smirnov as its star.

Here is a timeline of the years-long events ending in Smirnov’s arrest.

 

Drug-Related Gun and Tax Charges Against Hunter Biden

 

hunter biden beard

 Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden To Appear At Closed Door Deposition Today, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 28, 2024. This comes after an embarrassing week for House Republicans. 

mtn meidas touch networkPresident Biden's son, Hunter Biden, will appear at a closed door deposition later today in front of the House Oversight Committee. Biden is expected to testify about his alleged business dealings overseas, along with any connection with his business dealings and the President. This testimony is being taken to further the Republican Party's impeachment inquiry into President Biden.

The only problem for House Republicans is that their inquiry has already fallen apart in advance of this closed-door deposition. During the past week, the Republican Party's star witness, Alexander Smirnov, was arrested and charged by Special Counsel David Weiss for lying to investigators about the nature and veracity of many of the claims that House Republicans are using to try to impeach the President. Special Counsel Weiss is the same special counsel who also charged Hunter Biden in an unrelated tax crimes case.

Specifically, prosecutors revealed that Smirnov had high level contacts with Russian officials who potentially used Smirnov as a conduit to spread lies about Hunter and Joe Biden in an attempt to influence American politics. Smirnov was the individual who pushed the story that Hunter Biden used his status as President Biden's son to peddle influence for foreign officials. Years later, Smirnov is now indicted for lying to law enforcement about that exact story. Currently, due to him being a flight risk, Smirnov is incarcerated pending trial in the Central District of California and faces the potential of decades in federal prison.

Following the closed door deposition, expect Republicans to come out and try to get ahead of the story by spinning Hunter Biden's testimony. Make no mistake, the impeachment inquiry has already failed, no matter how much they or the mainstream media try to say otherwise.

 

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant's psychiatrist).

Emptywheel, Analysis: Lesley Wolf Vindicated by Alexander Smirnov Indictment, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 26, 2024. You know who is marcy wheelervindicated by the Alexander Smirnov indictment? Lesley Wolf, who made an effort to prevent Trump's efforts to interfere in the investigation from tainting the investigation into Hunter Biden and then faced death threats because she did so.

In the wake of the Alexander Smirnov indictment, the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter stating their opinion that the release of Hunter Biden emails to the NY Post is consistent with a Russian information operation have claimed vindication. That has led to this problematic Justice Department log circularKen Dilanian report parroting David Weiss filings that deliberately obscured the evidence in the Hunter Biden case. And that, in turn, has led to a flood of people expressing opinions about the laptop turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac (Olivia Nuzzi, Reese Gorman) that exhibit no clue about how precarious that evidence is now.

In other words, that has renewed a debate consisting of misrepresenting the 51-spook letter, then misstating what the public evidence about the laptop shows.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden Attorneys Say Prosecution Confused Sawdust with Cocaine, Brett Meiselas, Feb. 20, 2024. His legal team says the prosecution still has not met their discovery obligations.

mtn meidas touch networkA new filing by Hunter Biden’s attorneys in their reply in support of Hunter’s motion to compel discovery and set discovery deadlines raises some very troubling lapses in the case brought by Special Counsel David Weiss.

The filing accuses the prosecution of sidestepping addressing actual disputes identified in the case, accusing them of instead focusing on tangential issues.

Stunningly, the filing reveals discrepancies in the interpretation of photographic evidence that further exacerbates doubts surrounding the prosecution's handling of the case. These misinterpretations not only cast doubt on the accuracy of the evidence presented but also raise questions about the overall integrity of the prosecution's investigative methods.

Specifically, Hunter Biden’s lawyers criticize the special counsel for their reliance in the indictment on a photo of a brown leather pouch they claimed belong to Hunter Biden and supposedly contained cocaine residue. Hunter’s attorneys reveal that what prosecution claimed to be cocaine was actually sawdust from an expert carpenter – and the photo was sent to Hunter Biden, not vice versa.

 

Problems With Special Prosecutors

Emptywheel, Analysis: Navel-Gazing: The Ethics Problem Caused by Merrick Garland's Brad Weinsheimer Solution, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 25, 2024. Merrick Garland's reliance on the career Associate Deputy Attorney General rather than a PADAG to oversee Special Counsel investigations seems to have created a kind of navel-gazing that only encourages ethical problems with the investigations.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Leo Wise Keeps Digging Through Difficulties Caused by a Dumb Prosecutorial Decision, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 26, 2024. Leo Wise keeps digging himself bigger holes, all of which stem from making rash prosecutorial decisions without considering the complexity of the case against Hunter Biden.

william barr resized donald trump

Emptywheel Opinion: Ken Vogel Covers Up Rudy Giuliani and His Alleged Russian Spies, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.).  In a story struggling to explain how Alexander Smirnov relates to the side channel Bill Barr, above left, set up to launder dirt from Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel covers up the role of Rudy and the alleged Russian spies from whom he solicited dirt on Hunter Biden.

Vogel wrote a story with Glenn Thrush that really struggled with basic details about the Hunter Biden investigation.

It’s not the struggle with basic facts about the Hunter Biden investigation that I find so remarkable, though. It’s the shamelessness by longtime Rudy Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel of his cover-up of Rudy’s role in all this.

Ken Vogel knows Rudy’s role in the side channel that led to the Smirnov claim as well as anybody. But his story about the side channel covered up Rudy’s role — two dozen mentions at one of his links and over a hundred at the other — and in the process covered up the Russian spies that necessitated the side channel.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant's psychiatrist).

 

Russia-Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin, Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). A C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases has been constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border.

ukraine flagFor more than a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine that is now critical for both countries in countering Russia.

CIA LogoNow entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks. It has transformed Ukraine, whose intelligence agencies were long seen as thoroughly compromised by Russia, into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today.

The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border. Before the war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepts that helped prove Russia’s involvement in the 2014 downing of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainians also helped the Americans go after the Russian operatives who meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drones and communications gear so that C.I.A. technicians could reverse-engineer them and crack Moscow’s encryption systems. (One officer in the unit was Kyrylo Budanov, now the general leading Ukraine’s military intelligence.)

And the C.I.A. also helped train a new generation of Ukrainian spies who operated inside Russia, across Europe, and in Cuba and other places where the Russians have a large presence.

The relationship is so ingrained that C.I.A. officers remained at a remote location in western Ukraine when the Biden administration evacuated U.S. personnel in the weeks before Russia invaded in February 2022. During the invasion, the officers relayed critical intelligence, including where Russia was planning strikes and which weapons systems they would use.

“Without them, there would have been no way for us to resist the Russians, or to beat them,” said Ivan Bakanov, who was then head of Ukraine’s domestic intelligence agency, the S.B.U.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia-Ukraine War: Senate Aide Investigated Over Unofficial Actions in Ukraine, Lara Jakes, Justin Scheck and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Kyle Parker said he delivered sniper gear as part of his unabashed support for Ukraine. Investigators said there may be “counterintelligence issues.”

A senior Capitol Hill staff member who is a longtime voice on Russia policy is under congressional investigation over his frequent trips to Ukraine’s war zones and providing what he said was $30,000 in sniper gear to its military, documents show.

The staff member, Kyle Parker, is the senior Senate adviser for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the Helsinki Commission. The commission is led by members of Congress and staffed by congressional aides. It is influential on matters of democracy and security and has been vocal in supporting Ukraine.

A confidential report by the commission’s director and general counsel, which The New York Times reviewed, said that the equipment transfer could make Mr. Parker an unregistered foreign agent. It said that Mr. Parker had traveled Ukraine’s front lines wearing camouflage and Ukrainian military insignia and had hired a Ukrainian official for a U.S. government fellowship over the objections of congressional ethics and security officials.

And it raised the possibility that he was “wittingly or unwittingly being targeted and exploited by a foreign intelligence service,” citing unspecified “counterintelligence issues” that should be referred to the F.B.I.

A representative for Mr. Parker said he had done nothing wrong. He said Mr. Parker was the target of a “campaign of retaliation” for making accusations of misconduct against the report’s authors.

ny times logo

New York Times, Volodymyr Zelensky said 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the war began, a toll that is far lower than U.S. estimates, Carlotta Gall and Constant Méheut, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The tally that President Volodymyr Zelensky revealed on Sunday differs sharply from that given by U.S. officials, who have said the number is closer to 70,000.

Some 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since Russia’s full-scale invasion began two years ago, President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Sunday, acknowledging for the first time in the war a concrete figure for Ukraine’s toll.

“This is a big loss for us,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. But he declined to disclose the number of wounded or missing, saying that Russia could use the information to gauge the number of Ukraine’s active forces.

Mr. Zelensky’s tally could not be independently verified. It differs sharply from estimates by U.S. officials, who, this past summer, put the losses much higher, saying that close to 70,000 Ukrainians had been killed and 100,000 to 120,000 had been wounded. Russia’s military casualties, the officials said, were about twice as high.

By revealing Ukraine’s losses, Mr. Zelensky said he wanted to counter Russian propaganda and other estimates that have placed Ukrainian casualties at a much higher level. He said Russia had wrongly claimed that Ukraine had lost 60,000 soldiers.

Mr. Zelensky’s unusual acknowledgment came as his country’s armed forces have been on the defensive, running low on manpower and ammunition along most of the 600-mile front line, with Russian troops pressing attacks in the east and south. A week ago, Moscow captured the city of Avdiivka, a Ukrainian stronghold in the east, and its troops have been slowly pushing westward in recent days, trying to build on their momentum in the area.

Ukraine’s top general, Oleksandr Syrsky, said he had ordered his troops to withdraw from Avdiivka to “preserve the lives and health of the soldiers,” which he described as the army’s “highest value.”

But soldiers on the ground said the retreat should have been ordered earlier since Ukrainian forces were outgunned by Russian artillery and Russian air superiority in the region.

World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic Commentary, Congress Must Act Now On Ukraine Defense!  Webster G. Tarpley, right, webster tarpley 2007historian, author, Feb. 24, 2024. After two years of Putin’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, and a week after his savage murder of opposition leader Navalny, Congress must reconvene at once to vote $60 billion for Kiev while Biden transfers $350 billion in sequestered assets to defense of Kiev! Webster G. Tarpley, right,historian, author, Feb. 24, 2024 (148:20 mins.).

Biden orders sanctions on 500 Russian targets after meeting with Navalny’s widow; Ukraine needs ATACMs ballistic missiles to destroy Kerch Strait bridge, F-16s and Patriot missiles for air defense, Abrams tanks, and limitless 155mm shells; Ukraine still winning on sea and in air;

Trump’s GOP emerges as abject annex of Kremlin, sabotaging NATO defense and peddling the lies of Alexander Smirnov, the accused Russian double agent who peddled lie that Joe Biden and son were bribed by Ukrainian company; MAGA Quisling candidate serves Putin by calling on Russia to attack NATO members who don’t spend 2% for defense;

Trump raves that NATO nations must pay their debts, but will the orange windbag pay his own? Trump must pay New York County $454 million plus $119,000 per day within 30 days or face the seizure of his Manhattan trophy properties, starting with 40 Broadway and Trump Tower; Deranged outbursts by Don are widely expected when expropriation is carried out;

Trump’s finances are already desperate as his campaign loses over 200,000 small-dollar donors; he has half the cash on hand held by Biden; Trump’s fines and fees to lawyers are draining GOP downballot, making momentum towards party extinction overwhelming;

NRA boss LaPierre found guilty of filching cash for personal luxury; Southern Baptists including MAGA Mike still plagued by scandal; Trump eyes takeover of Republican National Committee to drain cash for fines and attorneys at expense of downballot races;

Ezra Klein, Nate Silver, and Jon Stewart are Nervous Nellies who still fetishize polling, even after colossal failure of Wall Street’s ”Red Tsunami” brainwashing and gaslighting campaign of 2022; By contrast, Dem performance in actual elections grows more and more formidable;

Situation in Gaza is catastrophic but could still be much worse with nuclear weapons, mass expulsions into Transjordan and Sinai deserts, war with Hezbollah, and Gallant’s demand for Gaza to be hermetically sealed with no aid trucks whatsoever; Trump is merciless who could strip US Arabs of citizenship as in UK case of Shamima Begum and feed them into his planned apparatus of Gestapo raids, huge concentration camps, and largest mass deportations in world history; Tlaib’s self-destructive bid to abandon Biden in next week’s Michigan primary is cutting off your nose to spite your face for Michigan Arabs and should be scorned by all sane voters; Defeat of Biden would be greatest imaginable horror for all humanity!

Time to fire Zients, Garland, Wray, Hur, Weiss, and provide the security to keep Smirnov alive to testify!

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. imposes more than 500 new Russia sanctions after Navalny death, Jeff Stein, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). The Treasury Department on Friday announced an aggressive expansion of existing financial penalties.

joe biden flag profile uncredited palmerThe Biden administration announced Friday that it will hit Russia with hundreds of new sanctions after the death of dissident Alexei Navalny, aiming to constrict the billions of dollars in energy revenue that have financed President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.

Russian FlagThe United States will impose more than 500 new sanctions on Russian companies and individuals, according to a Treasury Department spokeswoman. The sanctions aim to hit Russian banks and suppliers of Russian industrial and munitions production.

The West’s sanctions on Russia, though billed as among the toughest ever, have thus far failed to deter Putin from carrying out the war in Ukraine, and the announcement of new measures may raise questions about why the United States had not previously targeted these firms. Despite the predictions of some analysts, Russia’s economy grew by more than 3 percent last year — faster than the United States — as Moscow spent extensively to support the war effort.

Navalny died last week in a remote Arctic prison colony, and his family and many supporters believe the opposition leader was murdered. President Biden met with his widow and daughter, Yulia and Daria Navalnaya, in San Francisco on Thursday and has said he believes Putin is responsible for the death.

“If Putin does not pay the price for his death and destruction, he will keep going. And the costs to the United States — along with our NATO Allies and partners in Europe and around the world — will rise,” Biden said in a statement. “These sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny’s imprisonment as well as Russia’s financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks and sanctions evaders across multiple continents. They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home.”

The attempt to tighten financial penalties comes at a perilous moment for Ukraine and its allies, with Republicans in Congress blocking Biden’s proposed foreign aid package amid opposition from former president Donald Trump. Kyiv and its Western allies have grown alarmed by the prospect that military and economic support from the United States could fall through entirely.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hard Lessons Make for Hard Choices 2 Years Into the War in Ukraine, Steven Erlanger and David E. Sanger, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). Western sanctions have not worked, weapons from allies are running low, and pressure may build on Kyiv to seek a settlement, even from a weakened position.

ukraine flagTwo years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has the capacity to keep Kyiv supplied with the weapons, technology and intelligence to fend off a takeover by Moscow. But Washington is now perceived around Europe to have lost its will.

The Europeans, in contrast, have the will — they just committed another $54 billion to reconstruct the country — but when it comes to repelling Russia’s revived offensive, they do not have the capacity.

That is the essence of the conundrum facing Ukraine and the NATO allies on the dismal second anniversary of the war. It is a stunning reversal. Only a year ago, many here predicted that Ukraine’s counteroffensive, bolstered by European tanks and missiles and American artillery and air defenses, could push the Russians back to where they were on Feb. 24, 2022.

Now, some harsh lessons have emerged. The sanctions that were supposed to bring Russia’s economy to its knees — “the ruble almost is immediately reduced to rubble,” President Biden declared in Warsaw in March 2022 — have lost their sting. The International Monetary Fund’s prediction that the Russian economy would shrink considerably was only briefly true; with the huge stimulus of military spending, it is growing faster than Germany’s. Income from oil exports is greater than it was before the invasion.

With the setbacks, and the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, hope has just about collapsed that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia will conclude anytime soon that he can make no further gains and should enter a serious negotiation to end the war.

ny times logoNew York Times, The War’s Cost Has Been Brutal, but Many Russians Feel Optimistic, Paul Sonne and Josh Holder, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). Two years into its invasion of Ukraine, Russia has suffered enormously by some metrics. But it is faring better than expected by others.

Two years of war have remade Russia.

Isolated from the West, it is now more dependent on China. Political repression is reminiscent of the grim days of the Soviet Union.

But Russia is not the economic shambles many in the West predicted when they imposed punishing sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine. Many Russians are pulling down their highest incomes in years.

Russian society has been refashioned in ways that have devastated some and lifted others. While government critics languish in jail and young men die in trenches at the front, other Russians — especially those willing to spout the official line — are feeling more optimistic than ever.

washington post logoWashington Post, RFK Jr. says he didn’t read Alabama IVF ruling, won’t say when life begins, Meryl Kornfield, Feb. 25, 2024. Kennedy, who was speaking at the California Libertarian convention this weekend, struggled to outline a clear policy plan on abortion access and reproductive rights.

A week after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that frozen embryos are people, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. would not say when he thinks life begins.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Kennedy said the Alabama decision on in vitro fertilization — which has caused some IVF clinics to pause services in the state — was a mistake “to the extent that it limited access to” the fertility procedure. He said he had not read the decision, although he later reviewed it and said he “wholeheartedly” rejects the ruling.

Kennedy did not say whether he would protect abortion access, arguing that while he believes women should “have the right to choose,” he thinks “there is a limitation on what the Constitution says.”

Asked what he would do to protect abortion access and reproductive rights if he were elected president, Kennedy said: “I don’t know, you tell me. What should I be doing?”

Kennedy, who left the Democratic Party his family once led to run as an independent, has struggled to outline a clear policy plan on abortion access and reproductive rights — an issue that has catapulted to the center of the 2024 election season.

At a time when Democrats have sought to galvanize their base around protecting reproductive rights, Kennedy’s answer reflects a difficulty he could face in appealing to his former party’s voters. Meanwhile, Republicans have scrambled to find unity over the issue that drove voters to opt for Democrats in the midterms and in more recent elections.

“Most Republicans I speak to are sick of this political theater,” he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Let’s get back to working for the needs of the American people.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Russian authorities turn over Navalny’s body to mother for burial, Robyn Dixon, Feb. 25, 2024. Russian authorities on Saturday handed the body of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to his mother after she struggled for a week to recover it, according to his political team.

Russian FlagDozens of Russian celebrities, artists, activists and journalists had recorded video appeals to President Vladimir Putin in recent days to hand over Navalny’s body to his family, and more than 98,000 Russians signed a petition organized by the legal rights group OVD-Info.

Russian authorities threaten to bury Navalny in prison colony, aide says

Earlier Saturday, Navalny’s daughter, Dasha Navalnaya, 23, also joined the campaign, posting on X, formerly Twitter, “Give my papa’s body to grandmother.”

Announcing the breakthrough, Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, said it was unclear whether authorities would interfere in the funeral arrangements.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

alexny navalny ap denis kaminev

 Alexei Navalny was President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent and a fierce critic of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Denis Kaminev photo via the Associated Press)

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. and Britain Carry Out Large-Scale Strikes on Houthi Targets in Yemen, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, Feb. 24, 2024. The strikes were aimed at degrading the capabilities of the Iranian-backed militants that have continued to attack ships in the Red Sea.

washington post logoWashington Post, War in Ukraine: What the Pentagon has learned from two years of war in Ukraine, Alex Horton, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). With hundreds of thousands dead or wounded and still no end in sight, the war has shown the Pentagon that its calculations must evolve.

As the general paced the briefing room, he displayed a piece of lethal technology and detailed the death and chaos it has caused in Ukraine.

Almost 90 Russian soldiers were slain in a single attack in 2022, explained Army Maj. Gen. Curtis Taylor, when Ukrainian forces dropped U.S.-provided rockets on buildings pulsing with electronic signals.

Here in the Mojave Desert, where Taylor oversees simulated war designed to prepare U.S. troops for the real thing, the same behavior abounds, he warned.

Taylor held up his cellphone. “This device,” he said, “is going to get our soldiers killed.”

The U.S. military is undertaking an expansive revision of its approach to war fighting, having largely abandoned the counterinsurgency playbook that was a hallmark of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to focus instead on preparing for an even larger conflict with more sophisticated adversaries such as Russia or China.

What’s transpired in Ukraine, where this week the war enters its third year with hundreds of thousands dead or wounded on both sides and still no end in sight, has made clear to the Pentagon that battlefield calculations have fundamentally changed in the years since it last deployed forces in large numbers. Precision weapons, fleets of drones and digital surveillance can reach far beyond the front lines, posing grave risk to personnel wherever they are.

The war remains an active and bountiful research opportunity for American military planners as they look to the future, officials say. A classified year-long study on the lessons learned from both sides of the bloody campaign will help inform the next National Defense Strategy, a sweeping document that aligns the Pentagon’s myriad priorities. The 20 officers who led the project examined five areas: ground maneuver, air power, information warfare, sustaining and growing forces and long range fire capability.

ny times logoNew York Times, Leaked Files Show the Secret World of China’s Hackers for Hire, Paul Mozur, Keith Bradsher, John Liu and Aaron Krolik, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). The country has increasingly turned to private companies in campaigns to hack foreign governments and control its domestic population.

The hackers offered a menu of services, at a variety of prices.

China FlagA local government in southwest China paid less than $15,000 for access to the private website of traffic police in Vietnam. Software that helped run disinformation campaigns and hack accounts on X cost $100,000. For $278,000 Chinese customers could get a trove of personal information behind social media accounts on platforms like Telegram and Facebook.

Relevant Recent Headlines

charles mcgonigle

 

More On Trump's Cases, Claims, Allies

 

arthur engoron djt

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). After losing two civil trials, the former president must find a bonding company that will vouch for him — or his real estate empire is threatened.

Donald J. Trump is on the clock.

The $454 million judgment that a New York judge imposed on Mr. Trump in his civil fraud case took effect on Friday, placing the former president in a precarious position.

Now, he must either come up with the money quickly or persuade a company to post a bond on his behalf, essentially vouching for him to the court with an I.O.U.

The bond is likely to be his best bet: Mr. Trump, who also faces an $83.3 million judgment in an unrelated defamation case, does not have enough cash on hand to do it all himself, according to a recent New York Times analysis of his finances. If Mr. Trump can find a bond company willing to do a deal this big, it will require him to pay the firm a fee as high as 3 percent of the judgment and to pledge collateral.

The bond would prevent the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the civil fraud case against Mr. Trump, from collecting the $454 million while Mr. Trump’s appeal is heard. Without it, the attorney general, Letitia James, is entitled to collect at any moment.

Ms. James is expected to allow Mr. Trump up to 30 days, but if he fails to secure a bond by March 25, and an appeals court denies him extra time, he has a lot to lose. The attorney general’s office could seek to seize some of Mr. Trump’s properties in New York, perhaps even a crown jewel like Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.

“The attorney general is in the catbird seat and can make this a very unpleasant experience for Trump,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer who is a veteran New York business litigator and has secured many appeal bonds.

As Mr. Trump races to secure a bond, here is what we know about this perilous new phase.
Why does Trump owe $454 Million?

Ms. James took Mr. Trump to trial last year, accusing him of orchestrating a conspiracy to inflate his net worth to receive favorable loans. This month, the judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Mr. Trump had done so and meted out several punishments.

The most severe was a $355 million penalty — $454,156,783.05 as of Friday afternoon, thanks to interest that continues to accrue. The judge said the sum accounted for Mr. Trump’s ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

ny times logoWashington Post, How Justice Engoron’s numbers add up for Trump’s penalty in the N.Y. fraud trial, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 25, 2024. Donald Trump this month was ordered by a New York Supreme Court justice to pay a penalty of $354,868,768, plus interest that continues to accrue, because the former president and his company were found to have used false financial statements that deceived banks and insurance companies.

ny times logoNew York Times, A prominent Republican is seeking to shield the party from paying Donald Trump’s legal bills, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A veteran Republican National Committee member has initiated a long-shot effort to prevent Donald J. Trump from taking over the party committee before he has enough delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee in an effort to prevent the R.N.C. from paying his legal bills.

Henry Barbour, a committee member from Mississippi, has sponsored two resolutions, one that would require the committee to remain neutral in the primary and another that would assure it does not spend committee funds to assist Mr. Trump in his legal battles. The proposals, which would not be binding even if passed, come as Mr. Trump seeks to install new leadership in the organization, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, who has said she would be open to the committee paying his legal bills.

The resolutions, which were first reported by The Dispatch, have come under fire from the Trump campaign.

“The primary is over, and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser who is expected to move into a top role at the R.N.C. “Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen.”

The neutrality proposal is directly related to the primary: After the South Carolina primary, only four early states will have held contests. Mr. Trump has a fraction of the delegates he needs, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is still running, although she has yet to win a state.

The other resolution has been more in the forefront of some R.N.C. members’ minds: It seeks to bar the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees as he faces four criminal indictments and two enormous civil lawsuits.

It seeks to codify that “the Republican National Committee should focus its spending on political efforts associated with winning elections and make clear from this point forward that the RNC’s financial resources are to be used to assist candidates across the country winning elections” this year and that the committee “will not pay the legal bills of any of our candidates for any federal or state office, but will focus our spending on efforts directly related to the 2024 election.”

Mr. Barbour, in an interview, conceded that neither resolution was likely to pass, given Mr. Trump’s strength in the party, but he said that sending a message was important.

djt as chosen onePolitico, Trump allies prepare to infuse ‘Christian nationalism’ in second administration, Alexander Ward and Heidi Przybyla, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, president of The Center for Renewing America, part of a conservative consortium preparing for Trump’s return to power.

politico CustomAn influential think tank close to Donald Trump is developing plans to infuse Christian nationalist ideas in his administration should the former president return to power, according to documents obtained by POLITICO.

Spearheading the effort is Russell Vought, who served as Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget during his first term and has trump 2024remained close to him. Vought, who is frequently cited as a potential chief of staff in a second Trump White House, is president of The Center for Renewing America think tank, a leading group in a conservative consortium preparing for a second Trump term.

Christian nationalists in America believe that the country was founded as a Christian nation and that Christian values should be prioritized throughout government and public life. As the country has become less religious and more diverse, Vought has embraced the idea that Christians are under assault and has spoken of policies he might pursue in response.

djt maga hatOne document drafted by CRA staff and fellows includes a list of top priorities for CRA in a second Trump term. “Christian nationalism” is one of the bullet points. Others include invoking the Insurrection Act on Day One to quash protests and refusing to spend authorized congressional funds on unwanted projects, a practice banned by lawmakers in the Nixon era.

CRA’s work fits into a broader effort by conservative, MAGA-leaning organizations to influence a future Trump White House. Two people familiar with the plans, who were granted anonymity to discuss internal matters, said that Vought hopes his proximity and regular contact with the former president — he and Trump speak at least once a month, according to one of the people — will elevate Christian nationalism as a focal point in a second Trump term.

The documents obtained by POLITICO do not outline specific Christian nationalist policies. But Vought has promoted a restrictionist immigration agenda, saying a person’s background doesn’t define who can enter the U.S., but rather, citing Biblical teachings, whether that person “accept[ed] Israel’s God, laws and understanding of history.”

Vought has a close affiliation with Christian nationalist William Wolfe, a former Trump administration official who has advocated for overturning same-sex marriage, ending abortion and reducing access to contraceptives. 

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Judge Engoron Denies Trump's Attempt To Stay $350+ Million Judgment, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 22, 2024.That was quick! Despite Donald Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the $350+ million civil fraud judgment, Judge Arthur Engoron has denied Trump's request in a short email to his attorney Clifford Robert.

The email notes that Trump failed to justify any basis for a stay of the judgment and asserted that the appellate courts will protect any rights Trump has. This email comes just hours after the New York Attorney General's Office slammed Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the judgment.

Trump will now be forced to seek review of the judgment from the appellate courts in New York.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-Trump aide Navarro faces contempt in White House email records fight, Spencer S. Hsu, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). A civil  proceeding brought by Justice Department is latest legal problem for former Trump trade adviser, who faces four-month prison sentence for criminal contempt of Congress’s Jan. 6 committee.

A federal judge Tuesday threatened to hold former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro in contempt of court for failing to return dozens if not hundreds of presidential records to the National Archives, giving him one month to turn over emails from his time in office that he has withheld despite court orders.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered Navarro to return the records last March after the Justice Department sued, saying President Donald Trump’s trade and manufacturing policy adviser used at least one nonofficial email account to do government business and failed to copy emails in an official account or respond to the archivist’s request for their return.

For months, however, Navarro’s defense has fought with prosecutors over whether roughly 600 emails constitute official or personal business, including some personal journal entries. In a six-page opinion Tuesday, Kollar-Kotelly said her review of a sampling of 50 emails and their attachments found that at least 24 percent and potentially up to 56 percent of the records did in fact assist in the discharge of presidential duties.

“It is clear that Defendant continues to possess Presidential records that have not been produced to their rightful owner, the United States,” Kollar-Kotelly wrote, adding that if he were an agency responding to a public records request, “an error rate of 25%, particularly when coupled with ‘intransigen[ce]’ by the producing party, is ‘unacceptably high’ and suggests that many documents have been improperly withheld.”

Kollar-Kotelly said it was unclear which category some records fell into. But, she added, “the mere fact that the material is a journal entry does not mean it is a personal record, particularly as the journal entries include work-related topics.” Likewise, many records related to the 2020 presidential election and its chaotic aftermath, but these were not automatically personal records because they could have a relation to or direct effect on the carrying out of presidential duties, the judge wrote. The legal question is what Navarro prepared the materials for and what he did with them.

The legal trouble is the latest facing Navarro, 74, who faces a four month-prison term for ignoring a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Navarro, who claimed credit for devising a plan to overturn the 2020 election and keep Trump in office, has appealed his conviction at trial last September before a different federal judge on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress.

Kollar-Kotelly gave Navarro until March 20 to review the 600 records and until March 21 to show why he should not face a contempt finding typically punishable by a fine, with a magistrate judge reviewing the records in his stead.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump lawyers seek delay in enforcement of $350 million fraud judgment, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). Donald Trump’s attorneys Wednesday requested a month-long delay in enforcement of a civil fraud judgment of more than $350 million against the former president, saying they had concerns with a proposal drafted by the state attorney general’s office.

In a flurry of filings, Clifford S. Robert, an attorney for Trump, argued that lawyers for the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James should have consulted with the defense on the drafting of the proposed judgment.

Robert asked for New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who issued the judgment, to give the defense a chance to file a proposed counter-judgment.

Engoron, in an email exchange with Robert, indicated there was “no need for a motion or conference on this” because the judgment the attorney general proposed mirrored the terms of his order.

The judge, however, invited Trump’s side to provide specific disagreements with the proposed document. Trump’s lawyers cited two items they said were incorrect and requested more time to evaluate the document and propose any other changes due to what they considered inaccuracies. It was not clear when Engoron would respond.

Engoron, who issued the 92-page civil fraud ruling on Friday, must sign off on the judgment, which would give Trump a month to file a notice of appeal. To begin the appeal process, Trump will have to either satisfy the judgment by paying it or post a bond.

A draft of the judgment filed by James’s trial attorneys on Tuesday has language that matches Engoron’s bench trial verdict decision. James’s proposed judgment also cites a statutory interest rate of 9 percent per year, which the attorney general has said adds about $100 million in prejudgment interest to Trump’s tab.

Robert argued that the attorney general rushed the process and that Trump’s side should have been included in discussions about it. He requested that, in the event that Engoron signs James’s proposed order, no action be taken for 30 days.

It was not immediately clear whether the 30 days requested would extend the time Trump will have by law to post a bond as he pursues his appeal.

Engoron’s ruling means Trump must cover the judgment by using a significant portion of his wealth, much of which is locked up in real estate and other investments. The judge also barred Trump and two of his sons from serving as officers or directors in any New York corporation. Trump is banned for three years while Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are prohibited from such roles for two years.

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Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

 

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

In Georgia, a Push to Disqualify the Main Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim. A judge in Atlanta hears evidence about the defense’s claim of a disqualifying conflict of interest among the main prosecutors, shown above.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Georgia Lawyers Surface Phone Records in Effort to Remove Prosecutors, Richard Fausset and Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). The lawyers presented an affidavit describing cellphone records they will likely use to try to prove the prosecutors lied about when they began a romantic relationship.

Lawyers representing former President Donald J. Trump are continuing to press their argument that the lead prosecutors in the Georgia election interference case are lying about when their romantic relationship began, surfacing phone records on Friday that they will likely use to try to undercut the prosecutors’ testimony.

georgia mapIn a court filing that Ms. Willis’s office challenged later in the day, Mr. Trump’s lawyers in Atlanta presented an affidavit describing phone records obtained through a subpoena that they said showed “just under 12,000” calls and text messages between Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, and Nathan Wade, the lawyer she hired to help oversee the case, in the first 11 months of 2021.

The affidavit from Charles Mittelstadt, an investigator hired by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, also described cellphone location data that the lawyers said showed Mr. Wade’s phone, on at least 35 occasions, being connected “for an extended period” to a cell tower near a condominium where Ms. Willis was living.

The investigator said the data suggested that on two occasions, Mr. Wade was in the vicinity of Ms. Willis’s residence from late at night until dawn. One of those occasions was on the night of Sept. 11, 2021.

Ms. Willis’s office responded with its own filing on Friday night, saying that the records “do not prove that Special Prosecutor Wade was ever at any particular location or address.” The response also said that the phone records showed only that Mr. Wade “was located somewhere within a densely populated, multiple-mile radius where various residences, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other businesses are located.”

The district attorney’s office included copies of some of Ms. Willis’s emails and calendars that it said refuted specific claims made by Mr. Trump’s legal team about her whereabouts.

There is no dispute that Mr. Wade and Ms. Willis were in contact in 2021. They are longtime friends, and after Ms. Willis was elected district attorney in 2020, she appointed Mr. Wade to a hiring committee to screen applicants for jobs in the district attorney’s office. She also consulted with Mr. Wade on a number of issues, including strategic questions about big cases, after taking office in January 2021.

His advisory role extended into the period covered by the cellphone data that Mr. Trump’s new motion cites, Jan. 1, 2021 to Nov. 30, 2021. At a hearing in the case last week, former Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia, an experienced trial lawyer, recalled that Ms. Willis and a team that included Mr. Wade met with him in October 2021 and asked if he wanted to take the job that Ms. Willis eventually gave to Mr. Wade.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Testimony in Atlanta, Fani Willis Receives Both Praise and Condemnation, Rick Rojas, Christian Boone and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon, Feb. 18, 2024 (print ed.). With her testimony, the Fulton Country district attorney earned plaudits for standing firm under pressure and drew doubts about her judgment.

 

Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024, at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

 Fani T. Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, testified in a hearing on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024,  at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta (Pool photo by Alyssa Pointer).

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Fani Willis turns the tables on her attackers, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 20, 2024. Fulton County, Ga., District Attorney Fani jennifer rubin new headshotWillis took the stand last week under attack from Michael Roman, former henchman 0f four-times-indicted former president Donald Trump, and many in the media and legal community.

At issue was whether her romantic relationship with a special counsel, Nathan Wade, was grounds for disqualifying her from the sprawling RICO case she brought against Trump and nearly 20 co-defendants (some of whom struck plea deals). What was legally at issue — the narrow grounds for disqualification — appeared to have very little to do with the soap opera that unfolded.

Under Georgia law, a prosecutor can be disqualified only when there is a conflict of interest that prejudices the defendant. Norman L. Eisen, Joyce Vance and Richard Painter explained:

Under Georgia law, “[t]here are two generally recognized grounds for disqualification of a prosecuting attorney. The first such ground is based on a conflict of interest, and the second ground has been described as ‘forensic misconduct.’” Williams v. State, 258 Ga. 305, 314, 369 S. E. 2d 232, 238 (1988). There is no allegation of “forensic misconduct” in this prosecution. A conflict of interest may arise when the prosecutor has “acquired a personal interest or stake in the defendant’s conviction.” Id. “[A] conflict of interest requires more than a theoretical or speculative conflict. An actual conflict of interest must be involved.”

Having a relationship with someone on your side creates no prejudice to the other side. “Georgia courts have resoundingly rejected romantic relationships between attorneys as a basis for prosecutorial disqualification,” the authors explained. The only grounds for disqualifying Willis would have been a financial conflict arising from Wade’s contract to provide legal services to her office. On that score, the “financial compensation paid to Wade is consistent with well-established practice in Georgia and does not give rise to a conflict of interest warranting prosecutorial disqualification.” That left only one basis for disqualification: Any gifts (e.g., travel) Willis received from Wade that incentivized her to prosecute the defendants.

However, there was no there there. Willis left no doubt that no man paid her way. “A man is not a plan, a man is a companion,” she declared. “I don’t need anyone to foot my bills. The only man who has ever footed my bills completely is my daddy.” She paid Wade back for her half of trips with cash. She explained why she always carried plenty of cash: “If you’re a woman and you go on a date with a man, you better have $200 so if that man acts up you can go where you want to go,” she said. No one contradicted her testimony.

The conventional wisdom (among a mostly male, mostly White media) pronounced that Willis had irretrievably damaged her case. During Thursday’s testimony, some journalists breathlessly predicted she was doomed when an aggrieved former employee claimed the relationship began before Wade was hired. (Far more credible witnesses subsequently debunked that testimony.) Even more cringeworthy: Mostly White commentators sounded incredulous that an African American woman would habitually carry cash. That spoke to the racial ignorance that too often results from non-diverse newsrooms.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee has yet to render a decision. However, there was widespread agreement among knowledgeable lawyers that the defendant had not come close to proving a conflict of interest, let alone one sufficient to justify recusal.

Politico, No ruling on bid to disqualify Georgia prosecutors after another day of odd testimony, Betsy Woodruff Swan, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Feb. 17, 2024. The judge said he would hear arguments on the evidence within the next two weeks.

politico CustomA dramatic two-day hearing about whether the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office should be blocked from prosecuting Donald Trump and his allies ended Friday without an immediate ruling from the judge.

Judge Scott McAfee said he and lawyers for both sides will reconvene at the end of next week or early the following week for arguments on the evidence that emerged during the session, which the judge called to evaluate the defendants’ bid to disqualify District Attorney Fani Willis.

georgia mapDisqualifying Willis would require the case to be assigned to a new prosecutor’s office, causing disruption and delays. Willis has charged Trump and numerous others with a racketeering conspiracy to subvert Georgia’s 2020 presidential results.

Lawyers for Trump and other defendants have accused Willis of a conflict of interest stemming from her romantic relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade, whom Willis hired to run the case. The defense lawyers say Wade used income from his work on the case to take Willis on lavish trips.

Willis and Wade have acknowledged the romantic relationship but have denied any wrongdoing. They both took the witness stand Thursday and sharply contested the notion of any conflict or impropriety.

Willis passed up a chance to return to the witness stand on Friday morning for additional questioning from lawyers from her office. Instead, the hearing continued with testimony from other witnesses, including former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who was called by prosecutors to demonstrate that Willis didn’t simply hand the special prosecutor job to Wade but offered it to other, more prominent lawyers first.

“She asked me if I’d be interested in being special prosecutor, to which I replied that I had mouths to feed at a law office and that I could not — I would not do that,” testified Barnes, a Democrat who served from 1999 to 2003.

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More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary:Judge Cannon Denies Trump Co-Defendant's Motion For Access To Classified Documents, Aaron Parnas, Feb. 28, 2024. A forthcoming CIPA order related to Trump will outline the reasoning in more detail.

mtn meidas touch networkLate last night, Judge Aileen Cannon denied a request by Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, the two co-defendants in the Trump Mar A Lago documents case, access to classified information that was produced by the Special Counsel in discovery. Previously, Nauta and De Oliveira asked Judge Cannon to grant them access to much of the classified information that is at issue in Trump's indictment, including the material that Trump allegedly willfully retained after leaving the White House. In response, the Special Counsel fought back arguing that the information was not relevant to Nauta's and De Oliveira's defenses. Judge Cannon agreed.

First, Judge Cannon noted that the Special Counsel carried its burden in demonstrating that the documents were extremely classified such that releasing them in discovery would be inappropriate. In addition, and most importantly, Judge Cannon determined that Nauta and De Oliveira do not need access to the documents as they would not be relevant to their defenses in the action. Unlike Donald Trump, who is charged with willfully retaining the classified documents, Nauta's and De Oliveira's charges deal more with the movement of the documents and obstruction at large.

 

rachel mitchell carolyn kaster ap

ny times logoNew York Times, Arizona Refuses to Send Murder Suspect to New York Over Bragg’s Policies, Chelsia Rose Marcius, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). The Maricopa County attorney in Arizona said she would fight to keep a man who authorities believe bludgeoned a woman to death in a New York City hotel.

On Feb. 8, a woman was found dead in a Manhattan hotel room, bludgeoned to death with an iron.

This week, the police announced that a 26-year-old man suspected of committing the crime had been arrested in Arizona, where he was accused of stabbing another woman a few days after the homicide in New York. A Manhattan prosecutor flew to Arizona to discuss bringing the man back to face charges.

djt maga hatIn most homicide cases across the country, it would be a routine extradition. But on Wednesday, an Arizona prosecutor refused, saying she did not believe Alvin L. Bragg, Manhattan’s district attorney, could be trusted to keep him behind bars.

Rachel Mitchell, the Maricopa County attorney (shown above in a file photo by Carolyn Kaster of the Associated Press), said at a news conference on Wednesday that her team would not work with Mr. Bragg, whose office is seeking to charge the man, Raad Almansoori, in the killing of 38-year-old Denisse Oleas-Arancibia.

“Having observed the treatment of violent criminals in the New York area by the Manhattan D.A. there, Alvin Bragg,” Ms. Mitchell told reporters, “I think it’s safer to keep him here and keep him in custody, so that he cannot be out doing this to individuals either in our state, county, or anywhere in the United States.”

With that statement, which a spokeswoman later tried to temper, a local New York City story was swept into a national debate over politics and crime, a cyclone fanned by Mr. Bragg’s prosecution of former President Donald J. Trump on charges that he orchestrated the cover-up of a hush-money payment to a porn star in an attempt to conceal her story of an affair before the 2016 election.

Both prosecutors have national profiles: Ms. Mitchell, a Republican, was tapped in 2018 to play a key role in the Senate confirmation hearings of one of Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. Mr. Bragg, a Democrat, has been a lightning rod for complaints by Mr. Trump and his supporters that he is being persecuted as he seeks another term in the White House.

Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg, called Ms. Mitchell’s statement a grave insult. “It is deeply disturbing that D.A. Mitchell is playing political games in a murder investigation,” Ms. Tuttle said in a statement. She also noted that killings and shootings had dropped since Mr. Bragg took office.

“New York’s murder rate is less than half that of Phoenix, Ariz., because of the hard work of the N.Y.P.D. and all of our law enforcement partners,” Ms. Tuttle said. “It is a slap in the face to them and to the victim in our case to refuse to allow us to seek justice and full accountability for a New Yorker’s death.”

After workers discovered the body of Ms. Oleas-Arancibia in a room at the SoHo 54 Hotel on Feb. 8, Mr. Almansoori flew to Arizona, New York police officials said on Wednesday. Nine days after Ms. Oleas-Arancibia’s body was discovered, Mr. Almansoori committed a carjacking in Phoenix, stabbing the woman who was driving, the police said. Then, on Feb. 18, Mr. Almansoori walked into a McDonald’s in Surprise, Ariz., dragged a woman into a bathroom and stabbed her several times, New York police officials said. Mr. Almansoori was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., while driving a stolen car.

washington post logoWashington Post, Okla. nonbinary teen died after school fight amid reported bullying, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). What is known with certainty in Owasso, Okla., is that a 16-year-old is dead.

Nex Benedict collapsed the day after an altercation in a girls’ bathroom at the public high school they attended, a school where relatives say the 10th-grader, who used they/them pronouns, had been bullied for being nonbinary.

Beyond that are the unknowns, as well as soul-searching, pain and recriminations.

“Whether Nex died as a direct result of injuries sustained in the brutal hate-motivated attack at school or not, Nex’s death is a result of being the target of physical and emotional harm because of who Nex was,” the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma declared Monday.

Owasso is a Tulsa suburb of about 40,000 in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma, a conservative state where LGBTQ+ issues are lightning rods of controversy.

Last year, Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed an executive order defining an individual’s sex as the “biological sex” at birth. Laws took effect requiring students to use bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth and restricting gender-affirming care for trans youths.

djt maga hatThis year, legislators already have proposed more than 50 anti-LGBTQ+ laws — more than any other state, according to the ACLU.

The man who heads public education in Oklahoma is also a vocal critic of LGBTQ+ rights. Superintendent Ryan Walters appointed Chaya Raichik — the conservative activist behind Libs of TikTok, which has targeted LGBTQ-friendly teachers at Owasso schools — to a state library advisory board.

“Our hearts go out to Nex’s family, classmates, and the Owasso community,” Stitt said in a statement Tuesday. “The death of any child in an Oklahoma school is a tragedy — and bullies must be held accountable.”
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It was a day of multiple statements. The one from the school district provided some background: The fight on Feb. 7 involved several students at the high school. It was broken up by other students and a staff member. All of those involved “walked under their own power to the assistant principal’s office and nurse’s office” and, per “district protocols,” were evaluated by the nurse.

Officials did not summon an ambulance or police, in keeping with those protocols, the statement said. However, it continued, “out of an abundance of caution, it was recommended to one parent that their student visit a medical facility for further examination.”

One of Nex’s cousins filled in details from there. Sue Benedict picked her grandchild up from school on that Wednesday and took Nex to a hospital for an MRI given the bad facial bruises and scratches she saw, Victoria “Tori” Broene recounted. Benedict, who had adopted Nex, contacted police to report what had happened at the high school, Broene said.

The next morning, Nex collapsed at home and Benedict rushed them back to the hospital.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Supreme Court Rejects Marjorie Taylor Greene Appeal Of Mask Mandate, Aaron Parnas, Feb 21, 2024. The attempt to invalidate the House mandate failed

mtn meidas touch networkThe Supreme Court has declined to consider an appeal brought by Marjorie Taylor Greene and other far-right House Republicans over a mask mandate implemented by Nancy Pelosi during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mandate implemented $500 fines for members who did not comply. Greene accounted for over $100,000 in total fines as a result of her refusal to wear a mask inside the House of Representatives during the pandemic. Greene and her colleagues later sued, trying to invalidate the mandate, and lost on appeal. After trying to get the Supreme Court to consider the issue, the Court declined to take the merits of the case. Importantly, not a single Justice sought to consider the issue.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Mike Lindell Suffers Another Major Loss In Court, Jordy Meiselas, Feb. 21, 2024. He will have to pay up after his claims of a stolen election were disproven

mtn meidas touch networkMike Lindell has suffered a major loss in federal court where a judge has confirmed an arbitration award, ordering Lindell to pay up over $5 million in damages.

The lawsuit arose out of claims made by a cybersecurity expert who responded to a challenge put forth by Lindell, which the pillow salesman called the "Prove Mike Wrong Challenge." The challenge called on people to disprove Lindell's claims that the 2020 election was stolen in order to win the financial reward.

Well, "Prove Mike Wrong" they did.

The expert, Robert Zeidman, provided Lindell with hard evidence demonstrating that his claims were demonstrably false. Later, Zeidman filed a claim against Lindell seeking the monetary amount promised given that he satisfied Lindell's challenge.

During arbitration, Lindell was ordered to pay $5 million to the cybersecurity expert as the panel found he satisfied the challenge's requirement. Lindell later moved the arbitration decision to federal court seeking to set aside the decision.

After review by the court, however, the decision will be enforced and Lindell will have to pay the $5 million judgment.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Special counsel asks Supreme Court to let Trump’s D.C. trial proceed, Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 15, 2024 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors respond to Donald Trump’s request to delay trial until after the election by seeking oral argument in March.

Special counsel Jack Smith asked the Supreme Court to clear the way for the prosecution of Donald Trump for his efforts to remain in office after losing the 2020 election, pushing back against the former president’s claim that he should be shielded from standing trial as he again seeks the White House.

In a filing Wednesday evening, Smith’s office urged the justices to let stand a unanimous ruling from a panel of the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that rejected Trump’s sweeping claims of immunity from prosecution for actions he took as president. The Supreme Court’s response will have a significant impact on whether and when Trump goes on trial in Washington, where the presiding judge has already postponed a planned March 4 start date.

Federal prosecutors told the justices that Trump’s “alleged criminal scheme to overturn an election and thwart the peaceful transfer of power to his successor should be the last place to recognize a novel form of absolute immunity from federal criminal law.”

Smith’s office requested an expedited schedule with oral argument in March if the court decides to review the matter, rather than leaving the appeals court ruling in place. Further delaying the trial, the filing said, threatens the public interest in a “speedy and fair verdict,” particularly in a case of unique national importance.

Without mentioning the 2024 presidential election, in which Trump is the leading Republican candidate, prosecutors pushed back on Trump’s claim that the rights of American voters require a delay in the criminal proceedings.

“To the contrary, the charges here involve applicant’s alleged efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters,” the office said.

As they weigh the competing requests, the justices must decide whether to wade into another unprecedented, high-stakes legal dispute involving Trump as he closes in on his party’s presidential nomination. Last week, justices from across the ideological spectrum seemed prepared to reject a challenge from Colorado voters to Trump’s eligibility to hold office again because of his conduct around the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
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The case at issue in the special counsel’s filing is Trump’s four-count indictment for allegedly conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 contest and obstructing the certification of the election.

U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, who is presiding over the trial, rejected Trump’s claim that he is immune from prosecution for actions within the “outer perimeter” of his official duties, unless first impeached and convicted by Congress. But she agreed to freeze pretrial proceedings while Trump appealed.

In December, the Supreme Court refused to go along with a request from Smith to short-circuit the usual appeals process and quickly consider Trump’s immunity claims. Smith said the request to leapfrog the D.C. Circuit was necessary because it is “an extraordinary case” that “only this Court can definitively resolve.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Justices Give Prosecutors a Week to Respond in Trump Immunity Case, Adam Liptak, Feb. 14, 2024 (print ed.). The schedule the Supreme Court set was not particularly speedy, though nothing prevents the special counsel from filing sooner than the court’s Feb. 20 deadline.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday gave Jack Smith, the special counsel prosecuting former President Donald J. Trump, a week to respond to Mr. Trump’s emergency application asking the justices to halt an appeals court’s ruling that rejected his claim that he is absolutely immune from criminal charges.

trump 2024In asking Mr. Smith to respond by Feb. 20 at 4 p.m., the justices did not set a particularly speedy schedule. The court often asks for quicker responses to emergency applications on what critics call its shadow docket. But nothing prevents Mr. Smith from filing sooner, and he probably will.

The proceedings against Mr. Trump in the trial court will remain frozen in the meantime. Unless the justices move quickly, the trial could be pushed into the heart of the 2024 campaign, or even past the election.

In asking the Supreme Court to intervene on Monday, Mr. Trump’s lawyers urged the justices to move at a deliberate pace.

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 Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump, outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 4, 2023 (Angela Weiss photo via AFP, Getty Imagesand TNS).

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump, outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 4, 2023 (Angela Weiss photo via AFP, Getty Images and TNS).

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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ny times logoNew York Times, Mayorkas Is Impeached in Second Attempt, Staff Reports, Feb. 14, 2024 (print ed.). G.O.P. Charges Homeland Security Chief Over Border Policies.The United States House of Representatives voted narrowly on Tuesday to impeach Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, in a precedent-shattering vote that charged him with willfully refusing to enforce border laws and breaching the public trust.

Alejandro MayorkasIn a 214-to-213 vote, Republicans barreled past the solid opposition of Democrats and reservations in their own ranks to make Mr. Mayorkas, right, the first sitting cabinet secretary in U.S. history to be impeached.It amounted to a partisan indictment of President Biden’s immigration policies by the G.O.P., which is seeking to use a surge in migration across the U.S. border with Mexico during his tenure as a political weapon against him and Democrats in this year’s elections.

Mr. Biden condemned the House’s vote in a statement on Tuesday night.

us dhs big eagle logo4“History will not look kindly on House Republicans for their blatant act of unconstitutional partisanship that has targeted an honorable public servant in order to play petty political games,” he said.

The vote came a week after the House rejected the charges against Mr. Mayorkas when Republicans, who control the House by a razor-thin margin, tried and failed to muster a majority to approve them. Tuesday’s action paved the way for a trial to remove him from office in the Democratic-controlled Senate, where he is almost certain to be acquitted in a trial that is expected to begin within weeks.

It put Mr. Mayorkas in the company of past presidents and administration officials who have been impeached on allegations of personal corruption and other wrongdoing.

republican elephant logoBut the charges against him broke with history by failing to identify any such offense, instead effectively declaring the policy choices Mr. Mayorkas has carried out a constitutional crime. The approach threatened to lower the bar for impeachments — which already has fallen in recent years — reducing what was once Congress’s most potent tool to remove despots from power to a weapon to be deployed in political fights.

Democrats, former secretaries of homeland security, the country’s largest police union and a chorus of constitutional law experts — including conservatives — have denounced the impeachment as a blatant attempt to resolve a policy dispute with a constitutional punishment. They said Republicans had presented no evidence that Mr. Mayorkas’s conduct rose to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.

washington post logoWashington Post, Murphy advises Democrats to lean into border security issues ahead of 2024 election, Maegan Vazquez and Liz Goodwin, chris murphy new officialFeb. 15, 2024 (print ed.). Sen. Chris Murphy (Conn.), right, the leading Democratic negotiator on the bipartisan border security bill, is advising fellow Democrats to go on the offensive when discussing border issues ahead of the 2024 election, saying in a new memo that he sees Tuesday’s Democratic victory in New York’s special election as “a roadmap for Democrats.”

According to a copy of the memo shared with The Washington Post, Murphy wrote to “interested Democrats” that Tom Suozzi’s recapturing of New York’s 3rd Congressional District was “due in part to his decision to go on offense on the border and attack his opponents’ opposition to the bipartisan border deal” and “is proof that the politics of the border are changing before our eyes.”

Murphy wrote that when Republicans in Congress opposed the border security bill, “prompted solely by Donald Trump’s desire to keep the border chaotic ahead of the 2024 election, the GOP … presented Democrats with a unique, unprecedented opening to go on the offensive(.)”

“Republicans can’t claim that the border is in crisis and then vote against the bipartisan bill, written by their own leadership, that would fix the problem. But their abandonment of the bill they requested presents Democrats with an opening to flip the narrative on the border … Democrats want to fix the problem. We have proof. Republicans want to exploit the problem to divide us. We have proof,” he continued.

The border issue, Murphy also underscored, is Democrats’ greatest area of exposure ahead of the November. Democrats, he said, can make messaging about a pathway to citizenship more popular by “framing it inside a message that prioritizes strong and fair border policies.”

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More On U.S. Election Deniers, Insurrectionists

ny times logoNew York Times, Man Who Made ‘Video Manifesto’ Charged for Role in Jan. 6 Riot, Christine Hauser, Feb. 16, 2024 (print ed.). “I have a feeling it’s going to be mayhem, chaos and pandemonium,” the man, Thomas J. Method, said in the video while traveling to Washington, D.C., according to prosecutors.

A Massachusetts man has been arrested and charged with participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, after investigators said he had recorded a video on his way there, predicting “mayhem, chaos and pandemonium” in order to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The man, Thomas J. Method, 57, of Framingham, Mass., has been charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, which is a felony, according to federal prosecutors. He also faces misdemeanor charges, including entering or remaining in a restricted area without authority and disorderly conduct, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Mr. Method was arrested on Wednesday in Framingham, the statement said. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer.

Investigators said Mr. Method’s words, texts, photographs and a video posted online led to the charges against him.

According to the criminal complaint and warrant, while traveling from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 5, he made a “video manifesto,” in which he said he hoped “the strength in numbers and this movement will get more senators on board, and we can overthrow this.”

“I don’t care what happens as long as Trump maintains his presidency,” Mr. Method said in the video, according to the document. “I have a feeling it’s going to be mayhem, chaos and pandemonium.”

During the investigation, the complaint said, Mr. Method’s cellphone and email usage was traced to locations around the Capitol, including inside the building. “I was there,” he later said, when asked by an investigator, according to the charging document.

More than 1,313 people have been charged from nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the mob attack on the Capitol in support of former President Donald J. Trump. More than 469 of them have been charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, a felony, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

More than 720 people have received sentences so far, and more than 450 of them were sentenced to periods of incarceration, ranging from a handful of days to more than 20 years.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, The Supreme Court arguments could fundamentally change how social media sites are policed, David McCabe, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Here’s what to know: Both Florida and Texas passed laws regulating how social media companies moderate speech online. The laws, if upheld, could fundamentally alter how the platforms police their sites.

Social media companies are bracing for Supreme Court arguments on Monday that could fundamentally alter the way they police their sites.

After Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barred President Donald J. Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, Florida made it illegal for technology companies to ban from their sites a candidate for office in the state. Texas later passed its own law prohibiting platforms from taking down political content.

Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to block the laws from taking effect. They argued that the companies have the right to make decisions about their own platforms under the First Amendment, much as a newspaper gets to decide what runs in its pages.
So what’s at stake?

The Supreme Court’s decision in those cases — Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton — is a big test of the power of social media companies, potentially reshaping millions of social media feeds by giving the government influence over how and what stays online.

“What’s at stake is whether they can be forced to carry content they don’t want to,” said Daphne Keller, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the tech groups’ challenge to the Texas and Florida laws. “And, maybe more to the point, whether the government can force them to carry content they don’t want to.”

If the Supreme Court says the Texas and Florida laws are constitutional and they take effect, some legal experts speculate that the companies could create versions of their feeds specifically for those states. Still, such a ruling could usher in similar laws in other states, and it is technically complicated to accurately restrict access to a website based on location.

ny times logoWashington Post, Opinion: The case of Clarence Thomas’s new clerk taints the entire judiciary, Ruth Marcus, right, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). The Crystal ruth marcus twitter CustomClanton episode is a stain on the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

We knew this was coming — and still, it shocks. Justice Clarence Thomas has hired Crystal Clanton to be one of his law clerks, the most elite assignment a young law school graduate can secure.

The shock is this: In 2015, when Clanton was 20 and working for a conservative group allied with the justice’s wife, Ginni Thomas, Clanton apparently sent racist texts to a fellow employee. “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE,” one text read. “Like f--- them all … I hate blacks. End of story.” (In Clanton’s text, the expletive was spelled out.)

It is impossible to overstate the prestige that attaches to a Supreme Court clerkship. The job is a golden ticket awarded to just 36 each year — about 1 in 1,000 law graduates, the best of the best. Major law firms lure Supreme Court clerks with signing bonuses of a half-million dollars. Clanton, who graduated from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in 2022, will be the third high court clerk from that institution since 2021.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer unearthed Clanton’s texts in 2017, in an article about Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization run by Charlie Kirk. Notably, Clanton, the group’s field director, didn’t deny writing the texts. “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager,” she wrote in an email to Mayer.

Kirk told Mayer in a separate email that “Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.” Kirk spokesman Andrew Kolvet reaffirmed the New Yorker’s account when I wrote about Clanton in 2021 and repeated in a conversation in 2022 that she was “terminated from Turning Point after the discovery of problematic texts.”

The “I hate blacks” text doesn’t appear to have been an isolated incident. The website Mediaite, reporting in 2018 on Clanton’s hiring by Ginni Thomas, described a Snapchat message featuring “a photo of a man who appears to be Arab and a caption written by Clanton that reads, ‘Just thinking about ways to do another 9/11.’”

After leaving Turning Point, Clanton was hired by Ginni Thomas and lived with the Thomases in Virginia for almost a year before attending the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Thomas then recommended Clanton to Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Pryor is one of the most conservative members of the federal judiciary; he made Donald Trump’s short list for the high court but was deemed too conservative to make it through Senate confirmation, and he has been a reliable “feeder judge” for the high court, particularly for Thomas.

Letters submitted to the 2nd Circuit by Clarence Thomas and Pryor, and obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Rankin, elaborated on Clanton’s relationship with the Thomases and her hiring by Pryor. “I know Crystal Clanton and I know bigotry,” Thomas wrote. “Bigotry is antithetical to her nature.”

Thomas said his wife “informed me of the horrible way in which she had been treated at Turning Point and asked that she be allowed to live with us.” He related how he encouraged Clanton, “understandably distraught and depressed,” to go to law school; recommended her when she applied to law school; and then suggested her to Pryor as a clerk, informing him of “the grossly out of character and unfounded allegations against her.”

Thomas concluded, “It is certainly my intention to consider her for a clerkship should she perform as I expect and excel in her clerkships.”

Case closed. Clanton hired. This episode is a stain — and not just on Clanton and Thomas. It taints the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself institutionally incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

ny times logoWashington Post, Supreme Court to decide if states can control fate of social media, Cat Zakrzewski and Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 25, 2024. As a “splinternet” emerges in the United States, the high court will decide if the First Amendment blocks a pair of laws that tackle conservatives’ allegations of Big Tech censorship.

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of that Texas law along with a related Florida law, which prohibits platforms from suspending the accounts of political candidates or media publications.

The cases will determine whether state governments or tech companies have the power to set the rules for what posts can appear on popular social networks.

Republican leaders adopted the laws in response to growing concern among conservatives that social media giants were censoring their political views.

Tech companies, represented by the trade group NetChoice, argue the laws give the government too much control over online speech in violation of the First Amendment and have the potential to usher in a patchwork of different internet laws rooted in political whims of state leaders.

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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

 

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

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Lauren Boebert’s Son Arrested in Connection to “Recent String of Vehicle Trespasses and Property Thefts, J.D. Wolf, Feb. 28, 2024. 18 year old Tyler Boebert made Lauren a Grandmother Last Year.

mtn meidas touch networkLauren Boebert’s 18 year old son Tyler Boebert’s was arrested in connection to a “recent string of vehicle trespasses and property thefts” according to the Rifle Police Department’s Facebook page.

Tyler “is facing the following charges: four felony counts of Criminal Possession ID Documents - Multiple Victims, one felony count of Conspiracy to Commit a Felony, and over 15 additional misdemeanor and petty offenses,” according to police.

In 2022, Lauren Boebert’s son was speeding and flipped his vehicle into a creek bed. An occupant during the crash accused Lauren of trying to coverup his injuries.

Tyler fathered a child with an underage teen making Lauren a grandmother in March. Lauren announced the expected grand baby at the CPAC Women’s Breakfast where she was awarded with a “Mothers of Influence” award from Moms for America.

Lauren Boebert frequently states how she has to leave her children in order to be a representative in Washington. Lauren Boebert is currently trying to win the GOP primary in her new district and these type of stories underscore why voters may want to chose someone different.
ColoradoTyler BoebertLauren BoebertArrest

washington post logoWashington Post, Airman who set self on fire grew up on religious compound, had anarchist past, Emily Davies, Peter Hermann and Dan Lamothe, Updated Feb. 27, 2024. Less than two weeks before Aaron Bushnell walked toward the gates of the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, he and a friend talked by phone about their shared identities as anarchists and what kinds of risks and sacrifices were needed to be effective.

Bushnell, 25, mentioned nothing violent or self-sacrificial, the friend said.

Then on Sunday, Bushnell texted that friend, who described the exchange on the condition of anonymity to protect his safety.

“I hope you’ll understand. I love you,” Bushnell wrote in a message reviewed by The Washington Post. “This doesn’t even make sense, but I feel like I’m going to miss you.”

He sent the friend a copy of his will on Sunday. In it, he gave his cat to his neighbor and a fridge full of root beers to the friend.

Twelve minutes later, Bushnell, who was a senior airman in the U.S. Air Force, doused himself with a liquid and set himself on fire. He had posted a video online saying he did not want to be “complicit in genocide.” He shouted “Free Palestine” as he burned.

Secret Service officers extinguished the blaze. Bushnell died seven hours later at a hospital.

His suicidal protest instantly won him praise among some antiwar and pro-Palestinian activists, while others said they were devastated that he would take an action so extreme. But how a young man who liked The Lord of the Rings and karaoke became the man ablaze in a camouflage military uniform remains a mystery, even among some of his closest friends.

Bushnell was raised in a religious compound in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, according to Susan Wilkins, 59, who said she was a member of the group from 1970 to 2005. She said that she knew Bushnell and his family on the compound and that he was still a member when she left. Wilkins said she heard through members of Bushnell’s family that he eventually left the group.

Wilkins’s account is consistent with those of multiple others who said Bushnell had told them about his childhood in the religious group or who had heard about his affiliation from his family members.

The group, called the Community of Jesus, has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior, which it has publicly disputed. In a lawsuit against an Ontario school, where many officials were alleged to be members of the U.S.-based religious group, former students called the Community of Jesus a “charismatic sect” and alleged that it “created an environment of control, intimidation and humiliation that fostered and inflicted enduring harms on its students.” The school, now defunct, disputed the allegations. Last year, an appeals court in Canada awarded 10.8 million Canadian dollars to the former students, who attended the Ontario school between 1973 and 1997.

ny times logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.R.A. Civil Corruption Case: For N.R.A.’s LaPierre, a Legacy of Guns and Money, Danny Hakim, Feb. 24, 2024. A civil court jury’s verdict underscored the extent to which Wayne LaPierre had enriched himself in the over three decades he led the N.R.A.

Wayne LaPierre, who led the National Rifle Association for more than three decades, had long been the face of the American gun rights movement, a Beltway Clint Eastwood who insisted that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

But on Friday, a civil court jury found Mr. LaPierre, 74, liable for misspending $5.4 million of the organization’s money, after a six-week corruption trial brought by Letitia James, the attorney general of New York.

The trial, and the years of revelations leading up to it, underscored that the N.R.A. had become as much about money as about guns during his tenure.

BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power: BOMBSHELL: Potential Criminal Activity Revealed in the Kroger-Albertsons Merger, Matt Stoller, right, Feb. 20, 2024. matt stollerWith two antitrust suits filed and a big one on the way, this merger is on life support. And enforcers discovered what could be criminal collusion.

Today I’m writing about the $24 billion Kroger-Albertsons supermarket merger, which is, to put it mildly, in trouble. I haven’t written about this deal in depth since late 2022, because it looks like a standard problematic big merger. It’s a private equity arrangement where the executives will get rich, consumers will pay higher prices, workers will endure lower wages, and there will be worse quality in the food system. There will be a trial where the Federal Trade Commission will argue before a judge that it should be blocked, and it’s semi-random how judges interpret the Clayton Act. I said that in late 2022, and little had changed.

But fascinating things have happened over the last few months. Most notably, enforcers found what looks like criminal behavior by Albertsons and Kroger to suppress worker wages, and are actually doing something about it beyond just challenging the merger.

But first, let’s go over the stakes of the deal itself. The Kroger-Albertsons combo is massive:

Kroger and Albertsons are both monsters, and the two of them combining would create the second largest chain in the country, after Walmart, with 15% of the national grocery business. Kroger/Albertsons would employ over 700,000 people, have over $200 billion in revenue and more than 40,000 private label brands, and own and operate brands such as Safeway, Ralphs, Smith’s, Harris Teeter, Dillons, Fred Meyer, Vons, Kings, Haggen, Tom Thumb, Star Market, Jewel-Osco, and Shaw’s.

There are already 30% fewer grocery stores than there were a few decades ago, because of consolidation. And that’s a problem. Large chains “not only secure better prices for goods than their smaller counterparts, but can also increase prices faster than costs, contributing to inflation.” This merger will worsen the situation, as “suppliers, consumers, and workers will all feel the pressure from Kroger/Albertsons, and since suppliers buy from farmers, farmers will feel it too, at least indirectly.”

kansas city chiefs parade fox

washington post logoWashington Post, Two men charged with murder in Kansas City Super Bowl parade shooting, Praveena Somasundaram, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.).  Two men were charged with murder in the shooting that killed a person and injured at least 22 others after a parade celebrating the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl win last week, prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Dominic Miller of Kansas City and Lyndell Mays of Raytown, Mo., face charges of second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of armed criminal action, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker (D) said at a news conference. At Tuesday’s news conference, Baker indicated that charges would be filed against more people and did not answer questions about how many shooters there were or the numbers and types of firearms they used. Two juveniles were charged with gun-related offenses and resisting arrest last week.

Prosecutors also released new information Tuesday about what they’d previously described as a personal dispute, detailing how Mays and Miller allegedly drew firearms during a verbal altercation involving at least four other people.

Mays was arrested over the weekend and Miller was arrested Monday night, said Michael Mansur, a spokesperson for Baker. Both men, who were shot, according to court records, remain in the hospital with law enforcement officers guarding them, Baker said.

 

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Tommy Andrade)

KKFI disc jockey Lisa Lopez-Galvan, right, who was killed in a shooting in Kansas City, Mo., on Wednesday, poses with co-host Tommy Andrade in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Andrade)

When detectives interviewed Miller, he said he had been carrying a 9mm handgun and fired four or five shots, according to the document. Detectives said a bullet recovered from the autopsy of the woman who died in the shooting, Elizabeth “Lisa” Lopez-Galvan, matched the gun Miller fired.

On Friday, when detectives asked Mays why he had taken out a firearm during the argument, he responded with: “Stupid, man. Just pulled a gun out and started shooting,” according to a probable cause statement.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, WikiLeaks founder Assange may be near end of long fight to stay out of US, Feb. 20, 2024 (print ed.). His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s fight to avoid facing spying charges in the United States may be nearing an end following a protracted legal saga in the U.K. that included seven years of self-exile inside a foreign embassy and five years in prison.

politico CustomAssange faces what could be his final court hearing in London starting Tuesday as he tries to stop his extradition to the U.S. The High Court has scheduled two days of arguments over whether Assange can ask an appeals court to block his transfer. If the court doesn’t allow the appeal to go forward, he could be sent across the Atlantic.

His wife says the decision is a matter of life and death for Assange, whose health has deteriorated during his time in custody.

“His life is at risk every single day he stays in prison,” Stella Assange said Thursday. “If he’s extradited, he will die.”

Assange, 52, an Australian computer expert, has been indicted in the U.S. on 18 charges over Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of classified documents in 2010.

Prosecutors say he conspired with U.S. army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and release secret diplomatic cables and military files on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Justice Department log circularHe faces 17 counts of espionage and one charge of computer misuse. If convicted, his lawyers say he could receive a prison term of up to 175 years, though American authorities have said any sentence is likely to be much lower.

Assange and his supporters argue he acted as a journalist to expose U.S. military wrongdoing and is protected under press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Among the files published by WikiLeaks was video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.

“Julian has been indicted for receiving, possessing and communicating information to the public of evidence of war crimes committed by the U.S. government,” Stella Assange said. “Reporting a crime is never a crime.”

U.S. lawyers say Assange is guilty of trying to hack the Pentagon computer and that WikiLeaks’ publications created a “grave and imminent risk” to U.S. intelligence sources in Afghanistan and Iraq.

ny times logoNew York Times, Capital One to Acquire Discover, Creating a Consumer Lending Colossus, Lauren Hirsch and Emma Goldberg, Feb. 19, 2024. Capital One announced on Monday that it would acquire Discover Financial Services in an all-stock transaction valued at $35.3 billion, a deal that would merge two of the largest credit card companies in the United States.

capital one bank logo“A space that is already dominated by a relatively small number of megaplayers is about to get a little smaller,” said Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at LendingTree.

Capital One, with $479 billion in assets, is one of the nation’s largest banks, and it issues credit cards on networks run by Visa and Mastercard. Acquiring Discover will give it access to a credit card network of 305 million cardholders, adding to its base of more than 100 million customers. The country’s four major networks are American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Discover, which has far fewer cardholders than its competitors.

Justice Department log circularBut consumer advocates pushed back on the possible deal, saying it posed antitrust concerns. “It is very difficult to imagine how federal regulators could allow Capital One to buy Discover given the requirement that mergers benefit the public as well as insiders,” Jesse Van Tol, the chief executive of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, said in a statement.

The acquisition by Capital One will be one of the first tests of regulatory scrutiny on bank deals since the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said last month that it intended to slow down approvals for mergers and acquisitions.

Consumer advocates pushed back against the $35.3 billion deal, which would require regulatory approval, saying that it posed antitrust concerns.

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More On Climate Change, Environment, Space, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Vice President Kamala Harris Unveils Groundbreaking Environmental Commitment, Johnny Palmadessa, Feb. 20, 2024. The Vice President is putting environmental issues – and Gen-Z – front and center.

mtn meidas touch networkIn Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vice President Kamala Harris declared a powerful commitment: $5.8 billion from the Biden-Harris Administration’s Investing in America agenda will surge into reviving our nation's drinking and clean water infrastructure. With unwavering determination, Vice President Harris is spearheading the charge to safeguard our future through environmental stewardship, tackling the scourge of lead pipes that poison communities across America.

washington post logoWashington Post, Follow Perseverance’s path on Mars as it hunts for signs of ancient life, Laris Karklis, Feb. 17, 2024 (print ed.). NASA’s fifth Mars rover, Perseverance, has been gathering rock and other samples as it searches the planet’s surface for clues to ancient life.

nasa logoWhen the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars on Feb. 18, 2021, it became the fifth NASA rover to begin a traverse across the Martian landscape. It was targeting a corner of a lowland basin, called Isidis Planitia, which lies along a topographic boundary separating the heavily cratered southern highland terrain from the northern lowlands. Within this basin lies the 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater, which NASA scientists deemed had strong clues that, more than 3.5 billion years ago, it may have been a lake, fed by a river, and perhaps a source for life on the planet.

The Perseverance rover is essentially a high-tech astrobiologist and geologist, equipped to investigate the geologic history and past climate of this corner of the crater. Three years into its exploration, the rover has traveled more than 15 miles exploring the crater floor, risen up the fan front and is now exploring along the edge of the ancient river inlet that, billions of years ago, allowed water to fill the crater. NASA has divided this journey through geologic time into 5 campaigns of exploration.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Covid, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Exclusive: Tax records reveal the lucrative world of covid misinformation, Lauren Weber, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.).  Four major nonprofits that rose to prominence during the coronavirus pandemic by capitalizing on the spread of medical misinformation collectively gained more than $118 million between 2020 and 2022, enabling the organizations to deepen their influence in statehouses, courtrooms and communities across the country, a Washington Post analysis of tax records shows.

rfk jr mouth openChildren’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., right, received $23.5 million in contributions, grants and other revenue in 2022 alone — eight times what it collected the year before the pandemic began — allowing it to expand its state-based lobbying operations to cover half the country. Another influential anti-vaccine group, Informed Consent Action Network, nearly quadrupled its revenue during that time to about $13.4 million in 2022, giving it the resources to finance lawsuits seeking to roll back vaccine requirements as Americans’ faith in vaccines drops.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Two other groups, Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors, went from receiving $1 million combined when they formed in 2020 to collecting more than $21 million combined in 2022, according to the latest tax filings available for the groups.

The four groups routinely buck scientific consensus. Children’s Health Defense and Informed Consent Action Network raise doubts about the safety of vaccines despite assurances from federal regulators. “Vaccines have never been safer than they are today,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its webpage outlining vaccine safety.

Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance and America’s Frontline Doctors promote anti-parasitic or anti-malarial drugs as treatments for covid, long after regulators and clinical trials found the medications to be ineffective or potentially harmful. Leaders of these groups say they disagree with medical consensus and argue that their promotion of alternative treatments for covid and other conditions is safe.

Arthur Caplan, head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, said that in his view, the four groups endanger lives with their spread of misinformation.

“These groups gave jet fuel to misinformation at a crucial time in the pandemic,” Caplan said. “The richer they get, the worse off the public is because, indisputably, they’re spouting dangerous nonsense that kills people.”

The influx of pandemic cash sent executive compensation soaring, boosted public outreach, and seeded the ability to wage legislative and legal battles to weaken vaccine requirements and defend physicians accused of spreading misinformation.

Some doctors following guidance by Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance or America’s Frontline Doctors have been disciplined or face the possibility of discipline from state medical boards alleging substandard medical care. In cases involving two doctors alleged to have followed Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance guidance, three patients died.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Biden faults Trump’s vaccine rollout as he cites total covid death toll, Glenn Kessler, Feb. 22, 2024. After President Biden took office, he would often misleadingly claim that the Trump administration had vaccinated relatively few Americans during the coronavirus pandemic compared to the Biden administration. But this was inaccurate framing.

When Biden became president, vaccinations had been available for a little over a month. Health-care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, front-line essential workers and people over the age of 75 were first in line. By the time Biden took office, on Jan. 20, 2021, with a stated goal of reaching 1 million vaccinations a day, shots had reached a seven-day average of more than 1 million a day — and 19 million people had been vaccinated, 10 times the number Biden used last month.

In recent weeks, Biden has expanded this long-standing talking point to include the total number of dead from the pandemic. To some ears, he seems to be blaming Trump for the total covid death toll. The New York Post editorial page called it a “vile lie,” and some readers complained to The Fact Checker. But Biden’s phrasing is sufficiently subtle that a link is not so easily established. A White House official speaking on the condition of anonymity said Biden was not trying to blame Trump for the deaths and said that his comments reflected reporting that criticized Trump’s vaccine rollout effort and noted Biden’s pledge to ramp up shots.

Trump can certainly be faulted for a chaotic, nonscientific approach to the pandemic. Two of our colleagues wrote an excellent best-selling book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History, that detailed many missteps, including a failure to take the pandemic seriously from the start, inconsistent messaging on shutdowns and distancing, and a shunning of masks. But his administration’s successful push for a vaccine in less than a year, dubbed Operation Warp Speed, is considered a success story.

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ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: A Marketplace of Girl Influencers Managed by Moms and Stalked by Men, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries and Michael H. Keller, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Seeking social media stardom for their underage daughters, mothers post images of them on Instagram. The accounts draw men sexually attracted to children.

Thousands of accounts examined by The Times offer disturbing insights into how social media is reshaping childhood, especially for girls, with direct parental encouragement and involvement. Some parents are the driving force behind the sale of photos, exclusive chat sessions and even the girls’ worn leotards and cheer outfits to mostly unknown followers. The most devoted customers spend thousands of dollars nurturing the underage relationships.

The large audiences boosted by men can benefit the families, The Times found. The bigger followings look impressive to brands and bolster chances of getting discounts, products and other financial incentives, and the accounts themselves are rewarded by Instagram’s algorithm with greater visibility on the platform, which in turn attracts more followers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bobbi Althoff deepfake spotlights X’s role as a top source of AI porn, Drew Harwelll, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). When posters on message boards for AI-generated pornography began circulating deepfake videos of the comedian Bobbi Althoff, the clips reached a relatively muted audience, gaining 178,000 views over the last six months.

Then someone posted one of the videos on X. The fake, which appeared to show the 26-year-old naked and masturbating, was copied and reposted so many times that Althoff’s name was trending on the platform. In just nine hours, the clip received more than 4.5 million views — 25 times the porn sites’ viewership, according to data from an industry analyst.

X, formerly called Twitter, was one of the first social platforms to set clear rules against AI-generated fakes, with executives saying in 2020 that they recognized the threat of misleading “synthetic media” and were “committed to doing this right.”

elon musk thumbs up

But under owner Elon Musk (shown above in a file photo), X has become one of the most powerful and prominent distribution channels for nonconsensual deepfake porn. The platform not only helps the phony photos and videos go viral in a low-moderation environment, but it can also end up rewarding deepfake spreaders who can use the manipulated porn to make a buck.

“Twitter is 4chan 2,” said Genevieve Oh, an analyst who studies deepfakes, referring to the noxious no-rules message board that is known for hosting not just deepfake porn, but also antisemitic memes and tributes to mass shooters. “It’s emboldening future malicious figures to coordinate toward demeaning more popular women with synthetic footage and imagery,” she said.

There is no federal law that regulates deepfakes, though some states, such as Georgia and Virginia, ban AI-generated nonconsensual porn.

X bans “nonconsensual nudity,” but enforcement has been limited because the company, at Musk’s direction, has laid off thousands of employees and gutted the “trust and safety” team that traditionally removed such imagery.

Musk has laughed off the need for content moderation. One day before the Althoff video spread, he shared a message from X’s chatbot, Grok, calling content moderation a “digital chastity belt” and “steaming pile of horse manure” enforced only by “digital tyrants.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos,Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Alabama ushers in the theocracy, Ruth Marcus, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). I don’t use that word lightly, not about life in the United States. But read the Alabama Supreme Court ruling declaring that frozen embryos — “extrauterine children” in a “cryogenic nursery,” the court calls them — are human beings.

Especially read the concurring opinion of Chief Justice Tom Parker on the meaning of the Alabama Constitution, which declares that “it is the public policy of this state to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” Parker cites Genesis (man is created “in the image of God”), the prophet Jeremiah (“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”), Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and other Christian thinkers to support his view that the state constitution adopts a “theologically based view of the sanctity of life.”

This is no surprise coming from Parker. An ally of then-Chief Justice Roy Moore of Ten Commandments-in-the-courthouse fame, Parker has denounced Roe v. Wade as a “constitutional aberration” and suggested that state courts should resist implementing the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

I’ll quote at length so you know I’m not exaggerating about theocracy. The Alabama constitution’s “sanctity of unborn life” provision, he wrote, “encompasses the following: (1) God made every person in His image; (2) each person therefore has a value that far exceeds the ability of human beings to calculate; and (3) human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God, who views the destruction of His image as an affront to Himself.”

Alabama law, he said, “recognizes that this is true of unborn human life no less than it is of all other human life — that even before birth, all human beings bear the image of God, and their lives cannot be destroyed without effacing his glory.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Commentary: If the Supreme Court upholds an earlier ruling, patients might need in-person doctor visits to obtain the medications, Pam Belluck, Feb. 22, 2024. Doctors in a handful of blue states are using shield laws to provide abortions to women in red states.

Doctors in a handful of blue states have found a way to provide abortions to women in red states where it is banned or restricted. They are doing it with a new tool: laws that protect them from prosecutors elsewhere.

These telemedicine shield laws block officials in red states who might prosecute or sue the abortion providers in Massachusetts, New York, California, Vermont, Colorado and Washington State. Those states won’t extradite doctors. They won’t turn over records. They won’t aid in any investigation. It’s a sharp break from the usual pattern of interstate cooperation, as I report in a news story today.

I’ve been covering abortion for over a decade. Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade and triggered a wave of bans in conservative states, abortion rights advocates have worked to preserve access. They’ve used mobile clinics across the border from red states — and funds that cover the cost of travel to places where abortion is legal. In today’s newsletter, I’ll talk about one of the newest approaches.
A new tool

The providers started mailing abortion pills under the shield laws just last summer. But their reach has surprised even some advocates. They’ve already prescribed and mailed abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in Texas, Idaho and other places that banned abortion after the high court’s 2022 decision. Patients find them online and fill out forms about their medical history. Providers then evaluate whether patients are eligible. They can be up to 12 weeks’ pregnant and must have no disqualifying medical issues like an ectopic pregnancy or a blood-clotting disorder.

Being able to receive abortion medication at their homes by mail saves patients the time, money and difficulty of traveling to a state where abortion is legal. It also avoids the weekslong wait for pills ordered from overseas. Shield law services charge $150 or $250, but they allow poorer patients to pay less or even nothing.

Abortion opponents in conservative states are outraged. The shield laws are “really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” said John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life. “It can’t stand, and we can’t be content with this new development.”

The practice has not yet been challenged in court, but observers think it’s only a matter of time. Law enforcement officials in anti-abortion states may be waiting for a case they think will be persuasive. A senior government official in a conservative state told me about one possible strategy: State officials could first file charges or a complaint against a provider in a blue state. Then, when that state refused to cooperate, a red state could sue the shield-law state itself, claiming that the Constitution’s full faith and credit clause prevents one state from interfering with another’s laws.

States with abortion bans will also watch a lawsuit the Supreme Court will hear next month, in which opponents of abortion have sued the Food and Drug Administration to try to bar abortion pills. (My colleague Emily Bazelon has written for The Morning about how much of the abortion struggle now revolves around pills.) If the justices uphold an appeals court ruling, patients might need in-person doctor visits to obtain the medications.
Doctors tread cautiously

Regardless of the court’s decision in that case, some shield-law providers say they intend to find a way to continue.

Still, they are taking precautions. Most shield-law providers have decided not to travel to states with abortion bans, and some have established trusts to protect their assets from civil suits. Some identify themselves publicly, but others fly under the radar.

washington post logoWashington Post, Youngkin joins Va. antiabortion march despite issue’s political cost, Gregory S. Schneider, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) joined hundreds of abortion protesters Wednesday outside the Virginia Capitol in a “March for Life,” saying he remains committed to seeking limits on abortion access even after his embrace of the issue seemed to work against Republicans in the fall’s legislative elections.

“I think we should continue to talk about it,” Youngkin told reporters in brief comments before the march got underway. Behind him, activists from across the state held signs with slogans such as “Pray to end abortion” and “Virginia is for life.”

Youngkin, who also participated in the annual event last year, declined to express his views on several bills aimed at protecting abortion rights that are making their way to his desk from the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

“As I’ve said on all legislation, the General Assembly is working their process now and I will review every bill. That’s my job,” he said.

With an electorate motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade abortion rights, Democrats flipped control of the House of Delegates and protected their majority in the Senate last year after campaigning heavily against Youngkin’s proposal for a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Virginia law allows abortion through the second trimester — about 26 weeks — and in the third trimester if three doctors agree the procedure is necessary.

Asked whether he thought it was a political mistake for Republicans to run last year on a 15-week abortion restriction, Youngkin said, “No, I firmly believe that this idea that we can come together and recognize that there is a place that Virginians can agree on is real.”

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World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic Commentary, U.S. lands lunar probe Ulysses on moon 52 years after Apollo 17, Webster G. Tarpley, right, webster tarpley 2007historian, author, Feb. 24, 2024 (148:20 mins.). Success of nation under Biden’s leadership prepares moon mission of Artemis astronauts, marks signal victory for scientific optimism, progress, and human reason over cynical nihilism and historical pessimism typical of MAGA camp; Leibniz defeats Nietzsche!

ny times logoNew York Times, A U.S. Spacecraft Lands on the Moon for the First Time Since 1972, Kenneth Chang, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Odysseus was the first privately built vehicle to make it to the moon, and points to a future in which NASA and others rely on commercial lunar delivery services.

For the first time in a half-century, an American-built spacecraft has landed on the moon.

The robotic lander was the first U.S. vehicle on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, the closing chapter in humanity’s astonishing achievement of sending people to the moon and bringing them all back alive. That is a feat that has not been repeated or even tried since.

The lander, named Odysseus and a bit bigger than a telephone booth, arrived in the south polar region of the moon at 6:23 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

The landing time came and went in silence as flight controllers waited to hear confirmation of success. A brief communication pause was expected, but minutes passed.

Then Tim Crain, the chief technology officer of Intuitive Machines, the Houston-based company that built Odysseus, reported that a faint signal from the spacecraft had been detected.

“It’s faint, but it’s there,” he said. “So stand by, folks. We’ll see what’s happening here.”

A short while later, he announced, “What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting. So congratulations.”

Later, he added, “Houston, Odysseus has found its new home.”

But with the spacecraft’s ability to properly communicate still unclear, the celebration of clapping and high-fives in the mission control center was muted.

Intuitive Machines is one of several small companies that NASA has hired to transport instruments that will perform reconnaissance on the moon’s surface ahead of the return of NASA astronauts there, planned for later this decade.

For this mission, NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million under a program known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, to deliver six instruments to the moon, including a stereo camera that aimed to capture the billowing of dust kicked up by Odysseus as it approached the surface and a radio receiver to measure the effects of charged particles on radio signals.

ny times logoWashington Post, In Arizona, Biden’s handling of immigration fuels frustration among key voters, Sabrina Rodriguez, Feb. 25, 2024. President Biden’s embrace of strict border measures has left some Democrats and independents wondering where he stands on immigration — adding to their lack of enthusiasm for a potential second term.

Interviews with dozens of Democratic and independent voters here — the kind of younger voters Biden will need to win over in a potential rematch against former president Donald Trump — reveal a deep frustration with the president for recently embracing tougher rhetoric and policies against illegal immigration while delivering what they view as little concrete action to improve the immigration system. Many voters said it felt unclear what message, if any, Biden or the party had on the issue — and most said Biden’s handling of immigration further reinforces their lack of enthusiasm about a potential second Biden term.

ny times logoWashington Post, Lab spaces boomed during the pandemic. Then the experiment took a turn, Rachel Siegel, Feb. 25, 2024.  What’s happening around Boston is another example of how the U.S. economy has zigged when just about everyone thought it would zag. Decisions made in real time miss the mark, and data shifts before anyone has a chance to catch up.

In the heart of the country’s No. 1 hub for science research sit roughly 100,000 square feet of gleaming new lab and office space. A banner declares the site at One Canal is smack “in the epicenter of the world’s most impactful discoveries.”

This kind of prime real estate would typically get scooped up. But there isn’t much discovery — or, really, much of anything — happening inside. A chain-link fence blocks the entrance from a quiet side street. And the site is almost entirely empty.

Similar scenes are cropping up all over Cambridge and neighboring Boston, where a massive influx of new lab space has scrambled the commercial real estate market. Of the 6.7 million square feet that finished construction last year, 62 percent is empty, according to data from the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. Another 8.1 million is still under construction — largely without tenants lined up.

All across the country, cities are in limbo. Places like Austin, New York and San Francisco have their own excess office space. Economists are wary of a “doom loop” phenomenon that could turn empty downtowns into bigger economic hazards. Financial regulators are keeping a close eye on midsize banks that shoulder the bulk of commercial real estate loans, fearful of a wave of defaults.

The Boston area is unlike other places with too much office space and too few tenants: the causes are different, and the problem doesn’t appear to pose as much of a threat to the region’s broader fortunes.

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washington post logoWashington Post, WAMU shuts down local news site DCist, lays off reporters, Elahe Izadi and Will Sommer, Feb. 25, 2024. The station, a member of the NPR network, acquired DCist in 2018. It now has four journalists, down from 14 last year.

The Washington-area NPR affiliate WAMU shut down local news site DCist on Friday morning, immediately following an all-staff meeting where employees were informed that layoffs are imminent.

Station general manager Erika Pulley-Hayes made the announcement during a roughly 10-minute meeting, during which no questions were taken. She told staffers that the shift was part of a new strategy to focus more on audio products rather than the written journalism that WAMU had hoped to bolster when it acquired DCist six years ago.

She cited a “ripple effect across media consumption habits” created by the pandemic, a declining advertising market and a difficult philanthropic climate.

Pulley-Hayes did not detail in the meeting how many staffers would be laid off, but she spoke to Axios, which reported 15 staffers would be cut while an undetermined number of others will be hired, mostly in audio-production roles.

Over the summer, Pulley-Hayes told staff the station was facing a roughly $2.5 million budget deficit, several former and current staffers said.

The WAMU layoffs come as other news organizations have cut back on local coverage in Washington. Buyouts late last year at The Washington Post included significant cuts to the paper’s Metro section.

Such cuts are part of a larger wave of contractions across a media industry that is still grappling with the disruptions and evolutions of the digital publishing revolution. Vice announced Thursday it would stop publishing on its website and planned to lay off hundreds of employees. The Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal have faced significant layoffs this year, while music review website Pitchfork saw its staff cut while being folded into another outlet. The Messenger, a news start-up with $50 million in funding, imploded in less than a year, laying off hundreds of staffers last month.

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Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, who have been married for 27 years, participated in a recent sailing club rally and were spending the winter in the Caribbean (Photo viia The Salty Dawg Sailing Association).

 

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Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

 

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant's psychiatrist).

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Russia looms over yet another Trump presidential campaign, Ashley Parker, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). In February alone, Donald Trump encouraged Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to NATO allies that do not contribute sufficiently to the military alliance.

He refused to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny, 47, a Kremlin critic who died suddenly on Feb. 16 in a trump 2024Russian penal colony — instead likening himself to Navalny, arguing they were both political prisoners.

And in a Fox News town hall Tuesday evening, he praised Russia for being “a war machine.”

“They defeated Hitler,” Trump declared, apparently referring to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.

Since announcing his first presidential campaign in 2015, Russia has followed Trump like an unshakable thunder cloud. The former president has Russian Flagrepeatedly expressed a fascination with Russia, lavished praise on Putin and refused to stand up to the Russian president on a range of issues — from interfering in the 2016 presidential election to invading Ukraine almost exactly two years ago.

Trump’s reticence to forcefully confront Russia and his regular adulation of Putin have long raised the question: With Trump, why do “all roads lead djt maga hatto Putin?” as then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) memorably asked in 2019 during a contentious Cabinet Room meeting.

His latest round of pro-Russian cheerleading raises the same query — but now against a dramatically changed backdrop. The Russia-Ukraine war is entering its third year, with no signs of abating. Putin critics are calling the death of Navalny — who had survived a previous Russian attempt to poison him — a murder. And under Trump’s leadership, the Republican Party has drifted in a remarkably isolationist direction on foreign policy, with House Republicans currently holding up much-needed aid to Ukraine.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hungary’s Parliament Approves Sweden’s NATO Bid After Stalling, Andrew Higgins, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Budapest had been the final obstacle to the Nordic country’s joining the alliance, which has been trying to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

hungary flagHungary’s Parliament voted on Monday to approve Sweden as a new member of NATO, allowing the Nordic country to clear a final hurdle that had blocked its membership and held up efforts by the military alliance to isolate Russia over its war in Ukraine.

The measure passed after a vote of 188 for and only 6 against in the 199-member Parliament, which is dominated by legislators from the governing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Swedish flagOn Friday, after his Swedish counterpart, Ulf Kristersson, made a visit to Budapest, the Hungarian capital, Mr. Orban declared the end of a monthslong spat with Sweden over its membership of NATO.

Hungary had been stalling for 19 months on ratifying Sweden’s admission, a delay that had puzzled and exasperated the United States and other members of the alliance, raising questions about Hungary’s reliability as a member of the alliance.

The parliamentary vote on Monday followed a decision by Sweden to provide Hungary with four Swedish-made Gripen fighter jets to add to the 14 that the Hungarian Air Force already uses. Stockholm also promised that Saab, which manufactures the warplanes, would open an A.I. research center in Hungary.

Hungary, which had repeatedly promised not to be the last holdout, became the final obstacle to Swedish entry into NATO after the Turkish Parliament voted on Jan. 23 to approve membership.

viktor orbánMr. Orban, right, who has maintained cordial relations with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia despite the war in Ukraine, has a long record of using his country’s veto power over key decisions in Europe to try to extract money or other rewards. That pattern was on display during not only his foot-dragging over Sweden’s NATO membership but also his opposition to a European Union financial package for Ukraine worth $54 billion.

Mr. Orban relented this month on approving E.U. aid for Ukraine, a retreat that raised hopes he would quickly order his Fidesz party to hold a vote in Parliament on Sweden. Mr. Orban had assured the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, on Jan. 24 that Hungary would ratify Sweden’s entry “at the first possible opportunity.”

But when opposition legislators called a session of Parliament on Feb. 5 to vote on Sweden’s membership, the Fidesz party boycotted the session.

The vote on Monday ended a standoff that had soured Hungary’s relations with the United States and other members of NATO. With the exception of Turkey, all approved Sweden’s membership more than a year ago after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Even with Hungary’s acceptance of Sweden into the alliance, the long, drawn-out process to get to this point is likely to leave a bitter aftertaste. And the belated assent to the expansion of NATO, to which Hungary makes only a modest contribution, will not quickly change Mr. Orban’s reputation as a troublemaker more interested in cozying up to Mr. Putin, with whom he held an amicable meeting in October during a visit to China, than in supporting the alliance.

Hungary, whose air force depends heavily on Gripen jets from Sweden, has offered multiple and often shifting explanations for the long delay in voting on Swedish membership. It has cited scheduling hiccups, criticism in Sweden of democratic backsliding by Mr. Orban’s increasingly authoritarian government, teaching materials used in Swedish schools and comments made by Mr. Kristersson years before he took office.

Mr. Orban’s tough stance on Sweden, as well as his initial blocking of the Ukraine aid package, reflected his penchant for trying to establish his small country — Hungary has only 10 million people and accounts for just 1 percent of economic output in the European Union — as a force to be reckoned with on the European political stage.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Says He Expects Gaza Cease-Fire Within a Week, Peter Baker and Michael D. Shear, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden was hopeful about talks aimed at halting Israel’s Gaza operations and exchanging hostages held by Hamas and Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

President Biden said on Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week in exchange for the release of at least some of the more than 100 hostages being held by Hamas.

Speaking with reporters during a stop in New York, Mr. Biden offered the most hopeful assessment of the hostage talks by any major figure in many days, suggesting that the war might be close to a major turning point.

The president delivered the comments spontaneously in response to questions during a visit to an ice cream shop after taping a segment on Seth Meyers’s late-night talk show. They came amid an active period of talks in the region, as Israel’s war cabinet over the weekend approved the broad terms of a deal that would involve a six-week truce for the release of about 40 hostages. An Israeli delegation is expected to meet in Qatar with intermediaries from the United States, Egypt and Qatar.

An agreement for a lengthy cease-fire would halt the Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, which has killed thousands of Palestinians and created a humanitarian crisis. It could also provide an opening for a surge in humanitarian assistance into Gaza, where food, water, electricity and other basics are in short supply.

A negotiated deal would be a dramatic, and perhaps defining, moment in the nearly five-month-old Middle East conflict and could lead to the release of the six remaining American hostages, who were among more than 200 seized and taken to Gaza when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel.

It could also eventually mean freedom for dozens of other hostages still in captivity. Their families have been waging a pressure campaign in Israel and around the world to demand their release, even as Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks with a fierce ground and air assault.

Mr. Biden did not elaborate on Monday about the details of a cease-fire or about whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel had signed off on a deal. But the president’s assessment that one could be reached within a week was the clearest indication of progress in several weeks.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Signals a Willingness to Free High-Profile Palestinians, Officials Say, Ronen Bergman, Patrick Kingsley and Michael Levenson, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Hamas had not yet responded to the proposal, but the shift in Israel’s stance could jump-start negotiations toward a hostage swap and possible cease-fire.

Israeli negotiators have offered a significant concession in cease-fire talks with Hamas, signaling that they might be open to releasing high-profile Palestinians jailed on terrorism charges in exchange for some Israeli hostages still being held in the Gaza Strip, according to two officials with knowledge of the talks.

President Biden said Monday that he believed negotiators were nearing an agreement that would halt Israel’s military operations in Gaza within a week, though earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was still talking about further military action.

Mr. Netanyahu said that the Israeli military had presented a plan to the war cabinet to evacuate civilians from “areas of fighting” in Gaza. He appeared to be speaking of Israel’s long-expected invasion of Rafah, the southern city where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, many in makeshift tents.

ny times logoNew York Times, Days Before Shutdown Deadline, Biden Summons Congressional Leaders for Talks, Erica L. Green and Catie Edmondson, Feb. 26, 2024. President Biden plans to discuss the urgency of legislation to keep federal funding going past midnight on Friday.

President Biden will convene the top four congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday as lawmakers swiftly run out of time to strike a deal to avert another partial government shutdown.

The president plans to discuss the urgency of legislation to keep federal funding going past midnight on Friday, as well as his requests for billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine and Israel, said Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary.

“A basic, basic priority or duty of Congress is to keep the government open,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “So, that’s what the president wants to see. He’ll have those conversations.”

The spending bill is being held up by demands from hard-right lawmakers in the House, including measures to restrict abortion access, that many members will not support. Ultraconservatives have brought the government to the brink of a shutdown or a partial shutdown three times in the past six months as they try to win more spending cuts and conservative policy conditions written into how federal money is spent.

The result is that Congress has relied on short-term, stopgap spending bills passed by a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to keep the government open, putting off a longer-term agreement for weeks at a time. Each time, the Republican speaker has assured his conference that House Republicans would fight to secure more policy victories in the next round of negotiations.

With another pair of funding deadlines approaching at the end of this week and next week, lawmakers are now laboring to try to reach an agreement to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year.

There is increased urgency to complete the task because the debt ceiling agreement brokered in May by Kevin McCarthy, the speaker at the time, and Mr. Biden would cut federal spending 1 percent across the board on April 30 if Congress cannot reach a governmentwide spending deal before then. Both Democratic and Republican senators are determined to avoid that scenario because the cuts would particularly affect Pentagon spending, though several anti-spending conservatives have said they would prefer that outcome.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Trump Criminal Case, Manhattan D.A. Asks for Gag Order Before Trial, Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Lawyers for Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, are seeking to protect jurors and witnesses in the first criminal prosecution of a former president.

Manhattan prosecutors on Monday asked the judge overseeing their criminal case against Donald J. Trump to prohibit the former president from attacking witnesses or exposing jurors’ identities.

The requests, made in filings by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, noted Mr. Trump’s “longstanding history of attacking witnesses, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and others involved in legal proceedings against him.”

In outlining a narrowly crafted gag order, the office hewed closely to the terms of a similar order upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington in another of Mr. Trump’s criminal cases.

The gag order in the Manhattan case, if the judge approves it, would bar Mr. Trump from “making or directing others to make” statements about witnesses concerning their role in the case. The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, also asked that Mr. Trump be barred from commenting on prosecutors on the case — other than Mr. Bragg himself — as well as court staff members.

Although Mr. Bragg carved himself out of the gag order request, the district attorney has received the brunt of the attacks from Mr. Trump and his supporters. In an affidavit released Monday, the head of his security detail listed some of the worst of the dozens of attacks directed at Mr. Bragg last year, including racial slurs and death threats.

In a separate filing, Mr. Bragg placed a special emphasis on the protection of jurors. His prosecutors asked that Mr. Trump be barred from publicly revealing their identities. And although Mr. Trump and his legal team are allowed to know the jurors’ names, Mr. Bragg asked that their addresses be kept secret from the former president.

If the judge, Juan M. Merchan, accepts the restrictions, he would be just the latest judge to impose a gag order on the former president. There was an order in the Washington case, a federal case that involves accusations that Mr. Trump plotted to overturn the 2020 election. And the judge in Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial that recently concluded ordered Mr. Trump not to comment on court staff members.

In a federal trial in Florida in which Mr. Trump is accused of mishandling classified documents, the special counsel, Jack Smith, is also seeking to protect witnesses. The prosecutors have vehemently opposed an attempt by Mr. Trump’s lawyers to include the names of about 24 potential witnesses in a public filing, claiming that the witnesses could face harassment or intimidation. The prosecutors have even opened a separate criminal investigation of threats made on social media against one of the witnesses.

The Manhattan criminal case was the first of Mr. Trump’s four indictments to be filed and is scheduled to go to trial on March 25. Last year, the district attorney’s office accused Mr. Trump of 34 felonies, saying he had orchestrated a cover-up of a potential sex scandal with a porn star that could have hindered his 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers will be likely to oppose the gag order and could appeal it if Justice Merchan adopts it. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Todd Blanche, declined to comment on the prosecutors’ proposal, saying that the defense’s court papers spoke for themselves.

In a separate motion filed on Monday, prosecutors provided something of a guide to their case, signaling that they hope to include other hush-money payoffs they say Mr. Trump orchestrated: one with a former Playboy model, and another involving a doorman who sought to sell an embarrassing story about Mr. Trump in 2015.

As they laid the groundwork to tell that expansive story, they asked Justice Merchan to allow them to introduce evidence from the 2016 presidential campaign, including the infamous “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump boasts about groping women, as well as three public allegations of sexual assault made against him after the recording was released.

It is far from clear that Justice Merchan will grant those requests. Persuading him that allegations of sexual assault should be allowed could be particularly difficult, given that judges are supposed to carefully evaluate evidence that could unfairly harm a defendant in the eyes of the jury.

Prosecutors on Monday were more worried about the defendant harming jurors. In seeking to limit Mr. Trump from disclosing their names, the district attorney’s office cited recent instances of his attacking jury members, including in the 2020 trial of his associate Roger Stone. While still president, prosecutors noted, Mr. Trump had called the head of that jury “totally biased,” “tainted” and “DISGRACEFUL!”

washington post logoWashington Post, Palestinian prime minister, cabinet offer to resign in step toward post-Gaza war overhaul, Staff Reports, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Palestinian Authority shake-up paves way for post-war governance of Gaza; U.S. hopes cease-fire agreement in Gaza can be reached in ‘coming days’.

palestinian flagPalestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh offered the resignation of his government on Monday, opening the door for a new technocratic administration under President Mahmoud Abbas. The United States and Arab allies have been seeking to revitalize the governing body with the hope it can take on a role in Gaza following the war.

Here's what to know

  • An Israeli delegation is attending “lower-level technical talks” on Monday in Doha, Qatar, on a deal to pause fighting and release more hostages, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations. He said there was “not much optimism” that it would bring progress.
  • Israel’s military struck two targets in Lebanon’s Baalbek region on Monday, a Hezbollah spokesperson said, in the deepest strikes by Israeli forces within Lebanese territory since the recent escalation in fighting. The Israel Defense Forces said it targeted Hezbollah militants with attacks “deep inside Lebanon.”
  • “Very little” aid has entered the Gaza Strip in February, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said, noting a 50 percent reduction in delivered supplies compared with January.
  • At least 29,782 people have been killed in Gaza and 70,043 injured since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack and says 240 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operation in Gaza.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli forces strike deep within Lebanon as tensions with Hezbollah mount,Sarah Dadouch and Leo Sands, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). Israel struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon's Baalbek region on Feb. 26, the deepest such attack by Israeli forces into Lebanese territory since Oct. 7. 

Israel FlagIsrael’s military struck targets deep within neighboring Lebanon on Monday, in the latest escalation in tensions as Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants continue to exchange fire on a near daily basis.

The strike in Lebanon’s Baalbek region, northeast of the capital, Beirut, was the deepest such attack by Israeli forces into Lebanese territory since Oct. 7.

A spokesperson for Hezbollah, the Iranian-aligned paramilitary that is also Lebanon’s most powerful political group, said that two of its members were killed in the strike.

In posts on social media, Israel’s military said it deployed fighter jets to strike targets “deep inside Lebanon” that it said were being used by Hezbollah militants as air defense sites. It said they were launched in response to the downing of an Israeli drone by a surface-to-air missile. Earlier in the day, the IDF said an Israeli air force drone was shot down while flying over Lebanese territory.

According to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar channel, one of the Israeli strikes targeted an empty building on the outskirts of the town of Hosh Tal Safiyeh.

Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Hezbollah and Israel’s military have traded shells and rockets across the border, raising the specter of a full-blown conflict. Hezbollah has borne the brunt of most of Israeli attacks in Lebanon, where approximately 180 of its members were killed in that period.

As fighting has intensified and Israel struck targets deeper within Lebanon, the United States and its Western allies have been scrambling diplomatic efforts in the hope of heading off a full-scale war, which would be catastrophic for Lebanon. The country has been without a functioning government for almost two years and is facing the prospect of economic and financial collapse.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. launches probe into possible fraud by organ collection groups, Lenny Bernstein, Mark Johnson and Lisa Rein, Feb. 27, 2024 (print ed.). The investigation led by federal prosecutors could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

Federal authorities have launched a wide-ranging investigation of the nonprofit organizations that collect organs for transplant in the United States, according to six people familiar with the inquiry, which seeks to determine whether any of the groups have been defrauding the government.

The probe involves U.S. attorneys in various parts of the country who are investigating organ procurement organizations in at least five states. Their team includes investigators from the Department of Health and Human Services and the office of Michael Missal, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are seeking to determine, among other things, whether any of these groups have been overbilling the government for their costs.

The investigation has been underway for at least several months, the people said. But in a sign the probe is intensifying, investigators from the VA inspector general were “dispatched” to the offices and homes of 10 chief executives of organ procurement organizations at the beginning of February “as part of an inquiry,” according to a notice that Steve Miller, chief executive of the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations, sent to his membership.

Serious deficiencies in the nationwide organ transplant system have been the subject of increasing government scrutiny in recent years, but an investigation led by federal prosecutors — which carries the possibility of criminal charges — could be the gravest threat yet to the status quo in the troubled, multibillion-dollar organ transplant industry.

 

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos

ny times logoNew York Times, Gretchen Whitmer’s Biggest Electoral Test: Can She Deliver Michigan for Biden? Mitch Smith, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The Michigan governor is popular in her state, but it remains to be seen whether she can help much with those most frustrated with President Biden.

gretchen whitmer o smile CustomGretchen Whitmer, right, was planning to speak in Dearborn, Mich., at a feel-good event celebrating a health clinic founded by Muslim leaders.

It was the sort of profile-boosting appearance that Ms. Whitmer, the Democratic governor of the state, stocks her calendar with and that has helped her build a broad base of support in closely divided Michigan. But this was late October, in the first weeks of the Israel-Hamas war, and the governor’s response to the conflict had won her few friends.

First, she posted a statement that did not include the word “Israel,” infuriating some in the Jewish community. Then she said she was “unequivocally supportive of Israel,” which was seen as a betrayal by many Arab Americans.

michigan mapAs word of her Dearborn visit spread on social media, some in that largely Arab American city, usually friendly political turf for Democrats, announced plans for a protest. “WHITMER NOT WELCOME IN DEARBORN,” read one poster circulated by activists, who accused her of supporting genocide.

She called off the speech, a decision that she said recently was probably a mistake.

The episode foreshadowed the electoral turbulence her party faces this year and the difficult role she now occupies as President Biden’s chief ambassador to Michigan, a key battleground.

 

dan rather djtSteady, Commentary: Trouble in Trumpland? Dan Rather, Steady founder, author and former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor (shown above right), Feb. 26, dan rather steady logo2024. A deeper dive indicates where and how Trump is vulnerable. NBC’s “Meet The Press” this morning characterized Donald Trump’s South Carolina primary victory as “delivering a crushing blow to [Nikki] Haley in her home state on Saturday, trouncing her by 20 points with nearly 60 percent of the vote. The former president dominated nearly every key group.”

While he did indeed win handily, a deep dive into the numbers provides some interesting context.

trump 2024The part of the story missing from many news reports is that Trump is slipping from his 2020 numbers. His support is strongest among his MAGA base, which pollsters put at no more than 33% of the electorate. Clearly, he will need more than MAGA to win the White House again.

biden harris 2024 logoPresident Biden won the South Carolina Democratic primary with 96.2% of the vote. Trump, who is essentially an incumbent up against a novice at running for national office, could not muster even 60% of his party’s vote. Exit polls from Saturday night should have GOP leaders nervous.

The makeup of South Carolina’s Republican voters does not mirror the country. They are heavily weighted with hard-right “conservatives,” older, white, male, evangelical election deniers. Trump won overwhelmingly among them. But Haley won among independents, moderates, and those who care about foreign policy. And that’s the crux of it.

To win the presidency again, Trump will need to bring all Republicans into the tent. Gallop estimates that 41% of the electorate identifies as Republican. Then it gets really tough. He has to convince a large number of independents and Democrats to vote for him. But how?

  • Not by favoring a 16-week national abortion ban
  • Not by threatening to pull out of NATO
  • Not by defunding Ukraine and supporting Putin’s invasion
  • Not by promising “ultimate and absolute revenge” against his political opponents
  • Not by refusing to accept the results of elections he’s lost
  • Not by promising to be a dictator on day one of his second term
  • Not by saying things like: “These are the stakes of this election. Our country is being destroyed, and the only thing standing between you and its obliteration is me.”

Trump is winning primaries while underperforming. Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Obama and current host of “Pod Save America,” writes: “You cannot win the White House with the coalition that Trump is getting in these primaries. He must expand his coalition, persuade people who aren’t already on board and get beyond the Big Lie-believing MAGA base. Through three primary contests, Trump has gained no ground.”

djt maga hatPolls also indicate a majority of voters in swing states would be unwilling to vote for Trump if he’s convicted of a crime. That could happen as soon as April or May.

As Axios writes: “If America were dominated by old, white, election-denying Christians who didn’t go to college, former President Trump would win the general election in as big of a landslide as his sweep of the first four GOP contests.” Fortunately, it is not. America is a rich tapestry of heritages, races, and creeds. Immigrants have long been one of our strengths.

But the likely GOP nominee continues to feed fears about immigration using language tailored to his MAGA base. “They’re coming from Asia, they’re coming from the Middle East, coming from all over the world, coming from Africa, and we’re not going to stand for it ... They’re destroying our country,” Trump said Saturday at CPAC, a conference of extreme-right Trump supporters.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logos“No, Mr. Trump, they’re not,” is the answer of many Americans. There is strong public opinion that what is tearing our country apart is the divisiveness and rancor that comes from Trump, the Republican Party, and their right-wing media machine.

The mainstream press may begin to offer more of this context and perspective as we get deeper into the presidential campaign. One of the things Steady was created to do was offer reasoned context and perspective to news stories. This writing is an example.

Trump remains a real and present threat to win the presidency again in November. But that is not assured. Not nearly, as a deep analysis of early primary results indicates.

There is still a long way to go and many rivers to cross for both major candidates.

 

djt nikki haley Custom 2

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Why Trump’s South Carolina win is significant, and other primary takeaways, Aaron Blake, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Nikki Haley aaron blakehas insisted she’ll stay in the race through Super Tuesday, March 5, but the results in her home state only reinforced her lack of a path to victory.

The result was not surprising, but it was significant. For example:

trump 2024Trump was already the first non-incumbent Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s now added Nevada and South Carolina. Since those two states began having early nominating contests in 2008, he’s the only non-incumbent from either party to sweep them. (Trump won three of four in 2016, as did Barack Obama in 2008.)

Losing your home state is rare for a major candidate who remains in the race: Think Elizabeth Warren in 2020 (finishing third in Massachusetts, 12 points behind now-President Biden) and Marco Rubio in 2016 (losing Florida to Trump by 19 points). Haley’s margin of defeat looks as though it will exceed both of them. Only relatively minor candidates such as Ron Paul (2008), Dennis Kucinich (2004), Alan Keyes (2000) and Pat Robertson (1988) lost their home states by more than it looks like Haley will, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted four years ago.

South Carolina might have been Haley’s second-best shot at victory in any state. New Hampshire featured an inordinate number of independent and moderate voters — whom Haley does well with — and South Carolina had the home-state connection. But even though 8 in 10 South Carolina Republicans liked Haley during her two terms as governor, a Fox News/AP/NORC voter analysis showed nearly half of voters Saturday disliked her. And if voters in her home state don’t even like her much, the odds are voters elsewhere won’t.

It’s not likely to get better from here. Tuesday is the primary in Michigan, where Haley has trailed by even more than she lost each of the four early states. And ahead of a dozen states voting on Super Tuesday, her deficit nationally is north of 60 points.

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

 

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Incoming House Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (R-MS).

Politico, Schumer challenges Johnson to ‘step up’ ahead of Friday shutdown cliff, Caitlin Emma, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Negotiators are still haggling over the four spending measures set to expire at week’s end.

politico CustomSenate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter to colleagues Sunday afternoon that House Republicans “need more time to sort themselves out” on funding bills, with a partial government shutdown threatening to shutter many federal agencies in five days.

Top lawmakers and appropriators had hoped to unveil the text of a small spending package over the weekend, possibly alongside another short-term funding patch to buy more time for talks on fiscal 2024 bills, beyond the March 1 and March 8 shutdown deadlines. But any hope of reaching an agreement is now slipping into the week, risking a funding lapse at midnight on Friday for the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and others.

“It is my sincere hope that in the face of a disruptive shutdown that would hurt our economy and make American families less safe, Speaker Johnson will step up to once again buck the extremists in his caucus and do the right thing,” Schumer wrote.

“While we had hoped to have legislation ready this weekend that would give ample time for members to review the text, it is clear now that House Republicans need more time to sort themselves out,” he said. “With the uncertainty of how the House will pass the appropriations bills and avoid a shutdown this week, I ask all Senators to keep their schedules flexible, so we can work to ensure a pointless and harmful lapse in funding doesn’t occur.”

Key context: Appropriations staff has been working around the clock in the hopes of clinching a deal on some or all of the first four bills set to expire, including the Agriculture-FDA, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD measures.

mike johnson oSpeaker Mike Johnson, right, is facing tremendous pressure from his right flank to secure policy wins across the bills on topics ranging from abortion to guns. During a conference call with Republicans on Friday night, he said he couldn’t rule out the possibility of a partial government shutdown at week’s end.

Negotiators in recent days have sparred over cuts to agriculture programs and limits on how USDA spends money, for example. Both sides have also warred over a policy rider that would ban mail delivery of abortion pills, a heated impasse over nutrition funding for low-income mothers and babies, as well as a pilot program proposed by Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) that would restrict SNAP food aid purchases.

The timeline for any legislative action is exceedingly tight. The House, which has been expected to move first on any bills, won’t be in session until Wednesday. The Senate, set to deal with impeachment articles against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, returns from recess on Monday.

Ukraine aid: On the heels of his trip with several other Senate Democrats to Ukraine, Schumer challenged Johnson to visit the country “and witness what we witnessed, because I believe it is virtually impossible for anyone with decency and goodwill to turn their back on Ukraine if they saw the horrors of that war with their own eyes.”

The Senate’s national security supplemental, which would deliver tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, now sits at Johnson’s feet, Schumer wrote.

“If Speaker Johnson put the national security supplemental on the floor today, it would pass with a large number of both Democrats and Republicans,” the New York Democrat wrote. “Now is the time for action. Speaker Johnson cannot let politics or blind obeisance to Donald Trump get in the way.”

ny times logoWashington Post, Analysis: GOP elder statesmen’s message to House Speaker Johnson: Stop dithering, Paul Kane, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.).  Two GOP veterans are urging the new House speaker to make his own decisions and not kowtow to the far-right flank.

Some Republican elder statesmen are trying to send a message to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) by urging him to make forceful decisions that will not please portions of the GOP conference.

Two early March deadlines on government funding are looming, as is the ongoing dispute over funding Ukraine’s defenses. On these and other issues, two veteran Republicans believe that the relatively new speaker has been too timid.

Johnson, who marks four months as speaker Sunday, will need to stare down far-right forces who keep threatening to oust him and instead forge the best deals possible. He can call the far right’s bluff and win, or he can continue to try to placate it, weakening himself for the long haul.

Johnson reaches a crossroads in leading an unruly House GOP conference

“I don’t think you can be good at these jobs unless you’re willing to lose them,” former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Wednesday during a Washington Post Live “Election 2024 Series” event, pausing to reflect on his own troubled tenure from late 2015 through 2018.

In a podcast also released Wednesday, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) delivered a more blunt assessment of Johnson’s tenure by saying that his tendency to wait so long before making a decision cuts into his leverage with Senate Democrats and President Biden. In the process, those poorly negotiated deals further empower the far-right antagonists, who already ousted his predecessor, ex-speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in October.

“You can either die as speaker and worry about them taking you out, or live every day as your last. Get something out of it. If you lead and get big things done, your reputation enhances. Your ability to get the next deal done is enhanced,” McHenry told CBS’s Major Garrett.
To think of Ryan, 54, and McHenry, 48, as elder statesmen will make some readers blink and reread those sentences. But in today’s House GOP — where half of the Republicans took office after Ryan retired in January 2019 — these two have been around the congressional block more than once.

washington post logoWashington Post, Government funding bills not ‘home runs’, Johnson says, but include GOP policies, Jacob Bogage, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Leaders in Congress slipped Sunday in their last-minute scramble to head off a looming government shutdown deadline that could shutter vital services at the Transportation Department, strain food stamp programs and put housing assistance for millions of families in jeopardy.

With some federal funding set to expire in less than a week, House Republican policy demands — on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights and abortion to national security concerns on immigration and competition from China — have slowed talks that had appeared to be close to yielding a breakthrough. Lawmakers abandoned tentative plans to announce legislative text on a deal Sunday evening.

Instead, legislators privately say another temporary spending extension could be necessary to avert a partial shutdown that could ripple into the winder economy. Roughly 20 percent of the federal government will close on March 2 without action. A deadline for the remaining 80 percent awaits just a week later.

mike johnson oAlready, Congress has passed stopgap spending legislation three times since Sept. 30 as government funding debates revealed internecine brawls in the House GOP and tested the party’s brittle and minuscule majority.

President Biden summoned House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), right, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to the White House for a meeting Tuesday to discuss the shutdown deadlines and the White House’s push to pass new defense assistance for Ukraine.

Even a partial shutdown would trouble federal food assistance programs — including WIC, an emergency nutrition program for women, infants and children that is already contending with a budget shortfall. Air traffic controllers would remain on the job, but would go unpaid. Federal housing vouchers, which support 5 million families, could be temporarily endangered. Government scientists would stop tracing and studying animal-borne diseases.

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More On U.S. Supreme Court

ny times logoNew York Times, The Supreme Court arguments could fundamentally change how social media sites are policed, David McCabe, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Here’s what to know: Both Florida and Texas passed laws regulating how social media companies moderate speech online. The laws, if upheld, could fundamentally alter how the platforms police their sites.

Social media companies are bracing for Supreme Court arguments on Monday that could fundamentally alter the way they police their sites.

After Facebook, Twitter and YouTube barred President Donald J. Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol, Florida made it illegal for technology companies to ban from their sites a candidate for office in the state. Texas later passed its own law prohibiting platforms from taking down political content.

Two tech industry groups, NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, sued to block the laws from taking effect. They argued that the companies have the right to make decisions about their own platforms under the First Amendment, much as a newspaper gets to decide what runs in its pages.
So what’s at stake?

The Supreme Court’s decision in those cases — Moody v. NetChoice and NetChoice v. Paxton — is a big test of the power of social media companies, potentially reshaping millions of social media feeds by giving the government influence over how and what stays online.

“What’s at stake is whether they can be forced to carry content they don’t want to,” said Daphne Keller, a lecturer at Stanford Law School who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the tech groups’ challenge to the Texas and Florida laws. “And, maybe more to the point, whether the government can force them to carry content they don’t want to.”

If the Supreme Court says the Texas and Florida laws are constitutional and they take effect, some legal experts speculate that the companies could create versions of their feeds specifically for those states. Still, such a ruling could usher in similar laws in other states, and it is technically complicated to accurately restrict access to a website based on location.

ny times logoWashington Post, Opinion: The case of Clarence Thomas’s new clerk taints the entire judiciary, Ruth Marcus, right, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). The Crystal ruth marcus twitter CustomClanton episode is a stain on the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

We knew this was coming — and still, it shocks. Justice Clarence Thomas has hired Crystal Clanton to be one of his law clerks, the most elite assignment a young law school graduate can secure.

The shock is this: In 2015, when Clanton was 20 and working for a conservative group allied with the justice’s wife, Ginni Thomas, Clanton apparently sent racist texts to a fellow employee. “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE,” one text read. “Like f--- them all … I hate blacks. End of story.” (In Clanton’s text, the expletive was spelled out.)

It is impossible to overstate the prestige that attaches to a Supreme Court clerkship. The job is a golden ticket awarded to just 36 each year — about 1 in 1,000 law graduates, the best of the best. Major law firms lure Supreme Court clerks with signing bonuses of a half-million dollars. Clanton, who graduated from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University in 2022, will be the third high court clerk from that institution since 2021.

The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer unearthed Clanton’s texts in 2017, in an article about Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization run by Charlie Kirk. Notably, Clanton, the group’s field director, didn’t deny writing the texts. “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager,” she wrote in an email to Mayer.

Kirk told Mayer in a separate email that “Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.” Kirk spokesman Andrew Kolvet reaffirmed the New Yorker’s account when I wrote about Clanton in 2021 and repeated in a conversation in 2022 that she was “terminated from Turning Point after the discovery of problematic texts.”

The “I hate blacks” text doesn’t appear to have been an isolated incident. The website Mediaite, reporting in 2018 on Clanton’s hiring by Ginni Thomas, described a Snapchat message featuring “a photo of a man who appears to be Arab and a caption written by Clanton that reads, ‘Just thinking about ways to do another 9/11.’”

After leaving Turning Point, Clanton was hired by Ginni Thomas and lived with the Thomases in Virginia for almost a year before attending the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Thomas then recommended Clanton to Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Pryor is one of the most conservative members of the federal judiciary; he made Donald Trump’s short list for the high court but was deemed too conservative to make it through Senate confirmation, and he has been a reliable “feeder judge” for the high court, particularly for Thomas.

Letters submitted to the 2nd Circuit by Clarence Thomas and Pryor, and obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Rankin, elaborated on Clanton’s relationship with the Thomases and her hiring by Pryor. “I know Crystal Clanton and I know bigotry,” Thomas wrote. “Bigotry is antithetical to her nature.”

Thomas said his wife “informed me of the horrible way in which she had been treated at Turning Point and asked that she be allowed to live with us.” He related how he encouraged Clanton, “understandably distraught and depressed,” to go to law school; recommended her when she applied to law school; and then suggested her to Pryor as a clerk, informing him of “the grossly out of character and unfounded allegations against her.”

Thomas concluded, “It is certainly my intention to consider her for a clerkship should she perform as I expect and excel in her clerkships.”

Case closed. Clanton hired. This episode is a stain — and not just on Clanton and Thomas. It taints the entire federal judiciary, which has proven itself institutionally incapable of and unwilling to enforce basic ethics rules.

ny times logoWashington Post, Supreme Court to decide if states can control fate of social media, Cat Zakrzewski and Ann E. Marimow, Feb. 25, 2024. As a “splinternet” emerges in the United States, the high court will decide if the First Amendment blocks a pair of laws that tackle conservatives’ allegations of Big Tech censorship.

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear oral arguments to determine the constitutionality of that Texas law along with a related Florida law, which prohibits platforms from suspending the accounts of political candidates or media publications.

The cases will determine whether state governments or tech companies have the power to set the rules for what posts can appear on popular social networks.

Republican leaders adopted the laws in response to growing concern among conservatives that social media giants were censoring their political views.

Tech companies, represented by the trade group NetChoice, argue the laws give the government too much control over online speech in violation of the First Amendment and have the potential to usher in a patchwork of different internet laws rooted in political whims of state leaders.

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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

 

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international court of justice icc

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), shown above, is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. As described by its website, the ICJ is a civil tribunal that hears disputes between countries. It has no prosecutor or jurisdiction to try individuals, including those joan donoghueaccused of war crimes or crimes against humanity. Its current president, Joan Donoghue, right, is a United States citizen who became a justice on the court in 2010 following election by United Nations members. She then won election from other justices in 2021 to become the ICJ president for a three-year term. The court's vice president is Kiill Gevorgian of the Russian Federation. Other current members are shown here.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House reverses West Bank policy, calling Israeli settlements illegal, John Hudson and Karen DeYoung, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The decision was in response to reports that the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning further settlement expansion, an official said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a reversal of the previous administration’s position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank on Friday, saying they are “inconsistent with international law.”

palestinian flag“Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion,” Blinken told reporters at a news conference in Argentina. “In our judgment, this only weakens — it doesn’t strengthen — Israel’s security.”

The decision — which was also announced at the White House — was in immediate response to reports that the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning further settlement expansion, according to a U.S. official, one of several who discussed the decision on the condition of anonymity under administration rules.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich announced plans late Thursday for approval of 3,000 new settlement homes after Israeli police said Palestinian gunmen opened fire near the existing Maale Adumim settlement, killing one Israeli and wounding five. The expansion plans, he said, were part of “deepening our eternal grip on the entire Land of Israel.”

ny times logoNew York Times, A U.S. Air Force airman set himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, officials said, Aishvarya Kavi, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). The man, who filmed and livestreamed the protest, was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. The U.S. Air Force confirmed he was an active-duty airman.

Officers with the U.S. Secret Service extinguished the fire outside the embassy, in northwestern Washington, around 1 p.m., said Vito Maggiolo, a spokesman with the city’s fire department. The man was taken to a nearby hospital with life-threatening injuries and remains in critical condition.

No embassy staff members were injured, and all were accounted for, according to Tal Naim, a spokeswoman for the embassy.

The man appeared to have filmed the protest and livestreamed it on the social media platform Twitch at the time that the police said they responded to the incident. The New York Times could not confirm who was behind the account that posted the video, but the video featured a man walking toward the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide,” a man said in the video, echoing language that opponents of Israel’s military action in Gaza have used to Israel Flagdescribe the campaign. “I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest.”

Standing in front of the embassy gates, he set his phone down to film dousing himself in a clear liquid from a metal bottle. He then lit himself on fire while yelling “Free Palestine!” until he fell to the ground.

The video showed law enforcement officers approaching him shortly before the fire caught. One could be heard off-camera saying: “Can I help you, sir?” The officers then scrambled for more than a minute to put out the flames.

The video was removed on Sunday afternoon and replaced with a message stating that the channel violated Twitch’s guidelines. It was the only video posted to the account, which had a Palestinian flag as its header image.

In the video, the man was dressed in fatigues, and the name he used matched a LinkedIn profile for an active-duty Air Force officer based in Texas. The authorities have not confirmed the identity of the man.

The police also investigated a suspicious vehicle nearby for explosives, but Sean Hickman, a police spokesman, said the scene had been cleared by 4 p.m. Officers with the Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had worked with Washington’s explosive ordnance disposal unit to investigate the incident.

Protests against Israel have become a near-daily occurrence across the country since Israel began its campaign in Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed at least 1,200 people, according to the Israeli officials. International calls for a humanitarian cease-fire have grown in the past months as the humanitarian crisis has deepened. The embassy has been the site of sustained protests against the war in Gaza as the civilian death toll in the devastated enclave continues to climb, with more than 29,000 dead, according to the local health ministry officials.

Protests have sometimes resulted in arrests but seldom in violence. In December, a protester self-immolated in front of the Israeli consulate in Atlanta in what police said was “likely an extreme act of political protest.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Gaza Death Toll Mounts, Israel’s Isolation Grows, Mark Landler, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). A worsening humanitarian crisis has brought condemnation against Israel and is testing the support of even its staunchest ally, the United States.

Israel FlagWhen David Ben-Gurion, one of Israel’s founding fathers, was warned in 1955 that his plan to seize the Gaza Strip from Egypt would provoke a backlash in the United Nations, he famously derided the U.N., playing off its Hebrew acronym, as “Um-Shmum.”

The phrase came to symbolize Israel’s willingness to defy international organizations when it believes its core interests are at stake.

Nearly 70 years later, Israel faces another wave of condemnation in the United Nations, the International Court of Justice, and from dozens of countries over its military operation in Gaza, which has killed an estimated 29,000 Palestinians, many of them women and children, and left much of the territory in ruins.

The huge swell in global pressure has left the Israeli government and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, deeply isolated, if not yet bowed, largely because it still has the support of its staunchest ally, the United States.

This time, though, Israel faces a rare break with Washington. The Biden administration is circulating a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council that would warn the Israeli military not to carry out a ground offensive in Rafah, near Egypt, where more than a million Palestinian refugees are sheltering. It would also call for a temporary cease-fire as soon as practical.

“It’s a big problem for the Israeli government because it has previously been able to hide behind the protection of the United States,” said Martin S. Indyk, a former American ambassador to Israel. “But now Biden is signaling that Netanyahu can no longer take that protection for granted.”

biden harris 2024 logo“There is a broader context of condemnation by international public opinion, which is unprecedented in breadth and depth, and which has spread to the United States,” Mr. Indyk said. “The Democratic Party’s progressive, youth and Arab American constituencies have all become angry and harshly critical of Biden for his support of Israel.”

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. hopes cease-fire agreement in Gaza can be reached in ‘coming days,’ Niha Masih, Leo Sands, Mariana Alfaro, Silvia Foster-Frau and Lior Soroka, Feb. 25, 2024.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. stands with Israel at U.N. court as Biden-Netanyahu tension simmers, Emily Rauhala, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). The United States backed Israel in a hearing Wednesday at the International Court of Justice, once again diverging from allies despite growing tension between President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Israel-Gaza war.

Israel FlagIn a presentation in The Hague, the United States said that an advisory opinion from the U.N.’s top court had the potential to frustrate peace efforts if it did not account for Israel’s needs. “A movement toward Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza requires consideration of Israel’s very real security needs,” State Department official Richard Visek told the court.

The remarks came on the third day of historic hearings on Israel’s control over the West Bank, Gaza and annexed East Jerusalem. In earlier presentations, representatives from South Africa and other nations slammed Israel for running an “apartheid state” and called for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

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Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, who have been married for 27 years, participated in a recent sailing club rally and were spending the winter in the Caribbean (Photo viia The Salty Dawg Sailing Association).

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel, who have been married for 27 years, participated in a recent sailing club rally and were spending the winter in the Caribbean (Photo via The Salty Dawg Sailing Association).

ny times logoNew York Times, American Couple Goes Missing While Sailing Off Grenada, Johnny Diaz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.).  The authorities are looking into whether the disappearance of Kathy Brandel and Ralph Hendry from their yacht is connected to a prisoner escape.

An American couple who had departed from Virginia and were spending the winter cruising in the Caribbean went missing this month while sailing off Grenada, and their boat turned up empty in neighboring St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Their disappearance came around the same time three men escaped from a prison in Grenada and made their getaway by boat to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the authorities in those islands said.

In a statement, the Royal Grenada Police Force did not identify the two Americans but said that it was looking into possible harm to them in connection to the prisoners’ escape.

According to the Salty Dawg Sailing Association, a nonprofit that brings together sailing and cruising enthusiasts, a skipper notified it on Feb. 21 that a member’s yacht called Simplicity was found anchored and abandoned off a beach on the southern coast of St. Vincent.

The missing boat owners were identified as Ralph Hendry, 66, and Kathy Brandel, 71, by the association and Ms. Brandel’s son, Nick Buro, who said the couple, originally from Virginia, were married for 27 years.

Mr. Hendry and Ms. Brandel were experienced sailors who lived on their boat. They recently completed their sailing club’s “Caribbean Rally” — cruising from Hampton, Va., to the island of Antigua to end 2023 with a celebration — and they were spending the remainder of the winter cruising the Caribbean, according to a statement from the club.

Separately, the Royal Grenada Police Force said in a Feb. 22 statement that three men who escaped from a prison in Grenada on Feb. 18 made their way to St. Vincent using a yacht that had been docked in the St. George area of Grenada. The force said that the two boat occupants, whom it did not name, were American citizens.

The prisoners were recaptured on Feb. 21, the same day that the couple’s vessel was found. The Grenada authorities identified the prisoners as Trevon Robertson, 19; Abita Stanislaus, 25; and Ron Mitchell, 30.

They had been previously charged, jointly, in a violent robbery case in December. Mr. Mitchell also faced various separate charges that included causing harm, indecent assault and rape, the Grenada police said.

ny times logoWashington Post, As Lebanon teeters on the edge, a war with Israel would be catastrophic, Mohamad El Chamaa and Suzan Haidamous, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Wages for Lebanon’s soldiers have fallen so low that many now have second jobs driving for Uber or working as parking valets. A GoFundMe campaign has been launched to support the country’s emergency response services. Angry depositors in Beirut have attacked the headquarters of a major bank with fireworks because it wouldn’t release their savings.

Even before the Israel-Gaza war, Lebanon was in economic crisis: Since 2019, the country’s gross domestic product has fallen by 50 percent, and poverty now plagues 80 percent of the population.

A wider war, long feared amid ongoing skirmishes between Israeli forces and Iranian-backed Hezbollah along Lebanon’s southern border, would be catastrophic.

Lebanese are despairing over their next meal as the economic crisis worsens

Lebanon is no stranger to disaster, having survived a 15-year civil war and a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. But this time, according to Simon Neaime, an economics professor at the American University of Beirut, the Lebanese are exhausted.

ny times logoWashington Post, U.S. struggles for influence in West Africa as military juntas rise, Rachel Chason and Michael Birnbaum, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). U.S. officials are waging urgent diplomatic efforts in West Africa, searching during public tours and private meetings for ways to partner with military governments in a region where violence wrought by Islamic extremists is soaring and Russia’s influence is expanding.

But the officials have struggled at times to articulate what that partnership would look like, especially since the types of assistance the U.S. government can legally provide has been curtailed after the ousting of democratically elected governments by soldiers in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, according to interviews with a dozen current and former U.S. officials, analysts and activists.

The stakes are especially high in Niger, where the United States has deployed more than 1,000 soldiers and operates a drone base that officials say is vital for surveillance of extremist groups in the Sahel region, which runs across Africa just below the Sahara Desert.
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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, the State Department’s top official for African affairs, said she did not mince words when she traveled to Niamey, Niger’s capital, in December to negotiate with Niger’s prime minister and other cabinet members. Phee said that she urged Niger’s junta to rebuild its relations with other countries, particularly with the regional bloc of West African states known as the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, which is seen as an ally in efforts to restore democracy in the region. And she stressed that U.S. assistance would remain suspended until Niger sets a timeline for restoring democracy.

“We made the choice as stark and clear as we could,” Phee recalled.

But in the two months since that meeting, Niger has largely moved in the opposite direction. The government has yet to announce a timeline for holding elections and continues to detain the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum under house arrest.

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Wayne Madsen Report, Commentary: Trump's name will be treated by future historians in the same manner as Quisling and Vichy France's Marshal wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallPetain, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 22, 2024. Vladimir Putin's regime has stuffed money in the pockets of politicians, flooded social media on behalf of pro-Kremlin political parties, and provided a steady stream of propaganda support on satellite news channels.

mike johnson oThe Putinista wing of the GOP, which includes Trump, House Speaker Mike Johnson, right, and their acolytes, has stymied U.S. military assistance to Ukraine in failing to agree on spending measures. Opinion polls have pointed to the dominant pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party believing that Putin would make a better president of the United States than Joe Biden. Those numbers strongly suggest that Putin's influence operation targeting the United States has been extremely successful.

Russia has actively sought to interfere with democracies by mostly supporting fascist and xenophobic parties in the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, and other nations. Russian fascism, known as Ruscism, has infected the platforms ofparties ranging from the U.S. Republicans to the Conservative Parties of Britain and Canada. The symbol for Ruscism, the letter "Z," is as ever-present in Russian-occupied Ukraine, Serbia, Transnistria, and other countries as the Nazi swastika was in occupied Europe during the Second World War.

djt maga hatPutin, having had invested so much in Trump, is banking on his re-election. Trump and his allies are not very different from the Nazi puppet rulers installed in power by Adolf Hitler in countries occupied by German forces during World War II. The name Trump, as far as future historians will likely be concerned, will be positioned in the same ranks as Norway's Vidkun Quisling, France's Marshal Philippe Petain, Belgium's Leon Degrelle, and other treasonous collaborators.

Meida Touch Network, Commentary: Judge Engoron Denies Trump's Attempt To Stay $350+ Million Judgment, Jordy Meiselas,  Feb. 22, 2024.That was quick! Despite Donald Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the $350+ million civil fraud judgment, Judge Arthur Engoron has denied Trump's request in a short email to his attorney Clifford Robert.

The email notes that Trump failed to justify any basis for a stay of the judgment and asserted that the appellate courts will protect any rights Trump has. This email comes just hours after the New York Attorney General's Office slammed Trump's attempt to delay the enforcement of the judgment.

Trump will now be forced to seek review of the judgment from the appellate courts in New York.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump faces a cash crunch as time runs out to post half a billion dollars in bonds, Jonathan O'Connell, Shayna Jacobs and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Former president Donald Trump is contending with the results of two legal battles that have thrust his business empire into greater uncertainty than it has seen in decades.

Hours after a New York judge ordered Donald Trump to pay a $355 million penalty for submitting false data to financial institutions, the former president railed against the decision during a fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago Club with some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors.

Trump claimed at that Feb. 16 gathering that the judge in the civil fraud case had made history by ordering him to pay such a staggering sum, according to two people who were there. He suggested that the judgment was so severe that the public would consider it unfair and rally in support. Over and over, he returned to the penalty, livid at its size.

The episode offered a glimpse of Trump’s preoccupation with a legal decision that threatens his wealth and has thrust his business empire into greater uncertainty than perhaps any time since the 1990s, when his Atlantic City casinos fell into extreme debt, leading six of his companies to file for bankruptcy.

Trump, who built his business and political identities around boasts of financial savvy, now faces an immediate cash crunch of more than a half-billion dollars — the combined cost of two legal battles that will now test the limits of his personal wealth.

According to state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron’s final judgment, entered Friday, Trump now owes New York at least $454 million — the $355 million penalty plus interest, which is now accruing at a rate of $112,000 per day. Separately, he faces an $83.3 million judgment in a federal defamation case brought by the writer E. Jean Carroll.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Dim or disloyal? Republicans again ensnared in possible Russian plot, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 25, 2024. Are Republicans jennifer rubin new headshoteasy marks or willing participants in Russian anti-Biden operations? That’s a troubling question raised by the Feb. 14 grand jury indictment of a former FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, on charges of concocting a tale about President Biden’s supposed involvement in his family members’ business dealings.

Allegations by Smirnov — who appears to have ties to Russian intelligence, according to the federal indictment — have formed the backbone of the House Republicans’ laughable attempt to build an impeachment case against the president. They championed him as their star witness. Now the Republicans’ fact-deficient storyline has been shredded.

The Post reported that Smirnov, who has not entered a plea yet, is accused of “making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record” by trying to implicate Biden in corruption related to his son Hunter Biden’s involvement with the Ukraine energy company Burisma. “The charges,” the article said, “amount to a stark rebuke of conservatives, particularly Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, who touted Smirnov’s claims as he and other Republican lawmakers tried to build a corruption case against the president and his family.”

Even more damning, The Post subsequently reported that “Smirnov’s indictment and detention memo suggest the allegations were not only false, but possibly a Russian-inspired smear.”

In the aftermath of the indictment, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) declared, “Smirnov was the foundation of the whole thing. He was the one who came forward to say that Burisma had given Joe Biden $5 million, and that was just concocted in thin air. It was that foundation that the whole house of cards has been built on, and the entire thing has collapsed.”

Politico, Koch network stops spending on Nikki Haley's presidential campaign, Natalie Allison, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Americans for Prosperity Action said it had to “take stock” after Haley’s loss in South Carolina.

politico CustomAmericans For Prosperity Action, the powerful conservative group supporting Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary, will no longer spend money on behalf of her campaign.

In an email to staff obtained by POLITICO, Americans For Prosperity CEO Emily Seidel said Sunday that the group’s political arm, AFP Action, had to “take stock” of its spending priorities after Haley’s loss in the South Carolina primary. The Koch-aligned group, Seidel said, will now focus its efforts on competitive Senate and House races.

trump 2024“She has made it clear that she will continue to fight and we wholeheartedly support her in this effort,” Seidel wrote of Haley. “But given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory.”

AFP Action’s decision is the latest blow to Haley’s longshot presidential bid, which has sustained losses in four early nominating states and the Virgin Islands, including on Saturday, when former President Donald Trump beat Haley in her home state by 20 points. Haley declared she will continue on in her primary fight, but has only committed to running through Super Tuesday on March 5.

AFP Action had funded advertisements and field operations for months last year that were designed to persuade Republican voters to back someone other than Trump in the presidential primary. But it wasn’t until late November that AFP Action tapped Haley as its desired Trump alternative. Since then, AFP has reached out to more than 3 million voters in early nominating and Super Tuesday states, as well as purchased millions of dollars worth of ads on Haley’s behalf.

Unlike the Club for Growth — another conservative group whose political action committee funded anti-Trump ads last year before making peace with Trump — AFP is sticking by its position that Trump on the ballot will make it harder for the GOP to win in November.

“If Donald Trump is at the top of the Republican ticket, the risk of one-party rule by a Democratic Party captured by the Progressive Left is severe and would do irreparable damage to the country,” Seidel wrote Sunday. “The last three election cycles have painted a very clear picture of what we can expect from voters who consistently rejected Donald Trump and his impact on the Republican party brand.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Defeats Haley in South Carolina, a Crushing Blow in Her Home State, Michael Gold, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). The former president is barreling toward the Republican nomination with a sweep of early states, now including the one Nikki Haley had hoped would boost her.

Former President Donald J. Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley in South Carolina’s Republican primary on Saturday, delivering a crushing blow in her home state and casting grave doubt on her long-term viability.

Mr. Trump’s victory, called by The Associated Press, was widely expected, and offers fresh fodder for his contention that the race is effectively over. Ms. Haley pledged to continue her campaign, but the former president has swept the early states and is barreling toward the nomination even as a majority of delegates have yet to be awarded.

“This was a little sooner than we anticipated,” he said in Columbia, S.C., minutes after the race was called, adding that he had “never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.”

Throughout his victory speech, Mr. Trump made it clear that he was eager to turn his attention to the general election, at one point telling the crowd: “I just wish we could do it quicker. Nine months is a long time.”

south carolina map

He also did not mention Ms. Haley by name, alluding to her only twice: once to knock her for a disappointing finish in a Nevada primary contest with no practical value, and once for supporting an opponent of his in 2016.

In her election-night speech in Charleston, S.C., Ms. Haley congratulated Mr. Trump on his victory. But she said the results — he was beating her by 60 percent to 39 percent as of late Saturday — demonstrated that “huge numbers of voters” were “saying they want an alternative.”

Mr. Trump, however, won South Carolina in 2016 and has remained popular in the state since, with polls ahead of the primary consistently showing him with double-digit leads.

Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and a United Nations ambassador during Mr. Trump’s administration, had hoped to buck the odds, but her loss at the hands of voters who are arguably the most familiar with her politics will fuel further uncertainty about her path forward.

During her speech, Ms. Haley sounded more serious and less upbeat than she had after defeats in Iowa and New Hampshire. But she said she planned to stay in the race through Super Tuesday on March 5, arguing that Americans deserved a chance to choose a candidate.

“In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak,” she told supporters. “They have the right to a real choice. Not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate.”

Ms. Haley has staked her campaign on drawing support from independents and more moderate Republicans, particularly in states where primaries are not restricted to voters registered with one party.

But that strategy fell short in New Hampshire last month — the early-voting state where she was closest to Mr. Trump in polls — and in South Carolina, raising questions about whether it will succeed in Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, and any of the 16 states that vote on Super Tuesday on March 5.

Still, Ms. Haley has insisted she will stay in the race, arguing that she is providing an alternative for voters opposed to Mr. Trump and maintaining that Americans deserve a chance to choose a candidate.

So far, though, Republican voters have shown no sign of turning away from Mr. Trump, even as he faces 91 felony charges in four criminal cases. Mr. Trump’s legal problems have been at the forefront of his bid, as he tries to use the unprecedented collision between the campaign trail and courtrooms to rally his base behind him.

Mr. Trump’s first criminal trial, on charges connected to a hush-money payment to a porn star in 2016, is scheduled to start on March 25 in New York City, meaning his trial could overlap with dozens of Republican primaries and caucuses.

Whether Ms. Haley will remain in the race by then is an open question. Donors have so far continued to pour money into her bid, giving her the cash to keep going. She will travel to Michigan on Sunday and has planned stops in a number of states before the Super Tuesday contests, when 36 percent of Republican delegates will be up for grabs.

ny times logoNew York Times, At CPAC, Trump Invokes Clashing Visions of America’s Future, Jonathan Swan and Michael C. Bender, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). Trump used his speech to focus on a general-election contest between him and President Biden, not once mentioning his main Republican rival, Nikki Haley.

Former President Donald J. Trump laid out what’s in store for America should he or President Biden win the 2024 presidential election, using a Saturday speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference to cast one nearly utopian vision of the country’s future and one reminiscent of a postapocalyptic movie.

If Mr. Biden is re-elected for a second four-year term, Mr. Trump warned in his speech, Medicare will “collapse.” Social Security will “collapse.” Health care in general will “collapse.” So, too, will public education. Millions of manufacturing jobs will be “choked off into extinction.” The U.S. economy will be “starved of energy” and there will be “constant blackouts.” The Islamist militant group Hamas will “terrorize our streets.” There will be a third world war and America will lose it. America itself will face “obliteration.”

On the other hand, Mr. Trump promised on Saturday that if he is elected America will be “richer and safer and stronger and prouder and more beautiful than ever before.” Crime in major cities? A thing of the past.

“Chicago could be solved in one day,” Mr. Trump said. “New York could be solved in a half a day there.”

It’s impossible to fact-check the future. But Mr. Trump’s speech at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland sounded familiar — like 2016 or 2020 all over again.

In his 2020 campaign, Mr. Trump warned that Mr. Biden would “confiscate your guns,” and “destroy your suburbs.” He predicted that the economy would sink into a depression worse than the 1930s Great Depression and that the “stock market will crash.” A Biden presidency, he predicted four years ago, “would mean that America’s seniors have no air conditioning during the summer, no heat during the winter and no electricity during peak hours.” And, he warned in July 2020, “you will have no more energy coming out of the great state of Texas, out of New Mexico, out of anywhere.”

Some of those past predictions are now checkable, and have turned out to be fictions. The stock market has hit record highs under the Biden administration. Guns haven’t been confiscated. Air conditioning is as good or bad as it ever was. And under Mr. Biden, the United States is producing more oil — not only more than it did under Mr. Trump but more than any country ever has.

Mr. Trump also left office with a long list of his own unfulfilled campaign promises, including completing the construction of a wall along the southwestern border. On Saturday, he pinned the blame for that failure on fellow Republicans in Congress — and on his own inexperience.

“Don’t forget, I had never done this stuff before,” he said, describing his border wall negotiations.

Still, Mr. Trump’s vision of the country delivered at CPAC on Saturday has the potential to connect powerfully to the fears and lives of millions of Americans.

When Mr. Trump said on Saturday that Mr. Biden had allowed “hordes of illegal aliens stampeding across our borders,” he was speaking to a voting public that trusts Mr. Trump significantly more to handle immigration. Under Mr. Biden, record numbers of undocumented migrants have crossed the southern border, straining local services and infuriating even Democratic mayors and governors, who have pleaded with the White House to take the problem more seriously. (Mr. Trump did not mention in his speech how he has all but killed a bipartisan effort to help solve the problem because he wanted to deprive Mr. Biden of a legislative victory in an election year.)

ny times logoNew York Times, Kristi Noem and Vivek Ramaswamy tied for first place in CPAC’s straw poll of who should be Donald Trump’s running mate, Michael C. Bender, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). Kristi Noem of South Dakota and the entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy tied for the top choice to be former President Donald J. Trump’s running mate in a straw poll on Saturday at a prominent gathering of conservative activists.

The straw poll, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, was the first time in years that a question about whom Republicans should pick for vice president had overshadowed one about the presidential nominee in the survey of attendees.

New York Times, Donald Trump said his indictments and mug shot were helping him attract Black voters, Feb. 24, 2024.

ny times logoNew York Times, Donald Trump Is Racing Against Time to Find a Half-Billion Dollar Bond, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). After losing two civil trials, the former president must find a bonding company that will vouch for him — or his real estate empire is threatened.

Donald J. Trump is on the clock.

The $454 million judgment that a New York judge imposed on Mr. Trump in his civil fraud case took effect on Friday, placing the former president in a precarious position.

Now, he must either come up with the money quickly or persuade a company to post a bond on his behalf, essentially vouching for him to the court with an I.O.U.

The bond is likely to be his best bet: Mr. Trump, who also faces an $83.3 million judgment in an unrelated defamation case, does not have enough cash on hand to do it all himself, according to a recent New York Times analysis of his finances. If Mr. Trump can find a bond company willing to do a deal this big, it will require him to pay the firm a fee as high as 3 percent of the judgment and to pledge collateral.

The bond would prevent the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the civil fraud case against Mr. Trump, from collecting the $454 million while Mr. Trump’s appeal is heard. Without it, the attorney general, Letitia James, is entitled to collect at any moment.

Ms. James is expected to allow Mr. Trump up to 30 days, but if he fails to secure a bond by March 25, and an appeals court denies him extra time, he has a lot to lose. The attorney general’s office could seek to seize some of Mr. Trump’s properties in New York, perhaps even a crown jewel like Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.

“The attorney general is in the catbird seat and can make this a very unpleasant experience for Trump,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at the law firm Dorf Nelson & Zauderer who is a veteran New York business litigator and has secured many appeal bonds.

As Mr. Trump races to secure a bond, here is what we know about this perilous new phase.
Why does Trump owe $454 Million?

Ms. James took Mr. Trump to trial last year, accusing him of orchestrating a conspiracy to inflate his net worth to receive favorable loans. This month, the judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled that Mr. Trump had done so and meted out several punishments.

The most severe was a $355 million penalty — $454,156,783.05 as of Friday afternoon, thanks to interest that continues to accrue. The judge said the sum accounted for Mr. Trump’s ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

ny times logoNew York Times, A prominent Republican is seeking to shield the party from paying Donald Trump’s legal bills, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A veteran Republican National Committee member has initiated a long-shot effort to prevent Donald J. Trump from taking over the party committee before he has enough delegates to become the presumptive presidential nominee in an effort to prevent the R.N.C. from paying his legal bills.

Henry Barbour, a committee member from Mississippi, has sponsored two resolutions, one that would require the committee to remain neutral in the primary and another that would assure it does not spend committee funds to assist Mr. Trump in his legal battles. The proposals, which would not be binding even if passed, come as Mr. Trump seeks to install new leadership in the organization, including Lara Trump, his daughter-in-law, who has said she would be open to the committee paying his legal bills.

The resolutions, which were first reported by The Dispatch, have come under fire from the Trump campaign.

“The primary is over, and it is the RNC’s sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House,” said Chris LaCivita, a top Trump adviser who is expected to move into a top role at the R.N.C. “Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen.”

The neutrality proposal is directly related to the primary: After the South Carolina primary, only four early states will have held contests. Mr. Trump has a fraction of the delegates he needs, and Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is still running, although she has yet to win a state.

The other resolution has been more in the forefront of some R.N.C. members’ minds: It seeks to bar the committee from paying Mr. Trump’s legal fees as he faces four criminal indictments and two enormous civil lawsuits.

It seeks to codify that “the Republican National Committee should focus its spending on political efforts associated with winning elections and make clear from this point forward that the RNC’s financial resources are to be used to assist candidates across the country winning elections” this year and that the committee “will not pay the legal bills of any of our candidates for any federal or state office, but will focus our spending on efforts directly related to the 2024 election.”

Mr. Barbour, in an interview, conceded that neither resolution was likely to pass, given Mr. Trump’s strength in the party, but he said that sending a message was important.

washington post logoWashington Post, Election 2024: Trump and allies plotting militarized mass deportations, detention camps, Isaac Arnsdorf, Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). As president, Trump sought to use military planes and bases for deportation. Now, he and his allies are talking about a new effort that current and former officials warn could be impractical and dangerous.

Faced with a surge of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border in 2018 and 2019, Donald Trump’s White House discussed ways to more aggressively deploy the resources and the might of the U.S. military.
Cut through the 2024 election noise. Get The Campaign Moment newsletter.

Aides and officials spoke privately about detaining migrants on military bases and flying them out of the country on military planes — ideas that the Pentagon headed off. Throughout his presidency, Trump himself would frequently demand to send troops to the border and catch people crossing.

“He was obsessed with having the military involved,” said a former senior administration official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

That approach and unfinished business have taken on renewed significance and urgency as the country confronts another migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, and as Trump closes in on the Republican presidential nomination. The former president is making immigration a core campaign theme, promoting a proposal for an unprecedented deportation effort if he is returned to power.

 

donald trump money palmer report Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: There Is Much More at Stake in Trump’s Manhattan Case Than Just Hush Money, Norman Eisen, Joshua Kolb and ICE logoBarbara McQuade, Feb. 22, 2024 (print ed.). With Justice Juan Merchan’s proclamation last week that jury selection in the Manhattan prosecution of Donald Trump will begin on March 25, it is time for a reappraisal of the case. (More detail below.)

The charges brought by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, have been overshadowed by the three other criminal prosecutions of Mr. Trump, but the 34 felony counts constitute a strong case of election interference and fraud in the place where Mr. Trump lived and conducted business for decades.

Mr. Bragg will face tough challenges ahead, fueled by lingering skepticism that critics have harbored about the strength of the evidence and whether Mr. Trump has been unfairly targeted.

But we think he can overcome those hurdles and, by seeking to secure a conviction, reinforce the principle that in Manhattan — as across the country — playing by the rules is critical to the integrity of both our businesses and our democracy.

To understand why this case matters, think about a precedent, an earlier episode of an election-related felony and its cover-up. That was the Watergate scandal, which hung over Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972. Voters did not have the information then to make an informed decision about Mr. Nixon, partly because the criminal investigation and trials of “the plumbers” had not concluded before the election and the majority of the evidence remained concealed. Because the investigation was unresolved, Mr. Nixon’s nefarious conduct worked; he was in the White House when the full revelations came out later, to devastating effect.

The salaciousness of the details in Mr. Trump’s case obscures what it is actually about: making covert payments to avoid losing an election and then further concealing it. Indeed, that is how Mr. Bragg has described the case, that it is “about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Clash: U.S. Culture Wars Meets Public Health

alabama capitol

washington post logoWashington Post, Shock, anger, confusion grip Alabama after court ruling on embryos, Tim Craig and Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 21, 2024 (print ed.). The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups who expect similar challenges in other conservative states.

Alabama doctors are puzzled over whether they will have to make changes to in vitro fertilization procedures. Couples have crammed into online support groups wondering if they should transfer frozen embryos out of state. And attorneys are warning that divorce settlements that call for frozen embryos to be destroyed may now be void.

Throughout Alabama, there is widespread shock, anger and confusion over how to proceed after the state Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos are people, a potentially far-reaching decision that could upend women’s reproductive health care in a state that already has one of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

“Women who actually know what happened, they feel under attack and almost powerless,” said AshLeigh Meyer Dunham, a Birmingham mother who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization and is a partner in a law firm that specializes in assisted reproductive technology cases. “First you had the Dobbs decision and now this. What does this even mean?”

The state Supreme Court decision signals a new chapter in America’s fight over reproductive rights and marks another blow to women’s rights groups that expect similar challenges in other conservative states. The ruling is limited to Alabama, but legal experts say it could embolden the “personhood movement,” which asserts that unborn children should be granted legal rights beginning at conception.

The decision was decried Tuesday by the White House.

“This is exactly the type of chaos that we expected when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and paved the way for politicians to dictate some of the most personal decisions families can make,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling with President Biden.

Interviews with physicians and attorneys in Alabama, as well as advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide, paint a confusing path forward for IVF clinics trying to interpret the ramifications of the ruling. Although physicians hope the Alabama legislature will limit the impacts of the ruling, they warn that the most dire consequence of the ruling is that some Alabama IVF clinics may be forced to suspend their operations.

alabama locator mapLetters from an American, Commentary: February 22, 2024 (Alabama Supreme Court), Heather Cox Richardson, right, Feb. 23, 2023. The Alabama Supreme heather cox richardsonCourt on February 16, 2024, decided that cells awaiting implantation for in vitro fertilization are children and that the accidental destruction of such an embryo falls under the state’s Wrongful Death of a Minor Act.

In an opinion concurring with the ruling, Chief Justice Tom Parker declared that the people of Alabama have adopted the “theologically based view of the sanctity of life” and said that “human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God.”

Payton Armstrong of media watchdog Media Matters for America reported today that on the same day the Alabama decision came down, an interview Parker did on the program of a self-proclaimed “prophet” and Q-Anon conspiracy theorist appeared. In it, Parker claimed that “God created government” and called it “heartbreaking” that “we have let it go into the possession of others.”

Parker referred to the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a theory that appeared in 1975, which claims that Christians must take over the “seven mountains” of U.S. life: religion, family, education, media, entertainment, business…and government. He told his interviewer that “we’ve abandoned those Seven Mountains and they’ve been occupied by the other side.” God “is calling and equipping people to step back into these mountains right now,” he said.

While Republicans are split on the decision about embryos after a number of hospitals have ended their popular IVF programs out of fear of prosecution, others, like Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley agreed that “embryos, to me, are babies.”

House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) identifies himself as a Christian, has argued that the United States is a Christian nation, and has called for “biblically sanctioned government.” At a retreat of Republican leaders this weekend, as the country is grappling with both the need to support Ukraine and the need to fund the government, he tried to rally the attendees with what some called a “sermon” arguing that the Republican Party needed to save the country from its lack of morality.

As Charles Blow of the New York Times put it: “If you don’t think this country is sliding toward theocracy, you’re not paying attention.”

In the United States, theocracy and authoritarianism go hand in hand.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama embryo ruling may have devastating effects on cancer patients, Sabrina Malhi, Feb. 25, 2024. A cancer diagnosis often comes with a host of difficult decisions, including what to do about the impact of treatment on a person’s fertility. Many individuals grappling with this dual burden turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a way to preserve their reproductive options.

alabama state mapThat’s why cancer patients and oncologists are expressing shock and anxiety about the recent ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court that frozen embryos are considered children under the law.

The ruling is already having a chilling effect on IVF clinics in the state. Worries are mounting that other states could adopt similar rulings that would impede fertility medicine for people, including many cancer patients, who say assisted reproductive technology might be their only way of having a family after treatments.

“We’re leaving a lot of young men and women to deal with the long-lasting effects of the cancer treatments, and some of those effects could be infertility and premature menopause,” said Deanna Gerber, a gynecologic oncologist at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center who is a triple-negative breast cancer survivor.

ny times logoWashington Post, Alabama justice who quoted Bible in IVF case often invokes religion, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). In the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that said frozen embryos are people, Chief Justice Tom Parker wrote a concurring opinion that sought to define the “sanctity of unborn life,” citing heavily from scripture and theology. His opinion, which drew criticism from abortion rights activists for instilling religious beliefs into a judicial decision, was the latest in nearly 20 years on the bench in which he has repeatedly invoked religion on his way to laying the groundwork to overturn Roe v. Wade.

tom parker mickey welsh advertiser reutersParker, shown at right in a photo by Mickey Welsh via the Advertiser and Reuters,  has also openly criticized other judges for not sufficiently considering religion in their rulings and has expressed support for the theory known as the Seven Mountain Mandate, which calls for conservative Christians to run the government and broadly influence American life.

Parker, 72, was first elected to the Alabama Supreme Court in 2004 and won the chief justice’s seat in 2018. His term ends in 2025; state law prohibits judges older than 70 from being elected. Parker has for years been lauded by abortion foes and condemned by reproductive rights advocates for writing opinions that would help spawn the fall of Roe and further restrict abortion access.

ny times logoNew York Times, Abortion Shield Laws Pit U.S. States Against One Another, Pam Belluck, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Doctors in six states where abortion is legal are using new laws to send abortion pills to tens of thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

Behind an unmarked door in a boxy brick building outside Boston, a quiet rebellion is taking place. Here, in a 7-by-12-foot room, abortion is being made available to thousands of women in states where it is illegal.

The patients do not have to travel here to terminate their pregnancies, and they do not have to wait weeks to receive abortion medication from overseas.

Instead, they are obtaining abortion pills prescribed by licensed Massachusetts providers, packaged in the little room and mailed from a nearby post office, arriving days later in Texas, Missouri and other states where abortion is largely outlawed.

This service and others like it are operating under novel laws enacted in a half-dozen states — Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Vermont, New York and California — that have sought to preserve abortion access since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to abortion in June 2022. The laws have been in use only since the summer and have not been tested in the courts, but they are already providing abortion access to tens of thousands of women in states with bans, especially low-income patients and others who cannot travel.

Called telemedicine abortion shield laws, they promise to protect doctors, nurse practitioners and midwives licensed in those six states who prescribe and send abortion pills to patients in the nearly two dozen states that ban or sharply restrict abortion.

The laws stipulate that officials and agencies of their states will not cooperate with another state’s efforts to investigate or penalize such providers — a stark departure from typical interstate practices of extraditing, honoring subpoenas and sharing information, legal experts on both sides of the abortion issue say. Many expect them to ultimately be challenged in federal court.

Abortion opponents see the laws as brazen infringement on state sovereignty.

“You have states not just picking their own strategy but really trying to completely sabotage the governing efforts of their neighboring states,” John Seago, the president of Texas Right to Life, said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man found guilty of killing trans woman in historic hate crime verdict, Daniel Wu, Feb. 25, 2024 (print ed.). A South Carolina man is the first person convicted by trial of a federal hate crime based on gender identity, federal authorities said.

A federal jury found a South Carolina man guilty Friday of killing a Black transgender woman, marking the first conviction at federal trial for a hate crime motivated by gender identity, according to authorities.

The jury unanimously found Daqua Lameek Ritter guilty of a hate crime, a firearms charge and obstruction for the 2019 fatal shooting of Dime Doe, a 24-year-old transgender woman, the Justice Department announced Saturday.

Ritter lured Doe to a remote area in Allendale, S.C., and shot her three times in the head, prosecutors alleged. Ritter was upset after he learned rumors had spread in his community about a sexual relationship between him and Doe, and he killed Doe because of her gender identity, according to the Justice Department.

Officials hailed the conviction as historic. Until Ritter’s case, no federal hate-crime case based on gender identity had reached a guilty verdict by trial, according to the Justice Department.

Ritter faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“We want the Black trans community to know that you are seen and heard, that we stand with the LGBTQI+ community, and that we will use every tool available to seek justice for victims and their families,” Justice Department Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in the department’s news release.

The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act created a federal law criminalizing violent acts against people due to their religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The law gave, among other things, federal authorities greater flexibility to prosecute hate crimes that local authorities choose not to pursue, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. But prosecutors did not pursue a case centered on a victim’s gender identity until several years after the law’s enactment.

washington post logoWashington Post, Florida surgeon general defies science as school tries to contain measles outbreak, Lena H. Sun and Lauren Weber, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.). Joseph Ladapo, right, the state’s top health official, is giving advice that runs counter to science and may leave unvaccinated children at risk of joseph ladapocontracting one of the most contagious pathogens on Earth, clinicians and public health experts said.

 As a Florida elementary school tries to contain a growing measles outbreak, the state’s top health official is giving advice that runs counter to science and may leave unvaccinated children at risk of contracting one of the most contagious pathogens on Earth, clinicians and public health experts said.

Florida surgeon general Joseph A. Ladapo failed to urge parents to vaccinate their children or keep unvaccinated students home from school as a precaution in a letter to parents at the Fort Lauderdale-area school this week following six confirmed measles cases.

Instead of following what he acknowledged was the “normal” recommendation that parents keep unvaccinated children home for up to 21 days — the incubation period for measles — Ladapo said the state health department “is deferring to parents or guardians to make decisions about school attendance.”

The controversial move by Ladapo follows a pattern of bucking public health norms, particularly when it comes to vaccines. Last month, he called for halting the use of mRNA coronavirus vaccines, in a move decried by the public health community.

Ben Hoffman, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said Florida’s guidance flies in the face of long-standing and widely accepted public health guidance for measles, which can result in severe complications, including death.

“It runs counter to everything I have ever heard and everything that I have read,” Hoffman said. “It runs counter to our policy. It runs counter to what the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] would recommend.”

Measles outbreaks have been on the rise in recent years. So far in 2024, at least 26 cases in at least 12 states have been reported to the CDC, about double the number at this point last year. In addition to the six cases confirmed in the Florida school, cases have been reported in Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Related Recent HeadlinesWashington Post, RFK Jr. says he didn’t read Alabama IVF ruling, won’t say when life begins

 

GOP Probes Of Bidens Attacked, Undermined

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

Former FBI informant Alexander Smirnov, second from left, leaves the courthouse with his attorneys (Photo by Bizuayehu Tesfaye for the Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP).

Impeachment Probe of President Biden, Son Hunter Biden

hunter biden nbc beardLetters from an American, Commentary: Feb. 21 (Biden Probes), Heather Cox Richardson, right, American academic historian at Boston College heather cox richardsonand author of seven books, most recently, Democracy Awakening, which relates how history can teach us about ourselves, and how can it serve as a roadmap for the future of American democracy), Feb. 22, 2024.

The centerpiece of Republicans’ case for impeaching Democratic president Joe Biden is the allegation that he and his son Hunter, above, each accepted a $5 million bribe from Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma when Biden Sr. was vice president. But in the last week, that accusation has revealed quite a different problem, one that implicates Republicans.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: The Biden impeachment inquiry has utterly collapsed, Editorial Board, Feb. 23, 2024 (print ed.). Until this month, House Republicans referred to information provided by a “highly credible” FBI informant as the core of their case to impeach President Biden. This week, they quietly deleted any mention of that source from official documents. This one small move speaks volumes about an ill-founded GOP crusade that seems finally to be reaching an embarrassing denouement.

david weiss o 2018Special counsel David Weiss, left  — the man in charge of the Justice Department’s criminal case against Hunter Biden — last week filed charges against Alexander Smirnov. The 43-year-old U.S.-Israeli citizen, prosecutors say, lied to federal investigators about the Biden family’s business dealings. These lies, crucially, included claims that the president and his son each sought $5 million bribes from Ukrainian energy company Burisma when Mr. Biden was vice president, in exchange for protecting the firm from scrutiny by Ukraine’s national authorities. Now, Mr. Smirnov has also disclosed that “officials associated with Russian intelligence” fed him his information.

Justice Department log circularOf course, there’s reason for skepticism about that latest explosive allegation from this supplier of apparently bogus bombshells. The memo released on Tuesday portrays Mr. Smirnov as a con man hawking “an amalgam of otherwise unremarkable business meetings and contacts,” none of which occurred during the time period he purported, as proof of corruption. He apparently lied about his wealth, his profession and more. Prosecutors even refer to “new lies” Mr. Smirnov is “actively peddling … that could impact U.S. elections,” involving suggestions that Moscow “may use as ‘kompromat’ ” information taken from intercepted phone calls of Hunter Biden in a foreign hotel.

Might Mr. Smirnov also be lying about Russian officials providing him with dirt on the president? Absolutely. But that is the point. Either Mr. Smirnov is an asset in a current Kremlin plot to spread disinformation about the president, an eerie echo of 2016’s election interference, or he is dissembling about that, too. Either way, congressional Republicans have staked their impeachment inquiry on the words of a fabulist.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: How a Bill Barr ‘assignment’ led to a Biden impeachment effort based on a lie, Glenn Kessler, right, Feb. 23, glenn kessler2024. The indictment of Alexander Smirnov, a trusted FBI confidential source, on charges of lying about an alleged Ukrainian bribery scheme involving President Biden and his son Hunter is a new twist in a saga that has its roots in a project launched by then-Attorney General William P. Barr soon after President Donald Trump was impeached for the first time.

Trump was impeached Dec. 18, 2019, charged with pressuring the Ukrainian government to turn up dirt on Biden, potentially his most formidable rival in 2020. Sixteen days later, on Jan. 3, 2020, Barr tasked Brady, a U.S. attorney in Western Pennsylvania, rudy giuliani wwith vetting material regarding Biden and Ukraine — some of it supplied by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani — for possible distribution to prosecutors who could use a grand jury to investigate further.

To some extent, this story mirrors that of the “Steele dossier,” a string of unverified and derogatory pieces of information on Trump collected during the 2016 election by a confidential source trusted by the FBI, Christopher Steele, on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Steele’s reports, leaked to the media, created a firestorm of speculation by Democrats about Trump’s ties to Russia — even though much of it turned out to be false. (Steele has said he stands by his work.)

Justice Department log circularIn the same vein, the Smirnov tale has its roots in a Republican effort to target Biden. His story didn’t gain much traction among investigators in 2020 but emerged in 2023 and was immediately embraced as true by many GOP lawmakers. A detailed review of information contained in the indictment, Brady’s testimony before congressional investigators, public statements and other documents shows that — absent Barr’s creation of a Biden task force — Smirnov’s allegations probably never would have appeared in the FBI document that led to his indictment and to the possible collapse of the Republicans’ impeachment case with Smirnov as its star.

Here is a timeline of the years-long events ending in Smirnov’s arrest.

 

Drug-Related Gun and Tax Charges Against Hunter Biden

hunter biden beardEmptywheel, Analysis: Lesley Wolf Vindicated by Alexander Smirnov Indictment, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 26, 2024. You know who is marcy wheelervindicated by the Alexander Smirnov indictment? Lesley Wolf, who made an effort to prevent Trump's efforts to interfere in the investigation from tainting the investigation into Hunter Biden and then faced death threats because she did so.

In the wake of the Alexander Smirnov indictment, the 51 former spooks who wrote a letter stating their opinion that the release of Hunter Biden emails to the NY Post is consistent with a Russian information operation have claimed vindication. That has led to this problematic Justice Department log circularKen Dilanian report parroting David Weiss filings that deliberately obscured the evidence in the Hunter Biden case. And that, in turn, has led to a flood of people expressing opinions about the laptop turned over by John Paul Mac Isaac (Olivia Nuzzi, Reese Gorman) that exhibit no clue about how precarious that evidence is now.

In other words, that has renewed a debate consisting of misrepresenting the 51-spook letter, then misstating what the public evidence about the laptop shows.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary: Hunter Biden Attorneys Say Prosecution Confused Sawdust with Cocaine, Brett Meiselas, Feb. 20, 2024. His legal team says the prosecution still has not met their discovery obligations.

mtn meidas touch networkA new filing by Hunter Biden’s attorneys in their reply in support of Hunter’s motion to compel discovery and set discovery deadlines raises some very troubling lapses in the case brought by Special Counsel David Weiss.

The filing accuses the prosecution of sidestepping addressing actual disputes identified in the case, accusing them of instead focusing on tangential issues.

Stunningly, the filing reveals discrepancies in the interpretation of photographic evidence that further exacerbates doubts surrounding the prosecution's handling of the case. These misinterpretations not only cast doubt on the accuracy of the evidence presented but also raise questions about the overall integrity of the prosecution's investigative methods.

Specifically, Hunter Biden’s lawyers criticize the special counsel for their reliance in the indictment on a photo of a brown leather pouch they claimed belong to Hunter Biden and supposedly contained cocaine residue. Hunter’s attorneys reveal that what prosecution claimed to be cocaine was actually sawdust from an expert carpenter – and the photo was sent to Hunter Biden, not vice versa.

 

Problems With Special Prosecutors

Emptywheel, Analysis: Navel-Gazing: The Ethics Problem Caused by Merrick Garland's Brad Weinsheimer Solution, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 25, 2024. Merrick Garland's reliance on the career Associate Deputy Attorney General rather than a PADAG to oversee Special Counsel investigations seems to have created a kind of navel-gazing that only encourages ethical problems with the investigations.

Emptywheel, Analysis: Leo Wise Keeps Digging Through Difficulties Caused by a Dumb Prosecutorial Decision, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Feb. 26, 2024. Leo Wise keeps digging himself bigger holes, all of which stem from making rash prosecutorial decisions without considering the complexity of the case against Hunter Biden.

william barr resized donald trump

Emptywheel Opinion: Ken Vogel Covers Up Rudy Giuliani and His Alleged Russian Spies, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), right, Feb. 24, 2024 (print ed.).  In a story struggling to explain how Alexander Smirnov relates to the side channel Bill Barr, above left, set up to launder dirt from Rudy Giuliani, Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel covers up the role of Rudy and the alleged Russian spies from whom he solicited dirt on Hunter Biden.

Vogel wrote a story with Glenn Thrush that really struggled with basic details about the Hunter Biden investigation.

It’s not the struggle with basic facts about the Hunter Biden investigation that I find so remarkable, though. It’s the shamelessness by longtime Rudy Giuliani mouthpiece Ken Vogel of his cover-up of Rudy’s role in all this.

Ken Vogel knows Rudy’s role in the side channel that led to the Smirnov claim as well as anybody. But his story about the side channel covered up Rudy’s role — two dozen mentions at one of his links and over a hundred at the other — and in the process covered up the Russian spies that necessitated the side channel.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by Defendant's psychiatrist).

U.S. Justice Department photo of sawdust used in the prosecution of President's son Hunter Biden (shown at left in a file photo) to allege falsely that the photo was by the defendant showing cocaine (Justice Department photo seized from a transmission by defendant's psychiatrist).

 

Russia-Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, The Spy War: How the C.I.A. Secretly Helps Ukraine Fight Putin, Adam Entous and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 26, 2024 (print ed.). A C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases has been constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border.

ukraine flagFor more than a decade, the United States has nurtured a secret intelligence partnership with Ukraine that is now critical for both countries in countering Russia.

CIA LogoNow entering the third year of a war that has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the intelligence partnership between Washington and Kyiv is a linchpin of Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. The C.I.A. and other American intelligence agencies provide intelligence for targeted missile strikes, track Russian troop movements and help support spy networks.

But the partnership is no wartime creation, nor is Ukraine the only beneficiary.

It took root a decade ago, coming together in fits and starts under three very different U.S. presidents, pushed forward by key individuals who often took daring risks. It has transformed Ukraine, whose intelligence agencies were long seen as thoroughly compromised by Russia, into one of Washington’s most important intelligence partners against the Kremlin today.

The listening post in the Ukrainian forest is part of a C.I.A.-supported network of spy bases constructed in the past eight years that includes 12 secret locations along the Russian border. Before the war, the Ukrainians proved themselves to the Americans by collecting intercepts that helped prove Russia’s involvement in the 2014 downing of a commercial jetliner, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The Ukrainians also helped the Americans go after the Russian operatives who meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Around 2016, the C.I.A. began training an elite Ukrainian commando force — known as Unit 2245 — which captured Russian drone