iShook Daily & ishook iShook Daily & ishook en Copyright 2023 iShook & All Rights Reserved. C.I.A. Director Arrives in Qatar for Talks on Hostage Releases Tue, 28 Nov 2023 07:20:04 -0500 ishook Opinion | I wrote a movie about a con man elected to Congress. I never imagined anyone could actually pull it off.

I pitched it to the studio as a reverse “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” A small-time con artist, the opposite of Jimmy Stewart’s naif, lies his way to Congress because, as Willie Sutton said about banks, Washington is where the money is. For a hustler, it’s the promised land. As the lead character lays it out for his cronies, “The lobbyists’ whole point in life is to buy you off – and it’s totally legal.”

A dark comedy about campaign finance reform was an improbable premise for a movie studio to invest in, but because it lured Eddie Murphy from Paramount, where his deal was, to Disney, where I worked at the time (and also because, I like to think, the script was pretty funny) the picture got made.

You might have seen it: The Distinguished Gentleman, the 1992 Disney feature I wrote and executive produced.

When I wrote the screenplay, I never imagined anyone could actually pull off a scam like that. But 30 years — almost to the day — after the movie opened, I saw the headline of a bombshell story in the New York Times – “Who Is Rep.-Elect George Santos? His Résumé May Be Largely Fiction.” It was a spit-take-your-smoothie moment for me. The Distinguished Gentleman may not exactly have been art, but life was all-in on imitating it.

I wrote the movie as a cri de coeur for campaign finance reform, an ambition of mine (and of my boss, Fritz Mondale) during my years as his chief speechwriter. In subsequent years as a Hollywood studio executive and screenwriter, that dream grew increasingly quixotic, bordering on desperate, because of Mitch McConnell’s relentless opposition to getting big money out of politics. As far as I could tell, journalism and politics weren’t moving the needle; nor was voting. The best weapon I had available was storytelling.

The Santos story personifies the Washington racket that led me to turn Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith mythology on its head. Jimmy Stewart marvels at the monuments; Eddie Murphy is awed by K Street. Capra’s fable is about the heroism of exposing wrongdoing; mine is about the virtues of crookedness, a culture where shakedowns are sanctioned as fundraisers, bribes are laundered as campaign contributions and lying can land you a gig as a talking head or a governor.

Like Thomas Johnson, the character Murphy played, Santos got elected by impersonating someone else. Near the start of the movie, the incumbent lawmaker from the con man’s district — Rep. Jeff Johnson, played by James Garner — dies in his office in flagrante delicto with a member of his staff. A powerful committee chairman, Dick Dodge, tries to persuade Jeff Johnson’s widow to run for his seat: “With your name,” he tells her, “you can't lose. Mrs. Jeff Johnson would win in a walk.” She declines: “I've been a Washington wife for 20 years. I think that's enough bullshit for one lifetime.”

But Murphy’s character’s full name is Thomas Jefferson Johnson. He realizes that if he can get on the ballot using his middle name, running as Jeff Johnson, he might be able to ride a dead man’s name recognition all the way to Congress. His campaign slogan? “The Name You Know.”

Farfetched? Maybe, but not entirely crackpot. It’s been tried before, most recently last year in Pittsburgh. When 14-term Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle retired, state Rep. Summer Lee won the Democratic nomination to replace him. But the Republican who ran against her in the general was also named Mike Doyle. Lee won anyway.

Santos didn’t need to modify his name; instead, he sewed together the biographical body parts that a candidate from suburban New York could run on and win. Baruch College volleyball star; Jewish; grandparents survived the Holocaust; mother survived 9/11; jobs at Goldman Sachs and Citigroup; owner of 13 properties; producer of Broadway’s Spider-Man: Other than the lying part, what’s not to like?

If only he’d had Eddie Murphy to show him the ropes, George Santos’ grift could have been perfectly legal, and the House Republican conference might still be calling the con man from Queens and Long Island “the distinguished gentleman from New York.”

With Murphy’s character, Thomas Johnson, as his sherpa, Santos could have stayed within the lines, such as they are. Instead of using a campaign debit card to pay for Botox, OnlyFans and Ferragamo, a Santos leadership PAC could have whitewashed his self-care expenditures by bending, but not breaking, the rules. Instead of charging his campaign for getaways to Harrah’s and Caesars Atlantic City, Santos could have cultivated a circle of billionaires who enjoyed his company, flew him to glam locales and kept their largesse on the down low.

With the House back from its Thanksgiving break, Santos will soon face an expulsion vote. If he doesn’t quit before then, and he gets his moment in the well to explain himself, I hope he considers cribbing from the closing scene of The Distinguished Gentleman. At a hearing, Murphy’s mentor, Dick Dodge, now his nemesis, tries to topple him the way many of Santos’ opponents have tried to bring him down: by revealing his real past.

“Here's your rap sheet!” shouts an outraged Dodge. “Arrest for bookmaking! Cardsharping! Con games! Mail fraud! You know, I had hoped to avoid damaging this noble institution. But I can see that you have no respect for this institution or for anything else. There! I dare you to respond.”

“Yeah, this is me,” Murphy says, looking at the roster. “Can't deny it. Can't deny anything on here. I did all of this. Everything on this list is real.” That’s a tack Santos could take: Admit everything. With this twist: “But all of this is nothing ... compared to the shit I pulled off right here in Washington. And everything I did in this town would be considered legit.”

I suppose there’s another path for Santos: He could try to gaslight his conference. If we truly live in post-truth times, if his colleagues on the Hill can still call the January 6 insurrection a “normal tourist visit” without gagging on the preposterousness of it, maybe Santos will calculate that an alternative reality is his best shot. But even if it’s a landslide against him, no matter how many members of his party vote to expel the two-bit grifter, as long as all those distinguished gentlemen and ladies remain tongue-tied about the outcome of the 2020 election, no performative punishment of Santos will distinguish them as anything but two-bit pigeons of the greatest con ever sold.

Tue, 28 Nov 2023 06:50:03 -0500 ishook
The US used a contentious surveillance power to disrupt Iran’s weapons program

U.S. officials say a controversial surveillance authority has been key to helping them stop the sale of certain weapons parts to Iran in recent years.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies used information gathered by monitoring the electronic communications of foreign weapons manufacturers to stop several shipments of advanced weapons parts to Iran by land, air and sea, according to two U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the matter.

The campaign came as the administration pushed to prevent Iran from building up its ballistic missile program – one officials continue to worry Tehran is using to help Russia on the battlefield in Ukraine. Officials have also focused on limiting Iran’s intervention in conflicts that impact U.S. national security more broadly, including the war between Israel and Hamas.

The disclosure is the administration’s latest argument that the spying authority — Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — is crucial to national security as it fights to get Congress to reauthorize the tool before it expires at the end of the year.

Many in Congress are calling for changes to Section 702 — which allows intelligence agencies to collect and analyze communications such as emails and text messages of foreigners living abroad — after the FBI was found to have improperly mined the database to see if U.S. political protesters, campaign donors and even members of Congress were on the other end of those exchanges.

The administration has argued that reforms made since those abuses were identified are sufficient and that Section 702 will lose much of its usefulness if more guardrails are put on it.

In the case of Iran’s advanced weapons program, the officials said Section 702 was critical to stopping the weapons sales. They said they used other spying activities to identify what U.S.-made supplies the Iranians needed, and then plugged the names of those components and their manufacturers into the 702 database.

The searches, they said, returned the type of detailed intelligence needed to thwart the sales, including their cost, timing and size. Both officials were granted anonymity to speak about sensitive intelligence matters.

The officials declined to provide further details, or specify the manufacturers or components involved.

“It wasn't one specific action. It was a number of actions,” the official said. “In at least one instance, if not more, specific sales were stopped either before they went or while they were en route.”

In recent months, U.S. officials have increasingly been disclosing examples of how Section 702 has been used to protect national security, including thwarting the flow of fentanylthrough the southern border and identifying the hacker behind a 2021 ransomware attack that crippled one of the country’s largest fuel pipelines.

While Section 702 is generally expected to get renewed in some version, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for a variety of changes. One bipartisan cohort wants to require spy agencies to obtain a court order before conducting queries that involve U.S. citizens. Others argue there’s no need to require a warrant but that there should be more limits on how agencies access the data.

The officials said queries on U.S. citizens or others in the U.S. were central in the case involving the sale of weapons parts to Iran and in 2022 to help the administration target an individual and foreign firm that attempted to circumvent U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The officials would not specify the name of the company or the country but said the sale of the Iranian goods amounted to tens of millions of dollars. By conducting 702 queries of the names of the individual and company involved, the U.S. Treasury Department was able to block the sale, the officials said.

“Sometimes 702 is the only collection that we have on these kinds of things. So it makes it that much more critical,” the official said.

The disclosures are still unlikely to change privacy advocates’ view on the necessity of a warrant requirement.

Elizabeth Goitein, the senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Liberty & National Security Program, pointed out it’s possible both weapons and sanctions queries would have been permissible under a recent 702 reauthorization bill that privacy stalwarts in both chambers unveiled earlier this month.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Reps. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), includes warrant carve-outs for some queries, including those in which the government can get the consent of the victim.

Goitein also said the administration was still focusing too much on the national security value of the program and hadn’t done enough to address the public’s real concern: privacy.

“These belated and weak examples … merely underscore how out of touch the administration is with the concerns of lawmakers and the conversation that’s actually happening on the Hill,” Goitein said.

Lofgren argued warrants wouldn’t cripple U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agencies.

“I trust that law enforcement can continue robustly protecting our national security after obtaining search warrants for surveillance activities,” Lofgren said in an emailed statement. “It does not need to be one or the other — the Fourth Amendment and security can go hand-in-hand.”

Tue, 28 Nov 2023 06:50:03 -0500 ishook
House GOP chaos might just give Senate GOP a fundraising edge

A month after the House GOP lost its single-best fundraiser as it careened into chaos, Senate Republicans are amplifying their pitch to donors: We're your best possible investment.

The House GOP’s campaign arm lagged in fundraising last month, raising just over $5 million. And there could be more difficult times ahead. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate map is rife with pickup opportunities — including in deep red states like Montana and Ohio — and that chamber's Republicans have not been shy about framing them as a best-chance insurance policy to act as a bulwark against a potentially united Democratic government in 2025.

“We compete for the dollars with every other national committee and we just have to make a better case than everybody else,” said Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-Neb.), adding that so far they’ve had an “excellent case to make.”

Senate Republicans have to flip only one or two seats to win back the majority, and at least one looks like a near certainty now that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) isn’t running for reelection. In preparation, top party hands have ramped up recruitment efforts and primary intervention strategies to box out potentially risky candidates seeking a spot on the 2024 ticket.

Compared to the Republican presidential primary and the House GOP, Republican senators look like the capable adults in the room, and they know it.

“Lots of uncertainty in the House and lots of uncertainty in the White House,” is how Scott Jennings, a longtime ally to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, summed it up. “But the Senate Republicans have a clear line of success.”

“Donors are going to be smart enough to realize exactly where an investment is gonna make a huge amount of difference," Jennings added.

There is already some indication that the GOP strategy is working. Senate Leadership Fund and its sister organizations, all of which are allied with McConnell, are on track to surpass the $400 million they raised in the 2022 cycle, according to a person close to the group who was granted anonymity to speak freely. SLF and its nonprofit arm One Nation had a record fundraising haul for a non-election year in the first half of 2023.

Three people with ties to GOP donors, who were also granted anonymity to speak candidly, said that some of the party's biggest givers are taking increased interest in Senate races as the House is gripped by chaos, and Trump surges in the Republican presidential primary.

“The Senate is where they’re going to focus," said one of those people. "Now, that all changes tomorrow if Nikki Haley is the nominee, but I don’t think anybody thinks that’s going to be the case.”

A second person, a GOP fundraiser, said that group includes the mega-donor Paul Singer.

Some of that posture is recognition that the odds are against Senate Democrats, who would have to retain every incumbent and win the presidency in 2024 to keep their majority. Meanwhile, the Senate GOP has plenty of other pickup opportunities outside of red states, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.

But winning in those places will still take millions of dollars, especially because there are well-funded Democratic incumbents in most of those states. Although the Senate GOP’s campaign arm has worked diligently to recruit candidates who can self-fund, the party will still need to attract national, big-dollar donors who might typically be more tempted to get involved in a presidential race.

“It's my first cycle in the presidential cycle,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2022 cycle. “You gotta go convince people that there's a reason to give you money for what you do every day.”

The House GOP campaign arm saw fundraising slow somewhat in October as conservative rabble-rousers ousted McCarthy, and the chamber spent three weeks without a leader. It raised just over $5 million, roughly half of what it raised during the off-year October in 2019 and 2021.

Republicans’ House majority is only five seats, and they have 18 members who need to get reelected in seats that President Joe Biden won in 2020. House members are fleeing for the exits after gridlock, infighting and outright animosity gripped the chamber during its 10-week legislative marathon this fall.

“If there's anything that's going against the House's ability to raise money, it's the utter chaos that people have seen play out over the last two months,” said one GOP operative who works on Senate races and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “The chaos reduces the confidence in their ability to hold on to the majority, and the majority is so tight to begin with.”

In meetings with prospective donors, House GOP operatives stress that their chamber has outperformed expectations in 2020 and picked up seats in both the 2020 and 2022 when Senate Republicans did not. Their message, according to a person familiar with the fundraising strategy, is: Don’t count us out.

And the Congressional Leadership Fund, the top House GOP super PAC, has seen a strong donor response since Speaker Mike Johnson took the top post, raising $16 million in the first 10 days. That group is the largest outside spending in House races and will be determinative in key contests this fall.

“We proved to be a smart investment the last two cycles, and I’m confident we’ll continue to be seen that way in 2024,” said Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund. “We’ve seen a great response from donors as they’ve gotten to know Speaker Johnson, and it’s obvious our fundamentals have not changed.”

Tue, 28 Nov 2023 06:50:03 -0500 ishook
How Hunter Biden started fighting back — and what it means for the president

For years, as Hunter Biden faced a protracted criminal probe, he was told to cooperate with prosecutors and wait quietly for exoneration. That strategy, favored by veteran Democrats who came of age in a less pugilistic political era, failed.

The president’s son is now under one indictment, is bracing for another and has become the face of the Republican impeachment probe of his father. And now, he’s directly taking on his adversaries. Over the past three months, Hunter Biden has filed a barrage of lawsuits and has challenged his indictment on gun charges by attacking the prosecution as tainted by Republican pressure. He is even trying to subpoena Donald Trump.

The counteroffensive will play out in courtrooms and in public just as his father ramps up his reelection campaign.

Among Joe Biden’s advisers and Democratic Party operatives, there’s disagreement on its potential political repercussions, according to eight people close to the president and his son. Most were granted anonymity to discuss the sensitive topic.

Some White House staff are “irritated that he’s being more aggressive, because he is not clearing the tactics and the strategy,” said one former 2020 campaign aide.

Some aides worry, too, that Hunter Biden’s courtroom counterpunching only brightens the spotlight on his legal entanglements, foreign business activities, and personal struggle with drug addiction. For these aides, too much engagement with opponents, including Rudy Giuliani and the conservative media, risks legitimizing their most extreme attacks on the president’s family.

But many allies of the president — especially those who cut their teeth during the Trump presidency — see it differently. One called the cautious approach “outdated 1990s rationale” and said that, in the 21st century, it’s reckless to leave allegations unrebutted. For this camp, there was something to learn from Trump’s scandal playbook: It pays to talk loud, move fast and punch hard.

“The American public likes to see people fight back,” said Jamal Simmons, a former communications director for Vice President Kamala Harris. “People who fight for themselves tend to get the benefit of the doubt from the public. And I actually think that probably does help the president in the long run.”

Hunter Biden keeps his father aware of his legal moves, according to a person close to his legal team, and the team sends word to top White House staff before making major moves. The moves themselves are entirely up to Hunter Biden and his lawyers — and that’s as it should be, aides emphasize, because the president has vowed to stay out of his son’s legal affairs.

Hunter Biden, his lawyers and the White House declined to comment. But among the small cadre of advisers close to the president’s son, the newly aggressive approach was long overdue.

“How does he possibly keep his head down?” a person close to his legal team said. “They have lifted his head above everyone else’s, and they’ve been trying to lop it off for four years.”

Cooperation at the outset

Hunter Biden’s legal fights run on three tracks: criminal, congressional and civil.

In criminal court, special counsel David Weiss charged him in September with illegally owning a gun as a user of illegal drugs, and Weiss is also considering charges for failure to pay federal income taxes.

In Congress, House Republicans are running a sprawling investigation of his foreign business deals, including his stint on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

And in the civil arena, he is either a plaintiff or defendant in at least five ongoing lawsuits, ranging from a case against Giuliani to a case against his father’s own IRS.

But it wasn’t always this way. In 2018, in the middle of Trump’s presidency and before Hunter Biden became the political lightning rod he is today, federal law enforcement officials quietly opened an investigation into his tax affairs. The probe was not publicly known at the time. Lawyers and advisers around the president’s son privately urged him to cooperate when they learned he was under scrutiny.

So the president’s son stayed largely silent in the media. He kept a mostly low profile, engaged with the Justice Department, and signed two agreements pausing the statute of limitations on charges federal prosecutors were weighing. Those agreements helped keep Hunter Biden in legal limbo for years, but they also gave his lawyers more time to try to talk prosecutors out of charging him.

In October 2020, the New York Post published an article reporting that Hunter Biden left a laptop at a Delaware computer shop. Giuliani had reportedly provided the newspaper with emails from the laptop about Hunter Biden’s business activities.

Just weeks before the 2020 election, the article claimed that the emails showed corruption by Joe Biden. To date, no evidence has emerged showing that Joe Biden made policy decisions as vice president to help his son’s business interests. A Politifact analysis concluded that “[n]othing from the laptop has revealed illegal or unethical behavior by Joe Biden as vice president with regard to his son’s tenure as a director for Burisma, a Ukraine-based natural gas company.”

In the years after the laptop’s release, Hunter Biden held back from taking any legal action against the people who shared and published his purported emails — staying cautious instead of expanding his legal battleground.

New lawyer, new strategy

Despite this strategy of hunkering down, the clouds looming over Hunter Biden didn’t blow over. Instead, they darkened.

The Justice Department investigation broadened to include not just financial issues but also Hunter Biden’s purchase of a handgun in 2018, a time when he has said he was frequently using crack cocaine.

And when Republicans took control of the House in 2022, they zeroed in on Hunter Biden’s financial dealings, accusing him of a cornucopia of crimes — and accusing the Justice Department of going easy on him. House Republicans have also put Hunter Biden at the center of their impeachment inquiry, arguing that the president may have corruptly benefited from his son’s business activities. So far, they have failed to produce evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

Late last year, Hunter Biden retained Abbe Lowell, an elite and combative defense lawyer whose clients have included Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, former Democratic Sen. John Edwards and even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Lowell successfully defended Menendez against corruption charges in 2017, and is now representing him in a new corruption case. He fended off campaign finance charges against Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004. And he helped Kushner navigate special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

After Lowell came on board Hunter Biden’s team, the legal strategy for the president’s son began to change.

In February, his team threatened to sue Fox News Channel over what they described as Tucker Carlson’s false suggestion that Hunter and Joe Biden were involved in a money laundering scheme. After John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of the Delaware computer shop, sued Hunter Biden, Hunter Biden sued him right back in March. (Mac Isaac has also sued POLITICO and others for defamation and civil conspiracy; the case remains pending.)

Meanwhile, in private talks with the federal prosecutors running the criminal probe, Hunter Biden’s lawyers were using aggressive negotiating tactics, even threatening at one point to put Joe Biden on the witness stand if prosecutors charged Hunter Biden with the gun crime.

A failed plea and a sharp escalation

This summer, it seemed like the approach was starting to pay off. On June 20, Biden’s lawyers and federal prosecutors unveiled a plea deal that could have resolved his criminal problems without any prison time.

“Hunter feels happy to move on with his life,” one of his lawyers told MSNBC that day.

But after a tumultuous hearing on July 26 during which a federal judge raised questions about the agreement, the plea deal collapsed.

Meanwhile, the investigation itself was becoming a political story, with IRS whistleblowers telling Congress that Weiss — the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Delaware who had been leading the probe since its inception — had been hampered in various ways. Weiss, for his part, has insisted that he never faced interference.

On Aug. 8, less than two months after it had seemed poised to end, the criminal investigation of Hunter Biden escalated. Attorney General Merrick Garland made Weiss a special counsel, formally giving him more independence and empowering him to bring charges against Hunter Biden anywhere in the country.

A few weeks later, Weiss obtained an indictment in Delaware over Hunter Biden’s 2018 gun purchase. The president’s son faces felony charges for owning a gun while using illegal drugs and for lying on a federal gun-purchase form. He might stand trial next year during the heat of his father’s reelection campaign.

Hunter Biden and his team viewed the move as a sign Weiss had turned draconian. They have long argued that it’s the first time anyone has been charged in Delaware with owning a gun as a drug user without any other aggravating circumstances — such as using the gun to commit a crime.

Many House Republicans have accused Weiss of going easy on the president’s son by not charging him with crimes related to lobbying and campaign finance. But Hunter Biden’s team had a different view: In their eyes, the only explanation for bringing the gun charge at all was unrelenting political pressure from Republicans.

For Team Hunter, the special counsel announcement meant quiet patience was untenable.

“We’re not playing for a tie,” said a friend of Hunter Biden. “We’re playing for setting the record straight, and accountability for those who have harmed him.”

Hunter Biden, the plaintiff

Hunter Biden’s previous defense lawyer, Chris Clark, who led negotiations with the Justice Department, is no longer on his legal team. He withdrew from the case in August, citing concern that he may be a witness in potential litigation over the failed plea deal. Lowell is now at the helm. He, Hunter Biden and attorney Kevin Morris — who helped the president’s son pay his outstanding tax debt, and who advocated for Lowell’s hiring — operate autonomously, independent of pressure or management from national Democratic operatives.

Morris has long advocated a bare-knuckle approach and works closely with Lowell. According to Hunter Biden’s friend, Morris has told associates, “We want to go on offense because we know we can win. That’s the whole point.”

And now that’s happening. Hunter Biden is going to court.

In September, the president’s son sued Giuliani and Giuliani’s former lawyer Robert Costello for allegedly hacking into his data and distributing it. He’s brought similar allegations against former Trump White House aide Garrett Ziegler, who has distributed contents from the laptop. The lawsuits accuse Giuliani, Costello and Ziegler of violating the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and a California data privacy law. Ziegler told POLITICO the lawsuit is “frivolous” and that he will respond to it next month.

Also in September, Hunter Biden sued the IRS for allegedly failing to keep his tax information from becoming public, citing the fact that IRS agents who investigated him testified to Congress in detail about his financial dealings. Lawyers for those agents have consistently defended their disclosures as lawful.

Earlier this month, Hunter Biden sued Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of, for defamation after Byrne suggested that Biden had solicited a bribe from Iran.

And on Nov. 15, Hunter Biden’s lawyers launched perhaps their most ambitious legal salvo yet: They attempted to subpoena Trump, former Attorney General Bill Barr and other top officials in the Trump Justice Department. The gun charges against Hunter Biden may represent a “vindictive or selective prosecution” that violate his constitutional rights, Lowell wrote in a court document seeking a judge’s approval for the subpoenas. The subpoenas, Lowell argued, may help shed light on the “sustained, almost-nonstop public pressure campaign, led by Mr. Trump and his allies in Congress.”

A delicate relationship with Democrats

The person close to Hunter Biden’s legal team described the new courtroom strategy as “aggressive defense.”

How that strategy interacts with his father’s own aggressive defense — his campaign to hold onto the White House — is complex, fraught, and in many ways an open question.

Some of the president’s allies argue the politics surrounding Hunter Biden are already baked in. As long as the president himself is not found to have done something wrong, anything that happens in his son’s cases is unlikely to cause any more political harm to the president, these aides argue.

Other White House aides and outside Democratic operatives are concerned about Hunter Biden’s strategy. His team rolled out the lawsuits independent from the president’s political operation.

That’s in part because Hunter Biden himself is not close with many of the staff surrounding his father. He has told friends they are largely strangers, and that he can’t expect strangers to defend him when he won’t defend himself.

And for years now, he has made major decisions about media strategy without seeking his father’s aides’ blessing. He participated in a lengthy July 2019 New Yorker profile without seeking any guidance from his father’s campaign. Three months later, he sat for a "Good Morning America" interview without bringing along a campaign staffer. Three former 2020 campaign aides said staff were surprised to learn he’d taped the sit-down.

“We got up like everybody that morning to watch 'Good Morning America,'” one of those former campaign aides said.

And in the first year of his father’s presidency, he released a memoir describing his drug addiction in sometimes stomach-churning detail.

But the president’s son has told friends that he believes his instincts — shaped by decades near the political spotlight — have been vindicated. The New Yorker profile was widely viewed as a positive portrayal, and White House staff routinely cite his memoir when questioned about him.

‘The political expediency of sacrificing Hunter’

The upshot is that Hunter Biden is operating relatively independently to shape his own narrative — a narrative that mixes politics and law and that is largely outside the control of the president’s advisers and defenders.

Consistent with the president’s vow to honor the Justice Department’s independence, the White House does not comment on Hunter Biden’s criminal case or his other legal issues. Conservative lawmakers and pundits, however, feel no such strictures. And their voluminous attacks have received limited public rebuttal from the left.

Instead, two Capitol Hill Democrats have told POLITICO that they view the politics on the issue as fixed, so the prospect of going on offense is all risk and no reward. In general, they are comfortable defending the president, but not his son.

And some don’t just abstain from the debate. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the first son “a disturbed man” who “may have very well done some improper things.” And Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told ABC News in August that the president’s son “did a lot of really unlawful and wrong things.” Nadler and Raskin are the top Democrats on committees involved in the Republicans’ impeachment probe.

Hunter Biden’s team finds this troubling.

“Intentionally or not, they’re betting on the political expediency of sacrificing Hunter,” said the friend who spoke to POLITICO.

“The greater good is served by accountability and vindication, and not by acquiescence to political prosecution and the effort to dehumanize him,” the friend added.

And some of the president’s allies wish the strategic-silence approach had ended sooner.

“Look at what it’s done to the president’s reputation,” said a former senior White House aide. “A man once known for his integrity is now — most people believe — he’s either corrupt, lying, or was involved in his son’s criminal enterprise. All of which would never be the case if they had been responding to these kinds of smears from the beginning.”

Nicholas Wu and Benjamin Guggenheim contributed to this report.

Tue, 28 Nov 2023 06:50:03 -0500 ishook
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Sandy Hook families who won nearly $1.5 billion in legal judgments against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for calling the 2012 Connecticut school shooting a hoax have offered to settle that debt for only pennies on the dollar — at least $85 million over 10 years.

The offer was made in Jones’ personal bankruptcy case in Houston last week. In a legal filing, lawyers for the families said they believed the proposal was a viable way to help resolve the bankruptcy reorganization cases of both Jones and his company, Free Speech Systems.

But in the sharply worded document, the attorneys continued to accuse the Infowars host of failing to curb his personal spending and “extravagant lifestyle,” failing to preserve the value of his holdings, refusing to sell assets and failing to produce certain financial documents.

“Jones has failed in every way to serve as the fiduciary mandated by the Bankruptcy Code in exchange for the breathing spell he has enjoyed for almost a year. His time is up,” lawyers for the Sandy Hook families wrote.

The families’ lawyers offered Jones two options: either liquidate his estate and give the proceeds to creditors or pay them at least $8.5 million a year for 10 years — plus 50 percent of any income over $9 million per year.

During a court hearing in Houston, Jones’ personal bankruptcy lawyer, Vickie Driver, suggested Monday that the $85 million, 10-year settlement offer was too high and unrealistic for Jones to pay.

“There are no financials that will ever show that Mr. Jones ever made that ... in 10 years,” she said.

In a new bankruptcy plan filed on Nov. 18, Free Speech Systems said it could afford to pay creditors about $4 million a year, down from an estimate earlier this year of $7 million to $10 million annually. The company said it expected to make about $19.2 million next year from selling the dietary supplements, clothing and other merchandise Jones promotes on his shows, while operating expenses including salaries would total about $14.3 million.

Personally, Jones listed about $13 million in total assets in his most recent financial statements filed with the bankruptcy court, including about $856,000 in various bank accounts.

Under the bankruptcy case orders, Jones had been receiving a salary of $20,000 every two weeks, or $520,000 a year. But this month, a court-appointed restructuring officer upped Jones’ pay to about $57,700 biweekly, or $1.5 million a year, saying he has been “grossly” underpaid for how vital he is to the media company.

Bankruptcy Judge Christopher Lopez on Monday rejected the $1.5 million salary, saying the pay raise didn’t appear to have been made properly under bankruptcy laws and a hearing needed to be held.

If Jones doesn’t accept the families’ offer, Lopez would determine how much he would pay the families and other creditors.

After 20 children and six educators were killed by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, Jones repeatedly said on his show that the shooting never happened and was staged in an effort to tighten gun laws.

Relatives, of many but not all, of the Sandy Hook victims sued Jones in Connecticut and Texas, winning nearly $1.5 billion in judgments against him. In October, Lopez ruled that Jones could not use bankruptcy protection to avoid paying more than $1.1 billon of that debt.

Relatives of the school shooting victims testified at the trials about being harassed and threatened by Jones’ believers, who sent threats and even confronted the grieving families in person, accusing them of being “crisis actors” whose children never existed.

Jones is appealing the judgments, saying he didn’t get fair trials and his speech was protected by the First Amendment.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 23:00:03 -0500 ishook
Argentina’s right&wing president&elect to meet with top Biden adviser

WASHINGTON — Argentina’s right-wing President-elect Javier Milei will meet with President Joe Biden’s national security adviser on Tuesday in Washington, according to the White House.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Monday that Milei will meet with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and other administration officials. Biden, who will be traveling on Tuesday to Georgia for a memorial service for former first lady Rosalynn Carter and then to Colorado, will not meet with Milei.

The Treasury Department said in a statement that Milei’s economic policy advisers will also meet with senior Treasury Officials on Tuesday. That meeting is expected to focus on the incoming Milei administration’s economic policy priorities.

“We want to continue to look for ways to cooperate with Argentina,” Kirby said. “Argentina is a healthy and vibrant partner in this hemisphere on many, many issues. And so we’re looking forward to obviously hearing what the president-elect’s ideas are and where he wants to go on policy issues and making sure that we have a chance to keep that channel of communication open.

Milei’s meetings in Washington ”are protocol-driven to explain the economic plan: fiscal adjustment, monetary reform, state reform and deregulation,” a Milei spokesperson, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to talk on the record, said. “It is not in search of financing.”

Milei, who has been compared to former President Donald Trump, was elected earlier this month and is scheduled to be inaugurated on Dec. 10. The president-elect has spoken favorably of Trump, and said that the 45th president told him in a congratulatory call last week that he would travel to Argentina so the two could meet face-to-face.

Milei’s conversation with the former president, who is the leading 2024 GOP presidential contender, came hours after Biden had his own call with Milei.

The White House said Biden congratulated Milei and spoke of “the strong relationship between the United States and Argentina on economic issues, on regional and multilateral cooperation, and on shared priorities, including advocating for the protection of human rights, addressing food insecurity and investing in clean energy.”

Milei spent Monday in New York City and was traveling to Washington primarily for talks with International Monetary Fund officials, according to Kirby.

While in New York, Milei met with former President Bill Clinton. The two discussed the future of Argentina and the region, according to an aide to the former U.S. president. The aide, who was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity, said Clinton wished Milei well.

Milei also visited the burial place of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who led the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for more than four decades before his death in 1994. Schneerson’s grave, at a cemetery in Queens, is visited annually by thousands of Jewish people and occasionally by world leaders.

Schneerson led Chabad-Lubavitch as the seventh rebbe, or spiritual leader. In those years, he was one of the most influential global leaders in Judaism, reinvigorating a small community that had been devastated by the Holocaust and pushing for all Jews to become more deeply connected to their faith and do more good in their everyday lives.

Milei, a Roman Catholic, has been studying the Torah for years and has openly talked about his respect for Judaism. Although he’s expressed a desire to convert to Judaism, he hasn’t formally started the process although he says he’s close.

Milei has also expressed staunch support for Israel, both before and after he won the presidential election. During the campaign, Milei often waved an Israeli flag at his rallies.

Argentina’s president-elect has said he wants to move Argentina’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, emulating a move made by Trump.

“I don’t go to the church; I go to the temple. I don’t talk to priests; I have a head rabbi. I study the Torah,” Milei said in an August interview. “I’m internationally recognized as a friend of Israel and a scholar of the Torah.”

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 23:00:03 -0500 ishook
In South Carolina homecoming, Haley’s ‘town hall’ turns into a full&blown rally

BLUFFTON, S.C. — Waiting for Nikki Haley inside a college gymnasium on Monday, 2,500 people packed into folding chairs and onto bleachers, dancing and waving signs to the beat of “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “Crazy Train.”

Outside, a line of hundreds more in quarter-zip pullovers and sweater vests snaked around the building on a weekday afternoon, turned away by public safety officials who said the event was already at capacity.

Billed as a “town hall,” Haley’s return to her home state of South Carolina on Monday instead exploded into a full-blown rally — a triumphant return for the former governor who has surpassed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in polling in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary and is running neck-and-neck with him in Iowa.

“I’ll just stand outside and watch it on the screen,” said Randy Wynne, a 55-year-old from Bluffton who was among those being blocked from entering before they could even reach the door.

The event — Haley’s first in the state since her fellow South Carolinian, Sen. Tim Scott, dropped out of the race earlier this month — served as a mark of Haley’s ascent in the GOP primary. But if there is anywhere critical for Haley to top the GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, it will be in her home state. And the former president, who drew overwhelming cheers in South Carolina when he walked onto the field during the South Carolina-Clemson Palmetto Bowl game over the weekend, is still running 30 points ahead of her here.

“Trump certainly has a very committed core constituency — that’s undeniable,” said Chad Walldorf, a South Carolina Republican donor who is now backing Haley after first supporting Scott. “Certainly any politician would appreciate that as a committed base.”

But, Walldorf said, “The question going forward is, is that half of the Republican electorate? I think ultimately it will prove not to be.”

Haley does have a burst of momentum. Following Scott’s departure and with DeSantis bleeding support, Haley is the one candidate to whom new donors and supporters are flocking in the primary’s undercard race. And for Republicans desperate to block Trump from gaining the nomination, South Carolina’s early primary may be crucial.

For all the focus now on Iowa and New Hampshire, said Republican donor Frank Lavin, “South Carolina is going to assume critical importance.”

Lavin, the former White House political director for Ronald Reagan, also initially supported Scott in the primary and confirmed first to POLITICO on Monday that he is now backing Haley. In addition to cutting a check, Lavin has consulted with both Haley’s policy and finance teams, is organizing a February fundraiser for her in San Francisco and will run as a Haley delegate in California.

Trump, Lavin said, “has done a good job, to date, of prevailing despite a lot of headwinds, despite all sorts of concerns about his legal issues, potential health issues, electability issues.”

Given that, her supporters acknowledge that a Haley success story largely depends on Trump’s actual strength with Republican primary voters being something less than what poll after poll has shown for months.

“I think there’s going to be a reckoning as we get into next year, and that some of his poll numbers are overstated, and some of his results are going to be less than what the numbers currently represent,” Lavin said.

The numbers so far are still overwhelmingly with Trump. His campaign zeroed in on South Carolina — the fourth early-voting state after Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada — from the early days of his 2024 presidential bid, announcing in January a slate of high-level endorsers that included the state’s Republican governor and senior senator, despite Haley and Scott at the time openly eyeing campaigns of their own.

Trump boasts endorsements from 80 current and former elected officials in South Carolina — more than any other Republican in the race — and has mobilized supporters in the state to knock on doors and make phone calls daily, said Austin McCubbin, Trump’s South Carolina state director.

McCubbin dismissed Haley’s recent momentum in Iowa and New Hampshire, calling her a “paper tiger” with “a lot of tough talk.”

“She has been languishing in the teens this entire time in South Carolina, and she has yet to break out,” McCubbin said. “As Tim dropped out and DeSanctimonious is proving to be the greatest thing that ever happened to the legacy of Jeb Bush's campaign memory, that support is coming our way, not hers.”

Haley’s rise in national polling and in the early states is undisputed. But it remains to be seen whether her surge will do any significant damage to Trump’s lead.

Inside — and outside — the packed campus recreation center, a significantly larger venue than the brewery that the campaign had initially scheduled for the Bluffton event, many in the crowd made it clear they were never considering supporting Trump in the primary, suggesting Haley’s support is not necessarily denting his.

“I’m an independent, I’m interested in a woman president, and I don’t want Trump again,” said Dale Wagner of Sun City, who said she intends to vote in the state’s Republican primary for Haley, the only woman in the race.

Ruth Gardner, another Sun City resident, said she was impressed by Haley’s debate performance and foreign policy experience, and appreciated that she is from South Carolina. Asked if she had at any point considered supporting Trump in the primary, Gardner’s eyes widened. Her artisan earrings moved with her head as it shook.

“I didn’t vote for the man the first time because he treats women like garbage,” Gardner said.

Across the gymnasium, Mary Burdy of Bluffton had a nearly identical response: “He doesn’t belong in politics.”

“I’m a Republican, and I didn’t vote for him last time, and I didn’t vote for Biden,” Burdy said.

Like most other Republicans seeking the nomination, Haley has resisted full-on attacks against Trump, alternating between praise for some of his past policies and criticism of his personality and leadership qualities.

“The truth is, rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him,” Haley said Monday, using a line that she has begun to employ regularly on the campaign trail. “You know I’m right. Chaos follows him.”

The crowd let out nervous laughter. Some started to applaud. Then the applause built across the room.

“You look at the recent polls — Donald Trump beats Biden by three to four points. I beat Biden by 10 to 13 points,” Haley continued.

The crowd erupted into cheers.

But Haley’s strategy of not entirely isolating the pro-Trump wing of the Republican Party appears to be warranted. Not every Haley fan in the room on Monday was down on Trump.

Russ Burdy, attending with his wife, Mary, said he is still undecided ahead of the state’s February primary, and is torn between backing the former president and Haley. He didn’t have any strict criteria about what would sway him.

His wife, Mary Burdy, mouthed her analysis after his interview.

“He’ll vote for her too.”

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 23:00:03 -0500 ishook
Israel&Hamas truce extended by 2 days, Qatar says Mon, 27 Nov 2023 20:15:05 -0500 ishook Bid to hold Trump accountable for Jan. 6 violence stalls at appeals court

A federal appeals court mulling Donald Trump’s legal liability for Jan. 6 violence is approaching a conspicuous anniversary of inaction.

Nearly a year ago, the court considered three lawsuits brought by Capitol Police officers and members of Congress accusing Trump and his allies of inciting the attack that threatened their lives and the government they were sworn to protect.

But their efforts to hold Trump accountable have languished. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals typically decides cases within four months of oral arguments, but the trio of Trump lawsuits has been sitting on the court’s docket with no ruling since they were argued last December.

“I am surprised how long it’s taking. The delay does seem unusual, but I’m hopeful we’ll get a decision,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who filed one of the three lawsuits two months after the Jan. 6 attack.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court is mulling a thorny constitutional question that hangs over each of the cases: whether Trump can be sued over his speech to an angry crowd on Jan. 6, 2021, just before the deadly riot at the Capitol. Since the panel considered whether Trump has immunity, Trump has surged to the front of the GOP presidential primary pack and been charged criminally twice for his efforts to subvert the 2020 election.

The D.C. Circuit’s long-awaited ruling — or its likely appeal to the Supreme Court — may either bolster or weaken both of those criminal cases. That’s because Trump is raising similar immunity defenses in his criminal prosecutions. Whatever the higher courts say about the scope of presidential immunity in the civil context will set an important precedent for the trial judges who will soon need to resolve Trump’s efforts to toss out his criminal charges on immunity grounds.

In the meantime, the protracted delay at the D.C. Circuit has created something of a vacuum on the question of how broadly Trump’s immunity sweeps.

“It seems like it’s extraordinarily long, even for the D.C. Circuit,” said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

Tobias noted that the D.C.-based court tends to take longer than most other federal appeals courts, generally because it handles a significant number of very complicated regulatory cases involving federal agencies. Still, the Trump immunity appeal seems like an outlier, he said.

“It’s certainly on the very long end of that, so you have to wonder,” the law professor added.

Statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts confirm that the Trump appeal has been awaiting a decision for almost three times as long as the typical D.C. Circuit case.

The hold-up has even been remarked upon in Trump-related cases outside Washington, like a pair of lawsuits in New York related to writer E. Jean Carroll’s claim that Trump raped her in a department store dressing room in the 1990s and Trump’s disparaging comments about Carroll after she went public with her claim.

In those cases, too, Trump has raised immunity defenses. And last month, while arguing before a New York-based federal appeals court, a lawyer for Carroll pointed out that the D.C. Circuit appeal “has been pending for quite some time.”

The full legal odyssey for the Jan. 6-related lawsuits against Trump has now reached nearly three years. Within weeks of the attack on the Capitol, members of Congress, Capitol Police officers and members of the D.C. police department began filing the lawsuits, claiming that Trump and his allies bore responsibility for the violence and should pay monetary damages.

U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta issued his own landmark ruling on the matter on Feb. 18, 2022, concluding that Trump’s speech that day was a rare instance in which a president’s remarks were not immune from lawsuit.

“To deny a President immunity from civil damages is no small step,” wrote Mehta, an appointee of President Barack Obama. “The court well understands the gravity of its decision. But the alleged facts of this case are without precedent, and the court believes that its decision is consistent with the purposes behind such immunity.”

Trump appealed quickly, and the case has been meandering through the appeals court ever since. The three-judge panel, consisting of Obama-appointed Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, Clinton appointee Judith Rogers and Trump appointee Gregory Katsas, heard oral arguments in the case on Dec. 7, 2022. Four months later, in March 2023, they solicited input from the Justice Department, which staked out a delicate approach to questions of presidential immunity.

The panel has been silent since then, a period of inaction that has grown more deafening since Trump was criminally charged in August.

The panel’s ruling will likely be a significant milestone in the decades-long constitutional debate about presidential immunity, which began in earnest during the Watergate era and flared up again during numerous investigations and lawsuits against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Trump has embraced a sweeping view of the concept in which almost any action or remark made by presidents is protected from suit so long as it can conceivably — even by the thinnest of reeds — be connected to their official duties. Even purely political efforts to win reelection would be protected, he argues.

Trump has made a version of that argument in his Washington, D.C. criminal case, brought by special counsel Jack Smith. The prosecutors have urged Judge Tanya Chutkan, the trial judge presiding over the case, to rule quickly on the matter, noting that it’s one of the few issues Trump can appeal ahead of his March 4 trial. Chutkan, however, may prefer to see how the D.C. Circuit handles Trump’s immunity before she issues her own ruling.

And there’s yet another complication in another Trump-related case. A fourth lawsuit, brought by injured police officers seeking to hold Trump accountable for the violence at the Capitol, is now pending before the D.C. Circuit. Arguments on that lawsuit were initially scheduled for Dec. 5 — but in a little-noticed order issued Friday when the court was officially closed for the holiday weekend, the court canceled the argument session.

Without a ruling in the earlier lawsuits, holding arguments next week could have been awkward, since any decision on Trump’s immunity in the earlier cases could effectively dictate the outcome of the later one. In another twist, two of the three judges on the appeal that was set for next week, Srinivasan and Rogers, are also assigned to the first one and are presumably well aware of the arguments, any draft opinions or dissents that have circulated — and what’s holding it all up.

A D.C. Circuit official, Chief Deputy Clerk Clifton Cislak, said Monday he could not comment on the timing of rulings in the Trump immunity appeals or any other particular case. The clerk did confirm the court’s average duration of about four months between argument and decision.

“But that is the average — dispositions can take much longer than four months or can be reached much sooner than four months,” Cislak said in an email to POLITICO.

In a bid to avoid appeals languishing, the D.C. Circuit’s internal procedures call for judges to report to their colleagues every month on the status of draft opinions in pending cases.

The lawyer who argued against Trump’s immunity in the appeal heard last December, Joseph Sellers, told POLITICO last week that he had no update from the court on where it stands. “I don’t have any insight into that,” he said.

The attorney leading Trump’s defense in the Jan. 6-related civil cases, Jesse Binnall, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Despite the protracted delays and the uncertainty surrounding Trump’s fate as a criminal defendant, Swalwell said he’s at peace with the process.

“To me that’s our justice system. It’s not a perfect one, and it’s certainly not one that times itself to one’s political fortune or misfortune,” he said. “To me, all these rivers of liability lead to the same body of water,” he said. “Will Donald Trump be held accountable for what he did leading up to and on Jan. 6?”

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 20:15:05 -0500 ishook
Israel confirms release of 11 hostages by Hamas on 4th day of truce

Israel said 11 hostages have been released from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip late Monday, the final day of a four-day truce between the warring sides. Qatar says Israel is to release 33 Palestinians from its prisons, mostly teenagers.

Hours earlier, Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Israel and Hamas agreed to extend their truce for another two days.

Monday’s releases bring the number of Israelis freed under the truce to 50, along with 19 hostages of other nationalities. So far, 117 Palestinians have been released from Israeli prisons.

Roughly 240 hostages were captured by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that ignited the war. One was freed by Israeli forces and two were found dead inside Gaza.

Israel has said it would extend the cease-fire by one day for every 10 additional hostages released. After the announcement by Qatar — a key mediator in the conflict, along with the United States and Egypt — Hamas confirmed it had agreed to a two-day extension “under the same terms.”

With the truce deal has come increased shipments of fuel and supplies into Gaza — although aid groups say it’s still barely enough to dent the needs of the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza who have endured weeks of Israeli siege and bombardment.

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, roughly two thirds of them women and minors, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Some 1,200 people have been killed in Israel, mostly during the initial incursion by Hamas. At least 77 soldiers have been killed in Israel’s ground offensive.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 20:15:05 -0500 ishook
Florida grand jury calls for new tax to curb illegal immigration

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A statewide grand jury put into place by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to investigate migrant-related issues called on state legislators to impose new restrictions on immigration — including a tax on all wire transfers of money overseas.

In a 146-page report released Monday, the grand jury also urged lawmakers to put additional restrictions on businesses, including requiring all employers to check the names of prospective employees against a federal immigration database. DeSantis got legislators to pass a E-Verify mandate earlier this year, but it only applied to private companies with 25 or more employees amid a behind-the-scenes pushback from business lobbyists.

Illegal immigration remains a key issue in the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail. During his run for president, DeSantis has faulted former President Donald Trump for failing to get Mexico to pay for Trump’s promised border wall. DeSantis has asserted during multiple campaign stops that he would place a charge on remittances to Mexico and other countries to help pay for border enforcement.

“When he’s saying that he couldn’t get the job done, look, I wanted to send the message: I will get the job done. I’m not going to make excuses,” DeSantis said during an October interview with NewsNation.

The grand jury report calls for what it describes as a “modest” fee charged to customers similar to one imposed by the state of Oklahoma that could be around 1.5 percent per wire transfer. The grand jury claims that such a fee — which would likely require a supermajority vote in the Legislature to be approved — could generate tens of millions that could pay for beefed up enforcement, education, or money to help state agencies deal with unaccompanied migrant children.

The report suggests that those engaged in legitimate money transfers could get a refund. But such a tax could have a dramatic impact in places such as South Florida, which has a diaspora of people who have left Latin American and the Caribbean and send money back to relatives.

The governor’s office did not immediately comment on the report’s recommendations. But Florida’s Republican governor has been a loud and vocal critic of the Biden administration’s handling of immigration and has spent millions on efforts, such as sending Florida law-enforcement to the Texas border and flying migrants who crossed into the country to Martha’s Vineyard and California.

In the summer of 2022, DeSantis petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to impanel a statewide grand jury to investigate the transport of unaccompanied children and migrants into the state and whether local authorities were refusing to work with federal immigration authorities.

The grand jury, made up of residents from three Republican-leaning counties, has now issued five reports. The latest one was sharply critical of the Biden administration’s handling of immigration while at the same time contended that Florida residents are ignoring the situation. The report estimated that as many as 1 million of Florida's nearly 23 million residents are in the state illegally.

“We learned that, if anything, many Floridians are (just as we were before undertaking this inquiry) almost dangerously naive and unaware of the true magnitude and malevolence of the illegal immigration industry,” the report states in its introduction.

The grand jury did its investigation with the assistance of a statewide prosecutor who works for Republican Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has sued the Biden administration over its immigration policies.

Moody, in a statement, sidestepped the actual recommendations of the grand jury and instead called the report a “damning indictment of the Biden administration’s complete failure to protect our border and the tens of thousands of immigrant children being smuggled into our country and in some instances, trafficked.”

Some Democrats and advocates for immigrants expressed alarm at the tone of the report.

“Based on this report, we can expect more incendiary language and policies next legislative session targeting immigrants,” State Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a social media post.

The report included a full slate of recommendations beyond just new fees on wire transfers or revisiting E-Verify requirements. The grand jury — without disclosing any names — also blasted non-government organizations involved in immigration that it said refused to cooperate with the probe. The report urged the creation of a separate statewide grand jury to continue to investigate such outfits.

Additionally, the grand jury contended that Miami-Dade County was sidestepping a mandate that local authorities work with federal immigration authorities by citing an exemption from detainer requirements that allows them to be lifted if the person is a witness or the victim of a crime.

The county did not immediately provide a response when asked for comment.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 20:15:05 -0500 ishook
Elon Musk battle: UK’s Rishi Sunak says antisemitism ‘wrong in all its forms’ Mon, 27 Nov 2023 17:35:03 -0500 ishook 5 questions about the latest disease outbreak in China

The wave of respiratory diseases hitting China is more likely the return of seasonal illness the country suppressed with prolonged Covid lockdowns than another pandemic threat.

Children are flooding hospitals now in the same way they did in the U.S. a year ago, infectious disease experts told POLITICO.

China’s getting hit now, as virus season arrives, because it maintained Covid lockdowns far longer than most other countries, ending them only after a public revolt in January. Lockdowns and other pandemic precautions protected people not only from Covid, but also from other highly infectious respiratory diseases that are more dangerous to kids, such as flu and RSV.

Many children have never previously encountered the viruses or bacteria that can cause illness, and are particularly susceptible.

Still, last week's demand by the World Health Organization for information from China on “reported clusters of pneumonia in children in Northern China” reminded the world of the start of the pandemic nearly four years ago, and triggered anxiety that a new pathogen may again cause a global outbreak.

China’s health ministry said Sunday that flu and other known viruses and bacteria are causing the surge, not a novel virus.

POLITICO asked health care experts what to make of it.

Is this a new virus or immunity debt?

The U.S. saw a similar outbreak last year after ending formal pandemic precautions: Flu, Covid and RSV peaked at the same time, a confluence dubbed the “tripledemic.”

The term “immunity debt” gained traction to describe it, and China might now be paying back its debt on a delayed schedule — the result of maintaining Covid lockdowns longer than other countries.

The CDC has endorsed the view that avoiding infectious diseases for a prolonged period makes a population more susceptible when lockdowns, masking, social distancing and other precautions cease.

“A large portion of the population probably is lacking immunity and haven’t gotten infected with a number of other pathogens, and what we're seeing now is a burst of all these people in one year are getting infected,” said Andrew Pekosz, an immunology professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Because testing so far isn’t showing a novel virus at play, the outbreak in China shouldn’t pose concern to health officials in the U.S., experts said.

“This already happened [in the U.S.] last year,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar and adjunct assistant professor at Johns Hopkins. “This is just what you expect — when you give these respiratory pathogens a break, the number of susceptible individuals in your country goes up, and then you can get an outsized outbreak.”

How high is the risk of global spread?

Because there’s no new pathogen to date, the risk of the outbreak spreading to people living outside of China is low, experts said. The biggest implication will likely be stress on China’s hospital systems.

“I don't think that has any implications outside of people that are physically in China,” said Adalja.

Within China, the outbreak could be the beginning of a surge of respiratory infections, because children are “often the conduits of disease” to their families, said Pekosz.

“Sometimes the surge of infections can really put a stress on your health care system, and so monitoring for if this moves out of the younger pediatric age groups into other age groups and how many cases are increasing on a weekly basis is really the critical thing right now,” he said.

The likelihood of the outbreak spreading to the U.S. this year is also low because the country paid its “debt” for illnesses like RSV last year, Adalja said.

Babies born during the pandemic had limited exposure to RSV because of pandemic precautions, but once those measures ended and people started to get together as they had before Covid arrived, the number of RSV cases spiked in the U.S. last year.

“We're in the midst of RSV season now, and it's not like last year, because all those kids paid their debt, so now it's sort of more ordinary,” said Adalja. “We're getting back to the normal ebb and flow of respiratory viruses with Covid in the mix now, too.”

What should the U.S. do to be prepared?

Increase hospitals’ surge capacity, especially for children, experts said.

Most children’s hospitals in the U.S. run at capacity even in good times to survive economically, said Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said he’s seen cuts in health care capacity overall, and even harsher downsizing of pediatric units.

“In our own state of Minnesota, we've downsized substantially, closed a lot of pediatric units in general hospitals, [and] have not expanded extensively in children's hospitals,” he said.

That makes him wonder about the actual number of sick children in China compared with the capacity of the country’s health system.

“Nobody’s reporting out rates of disease,” he said. “They just say ‘clinics are overrun.’ But what does that mean? Is it 3 percent of people infected? Is it 10 percent?”

Can we trust the data from China?

“I always think the key is, to quote President Reagan, ‘trust but verify,’” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the former White House Covid-19 response coordinator.

Besides reviewing information China releases, the U.S. also has its own verification systems, such as traveler data, “to make sure we are not seeing anything different,” said Jha, who is now the dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.

Still, despite China’s lack of transparency about Covid, public health experts aren’t seeing red flags this time.

The situation in China “is exactly what we would have expected to see happen,” said Osterholm.

“What we’re seeing is not a new infectious agent, it’s the old ones coming back. It’s influenza, it’s mycoplasma, it’s adenovirus and some Covid,” he said.

What’s mycoplasma?

While viruses are mainly to blame for China’s outbreak, a bacteria, mycoplasma, is also spreading.

That’s bad luck, given the viral spread.

There are flare-ups of disease even when people are regularly exposed to pathogens, said Hotez: “Mycoplasma epidemics occur every few years.”

Mycoplasma typically causes mild lung infections, but can cause serious disease in some, especially young children, requiring hospitalization. It can also lead to asthma attacks, brain swelling or kidney dysfunction but it is rarely fatal.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 17:35:03 -0500 ishook
Missing COP28 Summit Complicates Biden’s Climate Credentials Mon, 27 Nov 2023 17:15:04 -0500 ishook Biden Campaign Aims to Weaponize Trump’s Threat to Obamacare Mon, 27 Nov 2023 15:30:03 -0500 ishook Arizona Legislators Must Testify About Voting Laws, Supreme Court Rules Mon, 27 Nov 2023 15:30:03 -0500 ishook Eric Adams dismisses Cuomo for mayor talk

NEW YORK — Eric Adams threw cold water on the prospect of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo running for mayor of New York City.

Adams in a radio interview Monday dismissed talk of Cuomo seeking his job, though acknowledged the three-term former governor is considering some sort of comeback to politics following his 2021 resignation.

“We talk often,” Adams told La Mega 97.9. “I don’t see him running for mayor. I think he is looking at his next political move and there is a lot of things he can look at, but I have to be ready to run New York and that is what I’m focused on doing right now.”

POLITICO reported last week Cuomo is weighing a bid for mayor as Adams’ campaign is under scrutiny by federal investigators stemming from whether it colluded with the Turkish government in exchange for official favors.

Cuomo has indicated to allies this month he could be interested in a mayoral bid, and voters in New York City received a poll testing a variety of comeback messages for the former governor. Cuomo, 65, has not ruled out a return to politics, telling POLITICO in October he is keeping his options open.

But multiple people familiar with Cuomo’s thinking do not expect him to directly challenge Adams in a Democratic primary, a contest that would divide working class Black voters, unions and the business community — a coalition both men have drawn support from in their campaigns.

Adams’ woes have deepened further last week after he was accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a woman in 1993 when he was a member of the NYPD. Adams has denied ever meeting the woman.

Cuomo, who resigned amid a barrage of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct allegations, is also facing a new lawsuit filed against him by former aide Brittany Commisso.

Commisso alleges Cuomo groped her while at the governor’s mansion in Albany in 2020 — a claim that Albany County District Attorney David Soares declined pursue in a criminal case. Commisso was among the women whose allegations were included a bombshell report released by New York Attorney General Tish James that preceded Cuomo’s resignation weeks later.

Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing.

“Ms. Commisso’s claims are provably false, which is why the Albany District Attorney dismissed the case two years ago after a thorough investigation,” Cuomo attorney Rita Glavin said. “Ms. Commisso’s transparent attempt at a cash grab will fail. We look forward to seeing her in court.”

Commisso’s civil case joins two other lawsuits previously filed against Cuomo by former aide Charlotte Bennett and a former member of his State Police security detail who have also alleged the former governor sexually harassed them.

Joe Anuta contributed to this report.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook
Pentagon: Suspected Somali pirates behind cargo ship attack in the Middle East

The five armed individuals who attacked a commercial vessel in the Gulf of Aden over the weekend were from Somalia, a Pentagon spokesperson said Monday, citing initial assessments.

The incident was “clearly … piracy-related,” Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told reporters. The Defense Department is still assessing whether the attackers have any ties to the Houthi rebels in Yemen, he added.

The destroyer USS Mason and a number of allied ships from the nearby counter-piracy task force initially responded to the cargo ship Central Park’s distress calls that it was being attacked on Sunday, DOD said. Three Chinese navy vessels were also in the vicinity on a counter-piracy mission, but did not respond to the distress call, Ryder said.

Once the coalition ships arrived, the task force demanded the release of the civilian vessel, according to DOD. The Central Park is a small, Liberian-flagged tanker managed by London-based company Zodiac Maritime. The five individuals then left the ship and fled aboard a small boat.

The Mason pursued, firing gunshots at the boat, but did not cause any injury, Ryder said. The U.S. Navy crew apprehended the attackers, who are onboard the Mason.

About an hour and a half later, two ballistic missiles were fired from Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen “toward the general location” of the Mason, according to DOD. The ship tracked the missiles, which landed harmlessly in the Gulf about 10 nautical miles away, but did not attempt to shoot them down, Ryder said.

DOD is still assessing whether the Mason was the intended target of the attack, Ryder said. If it was, the move would mark the first time Houthi rebels have deliberately targeted U.S. maritime forces with missiles in the Gulf since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Meanwhile, the tally of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria has risen to 73 since Oct. 17, Ryder told reporters. However, the last attacks occurred on Thursday.

Ryder declined to link the lack of attacks to the pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, which began Friday and was initially slated to end at midnight on Monday Eastern time. The two parties have agreed to extend the truce for two days, Qatari negotiators announced Monday.

The developments come as the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group entered the Persian Gulf on Sunday, the military announced.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook
What London's mayor learned when he took on the cars Mon, 27 Nov 2023 12:20:02 -0500 ishook ‘Vast worldwide sewer’: Paris mayor quits X with swipe at Elon Musk Mon, 27 Nov 2023 12:20:02 -0500 ishook UAE plotted to use COP28 to push for oil and gas deals, leaked notes show Mon, 27 Nov 2023 12:20:02 -0500 ishook Poet Detained in Gaza Is Released by IDF Mon, 27 Nov 2023 11:40:04 -0500 ishook Could Biden’s Clean Energy Push Be a Victim of Its Success? Mon, 27 Nov 2023 11:25:02 -0500 ishook Warnings Emerge Over Emirati A.I. Firm G42’s Ties to China Mon, 27 Nov 2023 11:25:02 -0500 ishook Grand Gesture Books Goes Big on Romance Mon, 27 Nov 2023 10:40:05 -0500 ishook As Fable Grows, the Mobile Book Club Platform Adds Personalization Features Mon, 27 Nov 2023 10:20:05 -0500 ishook Hannity wants a red vs. blue state debate. Newsom and DeSantis have other plans.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Fox News’ Sean Hannity is billing his Thursday debate between Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis as a herculean clash between red and blue states.

It’s also a test of sorts for Hannity, with Newsom questioning whether the conservative TV host can treat him and DeSantis as equals.

In an interview with POLITICO, Hannity dismissed the Democrat’s concerns and compared DeSantis and Newsom to political combatants, lauding both for their willingness to enter the ring with him.

“I’m into mixed martial arts and anybody that steps into the octagon, I have deep respect for because you’re stepping into a war,” Hannity said. “This is one of those moments where you have two heavyweights in the political arena that are gonna have an opportunity to go head to head and talk about substantive, real issues and governing philosophies that affect everyone’s lives.”

But as the Democratic and Republican governors prepare to take the stage in Alpharetta, Ga., Hannity's primary goal of keeping the focus on blue California and red Florida — to help explore the country’s deep divides at the state level — is crashing headlong into the 2024 presidential contest. While both elected officials expect to discuss their respective states, their ultimate agendas are much broader.

Newsom, a top surrogate for the Biden White House who in recent months tangled with Hannity in high-profile interviews, is signaling that he wants to go beyond touting — and defending — his record in California. DeSantis’ team, meanwhile, is pointing to the debate as a potential breakout moment as he looks to Iowa to revive his presidential prospects.

The competing priorities pose a challenge for Hannity, who despite his own conservative politics pledged fairness to both parties and said he is trying to make his program a place where Democrats like Newsom can not only appear but punch back. Newsom is preparing to talk up President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign and lay out the choice before Americans in 2024.

“Expect him to defend the president and use the opportunity to take on the misinformation machine at its headwaters,” Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click said.

Click added Newsom is under “no illusions — this is a 2-on-1 match with the refs in the tank for the home team. But Gov. Newsom has long believed that Democrats have to go on offense in enemy territory, and that's exactly what he intends to do.”

DeSantis and his team said they view the debate as a rare opportunity to rise above the GOP primary noise by taking the first crack at a Democrat who, they insist, might become the party’s nominee — not in 2028 — but next year. DeSantis’ camp contends that any of his Republican primary opponents would savor the occasion to debate Newsom on Fox News.

“We feel like it’s a great chance to showcase why the governor is the best candidate to beat the Democrats in November regardless of who they put up, Joe Biden or Gavin Newsom,” said a DeSantis adviser who was granted anonymity to discuss the Newsom debate’s dynamic.

Newsom has repeatedly said he has no interest in running next year and fully expects Biden’s campaign to continue apace. Should it not, Newsom has added that Vice President Kamala Harris is in pole position to take over for their party (though he hasn’t ruled out a future run). The immediate stakes coming out of the debate are perhaps higher for DeSantis given his diminished standing in the presidential race.

Hannity stressed to POLITICO that he can’t forecast, let alone control what either politician is going to say, but he promised that their opposing ideologies would come into sharp relief.

“Are there political calculations to everything, probably, sure,” Hannity said. “But I think they have a sincere belief system that fundamentally predicates all the policies that flow forward when they lay out their agendas. You can’t have two more dramatically different views of governance.”

Hannity insisted he won’t tip the scales in Republicans’ favor, and said he won’t try to fact-check the participants in real time. He offered himself as a fair host who will pose questions and keep time. He mentioned as likely topics Covid-19, taxes, immigration, energy policy and “law and order,” and said he’s aiming to divide the speaking time evenly.

“The questions will probably be very predictable on a lot of issues, maybe unpredictable on some others. This debate is between them. I’m not debating,” Hannity said.

The host specifically pushed back on Newsom’s warning that he and DeSantis would team up against the Democrat on a network that’s often antagonistic to the party. Hannity pointed to a spring interview he did with Newsom that lasted about 80 minutes, and was arranged over personal text messages between the two, saying he kept his word to give Newsom time to answer each question and to air the whole exchange live to tape, meaning it would not be extensively chopped up in the editing room.

“I made [Newsom] certain promises before the interview with him. And he thanked me for keeping my word,” Hannity said, turning his attention back to Newsom’s concerns about Thursday’s debate. “He needs to get over it.”

The long relationship between Newsom and Hannity has been a surprising subplot of the governor’s national media outings in 2023. For well over a year, Newsom trolled DeSantis from the Left Coast and in Florida, egging him on to debate even before the Republican governor entered the race against former President Donald Trump. Newsom and DeSantis, both in their second terms, have sparred over book bans, immigration, education and guns, among other policies. Hannity snagged Newsom for a June sitdown interview in Sacramento, and again in September after the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

The friendship, of sorts, dates back to when Newsom would visit his then-wife Kimberly Guilfoyle at Fox’s studios in Manhattan. Hannity got a kick out of bantering with the mayor of liberal San Francisco, and Newsom (who even then liked to mix it up on air with former Fox host Bill O’Reilly) has said he found it entertaining to waltz around in the belly of the beast. He’s since become an avid Fox News viewer, saying it helps him digest and formulate responses to issues that are catching fire with the right and among conservative politicians.

“I can't give you a date or a specific memory,” Hannity said of the early encounters with Newsom. “All I do remember is that on a personal level, he’s extraordinarily personable. Just like Governor DeSantis is. We hit it off. We just kind of hit it off. I respect both people at a very high level. I really do.”

Newsom and Hannity kept in touch, and it was Hannity this fall who secured an agreement from DeSantis to debate. Hannity declined to engage in his customary commentary, however, including a question posed to him about who is taking the bigger risk by participating. “I think if anyone did poorly,” he said, “that it's a risk for both of them.”

Hannity sidestepped a question about whether he’d approached DeSantis before he got his on-air OK to debate in September. He wouldn’t opine on whether DeSantis has improved as a performer since taking part in three GOP primary debates and prepping for the next one on Dec. 6 in Alabama. “I’ll let this debate be standalone,” he said.

Hannity said he hasn’t heard from Trump, the prohibitive favorite for the GOP nomination, since announcing the DeSantis-Newsom debate.

“He hasn’t said anything to me,” Hannity said of Trump.

“I’ve known President Trump for decades and I think he understands that I have a show to do every night,” Hannity added, pointing specifically to his live shows in front of audiences to make the point that few, if any, of his prime-time competitors can hang with him in that format. Newsom had objected to a live audience, concerned it’d skew in favor of DeSantis, in this case, and Hannity apparently acquiesced.

Hannity revealed little about the logistics of this week’s debate. He wouldn’t say how and where the participants will be positioned on stage and didn’t spell out exactly how he’ll manage the debate clock, saying he promised both sides he wouldn’t spill those details. “I am going to keep my promise. I am a man of my word,” he said.

Hannity suggested the event was so important to him that he managed nearly every detail of the negotiations himself — a dynamic confirmed by aides to Newson and DeSantis. The host generally offered that he wants to “maintain a certain dignity and order to it, but I don't want to be a hall monitor, either,” he said of moderating.

“I really don't think it's gonna be a problem,” Hannity said. “I think you’re dealing with two pros that understand that 90 minutes is a good amount of time to go over a whole variety of issues, and they're both gonna get their fair share of airtime.”

Each governor in the lead-up has been trying to monopolize their airtime. In recent days, Newsom began airing a TV ad on Hannity’s program that accuses DeSantis of pushing policies that criminalize women and doctors who pursue abortions after six weeks. Click said Newsom was “shocked” when DeSantis accepted Hannity’s invitation. “Newsom had been challenging DeSantis for months to debate, and the fact that he finally accepted as his campaign was circling the drain shows just how bad DeSantis needs to distract from his disaster of candidacy,” he said.

DeSantis, appearing on “Fox & Friends,” last week sought to draw Newsom more closely into the 2024 storyline: “He is running a shadow campaign. Even people in his own party are saying that a lot of Democrats want to move Biden out,” DeSantis said. “…you could have a lot of different people. But I think it’s important that Republican voters get the sense that we may not be running against Biden.”

The DeSantis adviser said they pushed in recent weeks to ensure Newsom didn’t wiggle out. “Our goal is to not let him off the hook and make sure the debate happens,” the aide said. Newsom’s team scoffed at the idea that he would drop out.

While largely keeping his distance from the DeSantis-Newsom spats, Hannity didn’t shy away from DeSantis’ charge that Newsom is secretly planning to run next year. After ticking off a list of Newsom’s recent international and out-of-state activity, and gently questioning a reporter who pointed out that only one of the debaters was running in 2024, Hannity ultimately sided with Newsom.

“I’ve known Gavin for a long time and he says he has no plans to do it. He’s been very clear with me when I interviewed him,” Hannity said. “He’s very clear that the next person up to bat would be the vice president, Kamala Harris. I tend to take people at their word.”

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 08:35:04 -0500 ishook
‘This guy is a charlatan’: University of Florida turns against Joe Ladapo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Professors at the University of Florida had high hopes for Joseph Ladapo. But they quickly lost faith in him.

In 2021, the university was fast-tracking him into a tenured professorship as part of his appointment as Florida’s surgeon general. Ladapo, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick for the state’s top medical official, dazzled them with his Harvard degree and work as a research professor at New York University and UCLA.

Professors had anticipated Ladapo would bring at least $600,000 in grant funding to his new appointment from his previous job at UCLA. That didn’t happen. They expected he would conduct research on internal medicine, as directed by his job letter. Instead, he edited science research manuscripts, gave a guest lecture for grad students and wrote a memoir about his vaccine skepticism.

Ladapo’s work at UF has generally escaped scrutiny. Yet interviews with more than two dozen current and former faculty members, state lawmakers and former agency heads, as well as reviews of internal university emails and reports, show that staff was worried that Ladapo had bypassed a crucial review process when he was rushed into his coveted tenured position and, moreover, was unsuited for the position.

His dual role at UF shows how DeSantis and state Republicans have used the flagship public university to further their political goals, with uncertain benefits for students and other faculty. The university also hired as its new president former Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, who joins several former Republican lawmakers in leadership roles in Florida higher education, including former state Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who is chancellor of the university system.

Ladapo has made headlines across the country for his contentious stances on Covid mandates and vaccines as surgeon general. He has bucked the medical establishment by claiming Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are dangerous for healthy young men and warned people under the age of 65 from getting the most recent Covid boosters. He was also criticized for supporting hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug heralded as a coronavirus treatment by former President Donald Trump. A study later found the drug didn’t prevent Covid-19.

While the state has provided other appointees with the same type of tenured position, Ladapo had warning signs from the start. It usually takes months to properly interview and analyze candidates for tenured professorships, but Ladapo’s application took less than three weeks.

“A lot of people thought he had been vetted by the College of Medicine like anyone who goes through the tenure process,” said one current UF professor who was not authorized to speak and was granted anonymity to freely discuss the matter. “That would have caught a lot of red flags.”

Some also bristled that Ladapo, in an email to the heads of the medical school, said he’d only visited the sprawling Gainesville campus twice in his first year on the job, showing a lack of familiarity with Florida’s flagship medical school.

Ladapo declined to comment for this story, and UF Health officials would not answer questions about his time as a professor. A spokesperson for UF did not respond to specific questions about the story.

The DeSantis administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Ladapo’s two confirmations by the state Senate included committee hearings that allowed senators to ask him questions about his performance at both jobs. State Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Boca Raton) said she had asked Ladapo during last year’s confirmation about his performance at UF, and he did not give a clear response despite follow-up attempts.

“You know he never taught a class per se, and it was just his typical word salad answers for everything,” Polsky said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Polsky said in light of the intense criticism and controversy over Ladapo, she was not surprised to hear about his problems at UF.

“It was very par for the course,” Polsky said. “This guy is a charlatan, he’s not looking out for anyone’s health and he’s going to campaign with DeSantis.”

Two roles

Ladapo was the perfect fit as surgeon general for DeSantis. Like the governor, he had gained prominence by criticizing safety measures early in the pandemic, including questioning the effectiveness of boosters or the need for mandatory masking. Both of them also supported the Great Barrington Declaration, which called on governments to adopt the herd approach for Covid-19, which occurs after enough people in the population recover from the virus and develop antibodies to fight it off in the future.

And while the UF staff was initially enthusiastic about Ladapo, faculty staff began expressing concerns almost immediately over how quickly he was given a tenured position, his inability to bring over pledged grant funding, conflicts with colleagues and issues with how much time he spent at the university versus his job as surgeon general.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, said the arrangement allowing Ladapo to be Florida’s top health official and a professor at UF could create conflicts of interest — or at the very least be viewed as one.

Carmona, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona before becoming U.S. surgeon general, said he placed his university job on hold after his appointment to avoid the appearance of a conflict — especially if his position involved decisions that would impact his university employer. Other conflicts could arise if, in a state position, he advocated for a political stance that was at odds with the university.

“When you are in a political office, you cut your ties,” Carmona said. “Basically I still talk to my colleagues, but my responsibilities were left because my allegiance has to be with the United States of America.”

Florida law allows state employees to split their time between two positions if they are recruited to lead an agency under a two year temporary “interchange agreement.” The agreement allows the employee to collect salaries from both jobs.

Ladapo earns a $250,000 salary as surgeon general and a $262,000 salary from UF, according to state and university records.

But some of Ladapo’s UF College of Medicine colleagues were concerned he bypassed crucial vetting during his whirlwind hiring process, regardless of whether it was legal.

A report by an ad hoc committee created by the UF Faculty Senate to review Ladapo’s hiring just months after he came aboard determined that — although parts of Ladapo’s speedy hiring process was not unprecedented for the university and some rules were routinely ignored — the school violated its own policies as school leaders charged on with Ladapo’s application.

“The irregularities noted above were of concern to the members of this committee and appeared to violate the spirit, and in review the exact letter, of UF hiring regulations and procedures, particularly in the vital role faculty play in evaluating the qualifications of their peers,” the report states.

Another professor who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said the process used to grant Ladapo’s tenure at UF was an affront to academic transparency.

“Dr Ladapo has undoubtedly sullied the academic reputation of the University,” the professor said. “He continues to detract from the incredible science and outstanding clinical work being done by real UF scientists and clinicians.”

United Faculty of Florida-University of Florida President Meera Sitharam, the union head representing the institution, said she wondered why the science and public health communities have not investigated Ladapo for scientific fraud, amid a report from POLITICO that he personally altered the results of a Covid study at the state Department of Health.

After that April POLITICO report was published, Ladapo tweeted: “Fauci enthusiasts are terrified and will do anything to divert attention from the risks of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines— especially cardiac deaths. Truth will prevail.”

“For some reason the medical and public health communities aren’t outright investigating him … probably because he isn’t operating as a scientist or a faculty member,” Sitharam said in an email. “He is operating in the murky world where public health is held hostage to political fortunes, which is in part because public trust in health related institutions has been deeply eroded.”

Funding issues

Some of the most serious issues arose over money. Ladapo had initially promised UF that he would transfer grant funding from UCLA, where he had been working, to the Florida school, according to emails obtained from UF.

The funding was awarded by the National Institutes of Health for a research project. But, according to emails between Ladapo and school officials, it never materialized.

A search of an NIH database shows Ladapo is still one of three researchers assigned to a smoking cessation study at UCLA, which receives more than $600,000 in grant funding each year. Another $600,000 NIH grant awarded to UCLA in 2020 lists Ladapo as the sole researcher, and it includes his UF address.

In a June 2022 email, Department of Medicine Vice Chair Mark Brantly told Ladapo that he had reassigned a UF researcher who had been helping with the UCLA project because there was no grant funding.

“When we first discussed this matter you gave me the impression that your funding would follow you from UCLA,” Brantly wrote to Ladapo. “If you are having an issue with transferring your grant funds I strongly encourage you to talk with your NIH program project person.”

In response, Ladapo asked Department of Medicine Chair Jamie B. Conti to intervene. She declined.

“I am working actively on this issue with NIH’s Office of Research Integrity but it is not entirely under my control,” Ladapo wrote to Conti.

Brantly and Conti did not respond to questions about the emails with Ladapo, which POLITICO received through public records requests.

The same professor with the College of Medicine who raised issues over vetting said they were skeptical that Ladapo was the high-performing researcher he had sold himself as, and bucked at the salary he was receiving — especially with the medical school facing a projected $41.5 million shortfall. Like others, the professor was granted anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

“We keep getting all of these emails about doing more to help this $42 million shortfall, and then you have this guy who’s not doing anything,” the College of Medicine professor said. “I don’t know what he’s doing but it’s not research.”

The anticipated $41.5 million shortfall was the result of rapid growth by the College of Medicine over the past few years. The college also increased wages, Gary Mans, assistant vice president of UF Health, said in an email.

Ladapo’s responsibilities at the College of Medicine shifted significantly by the spring of this year. The university initially hired him to spend most of his time continuing his career’s work as a researcher in the UF Health internal medicine division.

His most recent quarterly effort report from spring of this year, however, shows he now spends most of his time in an undefined administrative role.

“I don’t know what he is doing but it definitely isn’t research,” said a separate College of Medicine professor not authorized to speak.

About a year after he was hired, Ladapo was defending his role at UF after meeting with the school’s vice president of health, David Nelson. Among the topics they discussed was Ladapo’s wish to host a series of seminars on the critical evaluation of scientific evidence.

He wrote in an email to Nelson and College of Medicine deans that he spent his first several months editing research manuscripts and finishing his book called “Transcend Fear,” in which he explains how he grew skeptical of most vaccines.

Ladapo, who also was required to fulfill a teaching requirement, wrote that he spoke at a UF Health Cancer Center Tobacco Control Working Group meeting in January, and he gave a lecture in an HIV course in July.

“I traveled to Gainesville on both occasions,” Ladapo wrote.

Ladapo also asked in the email to Nelson and the College of Medicine about creating a seminar and course on the critical evaluation of scientific evidence. He and the university haven’t yet created the course.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 08:35:04 -0500 ishook
Congress got its Christmas break — and will suffer for it in January

Speaker Mike Johnson may have saved Christmas on Capitol Hill, but Congress will be paying for it in the new year.

For the first time in roughly a decade, Washington faces no government spending deadline in December. That’s thanks to Johnson, who prevented a shutdown with a gambit designed to spare his party the type of legislative grab bag that conservatives often deride as a “Christmas tree.”

The House and Senate are far from off the hook. Johnson has promised he won’t put another “clean” funding bill on the floor, increasing the chances of a shutdown after the next spending deadlines on Jan. 19 and Feb. 2. The House GOP is so bitterly divided that some lawmakers worry they’ll engage in the same last-minute self-sabotage that plagued them this fall.

Spending is only one headache that Congress faces in the coming months. Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will duel over a half-dozen other major priorities, including Israel and Ukraine aid, reauthorization of foreign surveillance powers, border security and stalled military promotions.

Congress already punted on spending twice this year. Many lawmakers see no reason it’ll be any different in January.

“If you can’t do it by September, then you can't do it by the middle of November, and you can't do it by December, why the hell do you think you're gonna get it done in January?” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “There’s never any urgency around this place to get shit done.”

Progress on Ukraine, border and other fronts could in theory ease negotiations to avoid a shutdown next year. But with no signs that House Republicans are prepared to put weeks of self-inflicted drama behind them, lawmakers are preparing for a winter of woes.

Republicans are already privately joking that the second shutdown deadline of next year, when critical Pentagon funding will expire, occurs on Groundhog Day.

“If we don’t support our speaker, who we just all elected, it creates all sorts of issues for us,” said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who worried that his colleagues could undermine the speaker by continuing to squabble. “At best it weakens our hand. At worst, it makes it impossible to move things forward.”

Johnson hasn’t just challenged the Senate’s hopes of a year-end funding deal: He’s also ruling out another so-called clean stopgap spending bill, or a continuing resolution that doesn't include any blanket cuts to government funding. That means Congress only has a few weeks of session to reconcile divergent spending levels on 12 different bills — the House GOP wants lower spending than most senators — and then steer identical legislation through both chambers.

That's a very tall order in today’s Congress. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a member of GOP leadership and former House member, said Johnson needs to give himself “as much leeway as possible” to come out unscathed.

“The speaker says no more clean CRs. He’s put a gauntlet down and I don't know how he manages his conference,” Capito said. “It’s hard to put definitive statements out that you're going to have to walk back. And he may not have to walk it back.”

The House’s far lower spending levels are a sore point for some Senate GOP appropriators, who made severe cuts to appeal to conservatives in the chamber.

That will make things tougher on the back end: Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) are holding to bipartisan spending levels based on this year’s debt ceiling deal. A Democratic-controlled Senate isn't going to accept some of the reductions in the House legislation.

And without a cross-Capitol agreement on top lines — the overall amount of spending — the House and Senate can’t even negotiate the less controversial areas, like money for veterans and military construction.

“We told leadership, we’ve got to have a top line if you’re going to send us over to negotiate with the Senate,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who is in charge of the House’s slimmed-down bill to fund the Interior Department and related agencies.

Until then, he warned: “It just can’t happen.”

Senate and House leaders of each party are starting to talk about a funding deal, Schumer told reporters last week. And in an interview, Collins praised Johnson’s hard line on no more continuing resolutions, saying “he’s right to keep the pressure on” Congress to get its work done. But Senate Democrats are worried Johnson created “two potential crises, even worse than” the November confrontation, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

At the same time, Johnson is confronting another huge headache: His own members are blocking him from bringing bills to the floor.

Just before leaving for Thanksgiving, nearly 20 GOP members tanked their own party's spending bill, retaliation for Johnson’s decision to lean on Democrats to pass a short-term spending stopgap and avert a shutdown. Conservatives derided the GOP’s partisan spending bill, which funded the Department of Justice and FBI, as “weak.” Even some centrist-leaning New Yorkers opposed the bill, arguing that the House shouldn’t waste its time on legislation that can’t pass.

Meanwhile, the hard-line Freedom Caucus and its allies — who successfully ground the House to a halt several times this year — are showing few signs of easing up on Johnson. Their red line: Johnson must show a larger plan for how he will cut spending and deliver on conservative policy wins, or they are done helping pass funding bills.

Johnson is trying to reassure conservatives, both in private meetings and on the House floor, telling them “he’s got a plan to actually cut spending and put the burden on the Senate,” according to Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.).

Still, Johnson could get squeezed by both sides of the spending fight simultaneously. His conservatives will demand steep cuts and policy wins, which Schumer and the White House are certain to reject.

Some Republicans worry that dynamic will doom the House GOP's priorities all the way through a major deadline on Feb. 2 — or perhaps even longer, with internal conference politics getting even tougher as election season inches closer.

“We’re empowering Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden to keep doing what they’re doing,” said Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas). And if it seems difficult to get GOP centrists to back a conservative spending plan now, Roy warned: “Wait until it's about three weeks out before primary season is kicking off.”

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 08:35:04 -0500 ishook
Colorado River deal opens cash spigot for big farms

A widely hailed deal to conserve water from the shrinking Colorado River is turning into a windfall for some of the most powerful farmers and tribes in the West.

A POLITICO investigation has found that many of the deals to save water under the three-year $1.2 billion pact struck by Arizona, California and Nevada in May are driving up the value of existing agreements to save or transfer water by nearly 50 percent.

The Colorado River supplies water to 40 million people and vast swaths of the country’s most productive farmland — a task that’s becoming increasingly difficult as climate change shrivels its flow. But the investigation, based on more than a dozen interviews and analyses of federal, state and local documents, reveals that the gusher of federal money is likely to make a broader, long-term deal to save the West’s most important river more expensive.

“It’s all a grand experiment,” said Kathryn Sorensen, a former head of Phoenix’s water department, who noted that Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act funding is effectively creating a new market for water, with a new, higher price. “This market, especially one with a premium [price], might create some perverse incentives.”

The $1.2 billion in federal funding that made the May deal possible comes out of a $4 billion pot of money in the climate law tagged for mitigating drought. That provision, secured at the last minute by Independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, was crafted at a moment when the Southwest appeared to be on the precipice of disaster. Water levels at Lake Mead, one of the river’s critical reservoirs, had fallen to their lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s. The decline was happening so quickly, it was feared the lake could be just months away from a point where it would be impossible to get water through the Hoover Dam at all.

The Biden administration offered the initial tranche of funding from the Inflation Reduction Act last fall to water-rights holders in Arizona, California and Nevada in exchange for leaving their water in Lake Mead. That incentive was paired with a threat: The Interior Department launched a process to wrest control of the river away from the states and impose cuts if a plan to save sufficient quantities of water wasn’t reached.

But by the time that the three-state deal was clinched this spring, the immediate disaster had been averted, thanks to unusually heavy precipitation across the West. Indeed, state negotiators acknowledge that nature’s reprieve made the short-term pact possible.

Yet scientists warn the Colorado River flows are on an inexorable decline, and without painful cuts in consumption, the region’s access to the water remains in jeopardy. The hope is that the short-term deal will stabilize reservoir levels for the next three years while the states negotiate major new rules to bring their use in line with the river’s diminished flows over the coming decades.

Under the plan, the three states along the lower river agreed to conserve 10 percent of their water — 3 million acre-feet, or nearly a billion gallons — between now and 2026. The federal contracts to pay water users for that conservation are being finalized now.

But POLITICO found that much of that water was already being saved by the farms and tribes getting paid. Many of the contracts that have been signed or are in negotiation are based on prior deals to conserve or transfer water using almost entirely the same practices, like fallowing farm fields or using water-efficient sprinklers for irrigation, for example. The only difference: the new federal contracts pay significantly more.

In California alone, POLITICO found that at least a third of the state’s conservation commitment comes from water that was already available under prior, less expensive agreements. Because of how the river’s accounting rules work, much of the water promised by the state would likely have been left in Lake Mead for the next few years, even without the new federal contracts.

“There’s sort of a rumor in the water community that a lot of people are getting paid to do what they would have done anyway,” said Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District.

That raises the prospect that, rather than helping the region begin to adapt to a drier future, the Biden administration’s approach to spending a large chunk of the $4 billion pot of IRA drought funding could instead drive up the cost of the future water conservation deals. The federal dollars will dry up in 2026, and without new funding from Congress, it’s unclear who will foot the new, higher bill for the water savings arrangements that will be essential to ensuring that Western economies can continue to grow as the river shrinks.

For instance, the contract being negotiated between the Bureau of Reclamation and California’s Palo Verde Irrigation District to conserve up to 130,000 acre-feet of water per year over four years represents more than a quarter of California’s obligation under the state’s deal with Arizona and Nevada.

But farmers there had already agreed to save up to that volume of water, first under a 2004 deal with southern California’s major urban water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and then under a 2021 agreement between regional water agencies and the federal government aimed at bolstering reservoir levels.

Instead of getting paid about $270 per acre-foot of water as laid out under the prior deals, the landowners are poised to get nearly $400 per acre-foot under the IRA program.

Now, the irrigation district is trying to renegotiate its long-term water transfer arrangement with Metropolitan — an arrangement that is crucial to maintaining water supplies for Los Angeles and San Diego as climate change wallops the region. After the federal program ends in 2026, the underlying water-saving contract reverts back to Metropolitan and runs for another 12 years.

Dana “Bart” Fisher, president of the Palo Verde Irrigation District’s board of trustees, said the district had already been talking to Metropolitan about raising their payments from the levels negotiated in 2004, and the Inflation Reduction Act program simply “shined the spotlight” on the issue.

“There is no question, there’s a disparity between our Met contract and what the feds have offered,” Fisher said.

In an interview, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton acknowledged that many of the new conservation contracts are built on cheaper prior agreements.

But she argued that there is an important distinction between prior programs and the new federal one: under pre-existing deals like the one between Palo Verde and Metropolitan, the conserved water would have been consumed by another user. Under the new federal program, that water remains unused, helping to raise Lake Mead’s water line.

“That water that’s conserved stays in the system behind Lake Mead, and that is meant to stabilize those reservoirs,” Touton said.

She also noted that the Biden administration plans to use the remainder of the $4 billion in IRA funding for projects like canal lining, reservoir building and irrigation system upgrades that will lock in long-term reductions in water use.

There’s reason to think that water conservation deals would be getting more expensive now, even without the new federal funding, since the shrinking river means there’s increased competition for a limited resource.

“These programs are all programs that require a willing seller,” said Tom Buschatzke, Arizona’s lead negotiator on the Colorado River, noting that many of the pre-existing agreements with California farmers were negotiated under duress.

In his state, the going price for water conservation was $261 per acre-foot before the current federal offer of up to $400 per acre-foot. Buschatzke said he “would expect the price to be something closer to the IRA price” going forward.

Most of Arizona’s conserved water will come from cities, tribes and industrial users along its main Colorado River canal system, the Central Arizona Project, according to a Bureau of Reclamation presentation obtained by POLITICO and previous federal announcements. Those users are largely agreeing to leave their water in Lake Mead rather than store it in local, underground aquifers, where it can be banked or marketed for future use.

But those users were the ones at greatest risk of being hit with mandatory cuts if reservoir levels dropped further. Signing on to conserve water for Reclamation allowed them to get compensated for cuts they could have faced anyway, and to bolster reservoir levels to help ensure they receive the rest of their water deliveries.

Nevada’s portion of the deal is modest, and does not include federal compensation.

But there is one powerful agricultural district in the Southwest that is preparing to do significant amounts of new conservation.

The crown jewel of the states’ May deal is an additional 250,000 acre-feet per year offered up by California’s Imperial Irrigation District. The district uses the single largest share of Colorado River water — more than the states of Arizona and Nevada combined — and has for more than a century taken a firm stance against efforts to alter its status as one of the last to take cuts in times of shortage.

The fact that Imperial agreed to take on new water savings obligations, on top of ongoing ones that date back to 2003, marked a huge political win for the Biden administration. But it will come at a steep cost.

Rather than the standard $400 per acre-foot price that Reclamation has offered to most other entities agreeing to forego water use for at least three years, the contract under negotiation between the irrigation district and Reclamation would pay roughly twice that, according to multiple sources close to the negotiations. Reclamation and the district declined to comment on the price since negotiations are still underway.

Ultimately, the irrigation district plans to make up most of its conservation commitment with new programs to reduce summertime irrigation. But it’s too late to conserve water that way this year. Instead, regional water agencies are laying the groundwork to hand water from a conservation program already in place in Imperial Valley over to the federal program.

That program, in which farmers conserve water that is transferred to San Diego, was negotiated two decades ago at a moment when San Diego political leaders were desperate to shore up control over their supplies. It’s a price tag — now nearing $800 per acre-foot — bemoaned by others in the region as extravagantly high.

Now, the Biden administration appears poised to cement it as the going rate for water from the river’s biggest user.

Mon, 27 Nov 2023 08:35:04 -0500 ishook
In Countdown to Iowa, Trump Is Coasting, as DeSantis and Haley Clash Mon, 27 Nov 2023 07:50:03 -0500 ishook Why Biden’s Weakness Among Young Voters Should Be Taken Seriously Mon, 27 Nov 2023 07:50:03 -0500 ishook Israel’s trauma was compounded by talk of an existential threat Mon, 27 Nov 2023 01:10:03 -0500 ishook Germany chokes on its own austerity medicine Mon, 27 Nov 2023 01:10:03 -0500 ishook U.S. Navy Rescues Central Park From Pirate Attack in Gulf of Aden Mon, 27 Nov 2023 00:20:03 -0500 ishook China says surge in respiratory illnesses caused by flu and other known pathogens

BEIJING — A surge in respiratory illnesses across China that has drawn the attention of the World Health Organization is caused by the flu and other known pathogens and not by a novel virus, the country’s health ministry said Sunday.

Recent clusters of respiratory infections are caused by an overlap of common viruses such as the influenza virus, rhinoviruses, the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, the adenovirus as well as bacteria such as mycoplasma pneumoniae, which is a common culprit for respiratory tract infections, a National Health Commission spokesperson said.

The ministry called on local authorities to open more fever clinics and promote vaccinations among children and the elderly as the country grapples with a wave of respiratory illnesses in its first full winter since the removal of Covid-19 restrictions.

“Efforts should be made to increase the opening of relevant clinics and treatment areas, extend service hours and increase the supply of medicines,” said ministry spokesman Mi Feng.

He advised people to wear masks and called on local authorities to focus on preventing the spread of illnesses in crowded places such as schools and nursing homes.

The WHO earlier this week formally requested that China provide information about a potentially worrying spike in respiratory illnesses and clusters of pneumonia in children, as mentioned by several media reports and a global infectious disease monitoring service.

The emergence of new flu strains or other viruses capable of triggering pandemics typically starts with undiagnosed clusters of respiratory illness. Both SARS and Covid-19 were first reported as unusual types of pneumonia.

Chinese authorities earlier this month blamed the increase in respiratory diseases on the lifting of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Other countries also saw a jump in respiratory diseases such as RSV when pandemic restrictions ended.

The WHO said Chinese health officials on Thursday provided the data it requested during a teleconference. Those showed an increase in hospital admissions of children due to diseases including bacterial infection, RSV, influenza and common cold viruses since October.

Chinese officials maintained the spike in patients had not overloaded the country’s hospitals, according to the WHO.

It is rare for the U.N. health agency to publicly ask for more detailed information from countries, as such requests are typically made internally. WHO said it requested further data from China via an international legal mechanism.

According to internal accounts in China, the outbreaks have swamped some hospitals in northern China, including in Beijing, and health authorities have asked the public to take children with less severe symptoms to clinics and other facilities.

WHO said that there was too little information at the moment to properly assess the risk of these reported cases of respiratory illness in children.

Both Chinese authorities and WHO have been accused of a lack of transparency in their initial reports on the Covid-19 pandemic, which started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
Senate nears vote on Biden's Ukraine request

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer plans to hold a vote on President Joe Biden’s request for billions in assistance for Ukraine and Israel as soon as the week of Dec. 4, aiming to create some urgency amid tough negotiations.

The announcement by Schumer on Sunday puts pressure on lawmakers to come up with a border security deal that can pair with much-needed assistance for the two U.S. allies. Senate Republicans are seeking border security policy changes as part of any supplemental spending bill, hoping such a deal could clear a Ukraine-reluctant House GOP majority.

Schumer blamed that border demand as the “biggest holdup” to delivering new funds to Ukraine’s defense against Russia and Israel’s war with Hamas.

“This has injected a decades old, hyper-partisan issue into overwhelmingly bipartisan priorities,” Schumer said in a Dear Colleague letter to senators. The Democratic leader said his 51-member caucus was “ready to work on common-sense solutions to address immigration” but warned that if the GOP took too hard a line, it could “jeopardize the entire” supplemental bill.

He also urged Democrats to engage more with Republicans to try to cut a deal, something he also tried to do right before the Thanksgiving recess. He warned of long nights and days ahead, as well as possible weekend work.

A bipartisan gang formed several weeks ago with hopes of clinching a deal that would marry Biden’s request for more than $100 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and the border with changes to U.S. asylum and parole policy.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving recess, asylum was the biggest holdup to moving forward, according to people familiar with the negotiations. Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) are those most closely involved in the talks.

There are almost certainly 60 votes for sending tens of billions more to Ukraine, but Republicans have warned they won’t do so without a border deal because they believe Speaker Mike Johnson won’t take up a bill that lacks border security provisions. Schumer’s push for a Senate vote in early December gives the Senate talks a deadline, and it may be needed: Congress has twice passed spending bills this fall that leave out Ukraine aid, and things will only grow tougher in the new year.

“Nothing would make autocrats like Putin or Xi happier right now than to see the United States waver in our support for the Ukrainian people and its military,” Schumer wrote in his letter, referring to the leaders of Russia and China. “This is not just about Ukrainian or Transatlantic security, it’s about American security as well because an unchecked Putin would be an emboldened Putin.”

Schumer also said there would be an all-senators briefing on Ukraine in the coming days.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
Paul Lynch Wins 2023 Booker Prize for 'Prophet Song' Sun, 26 Nov 2023 19:20:04 -0500 ishook 3 men of Palestinian descent are shot and wounded in Vermont

Three men of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded on Saturday evening in Burlington, Vermont, according to police, in an attack that authorities say may have been a hate crime.

The three men, all 20 years old, were shot near the University of Vermont campus around 6:25 p.m. Saturday evening, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said on Sunday. Two of the victims were in stable condition as of Sunday afternoon, while another had “more serious injuries,” according to police.

The group was staying with the family of one of the victims for the Thanksgiving holiday, according to a news release from Murad on Sunday afternoon. Two of the victims were wearing keffiyehs, traditional Palestinian headdresses, and all three were walking down the street when a white male with a handgun confronted them and fired at least four rounds, without speaking.

“In this charged moment, no one can look at this incident and not suspect that it may have been a hate-motivated crime,” Murad said in his statement. The next step is finding and apprehending the suspect, said Murad, who cautioned people against jumping to conclusions.

“The fact is that we don’t yet know as much as we want to right now,” he said. “But I urge the public to avoid making conclusions based on statements from uninvolved parties who know even less.”

The shooting comes amid an uptick in anti-Muslim and antisemitic hate crimes as Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas remain locked in a brutal conflict. The current fighting began after Hamas launched an attack into Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 Israelis and taking more than 200 more people hostage. Israeli attacks have since leveled entire neighborhoods in Gaza, killing more than 13,300 Palestinians and displacing over 1.7 million others.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a statement: “Violence of any kind against any person in our community is totally unacceptable and we will do everything in our power to find the perpetrator and hold them fully accountable. That there is an indication this shooting could have been motivated by hate is chilling, and this possibility is being prioritized in the BPD’s investigation.”

Police did not identify the victims on Sunday. In a post on Facebook, a Palestinian school lamented the shooting of three of its graduates — Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdel Hamid and Tahseen Ahmed — who, according to the post, were shot in Burlington on Saturday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), once the mayor of the Vermont city where the shooting occurred, called the episode “shocking and deeply upsetting,” in a statement on Sunday afternoon.

“Hate has no place here, or anywhere. I look forward to a full investigation. My thoughts are with them and their families,” Sanders said.

Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) similarly condemned the shootings.

“I’m heartbroken by yesterday’s senseless shooting of three Palestinian-American students visiting Burlington,” Welch wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “We do not tolerate hate or Islamophobia in Vermont. I expect law enforcement to quickly identify the shooter and their motive, & will continue to monitor the situation.”

On Sunday morning, the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced that it would offer a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the shooter, and called on state and federal officials to investigate “a possible bias motive” for the shooting.

Before police sent a news release about the episode, the families of the victims issued a statement urging police to investigate the shootings as a hate crime.

“As parents, we are devastated by the horrific news that our children were targeted and shot in Burlington, VT,” they said in a statement issued by the Institute for Middle East Understanding. “At this time, our primary concern is their full recovery and that they receive the critical medical support they need to survive. We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our children.”

As of Sunday afternoon, President Joe Biden has been briefed on the episode, according to the White House.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 17:50:02 -0500 ishook
Ken Buck blasts his party's hardliners for ‘lying to America’

Republican Rep. Ken Buck laid into his own party Sunday, blasting those who continue to propagate the lie that the 2020 election was stolen for “lying to America.”

“Everybody who thinks that the election was stolen or talks about the election being stolen is lying to America,” the Colorado Republican said during an interview in CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Buck didn’t stop there.

“Everyone who makes the argument that January 6 was, you know, an unguided tour of the Capitol is lying to America. Everyone who says that the prisoners who are being prosecuted right now for their involvement in January 6, that they are somehow political prisoners or that they didn't commit crimes, those folks are lying to America.”

It’s not the first time Buck, a member of the Trump-aligned House Freedom Caucus, has decried his party’s unwillingness to accept the results of Biden’s 2020 victory or condemn the violent attack on the Capitol. The Colorado Republican voiced a similar warning earlier this month in announcing that he would not seek reelection in 2024.

“Too many Republican leaders are lying to America,” he said in his announcement video in early November.

Buck didn’t name former President Donald Trump, who has brandished lies about the 2020 election and elevated Jan. 6 rioters (calling them "hostages" earlier this month) on his seemingly runaway road to the GOP presidential nomination. But he pleaded with his party to defeat President Joe Biden with “someone who’s not lying to the country.”

“I hope all of my Republican colleagues become more clear and recognize the fact that Joe Biden is an existential threat to this country. We need to defeat him and we do that with someone who's not lying to the country,” Buck told CBS’ Margaret Brennan.

When asked specifically about House Speaker Mike Johnson, who spearheaded an effort to undo the 2020 election results through a longshot legal scheme in Texas, Buck noted that he had signed onto the amicus brief Johnson was pushing.

“I signed on to that brief also and I believe that going through the courts to challenge an election is absolutely proper and it's been done dozens of times in American history. What’s wrong is to try to stop a legal function, a legislative function like counting the votes in an election, as happened on January 6,” he said.

Johnson took over as speaker after Rep. Kevin McCarthy was ousted in an effort led by a small faction of Republican hardliners, including Buck, who were unhappy the California Republican sought help from Democrats to pass a stopgap bill to keep the government open.

Though Johnson was forced to do much the same earlier this month, Buck said Sunday he doesn’t expect he’ll face the same blowback as McCarthy.

“I don't think that most Republicans blame Speaker Johnson for the problems that he is now facing, the challenges he's facing. Those were created during the McCarthy time period, and Speaker Johnson is doing a good job to work his way through those issues,” Buck said. “So no, I don't think he's going to face a rebellion.”

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 17:50:02 -0500 ishook
An American Girl Held Hostage by Hamas Has Been Freed, Biden Says Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:50:03 -0500 ishook Parable pitfall: Irish PM’s biblical allusion prompts outrage in Israel Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook 4&year&old American among hostages released by Hamas, Biden says

President Joe Biden confirmed Sunday that the 4-year old American Abigail Mor Edan who was held hostage by Hamas in Gaza is now free.

“She’s free and she’s in Israel now,” Biden told reporters Sunday from Nantucket, where he was spending Thanksgiving weekend with his family.

“Abigail was among 13 hostages released today from Gaza under the brokered and sustained though intensive U.S. diplomacy. She is now safely in Israel. And we continue to press and expect for additional Americans will be released as well,” Biden said.

According to Israel, 17 hostages were released Sunday including 14 Israelis and three foreign nationals, the young American girl among them.

Edan, whose name has also been rendered as Avigail Idan in some reports, is the first American hostage who was been released as part of the deal brokered between Israel and Hamas that would allow for the freeing of at least 50 of the more than 200 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in exchange for a 4-day pause in the fighting and the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. Some foreign nationals have also been released by Hamas, including a Russian national.

Edan's parents were killed by Hamas attackers Oct. 7. On Sunday, Biden spoke of the events the young girl experienced during the attack, acknowledging that she had been through “a terrible trauma,” as, according to Biden, she witnessed her mother die in front of her before her father was shot and killed while shielding her from attackers.

According to the Associated Press, Israel’s army said one hostage released Sunday was airlifted directly to a hospital. Though the plan was for Edan and others to cross the border into Egypt and then be transported to Israel, an elderly woman was “very sick and was in need of immediate medical help," Biden said, leading Edan to cross directly into Israel.

Ahead of the latest release, Netanyahu visited the Gaza Strip, where he spoke with Israeli troops. “We are making every effort to return our hostages, and at the end of the day we will return every one,” he said, adding that “we are continuing until the end, until victory. Nothing will stop us.” It was not immediately clear where he went inside Gaza.

Israel is expected to free 39 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday as part of the deal, and a fourth hostage exchange is expected on Monday, currently the last day of the cease-fire. Israel has pledged to extend the pause, however, for every 10 additional hostages Hamas is willing to release — a compromise Biden took the opportunity to push for Sunday.

"I'll be speaking again shortly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and we will continue to remain personally engaged — personally engaged to see that this deal is fully implemented, and work to extend the deal as well," Biden said.

Nothing is guaranteed Biden cautioned, but he struck an optimistic note about the results of the short-term ceasefire.

"[The] proof that this is working and worth pursuing further is in every smile and every grateful tear we see on the faces of those families that are finally getting back together. ... The proof is little Abigail," Biden said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
Christie: Trump deserves blame for rise in antisemitism

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reiterated his claim that former President Donald Trump has fueled the increase in antisemitism and hate across the country Sunday, saying Trump’s “intolerant language and conduct” has given people “permission” to act the same.

“When you show intolerance toward everyone, which is what [Trump] does, you give permission as a leader for others to have their intolerance come out,” Christie said Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “Intolerance toward anyone encourages intolerance toward everyone.”

The Republican presidential hopeful previously slammed Trump, the current GOP frontrunner in the presidential race, for contributing to the surge in bigotry against Jews in an interview with the New York Times during his trip to Israel earlier this month. Antisemitism was already on the rise in the United States, but the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas has led to sharp jumps in the number of antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents in the U.S.

It’s not just Trump, Christie noted, accusing university professors and presidents of being “unwilling to stand up to antisemitism on their campuses,” and calling on governors in states where Jewish students are facing threats on college campuses to send state police forces to protect those students.

“I think that there have been a lot of people who contributed to it,” Christie said Sunday. “I believe Donald Trump's intolerant language and conduct gives others permission to act the same.”

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
Sullivan details mechanisms to keep humanitarian aid from falling into Hamas’ hands

Amid concerns that the four-day Israel-Hamas ceasefire could allow Hamas to bolster its forces, safeguards are in place to prevent the humanitarian aid being shuttled in Gaza as part of the hostage deal from being hijacked by Hamas forces, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday.

“First, Dana, there's the inspection mechanism,” Sullivan told CNN’s Dana Bash. “The Israelis at a crossing called Nitzana, check all of the trucks before they go in through the Rafah crossing into Gaza. And they check to make sure that it is, in fact, humanitarian supplies and not goods that could help Hamas in its military campaign.”

After that, aid trucks move on to U.N. depots and to other vetted humanitarian organizations, who distribute aid directly to people in need, Sullivan said on "State of the Union."

“We have seen this work over the course of the last several weeks as humanitarian assistance has ramped up,” Sullivan said, but U.S. leaders continue to monitor the process closely.

“President Biden stays in close touch with the Israeli leadership on this, with the U.N. leadership, and with others to make sure, in fact, the aid is getting to where it belongs, which is the innocent people who are suffering,” Sullivan added.

On Saturday, 200 aid trucks were dispatched from Nitzana and 187 had made it into Gaza by Saturday evening, according to the U.N., sending desperately needed food, water and fuel into the besieged region.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
Attackers seize an Israel&linked tanker off Yemen

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Attackers seized a tanker linked to Israel off the coast of Aden, Yemen, on Sunday, authorities said. While no group immediately claimed responsibility, it comes as at least two other maritime attacks in recent days have been linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

The attackers seized the Liberian-flagged Central Park, managed by Zodiac Maritime, in the Gulf of Aden, the company and private intelligence firm Ambrey said. An American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, also confirmed to The Associated Press that the attack took place.

Zodiac called the seizure “a suspected piracy incident.”

“Our priority is the safety of our 22 crew onboard,” Zodiac said in a statement. “The Turkish-captained vessel has a multinational crew consisting of a crew of Russian, Vietnamese, Bulgarian, Indian, Georgian and Filipino nationals. The vessel is carrying a full cargo of phosphoric acid.”

Zodiac described the vessel as being owned by Clumvez Shipping Inc., though other records directly linked Zodiac as the owner. London-based Zodiac Maritime is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group. British corporate records listed two men with the last name Ofer as a current and former director of Clumvez Shipping, including Daniel Guy Ofer, who is also a director at Zodiac Maritime.

It wasn’t immediately clear who was behind the attack. Aden is held by forces allied to Yemen’s internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition that has battled Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels for years. That part of the Gulf of Aden in theory is under the control of those forces and is fairly distant from Houthi-controlled territory in the country. Somali pirates also are not known to operate in that area.

The U.S. defense official said that it appeared “an unknown number of unidentified armed individuals” seized the ship.

“U.S. and coalition forces are in the vicinity and we are closely monitoring the situation,” the official said.

Ambrey said that it appeared that “U.S. naval forces are engaged in the situation and have asked vessels to stay clear of the area.”

Zodiac Maritime has been targeted previously amid a wider yearslong shadow war between Iran and Israel. In 2021, a drone attack assessed by the U.S. and other Western nations to have been carried out by Iran killed two crew members aboard Zodiac’s oil tanker Mercer Street off the coast of Oman.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, had earlier issued a warning to sailors that “two black-and-white craft carrying eight persons in military-style clothing” had been seen in the area. It issued another warning saying that radio traffic suggested a possible attack had occurred.

The Central Park seizure comes after a container ship, CMA CGM Symi, owned by another Israeli billionaire came under attack Friday by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean. Iran has not acknowledged carrying out the attack, nor did it respond to questions from the AP about that assault.

Both the Symi and the Central Park had been behaving as if they faced a threat in recent days.

The ships had switched off their Automatic Identification System trackers, according to data from analyzed by the AP. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS active for safety reasons, but crews will turn them off if it appears they might be targeted. In the Central Park’s case, the vessel had last transmitted four days ago after it left the Suez Canal heading south into the Red Sea.

The attacks come as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the weekslong war that threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

With the Israel-Hamas war — which began with the militant Palestinian group’s Oct. 7 attack — raging on, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen. The Houthis did not immediately acknowledge the seizure of the Central Park.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
Opinion | The Real Story Behind ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ is Much Worse

I’ve never lived in Oklahoma and most people have no idea I’m an Osage citizen. But my Osage ancestry has always been an important part of my life. Recently, it’s become an obsession.

Our family albums contain photos of four-year-old me wearing an Indian headdress and moccasins. And when my parents gave me my first horse, a black and white pinto mare, I named her Indian Princess. My Osage grandpa, William Eugene Bennett, delighted us all with raucous renditions of ancestral songs and dances at family gatherings. And I remember him telling me that he was one of only 2,229 Osage Indians born on his tribe’s Oklahoma reservation before the last day of 1906 — when the Osage Nation ratified what he said was the final land deal with the U.S. government. Naturally, I didn’t understand the significance of those facts, but I sensed they were important.

In quiet moments, Grandpa Bennett regaled me with tales of horses and buffalo and the cowboys he grew up with on his family’s sprawling cattle ranch. But his rapturous tales always trailed off to silence, and the spark in his eyes would dull to a dead stare. He’d stop talking, clear his throat, and just end the story, sometimes in mid-sentence.

“Grandpa, Grandpa, and then what happened?”

It was no use. He was done.

It wasn’t until I moved to Washington, D.C., and connected for the first time with a cousin, that I found out what happened — what my grandpa didn’t have the heart to tell me or any of us kids — a story my family kept secret for decades.

It was this: My grandfather’s father, William Ursinus Bennett, was brutally murdered in 1923, during what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror — the murderous era brought to life in Martin Scorsese’s new film, Killers of the Flower Moon.

After my cousin revealed this chilling family secret to me, I went on a search for the truth, scouring books and old newspaper articles about my great grandfather’s death. But the exact circumstances of his murder remain a mystery.

Killers of the Flower Moon, first the 2017 book penned by journalist David Grann, and now the movie, focused the world’s attention on this nearly forgotten era, where, in a vast conspiracy, white people, animated by greed and a racist ideology, wantonly murdered Indians to snatch millions of dollars in oil revenue that had begun to flow to the Osage people from their lands. Government complicity — at all levels — allowed it to remain a well-kept secret.

When I first read Grann’s book, I had a visceral reaction to the sheer horror of murder after murder committed by intimate partners and trusted guardians — and to the brutal slayings of people like my great grandfather who tried to stop the crimes. I had nightmares for months. The film version elicited a similar, visceral reaction. Still, gut wrenching as it is, I’m grateful for the movie. My family is grateful. The Osage people I spoke to are grateful. It’s shining a spotlight as only Hollywood can on this unfathomable, genocidal plot.

But I also believe both the book and the movie missed an opportunity to let Americans know the broader truth about what our country has done to my family and the families of all Osage people — a treachery the United States of America continues to inflict on its Indigenous people.

For decades, the Osage Nation has fought to reverse many of the patronizing federal and state Indian policies that made those early 20th century crimes possible. But the racist underpinnings of the land and oil theft seen in Scorsese’s film, largely persist to this day, despite my people’s best efforts. Today, more than a quarter of Osage mineral rights from the 1920s and 1930s remain in the hands of non-Osage members; federal laws make it nearly impossible for them to be returned to the Osage Nation. An Oklahoma representative has agreed to sponsor legislation that would make retrieving those oil rights easier. But the non-Native families and institutions that own those ill-begotten rights will need far more public pressure than the movie has so far generated before they come forward and return those oil royalties to their rightful owners.

Tara Damron, an Osage member who directs the White Hair Memorial cultural and education center in Pawhuska, the Osage Nation’s government seat, is one of four plaintiffs in a case now before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, charging the federal government with mismanaging the tribe’s oil royalties.

“For the outside world, it’s a movie,” Damron says, “but for Osages it’s what happened to us. It’s what happened to our aunts and uncles and grandparents.

“It’s a whole generation just gone.”

A June 1921 New York Times headline read: “Osage Are Richest People; Greatest Per Capita Wealth from Oil Deal.” That, plus local newspaper articles and word-of-mouth were all it took to attract white men from miles around; they flocked to Osage country with one thing in mind: to separate American Indians, whom they considered lazy and undeserving, from their land and new-found oil riches.

And so, the murders began.

Killers of the Flower Moon, the movie, tells the story of a wealthy Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart (Lily Gladstone), whose entire family was murdered by a band of white men engaging in a scheme to inherit their oil riches. She meets Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), a down-and-out, none too bright and exceedingly malleable white World War I veteran. At first, Burkhart works as her chauffeur, but the two soon fall in love, marry and start a family.

But what Mollie doesn’t know is that Ernest, at the bidding of his uncle, William Hale (Robert DeNiro) — a political boss and crime lord who’d firmly ingratiated himself into the Osage Community — was slowly poisoning her so he could inherit her share of oil royalties, called a headright.

Scorsese went a step further than previous filmmakers in depicting the relationship between white men and American Indians. He sought advice from Osage people, shot the film on the reservation and included Osage leaders in the film. Sure, Scorsese painted the white conspirators as the ruthless, despicable villains they were. But his narrative is still from the perspective of the white perpetrators. To me, the Indians, like those in countless other Westerns, were mere shadow characters, undeveloped, barely speaking and never understood.

I wanted to know more about what Mollie suspected was happening; what, precisely, her sisters and mother told her; and how the hundreds of other Osage victims and families felt about what was happening to them. Why did Mollie and other Osage women marry those disgusting criminals? I wanted to hear the Osage story — from the perspective of the Osage.

What’s more, I knew that the real number of Osage people who were slaughtered during that century-old crime wave in Osage country is much higher than the two dozen or so depicted in the movie. Osage historians and researchers estimate that somewhere between 60 and more than 400 Osage were killed out of a little more than 2,000 Osage citizens living on the reservation at the time. It was genocide.

And the killings didn’t start and stop in the 1920s; they started in the 1910s and continued into the 1980s, says Elizabeth Homer, an Osage citizen who practices Native American law in Washington, D.C.

“It’s important for the world to know about this, about the insidious racism that led to these murders,” Homer says “It was sort of like, ‘Oh well, it’s just a bunch of Indians. It’s sad, but their time is over. This oil should go to us.’”

Indeed, these crimes, fueled by greed and white entitlement, turned the Osage reservation into a killing field in the 1920s. And yet, the blatant murders and robberies were effectively covered up for decades. That’s mainly because the state and federal government were part of the conspiracy. The federal government appointed corrupt white men as guardians over full-blooded Osages who were forced to declare themselves “incompetent.” And Osage County sheriffs, Oklahoma prosecutors and the federal government turned a blind eye as the bodies piled up.

But it’s also because the victims’ families largely remained silent. Their silence, borne not only out of the trauma inflicted upon them but also out of lingering fears that the attackers would return, may finally be starting to break.

According to my cousin and family members who later corroborated the story, my great grandfather was gunned down because he had information about the murders of his Osage friends and neighbors in Fairfax — the same Oklahoma town where the Burkhart family lived and died.

A well-known rancher with six children, William Bennett, known as Billy, had traveled to Oklahoma City to deliver information about the killings to the governor and state law enforcers when he was killed there at age 46, according to family stories.

Like the hundreds of other suspicious Osage deaths, his was never investigated or even reported.

I decided to talk to Everett Waller, current chairman of the Osage Minerals Council. Waller plays Paul Red Eagle, the Osage chief during the Reign of Terror, in Scorsese's film. In a scene resembling a chorus in a Greek tragedy, his character bemoans the discovery of oil on Osage land and the misery and death it brought upon his people. Red Eagle cautions that the Osage people, like so many other Native Americans, will lose their language, their culture and their identity if families are ripped apart and separated from their land.

“He was right about that,” Waller says.

Waller urges me to dig deeper into my Osage past and tell the story of how my great grandfather was shot, plunged down a stairwell and left to die. “I’m sad for you,” he says. “People need to know what that did to your family. What happened to his wife and children and his ranch after his death?”

I can’t yet answer those questions.

I do know that my grandfather took his widowed mother back to Boston to live with him and his new wife because he feared she’d be next. His siblings also fled Oklahoma, some returning later. An official notice in the local newspaper said my great grandfather’s cows were auctioned off, mostly to local ranchers.

I don’t yet know what happened to his land.

Government policies set the stage for the Reign of Terror — and those policies have reverberations that are still playing out today.

In 1906, after oil was discovered on Osage land, but before its production was generating hefty royalties, Congress enacted a law called the Osage Allotment Act, a statute that laid out how Osage land and oil riches would be disbursed among its people.

Each Osage member received a headright, an equal share of oil royalties. My great grandfather, great grandmother and their three oldest children were among those original allottees. Full-blood Osage people and some half-bloods had federally appointed guardians forced on them, doling out limited portions of their oil money and telling them how they could spend it. (Both my great grandfather and my great grandmother were half-bloods and didn’t have a guardian, but we’re still trying to find out why a non-family member was assigned to co-execute his estate.)

In negotiations over how the reservation would be divided up among tribal members, Osage leaders made it clear to the federal government that they wanted oil rights to remain communal property, not to leave the hands of original allottees and their descendants. Headrights, they said, should not be sold or traded, and they should not be passed down to non-Osage heirs.

But the federal government only partially granted the Osage Nation’s wishes and allowed headrights to be transferred to non-Osage heirs, creating the perfect conditions for the Reign of Terror. Once the crimes were reported to state and local authorities and to Washington, no action was taken until the Osage Nation paid the FBI $20,000 to investigate.

Today, Osages no longer have guardians. But the oil wells are still producing, and Osage oil rights are still managed under a federal trust run by what some Osage people consider a plodding and unnecessarily secretive federal agency — the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs uses production levels, current oil prices and royalty percentages to calculate how much each allottee receives in their quarterly check. All that accounting has been kept under wraps because of what the agency insists are federal privacy requirements. Despite repeated requests and court filings, the agency has never fully opened its books.

But more than a century after the original Osage allotment Act, a federal court in 2009 ordered the bureau to make public the names of 1,744 non-Osage headright owners, a list that includes churches, oil companies, banks, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas, the estate of 1930s film star Jean Harlow and several wealthy Oklahoma ranchers.

Today, those non-Osage headright owners continue to receive more than a quarter of all Osage oil money, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News. Later, in a 2011 settlement agreement, the U.S. Justice Department paid the Osage Nation $380 million in compensation for “the tribe’s claims of historical losses to its trust funds and interest income as a result of the government’s management of trust assets.”

As for retrieving the oil royalties that landed in non-Osage hands during the Reign of Terror and since, the Osage Nation announced in January it was working with Republican Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas to create a legal path for non-Osage people and organizations to return their possibly ill-begotten gains to their rightful owners.

Unlike most Indian reservations, which were carved out of ancestral lands under treaties with the federal government, the Osage Nation used its own money in 1883 to purchase a roughly 1.5 million-acre-tract of rocky, non arable land in the northeast corner of Oklahoma from the Cherokee Nation.

The title to the land was transferred directly from the Cherokee Nation to the federal government to be

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 14:00:04 -0500 ishook
Landing craft and floating platforms: Cyprus outlines plans for seaborne aid to Gaza Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook Moscow adds Meta spokesperson to criminal wanted list Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook Poland’s Tusk under pressure to make good on social revolution Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook Pope Francis says he is ill but will go to Dubai this week for climate conference

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday revealed that he has a lung inflammation but will go later this week to Dubai to address the climate change conference.

Francis skipped his weekly Sunday appearance at a window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, a day after the Vatican said he was suffering from a mild flu. Instead, Francis gave the traditional noon blessing in an appearance televised live from the chapel in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

“Brothers and sisters, happy Sunday. Today I cannot appear at the window because I have this problem of inflammation of the lungs,’' Francis said. The pontiff, whose 87th birthday is next month, added that a priest, sitting beside him, would read out his day’s reflections for him.

In those comments, Francis said he was going to the United Arab Emirates for the COP28 gathering on climate change and that he would deliver his speech, as scheduled, on Saturday to the participants.

“Besides war, our world is threatened by another great peril, that of climate change, which puts at risk life on Earth, especially for future generations,’' the pontiff said in the words read by the priest.

“I thank all who will accompany this voyage with prayer and with the commitment to take to heart the safeguarding of the common house,’' the pontiff said, using his term for Earth.

In the footage, it could be seen that the pope had a bandage on his right hand and what appeared to be a cannula. The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a query from the AP about whether he was receiving intravenous or some other treatment.

Not immediately explained was the discrepancy between the pope saying he has lung inflammation and the Vatican saying a day earlier that Francis had a CT scan at a Rome hospital “to exclude the risk of pulmonary complications” and that the exam was negative.

Francis earlier this year was hospitalized for three days for what he later said was pneumonia and what the Vatican described as a case of bronchitis necessitating treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

This weekend has been very windy and unusually chilly for late autumn in Rome.

The pontiff’s voice dipped low, and at times he seemed almost breathless in his brief introductory remarks explaining why he didn’t make the window appearance, and at the end when he added his usual request to “don’t forget to pray for me.”

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
India’s LGBTQ+ community holds pride march, raises concerns over country’s restrictive laws

NEW DELHI — More than 2,000 people took part in a gay pride event in New Delhi, waving rainbow flags and multicolored balloons as they celebrated sexual diversity in India but also raised concerns over the country’s restrictive laws.

Dancing to drums and music, the participants walked for more than two hours to the Jantar Mantar area near India’s Parliament. They held banners reading “Equality for all” and “Queer and proud.”

The annual event comes after India’s top court refused to legalize same-sex marriages in an October ruling that disappointed campaigners for LGBTQ+ rights in the world’s most populous country.

“It’s not about marriage. It’s about equality. Everybody should have the same right because that’s what our constitution says,” said Noor Enayat, one of the volunteers organizing this year’s event.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court’s five-judge bench heard 21 petitions that sought to legalize same-sex marriage in India.

The justices called for steps to raise awareness among the public about LGBTQ+ identity and to establish hotlines and safe houses for those in the community who are facing violence. They also urged the state to make sure same-sex couples don’t face harassment or discrimination in accessing basic needs, like opening a joint bank account, but stopped short of granting legal recognition to same-sex unions.

Legal rights for LGBTQ+ people in India have been expanding over the past decade, mostly as a result of the Supreme Court’s intervention.

In 2018, the top court struck down a colonial-era law that had made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison and expanded constitutional rights for the gay community. The decision was seen as a historic victory for LGBTQ+ rights.

Despite this progress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government resisted the legal recognition of same-sex marriage and rejected several petitions in favor. Some religious groups, too, had opposed same-sex unions, saying they went against Indian culture.

Homosexuality has long carried a stigma in India’s traditional society, even though there has been a shift in attitudes toward same-sex couples in recent years. India now has openly gay celebrities and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

According to a Pew survey, acceptance of homosexuality in India increased by 22 percentage points to 37% between 2013 and 2019. But same-sex couples often face harassment in many Indian communities, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
No one’s promising you can keep your doctor anymore

President Barack Obama famously told Americans they could keep their doctors. At the rate things are going, it won’t be long before many Americans don’t have one in the first place — at least not the way they’re used to.

The math is simple: Medical schools just aren’t churning out doctors fast enough to keep pace with the population.

Affluent people will be able to retain a personal physician through exclusive “concierge medicine” services. But here’s what others can expect: routine visits with a rotating cast of nurses and physician assistants with increasingly spare and online checkups with doctors. That changing calculus has Congress and the Biden administration busy trying to devise a primary care system that can serve the average person before it becomes impossible to get an appointment.

“You're not going to go back to the old days,” Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the chair of the Senate panel with responsibility for the nation’s health care, said in an interview.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree the old way is no longer feasible — and they’re helping to speed its demise.

Sanders has proposed legislation with Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall that aims to reorganize primary care — but their goal isn’t to restore the reign of independent practices where a town doctor served a community for a lifetime. “That day,” Sanders said, is “largely gone.”

Even before the pandemic accelerated a massive shift to virtual care, more than a quarter of Americans were seeing nurses and physician assistants at their health care visits, according to research published in The BMJ. The study also found that the percentage of visits handled by non-physicians nearly doubled between 2013 and 2019.

Some doctors worry about the impact on care, but it’s a shift born of larger forces. Doctors say high overhead costs and their growing administrative workloads make running a small private practice impossible. Compared with other medical specialties, primary care physicians work long hours for lower pay.

Primary care doctors retiring or leaving the field outnumber new medical school graduates choosing a career in family medicine, according to a recent report from the Primary Care Collaborative, a nonprofit representing clinicians and health care organizations. Every state has seen a reduction in primary care doctors per capita.

To deal with that dearth, the Biden administration and Congress are pushing policies to change how primary care providers are paid and to encourage nurses to take on larger roles. They’re facilitating virtual care’s expansion by lifting restrictions on when and how it can be used.

The administration has set aside over $100 million in grants to train more nurses — in part focused on furthering their training so they can open primary care practices on their own.

“We’re doing this because we got marching orders,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said when announcing the grants. “We got marching orders directly from President Biden.”

The movement in Washington is accelerating a trend that many Americans are discovering on their own when seeking a new doctor or trying to get an appointment with an old one — the traditional annual physical, in person, with a medical doctor, is getting harder to come by.

Primary care reimagined

Most Americans share a common frustration when they get sick — by the time they can get an appointment with their doctor, they’re feeling better.

As a result, people often go to the emergency room, urgent care, or a pharmacy clinic to get checked out.

Beyond the immediate frustration in getting seen, patients are finding a medical system that’s more transactional than the idealized past.

“There's no relationship between the person and the doctor,” Sanders said of the current system for many. “The doctor doesn't know what's going on in your family, the stresses you may be going through.”

Sanders and Marshall are envisioning a new approach in which more people will receive care at community health centers. Though far from the physician practices of the past, the centers work to make prevention-focused treatment accessible and affordable, especially to patients with little or no insurance coverage.

“Is this transformative? It is,” Sanders said of his bill. “It is a start in the right direction.”

The bill also proposes funding to train more health workers, from doctors to nurses to advanced nurse practitioners — aiming to both build a larger workforce and also upskill the clinicians working in it.

Sanders argues making preventive care more accessible will reduce costs in the long run, but some lawmakers aren’t convinced.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a gastroenterologist and the ranking member of Sanders’ committee, sees merit in expanded community health centers but opposes the bill on cost grounds.

“We can agree with the diagnosis and disagree with the prescription,” he said at a hearing about the legislation.

Cassidy offered a proposal that would give community health centers a boost in funding, albeit more modest than the one proposed by Sanders and Marshall. But he suggested the private sector should be devising new approaches.

The Biden administration is working on a separate track toward the same objective — stretching the system to serve more patients.

The Department of Health and Human Services is funneling money to primary care doctors, training more health workers and expanding the definition of a primary care provider.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has plans to pay more to clinicians providing preventive care, even at the expense of how much specialists are paid.

The agency is standing up an eight-state pilot program that, over the next decade, aims to boost primary care access for Medicare and Medicaid patients — complementing a smattering of demonstration projects testing new ideas.

Even the Department of Veterans Affairs has joined the effort. The agency, which provides health care for more than 9 million veterans, is developing standards that could allow nurses and physician assistants to serve patients more broadly than they can now.

Many provider groups say the VA’s decisions could have outsized impacts on how state governments, usually in charge of the standards, set their requirements.

Care for the other half

If the new world Congress and the Biden administration are shaping doesn’t appeal, there’s an alternative: concierge medicine.

The catch: It will cost you.

Patients willing to pay out-of-pocket fees typically in the range of $2,000 per year — on top of the exorbitant cost of private health insurance — see their primary care doctors on their terms.

"It requires resources. It means that people who struggle to make ends meet or are maybe either uninsured or publicly insured aren't going to be able to access that care," said Dr. Elisabeth Wilson, a family physician who chairs the community and family medicine department at Dartmouth Health and the Geisel School of Medicine in New Hampshire.

Concierge medicine appeals because patients don't have to schedule appointments months in advance. There's no waiting, exams are unhurried and the doctors respond to phone calls. Some concierge doctors even join patients during specialist visits to weigh in on their care.

The nation's largest concierge group, MDVIP, includes 1,200 affiliated doctors treating 385,000 patients. It estimates there are roughly 6,500 concierge providers in the field overall.

That’s just a sliver of the nation's roughly 200,000 full-time family and internal medicine doctors.

But concierge medicine is growing steadily. One market research firm recently pegged the growth rate from now to 2030 at more than 10 percent a year.

Big tech is trying to make membership-based primary care more affordable, albeit without promising a one-on-one relationship with a doctor.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced that members of its Prime service ($14.99 per month) could pay an additional $9 each month to join its One Medical subsidiary and with it access to round-the-clock virtual care and easy-to-schedule in-person appointments.

The company sees it meeting keen consumer demand.

“It's not physically possible to have your doctor be with you 24/7, but as a consumer, you want that,” Dr. Sunita Mishra, Amazon Health Services’ chief medical officer, said.

The _____ will see you now

Anyone who’s checked their insurers’ list of available primary care doctors of late will attest: Many of them aren’t doctors, but nurses or physician assistants.

This is a feature of the new primary care, not a bug. Expanding nurses’ and physician assistants’ “scope of practice” is one of the ways policymakers are trying to improve access to care.

Both the Biden and Trump administrations have offered grants to nurse practitioner residency programs, aimed at enabling NPs’ to do more work previously reserved for doctors.

Doctors’ groups have historically opposed those changes and many still do, arguing that it will endanger patients and ultimately make care more costly.

“What we need is programs to increase the number of our physicians,” Dr. Gary Floyd, former president of the Texas Medical Association, told POLITICO after the Biden administration announced grants to help nurse practitioners set up their own practices.

Nurse practitioners’ groups have argued that they have adequate training to take on a larger role in the system — and that outdated laws need to be updated to reflect that.

Many doctors in primary care have acknowledged that the system has to change and even willingly outsourced more of their work. By having nurses and physician assistants handle more of the care, they can increase their patient volumes and incomes.

They say it works because a doctor is still providing oversight.

"We're thrilled to have more nurse practitioners and more physician assistants," said Wilson, the family physician in New Hampshire. "The onus is on us to help people understand that as a team we actually provide better care and they will have better outcomes," she said.

Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School, oversaw the BMJ study that found a rapid increase starting a decade ago in patient visits handled by non-doctors.

Instead of replacing doctors, he said the study suggests that nurse practitioners may be addressing less severe illnesses, like urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses and annual exams, while doctors handle visits where their training is most needed, like heart disease and new patient visits.

“It’s happening, but is it leading to worse or better care? I don’t know of any evidence to raise concern for the public," Mehrotra said.

A tech transformation

Telehealth boomed during the Covid pandemic, driven by decisions by the Trump administration and Congress to permit Medicare to pay for virtual visits.

Congress has extended those permissions through 2024, and lawmakers are already looking to make them permanent.

In the private sector, investment in virtual care ballooned.

Early research on how expanded virtual care is working out is largely positive — finding that patients who can more easily access care are more likely to do so and getting routine preventive care keeps us healthier longer.

But this future also means less face time with a single doctor — telehealth models typically direct patients to available clinicians, some of whom are doctors, some nurses and some physician assistants.

Some telehealth businesses are experimenting with models that try to preserve the caring in care.

Mehrotra pointed to Iora Health. It uses health coaches as the primary point of contact for patients, while medical doctors oversee care behind the scenes. The concept is meant to ensure culturally competent care, since coaches are hired from the patient's community, sometimes even their hometown.

Iora was purchased by One Medical in 2021 and is now an Amazon subsidiary.

Other providers, like Firefly Health, see a virtual-care model as a way to offer patients a better selection of providers — who are experts in their needs or to whom they feel they can better relate.

Wilson said that virtual visits save her rural patients hours of driving and having to take off work. It's a great option for monitoring chronic diseases or talking through the side effects of a new medication, she said.

Still, she worries about losing a key component of what primary doctors love about their work: relationships.

"There's something to be said about that in-person interaction," she said.

Goodbye to the family doctor

Dr. Allen Ditto is among the last of a dying breed.

He's a third-generation primary care doctor who grew up going on house calls with his father and grandfather.

But over the course of his nearly 40-year career in Hagerstown, Md. — a small, working class town 70 miles northwest of Washington — independent practice became unsustainable. Ditto moved from solo practice to group practice and finally to a local health system before retiring in 2019. He was even courted by a concierge medical company later in his career, although he opted not to take the plunge.

It's no longer viable to go it alone, he said, and administrative requirements from insurance companies are time-consuming and burdensome. "That's killing things. It's just so incredibly complex," he said.

Wilson also said after-hours administrative work influenced younger colleagues' decisions not to do full-time clinical care. "We know that every evening and a lot of the weekend is going to be taken up," she said.

Still, she's hopeful about the field, describing family medicine as a kind of social movement: "It's a way to provide the kind of care that our communities need," she said.

What that care looks like is just different than it once was. "The small, one-person or two-person practice can no longer afford to keep the doors open,” she said.

Ditto's son is also a doctor, but he’s chosen a different path than his dad. He’s practicing part time and teaching residents family medicine in the local hospital system.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
The Virulent Antisemite Who Influenced Henry Ford and Woodrow Wilson, and Brought the Worst Anti&Jewish Document to the US

In early 1933, in a lower Manhattan courtroom, a diminutive, dark-eyed Russian expatriate took the stand as the U.S. government’s expert witness in a decade-old legal dispute with the U.S.S.R. His name was Boris Brasol, and he was a former official and diplomat in the regime of Tsar Nicholas II who had settled in the United States after revolution had overtaken his homeland in 1917. Brasol’s work for U.S. agencies had begun shortly thereafter, when he had started providing his expertise to military intelligence as the government aggressively pursued foreign agitators and subversives during the wave of anti-communist hysteria that marked the first Red Scare. Lately, he had been advising the U.S. Attorney General’s office on Russian law.

On this day, he was testifying in a bureaucratic case involving the Russian Volunteer Fleet, a state-sponsored company now under Soviet control, which was suing the U.S. government over ship contracts that the administration of Woodrow Wilson had commandeered during World War I. The sleepy proceedings suddenly took a dramatic turn when Charles Recht, the lawyer representing the Russian company, began cross-examining Brasol.

"We propose to show that ever since he has arrived in this country he has been a propagandist engaged in anti-Soviet and antisemitic activity,” Recht said. “We will prove that by bias, character and reputation he is an unfit and disqualified witness, a disseminator of forged documents and spreader of racial hatred."

Recht marveled that the government had chosen Brasol at all among the “hundreds of experts on Russian affairs.” And he said Brasol’s role in the case was an “affront to the millions of taxpayers who are Jews.”

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that Recht aimed to portray Brasol as a “modern Haman,” but the comparison with the Old Testament villain who plotted to destroy the Jews was not entirely fitting. Haman’s plan was foiled. Brasol’s was working, and over time it would succeed in a way that he scarcely could have imagined.

Brasol remains a shadowy and little-known figure, his life cloaked in intrigue. He was a lawyer, a Lausanne University-trained criminologist, and a literary critic who penned books on Oscar Wilde and Fyodor Dostoevsky and who founded the Pushkin Society. But his greatest passion seemed to be Jew-baiting. He was the first to bring The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to widespread attention in the United States, and he influenced Henry Ford’s prolonged assault on the Jewish people through his Dearborn Independent newspaper. Among the 20th century's most notorious antisemites, few played a greater role than Brasol in unleashing the conspiracy theories and myths that have plagued Jews for generations.

Even before the Hamas-Israel war loosed a new and shocking wave of antisemitism around the globe, anti-Jewish hate crimes and harassment had reached record levels. “The rise in antisemitism is astonishing, never before seen in this country,” Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, the White House's homeland security adviser, said last spring. At work here, at least in part, was the ghost of Boris Brasol, whose legacy of hate, far from fading, has metastasized with the passage of time.

"Over a span of at least four decades,” wrote the University of Idaho's Richard Spence, who specializes in Russian intelligence and military history, “Boris Brasol would work like a diligent spider weaving a far-flung web of hate-mongering, intelligence peddling, and outright espionage, a kind of mirror image or, perhaps, unconscious parody of the worldwide conspiracy he claimed to combat."

A century after Brasol launched a systematic campaign to inflict maximum harm on the Jewish people, the world remains hopelessly trapped in the web of lies that he spun.

Brasol was born in 1885 in Poltava, in present-day Ukraine, the site of a decisive 1709 battle that led to the emergence of the Russian Empire. After university, he joined the Russian Ministry of Justice as a prosecutor. Early in his legal career, he was dispatched to Kyiv to investigate a sensational murder case involving a Russian Jew named Mendel Beilis who stood accused of the ritual murder of a Christian boy. Led by Brasol’s colleagues, the notorious prosecution — echoing the blood libel charges leveled against Jews since the Middle Ages — drew international protest and condemnation. Beilis was acquitted, though Brasol would still contend years later that the Jew had killed the child in order to “perform the ritual blood ceremony over the boy’s body.”

Brasol fought on the Polish front during World War I, and in 1916 the Russian government sent him to New York as a member of a Russian committee overseeing the purchase of supplies and material. The following year, revolutionaries forced Tsar Nicholas II from power and Brasol became a leader among Russian emigres who fiercely opposed the Bolsheviks and yearned for the restoration of the Russian monarchy.

Refined and aristocratic, Brasol reinvented himself as a popular anti-Bolshevik speaker and polemicist, his writings oozing antisemitic venom. He was obsessed with the existence of a supposed “Judo-Masonic” cabal aimed at world dominion, and asserted that the Russian Revolution was a Jewish plot. To Brasol, Judaism was synonymous with Bolshevism: He wrote of “the struggle against Bolshevism; that is to say, against Judaism,” and promoted the myth of “Jewish Bolshevism.”

“Hit those liberal minded fellows as hard as possible,” he wrote of the Bolsheviks in a letter to an ally that provided a glimpse of his tactics and techniques. “Sow dissension among them. Raise suspicion among the revolutionary elements. Whisper into their ears every kind of nonsense which might result in dissolution and disintegration of their forces. Smash their organizations. Expose their Jewish nature and everything will be all right.”

Brasol’s conspiratorial ravings found an audience at senior levels within U.S. military intelligence. After the Russian Revolution, Brasol volunteered his services to the War Trade Board’s intelligence bureau, where he was appointed a “special investigator.” Soon, he was advising Brigadier General Marlborough Churchill, chief of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division.

At the time, the MID was leading a national effort to root out radicals of all stripes, particularly the communists and foreign anarchists believed to be the source of the nation’s worsening labor and racial strife. This campaign intensified after a series of bombings, carried out by followers of an Italian anarchist named Luigi Galleani, that targeted prominent businesspeople, including J.P. Morgan Jr., and government officials. In June 1919 a Galleanist bombed the D.C. home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, who subsequently launched a series of raids to round up thousands of leftists, many of them immigrants.

That was the national atmosphere as Brasol supplied a steady flow of intelligence on the seditious element he claimed was at the root of many of the world’s problems: the Jews.

Brasol fixated on German-Jewish financiers — especially Jacob Schiff, his partners in the Manhattan investment bank of Kuhn Loeb, and Schiff’s in-laws the Warburgs — who he believed were helping to orchestrate worldwide chaos in preparation for a global takeover.

Brasol was the intelligence officer named in MID files as “B-1” — identified only as a Russian working for the War Trade Board — whose prodigious reports wove elaborate conspiracy theories concerning “Jewish imperialism” and which contended that Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, were conduits for illicit financial transactions. B-1 also alleged that Schiff and the Warburgs had covertly financed Leon Trotsky with the aim of sparking a “social revolution” in Russia and were the hidden hand behind the rise of Bolshevism.

To support his scurrilous intelligence about Jewish subversion, Brasol could point to a startling document that he was forcefully pushing: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the well-spring of modern antisemitism.

The document purported to be the product of secret conclaves convened by Jewish leaders in the late 1800s as they plotted to gain global control. The supposed scheme involved such devious and “subterranean” methods as dominating the media to influence “the public mind,” manipulating financial markets and creating “grandiose government credit institutions,” and instigating labor strikes and class warfare by stoking the forces of socialism, communism, and anarchism to destabilize the nations of the world.

The Protocols were first published in serialized form in 1903 by Znamya, a St. Petersburg newspaper founded by Pavel Krushevan, a fervently antisemitic journalist who that year also helped to incite the Kishinev pogrom, in which dozens of Jews were killed.

The authorship of the Protocols, which contained passages lifted from several sources (including a work of satire by French author Maurice Joly) has long remained murky. It has been attributed to the Paris-based chief of the Okhrana, the tsarist secret service, but newer research, including by Stanford University professor Steven Zipperstein, points to Krushevan as the author or co-author of the document. Whoever was behind the text, the unmistakable goal was justifying Jewish attacks and repression by fabricating evidence of age-old conspiracies and innuendo.

Like Krushevan, Brasol was a member of the Black Hundreds, the movement of Russian ultra-nationalist reactionaries, fiercely loyal to the Romanov dynasty, who were often at the root of the mob violence that terrorized Jewish communities.

The Protocols remained obscure and did not circulate internationally until after the Russian Revolution, when Brasol and other tsarists heavily promoted the document as they sought to prove that the uprising was part of a larger Jewish plan.

In 1918, Brasol supplied a copy of the Protocols to Natalie de Bogory, the daughter of Russian immigrants and assistant to Harris Houghton, a military intelligence officer “obsessed by the Jewish threat to America’s war effort,” according to Judaica scholar Robert Singerman, who penned an authoritative study on the American origins of the document. And Brasol assisted in the translation of the document on behalf of Houghton.

By late 1918, the translated Protocols were circulating widely within the Wilson administration, thanks to the efforts of both Houghton and Brasol. In addition to supplying the document to high-ranking intelligence officials, Houghton furnished it to several members of Wilson’s cabinet. Wilson himself was told about the existence of the Protocols during the Paris Peace conference, and he ordered that the document be further investigated.

Around this time Wilson was alerted to another trove of incriminating documents, also originating in Russia, that purported to show that Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, and other leading Bolsheviks were German agents deployed to orchestrate the Russian Revolution and engineer Russia’s withdrawal from World War I. Edgar Sisson, a representative of the Committee on Public Information, the U.S. government’s wartime propaganda agency, had purchased this collection of documents in St. Petersburg.

Some of the records contained references to Max Warburg, head of Hamburg’s M.M. Warburg, and suggested that he and his bank had served as a financial link to the Bolsheviks. One letter stated that “the banking house M. Warburg has opened . . . an account for the undertaking of Comrade Trotsky.” The Wilson administration published the documents in a Committee on Public Information pamphlet titled “The German-Bolshevik Conspiracy.” But it turned out these records were also largely fake, with some documents from supposedly different sources produced using the same typewriter.

Once again Brasol had played a behind-the-scenes part in legitimizing a set of fraudulent documents. In their 1946 book The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War Against Soviet Russia, Michael Sayers and Albert Kahn note that Brasol and his allies were “in close touch with the State Department and supplied it with much of the spurious data and misinformation on which the State Department based its opinion of the authenticity of the fraudulent ‘Sisson Documents.’” According to a memo in Brasol's FBI file, he was telling "his friends" of the existence of these papers at least six months before they were published by the Wilson administration.

By 1919, Brasol began searching for a U.S. publisher for the Protocols and found a small Boston publishing house that agreed to issue the first version printed in the U.S. Published in the summer of 1920 and titled The Protocols and World Revolution, the book was supplemented with anonymous commentary written by Brasol. Marshaling the “evidence” that the Protocols were genuine and Bolshevism was a Jewish contrivance, he cited the Sisson documents, “published by the United States Government.” The Warburg-Trotsky letter was reprinted in full as proof that “certain powerful Jewish bankers were instrumental and active in spreading Bolshevism.” Brasol was using one set of bogus documents to reinforce another hoax text.

He would have been well aware there were serious doubts about the documents he was pushing. In 1918, newspapers questioned the authenticity of the Sisson papers and the British government dismissed them as fakes. And by 1921, an Irish journalist named Philip Graves, writing for the Times of London, had conclusively exposed the Protocols as a fraud, highlighting the plagiarized passages.

But by then, the myth of a worldwide Jewish plot had spread throughout the world. Typewritten copies of the document had traveled among the delegates attending the Paris peace conference. And between 1920 and 1921, two other English-language versions of the Protocols went to press in addition to Brasol’s. A second American volume, dubbed Praemonitus Praemunitus (Latin for “forewarned is forearmed”), was released by Peter Beckwith — a pseudonym for Harris Houghton, Brasol’s MID ally. And the Protocols were published in London under the title The Jewish Peril. Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Japan — translations of the forged text soon cropped up across the globe.

In Germany, the Protocols buttressed the baseless charge promoted by the far right that the Fatherland had not been defeated on the battlefield during World War I but “stabbed in the back” at home by socialist revolutionaries, Jews in particular. Adolf Hitler pointed to the document in Mein Kampf,

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
He Was Thrown in Jail for a Crime He Didn’t Commit. Now He’s in Politics.

Yusef Salaam spent 12 Thanksgivings wrongly convicted of rape and assault. He’s spending this holiday celebrating his election to the New York City Council earlier this month.

“There’s definitely a lot to be thankful for and also a lot to plan for,” Salaam said in an interview with POLITICO Magazine.

Salaam was imprisoned for nearly seven years for the 1989 attack on a Central Park jogger that he didn’t commit. The episode inflamed the city’s racial tensions (and even led future President Donald Trump to call for the death penalty for the young Black and Latino men who were falsely accused). Five more years passed before his conviction was overturned, and, the group long disparaged as the “Central Park Five” was newly dubbed the “Exonerated Five.”

Salaam maintains a remarkable optimism, brushing off the notion of remaining “sad and angry and bitter,” even as he’s clear-eyed about a criminal justice system that he said has not changed much since his wrongful arrest and conviction.

The political outsider bested experienced elected officials to win a Democratic primary in June, which all but ensured he’d claim a seat of historic Black political power representing Harlem.

As Salaam begins his next chapter as a member of the fractious New York City Council, he’s hoping to translate his own experiences into the kind of politics that centers on community.

“I’ve always been thinking about what happened to me as it relates to what happened to us,” he said. “How do we pull each other up?”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Emily Ngo: You were 15 at the time of your arrest. Do you ever think about what you would tell your 15-year-old self, especially in these recent weeks when you’re processing your election victory?

Yusef Salaam: You’ve got to understand: My 15-year-old self — my goodness — I wanted to wake up from the American nightmare. I wanted to still have that American dream. I didn’t want to be confronted with the reality of what America represents for Black people. But the beauty is that as I awoke from that nightmare, I realized that I now have new eyes that could see in the dark, that I can speak life and truth to power. I can encourage people to take the lemons that life has given us and make lemonade.

Because it’s one thing to be sad and angry and bitter, but it’s another thing to be better and stronger and thoughtful and planning and still have a dream, still dream with your eyes wide open. And why are your eyes wide open now when you dream? It’s because you need to be able to make sure that you can see that rug before it gets pulled out from underneath you.

Ngo: How do you believe the American justice system has changed between then and now?

Salaam: Well, to be honest with you, I don’t think that there’s really been that much change in the American justice system. There are some gains that have been made, of course. But they made people believe that what happened to me and the four of my brothers — the Central Park Five, as we were once known, now the Exonerated Five — they made people believe that this was an anomaly. And yet, here we are, decades later, being the modern-day Scottsboro Boys.

To me, that’s a challenge and that’s a problem, but it’s also an opportunity for us to really try to get it right. It’s an opportunity for us to say, “We can’t just be out in the streets marching for justice and crying for justice. We have to begin to groom ourselves to assume those leadership positions, so that in the halls of power, our voices are echoed.”

Ngo: People know your story — or at least, they think they know your story — but does that mean they know you as a person?

Salaam: Absolutely not. One of the challenges of being in a political space is, unfortunately, it almost seems like I’m a miracle, and therefore I can make miracles happen. And that’s because I’m now the ambassador for all of our pain. But the truth is: All of our human potential needs to be poured into, needs to be resuscitated, so that we all realize and recognize we all have something special about us. That’s the reason why community is necessary. Because the whole community participates in the grand experiment of making sure that everybody is included.

Ngo: Where do you believe you fall on the political spectrum?

Salaam: I think I’m a progressive Democrat. I’ve always been a progressive. I’ve always been thinking about what happened to me as it relates to what happened to us. How do we pull each other up? How do we make sure that we have progress that’s meaningful?

Ngo: What will be your approach to legislating in a time that’s less about community and more about political division?

Salaam: Early on, it was a curse being the person who was run over by the spiked wheels of justice, being the person who was victimized by the very system that is supposed to help all of us, that protects all of us. It gives me an opportunity to have that so-called unique voice, where I can speak from personal experiences as I begin to help shape policy and govern our people. I think that that part is really important.

It’s one thing to have people who are deciding in your best interest and really wanting to be in your best interest. And it’s another thing to say, “Hey, you’ve been affected by this particular issue. What are your thoughts?”

Ngo: Do you feel Harlem can be the center of Black political greatness and power once again? People like to say that it’s shifted to Brooklyn. Is it too greatly gentrified in Harlem for it to be what it once was?

Salaam: I think that being the nucleus of Black culture is never going to change. What we’ve always known about Harlem is that we’ve always been a microcosm of the macrocosm of New York City itself, being the very place where we have the melting pot of all cultures. And the fact that it’s being gentrified — and the fact that there are a lot of us who aren’t participating in our own growth and development — really is an opportunity for us to be able to restore our own faith, our own hope, our own value, as we participate in our ability to make sure that Harlem is and remains a mecca.

Ngo: How will your Thanksgiving be different this year than in years past?

Salaam: This year we’re going to be celebrating the win with family, with loved ones. There’s definitely a lot to be thankful for and also a lot to plan for as well, as we think about the needs of our community — how grateful folks are, including myself, when we can have things like clean water and a place to rest our head and books to read.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
How election officials are planning to avoid a repeat of 2020's slow vote count

Election officials are preparing to count votes a lot faster in 2024, desperate to avoid a repeat of the long ballot count that left the winner of the presidential race uncertain for days in 2020.

Several battleground states have passed new laws to facilitate quicker counting and implemented more efficient processing procedures. The faster races are tabulated, the faster they’re called — and the shorter the period of uncertainty in which misinformation can spread, as when then-President Donald Trump escalated conspiracy theories about the vote count in 2020 and falsely declared himself the victor.

"We're going to continue to be laser focused on the space and time between when the polls close and the unofficial results are announced," said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. "But what 2020 also showed us is that in addition to that time period, if the unofficial results are not what certain candidates had in mind or had hoped for, that we need to be prepared for them to double down on their misinformation."

In addition to states counting votes more quickly and starting the process earlier, mail voting is expected to be down from 2020, when the pandemic led an unprecedented number of voters to avoid in-person polling places.

But issues remain. Counting procedures vary state by state, and partisan fighting has sometimes bogged down changes election workers want. And some key states — most notably Pennsylvania — still lag behind, election officials and experts warn, and in an exceptionally close presidential race it could still take days to know the winner.

The scramble comes in response to the 2020 election. That year, the combination of a surge in mail voting, outdated state laws and an elections system struggling with resources led to a presidential race not being called for days.

One of the major pain points that year was that a handful of swing states did not allow for pre-processing of mail ballots before Election Day. The work it takes to get mail ballots ready to be counted — validating voters’ identities, removing ballots from envelopes and loading them into tabulators — takes time. The earlier it’s done, the sooner ballots are counted.

When the pandemic pushed an unprecedented number of voters to vote by mail, it took some states days to do that work, dragging out after Election Day. Heading into 2024, lawmakers in several of those swing states — at the urging of election officials — are allowing for more pre-processing.

Michigan is going from an extremely limited 10-hour pre-processing window in 2020, which many election officials couldn’t take advantage of because approval came only a month before the election, to over a week in 2024. Wisconsin may soon allow for one day of preprocessing — less than many election officials had asked for, but still something they view as significantly better than nothing.

“The option for early voting in our state, and associated pre-processing and other pieces as well, will ultimately help us more smoothly and efficiently deliver unofficial election results after the polls close,” Benson said.

Election officials across the battleground states have been talking about ballot counting, she said, “as we prepare for close elections in each of our states next November and post-election challenges and misinformation to flourish as a result.”

Some states have also passed laws that would give the public a better sense of how many votes are left to be counted, removing a level of uncertainty that could aid media outlets’ decision desks as they look to declare winners.

Georgia, for example, now requires counties to report at midnight of Election Day how many votes they have left to count, as does Pennsylvania.

“I think you're going to see like we did for the 2022 cycle, people are declared a winner by 9:30 or 10 o'clock at night,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican. “The closer races went a little bit longer. But it was just the very, very close races that we just couldn't make a determination that night.”

Some battleground states have not made significant changes.

To the frustration of Pennsylvania election officials, state legislators haven’t allowed for pre-processing of mail ballots, leaving Pennsylvania officials unable to touch them before the polls open. The issue has repeatedly fallen victim to partisan fighting in Pennsylvania's state government.

“It is certainly disappointing that the legislature was not able to come together and provide at least a few days of pre-processing,” said Seth Bluestein, a Republican Philadelphia election official. That hasn’t mattered in recent low-turnout municipal elections. But, he said, “when we go into next year with a higher turnout, and potentially a close margin at the statewide level, it is certainly going to be a challenge to count all the ballots quickly.”

Pennsylvania, however, is a significant outlier.

Rachel Orey, senior associate director at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s elections project, noted that 40 states and D.C. allow for some level of mail ballot preprocessing before Election Day — up from just 27 states in 2020.

Election officials have long grumbled that election results have never been official on the night of an election. No state has completely tallied every vote cast by midnight on the day of the election — at a minimum, military and other overseas voters have a grace period. And media outlets, not election officials, are the ones declaring winners early, with certification of the actual election results taking place long after the public has moved on.

Nevada Secretary of State Cisco Aguilar, a Democrat, said the focus on certification is the wrong way to think about it. “This is an issue about Nevada voters getting the information that they expect to have,” he said. “Until we get to a point of being to perfection, we can't use that argument.”

Still, a very close contest could mean media outlets don’t have the statistical confidence to declare a winner. The Associated Press, for example, typically does not call an election if it’s within a recount margin.

And even having preprocessing periods is not a panacea.

It doesn’t help if large numbers of ballots are dropped off on Election Day. And in some states, including Nevada, ballots are counted if they are postmarked by Election Day and arrive soon after. Such last-minute ballots by definition can’t be processed in advance.

Aguilar said his office is focusing on helping local officials increase capacity — particularly in Clark and Washoe counties, which combined account for a supermajority of the state’s votes. “It is making sure we have enough talent to manage the process. It is making sure we have enough machines, making sure we have enough space,” he said. “Do we need to increase the number of pickups at polling sites to be able to get the ballots before the end of Election Day?”

Perhaps one of the biggest differences from 2020 is that election officials in many states are expecting far fewer people to vote via mail in 2024, and instead opt for a return to Election Day or early in-person voting. In the 2022 midterms, more voters voted via mail than in 2018, but it was noticeably fewer than in 2020.

“Sixty-five percent of the voters are voting early. And then we have the other 30 percent that are voting on Election Day,” Raffensperger said. “Voters get to make that choice, so that gives them confidence in the process. But by doing that, we will have the tabulation done very quickly for all the early votes.”

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
Top diplomats of South Korea, Japan and China meet to restart trilateral summit

SEOUL, South Korea — The top diplomats from South Korea, Japan and China met Sunday to discuss when to resume their leaders’ trilateral summit after a four-year hiatus and how to strengthen cooperation among the three Northeast Asian neighbors.

Closely linked economically and culturally with one another, the three countries together account for about 25% of the global gross domestic product. But efforts to boost trilateral cooperation have often hit a snag because of a mix of issues including historical disputes stemming from Japan’s wartime aggression and the strategic competition between China and the United States.

“Korea, Japan and China have the potential for massive cooperation. Our three countries are neighbors that can’t be separated from one another,” South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin said at the start of the meeting in Busan, South Korea. “I hope we can strive together to hold the South Korea-Japan-China summit, which is at the apex of three-way cooperation, at an early date.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said they would also push to revive three-way cooperation. Park said he hoped Sunday’s meeting would also discuss ways of collaboration in the face of North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats, as well as trade, climate change and personnel exchange between the three countries.

In September, senior officials of the three nations agreed to restart the trilateral summit “at the earliest convenient time.”

Since they held their first stand-alone, trilateral summit in 2008, the leaders of the three countries had been supposed to meet annually. But their summit has faced on-again, off-again suspensions and remains stalled since 2019.

Their relationships are intertwined with a slew of complicated, touchy issues.

South Korea and Japan are key U.S. military allies, hosting a total of 80,000 American troops on their territories. Their recent push to beef up a trilateral security cooperation with the United States has angered China, which is extremely sensitive to any moves it perceives as seeking to contain its rise to dominance in Asia.

But some observers say that the fact that Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden struck a conciliatory tone in their first face-to-face meeting in a year earlier this month would provide Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing with diplomatic rooms to maneuver to find ways to revive three-way cooperation.

The three ministers held bilateral talks on the sidelines.

After her meeting with Wang on Saturday, Kamikawa said she renewed Japan’s demand that China remove its ban on seafood imports from Japan in response to Tokyo’s discharge of treated radioactive wastewater from its tsunami-hit nuclear power plant. Wang, for his part, said China opposed Japan’s “irresponsible action” of releasing the wastewater and called for an independent monitoring mechanism of the process, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Ties between South Korea and Japan deteriorated severely in past years due to issues originating from Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean Peninsula. But their relations have warmed significantly in recent months as the two countries took a series of major steps to move beyond history wrangling and boost bilateral cooperation in the face of North Korea’s advancing nuclear program and other shared challenges.

In a reminder of their difficult relations, however, a Seoul court earlier this week ordered Japan to financially compensate Koreans forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during the colonial period.

During her meeting with Park Sunday, Kamikawa called the court verdict “extremely regrettable” and urged South Korea to take appropriate steps to remedy the breaches of international law, according to Japan’s consulate-general in Busan. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the two ministers discussed the court ruling as well as ways to work together to reinvigorate three-way cooperation with China. The ministry also said that both strongly condemned the North’s spy satellite launch last week.

Meeting Wang bilaterally, Park asked for China to play a constructive role in persuading North Korea to halt provocations and take steps toward denuclearization, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Wang described China as “a stabilizing force” in the region that has “always played and will continue to play a constructive role in easing the situation on the peninsula,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. It said Wang called for stronger trade and economic ties between the two countries and criticized the “tendency to politicize economic issues.”

North Korea’s growing arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles poses a major security threat to South Korea and Japan. But China, North Korea’s last major ally and biggest source of aid, is suspected of avoiding fully enforcing United Nations sanctions on North Korea and shipping covert assistance to the North to help its impoverished neighbor stay afloat and continue to serve as a bulwark against U.S. influences on the Korean Peninsula.

Sun, 26 Nov 2023 09:35:03 -0500 ishook
Here Are the Members of Congress Giving Up Their Seats, Setting Up a 2024 Fight Sun, 26 Nov 2023 06:45:02 -0500 ishook To Beat Trump, Nikki Haley Is Trying to Speak to All Sides of a Fractured G.O.P. Sun, 26 Nov 2023 06:45:02 -0500 ishook More Members of Congress Are Retiring, Many Citing Dysfunction Sun, 26 Nov 2023 04:00:03 -0500 ishook 3 Takeaways From the Investigation Into Trump’s Pardon of Jonathan Braun Sun, 26 Nov 2023 04:00:03 -0500 ishook Hamas releases more Gaza hostages after dispute, delay in transfer

Hamas released a second group of Gaza hostages late Saturday after a delay caused by a dispute between the militant group and Israel over the terms of a truce agreement, according to the Israeli military and Qatari government officials.

The Israeli Defense Forces said Red Cross representatives transferred the freed hostages to Egypt late Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Dr. Majid bin Mohammed Al Ansari confirmed that the hostage transfer had taken place.

"13 Israelis and 4 foreigners were received by ICRC and on their way to Rafah," Al Ansari wrote in a message posted to X, formerly known as Twitter.

Al Ansari had posted earlier in the day that a dispute causing a delay in the hostage transfer had been resolved by Qatari-Egyptian mediators.

“After a delay, obstacles to release of prisoners were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides,” Al Ansari wrote on Saturday afternoon.

According to Al Ansari, the prisoners set to be released by Israel in the second phase of the transfer would "include 33 children and 6 women, while those released from Gaza will include 8 children and 5 women, in addition to 7 foreigners." Al Ansari later updated to say only 4 foreigners would be released.

The delay, first reported by Reuters, came as Hamas’ armed wing said it would not release the second round of hostages until Israel held up its side of the truce deal: allowing aid trucks to enter the besieged northern Gaza region.

Israel maintained that it had not violated the agreement. Thousands of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv to demand the release of the second group of hostages following the news of the delay.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "held an assessment of the situation" Saturday evening "to verify that the second phase is proceeding as planned," according to a message on his X feed.

President Joe Biden, walking around downtown Nantucket, did not answer shouted questions from reporters on if any American hostages would be released Saturday.

Asked later in more general terms about the hostage release, Biden replied: “hopefully we’ll see something soon,” according to pool reports.

The hostage transfer is part of a broader four-day truce agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. that started Friday, when Hamas released 24 of the about 240 hostages it had taken on Oct. 7, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians.

The Israeli hostages, including nine women and four children, were captured by Hamas during its initial cross-border assault. The Palestinian prisoners, who were detained in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem, included several women convicted of attempted stabbings of Israeli officers and teenagers arrested for minor offenses.

Hamas is still holding over 200 hostages while Israel has upward of 8,000 Palestinians detained in prisons across the state — about 5,000 of whom were arrested before the Oct. 7 attack.

Over the course of the four-day truce, Hamas is set to release at least 50 Israeli hostages and Israel 150 Palestinians.

The cease-fire brought a brief respite in the fighting that has ravaged the region since Oct. 7. Hamas rockets that had been continuously launched into Israel went quiet and the relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza broke, allowing much-needed aid to enter northern Gaza for the first time in over a month and giving Palestinians a chance to search for survivors in the rubble of razed buildings.

Israeli attacks have leveled entire neighborhoods in Gaza, killing over 13,300 Palestinians and displacing over 1.7 million others — 80 percent of Gaza's population. Hamas killed some 1,200 people on Oct. 7.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 18:05:04 -0500 ishook
Stabbing of Derek Chauvin Raises Questions About Inmate Safety Sat, 25 Nov 2023 16:10:05 -0500 ishook Arab states condemn Wilders for push to relocate Palestinians to Jordan Sat, 25 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook Gaza hostage releases reportedly delayed amid dispute over aid trucks Sat, 25 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook Mediators: Gaza hostage releases to resume after Israel&Hamas dispute

A second group of Gaza hostages are set to be released later Saturday after a delay that followed a dispute between Israel and Hamas over the terms of a truce agreement, according to Qatari government officials.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson Dr. Majid bin Mohammed Al Ansari confirmed that the hostage transfer would resume.

“After a delay, obstacles to release of prisoners were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian contacts with both sides, and 39 Palestinian civilians will be released tonight, while 13 Israeli hostages will leave Gaza in addition to 7 foreigners,” Al Ansari wrote in a message posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday afternoon.

The delay, first reported by Reuters, came as Hamas’ armed wing said it would not release the second round of hostages until Israel held up its side of the deal: allowing aid trucks to enter the besieged northern Gaza region.

Israel maintained that it had not violated the agreement. Thousands of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv to demand the release of the second group of hostages following the news of the delay.

The hostage transfer is part of a broader four-day truce agreement brokered by Qatar, Egypt and the U.S. that started Friday.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook
Biden compares Russia’s actions in Ukraine to Holodomor famine

The White House on Saturday reaffirmed its commitment to Ukraine in a statement marking the anniversary of Holodomor, drawing parallels between Russia’s offensive and the 1930s Soviet-imposed famine that killed millions of Ukrainians.

“Today, Ukraine’s agricultural infrastructure is once more being deliberately targeted—this time by Vladimir Putin as part of his drive for conquest and power,” President Joe Biden said in the statement, further citing "the inhumane policies of Josef Stalin" that included "death by hunger."

“Putin is hurting the world’s most vulnerable communities, for Russia’s profit,” he added.

Many Republicans oppose any further assistance to Ukraine and question the strength of Kyiv’s counter-offensive, but Biden has continued to be outspoken in his support even as additional aid has stalled in Congress.

“We also recommit ourselves to preventing suffering, protecting fundamental freedoms, and responding to human rights abuses whenever and wherever they occur. We stand united with Ukraine,” Biden said.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook
Hamas is set to release 14 Israeli hostages for 42 Israel&held Palestinians in a second truce swap

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Egyptian officials said Hamas was preparing to release 14 Israeli hostages Saturday for 42 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, as part of an exchange on the second day of a cease-fire that has allowed critical humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip and given civilians their first respite after seven weeks of war.

On the first day of the four-day cease-fire, Hamas released 24 of the about 240 hostages taken during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, and Israel freed 39 Palestinians from prison. Those freed from captivity in Gaza were 13 Israelis, 10 Thais and a Filipino.

On Saturday, Hamas provided mediators Egypt and Qatar with a list of 14 hostages to be released, and the list has been passed along to Israel, according to a Egyptian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to talk about details of the ongoing negotiations. A second Egyptian official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the details.

Under the truce agreement, Hamas will release one Israeli hostage for every three prisoners freed, and Israel's Prison Service had already said earlier Saturday it was preparing 42 prisoners for release.

It was not immediately clear how many non-Israeli captives may also be released.

Overall, Hamas is to release at least 50 Israeli hostages, and Israel 150 Palestinian prisoners during the four-day truce, all woman and minors.

Israel has said the truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed — something United States President Joe Biden said he hoped would come to pass.

Separately, a Qatari delegation arrived in Israel on Saturday to coordinate with parties on the ground and “ensure the deal continues to move smoothly,” according to a diplomat briefed on the visit. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do discuss details with the media.

The start of the truce Friday morning brought the first quiet for 2.3 million Palestinians reeling and desperate from relentless Israeli bombardment that has killed thousands, driven three-quarters of the population from their homes and leveled residential areas. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well.

For Emad Abu Hajer, a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza City area, the pause meant he could again dig through the rubble of his home, which was flattened in an Israeli attack last week.

He found the bodies of a cousin and nephew Friday, bringing the death toll in the attack to 19. With his sister and two other relatives still missing, he resumed his digging Saturday.

“We want to find them and bury them in dignity,” he said.

The United Nations said the pause enabled it to scale up the delivery of food, water, and medicine to the largest volume since the resumption of humanitarian aid convoys on Oct. 21. It was also able to deliver 34,078 gallons of fuel — just over 10% of the daily pre-war volume — as well as cooking gas, a first time since the war began.

In the southern city of Khan Younis on Saturday, a long line of people with gas cans and other containers waited outside a filling station hoping to get some of the newly delivered fuel.

As he waited for fuel, Hossam Fayad lamented that the pause in fighting was only for four days.

“I wish it could be extended until people's conditions improved,” he said.

For the first time in over a month, aid reached northern Gaza, the focus of Israel's ground offensive. The Palestinian Red Crescent said 61 trucks carrying food, water and medical supplies headed to northern Gaza on Saturday, the largest aid convoy to reach the area since the start of the war.

The U.N. said it and the Palestinian Red Crescent were also able to evacuate 40 patients and family members from a hospital in Gaza City, where much of the fighting has taken place, to a hospital in Khan Younis.

The relief brought by the cease-fire has been tempered, however, for both sides — among Israelis by the fact that not all hostages will be freed and among Palestinians by the brevity of the pause. The short truce leaves Gaza mired in humanitarian crisis and under the threat that fighting could soon resume.

Amal Abu Awada, a 40-year-old widow who fled a Gaza City-area camp for Khan Younis with her three children earlier in November, ventured out Friday to a U.N. facility looking for food and water, but said there was none available.

“We went back empty handed,” she said. “But at least there are no bombs, and we can try again.”


After nightfall Friday, a line of ambulances emerged from Gaza through the Rafah Crossing into Egypt carrying the freed hostages. The freed Israelis included nine women and four children 9 and under.

The released hostages were taken to three Israeli hospitals for observation. The Schneider Children’s Medical Center said it was treating eight Israelis — four children and four women — and that all appeared to be in good physical condition. The center said they were also receiving psychological treatment, adding that “these are sensitive moments” for the families.

At a plaza dubbed “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, a crowd of Israelis celebrated at the news.

The hostages included multiple generations. Nine-year-old Ohad Munder-Zichri was freed along with his mother, Keren Munder, and grandmother, Ruti Munder. The fourth-grader was abducted during a holiday visit to his grandparents at the kibbutz where about 80 people — nearly a quarter of all residents of the small community — are believed to have been taken from.

The plight of the hostages has raised anger among some families that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to bring them home.

Hours later, 24 Palestinian women and 15 teenage boys held in Israeli prisons in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem were freed. In the West Bank town of Beitunia, hundreds of Palestinians poured out of their homes to celebrate, honking horns and setting off fireworks that lit up the night sky.

The teenagers had been jailed for minor offenses like throwing stones. The women included several convicted of trying to stab Israeli soldiers, and others who had been arrested at checkpoints in the West Bank.

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.


The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.

Majed al-Ansari, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, said the hope is that momentum from the deal will lead to an end to the violence. Qatar served as a mediator along with the U.S. and Egypt.

Israeli leaders have said they would resume fighting eventually and not stop until Hamas, which has controlled Gaza for the past 16 years, is crushed. Israel has set the release of all hostages as the second goal of the war, and officials have argued that only military pressure can bring them home.

At the same time, the government is under pressure from the families of the hostages to make the release of the remaining captives the top priority, ahead of any efforts to end Hamas control of Gaza.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza government. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the latest number was not broken down. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where communications have broken down.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
This Gen Z Investigative Reporter Is Rocking Conservative Media

To understand the motivation of Aaron Sibarium, Yalie, Gen Z reporter and conservative media darling, it’s instructive to travel back in time to last December, and do a little eavesdropping.

Right outside D.C., in a small studio apartment tucked inside an urban-suburban complex in Arlington, Virginia, Sibarium chats it up with libertarian writer Richard Hanania in a video call for a podcast exploring “the right-wing echo chamber.” In other contexts, on other podcasts (like his own), you can find Sibarium leaning into his more conservative opinions, but this is not one of these moments. He’s here to punch right. 

“Everyone on the right wants to write essays and have their grand theories about political economy and the American Right taken very seriously from the time they’re young,” he says, “and the problem is that A) when you’re 22, you don’t really know anything and B) there’s a surplus of that writing already.” 

What he values, he says, is something different from the conservative hot take-machine: real investigations, seeking out scoops, digging for data. As he sees it, he’s providing a rare service, occupying a narrow journalistic niche: old-school, shoe-leather reporting from a conservative point of view. 

“It’s rare to see someone who will cover something like, say, race-based treatment of Covid drugs … who also is like not a crank and has an IQ above 120,” Sibarium says, cracking half a smile. 

This quip is effectively Sibarium’s Statement of Purpose. In the 2½ years since he became a reporter, he’s snared some major scoops: There was his piece exploring how states, advised by the FDA to do so, used racial preferences in rationing scarce Covid-19 drugs, giving preference to young people of color over older white people. (Some of the states stopped the practice soon after he reported on them.) He broke a story that exposed the Columbia Law School’s plans to require video statements from applicants, presumably to evade the Supreme Court decision banning the consideration of race in admissions. (Columbia abandoned that plan, insisting it was a mistake, when Sibarium asked them about it.) And he uncovered Yale administrators’ bullying of a non-Black student who called his apartment a “trap house” in a party invitation, a scandal that brought personnel changes to the school. 

Sibarium, a staff writer at the Washington Free Beacon, is 27, diminutive, nasally and formerly autistic.” (More on that later.) He’s become a force on the right who’s drawn praise from conservatives as far apart as Tucker Carlson and David French, who called Sibarium “a rising star reporter.” Sibarium doesn’t see his project as wholly new, as there has been conservative reporting for decades, but he’s trying to do something a little different.

“What maybe is new-ish about my personal project,” Sibarium says, is that he is trying “to report on the culture war in a way that is fairly aggressive and combative.”

As Americans’ trust in media has cratered, driven almost entirely by independents and Republicans, Sibarium has hunkered down, abstained from flirtations with fascism and racism (in imagery, group chats or pseudonymous op-eds) and done what some people have long been begging conservatives to do more of: pure reporting, digging up and revealing new information. Sibarium has done that, quietly, without sting operations — and without the millions of eyeballs turned on pundits like Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino and Carlson.  

When I meet Sibarium afterward to talk to him about his life and career, he isn’t as blunt about the state of the right’s journalism, but he isn’t satisfied either. He talks at length about the “talent problem” within conservative journalism, after his qualification that conservatives do more good journalism work than liberals let on, but still less than he’d like.  

This talent problem is widely acknowledged: His boss, Free Beacon editor-in-chief Eliana Johnson says, “Talent acquisition and talent retention is the most daunting challenge I think for any journalistic organization on the right.” (Johnson is a former POLITICO reporter.)

Why? When it comes to conservative media’s “talent problem,” Sibarium says it’s “partly education polarization, resulting in there just being fewer overall smart conservatives.” (Research backs up his assertion that liberals are, on average, more intelligent and more educated.) To Sibarium, who graduated from Yale in 2018, it’s obvious there are fewer “smart” conservatives than liberals — just look at how few conservatives attend elite colleges: “It does not seem plausible that the reason liberals are so overrepresented at elite schools … is entirely due to liberal bias.” After all, he says, it is conservatives who insist disparities do not imply discrimination. 

Another reason for the dearth of rigorous conservative investigative reporting, according to Sibarium, is that the so-called smart conservatives don’t go into journalism. The Supreme Court is not short on smart conservative judges or smart conservative clerks. The Federalist Society is not short on members. There are enough savvy conservatives to staff Republican congressional offices. As Johnson tells me, conservatives are just “not attracted to journalism. ... They’re going to law school, they’re going to med school, they’re going into finance.” 

Journalism also pays poorly compared with other jobs that require the same education and skills, and a young, smart, hardworking conservative has the same options that young liberals do for financial success: consulting, finance, medicine, tech and law. 

“The competition isn’t between, ‘Well, do I want to work for this major daily regional newspaper or do I want to work for this conservative magazine?’ It’s, ‘Do I want to work at BlackRock or do I want to work at this conservative magazine?’ And that’s hard competition.” That’s according to Ryan Wolfe, who is director of the Center for Excellence in Journalism at The Fund for American Studies, where he oversees the most prestigious prize for early career conservative journalists, a $35,000 grant known as the Robert Novak Journalism Fellowship.  

Beyond the money, there’s also prestige. Journalists at explicitly conservative outlets get little of the prestige that mainstream journalists get that compensate for their low salaries — and conservative eyes and ears are mostly focused on TV and radio anyway. Then there’s the fact that conservative reporters are the aberration in a movement led by a man who calls the press “the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” 

But for Sibarium, the fact that very few others are doing it is precisely the reason he wanted to.

“I feel like, look, if there’s only 10 or 20 people in the country who are willing to do this and good enough to do this,” he says, “I should do it.”

This opportunity to do work that few others are doing, coupled with a contrarian impulse and a “visceral” opposition to wokeness, is what led Sibarium to a career in conservative journalism. 

Even though he’s not much of a conservative himself. 

Sibarium is a “liberal but,” in the words of fellow conservative journalist Charles Fain Lehman (as in “I’m a liberal, but … ”). He’s “reluctantly pro-choice,” somehow “not dogmatically opposed to affirmative action,” an unmarried, secular Jew who lives in a dense metro area with..

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
USDA is giving some farmers an ultimatum: Grow hemp or marijuana

American farmers seized the opportunity to grow hemp after it was legalized in the 2018 farm bill, hoping the potentially lucrative crop could help keep their businesses afloat.

But now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is revoking hemp licenses for some farmers who have also chosen — in states where it’s legal — to grow hemp’s federally illegal cousin: marijuana.

Some farmers say the USDA’s interpretation of federal law has yanked a financial life raft from under them.

“It was definitely a huge blow to our business,” said Sam Bellavance, a cannabis farmer in Vermont who had separate licenses to grow both marijuana and hemp before USDA rescinded the latter earlier this year.

Bellavance estimates that he will lose at least $250,000 in revenue due to the license revocation.

The inconsistency between federal and state interpretations of the 2018 farm bill reflects the larger challenges hemp and marijuana farmers face in an emerging market where two nearly identical agricultural products have very different legal statuses. Even though more than half of Americans now live in a state where adults can legally possess weed — and 70 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization — under federal law it continues to be classified as a highly dangerous drug with no medical applications, the same as heroin.

Hemp industry officials complain that lack of legal and regulatory clarity from the federal government has scared off retailers from selling hemp-derived products and tanked the price of the crop.

That’s led farmers to dramatically reduce cultivation levels. In 2019, farmers planted 275,000 acres of hemp, but that plummeted to just 21,000 acres last year, according to Hemp Benchmarks.

USDA’s moves to rescind hemp licenses is further roiling the market.

“It’s just another example of the absurdity of keeping a substance, for which now 55 percent of Americans live in a jurisdiction where it’s legal, federally illegal,” said Tim Bryon Fair, who founded the law firm Vermont Cannabis Solutions. “It’s insane.”

Bellavance is just one of many farmers in at least two states — Vermont and Mississippi — who lost their hemp licenses this year after entering their state’s regulated marijuana industry, POLITICO has learned. Another hemp grower in Missouri said USDA informed him in April 2023 that he would lose his hemp license if he applied to participate in the state’s newly legal marijuana industry.

But in contrast, several state-run hemp programs — which are approved by USDA — have continued to license farmers who also grow marijuana under licenses from their states.

USDA declined to answer specific questions about its decision to rescind certain hemp licenses, but a spokesperson said that the issue remains complicated by marijuana’s federally illegal status.

“While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production, marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law,” said USDA spokesperson Allan Rodriguez in a statement. “This presents a unique jurisdictional and regulatory landscape that producers of more traditional agricultural commodities do not have to navigate.”

Rodriguez added that USDA remains “committed” to helping farmers learn about hemp-related rules and connecting farmers with research, risk management and conservation tools.

USDA also said that the department oversees “all states and growers in the [hemp] program in the same way,” despite apparent discrepancies in how the licensing is enforced.

USDA approves state hemp programs as required by the 2018 farm bill. The agency also directly oversees hemp farmers in eight states — including Vermont, Mississippi and Missouri — that do not have state-run programs. Seven of those eight states have state-run medical or recreational marijuana programs. All of the farmers who told POLITICO that USDA refused to let them have both hemp and marijuana licenses reside in states without state-run hemp programs.

In contrast, farmers participating in state-run hemp programs have retained their marijuana licenses, suggesting that the rules are different depending on whether state or federal regulators are in charge of overseeing hemp cultivation. Oregon and Colorado, for example, have guidelines in their state regulations detailing how farmers with licenses to grow both hemp and marijuana should keep the operations separate.

“It’s another attack on the little guy,” said Connor Reeves, a cannabis attorney with the firm McLaughlin PC in Jackson, Mississippi. “They don't seem to care how it impacts small farmers and folks in rural parts of the country that are otherwise following the law.”

Brittany Adikes, an attorney with McGlinchey Stafford specializing in cannabis law, said it seems like USDA is “reaching far to claim that there is a regulation that clearly prohibits having both licenses.” Instead, Adikes said, the statute language and rules USDA cites to defend its position could easily be interpreted to specify that a farmer cannot grow hemp and cannabis on the same land under the same license — not that a farmer is barred from holding both a state marijuana license and a federal hemp license.

Vermont Cannabis Control Board Compliance Director Cary Giguere explained that Vermont ended its state hemp licensing program in December 2022 because Vermont’s program was “was costly and offered no additional flexibility or safety” compared to the newly established federal program. Vermont farmers then applied for USDA licenses, only to find those licenses rescinded after joining the state’s nascent recreational marijuana program.

Enforcement of hemp rules also appears to be inconsistent within state programs overseen by the USDA. Vermont's Giguere confirmed in emails to POLITICO that the agency is aware of farmers who still hold both a federal license and a marijuana cultivator license from the state.

Vermont’s Seven Days, a local newspaper, first reported on Bellavance’s experience, but he is not alone. The shift has impacted farmers across the state, Vermont-based cannabis lawyers have observed.

Farmers in other states relate similar experiences.

Mississippi farmer Eric Sorenson learned he would lose his federal hemp license soon after he became licensed to grow medical marijuana by the state. Mississippi legalized medical marijuana in 2022, and sales began in January 2023.

“While Medical Cannabis is not federally legal, we will not be able to allow you to maintain your current hemp license in addition to the medical cannabis cultivator license,” USDA wrote to Sorenson in an email shared with POLITICO.

“It doesn't make any sense,” said Sorenson, who also founded the Mississippi Industrial Hemp Association. “It's the same plant.”

Reeves, the Mississippi cannabis lawyer, said he knew two other farmers licensed to grow medical marijuana by the state who were forced to give up their federal hemp licenses after receiving a letter from USDA.

Chris Beerman, a hemp farmer in Joplin, Missouri, transitioned to the federal hemp licensing program when Missouri’s state program ran out of funding and shut down. A USDA representative called him to confirm the approval of his hemp license, and also told him — without prompting — that he could not expand into Missouri’s new state marijuana program.

Missouri’s Department of Agriculture ceased administering the state’s hemp program on Jan. 1, 2023, around the same time it legalized recreational marijuana. Lower than expected involvement in Missouri’s hemp industry led to shuttering of the state program, which was funded by the program’s tax and fee revenue.

As a hemp farmer, Beerman hoped to diversify his business under the microbusiness licenses Missouri offers for cannabis growers. If the state still had its own hemp program, he said he would have applied for one of those licenses.

But in states that run their own hemp programs, the situation is very different. Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana and approved the production and regulation of industrial hemp in 2012 — and both programs have been operating separately but alongside each other ever since. In Colorado, hemp production is regulated and licensed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, while marijuana is regulated and licensed by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“The only thing specific is [farmers] … can't grow anything greater than three tenths percent THC on a hemp registration,” said Colorado Department of Agriculture’s Hemp Program Manager Brian Koontz, citing the federal threshold for illegality. “There’s nothing prohibiting them from having a separate marijuana business.”

USDA approved Colorado’s hemp plan, and state regulators said it did not include any prohibitions on hemp licensees also entering the state’s cannabis industry. Nevertheless, USDA approved the latest plan in August 2021, and Koontz said dual licensing did not come up when USDA audited Colorado’s hemp program earlier this year.

“Our plan does specifically address that no registrant … can commingle marijuana and hemp on the same farm,” he added.

The revocation of hemp licenses for farmers that also grow marijuana has largely gone unnoticed. Hemp industry officials and trade groups that spoke to POLITICO said they had not heard of the loss of USDA licenses by marijuana farmers.

Lawmakers were similarly ignorant.

“I haven't [heard about it], but I'd be happy to look at it,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.).

Senators representing states with medical or recreational marijuana programs as well as USDA-run hemp programs, such as Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (R) and Vermont Sen. Peter Welch (D), told POLITICO they were not aware of the problem. Welch said he would “have to check on it,” adding that if true, it would “be a real conflict.”

Adikes, the cannabis lawyer, says USDA’s actions could pave the way for a lawsuit.

“It could possibly be a violation of the [Administrative Procedures Act], and I'm curious to see what comes of this, in terms of litigation in the states that are being affected by this,” she said.

Garrett Downs contributed to this report. 

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
Voting machine trouble in Pennsylvania county triggers alarm ahead of 2024

Voters in the swing county of Northampton, Pennsylvania, mostly moved on after their new touchscreen voting machines glitched during a down-ballot judge’s race in 2019.

But when a similar issue cropped up earlier this month, it triggered a backlash within the county — one that has left state and local election officials in this key swing state racing to restore voter confidence ahead of what could be another contentious presidential election.

“We’re at the peak of mistrust of one another, but until that subsides, counties like ours need to be nearly perfect, and I think this system allows us to do that,” County Executive Lamont McClure told POLITICO before Northampton certified the vote on Tuesday, arguing the glitch resulted from human error.

The debate playing out in Northampton comes as election officials across the country are still contending with the consequences of Donald Trump’s 2020 fraud claims, which often centered around how votes are counted at the local level. With Trump a current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, that skepticism could only mount.

The stakes are particularly high in Pennsylvania, which boasts 19 electoral votes and is expected to be a top battleground next year. Northampton is home to roughly 220,000 registered voters. Trump won the state by just 44,000 votes in 2016. He lost it by roughly 80,000 votes four years later.

Northampton’s case also underscores the delicate balance politicians and election officials say they must strike when investigating legitimate problems, without providing fodder to conspiracy theorists.

“The broader concern is that an incident like this would be misused to undermine confidence in our electoral process,” Al Schmidt, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, told POLITICO Wednesday, the morning after Northampton voted to certify the results.

The 2019 election was the first time Northampton used the touchscreen voting machines from Election Systems & Software. That year, a programming glitch caused the ES&S machines to significantly undercount the votes for the Democratic candidate in a local judges’ race. Then on Nov. 7 this year, Northampton residents who showed up at their local polling station found that printouts from the same devices didn’t match the votes they had submitted digitally for two down-ballot judges contests.

Like in 2019, county officials and ES&S have said the errors did not affect any votes or alter the outcome of the races — both uncompetitive, up-down votes on whether to retain state judges. They argue the machines themselves are highly reliable and not to blame, saying the problem was caused by a one-off human error in the programming.

“One of the things I've learned through ‘19 and ‘23 is that the machines that we have have a great deal of redundancy built in,” McClure said.

But poll workers, election security watchers and members of both local political parties counter that the glitches caused significant confusion on Election Day this year, even if they didn’t swing the two judges’ races. And following so soon after 2019, the latest issue has triggered a growing backlash against ES&S — with many now questioning whether it is too risky to let the company’s machines tabulate votes in a closely contested county in the heart of a critical swing state.

“Since 2019, the theory has been well, that was a big mistake, but we caught it and we've implemented new processes to make sure nothing like that would ever happen again,” Matthew Munsey, chair of the Northampton County Democratic Party, told POLITICO.

But after the latest incident, “I don't know how we can restore trust with these machines,” he said.

Skeptics like Munsey say the root of the problem ties back to the basic design of the devices, called the ExpressVote XL.

The machine spits out a paper print-out that records voters’ choices in two ways: a barcode that is used to tabulate their vote and corresponding text so they can verify it was input correctly.

In the two races on Nov. 7, however, the machines swapped voters’ choices in the written section of the ballot — but not the barcode — if they voted “yes” to retain one judge and “no” for the other.

ES&S and Northampton officials acknowledged that pre-election software testing, which is conducted jointly, should have caught that problem. They say an ES&S employee first introduced the error during regular programming meant to prepare the machines for Election Day.

“We deeply regret what has occurred today,” Linda Bennett, senior vice president of account management at ES&S, said during a press conference held on Election Day this year. But, she cautioned, “We are sure and positive that the voter selections are actually being captured” because the error only affected the written portion.

McClure said this week he has asked ES&S to fire the employee responsible for the error. He also said the county would “endeavor mightily” to avoid a repeat in 2024 of any similar flubs, which he emphasized was caused by humans. “It wasn’t a machine error,” he said.

But many in Northampton regard the glitch as especially troubling because it required voters to disregard the only part of the ballot they were told to trust four years ago.

At that time, another issue the county said was introduced by a human programmer caused the ExpressVote XL to mistally the vote for a candidate in a judge’s race. The paper printouts helped county officials determine the true count.

“In 2019, when the issues came up with the touchscreens, we were told, ‘Don't worry about it. The cards are recording the votes,’” Northampton County Republican Committee Chair Glenn Geissinger told POLITICO. “OK, you're telling me now, in 2023, ‘Don't worry about what's printed on the card?’”

ES&S argues the paper trail was still beneficial in Northampton because it gave voters and poll workers a chance to identify the problem quickly. “This double-checking adds additional safeguards and voter confidence into the voting process,” Katina Granger, an ES&S spokesperson, wrote in an email.

In the Election Day press conference this year, McClure said the county began receiving reports of the problem just 15 minutes after polls opened.

Text messages sent by county officials that day and reviewed by POLITICO confirm they quickly diagnosed the nature and scope of the problem.

At 8:31 a.m., the county sent text messages to election workers, warning them there was an issue with the judicial retention vote and they should use emergency paper ballots. Roughly 45 minutes later, having studied the problem further, they updated that guidance in a second text.

Because the glitch only applied to the written text — which would not actually be counted — officials directed election workers to go back to the ExpressVote XL machines. While the county had not yet fixed the issue, poll workers were told to inform voters that selections for the judges race could “show up in reverse but will be counted correctly,” the text message reads.

Even though that guidance was technically accurate, it left people like John Walker, a Northampton poll worker, highly uncomfortable.

“They were saying, ‘Don't trust the thing that’s supposed to validate your ballot,’” said Walker, “That doesn’t instill confidence in the system at a time when it has never been more important to do so.”

Some of the issues that cropped up on Nov. 7 stemmed from a second error, unrelated to the machines, McClure argued when talking to POLITICO.

In guidance sent to poll workers throughout the day, the county twice directed them to lean on emergency paper ballots: once in the 8:31 a.m. text and later in a 4:09 p.m. message. In the latter case, the county relayed a court order to advise voters they could cancel their vote and revert to paper if the machines printed their selection incorrectly.

But the county distributed just 25 emergency paper ballots to each polling station, a figure that McClure now acknowledges was too low.

The county’s advice “created a hell of a backup,” said Tom Bruno, a second Northampton poll worker.

Six Pennsylvania voting rights groups issued a statement earlier this month accusing the county of failing to prepare a proper contingency plan and urging greater transparency around what went wrong.

Some are pressuring the county to take more extreme measures.

Both Munsey, the Democrat, and Geissinger, the Republican, said they believe the county should replace its ES&S machines entirely before 2024. Northampton’s contract with the company is not up for renewal until 2025.

“This was a municipal election with 32 percent turnout countywide, and there were people who had to stand in line for over an hour to vote because of this fiasco,” said Geissinger.

A senior elections official from the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — the federal agency charged with supporting state and local elections officials — cautioned that elections are “messy” and errors are inevitable no matter what type of machine voters use.

The key for election administrators, said the official, is ensuring some form of paper back-up and implementing contingency plans if any issues turn up — just as Northampton did earlier this month.

“I think there are some really good news stories coming out of Northampton,” said the official, who was granted anonymity as a condition of speaking on the matter.

For now, McClure said he is strongly leaning against the idea of canceling the ES&S contract.

He argued that more rigorous pre-Election Day testing, more paper ballots and better communication could prevent the errors in 2019 and 2023. He pointed out that the ExpressVote XL machines worked flawlessly in the intervening elections — including 2020 — and that training poll workers and election officials on an entirely new system in the next 12 months would be risky.

But that doesn’t mean he’s committed to renewing the contract after it expires in 2025. “ES&S has to deliver in 2024 the way they did in 2020, that’s for sure,” he said.

The events of Nov. 7 could carry lessons well beyond Northampton.

Electronic voting machines that use barcodes and paper printouts just like the ExpressVote XL — known as ballot-marking devices — now represent the principal Election Day voting system in roughly a fifth of the country, up from less than 1 percent nine years ago, according to data collected by election security nonprofit Verified Voting.

Security experts have long warned that the printout and barcode on those devices could diverge due to manipulation or error, creating enormous confusion in counties where election officials do not have robust contingency plans in place.

But until Northampton, no one seemed to listen, said Kevin Skoglund, president and chief technologist of Citizens for Better Elections, a Pennsylvania-based election rights nonprofit.

“Our concerns kept getting dismissed by people saying, ‘Well, of course they're gonna match,’” said Skoglund, who wrote a report on the events in Northampton earlier this month. “But here we are.”

Schmidt, Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, said that while the state is still looking into the incident in Northampton, every sign indicates that the problems there should not be taken as a reason to distrust the ExpressVote XL, or systems like it.

“No voting system is immune to human error,” he said.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
The polls keep getting worse for Biden

President Joe Biden's poll numbers keep getting worse.

November started with New York Times/Siena College polls showing Trump ahead in four of the six swing states, but more indicators of Biden's electoral peril soon followed. The president’s standing in head-to-head matchups with Trump is falling: Among the latest surveys this month from 13 separate pollsters, Biden’s position is worse than their previous polls in all but two of them.

And while polls suggest most of the movement comes from voters abandoning Biden — who might become undecided but not swing to supporting Trump — the Republican has also started to gain steam. Trump’s vote share in the national polling average is higher now than at any point in the past year.

The state-level data are just as striking: In addition to those New York Times/Siena polls, within the last week and a half, other surveys have shown Trump ahead by 8 points in Arizona and 5 points up in Michigan.

Biden's recent slide — and his political predicament some 11 months before Election Day — represent a confluence of slippage with reliable Democratic constituencies like young voters, the outbreak of war in the Middle East and the rise of independent and third-party candidates who could siphon votes from both Biden and Trump.

Biden is losing young voters — but it's unclear how many.

This week’s NBC News poll had a stunning result: Trump led Biden among voters younger than 35, 46 percent to 42 percent.

Even though that was well within the high margin of error for such a small subgroup, other polls also show a close race with what has been a reliable Democratic constituency. Biden had only single-digit leads among voters 18-34 in polls this month from Morning Consult (Biden +2), Fox News (Biden +7) and Quinnipiac University (Biden +9). (Trump led Biden in all four polls among all voters.)

Only a few polls show Biden with a lead among young voters that approaches his 2020 margins, but they are the exception, not the rule.

That’s prompted a debate over whether Trump is really making the deep inroads with younger voters the polling suggests — or if those numbers are an artifact of some kind of polling bias. One popular theory speculates that liberal younger voters who are unenthusiastic about Biden and his party — over his administration’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas, for example — aren’t participating in polls right now, even if many of them will vote for him next November.

But Biden, the oldest president in history, has never polled well with younger voters. And telephone polls — of the four mentioned above, all but Morning Consult were conducted over the phone — are a difficult way to reach younger voters.

Biden's approval ratings are headed downward, while Trump’s vote share is spiking.

Biden’s sagging margins against Trump are one thing. But there are two other trendlines under the hood of these polls that spell trouble for the incumbent.

First, his approval rating — already historically low for a president at this point in his first term — has been ticking down. Biden’s approval rating dipped down to 38 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s average earlier this month, the lowest since July 2022. Similarly, when Biden hit 40 percent in RealClearPolitics’ average this month, it was his lowest reading since August 2022.

Meanwhile, Trump’s numbers are rising. Dating back a little more than a year, RealClearPolitics’ average has had Trump hovering between 42 percent and 46 percent in a head-to-head matchup with Biden. Not only did Trump break 46 percent for the first time earlier this month, this week he inched above 47 percent, about equal to his vote share in the 2020 election.

Most of the polls that show Trump with a majority of the vote don’t include undecided voters — a questionable methodological decision this far out from Election Day, especially in a hypothetical race between two candidates so disliked by the electorate. But even polls that do report undecided voters show Trump ticking up, like the Fox News survey, which had Trump with a slight lead over Biden, 50 percent to 46 percent.

It's not just the Middle East — Biden's been slipping in the polls for months.

It’s common to try attributing any change in a president’s poll numbers to recent news events, such as Israel’s war with Hamas. But for Biden, the reality is a little more complicated.

FiveThirtyEight’s average shows a fairly steady decline in Biden’s approval rating dating back to May. RealClearPolitics’ goes back to April.

Meanwhile, Trump’s average favorable rating has actually been steadily increasing over the past two months, rising from 39 percent on Sept. 1 to 42 percent as of Wednesday afternoon, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Swing states are moving with the rest of the country: away from Biden.

The bad news for Biden isn’t confined to the national polls. And that’s despite a three-month-long advertising campaign to boost the president’s numbers.

Since mid-August, Biden and the Democratic National Committee have spent about $12 million on swing state TV ads, according to the tracking firm AdImpact. For most of the fall, Biden spent about $1 million a week, though that’s been roughly cut in half for the past few weeks.

It isn’t helping. In addition to the New York Times/Siena polls showing Trump leading Biden in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, Trump led Biden in six of seven swing states surveyed by Morning Consult and Bloomberg News.

There were also some eye-popping results in other Biden-won states from 2020. Trump was ahead by 8 points last week in a Noble Predictive Insights poll in Arizona and by 5 points in an EPIC-MRA poll in Michigan.

Third-party candidates are still having an uncertain impact.

One of the most striking things about the daunting poll numbers for Biden is that they come in head-to-head matchups with Trump — and don’t include the third-party candidates who could draw even more votes from the president.

Many pollsters don’t yet include matchups with independent candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West or Green Party candidate Jill Stein, so there’s little evidence right now to measure their impact. Trump’s lead over Biden in RealClearPolitics’ averages is smaller when Kennedy is added but slightly larger when West and Stein are also included. Those mixed signals mean it’s too early to say exactly how independent and third-party candidates will change the electoral math for Biden and Trump.

But it’s clear Biden’s deficit is not a result of third-party candidates running — or those potentially looming, like retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). And they could make it harder for Biden to recover, especially if the independent candidates gobble up significant shares of support among groups like young voters.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
Israel’s appetite for high&tech weapons highlights a Biden policy gap

Within hours of the Hamas attack on Israel last month, a Silicon Valley drone company called Skydio began receiving emails from the Israeli military. The requests were for the company’s short-range reconnaissance drones — small flying vehicles used by the U.S. Army to navigate obstacles autonomously and produce 3D scans of complex structures like buildings.

The company said yes. In the three weeks since the attack, Skydio has sent more than 100 drones to the Israeli Defense Forces, with more to come, according to Mark Valentine, the Skydio executive in charge of government contracts.

Skydio isn’t the only American tech company fielding orders. Israel’s ferocious campaign to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip is creating new demand for cutting-edge defense technology — often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies.

Already, Israel is using self-piloting drones from Shield AI for close-quarters indoor combat and has reportedly requested 200 Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones from another U.S. company, according to DefenseScoop. Jon Gruen, CEO of Fortem Technologies, which supplied Ukrainian forces with radar and autonomous anti-drone aircraft, said he was having “early-stage conversations” with Israelis about whether the company’s AI systems could work in the dense, urban environments in Gaza.

This surge of interest echoes the one driven by the even larger conflict in Ukraine, which has been a proving ground for new AI-powered defense technology — much of it ordered by the Ukrainian government directly from U.S. tech companies.

AI ethicists have raised concerns about the Israeli military’s use of AI-driven technologies to target Palestinians, pointing to reports that the army used AI to strike more than 11,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli defense ministry did not elaborate in response to questions about its use of AI. 

These sophisticated platforms also pose a new challenge for the Biden administration. On Nov. 13, the U.S. began implementing a new foreign policy to govern the responsible military use of such technologies. The policy, first unveiled in the Hague in February and endorsed by 45 other countries, is an effort to keep the military use of AI and autonomous systems within the international law of war.

But neither Israel nor Ukraine are signatories, leaving a growing hole in the young effort to keep high-tech weapons operating within agreed-upon lines.

Asked about Israel’s compliance with the U.S.-led declaration on military AI, a spokesperson for the State Department said “it is too early” to draw conclusions about why some countries have not endorsed the document, or to suggest that non-endorsing countries disagree with the declaration or will not adhere to its principles.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview that “it's very difficult” to coordinate international agreement between nations on the military use of AI for two reasons: “One is that the technology is evolving so quickly that the description constraints you put on it today may no longer may not be relevant five years from now because the technology will be so different. The other thing is that so much of this technology is civilian, that it's hard to restrict military development without also affecting civilian development.”

In Gaza, drones are being largely used for surveillance, scouting locations and looking for militants without risking soldiers’ lives, according to Israeli and U.S. military technology developers and observers interviewed for this story.

Israel discloses few specifics of how it uses this technology, and some worry the Israeli military is using unreliable AI recommendation systems to identify targets for lethal operations.

Ukrainian forces have used experimental AI systems to identify Russian soldiers, weapons and unit positions from social media and satellite feeds.

Observers say that Israel is a particularly fast-moving theater for new weaponry because it has a technically sophisticated military, large budget, and — crucially — close existing ties to the U.S. tech industry.

“The difference, now maybe more than ever, is the speed at which technology can move and the willingness of suppliers of that technology to deal directly with Israel,” said Arun Seraphin, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies.

Though the weapons trade is subject to scrutiny and regulation, autonomous systems also raise special challenges. Unlike traditional military hardware, buyers are able to reconfigure these smart platforms for their own needs, adding a layer of inscrutability to how these systems are used.

While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do, multiple manufacturers told POLITICO.

Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng confirmed that users are able to customize the Nova 2 drones that the IDF is using to search for barricaded shooters and civilians in buildings targeted by Hamas fighters.

Matt Mahmoudi, who authored Amnesty International’s May report documenting Israel’s use of facial recognition systems in Palestinian territories, told POLITICO that historically, U.S. technology companies contracting with Israeli defense authorities have had little insight or control over how their products are used by the Israeli government, pointing to several instances of the Israeli military running its own AI software on hardware imported from other countries to closely monitor the movement of Palestinians.

Complicating the issue are the blurred lines between military and non-military technology. In the industry, the term is “dual-use” — a system, like a drone-swarm equipped with computer-vision, that might be used for commercial purposes but could also be deployed in combat.

The Technology Policy Lab at the Center for a New American Security writes that “dual-use technologies are more difficult to regulate at both the national and international levels” and notes that in order for the U.S. to best apply export controls, it “requires complementary commitment from technology-leading allies and partners.”

Exportable military-use AI systems can run the gamut from commercial products to autonomous weapons. Even in cases where AI-enabled systems are explicitly designed as weapons, meaning U.S. authorities are required by law to monitor the transfer of these systems to another country, the State Department only recently adopted policies to monitor civilian harm caused by these weapons, in response to Congressional pressure.

But enforcement is still a question mark: Josh Paul, a former State Department official, wrote that a planned report on the policy’s implementation was canceled because the department wanted to avoid any debate on civilian harm risks in Gaza from U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.

A Skydio spokesperson said the company is currently not aware of any users breaching its code of conduct and would “take appropriate measures” to mitigate the misuse of its drones. A Shield AI spokesperson said the company is confident its products are not being used to violate humanitarian norms in Israel and “would not support” the unethical use of its products.

In response to queries about whether the U.S. government is able to closely monitor high-tech defense platforms sent by smaller companies to Israel or Ukraine, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was restricted from publicly commenting or confirming the details of commercially licensed defense trade activity.

Some observers point out that the Pentagon derives some benefit from watching new systems tested elsewhere.

“The great value for the United States is we're getting to field test all this new stuff,” said CSIS’s Cancian — a process that takes much longer in peacetime environments and allows the Pentagon to place its bets on novel technologies with more confidence, he added.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 08:45:03 -0500 ishook
Who Would Donald Trump Choose as His Running Mate? Sat, 25 Nov 2023 06:45:02 -0500 ishook Ex&officer Derek Chauvin, convicted in George Floyd's killing, stabbed in prison, AP source says

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd, was stabbed by another inmate and seriously injured Friday at a federal prison in Arizona, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

The attack happened at the Federal Correctional Institution, Tucson, a medium-security prison that has been plagued by security lapses and staffing shortages. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss details of the attack and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed that an incarcerated person was assaulted at FCI Tucson at around 12:30 p.m. local time Friday. In a statement, the agency said responding employees contained the incident and performed “life-saving measures” before the inmate, who it did not name, was taken to a hospital for further treatment and evaluation.

No employees were injured and the FBI was notified, the Bureau of Prisons said. Visiting at the facility, which has about 380 inmates, has been suspended.

Messages seeking comment were left with Chauvin’s lawyers and the FBI.

Chauvin’s stabbing is the second high-profile attack on a federal prisoner in the last five months. In July, disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar was stabbed by a fellow inmate at a federal penitentiary in Florida.

It is also the second major incident at the Tucson federal prison in a little over a year. In November 2022, an inmate at the facility’s low-security prison camp pulled out a gun and attempted to shoot a visitor in the head. The weapon, which the inmate shouldn’t have had, misfired and no one was hurt.

Chauvin, 47, was sent to FCI Tucson from a maximum-security Minnesota state prison in August 2022 to simultaneously serve a 21-year federal sentence for violating Floyd’s civil rights and a 22½-year state sentence for second-degree murder.

Chauvin’s lawyer, Eric Nelson, had advocated for keeping him out of general population and away from other inmates, anticipating he’d be a target. In Minnesota, Chauvin was mainly kept in solitary confinement “largely for his own protection,” Nelson wrote in court papers last year.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Chauvin’s appeal of his murder conviction. Separately, Chauvin is making a longshot bid to overturn his federal guilty plea, claiming new evidence shows he didn’t cause Floyd’s death.

Floyd, who was Black, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin, who is white, pressed a knee on his neck for 9½ minutes on the street outside a convenience store where Floyd was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Bystander video captured Floyd’s fading cries of “I can’t breathe.” His death touched off protests worldwide, some of which turned violent, and forced a national reckoning with police brutality and racism.

Three other former officers who were at the scene received lesser state and federal sentences for their roles in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin’s stabbing comes as the federal Bureau of Prisons has faced increased scrutiny in recent years following wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein’s jail suicide in 2019. It's another example of the agency’s inability to keep even its highest profile prisoners safe after Nassar’s stabbing and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski’s suicide at a federal medical center in June.

An ongoing AP investigation has uncovered deep, previously unreported flaws within the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest law enforcement agency with more than 30,000 employees, 158,000 inmates and an annual budget of about $8 billion.

AP reporting has revealed rampant sexual abuse and other criminal conduct by staff, dozens of escapes, chronic violence, deaths and severe staffing shortages that have hampered responses to emergencies, including inmate assaults and suicides.

Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters was brought in last year to reform the crisis-plagued agency. She vowed to change archaic hiring practices and bring new transparency, while emphasizing that the agency's mission is “to make good neighbors, not good inmates."

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, Peters touted steps she'd taken to overhaul problematic prisons and beef up internal affairs investigations. This month, she told a House Judiciary subcommittee that hiring had improved and that new hires were outpacing retirements and other departures.

But Peters has also irritated lawmakers who said she reneged on her promise to be candid and open with them. In September, senators scolded her for forcing them to wait more than a year for answers to written questions and for claiming that she couldn’t answer basic questions about agency operations, like how many correctional officers are on staff.

Sat, 25 Nov 2023 00:15:03 -0500 ishook
Kaveh Akbar's Labor of Love Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Automating Intelligence: PW Talks with Dennis Yi Tenen Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Why This Ghostwriter Loves His Haters Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Book Deals: Week of November 27, 2023 Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Fore Play: PW Talks with Tessa Bailey Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Yahdon Israel Pulls Back the Curtain on Publishing Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Indie Presses Tout Titles for the Holiday Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Webtoons and Webcomics Keep Scrolling into Print Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Just Make Your Thing: PW Talks with Tracy Butler Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Six New Swoonworthy Romance Webtoons Fri, 24 Nov 2023 19:45:05 -0500 ishook Biden hails first hostage releases under Israel&Hamas deal, warns of challenges ahead

President Joe Biden on Friday framed Hamas’ initial release of two dozen women and children as a sign of progress but emphasized that the deal was just the beginning of a challenging road ahead as the U.S. works to free the remaining hostages, including American citizens.

“Today has been a product of a lot of hard work and weeks of personal engagement,” Biden said, speaking from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he’s spending the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. “From the moment Hamas kidnapped these people, I, along with my team, have worked around the clock to secure their release.”

Hamas released the first hostages Friday — 13 Israelis, 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino. Their release marked the first wave in a deal to trade several hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israel under a four-day cease-fire. Biden said more details will be unveiled about the next round of hostages in the coming hours, but it’s not yet clear if that list will include Americans.

“We don’t know when that will occur, but we expect it to occur. And we don’t know what the list of all the hostages are or when they’ll be released, but we know the numbers when they’re going to be released. So my hope and expectation is that it will be soon,” Biden said, responding to a question from a reporter about when Americans will be released.

Under the agreement announced earlier this week, Hamas is expected to release a total of 50 hostages for 150 Palestinian prisoners, all women and teenagers. The deal, which emerged from talks involving Israel, Hamas, Qatar, the U.S. and several outside groups, could be seen as a rare bright spot amid several weeks of death and devastation. More than two hundred trucks also arrived in Gaza on Friday, carrying fuel, food, medicine and cooking gas, Biden said, and hundreds more are expected to arrive in the coming days.

“I don’t trust Hamas to do anything right,” Biden said of the ongoing negotiations. “I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure.”

While several administration officials say the deal is evidence that their strategy toward the Israel-Hamas war is working, the president didn’t take a victory lap on Friday, as roughly 200 hostages will remain in captivity.

The hostages suffered immeasurable trauma, Biden said.

“All of these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal. And this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them,” Biden said. “The teddy bears waiting to greet those children at the hospital are a stark reminder of the trauma these children have been through at such a very young age.”

Hamas killed 1,200 people Oct. 7, and Israel’s response has killed more than 13,000 people.

The political challenge facing the president is far from fading as progressive-minded Democrats ramp up calls for a cease-fire. Biden said Friday that he’s encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “focus on trying to reduce the number of casualties,” while trying to eliminate Hamas, which he called a legitimate objective.

Biden also faces an uphill climb in securing aid for Israel, as some members of his party call for conditions attached to aid for Israel, such as a reduction in bombing.

“I think that’s a worthwhile thought,” Biden said. “But I don’t think if I started off with that that we would’ve ever gotten to where we got today. We have to take this a piece at a time.”

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 18:45:04 -0500 ishook
Trudeau blames ‘MAGA influence’ for stirring debate on Ukraine

Justin Trudeau is blaming the MAGA movement and Republican ideology for eroding support for Ukraine.

The Canadian prime minister used a press conference with visiting European leaders to connect a gambit by his Conservative rivals in Ottawa to hard-right rhetoric in the United States and Europe, which he said is “starting to parrot Russian disinformation and misinformation and propaganda.”

Canada is home to 1.4 million Ukrainian Canadians and boasts the second-largest Ukrainian diaspora after Russia. Until now, politicians of all stripes have been united behind Ukraine.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his party turned heads in Parliament earlier this week when they voted as a bloc against legislation that would update the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement. The bill passed anyway with the aid of Bloc Québécois and NDP MPs for study at the committee level.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the new deal when he met with Trudeau in Ottawa this fall. Ukraine asked Canada to fast-track the modernized legislation to help lure investments to rebuild the war-torn country.

In a surprise move, Conservatives voted against legislation that would enact those changes. The party claimed that the new trade deal with Ukraine would impose Canada’s controversial carbon tax which Poilievre has vowed to kill.

No such wording actually exists in the document. In fact, the Eastern European country has had its own carbon mechanism since 2011.

Ukrainian officials were taken aback by the sudden politicization of a trade deal first championed by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Trudeau called the Conservatives opposition to the deal “frankly absurd.”

During Friday’s press briefing he called out what he described as a bigger trend behind the Conservatives’ twist — using the moment to tie his political foes to Trumpian influences.

“The real story is the rise of a right-wing American, MAGA influence thinking that has made Canadian Conservatives, who used to be among the strongest defenders of Ukraine … turn their backs on something Ukraine needs in its hour of need,” Trudeau told reporters in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

Support for Ukraine has evolved into a crisis in Washington, with calls from congressional members to pump the brakes on U.S. aid to the country. The position, most evident among a hardline group of Republicans, reflects former President Donald Trump’s “America First” ethos on foreign policy and hostility to foreign aid.

Trudeau was hosting European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the Atlantic harbor city for a two-day leaders’ summit at which a new EU-Canada green alliance was formally announced.

Von der Leyen also confirmed that the European Union will formally join Canada’s global carbon pricing challenge to get all countries on board with emissions trading or a tax to lower emissions.

The rising cost of living has made the Trudeau government’s climate policies — especially its carbon tax — a lightning rod for partisan derision. A wave of growing support for Poilievre has been partly fueled by Conservative calls to “axe the tax.”

While Poilievre has stumped around the country, railing on the tax, he does not acknowledge the federal government rebates that Canadians receive to offset the carbon tax, which was designed to incentivize a dip in fossil fuel use and the adoption of greener energy alternatives.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 15:55:03 -0500 ishook
Dean Phillips announces he won't seek reelection to Congress

Rep. Dean Phillips is forgoing a reelection bid to Congress to focus on his presidential run, the Minnesota Democrat announced Friday.

Phillips, 54, announced in October that he would launch a longshot bid to challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination citing a need for generational change.

Phillips said Friday that after seven years in Congress, it’s time to pass the torch.

“My journey to public service began the morning after the 2016 election, when I faced the reality that democracy requires participation — not observation,” Phillips said in a statement. “Seven years have passed, each presenting historic opportunities to practice a brand of optimistic politics that repairs relationships and improves people’s lives. We have met those moments, and after three terms it is time to pass the torch.”

State Sen. Kelly Morrison and Democratic National Committee member Ron Harris have both announced campaigns for Phillips' congressional seat.

Phillips’ decision to not run for reelection comes amid a flurry of departures in Congress.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 15:55:03 -0500 ishook
King Charles, David Cameron and Rishi Sunak show UK’s COP28 identity crisis Fri, 24 Nov 2023 13:00:09 -0500 ishook Hamas frees first batch of hostages under truce, including 13 Israelis

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Hamas on Friday released 24 hostages who had been held captive in Gaza for weeks, including 13 Israelis, 10 people from Thailand and a Filipino citizen, according to Qatar and other officials, in the first stage in a swap for Palestinians prisoners in Israel under a four-day cease-fire deal.

The hostages, women and children, were undergoing medical checks before they were to be transferred to Israel. They are to be taken to Israeli hospitals and reunited with their families.

Qatar was a key mediator in the hostage release. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which delivered the hostages from Gaza into Egypt, also confirmed the release.

The agreement brought the first respite for beleaguered residents of Gaza and opened the way for sorely needed aid to flow in. It was also a moment of hope for families in Israel and elsewhere worried about loved ones taken captive during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which triggered the war.

There were no reports of fighting in the hours after the truce began. Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians saw quiet after seven weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment, which has killed thousands, flattened vast swaths of the territory and driven three-quarters of the population from their homes. Rocket fire from Gaza militants into Israel went silent as well.

The release of the first Israeli hostages was to be followed in the evening by the freeing of 39 Palestinian prisoners — 24 women, including some convicted of attempted murder for attacks on Israeli forces, and 15 teenagers jailed for offenses like throwing stones.

The truce raised hopes of eventually winding down the conflict, which has fueled a surge of violence in the occupied West Bank and stirred fears of a wider conflagration across the Middle East.

Israel, however, has said it is determined to resume its massive offensive once the cease-fire ends.


Israeli media reports, citing security officials, said Hamas had handed over the group of 13 Israelis to the Red Cross, to be transported to Egypt.

The plight of around 240 people taken captive during Hamas’ attack has been wrenching in Israel, raising anger among some families that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not doing enough to bring them home.

Under the deal, at least 50 are to be released — bringing relief but also bitterness that not all will be freed. It was not clear if the Thai captives were included that figure. Israel is to free 150 Palestinian prisoners.

Ahead of Friday evening’s release, thousands of Israelis gathered in what has been dubbed “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv, singing songs to welcome the Jewish Sabbath.

“My emotions are mixed,” said Shelli Shem Tov, the mother of 21-year-old Omer Shem Tov, told Israeli’s Channel 12 at the square. “I’m excited for the families that are going to hug their loved ones, I’m jealous, and I’m sad, mostly sad that Omer is not coming home yet.”

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin confirmed in a tweet the release of 12 Thai nationals.

Footage from Egypt’s Rafah crossing showed a line of ambulances emerging from Gaza.

The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed it had delivered a total of 24 hostages to the Egyptians. But it declined to provide details on their nationalities, or explain the discrepancy in the numbers.


Palestinians say a longer cease-fire is needed to recover from the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. But Friday's halt in fighting brought the uprooted population a moment to catch their breath after weeks of fleeing bombardment across the tiny coastal enclave and trying to find increasingly scarce food, water and other basic supplies.

After the truce began Friday morning, an increased flow of aid promised under the deal began. Four trucks of fuel and four trucks of cooking gas entered from Egypt, as well as 200 trucks of relief supplies, Israel said.

Since the war began, Israel barred all imports into Gaza, except for a trickle of supplies from Egypt.

Its ban on fuel — which it said could be diverted to Hamas — caused a territory-wide blackout. Hospitals, water systems, bakeries and shelters have struggled to keep generators running. Amid food shortages, U.N. officials had warned in recent weeks of the potential for starvation.

During the truce, Israel agreed to allow the delivery of 34,340 gallons of fuel per day — still only a small portion of Gaza’s estimated daily needs of more than 1 million liters.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crowded into the southern portion of the territory, with more than 1 million living in U.N. schools-turned-shelters.

For those originally from the south, the calm brought a chance to visit homes they had fled and retrieve some belongings.

To the hundreds of thousands who evacuated from northern Gaza to the south, Israel issued a warning not to return. Northern Gaza has been the focus on Israel’s ground assault.

In leaflets dropped around the south, the Israeli military said it would block such attempts, saying the “the war has not ended yet.”

Still, hundreds of Palestinians could be seen walking north Friday.

Two were shot and killed by Israeli troops and another 11 were wounded. An Associated Press journalist saw the two bodies and the wounded as they arrived at a hospital.

Sofian Abu Amer, who had fled Gaza City, said he decided to risk heading north to check on his home.

“We don’t have enough clothes, food and drinks,” he said. “The situation is disastrous. It’s better for a person to die.”


In the exchange deal, Israel and Hamas agreed to release women and children first. Israel said the four-day truce can be extended an extra day for every additional 10 hostages freed.

Among the Israelis freed are some who have a second nationality, according to a Hamas official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the details with the media.

A number of soldiers are among the hostages held by militants in Gaza. The Islamic Jihad militant group, which is reportedly holding about 40 captives, said soldiers will only be released in exchange for all Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

It is not clear how many of the hostages are currently serving in the military or whether the militants also consider reserve soldiers to be “military hostages.”

According to the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, an advocacy group, Israel is currently holding 7,200 Palestinians on security charges or convictions, including about 2,000 arrested since the start of the war.

Israel’s northern border with Lebanon was also quiet on Friday, a day after the militant Hezbollah group, an ally of Hamas, carried out the highest number of attacks in one day since fighting there began Oct. 8.

Hezbollah is not a party to the cease-fire agreement but was widely expected to halt its attacks.

The war erupted when several thousand Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing at least 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking scores of hostages, including babies, women and older adults, as well as soldiers.


The hope is that “momentum” from the deal will lead to an “end to this violence,” said Majed al-Ansari, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Qatar, which served as a mediator along with the United States and Egypt.

But hours before it came into effect, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops that their respite would be short and that the war would resume with intensity for at least two more months.

Netanyahu has also vowed to continue the war to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities, end its 16-year rule in Gaza and return all the hostages.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 13,300 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Women and minors have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead, though the latest number was not broken down. The figure does not include updated numbers from hospitals in the north, where communications have broken down.

The ministry says some 6,000 people have been reported missing, feared buried under rubble.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and militants in its death tolls.

Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters, without presenting evidence for its count.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 13:00:09 -0500 ishook
Growing Numbers of Chinese Migrants Cross U.S. Southern Border Fri, 24 Nov 2023 12:25:04 -0500 ishook Georgia’s Liberal Organizers Warn of a Cash Crunch and Apathy Fri, 24 Nov 2023 10:45:02 -0500 ishook Israel&Hamas cease&fire begins, amid plans for release of hostages Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook Medicare Advantage plans under Congress’ microscope for care denials

Enrollment in Medicare’s private-sector alternative is surging — and so are the complaints to Congress.

More than 30 million older Americans are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, wooed by lower premiums and more benefits than traditional Medicare offers.

But a bipartisan group of lawmakers is increasingly concerned that insurance companies are preying on seniors, and, in some cases, denying care that would otherwise be approved by traditional Medicare.

“It was stunning how many times senators on both sides of the aisle kept linking constituent problems with denying authorizations for care,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in an interview, referring to a bevy of complaints from colleagues during a recent Senate Finance Committee hearing.

Congress has already gone after insurers for their celebrity-filled ads and misleading directories. But its scrutiny of these care denials, which is expected to continue into next year, could have a far greater impact and reshape the rules for one of the most profitable parts of the insurance industry.

“CMS is very attuned to what is going on on the Hill,” Sean Creighton, managing director of policy for consulting firm Avalere Health, said of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He added that next year will likely bring “more scrutiny by the Hill and CMS on this, and there will be more reporting requirements for the plans and actions the plans are required to take to lessen the burden on providers and patients.”

Legislation requiring insurers to more quickly approve requests for routine care passed unanimously in the House in 2022, but stalled in the Senate over cost concerns. The Improving Seniors’ Timely Access to Care Act, which mandates insurers quickly approve requests for routine care and respond within 24 hours to any urgent request, was reintroduced this year in the House and passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee this summer as part of a larger health care package.

Still, lawmakers are peppering the Biden administration with demands for reforming the commonly used tool called prior authorization, the process in which health insurers require patients to get insurer approval ahead of time for certain treatments or medications.

It “has turned into a process of basically just stopping people from getting care,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), leader of the House Progressive Caucus.

Jayapal was one of more than three dozen House Democrats who told CMS this month of “a concerning rise in prior authorizations,” accused health insurers of prioritizing “profits over people” and asked for “a robust method of enforcement to rein in this behavior.”

Unlike traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans can employ prior authorization and restrict beneficiaries to certain doctors within their network. Those are among the incentives private insurers have to participate in the program and enrollment has doubled during the last decade.

But Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said some hospitals in his state won’t take Medicare Advantage plans any more. “We can’t do it because we can’t afford the constant chasing from all the denials,” he said.

AHIP, the trade group representing insurers, told POLITICO that prior authorization was among the tools that can curb wasteful spending.

“These tools are important when coordinating care, reducing unnecessary and low-value care, and promoting affordability for patients and consumers,” said spokesperson David Allen in a statement.

CMS has a track record of responding to liberal concerns, which could translate into big changes for Medicare Advantage in the coming years. Earlier this month, it proposed a rule to improve the standards for behavioral health networks following complaints from Congress about woefully inaccurate mental health provider directories, which some lawmakers said amounted to fraud.

It also for the first time this year is evaluating Medicare Advantage television ads before they air, following prodding from lawmakers and numerous complaints from elderly consumers who felt duped by the ubiquitous ads.

CMS also proposed a rule earlier this month that plans be required to factor the impact of prior authorization denials on marginalized and underserved communities, part of a larger effort by the agency to close gaps in health equity. The rule, if finalized, would take effect in 2025.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wants the agency to go further, has proposed an amendment that would require CMS to collect and publish data from Medicare Advantage plans on their prior authorization practices to make public the number of prior authorization requests, denials and appeals by type of medical care.

She has support from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who said during a recent hearing that his support for Medicare Advantage plans “does not mean that I like the prior authorization process and that I do not see some problems here that need to be solved.”

Insurer advocacy group Better Medicare Alliance told POLITICO it supports legislation and regulations to create an electronic prior authorization process that could expedite prior authorization decisions that typically take up to a week or more.

“Our goal has always been to protect prior authorization’s essential function — coordinating safe, effective, high-value care — while also strengthening and streamlining this clinical tool to better serve beneficiaries,” Mary Beth Donahue, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement.

Creighton suspects insurers would be fine with implementing guardrails for prior authorization, as long as they can continue to use it.

“It is super important that in this case one doesn’t throw out the prior authorization with the bath water,” he said. “It is just finding that balance.”

But many physicians complain that balance has tipped too far in favor of Medicare Advantage plans.

A survey released earlier this month by the physicians’ trade group Medical Group Management Association found 97 percent of medical group practices said an insurer delayed or denied medically necessary care. Another 92 percent said they had hired staff specifically to process prior authorization requests. A December 2022 survey from the American Medical Association also found that 94 percent of physicians reported care delays due to prior authorization denials or processing.

“Even when you are doing the most cost-effective treatment, you are going through the [prior authorization] process,” said Vivek Kavadi, chief radiation oncology officer for U.S. Oncology, a network of more than 1,200 physicians.

Studies show that oncology faces the most prior approval requests.

Five oncologists told POLITICO that prior authorization requests are increasing as more patients migrate from traditional Medicare to Medicare Advantage. This surge of insurer prior approval demands has put a strain on their practices’ resources, they said.

A 2020 survey of oncologists by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) found 64 percent reported treatment delays due to prior authorization requests increased during the pandemic.

Insurers may at times contract with radiation benefit managers, companies that manage claims processing and keep a cut of savings they generate. This can encourage more services requiring prior authorization and create a “greater incentive to identify opportunities where denials can be pushed on to the provider,” said Constantine Mantz, chief policy officer for the oncology network GenesisCare.

EviCore, a radiation benefit manager, said its work is meant to ensure patients receive care grounded in the latest clinical evidence as quickly as possible. “For requests that don’t meet evidence-based guidelines, the [physician] has the opportunity to discuss the case … which can help resolve any concerns prior to initiating a formal appeal,” the company said in a statement.

BMA did not wish to comment and AHIP declined to respond to a list of questions on radiation benefit managers.

Medicare Advantage plans have been slow to update their coverage policies and at times lag Medicare in which treatments are covered, Mantz said. This can lead to situations where a Medicare Advantage plan denies care after a prior authorization request that would be covered under traditional Medicare.

HHS’ Office of the Inspector General in a 2022 report found 13 percent out of a sample of claims from Medicare Advantage plans in which care was denied under prior authorization for services that should have been approved. Some of the examples OIG found included prior authorization denials of advanced imaging services and stays at inpatient rehabilitation facilities.

If a request is denied, a doctor can file an appeal and eventually speak with another physician to plead their case.

Recent studies have shown that most appeals to a denial get overturned. In 2021, Medicare Advantage plans fully or partially denied more than 2 million claims through prior authorization, but 82 percent of those were overturned after an appeal, according to an analysis from the think tank KFF. A 2019 survey from ASTRO found 62 percent of oncologists, who appealed on behalf of their patients, got their prior authorization denial overturned.

But doctors say getting through the appeals process can take weeks.

“It feels more like the business model is a way for insurance companies to potentially reduce costs by feeling that physicians won’t want to participate in this peer-to-peer process because it is a burden on time,” said Amar Rewari, chief of radiation oncology for the Maryland-based health system Luminis Health.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
Democratic cities brace for a nightmare winter housing migrants

Migrants in Chicago huddle on the floors of police stations and sleep in city buses kept running overnight to block out the cold. In Massachusetts, where the emergency shelter system hit capacity earlier this month, the state is converting office space into shelters and at least one local group is stockpiling sleeping bags.

And in New York, where shelters are also full, the city has taken the extraordinary steps of providing migrants one-way plane tickets to as far away as Morocco and have contemplated handing out tents to newly-arriving migrants so they can sleep in parks.

Northern cities and states that have been overwhelmed by a surge in migrants are now out of room to house them just as the weather turns cold — a potentially life-threatening situation that’s inflaming local political tensions as the Biden administration largely leaves these Democratic strongholds to fend for themselves.

“The state that took my ancestors in fleeing from pogroms in Ukraine will not allow asylum seekers to freeze to death on our doorsteps,” Gov. JB Pritzker said last week, referring to his family’s immigration to Illinois.

The dual crises of lowering temperatures and a lack of shelter space are forcing some jurisdictions to tighten long-standing policies that previously ensured people without homes would have a place to stay — and in some cases, confront simmering racial divides.

Federal Homeland Security officials have held legal clinics in all three states to help process thousands of migrants’ work permits more quickly. It’s a step local and state officials say is key to helping migrants provide for their families — and move out of the city and state-run shelters where they’ve been living in some cases for more than a year. The White House also included $1.4 billion for grants to local governments and nonprofits providing services for recently arrived migrants as part of a larger spending bill for Israel and Ukraine.

A DHS official not authorized to speak publicly said about $800 million has been allocated for temporary shelter and other services through various emergency food and shelter programs.

But that’s not enough for Democratic mayors and governors who have been publicly and privately pleading with the Biden administration for help bolstering and expanding their maxed-out shelter systems, calls that are taking on new urgency as winter sets in and temperatures drop below freezing.

Pritzker said at least $65 million of the new $160 million the state is investing to address its migrant surge will go toward a “winterized soft shelter site” to house up to 2,000 migrants.

Pritzker repeated his concern that the migrant crisis is an issue requiring broader federal coordination and said Chicago officials haven’t “moved fast enough” to deal with it: “We’re stepping in here to try to help and accelerate this process.”

It’s an unprecedented problem in northern cities and states that, unlike their southern-border counterparts, are unaccustomed to dealing with tens of thousands of migrants.

Officials in New York City, which now houses more than 65,600 migrants, acknowledge that it’s out of space and in October issued 60-day notices to families with children to find new accommodations. Adults without kids have only 30 days to find housing outside the city shelter system — unwelcomed pressure to find their own housing as winter settles in.

Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is continuing to press the Biden administration to provide more help — as it has done for months.

“As the temperature starts to drop, it is crucial — now more than ever — that the federal government finish the job they started,” Adams’ spokesperson Kayla Mamelak Altus said in a statement. “We need meaningful financial help and a national decompression strategy. New York City cannot continue to manage a national crisis almost entirely on its own.”

Some advocacy groups are concerned about whether New York City’s massive tents that can sometimes hold 2,000 people will hold up through winter.

Murad Awawdeh, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said recent flooding created an unhealthy situation at some locations, saying there needs to be more permanent solution for people.

“I think for us it really is everything coming to bear at a time when the weather is really cold,” Awawdeh said.

Chicago’s looming frigid winter is pushing lawmakers to get migrants indoors — but the effort has exposed a divide between city officials and Black and brown residents, who have resisted the city’s attempt to build heated base camps for migrants in their neighborhoods. That in turn has delayed the process to get migrants out of the elements.

“There’s a huge urgency, and it’s been a challenge because of the emotions,” Jason Lee, the top adviser to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson, told POLITICO.

Parts of Chicago’s South Side, known for its large Black community, are particularly uneasy about the attention to caring for migrants.

“Residents are seeing that after all this time of promising something for us, nothing has come of it. Now you have folks who have just come to this country, and they’re being serviced,” said South Side Alderperson Ronnie Mosley.

Chicago is also imposing a 60-day limit for shelter stays, mirroring New York, and working to construct two camps for the winter that can house migrants currently sleeping on floors or in tents.

More than 24,000 asylum seekers have arrived in Chicago since August 2022, with about 2,200 of those new arrivals huddled on the floors of police stations and at O'Hare International Airport waiting to get into a shelter.

Time is key in Chicago and other northern cities preparing for winter.

The efforts, however, are complicated by the racial dynamics of Chicago. Traditionally underserved Black and brown communities are sensitive to the plight of immigrants on the streets, but they are also upset when they feel their needs, such as jobs and housing for people in their communities, are being ignored.

“We know that people are people and anyone coming to seek refuge here shouldn’t be turned away or told that we can’t help,” Alderperson Andre Vasquez, who heads the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said in an interview. “Neighbors on the ground understand it, as complex as it is.”

In Massachusetts, migrant families could also face nights in the streets. The state is supposed to guarantee many homeless families and pregnant women are sheltered under its “right-to-shelter” law.

But Gov. Maura Healey instituted a 7,500-family — or roughly 24,000-person — capacity limit on the state’s emergency shelter system because the first-term Democrat said the state is out of space, money and providers to safely house anyone else.

The state hit that cap on Nov. 9. Now, migrant and homeless families seeking emergency assistance are being put on a waitlist for housing — an unprecedented move that has drawn backlash from homelessness-prevention advocates and an unsuccessful lawsuit from a nonprofit civil-rights advocacy group to stop it. The state estimates that about half of the homeless families being housed under the program are migrants.

Families arriving at the state’s “welcome centers” are now being screened for medical and safety risks — such as high-risk pregnancies or exposure to threats of domestic violence — and, if there’s no shelter space available that day, turned away and told to return to the “last safe place” they stayed.

The Healey administration seeded the United Way of Massachusetts Bay with $5 million to mete out to faith-based and community groups to open up temporary overnight shelters. The first site, for up to 27 families, or around 81 people, launched this week.

But there were none operational for nearly two weeks after the waitlist went into effect, leading at least one Boston-based service provider to stockpile sleeping bags in case families needed to sleep in its office. Migrants, including children, were taken to Logan Airport only to be told they couldn’t sleep there, either.

On Monday, Healey administration officials temporarily converted office space at a state transportation building into a shelter for up to 25 families a night. But the shelter is only expected to operate for two weeks.

The move comes as the Biden administration has so far rebuffed the governor’s pleas for help standing up a larger group shelter for waitlisted families. Federal officials have, however, partnered with the state on a legal clinic to more quickly process migrants’ work permits, serving more than 1,000 migrants last week as it runs through month’s end.

With additional federal dollars largely out of reach, Healey has instead been forced to return to state lawmakers — who already infused the shelter system with $410 million this year — for another $250 million.

But two months after she requested it, the money remains mired in an inter-chamber battle between a Democratic-controlled House and Senate that can’t agree on whether to specify how Healey can use the funds. Advocacy groups have taken to the State House in recent days to protest lawmakers’ lack of a deal.

“There is obviously a huge concern about the health and safety of people who are going to have no place to sleep and no place to turn,” said Andrea Park of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute that does housing advocacy work. ”I think that we’re going to see some very desperate situations.”

Kelly Garrity contributed to this report.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
The Horse Race Polling Isn’t the Problem. It’s What Voters Are Saying About the Economy.

Democrats are freaking out about the wrong polls.

It’s been a season of ugly polling for President Joe Biden, no doubt about it.  A recent NBC poll found Biden’s approval rating at the lowest level of his presidency, with a majority of voters holding “negative” feelings toward him. Only a quarter of American voters want Biden to run for reelection, according to a mid-November poll conducted by The Economist/YouGov. And then there’s that much-discussed NYT/Siena College Poll showing former President Donald Trump leading Biden in five of six key battleground states, which generated so many screaming headlines and distraught Democratic operatives.    

But it’s important not to lose the signal through the noise here. Horse race polls, approval ratings and other candidate-centered indicators a full year out from the 2024 election aren’t something Democrats need to set their hair on fire over — at least not yet.

Instead, what should be causing a considerable sense of panicked urgency is what voters have been telling pollsters about economic issues.  

I’m the director of the Sarah T. Hughes Center for Politics at Goucher College. We conduct the Goucher College Poll, which measures opinions on political and policy issues in Maryland. And I’ve seen how focused messaging on cost-of-living issues can drive broader economic attitudes and win elections — even in the most challenging electoral environments.  

Over the last year, polls have shown voters holding a decidedly grim economic outlook. Most Americans rate current economic conditions as “poor.” Many think we are in a recession and aren’t optimistic that things will improve. They view Republicans as better able to address economic issues and, in the crucial battleground states, have more trust in Trump than Biden to do a better job on the economy— and by a whopping 22 points. An October poll from PRRI found that, in a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, “increasing costs of housing and everyday expenses” topped the list of the most important issues for voters. Other polls have found similar results. 

The expressed economic anxiety is understandable even if not entirely rational. Voters hold these attitudes while the inflation rate has steadily decreased from its peak last summer, unemployment rates remain low with U.S. employers continuing to add jobs and many facets of Biden’s economic plan are popular. Even so, with prices of everyday goods and services stubbornly high, it might be enough to cost Biden his reelection.  

Yet there are lessons to be drawn from the state level, even in solidly blue Maryland. During the first two years of the Biden administration, it was home to Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who was one of the nation’s most popular governors. One of Hogan’s first moves was to use executive power to cut tolls, notably to cross the heavily traveled Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and a series of fees in the summer of 2015. It seemed small-bore at the time. State Democratic leaders derided this move as short-sighted political showmanship that would harm the state’s budget.  

Voters did not see it that way. They liked that something was a little cheaper. Moreover, the toll cuts reinforced a key theme of Hogan’s first campaign that he would protect their pocketbooks from a Maryland Democratic Party who “never met a tax they didn't like, or at least one they didn't hike.” 

Hogan went on to earn high marks on handling economic issues throughout his eight years in office. But what’s most remarkable is how the simple act of cutting tolls — during his first months in office — impacted how voters viewed their Republican governor clear up until his successful reelection bid in 2018. Internal polling and focus groups from the governor’s campaign found that “he cut tolls” was one of the most repeated refrains from voters. One that the governor was not shy about repeating back.  

Hogan isn’t the only recent pol to harness the power of simple, cost-of-living economic initiatives and related messaging. Gretchen Whitmer, Michigan’s Democratic governor, used a 2019 auto insurance reform bill to issue a $400 refund check per vehicle for every insured Michigan driver. Whitmer went on to win reelection last year against a challenging economic backdrop — exit polls reported 74 percent of Michigan voters described the nation’s economy as not so good or poor, and 77 percent said inflation caused their family severe or moderate hardship over the past year.  

The bipartisan lesson from Hogan and Whitmer is that voters remember and reward politicians who saved them a direct household expense more than any argument based on macro-level economic indicators. Voters care about the economy in front of them.   

None of this is to say that only the economy matters. In fact, preelection polling and electoral outcomes in the recent off-year elections in Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky once again confirmed that protecting access to abortion is a winning issue for Democrats. Indeed, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear — who faced a similarly challenging partisan environment in Kentucky as Hogan did in Maryland — bested his Republican opponent in large part due to protecting access to abortion.   

But polling also suggests Beshear’s success with a red-state electorate that voted to reelect Trump by 26 points in 2020 is not simply an artifact of attitudes toward abortion. Polling released by Data for Progress, a progressive-leaning firm that correctly placed the Kentucky governor’s race as a tight contest with Beshear leading, in the weeks before the election found that “jobs and the economy” was the key issue for Kentucky voters. Polls of national voters, including those conducted in battleground states, continue to sing a similar tune.  

Beshear consistently trumpeted Kentucky’s economic growth and record-low unemployment rates with easily digestible and overtly optimistic messages. “Put simply, we’re booming," the governor told reporters in mid-July. Throughout his first term, and during the height of his reelection bid, Beshear used his weekly news conferences to keep the media focused on the economy. And he never missed an opportunity to localize his economic message, touting everything from the famous Buc-ee’s gas station opening a franchise in Madison County to Nucor Corp. investing $1.7 billion in a steel plate manufacturing mill in Meade County.  

The Democratic governor also signed a 2023 bill passed on a near party-line vote by the Republican legislative majority to cut Kentucky’s individual income tax rate from 4.5 percent to 4 percent starting the next calendar year — and then chastised Republicans for not moving to cut the sales tax as a means to fight inflation and the costs of goods. Beshear pounded home his message, and like Hogan did with tolls, he used his executive power to provide immediate and tangible economic relief when he ordered a freeze on the vehicle property taxes for 2022 and 2023. “Prices are simply too high,” Beshear said and, just like they did in Michigan and Maryland, voters responded to the economy in front of them. 

The election-winning takeaway? Voters could trust Beshear to steer the state’s economy and address cost-of-living issues while ensuring that the state could afford to invest in public schools and healthcare for low-income Kentuckians.   

What is undoubtedly frustrating for the Biden administration is that they haven’t been able to turn the direct benefits of the American Rescue Plan and Inflation Reduction Act — which bolstered economic conditions and padded state budgets in both Michigan and Kentucky — like his fellow Democrats Beshear and Whitmer were able to do. And it’s not for a lack of trying. For example, Biden’s stalled proposal to curb “junk fees,” which would ban businesses from charging hidden and misleading fees and require them to show full prices upfront, is exactly the type of initiative that could help shape broader economic views by providing direct relief to the nation’s pocketbooks.   

On their end, Republicans should enjoy but not bask too long in the warm glow of polling that shows them currently besting Democrats on the economy. As recent election cycles showed, Republicans who hewed too closely to the base-pleasing trappings of Trumpism still struggled to win general elections, regardless of voters’ economic attitudes. To that point, Hogan’s economic messaging was effective across party lines because he didn’t do battle on social issues that turn off large swaths of voters.  

The polls have warned Republicans that restricting access to abortion and refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory in 2020 were losing issues. They’re telling Democrats now that social issues matter but the party still needs to win voters over on the economy. This leaves Democrats with a good reason for handwringing over the polls but also time — and successful examples from the states — on how Biden can reshape public attitudes on the economy.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
Chris Christie and Nikki Haley have a Dean Phillips problem in New Hampshire

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Dean Phillips isn’t likely to hurt Joe Biden in New Hampshire. But his entry into the Democratic primary could spoil Nikki Haley and Chris Christie’s electoral math here.

The two Republicans are polling better than any other candidate with New Hampshire independents who are likely to pull a GOP ballot in the state’s open presidential primary. That’s a major boost in a state where independents make up the largest share of the electorate — and where the lack of a serious contest on the Democratic side meant many of them were poised to vote in the Republican primary.

But by challenging Biden, Phillips gave those voters another choice. Less than a month after launching his campaign, the Minnesota lawmaker is already pulling in 10 percent support among independents in a recent poll of likely Democratic primary voters.

And suddenly, Haley and Christie are encountering independent voters at their town halls who may not vote in the Republican primary after all.

“I would like to hear Dean Phillips,” Larry Gray, a Newcastle independent, said about an hour after telling Christie at a recent business roundtable that he was backing the former New Jersey governor.

Diane Noble, a Nashua independent who’s interested in Haley and Christie, said at a town hall for the former South Carolina governor that she’ll “absolutely” be doing her due diligence on the Democratic side now that Phillips is in.

“If Dean Phillips runs the kind of race that he says he’s going to run … then all independents will be up for grabs,” said Mike Dennehy, a veteran GOP operative in New Hampshire.

And that, he said, is “harmful to Chris Christie and to Nikki Haley.”

It’s difficult in this notoriously late-breaking state to predict the extent to which a Democratic contest — and a messy one, with Biden not on the ballot and his allies running a write-in campaign on his behalf — will affect Haley and Christie’s vote counts. And Christie is dismissing Phillips as a threat to his chances in the state where both candidates are staking their campaigns.

“Dean Phillips doesn’t really concern me at all. I think we’ll be fine,” Christie told reporters after a recent campaign stop in Derry. “The Republican primary is a much more attractive option for stopping Donald Trump, and I think that’s what a lot of independents want to do.”

But both Christie and Haley have been rising in recent polls of the first primary state in no small part because of the support they’re earning from independents. Polling averages now show them in second and third place, respectively, in New Hampshire, where even a marginal shift in the electorate could alter the trajectory of their campaigns.

Independents make up just over 39 percent of the state’s voters with Republicans and Democrats both around 30 percent. More than 3,500 Democrats switched to unenrolled — New Hampshire’s term for independents — ahead of the state’s early October deadline to change party affiliation for the Jan. 23 primary.

Pro-Christie groups had urged Democrats to switch ahead of the deadline. Now, both Phillips and the Democrats running the Biden write-in effort say they’re looking to pull independents back to their side.

“This gives independents now a chance to focus on where they want to cast their ballots,” Jim Demers, one of the architects of the Biden write-in effort, said in an interview. “Knowing that Donald Trump in all likelihood is going to win here in New Hampshire, I think there may be some independents who are rethinking about ‘maybe I’ll write in Joe Biden’s name instead.’”

Phillips is already drawing some independent support at the margins. Nine weeks out from the 2024 primary in New Hampshire, a University of New Hampshire/CNN poll showed 10 percent of independents likely to vote in the Democratic contest would cast ballots for the Minnesota lawmaker, compared to 61 percent who said they would write in Biden’s name.

Independents have a long history of changing the course of presidential primaries in New Hampshire. They boosted Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman to second and third place, respectively, in the 2012 GOP primary. Exit polls also show they helped hand Trump his first primary win in 2016 and powered Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side that year.

This year, it’s Haley and Christie who appear to be benefiting the most from independents’ interest as they vie to be the main contender against the former president. A University of New Hampshire/CNN poll of 994 likely Republican primary voters showed Haley with 25 percent support among independents and Christie and Trump with 24 percent apiece. No other candidate got above 15 percent support from independents in the online survey conducted Nov. 10-14.

A recent Monmouth University/Washington Post poll showed similar results. Christie was pulling 35 percent support among respondents who identified as independents or Democrats. Haley was at 31 percent among that group. Trump trailed at 12 percent. The poll of 606 potential New Hampshire GOP primary voters was conducted online and by phone from Nov. 9-14. Haley’s campaign did not respond to a question about how it’s assessing the Phillips factor, though spokesperson Ken Farnaso said, “Nikki is the best challenger to beat both Donald Trump and Joe Biden.”

But if the Democratic primary becomes more competitive, both Haley and Christie could suffer. David Paleologos, the polling director at Suffolk University in Boston, said that’s especially true of Christie, a fierce Trump critic who is drawing support from independent voters in New Hampshire who primarily lean Democratic.

“Christie’s support in New Hampshire may be smaller than it seems,” Paleologos said, “because those voters might just enter in the Democratic primary.”

In interviews with nearly a dozen independent voters across campaign events for Phillips, Christie and Haley over the past few weeks, some were thinking of doing just that.

“I’m panicked that [Biden] might get nominated, we don’t want that. But we also don’t want it to be Trump versus Biden, because we don’t want either of them,” Dale Boyle, a Nashua independent, said at a Christie town hall in the city this week.

Boyle still feels she’ll have more impact voting in the GOP primary. But Phillips is turning some other independents’ heads to the left.

Colin Reynolds, an independent from Manchester, said he was considering voting for Haley and that Christie “might be second on my list.” But he was curious enough about Phillips that he came to see him at a town hall.

“I’m interested in the idea of a Democrat running against Biden,” he said.

Steven Shepard contributed to this report.

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
Inside the rebirth of a controversial Democratic digital juggernaut

Few fundraising firms have experienced as dramatic a fall in recent years as Mothership Strategies.

Once considered a juggernaut in the Democratic digital space, the firm is no longer in mainstream politics following fierce criticism over its aggressive fundraising tactics and allegations that its huge money hauls were being funneled back to the company itself.

But rather than disappear from the political scene, Mothership has found a lower-profile roster of clients, primarily political action committees not affiliated with politicians. And campaign finance records, interviews, and communications from the firm show that it’s continuing to collect significant fees while deploying the very same aggressive business practices — such as sending fundraising emails with catastrophic, eyebrow-raising language — that gave it pariah status in the first place.

The group’s second act is raising new alarms among Democrats who fear that those methods draw money away from campaigns and other liberal causes. They also worry its actions hurt the progressive community’s reputation more broadly and threaten to send the entire industry into a race to the bottom.

Mothership was paid over $50 million during the 2022 midterms, according to money-in-politics watchdog group OpenSecrets. That total is a substantial portion of what it helped clients raise.

All told, roughly 38 percent of donations raised by Mothership clients have been fed back into the firm’s fundraising machine as direct payments to the firm or other costs for its services, according to the firm. That’s high for digital fundraising, according to others around the industry. One competitor said the figure is usually somewhere between 10 to 20 percent.

“I can’t imagine that the donors that are giving money to these groups will think that the money is going in large part to Mothership, rather than the actual PACs or individual candidates,” said former FEC chair Ann Ravel, a Democrat, in an interview. “It is definitely unethical, since the whole point of contributions to political organizations is not to support the firms that are doing the fundraising but to support specific people for office or legitimate political causes.”

Mothership’s strategies do generate large amounts of money for its clients. And the hyperbolic emails it sends and high fees it charges are legal. Mothership argues that the current state of politics calls for its dramatic pleas for cash. The firm defended its pricing structure, saying that most of the client money it receives actually passes through to other vendors.

“The money we’re raising for our clients is beneficial for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement because it’s having such a large impact on races across the board,” said Jake Lipsett, a founder of the firm.

Lipsett said that in the 2022 cycle, Mothership’s clients spent nearly $20 million on independent expenditures in competitive races, donated over $6 million to campaigns, raised nearly $15 million for House and Senate campaigns, and deployed over 4,000 organizers.

Mothership’s approach has long been to write emails with alarmist subject lines or urgent pleas for support. They asked for donors to chip in to stop Republicans from forcing Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to resign (which wasn’t happening) or to “DESTROY Trump’s extremist Supreme Court.”

But the company took a reputational hit after the Washington Post reported in January 2019 that its often inflammatory messaging had become controversial among Democratic operatives.

Campaigns began parting ways with the firm, including Sen. Jon Ossoff’s (D-Ga.) and Rep. Steven Horsford’s (D-Nev.).

“We don’t like to trick voters,” said a former staffer for a congressional caucus PAC that used to work with Mothership, who spoke anonymously to be candid about a former business relationship. The firm’s practices were “a little predatory,” the staffer said.

No campaigns have paid Mothership since April, according to FEC records.

Between January and April of this year, the campaigns of Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) paid the firm a total of $33,600. The leadership PAC of Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is also a client, and the leadership PAC of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) paid the firm a little over $765,000 — about two-thirds of the total money it raised in 2023.

At one point, Mothership had about 25 campaigns as clients, according to co-founder Greg Berlin, but the downtime in a campaign cycle made it difficult to build a sustainable business model. He said the firm slowly ramped down its campaign work.

Mothership’s main clients now are little-known PACs like Stop Republicans, Retired Americans PAC and Progressive Takeover, which largely focus on voter outreach or progressive policies instead of campaigning on behalf of candidates.

That reliance on PACs is unique among progressive fundraising firms, which usually tout a mix of campaigns, political action committees, or other Democratic-aligned groups on their websites.

With a new set of clients, Mothership has continued its aggressive fundraising tactics and high fees. FEC records show the firm has been paid about $13 million this year.

The firm said it doesn’t keep most of that money. Nearly 58% of payments from Mothership clients this year have been passed on to pay other vendors for work such as advertising, Berlin said. Mothership itself has kept about 16% of what it’s helped clients raise this year, he added.

Mothership clients end up paying back about 38% of what the firm helps them raise.

“They’re funneling money away from races that we really need to win, so the money’s not going to organizers and to convert voters,” said Mike Nellis, who runs another Democratic fundraising firm, Authentic. “And then secondarily, the tactics firms like Mothership use are often slash and burn designed to scam and scare people, which makes it harder for everybody to raise money online.”

Mothership said its fees vary by client and that most of the funds paid to the firm are actually passed on to other vendors for advertising, acquisition, and other costs. But in certain cases, its clients have ended up either sending huge amounts back to the firm or in difficult financial straits. Brady PAC, for example, found itself fighting a more than $600,000 debt it owed to Mothership that it negotiated to be significantly lower. The pro-gun control group has been paying the firm back in $14,000 monthly installments, according to FEC records. Brady PAC declined to comment.

Progressive Turnout Project has paid Mothership more than $3.7 million this year while raising $11.5 million. (That fundraising haul includes $2.6 million in transfers from affiliated PACs that are also Mothership clients.)

The National Democratic Training Committee PAC paid Mothership $1.6 million, or about 26% of the $6.3 million it raised this year. The firm was paid almost $600,000 from Retired Americans PAC, roughly 44%, of total receipts of $1.4 million this year, while Moms Fed Up paid Mothership about $491,000, or about 42% of its $1.2 million in total receipts.

Progressive Turnout Project said in a statement that Mothership had helped it “raise far more for our programs than we could have ever imagined,” and Retired Americans PAC called the firm “responsive and collaborative.”

Direct comparisons are difficult because other fundraising firms’ work is more varied, including voter persuasion, which Mothership doesn’t work on. But other fundraising firms receive far smaller cuts of what similar PACs raise.

The PAC VoteVets paid the digital firm Aisle 518 roughly 17 percent of its fundraising haul. Democratic Action paid a number of campaign firms less than $400,000 in the 2022 cycle out of more than $29 million raised, according to FEC records — totaling less than 1.5 percent.

“Those Mothership boys are aggressive,” said one person who works at a Mothership client, granted anonymity to speak about a business partner. The firm’s fees are “quite robust,” the person said, but “they raise money. You can quibble over their fees, but they do produce.”

The person said they have “never understood their fees except that they’re large numbers.” And those large numbers, Mothership says, are ultimately what matters.

“Something we take a lot of pride in is out-netting anybody else in terms of fundraising. We see ourselves as the leaders in grassroots digital fundraising for Democrats, and we put our necks on the line telling folks that we’ll be able to outraise and, much more importantly, outnet,” said Berlin.

That success has fueled fears among some Democrats that others will follow in Mothership’s footsteps, given the pressures of online fundraising.

For example, Mothership was a proponent of the use of automatic recurring donations. That practice was seen as deceptive, with donors sometimes unwittingly signing up for repeat charges. But it was also highly effective in raising large sums, and others adopted the practice until the Democratic fundraising portal ActBlue outlawed the use of an untransparent recurring charge system on its platform.

But while that may no longer fly, the sky-is-falling fundraising appeals that Mothership developed has become a bedrock in political fundraising.

“How they raise money and the kind of tactics that they use has kind of just been permeating through the Democratic progressive digital space for a long time now,” said one Democratic fundraiser granted anonymity to describe industry dynamics.

Mothership carries a fair amount of influence in the party, said the fundraiser, who worries the company will drag down the broader Democratic fundraising ecosystem: “No one is holding them accountable.”

Fri, 24 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook
Could Nikki Haley Really Beat Trump? Big Donors Are Daring to Dream. Fri, 24 Nov 2023 05:25:03 -0500 ishook Charles Peters, Neoliberal Founder of The Washington Monthly, Dies at 96 Thu, 23 Nov 2023 21:30:05 -0500 ishook Gaza has become a moonscape in war. When the battles stop, many fear it will remain uninhabitable

Israel’s military offensive has turned much of northern Gaza into an uninhabitable moonscape. Whole neighborhoods have been erased. Homes, schools and hospitals have been blasted by airstrikes and scorched by tank fire. Some buildings are still standing, but most are battered shells.

Nearly 1 million Palestinians have fled the north, including its urban center, Gaza City, as ground combat intensified. When the war ends, any relief will quickly be overshadowed by dread as displaced families come to terms with the scale of the calamity and what it means for their future.

Where would they live? Who would eventually run Gaza and pick up the pieces?

“I want to go home even if I have to sleep on the rubble of my house,” said Yousef Hammash, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council who fled the ruins of the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya for southern Gaza. “But I don’t see a future for my children here.”

The Israeli army’s use of powerful explosives in tightly packed residential areas — which Israel describes as the unavoidable outcome of Hamas using civilian sites as cover for its operations — has killed over 13,000 Palestinians and led to staggering destruction. Hamas denies the claim and accuses Israel of recklessly bombing civilians.

“When I left, I couldn’t tell which street or intersection I was passing,” said Mahmoud Jamal, a 31-year-old taxi driver who fled his northern hometown of Beit Hanoun this month. He described apartment buildings resembling open-air parking garages.

Israel’s bombardment has become one of the most intense air campaigns since World War II, said Emily Tripp, director of Airwars, a London-based conflict monitor. In the seven weeks since Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, Israel unleashed more munitions than the United States did in any given year of its bombing campaign against the Islamic State group — a barrage the U.N. describes as the deadliest urban campaign since World War II.

In Israel’s grainy thermal footage of airstrikes targeting Hamas tunnels, fireballs obliterate everything in sight. Videos by Hamas’ military wing feature fighters with rocked-propelled grenades trekking through smoke-filled streets. Fortified bulldozers have cleared land for Israeli tanks.

“The north of Gaza has been turned into one big ghost town,” said Mkhaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City who fled to Egypt last week. “People have nothing to return to.”

About half of all buildings across northern Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, according to an analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University. With the U.N. estimating 1.7 million people are newly homeless, many wonder if Gaza will ever recover.

“You’ll end up having displaced people living in tents for a long time,” said Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a research group.

The war has knocked 27 of 35 hospitals across Gaza out of operation, according to the World Health Organization. The destruction of other critical infrastructure has consequences for years to come.

“Bakeries and grain mills have been destroyed, agriculture, water and sanitation facilities,” said Scott Paul, a senior humanitarian policy adviser for Oxfam America. “You need more than four walls and a ceiling for a place to be habitable, and in many cases people don’t even have that.”

Across the entire enclave, over 41,000 homes — 45% of Gaza’s total housing stock — are too destroyed to be lived in, according to the U.N.

“All I left at home was dead bodies and rubble,” said Mohammed al-Hadad, a 28-year-old party planner who fled Shati refugee camp along Gaza City’s shoreline. Shati sustained nearly 14,000 incidents of war damage — varying from an airstrike crater to a collapsed building — over just 0.5 square kilometers (0.2 square miles), the satellite data analysis shows.

Southern Gaza — where scarce food, water and fuel has spawned a humanitarian crisis — has been spared the heaviest firepower, according to the analysis.

Palestinians look for survivors under the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)

But that’s changing. In the past two weeks, satellite data shows a spike in damage across the southern town of Khan Younis. Residents say the military has showered eastern parts of town with evacuation warnings.

Israel has urged those in southern Gaza to move again, toward a slice of territory called Muwasi along the coast. As of Thursday, Israel and Hamas were still working out the details of a four-day truce that would allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and facilitate an exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages.

“This is our nakba,” said 32-year-old journalist Tareq Hajjaj, referring to the mass displacement of an estimated 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation — an exodus Palestinians call the “nakba,” or “catastrophe.”

Although publicly Palestinians reject the idea of being transferred outside Gaza, some privately admit they cannot stay, even after the war ends.

“We will never return home,” said Hajjaj, who fled his home in Shijaiyah in eastern Gaza City. “Those who stay here will face the most horrific situation they could imagine.”

The 2014 Israel-Hamas war leveled Shijaiyah, turning the neighborhood into fields of inert gray rubble. The $5 billion reconstruction effort there and across Gaza remains unfinished to this day.

“This time the scale of destruction is exponentially higher,” said Giulia Marini, international advocacy officer at Palestinian rights group Al Mezan. “It will take decades for Gaza to go back to where it was before.”

It remains unclear who will take responsibility for that task. At the recent security summit in Bahrain, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi vowed Arab states would not “come and clean the mess after Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the army to restore security, and American officials have pushed the seemingly unlikely scenario of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority taking over the strip.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, regarded by many Palestinians as weak, has dismissed that idea in the absence of Israeli efforts toward a two-state solution.

Despite the war’s horrors, Yasser Elsheshtawy, a professor of architecture at Columbia University, hopes reconstruction could offer an opportunity to turn Gaza’s ramshackle refugee camps and long deteriorating infrastructure into “something more habitable and equitable and humane,” including public parks and a revitalized seafront.

But Palestinians say it’s not only shattered infrastructure that requires rebuilding but a traumatized society.

“Gaza has become a very scary place,” Abusada said. “It will always be full of memories of death and destruction.”

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 18:30:03 -0500 ishook
Russia is holding next year’s global climate summit ‘hostage’ Thu, 23 Nov 2023 13:35:04 -0500 ishook Eric Adams accused of sexual assault in 1993 in new legal filing

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams has been accused of sexual assault 30 years ago in a new legal claim filed under the Adult Survivors Act.

The accusations are the latest troubles for the mayor of the nation's largest city as he also deals with a federal investigation into his campaign finances.

The civil summons alleges Adams, a former NYPD officer, sexually assaulted the plaintiff when they worked as city employees in 1993. The summons was filed late Wednesday in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan and first reported by the Messenger news outlet.

The mayor, through a spokesperson, denied knowing the plaintiff, whose name was being withheld by POLITICO.

“If they ever met, he doesn’t recall it,” a City Hall spokesperson said in a statement. “But he would never do anything to physically harm another person and vigorously denies any such claim.”

Later, Adams stressed the same points to reporters.

"It absolutely did not happen. I don't recall ever meeting this person. And I would never harm anyone in that magnitude. It did not happen," Adams said. "It's going to go its course; it's going take its process. But it did not happen. And that is not who I am, and that's who I have never been in my professional life."

An attorney for the plaintiff did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The court filing names Adams, New York City, the transit bureau of the New York Police Department and the Guardian Association of the NYPD as defendants.

The plaintiff seeks at least $5 million in damages, according to the summons.

“The claims brought here allege intentional and negligent acts and omissions for physical, psychological, and other injuries suffered as a result of conduct that would constitute sexual offenses,” the document reads.

The three-page summons contained few other details about the alleged assault. It is expected to be followed by a fuller legal complaint.

The one-year lookback window for the Adults Survivors Act closes on Thursday. The legislation allowed for the filing of civil lawsuits accusing individuals and institutions of sexual misconduct regardless of when the alleged incidents occurred.

Former President Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein are among the big names that have been sued under the act.

The sexual assault allegations against Adams are the latest in his legal troubles.

His 2021 campaign for mayor is being federally investigated for collusion with the Turkish government, a probe that included the FBI seizure of his electronic devices and raids on his aides.

Adams’ representatives, including attorneys for his campaign and the city, stress he has not been charged or accused of wrongdoing. They say he is fully cooperating with the investigation.

Jeff Coltin contributed to this report.

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 13:35:04 -0500 ishook
Johnson’s Release of Jan. 6 Video Feeds Right&Wing Conspiracy Theories Thu, 23 Nov 2023 12:40:04 -0500 ishook Trump looms over European Union&Canada summit Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook Israel&Hamas protests disrupt life in Democrats' convention city

CHICAGO — Chicago has long been held up by Democrats as a blend of diversity, progressive policies and a union stronghold, which made it a natural host city for the party's 2024 presidential nominating convention. But escalating tensions over the war between Israel and Hamas are disrupting the city and dividing Democrats as they prepare to show unity in nominating the president to a second term next summer.

The actions shaking up life in the city mirror what’s happening across the country, from Washington, D.C., where demonstrators targeted the Democratic National Convention headquarters, to Sacramento, where protesters forced a state Democratic convention to halt.

Dozens of vigils and large protests have sprouted up in the city and surrounding suburbs since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including one targeting President Joe Biden during a fundraiser in which protesters filled a street yelling “genocide Joe.” Protesters have taken over the suburban offices of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a progressive and Jewish American member of Congress, and they’ve shown up at her home, too.

Police arrested 106 demonstrators last week when hundreds of mostly Jewish American protesters gathered near the Israeli Consulate in Chicago. And in one demonstration, a gunshot erupted during a clash last month between pro-Palestinian activists converging on a gathering in support for Israeli hostages at a suburban Chicago community center. No one was injured, but it rattled officials.

"I realize there are things happening half a world away that affect people's reactions, emotional and otherwise. But, again, we live here," Gov. JB Pritzker said at a news conference after the incident with gunfire.

Both synagogues and mosques in the area have ramped up security in the wake of the brutal murder of a local 6-year-old Palestinian American boy that authorities called a hate crime.

This week, progressives on the Chicago City Council sent a letter to Mayor Brandon Johnson, urging him to call for a cease-fire. Johnson, who comes from the world of left-leaning organizing, is facing some of the same pressures as other progressives in Congress and the White House from staffers.

Brian Stryker, a national political consultant based in Chicago, said, “It’s personal in Chicago in a way that is not true for every American city.”

The Chicago area is home to more than 320,000 Jewish Americans, making it the fourth largest such community in the United States. And though Dearborn, Mich., is considered home to America's largest Arab-American population, the largest Palestinian community is in Illinois, with a population between 70,000 to 100,000 in the Chicago metropolitan area, according to sociologist Louise Cainkar, who studies the Arab American community and is on the board of the Arab-American Action Network.

“It is not surprising that emotions are raw and tensions are high given what has transpired since Oct. 7,” said former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is teaching at Harvard University this semester.

Elected officials at all levels of government have been trying to walk a careful line on the issue. Johnson attended a vigil at the prominent Anshe Emet Synagogue and also joined mourners at the funeral for the slain Palestinian boy.

Nadine Naber, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who’s active in the Palestinian and Arab community, points to a long history of community involvement by the Palestinian community in the Chicago area as helping fuel the activism that’s going on now.

“We have organizations that go back decades. It’s what makes Chicago a crucial site because of the long history of community and grassroots organizing. They're Muslims, Christians, citizens, migrants, refugees, workers, their elected officials. They are every sector of the community.”

Lonnie Nasatir, president and CEO of the Jewish United Fund Chicago, said the Jewish community has a “visceral connection to Israel.” He said Chicago-area Jews feel “sadness, anger and despair” coupled with concerns that residents are feeling pressured to hide their Jewish stars or take down their Mezuzahs. “As jews in America, we never expected to be at this moment.”

Tensions have become so fraught that some elected officials have avoided speaking out on the issue for fear of alienating one group or another.

A recent symbolic resolution put forth by the Chicago City Council’s lone Jewish alderwoman supporting Israel and condemning Hamas faced pushback. Ultimately, the measure passed on a voice vote with more than 20 aldermen saying “aye” and only one saying “nay” while the rest were silent or left the building ahead of the vote. The alderwoman who led opposition to the resolution has faced further criticism for using a slogan chanted at pro-Palestinian rallies, one that The Anti-Defamation League has condemned.

Illinois’ congressional delegation is divided, too. All but two members supported a resolution on Israel’s right to defend itself. Rep. Delia Ramirez, a Democrat, voted no, and Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, also a Democrat, voted present.

Schakowsky has refused to sign on to a nonbinding resolution from Missouri Rep. Cori Bush calling for an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and has been the target of cease-fire demonstrations.

“People are traumatized,” Schakowsky said, explaining the emotions that have erupted since the war began last month.

Lindsay Schubiner, an extremism expert and programs director at Western States Center, expects the Middle East war will seep into the 2024 election. “We often see a rise in bigoted rhetoric related to election cycles. And I think we can expect that in this case, too,” she said in an interview.

Those election concerns are already playing out for some progressives in Congress.

“Whether you’re Jewish American or Palestinian American, people are not going to vote because they’re so mad that no one’s listening to them,” said former Democratic Rep. Marie Newman, who represented a large segment of the Palestinian community and who supports a cease-fire. She said Democrats who don’t speak up on behalf of their communities risk alienating voters.

“It’s a big problem for everybody because we don’t want Donald Trump,” she said.

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
How JP Morgan got out out of Russian sanctions in New Jersey — for now

Nearly two weeks after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy stood alongside state lawmakers and signed a bill barring Russian-tied companies from government dealings — including state and local government contracts, economic subsidies and investment from the state’s pension fund.

“We are sending a strong message today to Vladimir Putin and his cronies in Belarus that their actions will not be tolerated,” Murphy, a Democrat and former top executive at Goldman Sachs, said in a statement at the time.

But New Jersey might have been too aggressive with its push.

Nearly two years later, the state has halted enforcement of the Russian sanction law following a legal challenge — and after it became clear the effort could punish not just Russian oligarchs but also multinational companies.

The state voluntarily suspended enforcing the law this summer after a company it had planned to blacklist won a temporary restraining order from a federal judge in part on constitutional grounds.

At the time, Murphy’s administration was in the process to blacklist other major corporations the state determined had Russian ties, including JP Morgan Chase, Xerox and one of the state’s largest suppliers of synthetic turf fields.

Those companies and others could have lost contracts and subsidies had they been blacklisted. JP Morgan alone had more than $260 million in tax breaks on the line. But since the law applies to companies doing business with hundreds of municipalities, school boards and county governments, it’s difficult to conduct a complete accounting of the financial stakes.

Other states moved to sever ties to Russia after its invasion. In neighboring New York, for example, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order to bar government contracts to companies that do business in Russia.

But New Jersey’s aggressive sanctions law, as written, appears to have greater reach than any of the other state-level initiatives — until it went to court. It also offers an example of a public display of moral authority bumping up against constitutional protections, with the federal judge who issued the temporary restraining order saying there was a “strong, compelling probability of eventual success” from one of the companies challenging the law.

“The state of New Jersey is acting as though it has its own foreign policy,” former state Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin, who is representing the U.S. subsidiary of Kyocera, a Japan-based electronic company whose lawsuit led to the judge’s order, said during a court hearing this summer.

“We cannot have 50 different states with 50 different foreign policies,” he added.

Usually, it is the federal government issuing sanctions. Since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration has targeted about 3,000 businesses and people, according to the Atlantic Council think tank.

In New Jersey, Murphy sought to deliver a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin “and his crony government,” as he put it. The sanctions law Murphy signed also included barring companies linked to Belarus from government dealings.

The state Treasury Department had begun the process to blacklist JP Morgan Chase, the largest bank in the world, as well as Xerox and the American subsidiary of Tarkett, a major turf field supplier and flooring company, according to public records obtained by POLITICO through the Open Public Records Act. (Xerox has since divested from Russia.)

Treasury sent those companies “preliminary determinations” that they were engaged in prohibited activities with Russia — putting them on track to be blacklisted from government contracts and subsidies in New Jersey. If JP Morgan were to be blacklisted under the law, local governments would be barred from banking with the company.

But then the state — in its own words — "voluntarily” stopped enforcing the sanctions law after the U.S. subsidiary of Kyocera won the temporary restraining order. In response, the state quietly posted a notice in August saying it was suspending the law and taking down the public blacklist as it defends the law in court.

JP Morgan, Xerox and Tarkett were ultimately not put on the state’s Russia blacklist, in part because the state temporarily stopped enforcing the law. It is unclear whether Treasury would move forward with adding the companies to its blacklist should the state enforce the law again. Treasury spokespeople declined to comment on the status of specific companies ensnared in the law.

The preliminary determinations do not necessarily mean a company will be added to the state’s blacklist; companies accused of engaging in prohibited activities with Russia or Belarus are given the opportunity to respond to the state to potentially avoid being added to the blacklist.

But the state’s preliminary actions underscore how far it was willing to enforce the sanctions law — as well as what could be waiting if the state eventually does enforce it again.

The legal fight

Other states have hit limits in the past when trying state-level sanctions. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2000 struck down a 1990s Massachusetts law that aimed to prohibit the state from contracting with businesses that did business with Myanmar. More recently, Florida stopped enforcing a 2012 law to bar state contracts to companies connected to Cuba after setbacks in court.

New Jersey currently has similar state-level prohibitions on contracts with companies that are affiliated with Iran stemming from a 2012 state law, although those restrictions are authorized under federal law.

The U.S. subsidiary of Kyocera was caught up in the state’s sanctions law after certifying to state contracting officials in Sept. 2022 that its parent company had a subsidiary based in Russia — a connection that led the state to start the process to blacklist it.

In court briefings, Kyocera — which is represented by Albin, the recently retired justice, and former New Jersey Attorney General Chris Porrino — argued that the state is overstepping its constitutional boundaries by trying to regulate foreign commerce and it interfered with federal Russian sanction efforts. The state has argued that it is not trying to regulate foreign policy, but is acting as a “market participant.”

The federal judge overseeing the case, Robert Kirsch, wrote in his order that Kyocera was “likely to succeed” on its claims that the law was unconstitutional, barring Kyocera from joining the state’s Russia blacklist as the litigation continued.

The judge’s temporary restraining order applied only to Kyocera, but it put the state in the position of opening itself to more legal action from other companies that could have used similar arguments. The state then stopped enforcement as the legal challenge continued.

A spokesperson for Kyocera declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

There is no evidence that JP Morgan, Xerox or Tarkett asked the state to stop enforcing the law. State lobbying records show that Xerox and JP Morgan contacted Murphy’s office on the potential sanctions, although records do not indicate what they requested, if anything. A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on the matter, citing the pending litigation.

Big names trigger New Jersey’s blacklist process

It is unclear what the exact scope of impact would be if JP Morgan, Xerox or Tarkett were put on the state’s blacklist — but it could be significant.

The sanctions law could interfere with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state subsidies JP Morgan is looking to receive from the state Economic Development Authority, stemming from awards for bringing jobs to Jersey City that were approved when Chris Christie was governor. According to the authority, JP Morgan still stands to receive up to $266 million in subsidies from the state, although that amount could drop if it doesn’t meet certain requirements.

The state gave JP Morgan the “preliminary determination” it was in violation of the Russian sanction law in July 2023, after the financial services giant filed forms required by the subsidy program.

JP Morgan has a foreign subsidiary incorporated in Russia, according to records it submitted to the state — a connection the state determined was enough to begin the blacklist process. (JP Morgan announced in early 2022 it was beginning to scale back its Russia operations and federal officials have encouraged them to maintain a limited Russian presence as of November 2022, according to Bloomberg).

The state law also prohibits the state and local governments from banking with companies put on the blacklist. JP Morgan has contracts with public sector clients across the country, including in New Jersey.

In a brief statement to POLITICO, JP Morgan spokesperson Patricia Wexler said: “Our operations have not been impacted, and are consistent with Federal law.” The one-sentence statement did not address the now-halted state law.

The U.S. subsidiary of Tarkett, a French-based flooring company and major synthetic turf field contractor, could see its public contracts disrupted across the state if it were put on a sanctions list. In correspondence with the state, the company said it operated in all 21 counties and supplied turf fields at MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Jets and New York Giants.

Treasury notified the company in October 2022 there was a “preliminary determination” it was engaged in prohibited activities with Russia after seeking a state contract since its parent company has a subsidiary that does business in Russia. The company requested — and successfully received — extensions until at least the end of June 2023, records show, to respond to the state. It’s unclear what happened to Tarkett afterward.

Guillermo Artiles, a former Murphy aide who is now a lobbyist representing Tarkett, wrote in a November 2022 email to the state Treasury that the preliminary determination “paralyzed Tarkett USA's business in New Jersey and has had serious impact out of State with customers that have no relationship with the State.”

“Accordingly, Tarkett USA and the Parent Company are considering several options and the impact those options will have on our operations and customers,” Artiles wrote. “Any corporate decision of this magnitude requires many levels of action, all of which take considerable time, even if done in an expedited manner.”

A spokesperson for Tarkett USA wrote in an email that it “does not sell product in Russia or Belarus” and is compliant with state law. The spokesperson, Jennifer Holdsworth, said the company does not comment on its interactions with regulators.

Treasury notified Xerox in June 2023 that it made a preliminary determination it was engaged in prohibited activities with Russia. According to a July 2023 email from Xerox to the state, the company was in the process of a “complete exit” from the Russian market — a process they said was slowed by the Russian government. Xerox “fully exited all operations” in Russia in October 2023, according to a company spokesperson and media reports, although it is unclear whether Treasury has rescinded its preliminary determination against the company.

In a statement, Xerox spokesperson Justin Capella said the company was in compliance with the New Jersey Russia sanction law since it came into effect.

“We provided full disclosure to New Jersey regarding our divestment status and the fact that the necessary Russian approvals to leave the country were taking longer than expected,” Capella said. “At no time did Xerox request that New Jersey terminate the law nor did Xerox seek an injunction.”

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
Why I’m Not Surprised Turkey Is at the Center of the Eric Adams Scandal

Every year at Thanksgiving, my family and I share with each other something for which we are thankful. It sounds somewhat hokey, which it is, but it is also heartwarming and beautiful. This year, when it is my turn, I will declare that I am thankful for New York City Mayor Eric Adams and Turkey — the country, not the bird.

In these dark times, I am in desperate need of a distraction. And the growing scandal around Adams and his suspected ties to Turkey is to me, nothing short of well … delicious. It really does hit my sweet spot: Turkey has been an endless source of fascination for me ever since my first visit as a 24-year-old backpacker in the early 1990s. I’m now an expert on U.S. foreign policy in the country. Also, I am a New Yorker. I was born in an outer borough and grew up a card-carrying member of the “bridge and tunnel crowd.”

Among the Turkey — the country, not the bird — watchers I know, no one knows what to make of the scandal. We know what we know from what we have read in the papers: The FBI and Manhattan prosecutors are probing whether a Brooklyn construction company with suspected ties to the Turkish government used straw donors to help fund Adams’ successful run for City Hall in 2021. We also know that His Honor has from time to time boasted of his ties to Turkey. When he was Brooklyn borough president, he made two sponsored visits to the country, one of which was paid for by entities including the Turkish consulate. It seems reasonable to ask if the construction company in question sought Adams’ help with a variety of building projects that groups associated with the Turkish government have around the city. If that is the case, it seems like the kind of classic electoral chicanery that is too often part of big-city politics in the United States.

It is not unheard of for American politicians to get themselves into sticky wickets with foreign governments. See, for example, United States of America v. Robert Menendez (and others).

But over the last decade or so there seems to be an unusual number of political scandals in which the Turkish government is directly or indirectly involved. President Donald Trump’s one-time national security adviser Michael Flynn was indicted in 2019 for acting as an undisclosed agent of the government of Turkey. Then there is the case of former Ohio Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt, who collected nearly $600,000 in between the years 2009 and 2011 from the Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), who had to repay the money after an ethics investigation.

The TCA is formally independent, but like so much during the era of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it can be hard to tell because its work seems geared toward advancing Turkish interests in Washington. The same goes for a variety of other organizations Turkey-related groups such as the Turken Foundation and SETA — a research group with offices in Ankara and Washington — and the now closed Turkish Heritage Organization. A 2015 report found that 159 lawmakers and staffers had received privately sponsored trips from Turkish organizations that Erdoğan’s allies at the time controlled.

Most of these political scandals involving Turkey are the fault of those American politicians who bring disrepute to themselves and their offices, but there is something else going on here. For all their experience dealing with the U.S. political system, Turkish leaders seem to believe that the way politics works in the United States is not all that different from the way they work in Turkey. And sometimes, they’re right about that — or at least that a few politicians play by their own rules.

We might not know the details of the Adams case yet, but a couple of larger cases demonstrate how Turkey thinks it can influence policy here in the United States. Erdoğan’s efforts to make what is known as the “Halkbank case” go away, along with his government’s determination to convince American officials to send a Pennsylvania-based cleric named Fethullah Gulen back to Turkey, provide the best insight if we’re to understand how Turkey’s leaders believe that what goes in Ankara also goes in Washington — and now, New York City.

In 2013, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, launched an investigation into Halkbank, a Turkish financial institution of which the government owns a 51-percent share. Bharara’s investigation revealed that Halkbank was being used to help Iran evade international sanctions. A key player in the plot was an Iranian-Turkish businessman named Reza Zarrab, who was arrested at Kennedy Airport in March 2016. His detention on federal charges set off alarm bells in Ankara because Erdoğan and the people around him feared that the investigation and/or a trial would reveal unflattering information about the Turkish president’s own corrupt practices. From the moment Zarrab was taken into custody, the Turkish government engaged in a wide-ranging effort to make the case disappear.

It became well known among D.C.-based Turkey analysts that whenever a Turkish official (of any rank) visited Washington, they lobbied their American counterpart to convince the Justice Department to drop its investigation. Obama administration officials rebuffed them each time. But after Trump was elected in 2016, Erdoğan sized up the new American president and decided once again to lobby the new team to do his bidding. Enter Rudy Giuliani.

“America’s Mayor” did not have an official position in the Trump administration, but he did have a direct line to the Oval Office. And shortly after Trump was inaugurated, Giuliani and former Attorney General Mike Mukasey took on Zarrab as a client. (It remains unclear who exactly hired the duo, though Zarrab apparently paid his own legal bills.) In the course of their representation of Zarrab, Giuliani and Mukasey traveled to Turkey on several occasions to confer with Erdoğan.

After one of these trips, Giuliani suggested a swap: The United States would send Zarrab back to Turkey and in exchange, the Turks would release a guy named Andrew Brunson. Brunson is an evangelical pastor who has been living and preaching in Izmir — on Turkey’s Aegean Coast — for the better part of the previous two decades. In the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in July 2016 (more about that below), the Turkish police arrested him for being a member of a terrorist organization and spying for another one. Neither allegation had any relationship to the truth.

Brunson ended up in a Turkish prison for the sole purpose of gaining leverage with the United States, which despite being a NATO ally and committed to Turkey’s defense, political elites in Ankara and an overwhelming number of Turks distrust and dislike.

Trump supported Giuliani’s proposal — proving Erdoğan’s instincts about the new American president to be correct — but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson flatly rejected the idea and refused to support it. There was no legal basis to send Zarrab back to Turkey; Erdoğan wanted to tank the Halkbank case by effectively muzzling the prosecution’s star witness. It did not work, thanks to Tillerson and others. According to Zarrab’s testimony at trial, Erdoğan had full knowledge of what Zarrab was doing, and Erdoğan engaged in “billions of dollars of illicit trades through Halkbank.”

It never seemed to dawn on Erdoğan and other Turkish officials who lobbied two administrations to undermine a Justice Department investigation that while that kind of political interference they advocated is routine in Turkey, it is illegal in the United States. Because Turkey’s ruling party dominates the judicial branch — and at Erdoğan’s behest has weakened already less-than-robust checks and balances in the Turkish system — the Turkish president has the ability to influence the courts. That is precisely what he did in 2018, when he made sure Brunson was finally released from Turkish jail under threat from Trump that he would impose sanctions on Turkey’s struggling economy.

Of course, Zarrab was not the first Turkish national that the Turks sought to bring back without a proper legal process. In July 2016, military officers tried and failed to overthrow Erdoğan. The Turkish government quickly identified Gulen, a Muslim cleric and onetime Erdoğan ally turned opponent now living in the United States, as the mastermind behind the plot — an allegation that he and his followers deny.

When the Obama administration sent then-Vice President Joe Biden to Ankara in a demonstration of American solidarity with the Turkish government, Erdoğan asked the vice president to have the cleric returned to Turkey to stand trial.

Biden demurred, explaining that extradition was a legal process, and that he and the president would be impeached if they removed Gulen from the United States without a finding from a court. Erdoğan, who believes the United States was complicit in the failed putsch, did not buy it. The Turkish leader and his advisers thought that if the Obama administration wanted to pack Gulen off to Ankara, it would. We know this because when Barack Obama left office, the Turks sought Gulen’s return with Trump, offering Brunson for Gulen. Erdoğan’s proposed deal — like the failed effort to exchange the pastor for Zarrab — reflected the way in which Turkish leaders graft onto the United States their view that laws are flexible, to be used to advance their political interests, and when necessary, they can be weaponized against one’s opponents.

The ways in which the Turkish leadership has attempted to meddle in White House decision-making betray a misconception about how the justice system works in the United States, but so do the smaller cases of that have ensnared lawmakers, a former national security adviser and now Mayor Adams. In all of these cases, whether graft, corruption or influence-peddling, Erdoğan and his advisors have imposed the way they do business in Istanbul and Eskisehir onto municipalities here. Erdoğan’s patronage machine at home is run through the construction industry. It seems he wants to extend that system all the way to New York City.

Of course, it is may very well be the case that because of who I am and where I come from, I do not see what Turkish officials see: It is possible America’s political system is closer to Turkey’s than many realize. I certainly hope not, but those are dark thoughts for another day. In the meantime, I am going to lap up the scandal enveloping Adams along with Turkey — the bird, not the country.

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
To Departing House Members: Don’t be a Bunch of Turkeys

To the able members of Congress considering the exits (and those who can still change their mind about leaving):

I get it. Most everyone reading this column does, too. The hassles are adding up: the travel, the looming primary and general election and, especially, the chaos and toxicity that has characterized life on the Hill since January 6, 2021.

You’re wondering if it’s worth another term.

It is.

After your turkey today, you may take in some football, relax on the couch and contemplate your future. As you discuss with your loved ones whether to run for office again — or just ponder it in your own mind as you drift off in a tryptophanian haze — here’s something to consider: guilt.

Your decision isn’t taking place in isolation. The collective exodus — November has brought the most congressional retirements in any single month for over a decade — poses a direct threat to the institution. The more capable people like you who leave, the more you’re consigning the fate of Congress to those who have no business being there at all. You will only exacerbate the contagion that is prompting you to consider leaving.

Before you fling a drumstick my way and bellow about not understanding just how frustrating it can be to serve as a member of Congress today, I say this: don’t take it from me.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, with the retirements piling up and rumors of more on the way, I reached out to a group of your colleagues in both parties to help present this plea. As you will see below, they appeal to most every political impulse — patriotism, ambition and, yes, shame.

First, a few caveats.

There’s no sin in considering quitting. None of your colleagues believe this is a high-water mark in representative democracy. Norma Desmond was right, actually: The pictures have gotten smaller.

There was always a rogue’s gallery to be found in Congress, and especially in the House, but they were usually eclipsed by bigger people in both parties. Now you’re starting to wonder (Same).

And it’s the anecdotes and the moments that stick with you.

A pair of House Republicans told me separately earlier this year about a remarkable scene from Kevin McCarthy’s first battle for the speakership in January. In one of the closed-door negotiations with the holdouts, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) grew frustrated as the conversation turned to roles on “HASC.” We’re talking about “the Armed Services Committee,” Boebert exclaimed. Nobody in the room had the heart to tell her that “HASC” is an acronym for House Armed Services Committee.

Further, if you’ve had a productive run and you’re well into AARP eligibility this appeal is not for you. Enjoy those grandchildren. But before you go, please help groom and elect a capable successor, particularly if you're in a seat where the primary is tantamount to victory.

Lastly, this does not apply to Mr. Santos of New York. You’re good to go.

For the rest of you, though, please listen. I know it's still Thanksgiving, but consider a Christmas picture: must you be George Bailey and shown the Congress you'll leave behind had you not been there?

The institutional memory of Congress is being hollowed out. As Paul Kane noted in The Washington Post last weekend, nearly 46 percent of House members had served less than five years as of 2021.

Consider who will take your seat if you don’t run again or if — looking at you House Class of 2018 members — you join the stampede to run for other offices.

Is that person going to be a serious-minded, dedicated legislator?

What really stung Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) was when Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) said earlier this month he would not run again, an announcement that has prompted a cascade of other retirements.

Only 49, Kilmer has a coveted slot on the House Appropriations Committee. Just as notable, he had also spent the last few years allied with a Kentucky Republican, Rep. Andy Barr, in a congressional working group to confront polarization and find ways to make Congress work better.

“It’s exactly the wrong people who are wanting to leave,” Boyle told me. “The performance artists love the circus, it’s what they crave.”

Boyle’s message to those considering the exits: “If you all leave now, you’ll only make it worse here.”

Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who knows something about the value of institutional memory, was even more direct: “Don’t let the bad guys win.”

It's not just Democrats who are angst-ridden about what more turnover could mean to Congress.

Representative Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) was impassioned, mixing patriotism with shame in her entreaty.

“It’s a function of duty — to our country, our democratic republic, our communities and our families,” Wagner, the mother of a West Point graduate, told me. “If rational, common sense, get-it-done, consensus-building conservatives give up, the do-nothing, click-bait, self-serving, chaos caucus wins. And America and the world loses.”

She wasn’t done.

“It can be rewarding, if you know you are making a difference in real people’s lives,” Wagner added. “We can’t let the noise distract us from our mission, serving a cause greater than oneself, standing up for the most vulnerable and being true selfless servants.”

Barr, the Kentuckian, pointed to the demands of this moment. "The challenges are enormous and we need the best, most experienced members who have the right temperament to come back."

Barr's GOP colleague from North Carolina, Patrick McHenry, offered this appeal, somewhat more to the vanity of the ambitious politician.

“The Congress is on the edge of the next great turn,” said McHenry. “And if you’re in a position to lead change for the long term, it’s desperately needed. That’s why you should stay. To lead that change. Make things better. Not because of how things are now, but because of how they can be.”

Hear that, the opportunity for greatness is there? (Students of the gentleman from North Carolina can debate whether he sees himself leading the House into this hopeful future, is genuinely torn or is merely hoping to coax his colleagues to stay while he plots private sector life after 2024.)

In all seriousness, though, this moment demands bigness. Former President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede defeat and the Capitol riot he incited are seared in the minds of lawmakers. Next year’s election and its aftermath could prove even more trying. We must, to borrow a phrase, send our best.

“Our democracy is more fragile than at any other time since the Civil War, and we need men and women dedicated to preserving our democracy in office who put the needs of the country and their constituents above their own self-interest,” said Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-Va.), one of the newest members of Congress.

Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) was just as direct.

“The country is in serious trouble and it needs serious people now,” Peters said. “People have literally died defending democracy; can’t you please put up with the shit schedule, meh compensation and terrible parties to help us get it right?”

He may have lost his gavel at the Rules Committee, but Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) — whose congressional service dates to his years as a top aide to his legendary Rules predecessor Joe Moakley — said he’s never “felt a greater sense of purpose than I do right now.”

This, McGovern said, “is the time for people who love this country to stick around and fight.”

Lawmakers, adds Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), are in office to find solutions and solve problems — troubleshooting is essential to the job.

“If I was an oncologist, I wouldn’t say I only want to treat people with no disease,” Pingree said, a metaphor which itself says something about the health of our body politic. “We get hired to do our jobs in the majority or minority and they’re just as important when you’re fighting the bad guys as when you’re in charge.”

In closing, I will claim a moment of personal privilege.

As he concluded his farewell speech just over a year ago, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who served with distinction in both chambers of Congress, said something that has stayed with me. And I hope it will resonate with you.

“What we do here,” said Blunt, “is more important than who we are.”

Benjamin Johansen contributed to this report.

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
Americans are losing benefits. That could hurt Biden in 2024.

President Joe Biden has just under a year to convince skeptical U.S. voters they’re better off financially thanks to him. Widening holes in the country’s social safety net could make his task even harder.

A string of popular pandemic-era support programs have expired this fall, creating so-called benefit cliffs affecting millions of Americans. That coincides with policy changes to traditional welfare programs that are now kicking in, creating potential new hurdles for hundreds of thousands of participants.

The Biden administration and Democratic allies in Congress are fighting to restore some of the lapsed benefits when lawmakers take up the 2024 spending bills early next year. But at best it will be a partial reprieve — the student loan payment moratorium, for example, is gone for good.

The collective impact: a cascading set of new financial burdens that are disproportionately affecting women, young people and people of color — a core part of the Democratic electorate. Coming on top of stubbornly high inflation, they risk further undermining the president’s pitch that he’s rebuilding the economy “from the middle up and the bottom out,” particularly among voters he needs to turn out in November.

That includes millions of student loan borrowers, who faced the resumption of loan payments on Oct. 1, after a 3½-year moratorium. A $24 billion emergency support fund for day cares across the country also ended the same day, bringing warnings of rising day cares costs and reduced access.

In addition, new restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which feeds more than 40 million low-income Americans, started phasing in this fall, putting hundreds of thousands at risk of losing SNAP benefits, previously known as food stamps. And anti-hunger advocates are warning that if Congress doesn’t include another $1 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known commonly as WIC, in its next funding bill, the program may have to startturning away hundreds of thousands of eligible mothers and babies.

The Biden administration has pushed to boost funding for these traditional parts of the safety net, as well as secure money to extend some of the temporary social programs created in response to the Covid emergency. In many cases, Biden has been stymied by Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, who argue the programs are too expensive and no longer necessary as the pandemic has eased. Republicans, for example, negotiated the end of the payment moratorium as part of the debt ceiling deal. It was the Supreme Court, however, that killed Biden’s broader effort to cancel student debt outright

As a result, the social safety net, which witnessed a historic expansion between 2020 and 2022, is shrinking again. The poverty rate in the U.S. is already rising, according to Census Bureau data — up to 12.4 percent in 2022 from 7.8 percent in 2021. And that was before the latest round of pandemic assistance expired.

“Expanding these policies really did have a big impact on economic hardship,” said Chloe East, an economist and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institute’s Hamilton Project, in an interview. Rolling them back, she said, “has caused a big increase in hardship among American families.”

The White House points out that even though the Biden administration didn’t succeed in its attempts to make many of the Covid emergency programs permanent, the current status quo is still far better than it was pre-pandemic.

“The right comparisons to think about are really, how does the social safety net compare to before the president took office, and how do people’s economic experience and level of economic security compare to what they were experiencing pre-pandemic,” said a White House official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the administration’s internal thinking. “The president has made the social safety net stronger than he found it, and he believes it should be stronger.”

The Biden administration did succeed, for example, in permanently changing the way SNAP benefits are calculated, increasing the value of the food benefits between $12 to $16 per month, in most cases. The president also secured new exemptions from SNAP’s work requirements for the homeless, veterans and youth aging out of foster care as part of the spring debt deal. And he used existing student loan forgiveness programs to cancel more than $127 billion in debt for more than 3.6 million student loan borrowers.

Biden isn’t getting much credit from voters for those and other moves that have permanently expanded social programs, however.

In a New York Times and Siena College poll conducted last month, 57 percent of registered swing state voters said economic issues were the most important factor determining who they will vote for in 2024, but just 19 percent ranked the current state of the economy as excellent or good.

Fifty-nine percent said they trusted former President Donald Trump to do a better job managing the economy, including 53 percent of people making less than $50,000 — a group far more likely to use the social safety net. Sixty-two percent of voters in that financial bracket said the economy was the most important factor in deciding their vote.

Political analysts caution that traditional safety net programs are not, on their own, top of mind for many voters in an election year. But the loss of benefits — and any added financial strain it causes — is likely to feed into voters’ generally gloomy view of the economy.

“The main effect would come from a generalization of the specific patterns to a general perception that the economy is not doing well,” said Matt Grossman, director of the Michigan State University Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

For student loan borrowers, families with children in day care and low-income Americans who rely on SNAP or WIC, those effects are just starting to sink in:


On Oct. 1, SNAP, the nation’s leading anti-hunger program, began again purging people from its rolls for not meeting work requirements, after a pause during the pandemic.

At the same time, the number of adults required to meet the work requirements started expanding this fall thanks to language House Republicans pushed to include in the debt limit deal Congress passed at the end of May. Under the debt limit law, the age limit for adults subject to the work requirement rose to 50 on Sept. 1, and to 52 on Oct. 1. The age limit will eventually increase to include adults as old as 54.

Child care

Biden administration data shows roughly 8 in 10 licensed U.S. child care providers tapped the Covid-era stabilization funding during the pandemic. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Beccera has warned that the $24 billion program’s termination at the end of September will result in rising child care costs and cause some providers to close their doors, potentially leaving tens of thousands of children without access to care.

“It’s going to feel more like a slow roll, but then when the cumulative effect is in place, we'll see that more women dropped out of the labor force; more businesses struggle to find people to hire; more children and families cannot find a slot,” said Melissa Boteach, vice president for child care at the left-leaning National Women’s Law Center.

The White House has asked Congress for $16 billion to extend the program for another year. But Republicans have expressed doubt that more federal funding, particularly for traditional day care, is the best way to address child care needs.

One potential compromise: a tax package that could incentivize employers to help fill the gap, something groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce favor over additional spending. But many on the left are skeptical that those provisions could fill the gap as well as additional funds.

Student loans

About 28 million Americans began receiving student loan bills over the past few months, an unprecedented number of borrowers who are beginning to repay their debts at the same time.

The Biden administration has taken some steps to soften the blow. The Education Department is offering an “on-ramp” forbearance period in which borrowers won’t be reported as delinquent to credit bureaus if they fail to make payments over the next year. The administration is also promoting its new loan repayment program — dubbed the “SAVE” plan — which lowers monthly payments for many borrowers, based on their income.

It's too early to know yet the extent to which student loan borrowers are actually meeting their monthly payments or how many are falling behind. But many borrowers have indicated that they expect to struggle with payments. Research from the Philadelphia Fed found that lower-income borrowers, borrowers with less than a bachelor’s degree, and Black borrowers were among the most likely to anticipate not being able to make a payment in October.

As with student loan repayments, Americans are likely to feel the impact of these other benefit cliffs gradually, over the course of the coming months. For the White House, which is banking on better economic trends in the new year to help its “Bidenomics” message finally cut through, the timing couldn’t be worse.

Still, the White House official POLITICO spoke to argued the shrinking social safety net is not the answer to “the mystery” of why Biden isn’t polling better on the economy. “Poverty rose relative to last year, but it’s not up relative to pre-pandemic,” the official pointed out. “Wages and incomes are up in real terms, and especially so at the bottom.”

Eleanor Mueller contributed to this report.

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
Democrats who swept Moms For Liberty off school board fight superintendent’s $700,000 exit deal

PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania school board that banned books, Pride flags and transgender athletes slipped a last-minute item into their final meeting before leaving office, hastily awarding a $700,000 exit package to the superintendent who supported their agenda.

But the Democratic majority that swept the conservative Moms For Liberty slate out of office hopes to block the unusual — they say illegal — payout and bring calm to the Central Bucks School District, whose affluent suburbs and bucolic farms near Philadelphia have been roiled by infighting since the 2020 pandemic.

“People are really sick of the embarrassing meetings, the vitriol, they’re tired of our district being in the news for all the wrong reasons. And … the students are aware of what’s been going on, particularly our LGBTQ students and their friends and allies,” said Karen Smith, a Democrat who won a third term on the board.

The district, with about 17,000 students in 23 schools, has spent $1.5 million on legal and public relations fees amid competing lawsuits, discrimination complaints and investigations in the past two years, including a pending suit over its suspension of a middle school teacher who supported LGBTQ+ and other marginalized students.

The jostling — and spending — look likely to continue as Democrats who won a 6-3 majority in the Nov. 7 election prepare to challenge the severance package for superintendent Abram Lucabaugh, which was added to the Nov. 14 agenda only the night before.

Meanwhile, several voters in the quaint town of Chalfont filed a court petition Monday challenging the school board election tallies, alleging unspecified “fraud or error.”

Student Lily Freeman, a vocal critic of board policies on LGBTQ issues, decried the district’s spending priorities. She called the severance package a bad deal for both students and taxpayers.

“It’s kind of like a slap in the face,” said the senior at Central Bucks East High School. “Teachers are struggling, and there’s a lot of students that are struggling.”

“There are so many resources out there that we could be putting that money to,” she said, noting her school desperately needs better WiFi.

Neither Lucabaugh, who skipped the final meeting, nor outgoing board president Dana Hunter returned calls for comment. School board solicitor Jeffrey P. Garton said he was not involved in the severance agreement.

“I didn’t prepare it and gave no legal advice concerning its content,” Garton said in an email.

Some of the incoming Democrats tried to warn the outgoing board that the payout violates a 2012 state law designed to curtail golden parachutes bestowed on school superintendents, including one that topped $900,000. The law now caps severance pay at a year’s salary, along with limited payments for unused sick time and other benefits.

“The particular circumstances in this case are even more egregious. The board gave Dr. Lucabaugh a 40 percent salary increase (to $315,000) in late July of this year, making him the second-highest paid school district superintendent in Pennsylvania, and is now using that increase less than four months later to calculate a severance payment,” lawyer Brendan Flynn, who represents them, wrote in a letter distributed to the board before the vote.

Lucabaugh’s package includes more than $300,000 for unused sick, vacation, administrative and personal time during his 18 years in various roles with the district; $50,000 for signing the deal; and health insurance for his family through June.

The package also includes a puzzling ban on any district investigations of his tenure and an agreement that he can keep his district-issued laptop as long as he wipes it of school records.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage nixed that last provision on Friday when he ordered Lucabaugh, a defendant in middle school teacher Andrew Burgess’s retaliation suit against the district, to preserve documents that may become evidence in the case.

“It’s hard to imagine a lawyer drafted that contract,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who represents Burgess. “No lawyer would think that a school board could insulate an employee from any kind of of court action or criminal investigation.”

Freeman, the high school senior, declined to revisit the threats and sense of danger she said she and her family have endured as she took on the board the past two years. However, her forceful public remarks at last week’s meeting, posted to TikTok, have drawn thousands of views and comments.

“It was never about protecting kids. It was about erasing people like me from Central Bucks,” she told the board last week as it voted to make students play on sports teams based on their gender assignment at birth. “You continue to make policy after policy preventing people like me from just living our lives.”

On Monday, Freeman said she’s hopeful the tensions will ease under the new board: “I feel as if we shouldn’t have to worry about a lot of these things if our needs are being met.”

Thu, 23 Nov 2023 10:40:04 -0500 ishook
In Biden’s Climate Law, a Boon for Green Energy, and Wall Street Thu, 23 Nov 2023 05:15:03 -0500 ishook Beside Ramaswamy, a Doctor Who Listens More and Debates Less Thu, 23 Nov 2023 05:15:03 -0500 ishook NATO front&runner Mark Rutte faces flak over low Dutch defense spending Thu, 23 Nov 2023 01:55:04 -0500 ishook Geert Wilders is the European Union's worst nightmare Wed, 22 Nov 2023 23:50:04 -0500 ishook The backstory on a California lawmaker's 'speaker for LA’ misquote — and damage&control campaign

LOS ANGELES — The consensus among Capitol insiders immediately after Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas dumped his second-in-command could be summed up in three words: “speaker for LA.”

That was how then-Majority Leader Isaac Bryan purportedly referred to himself during a virtual meet-and-greet, according to a newsletter the Los Angeles County Business Federation, or BizFed, sent to its members last month. The phrase distilled the sense among some in Sacramento that the 31-year-old Los Angeles Democrat had big ambitions — and a grandiose view of himself.

But there was a catch about that particular quote: Bryan never actually said it.

His actual wording, according to a recording of the meeting, was that he would be “Los Angeles’ voice” — emphasizing how he would champion the city’s interests to a speaker from rural central California.

“My brother Speaker Rivas is not from here,” Bryan said at the online meeting. “... Rob is really one of my best friends in this work. But he’s from Hollister. And so I am Los Angeles’ voice.”

The BizFed email set off far more behind-the-scenes drama than the average trade association newsletter, including a damage control effort from Bryan and his team that underscores how the episode reinforced broader perceptions that Bryan’s aspirations could put him on a collision course with Rivas, his onetime ally.

Bryan went into clean-up mode after the “speaker for LA” line got noticed widely, including by Rivas’ chief of staff, Liz Snow. He got the BizFed to tell Rivas’ team that he had been misquoted.

A BizFed spokesperson said the group “clarified the error with the impacted parties as soon as it came to our attention.” But by then, the phrase had circulated widely through the Capitol community, becoming a sort of shorthand among Bryan’s detractors for his hubris.

When Rivas announced Wednesday night he was replacing Bryan as Majority Leader and moving him to chair of Natural Resources Committee, the “speaker for LA” brouhaha was quick to come to many insiders’ minds.

The speaker’s team said the BizFed misquote was not the reason for his leadership team shake-up.

“No, it did not have anything to do with it,” said Rivas spokesperson Elizabeth Ashford. “Period.”

Lara Korte contributed to this story.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 23:50:04 -0500 ishook
Children's Starred Reviews 2023: All of Our Stars ]]> Wed, 22 Nov 2023 22:05:06 -0500 ishook Israel unveils what it claims is a major Hamas hideout beneath Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Israeli military on Wednesday unveiled what it claimed was a Hamas military facility under Gaza’s largest hospital, showing what appeared to be a subterranean dormitory to a group of foreign journalists who were given a rare glimpse inside the besieged enclave.

Dozens of soldiers escorted journalists through a narrow stone tunnel — which the military said stretched 150 meters (164 yards) — to a series of underground bunkers beneath Shifa Hospital in a shattered Gaza City.

The living quarters, located at the end of the tunnel, had an air conditioner, kitchen, bathroom and pair of metal cots in a room fashioned from rusty white tile. They appeared to be out of use.

Since Israel declared war against Hamas on Oct. 7, it has repeatedly accused the Islamic militant group of using Gaza’s hospitals as cover for military use. It has paid special attention to Shifa, saying Hamas has hidden command centers and bunkers underneath the hospital’s sprawling grounds.

Israel has not yet unveiled this purported center, but the military portrayed the underground hideout as its most significant discovery yet. Hamas and the hospital administration have denied Israel’s accusations.

“Shifa Hospital is the hugest hospital in Gaza, and it’s also the hugest terror facility of Hamas,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, as bombardment thundered nearby. “Hamas battalion commanders were conducting command and control, firing rockets from here.”

The Associated Press could not independently verify Hagari’s claims.

The AP was allowed access to Gaza on the condition that its journalist stay with the Israeli military convoy throughout the four-hour tour and submit all material to a military censor ahead of publication. There is no other way for foreign journalists to currently access the enclave.

The war was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack that killed at least 1,200 people and took 240 others hostage. Israel’s intense aerial campaign and devastating ground invasion have leveled entire neighborhoods, and well over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Bent on toppling Gaza’s Hamas rulers, Israel describes the heavy toll as the inevitable cost of fighting militants who use civilians as human shields and fire rockets from densely populated neighborhoods. Israel says at least some of the hostages were brought to Shifa.

On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers showed the foreign journalists weaponry they said they found at Shifa, including dozens of AK-47 assault rifles, 20 grenades and several drones. Hagari said the cache was just a small sample.

The Israeli military has plowed through northern Gaza over the past month, leaving a trail of destruction in its effort to bomb Hamas’ tunnel network and other targets. Hamas fighters have used the underground network to ambush Israeli troops. In addition to the tunnel it showed journalists, the army says it had uncovered another two shafts near Shifa.

Although the trip was tightly controlled by the Israeli army, journalists could still catch glimpses of life in Gaza. From outside the hospital gates, at least a couple dozen exhausted Palestinians could be seen gathering their belongings, apparently ahead of an evacuation.

Hundreds of patients and doctors remain stranded at the besieged hospital. Thousands more who had been sheltering in its courtyard fled south last week as Israeli tanks drew close and fighting raged.

At one point, several Palestinians leaning out of a window at Shifa locked eyes with journalists. One man gave a thumbs-up. Others started to yell. Israeli soldiers shepherded the journalists away.

What remained on Gaza City’s ghostly streets were the ruins of collapsed buildings, spewing rubble onto streets. The facade of one abandoned building had been blown off, revealing furnished living rooms, glassware in cabinets somehow intact, mirrors still mounted on walls. Fortified bulldozers clawed through sand and gravel to clear the way for more tanks.

About 20 Israeli soldiers sat on the side of a road. They smiled and posed for the journalists’ cameras.

“There’s a great morale. Everyone’s ready to do what has to be done. Everyone’s ready to fight for the country,” said Staff Sgt. Oren, an Israeli soldier who said he is originally from Los Angeles. “Even when it’s hard, you sit with your friends and joke around a little bit. At the end of the day, you know why you’re here.”

The city’s coastal promenade that once bustled with cafes and coffee shops was gone. Instead, there was rubble and a single lifeguard hut. Recent bombing sent black plumes rising into the sky. Gunbattles could be heard rattling in the distance.

In the midst of the devastation, a line of Palestinian evacuees could be seen, carrying their bags and other belongings. As the journalists in the Israeli army convoy passed by, the men and women held up their ID cards to the armored personnel carriers. Some of them waved white flags.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
Pope meets relatives of Israeli hostages and Palestinians in Gaza and sets off firestorm over words

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis met separately Wednesday with relatives of Israeli hostages in Gaza and Palestinians living through the war and set off a firestorm by using words that Vatican diplomats usually avoid: “terrorism” and, according to the Palestinians, “genocide.”

Francis spoke about the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians after his meetings, which were arranged before the Israeli-Hamas hostage deal and a temporary halt in fighting was announced. Francis didn’t refer to the deal, which marked the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since the war erupted following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

Francis met at the Vatican with 12 relatives of some of the 240 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for about 20 minutes. Separately, he met for about the same amount of time with 10 Palestinians whose relatives have been killed or otherwise affected by the war in Gaza, along with priests who minister there.

Francis spoke about the meetings at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square, where some people in the VIP seats wearing Palestinian scarves held up small posters showing bodies in a ditch and the word “Genocide” written underneath.

“Here we’ve gone beyond war. This isn’t war anymore, this is terrorism,” Francis told the crowd. “Please, let us go ahead with peace. Pray for peace, pray a lot for peace.”

He also asked for God to help both Israeli and Palestinian people “resolve problems and not go ahead with passions that are killing everyone in the end.”

Francis has spoken out repeatedly calling for an end to the war and has tried to maintain the Vatican’s typical diplomatic neutrality in conflicts. The Vatican is particularly concerned about the plight of Christians in Gaza.

The Hamas attack last month killed about 1,200 people in Israel. Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Gaza have killed more than 11,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Members of the Palestinian delegation said they were stunned by Francis’ deep knowledge of the toll the war has taken on the people of Gaza and said he used the term “genocide” to describe it during their private meeting.

No journalists were present during either meeting.

“He knew that Gaza has no water,” said Shireen Hilal, who lives in Bethlehem in the West Bank but was part of the delegation. “He knew that there was no electricity. He knew that there is no medicine.”

The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, said he didn’t believe that Francis used the term "genocide."

“He used the terms he used during the general audience and regardless represent the terrible situation that Gaza is living,” Bruni said.

But the Palestinians doubled down. “Ten people heard it,” said another member of the delegation, Suhair Anastas, who left Gaza in the last week with her daughter, among those allowed to leave because she also holds a Canadian passport.

Francis often causes diplomatic kerfuffles with his off-hand comments. He has used the term “genocide” before in reference to the Ottoman-era Turkish attacks on Armenians and, more casually, agreed when asked if the Catholic abuses against Indigenous peoples in Canada amounted to a genocide.

The Israeli relatives, for their part, thanked Francis for receiving them but some expressed dismay that he didn’t have more time to hear from all members of the delegation. They also questioned his use of the term “terrorism” without saying who had committed it. They expressed hope that he might be able to use his moral authority to help free all the hostages.

Evgeniia Kozlova, the Russian mother of 27-year-old Andrey Kozlov who was kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7 at the music festival in southern Israel, feared that the hostage-release deal would leave her son in Hamas’ hands for years.

“We know the terms of the exchange of 50 hostages. These are women and children,” she said. Recalling that it took Israel five years to free the detained Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, “If each of the remaining hostages is released once every five years, then my son will return in 1,000 years,” she said.

Rachel Goldberg, whose son Hersh Goldberg-Polin was also kidnapped at the music festival, urged Francis and the rest of the world to work for all the hostages to be released.

“And in the meantime, we would like the International Red Cross or any other humanitarian aid organization on planet Earth to go and see every single hostage and let us know: Are they alive? Have they been treated? Are they getting the care that they need?” she said.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 21:40:04 -0500 ishook
Scholz promises new budget plans 'very quickly' amid German spending crisis Wed, 22 Nov 2023 19:35:03 -0500 ishook 8 Republicans — including a surprise candidate — make Florida primary ballot

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Eight Republicans vying for president could be on the Florida primary ballot in March, including one last-minute surprise candidate.

The Republican Party of Florida announced Wednesday the primary ballot lineup immediately after the party’s internal qualifying deadline had passed. They include North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former President Donald Trump.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who abruptly ended his campaign this month, qualified for the Florida primary but is not expected to appear on the ballot, according to the Republican Party of Florida.

One surprise candidate who filed to be on the Florida ballot was Ryan Binkley, a Dallas, Tex., CEO and pastor who launched his long-shot bid for president earlier this year and has largely financed his campaign by himself. Federal campaign filings show that Binkley had spent more than $7 million on the race by the end of September.

Binkley has focused on the national debt, inflation, health care spending and immigration as part of his campaign platform. While he has made campaign appearances in early states such as Iowa, Binkley has not garnered the same amount of attention as other candidates such as Vivek Ramaswamy and is generally unknown to the public.

Many GOP candidates wanting to appear on the ballot appeared at the “Florida Freedom Summit” earlier this month in Kissimmee, including Trump and DeSantis.

Haley, seen as one of the top challengers to Trump, abruptly canceled her appearance at the Kissimmee event, meaning that she had to pay Florida Republicans a hefty fee to qualify for the March 19 primary. Candidates who spoke at the summit only had to pay a $25,000 qualifying fee while those who did not appear had to pay $100,000.

Florida’s primary — which is winner-take-all — comes after the early nominating states and Super Tuesday, putting it later on the calendar behind other Southern states such Alabama, Georgia, Texas as well as other large states such as California.

In 2016, the Florida primary was won overwhelmingly by Trump, who trounced Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in his home state and prompted Rubio to drop out of the presidential race. That year’s ballot included many names of candidates — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — who had already dropped out.

Under Florida law, the parties have until Nov. 30 to submit their list of primary candidates to state election officials. Candidates are allowed to withdraw their names from the primary ballot up until Dec. 12.

The Trump campaign has repeatedly taunted DeSantis about the December deadline, putting out press releases that urge the governor to withdraw from the ballot “and save himself the embarrassment of losing his home state.”

Florida Republicans initially planned to ask GOP candidates to sign a loyalty pledge where they would agree to endorse the Republican nominee and pledge to not run as a third-party or independent candidate. But in September, top officials in the Republican Party of Florida scrapped the pledge after coming under pressure from Trump supporters. Republicans retreated from the pledge despite DeSantis supporters urging the party leaders to keep it intact.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 19:35:03 -0500 ishook
Thanksgiving travel disrupted after fatal bridge explosion at Niagara Falls border crossing

The airport in Buffalo, New York, shut its doors to international flights and Amtrak halted service between New York and Canada on Wednesday, hours after a vehicle exploded at a customs checkpoint at the Canadian border nearby — throwing portions of the U.S. travel system into chaos on the eve of Thanksgiving.

The deputy airport director for the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport, Russell Stark, confirmed that the airport was closed to arriving and departing international flights, and said it was done at the request of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A Customs spokesperson said the agency was “working closely” with the FBI and other federal, state and local authorities, but did not comment on the airport closure.

The airport later reopened to all air traffic, the airport said on X, stating “additional security measures are in place until further notice.”

An Amtrak spokesperson confirmed that the railroad’s one train that operates between Toronto and New York had been halted, though the spokesperson could not provide further details.

The closures come after a vehicle exploded on Wednesday afternoon at the Rainbow Bridge connecting the U.S. and Canada, prompting officials to tighten border security along the U.S. northern border.

Photos and video taken by bystanders and posted on social media showed thick smoke coming from the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the U.S. and Canada at Niagara Falls. They also showed flames on the pavement and a security booth that had been singed by flames. Videos showed that the fire was in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection area just east of the main vehicle checkpoint.

The FBI’s field office in Buffalo said in a statement that it was investigating the blast, and investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also responding to the scene. Karine Martel, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Security Agency, said in a statement that the FBI was taking the lead on the investigation.

The explosion at the Rainbow Bridge happened as many Americans are hitting the roads for the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday and will cause major disruptions for cross-border travelers. It also came as federal law enforcement officials warned of increased threats ahead of the holiday weekend.

The cause of the vehicle explosion is unclear. Canadian and American federal, state and local law enforcement have begun investigating. At a news conference on Wednesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said there was “no indication” that the explosion was tied to terrorism while emphasizing that the situation was fluid.

“Based on what we know at this moment — and again, anything can change — there is no sign of terrorist activity with respect to this crash,” Hochul said.

That assessment was also shared by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who posted on X that “there is no indication of a threat related to this incident” and that DHS “will continue to work closely with state and local officials” and “continue to update the public as information becomes available.”

The Associated Press reported that two people had been declared dead at the scene. New York state officials confirmed that nearby vehicles suffered some damage. A law enforcement official confirmed that an officer with the Office of Field Operations was sent to the hospital with minor injuries.

Top leadership in both countries have also been looped in. A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said on Wednesday that “the White House is closely monitoring the situation at the U.S.-Canada border crossing.” Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg posted on X on Wednesday that he had been “briefed by our staff in NY state and HQ on the explosion & related bridge closures on the US-Canada border.”

The White House also said on Wednesday that President Joe Biden, who is spending Thanksgiving in Massachusetts, was briefed on the explosion and that “he and his team are closely following developments.”

In Ottawa, meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the explosion in Parliament on Wednesday, saying that “this is obviously a very serious situation in Niagara Falls” and acknowledging that “there are a lot of questions and we are following up to try to get as many answers, as rapidly as possible.”

The prime minister’s office says it was in contact with U.S. officials, and that Canadian police and border officials were “fully engaged and providing all necessary support.”

Canada’s public safety minister, Dominic LeBlanc, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon that “the government of Canada is taking this situation extremely seriously” but did not offer a possible reason for the explosion.

“Any time a piece of infrastructure as important to Canada and the United States, like a border crossing, sees this kind of violent circumstance, it’s a source of concern for the government of Canada and for the United States,” LeBlanc said, adding that Canadian law enforcement was working closely with its American counterparts.

LeBlanc posted on X later on Wednesday afternoon that he had spoken with Mayorkas, his American counterpart.

Constable Phil Gavin, a media relations officer at the Niagara Regional Police Service, said on Wednesday that “there’s no known threat on the Canadian side” and that “the 405 highway that leads to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is currently closed.”

Traffic on the Canadian side, according to Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, has increased, prompting some other closures.

“We’re available and ready to respond as needed. But at this point, everything seems to be focused on the U.S. side,” Schmidt said. “We have the border closings closed and we’re dealing with just the traffic issues that come along with that.”

Officials tightened security at the U.S.-Canada border. In earlier statements Wednesday, Hochul said that the New York State Police and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force were “monitoring all ports of entry to New York” and that the state’s department of transportation was also working on closing parts of Interstate 190. Other bridges between Western New York and Ontario were also quickly closed as a precaution but have since reopened.

Eric Bazail-Eimil reported from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Kyle Duggan reported from Ottawa, Ontario; and Oriana Pawlyk reported from Washington. The Associated Press and Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 19:35:03 -0500 ishook
A Biden Thanksgiving: Sweeping Views of Nantucket Harbor, Calls About Israel Wed, 22 Nov 2023 19:05:04 -0500 ishook Senate Candidate in Michigan Says He Was Offered $20 Million to Challenge Tlaib Wed, 22 Nov 2023 19:05:04 -0500 ishook Far&right leader Geert Wilders wins Dutch election Wed, 22 Nov 2023 17:25:03 -0500 ishook Joe Biden once embraced Eric Adams. Don’t expect that anytime soon.

NEW YORK — Joe Biden and Eric Adams, once a perfect political match, haven’t spoken in nearly a year — and nobody expects that to change anytime soon.

The icy relationship — emerging amid Adams’ criticism of the president's handling of the migrant crisis — has evolved into a deep freeze with the New York mayor now embroiled in a federal investigation over whether his campaign colluded with foreign interests.

An FBI raid on his chief fundraiser’s home earlier this month led Adams to abruptly cancel high-level Washington meetings on migrant funding and jet back to New York.

Earlier ethical yellow flags in the mayor’s career — an alleged bid-rigging scandal and a self-promotional nonprofit — weren’t enough to stop Biden from embracing the Black, politically moderate former cop who fit well with the president’s own political persona. But now, Biden’s advisers are glad the growing gulf exists and argue that it should insulate the Democratic president from any political fallout.

Two White House officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations said there had long been rumors in New York about Adams and his inner circle, but they are not aware of any heads-up to Biden about the mayor’s latest string of legal troubles.

Adams’ recent comments underscore the sour mood.

“I kid myself by calling myself the Biden of Brooklyn,' he told reporters.

He remains unapologetic about his call for the president to do more to alleviate the migrant crisis as the city stares down a fiscal cliff.

“D.C. has abandoned us, and they need to be paying their cost to this national problem,” the mayor said. “Don’t yell at me, yell at D.C.”

The silence between Biden and Adams has left the two top Democrats increasingly reliant on intermediaries to discuss federal funding to support the surge of migrants overwhelming big cities.

The president hasn’t discussed Adams publicly or privately as of late, the two White House officials said.

Several Democratic leaders say those in Biden’s orbit must have known about Adams’ past probes.

“They read the same press stories everybody else reads,” said a national Democratic operative who was granted anonymity to discuss the relationship. “Fair or not fair, they’re out there. This is not a secret kept in New York.”

One longtime Democratic aide, who was also granted anonymity to discuss the circumstances, said of the federal investigation, “I’m surprised it took this long.”

The New York mayor has neither been charged nor accused of wrongdoing.

The FBI stopped him and seized his electronic devices on Nov. 6, four days after agents removed campaign documents from his fundraiser’s home. Adams’ attorney says he is fully cooperating with the probe and even outed an individual on his campaign accused of unspecified wrongdoing.

The feds are looking into whether the Adams campaign conspired with the Turkish government to accept illegal foreign contributions in exchange for favors for Turkish officials, according to The New York Times.

It’s not the first time Adams has been under investigation.

The state inspector general examined alleged favoritism that Adams showed for a gaming operator making a bid for a contract at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. The operator had donated to him.

Then, both the federal government and the New York City Department of Investigation looked at the fundraising he did as Brooklyn borough president for his One Brooklyn nonprofit, which operated in a gray area for charity and to boost his profile, according to the New York Post.

Adams was charged in neither and went on to decisively win the race for mayor in 2021, but his political career has additionally been dogged by questions raised in POLITICO stories about his secret office and where he makes his home.

And currently, the federal examination of whether his campaign for mayor used so-called straw donors to leverage public matching funds comes in addition to the Manhattan district attorney indicting six Adams supporters for allegedly bundling illegal donations and charging his former buildings commissioner with alleged bribery.

The mayor’s supporters argue that Black and Latino elected officials face greater scrutiny than white ones.

Other defenders, especially Republicans, say without any evidence that Biden’s Department of Justice is targeting Adams because he has been critical of the president.

Another person with the White House granted anonymity said officials there received a last-minute cancellation of meetings without an explanation on Nov. 2, the day Adams left Washington, D.C., almost as soon as he’d arrived.

The mayor has sought to quash any notion that Biden aides directed him to return to New York because of the federal investigation.

“The White House didn’t do that,” Adams told reporters earlier this month. “That is just not true. And keep in mind, I did not call for the meeting in D.C. Another coalition partner called for it, the mayor of Denver.”

Though Adams has said he would reschedule the meetings he missed, including with White House chief of staff Jeff Zients and Biden senior adviser Tom Perez, the mayor’s spokesperson would not confirm whether he had yet done so, saying such information is released only with his daily public schedule.

The president and mayor last spoke — doing so only briefly — in January at an event in New York City. Adams was dropped in May from the president’s National Advisory Board. And the two didn’t meet when Biden was in town in September for the United Nations General Assembly.

It’s a long fall from February 2022, when Biden visited New York City and commended Adams at an event on gun violence strategies.

“Mayor Adams, you and I agree: The answer is not to abandon our streets,” Biden said then at NYPD headquarters.

Even earlier than that, Biden appeared to spot promise in Adams. In July 2021, the president hosted the then-Brooklyn borough president at a White House summit on combating gun violence.

“The prerequisite to prosperity for New York and America is public safety and reform and justice,” Adams says in a Facebook video posted by the White House, adding of Biden: “And he gets it.”

The president and mayor now leave it entirely up to their top aides to make progress on their behalf.

“We are all one big family,” Adams’ chief of staff, Camille Joseph Varlack, told reporters recently. “There are times when we’re not going to be aligned but the fact of the matter is the work continues to move on.”

Nick Reisman contributed to this report.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 17:25:03 -0500 ishook
Democrats can’t quit Elon Musk’s X

For politicians, it turns out an addictive social media platform is hard to quit, in spite of any moral qualms they might have about its owner.

In the past few weeks, Elon Musk — owner of X, formerly known as Twitter — has gone from provocateur to full-on villain for much of the American left. He personally amplified antisemitic conspiracy theories, sued a progressive research group over claims that ads ran next to pro-Nazi posts and allowed a reported spike in Hamas-affiliated propaganda tied to the Israel-Hamas war to go largely unmoderated.

Liberal lawmakers Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) had seen enough. On Tuesday, they sent a letter to X cosigned by 25 other House Democrats asking Musk to stop the spread of Hamas-related content, claiming X is profiting from Hamas’ terrorist propaganda on the platform.

When they sent the letter, Goldman and Raskin promptly shared the news — on X.

“As much as we’d personally like to not have to engage with a platform that boosts this kind of shit, we do have an obligation to speak to constituents on Twitter, and it’s still a very effective way to reach them,” Simone Kanter, a spokesperson for Goldman, told POLITICO.

Politicians are finding they just don’t have a competitor for X’s free, real-time ability to reach voters and journalists. X is still the closest thing to a virtual town square for the Washington conversation, even if users are spending less time on the platform since Musk took over in October 2022.

Outside the Beltway, it’s still where powerful players go to share news, including seemingly every character in the OpenAI drama over the past several days — with recently reinstated CEO Sam Altman, president Greg Brockman, co-founder Ilya Sutskever and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella going to X first to tweet out the latest twists and turns in the leadership saga.

“The press still lives and dies on Twitter, and as long as they’re there, it’s going to be hard for elected officials to avoid it,” said Andrew Bleeker, president of Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic-aligned communications firm.

There’s also a strong first-mover advantage in big shared platforms like social media. Having launched in 2006, X also has a head start over newer competitors like BlueSky and Meta’s Threads, since it has an established user base richly stocked with users interested in politics.

“Because users are heavily engaged, you can create some buzz around your announcements where it's more difficult to drive that organic traffic elsewhere,” said Mark Jablonowski, the president of DSPolitical, a digital ad firm that supports Democratic candidates.

One issue for X is that “using the platform” isn’t the same as giving it money, and Musk’s antics have definitely dried up advertising. Goldman’s office said due to the misinformation and propaganda on X, his office has stopped all political advertising on the platform since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

There’s also been a mass exodus of advertisers like IBM, Disney and Apple from X, days after Musk’s antisemitic endorsement and a Media Matters for America report finding ads were placed next to pro-Nazi content. Musk sued the self-described progressive research group, saying they manipulated the platform to defame X.

X did not respond to a request for comment to the lawmakers’ pushback. CEO Linda Yaccarino did attempt to allay advertisers’ and advocates’ concerns in a tweet last week that “there’s absolutely no place” for antisemitism and discrimination on the platform.

Raskin told POLITICO he could see a day he leaves the platform, saying he believes there “could be a breaking point if nothing changes.” And he said it’d send a more powerful message if there was a mass lawmaker exodus. “I would definitely reassess with my colleagues — this has more significance if a lot of people agree to do it together.”

Similarly, Kanter said if Musk doesn’t address their concerns, “we’ll absolutely consider voting with our feet and getting out.”

Some politicians are starting to hedge their bets and build up followers on alternative sites, like Meta’s Threads, launched in July as a direct competitor to X.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris opened accounts on Threads on Monday, days after publicly condemning Musk’s antisemitic comments. While a White House official said they’re aware of the increase in hate speech on X, the launch of accounts on Threads had been in the works for weeks.

“Threads feels like the most obvious viable alternative right now,” said Crystal Patterson, who formerly was Facebook’s head of global civic partnerships and worked for several Democratic presidential campaigns. “With President Biden joining Threads, I assume Threads will continue to grow and be used more.”

“Of course,” she added, “the kicker is they also have a ton of issues with Meta.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 17:25:03 -0500 ishook
U.S. Presses Israel to Set Up Safe Areas During Pause in Gaza Fighting Wed, 22 Nov 2023 16:25:05 -0500 ishook Plying Voters With Free Food, Ramaswamy Struggles to Win Them Over Wed, 22 Nov 2023 16:25:05 -0500 ishook How the Israel&Hamas Hostage Deal Came Together Wed, 22 Nov 2023 16:25:05 -0500 ishook Fetterman, unbending on Israel, confounds his progressive brethren

John Fetterman was walking past a group of pro-Palestinian protesters at the Capitol this month when, according to his aides, they accused him of having blood on his hands for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas.

The Pennsylvania Democrat then went into his Senate office and grabbed an Israeli flag, his staff said, so he could wave it at the activists while they were being arrested.

The video of him doing just that quickly went viral. Not only because of the surrealness of a shorts-and-hoodie-clad senator taunting protesters being cuffed by U.S. Capitol police, but also because, at its core, the image shocked progressives who assumed the senator was their ally.

Fetterman is known for draping himself in the pro-LGBTQ+ rainbow flag at Pride festivals, endorsing Bernie Sanders for president, and sticking it to the establishment. But when it comes to Israel, he has not simply bucked his progressive brethren, he has made it a point to show he rejects the activist left’s position.

While other pro-Israel Democrats have modified their stances amid weeks of gruesome fighting in Gaza, Fetterman has literally wrapped himself in an Israeli flag and hung up photos of the nation’s hostages outside his office. On X, formerly known as Twitter, he’s called “Free Palestine” graffiti that was sprayed outside a high school in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh “reprehensible.” He’s told a pro-Palestinian activist to her face that she should “be protesting Hamas.”

The more critical interpretation for Fetterman’s unabashed embrace of Israel, expressed by progressives, is that he has made a political calculation. In the 2022 Senate race, he earned the support of Democratic Majority of Israel, one of the more forceful pro-Israel super PACs in politics. Fetterman, the reasoning from pro-Palestinian liberals goes, is trying to keep that faction in his corner.

"He took a good amount of money from DMFI,” said Jules Berkman-Hill, a volunteer with the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow, who added that other pro-Israel groups supported him financially. “Those are all organizations that are opposing a political solution right now, and I think that speaks volumes."

But those who have followed his career say people shouldn’t be surprised: It was always wrong to pigeonhole Fetterman ideologically.

“Whether it’s a positive or negative, I don’t think he necessarily cares about being in any club,” said Larry Ceisler, a Pennsylvania-based public relations executive.

The more sympathetic explanation, offered by Fetterman’s allies, friends and longtime observers, is that he has always been pro-Israel; he unequivocally laid out his position in last year’s Senate race; and he has been deeply affected by communities close to home.

Pennsylvania has the fifth-largest Jewish population of any state in the nation. Even more critically, his aides said the 2018 massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, where a gunman killed 11 people, left him distraught and forced him to confront the presence of violent antisemitism so close to home.

The synagogue is a 15-minute drive from Fetterman’s house. While it was still in the midst of an active shooter situation, staffers said, he got calls from people who lived nearby asking him if he knew what was going on. Adam Jentleson, Fetterman’s chief of staff, described the tragedy as “the formative event on this issue for him.”

It changed him politically, too. In the immediate aftermath, Fetterman forged a close relationship with a top GOP politician in the state. Fetterman was the incumbent lieutenant governor at the time, facing a challenge by Republican Jeff Bartos. Despite their feud, Fetterman personally dialed Bartos, who is Jewish, to warn him of the horror that would soon blanket the news.

“John and I became friends because he called me the morning just minutes after the shooting started at Tree of Life,” said Bartos. “He’s like, ‘I'm so sorry to be the one to call you, but I just got off the phone with the governor. There’s a shooting happening right now at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It's going to be bad.’”

Later that day, Bartos said he reached back out to Fetterman to thank him. “I said I’m calling to let you know that you're a mensch. And he chuckled and said, ‘Is that a good thing or a bad thing?’”

The Pennsylvania electorate didn't split over the Tree of Life shooting. The war is different. Still, Fetterman’s supporters and other people who have closely followed his career said it is no coincidence that the positions where he has parted ways with progressives have often been issues that matter to constituents in his home of western Pennsylvania. His biggest departure from the left prior to Israel came on energy policy: He opposes a ban on fracking, a major priority for that region of his state.

He also has privately and, at times, publicly chafed at what he sees as progressive litmus tests and academic left-wing language. Last year, he described himself as “pro-policing” and said the call to “defund the police” was an “absurd phrase.”

“There’s a lot of things about John, honestly, that never fit into the traditional progressive image,” said Jentleson. “And this has always been one of them.”

Progressives who long viewed Fetterman as one of their own have had to reconcile their adoration for the senator with his irreverence toward their position on the war. Their backlash has been swift.

Last month, pro-Palestinian activists shut down the street in front of Fetterman’s office in Philadelphia for hours, parading around a giant puppet of him wearing a shirt that read “silent on genocide.” A group of Fetterman’s former campaign aides also signed on to a letter that called his unabashed embrace of Israel in the war a “gutting betrayal.”

Beth Miller, political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, said Fetterman’s “positions on Israel have always leaned toward the hawkish.” But, she added, “I am still a bit shocked by the level of disdain that he has been giving to a growing anti-war movement.”

It’s that trollish style that frustrates Fetterman’s opponents the most.

Matt Howard is a board member of the group About Face: Veterans Against the War, the group of activists that Fetterman ridiculed earlier this month as they were arrested at the Capitol.

“I honestly felt frustrated,” Howard said. “If he disagreed with them, that’s one thing. It didn’t totally make sense to me that he would resort to mocking folks.”

Another member of the group, Brittany DeBarros, said Fetterman smirked and waved sarcastically at her during the arrests. Earlier in the day, she had prodded him on camera over his refusal to back a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas (to which he told her to go protest Hamas). She disputed the idea that activists verbally attacked him first.

But to people on the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Fetterman’s in-your-face approach has been a revelation: Ideologies — or at least the public perception of them — aren’t rigid and allies can be found in unexpected places.

“He gets out there and fights for his views,” said Mark Mellman, president of DMFI, “whatever the issue.”

Myah Ward and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 15:20:03 -0500 ishook
Border crossing closed after vehicle explosion on bridge connecting New York and Canada

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — A border crossing between the U.S. and Canada has been closed after a vehicle exploded at a checkpoint on a bridge near Niagara Falls.

The FBI’s field office in Buffalo said in a statement that it was investigating the explosion on the Rainbow Bridge, which connects the two countries across the Niagara River.

Photos and video taken by news organizations and posted on social media showed a security booth that had been singed by flames.

Further information wasn’t immediately available.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had been briefed on the incident and was “closely monitoring the situation.”

The Rainbow Bridge is one of four border crossings connecting Ontario to western New York.

The others are Lewiston, Whirlpool and Peace Bridge. The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission reports all four crossings are closed.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 15:20:03 -0500 ishook
Johnson Learns on the Job, Drawing the Ire of the Republican Right Wed, 22 Nov 2023 13:55:04 -0500 ishook Donor allegedly offered $20M to recruit a Tlaib primary challenger

A Michigan businessman called Democratic Senate candidate Hill Harper to offer $20 million in campaign contributions if he agreed to drop out and instead mount a primary challenge to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, according to a source with direct knowledge of the call.

The source added that Harper declined the alleged Oct. 16 offer from donor Linden Nelson — which would have split the campaign money between $10 million in bundled contributions directly to Harper’s campaign and $10 million in independent expenditures. Harper declined to comment on the record about the alleged call from Nelson, a Michigan entrepreneur and past donor to candidates in both parties.

But the episode illustrates the intensity of the blowback toward Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, in response to her outspoken criticism of the Israeli government since its war with Hamas began. More than 20 Democrats joined every House Republican in voting to censure Tlaib earlier this month after she invoked a pro-Palestinian slogan that's widely seen as calling for the eradication of Israel, and pro-Israel Democrats are still searching for a candidate to primary her.

POLITICO reached Nelson briefly to seek comment on the alleged call to Harper, but he ended the call after a few seconds and did not respond to subsequent calls, texts and emails seeking comment.

Three of Tlaib's fellow progressive critics of Israeli government policy, Reps. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Cori Bush (D-Minn.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), are facing their own Democratic challengers who are touting their more pro-Israel rhetoric and voting records. Harper, an actor and business owner, has also positioned himself as a progressive in the primary to succeed retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — but he's struggled to gain traction as Senate rival Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) leads in polling and fundraising.

Harper also might not have proven the most ideal recruit to challenge Tlaib with a more pro-Israeli government approach. Harper called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza, largely echoing the ceasefire support from a few dozen congressional Democratic progressives; he did so on Nov. 10, well after the alleged call from Nelson.

“The answers to ensure long-term peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians are neither simple nor pain-free, but one truth stands firm: violence against defenseless children, trapped and frightened, is abhorrent, regardless of who is behind it,” Harper wrote in a statement calling for the ceasefire earlier this month.

In addition, Harper’s Detroit residence is located in Rep. Shri Thanedar’s (D-Mich.) district, not in Tlaib’s. She has represented her district, which includes Dearborn and its large Arab American population, since 2019. Despite facing multiple past Democratic challengers, she's handily won her primary elections since then.

A Tlaib spokesperson declined to comment on the alleged Nelson-Harper call.

Tlaib has called for a ceasefire in Gaza with no conditions, a position that's slowly amassing more Democratic support as casualties increase from the Israel-Hamas war.

As the Democratic Party confronts deep divisions over Israel that were exacerbated by the U.S. ally's military response to Hamas, progressive incumbents are seeking help from party leaders to quell pro-Israel Democrats' interest in primary challenges to lawmakers deemed insufficiently supportive of the war. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries has already heeded that call by endorsing Omar's reelection.

Nelson has also previously donated to a group seeking to unseat Tlaib and has a history of involvement with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has railed against her. He has donated to other Michigan Democratic candidates over the years, including Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) this cycle and Andy Levin in previous cycles, according to FEC records, as well as former Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Mich.).

It’s not clear if the alleged donation offer would have violated any campaign finance laws. Saurav Ghosh, the director for federal reform at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said that any potential coordination between a candidate and a donor floating that amount of financing would be illegal.

“It would be illegal for a wealthy donor and a person planning to run for office to essentially coordinate and line up $20 million in financing to support that person’s candidacy; this would raise serious corruption concerns about the candidate being wholly within that one donor's pocket,“ said Ghosh.

A promise to make a future donation boosting the candidate could count as a contribution under campaign finance laws and could thus qualify as an excessive contribution, Ghosh added, as the promised money would still end up directly benefiting the candidate even if it were routed through an outside group like a super PAC.

Nelson did not respond to a subsequent request for comment on the potential illegality of the alleged offer.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
Progressives double down on calls for cease&fire despite Israel&Hamas hostage deal

Progressives aren’t backing down from their push for a longer cease-fire in Gaza, despite a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas that will pause the fight for four to five days.

For weeks, those lawmakers have denounced the administration’s Israel policy, calling on President Joe Biden to demand a cease-fire and impose conditions on military aid to the U.S. ally. But Biden and his top aides, who agree Israel’s military should uproot Hamas from Gaza, insisted the only way to improve the situation was with a hostage deal. Only then, the administration argued, would there be a pause in fighting that made it safer to bring hostages home and increase life-saving aid to Palestinians.

Now progressives, who remain critical of the U.S. stance in the war, have to navigate pushing Biden their way immediately after he brokered the greatest diplomatic breakthrough of the early 50-day conflict.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of Biden’s most strident critics in favor of a cease-fire, was not satisfied with the pause in fighting and pointed to the toll of Palestinians killed or displaced in Gaza. She was among two-dozen lawmakers who, in a letter last week, urged Biden to establish a cease-fire.

“A temporary pause in the violence is not enough. We must move with urgency to save as many lives as possible and achieve a permanent cease-fire agreement,” she said in a statement Tuesday.

“When this short-term agreement expires, the bombing of innocent civilians will continue. We need a permanent cease-fire that saves lives, brings all the hostages and those arbitrarily detained home, and puts an end to this horrific violence.”

The term "cease-fire" has been adopted by those who want to see fighting stopped indefinitely. That is not the Biden administration’s position, which says it supports a "pause," a temporary halt to hostilities. Both definitionally mean the same thing, though there are some legal distinctions.

But in the context of the Israel-Hamas war, the difference is political, meant to distinguish between those who want to end the fighting and those who think breaks are needed to provide more humanitarian aid and secure the release of hostages.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has said a cease-fire would help Hamas but also called for conditions on future military aid to Israel, sketched out a path to better Israeli-Palestinian relations in a Wednesday New York Times op-ed.

“We must demand an immediate end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing,” he wrote. “There must also be a significant, extended humanitarian pause so that badly needed aid — food, water, medicine and fuel — can get into Gaza and save lives.”

The hostage deal is a “promising first step,” Sanders said.

Biden’s clash with the left flank of his party is a problem the president will need to navigate as he looks to keep Democrats united behind him in next year’s election while preventing the conflict from spreading elsewhere in the Middle East.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have also begun to discuss possible conditions for future military aid to Israel. Though those talks are preliminary, the possibility that more Democrats are openly calling for placing conditions on U.S. security assistance will complicate Biden's task.

One Senate Democrat, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said there are no signs progressives will ramp down the fight for their priorities on Israel and Gaza.

The bulk of Democrats still oppose a cease-fire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. And the question remains as to whether progressives can bring more mainstream Democrats over to their side.

Another cease-fire advocate, Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), on social media credited the pause to “the power of diplomacy” and to “our collective advocacy,” adding: “We must keep pushing for a permanent #CeasefireNOW to save lives, return all hostages, & end this horrific violence.”

Progressive PAC Justice Democrats said in order for peace, Washington must end “its unconditional political and financial support for a far-right government,” including Biden’s proposed $14 billion in military aid for Israel. Executive Director Alexandra Rojas said pressure for a cease-fire led to the deal announced Tuesday.

“This was only achieved because millions of people in this country and around the world have rallied and continue to demand a permanent cease-fire, led by a small group of progressive anti-war champions in Congress that we are proud to endorse,” Rojas said in a statement.

Other Democrats said the agreement validated Biden’s reluctance to press Israel to institute a cease-fire.

“I’m also thankful [Biden] did not heed calls for an immediate cease-fire weeks ago, as Israel could not have achieved this breakthrough had one occurred,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Tuesday night on social media. “A unilateral cease-fire only serves Hamas terrorists, who broke a cease-fire on Oct. 7th — and vow to do so again and again.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) had supported a pause in the fighting and argued a cease-fire would benefit Hamas. On Tuesday, he hailed the deal and emphasized the plight of American and Israeli hostages and their families in a statement, calling for the immediate release of all Hamas’s captives.

“The agreement reached today to release some hostages is a hopeful signal for some of the American and Israeli families whose lives have been shattered in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack against Israel,” Cardin said. “It also allows for a multi-day pause to allow for the increased delivery of life-saving humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, which we also see as critical to be clear that Israel’s fight is with Hamas, not with innocent Palestinians in Gaza.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the second senator to call for a cease-fire after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), hailed the new agreement but called it “a temporary cease-fire.” He was using language of those who want fighting to stop indefinitely, and not the wording the U.S. and Israel use, which is “pause.”

“I also hope that the cease-fire can provide an opportunity to negotiate extending the temporary cease-fire and working toward an enduring cease-fire,” Merkley said in a statement Tuesday.

Before a longer cease-fire can be realized, he said, “many challenges have to be resolved.” Those include the release of all the hostages Hamas took during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, an end to Hamas control of Gaza, a huge influx of aid and Israel committing to the right of Palestinians in Gaza to return to their homes.

Still, there were small signs that the agreement may have muted calls for a cease-fire among other Democrats.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a lead House progressive, made no mention of a cease-fire in his message Tuesday night.

“Congrats to [Biden],” Pocan said on social media. “Today’s deal to release some of the hostages in Gaza, allow humanitarian aid to enter, and pause the violence will bring us one step closer to hopefully ending this devastating conflict.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
The Ukraine funding window may be closing on Biden

Ukraine’s strongest supporters in Washington are looking at the three-week sprint after Thanksgiving as their best remaining hope of getting aid to the country.

But as Democrats continue to publicly express hope for the Biden administration’s nearly $106 billion funding request for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, they also remain vexed about how to move a bill through the Republican-run House.

The dynamics of the GOP House have alarmed the West Wing. Speaker Mike Johnson has indicated that he’ll at some point bring a vote on Ukraine, but those in the White House do not yet have a clear read on the new Republican leader or his negotiating style, according to two senior aides not authorized to speak publicly about private deliberations.

Few in Biden’s orbit have ever met Johnson, a religious conservative who was largely unknown until his stunning ascent to the speakership. And while the West Wing didn’t appreciate former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s grandstanding, they did feel like he eventually wanted to deal — and they are less sure about Johnson, according to the officials. Moreover, the same fringe group of Republicans who ousted McCarthy wield that same power over Johnson — and they are largely opposed to helping Ukraine, making a path to deal that much more difficult.

“People are well aware that if a vote were put up in the House of Representatives today, it would pass with an overwhelming majority of members — that the issue is not the level of support as it is getting to that vote,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.). “Because of the political conditions and the change in leadership, getting the vote has been the hard part.”

On two occasions already, Democrats tried but failed to get aid to Ukraine in a must-pass funding bill. With another deadline to spark action not coming until the latest stopgap funding bills expire in late January and early February, many of Congress’ strongest Ukraine backers fear the country can’t wait that long.

“I don’t know that Ukraine can survive until February of 2024,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said. “My sense is they start to run short on ammunition in the next several weeks.”

Believing there is an immediate need, Ukraine advocates are gearing up for a standalone Senate vote on funding when they return from break. Should that vote happen, it would provide a massive test both for the administration’s ability to work Capitol Hill and one of the bedrock elements of the president’s foreign policy agenda.

But the main obstacle still remains: what to do about Republican opposition.

Since passage of the last Ukraine supplemental, Kyiv’s counteroffensive has stalled and conservative support in Washington has crumbled with the GOP’s leader, Donald Trump, opposing it. The outbreak of war in the Middle East has led to the addition of aid to Israel — and growing demands by progressive Democrats for a cease-fire and conditions on aid to Israel.

While support for Israel has strong support in both chambers, senators and administration officials insist that Israel and Ukraine funding remain together.

The thornier challenge is meeting the Republican demand that the package address border policy. The administration’s request includes funding for border security, but the GOP insists it include policy changes to stem the number of people crossing the border, too.

“If Republicans want to have a serious conversation about reforms that will improve our immigration system, we are open to a discussion,” a White House spokesperson said. “We disagree with many of the policies contained in the Senate Republican border proposal. Further, we do not see anything in their proposal about creating an earned path to citizenship for Dreamers and others.”

The bipartisan group of lawmakers who are trying to negotiate a border compromise have continued to talk over the Thanksgiving break, according to a Senate aide. But for many lawmakers, the initial meetings before the holiday only brought the challenge into clearer view.

“They’ve been frustrating,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the lead Republicans in the group, said of the discussions. “We’ll see what happens. I’m not going to support an appropriation supplemental that doesn’t have real border security.”

Democratic Ukraine supporters have embraced the idea that they must include border policy reforms. And while they don’t like marrying the two unrelated issues, they do see an upside if they’re able to address the political thorny issue of the border.

“This is really important funding. I think it’s important for the civilized world to take a stand against dictators like Vladimir Putin and terrorist groups like Hamas,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said. “And I also think we have a failed policy at the southern border, and we need to look at ways to fix it.”

The White House is not directly involved in the border conversations, but officials have expressed support for them publicly and privately, according to several people involved in the discussions.

“President Biden and the leaders in the Senate, both Republican and Democrat, are rock solid in their support of Ukraine,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is close with Biden, said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“We have to bear down, get this done and get this supplemental passed soon because the brave Ukrainians who are fighting as winter is coming are looking at losing the supplies they've needed for ammunition, for missiles, for drones, for defense, for armor, and we cannot possibly afford to abandon Ukraine,” he added. “If our Republican colleagues demand too much in this negotiation, we won't be able to get it passed in the Senate and then in the House.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said border policy must be included in the deal in order to get Ukraine funding through Congress. Inside the White House, McConnell has emerged as an unlikely hero for his steadfast support of Ukraine, which has helped, to a large degree, keep his party in line. But the West Wing has growing fears that the Kentucky senator’s grip on his party has slipped, according to the two senior aides granted anonymity to speak about private discussions.

And a border deal carries risk for Democrats. A chief Republican policy proposal would increase the standard migrants must clear to gain asylum into the United States, an idea strongly opposed by progressives.

“We've been the beacon of light around this world for many, many generations, when it comes to people who are fleeing violence and fleeing for the sake of their life,” said Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.). “For us to actually weaken that process would be shameful on America. It would be a shame to any member of the House or the Senate that would ever put that on this president's desk, and I don't see this president signing a bill with that in it.”

Members of several House caucuses — the Congressional Asian Pacific American, Congressional Black, Congressional Hispanic and Congressional Progressive caucuses — said in a statement earlier this month that they deeply oppose attaching new policy to a funding bill.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 13:00:04 -0500 ishook
Lawmakers ‘mystified’ after NASA scales back Mars collection program

Lawmakers from both parties are taking aim at NASA's recent decision to cut funding for its own mission to bring Martian samples back to Earth, calling the move “short-sighted and misguided” and claiming it will cost jobs in California.

The goal of the Mars Sample Return mission is to bring rocks and dust collected by the Perseverance rover on the Martian surface back to Earth in 2033. But the program’s cost estimates have skyrocketed, and uncertainty over whether Congress can agree to a full-year budget prompted the space agency in early November to slow down the program.

That didn’t sit well with six California lawmakers, who urged the space agency to reverse its decision to proactively cut funding to the program and instead wait for the appropriations picture to be sorted out before they adjust.

“This short-sighted and misguided decision by NASA will cost hundreds of jobs and a decade of lost science, and it flies in the face of congressional authority,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter obtained by POLITICO. “We are mystified by NASA’s rash decision to suggest at this stage of the appropriations process that any cuts would be necessary.”

The letter, addressed to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, was led by California Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Alex Padilla, both Democrats, and signed by Democrats Rep. Judy Chu and Sen. Laphonza Butler. Reps. Mike Garcia and Young Kim, both Republicans, also signed on.

The job cuts would affect NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — based in California, the lawmakers’ home state — which sends robots to Mars.

“This talent represents a national asset that we cannot afford to lose, and if this uniquely talented workforce is lost to the private sector, it will be near impossible to reassemble,” the letter reads.

Lawmakers underscored the importance of NASA’s scientific endeavors in its quest to counter China, a point that’ll likely resonate with Nelson, who has made such achievements a primary objective during his tenure. It would be the first time samples from the Red Planet have ever been returned to Earth — a mission China is also actively pursuing.

The job of the Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars in February 2021, is to collect and cache samples on the planet in the first part of a proposed three-step effort. It will place samples into small tubes that can sit on the surface for decades waiting for their return trip.

NASA will partner with the European Space Agency for the second part of the mission. A rover named Fetch will pick up the tubes and load them into a spacecraft about the size of a soccer ball that will blast off from the surface. That small orb will rendezvous with a larger spacecraft orbiting Mars in the third leg of the program. The larger vehicle will drop the sample-holding ball somewhere in the Utah desert.

Under NASA’s funding cuts, the program won’t be able to meet the 2030 launch window, set by an independent review, for a sample retrieval lander. Billions of dollars in contracts supporting American businesses could be canceled as well, the lawmakers write.

“It is our responsibility to spend American taxpayer funding responsibly. Significant reductions in spending must be implemented immediately or the program will not have sufficient funds to last through the fiscal year,” Margaret Vo Schaus, NASA’s chief financial officer, said in a statement.

The estimated price tag for NASA’s Mars Sample Return effort has steeply risen from $4 billion to as much as $11 billion because the program was set with an “unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning,” according to the independent review released by the space agency in September.

The increase in price has raised concerns about its viability among NASA’s top officials. During a meeting on Nov. 13, Sandra Connelly, the space agency’s deputy associate administrator for science, announced that the program would be scaled back due to the turmoil in Congress.

“The intent is to enable sufficient funding to carry us throughout the year so we can continue working on and architecting this mission,” she said.

A House bill would keep NASA’s full funding request of $949.3 million, and a Senate bill — which includes language to cut the program if it exceeds $5.3 billion — would give the agency only $300 million.

While NASA awaits the final congressional appropriations, “we continue to plan our available funding prudently under the current continuing resolution. That includes planning to the most conservative funding level” to account for only receiving the $300 million from the Senate, Vo Schaus said.

NASA made the drastic move to be ready for a “worst-case scenario” if the House’s continuing resolution expires, Connelly said. Lawmakers passed the funding patch in time for the Nov. 17 deadline, but the agency is operating on last year’s $822.3 million budget until the Feb. 2 deadline.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 10:45:02 -0500 ishook
Workers at Two More B&N Stores Vote to Unionize Wed, 22 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook 'Freelance Isn't Free' Becomes Law in New York State Wed, 22 Nov 2023 09:45:03 -0500 ishook Why China and Boeing Still Need Each Other Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:20:04 -0500 ishook Some Arizona Democrats stay home while their primary opponents get invited to schmooze in Washington

Few House seats look more appealing for Democrats to flip than Arizona's 1st District in 2024. Republican Rep. David Schweikert won his race by less than 1 percentage point in 2022, and the Democratic primary to take him on has already attracted seven candidates.

The field includes a Clinton White House alum, a former broadcast journalist and an American Red Cross executive. And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee views the seat as one of the best pick up opportunities for House Democrats to flip the chamber in 2024.

But not everyone in the primary is getting the same attention from the party committee. Only half of the field was invited to a recent week of candidate events hosted by the DCCC in Washington, dredging up old criticisms of the campaign committee's favoritism in primary races.

“I was intrigued and disappointed,” said Kurt Kroemer, who was one of those candidates not invited. There are “wonderful, brilliant people that they’re meeting [in Washington], so that begets other things that begets other things that begets other things.”

The Democratic Party has long been criticized for how it operates in open races, both for backing candidates early and for not supporting candidates enough in previous cycles — all boiling down to accusations of unfair play, including in Arizona’s 1st district.

“They’re definitely playing favorites here,” said an Arizona-based Democratic leader familiar with the campaigns in the district who was granted anonymity to discuss internal party dynamics.

Two of the top three Democratic fundraisers in the race were also not invited, Conor O’Callaghan and Andrew Horne. Though both have also made personal loans to their campaigns.

A person close to Horne said the campaign was “disappointed" by not getting an invite, and added that the campaign has been doing what the DCCC asks of it.

"While the campaign was disappointed in the decision, the fact is the voters of AZ-01 will decide who wins this primary, not the DCCC,” O’Callaghan campaign spokesperson Matt Grodsky said in a statement to POLITICO. "Voters care about nominating an actual Democrat who can win next November.”

The DCCC rejected the idea that any of the candidates were getting special treatment from the party committee by getting an invite to candidate week. But there is a recognized advantage to rubbing shoulders in D.C.

The candidates from the race who were invited, all highlighted their trips to Wasington on social media. State Rep. Amish Shah said on X that he was “honored to be one of the few selected for DCCC Fly-In Week.” Andrei Cherny, who was president of Democracy Journal, a former state party chair and a co-founder of No Labels, tweeted live from a meeting at the DNC headquarters, where a pro-Palestinian protest drew national attention. And Marlene Galan-Woods, the widow of late-Sen. John McCain’s chief of staff, shared a sentimental recap of her week from the Lincoln Memorial.

“The DCCC is committed to strengthening the Democratic battlefield, which is why multiple candidates across targeted districts who have ongoing partnerships with the Committee were invited, including in AZ-01,” said DCCC spokesperson Courtney Rice, in a statement to POLITICO.

“It’s clear a consultant gave their candidate bad advice about how to approach a relationship with the DCCC and is now trying to land a negative story to make up for it. If there’s been a change of heart, and they would like to work together moving forward, we would welcome it,” she said.

The bluing district includes Scottsdale suburbs as well as much of the Navajo Nation. Moderate Democrats like Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema have performed well there, while Republicans in the mold of former President Donald Trump, like Kari Lake and Blake Masters, failed to win over voters. The district also became more Democratic after redistricting.

The competition to win over DCCC support will be crucial to flipping the district. Arizona’s 1st District was not on its initial target list last cycle but ended up drawing significant spending from both parties. Schweikert was outraised and outspent by his Democratic rival, but the National Republican Congressional Committee and other Republican-aligned groups supported Schweikert with about $2.8 million to support the incumbent compared to $2.1 million from Democratic groups in 2022, according to OpenSecrets.

The DCCC can also extend extra support when it comes to campaign software, lists of the best consultants and campaign support in addition to its outside spending.

Kroemer found out about the meeting from another candidate, who was also not invited, and when he confronted the DCCC about being excluded, he was told that he hadn’t yet raised enough money to qualify for an invitation. He’s raised $250,000 since getting in the race in April, self-funding more than half of that haul — the lowest of all the major candidates.

Kroemer said that the DCCC’s focus on fundraising numbers when the primary is not until next August creates the wrong incentives for candidates.

“I don’t have any animus toward the DCCC. The DCCC is doing what they think is the right thing. What I’m suggesting is there’s some probability that they’re wrong,” Kroemer said.

O’Callaghan, meanwhile, has seeded his campaign with $637,000 of his own money and already run some TV ads in the Phoenix market.

Schweikert has raised $1.3 million so far, the most of any declared candidate.

Rice denied that there was any fundraising metric needed to get an invitation to candidate week.

“This is a mischaracterization of a comprehensive process of holistically evaluating our partnerships — or lack thereof — with campaigns over an extended period of time. Candidates in battleground districts that have an ongoing partnership and open line of communication with the DCCC were invited,” she said.

The local Arizona Democrat said the DCCC showed preferential treatment in the AZ-01 primary before. Last cycle the DCCC favored Jevin Hodge over Adam Metzendorf — and failed to flip the seat. Though the committee played a limited role, spending only $95,000 on the race, according to OpenSecrets.

This time around the local Democrat told one candidate who wasn’t invited that “these DCCC people aren’t here on the ground and they don’t understand what’s happening … I tell [the candidate], ‘don’t worry about them. They’ll come after the primary.”

“If you spend all of your time worrying about people at a desk in D.C.,” they said, “then you’re going to lose.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:00:04 -0500 ishook
Inside the school voucher debate: Lifeline for poor kids or welfare for rich families

Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida, Arizona, Iowa, Arkansas and elsewhere passed massive expansions to school vouchers this year, fueled by anger over pandemic-era school closures and disagreements over what kids are taught.

The new taxpayer-funded scholarships grant families thousands of dollars to educate their kids how they see fit — whether it's through private schools, homeschooling or some other alternative to public classrooms.

“A lot of the families who showed up at the school board meetings upset at the curriculum, they’re seeing school choice as a good solution,” Corey DeAngelis, a senior fellow at the American Federation for Children who has been called the “school choice evangelist,” said in an interview.

When school choice programs began decades ago, they were primarily meant to assist low-income families seen to be trapped in failing local public schools and students with disabilities. But the new vouchers in many cases lift — or even eliminate — household income caps, giving wealthier families state cash to send their kids to private schools.

With enrollment surging in these programs — which Republicans say shows how desperate families are for more education choices — early data shows that students in some of these states aren't leaving their public schools for private options. Instead, most scholarships are going to incoming kindergarteners and students already enrolled in private schools.

Democrats and teachers unions have blasted the vouchers as handouts to wealthy families that don’t need the assistance. The programs have also caused a fissure among Republicans, most notably in Texas, with lawmakers representing rural areas where private schools are scarce and public schools are a bedrock of the local economy often opposing the initiatives.

“I’ve been studying school choice for 25 years,” Patrick Wolf, an education policy professor at the University of Arkansas, said in an interview. “This is the big breakout year.”

Thousands apply for vouchers

At least 20 states have embraced school choice policies in some form, with eight enacting systems that are universal or close to it, meaning that they are widely available to all students without restrictions. The programs are emerging primarily in staunchly conservative states like Indiana, Idaho, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Just like many changes in education that have unfolded in recent years, some experts credit the pandemic with opening a political window for states to expand school choice.

Frustrated over school closures and mask mandates during the first year of the pandemic, parents then turned their ire on parts of the curriculum they disapproved of, like “woke” diversity policies or LGBTQ+ inclusion.

The next step was simply to leave the public school system altogether.

Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and Arkansas’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders this year prioritized passing vouchers in their states. DeSantis, who is running for president, has gone the furthest, signing into law a program that gives every K-12 student access to about $8,600 in education vouchers regardless of household income.

On the campaign trail in Nevada, Florida’s governor vowed to create a national school choice program modeled after Florida.

In states that are expanding school choice, enrollment is often exceeding expectations:

  • At least 242,929 students enrolled in Florida’s two central voucher programs, an increase of about 42 percent compared to 170,000 students last year, according to data released by the state’s leading scholarship administering organization. Of those students, 122,895 are new enrollees to the program, the first wave to use the new universally available vouchers.
  • Iowa has approved 18,893 students for its new education savings accounts so far this fall, granting them vouchers worth $7,600 toward a private school or other expenses like tutoring, according to the state Department of Education.
  • Some 4,795 students are using vouchers worth $6,672 to enroll in private schools in Arkansas, according to the latest data from state lawmakers.
  • And in Arizona, about 68,000 students are using scholarships worth $7,300 apiece, driving program costs to $665 million — $40 million above original estimates.

That difference is a significant sore spot for Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs and the Republican Legislature.

At that rate, Hobbs claims school choice “threatens to decimate” Arizona’s budget due to the program being “unaccountable and unsustainable.” Yet Republican leaders disagree, contending the program is actually saving Arizona money because it’s cheaper to educate students in private schools — even though more students are added to state enrollments.

“The Governor’s calculation is in error,” Arizona Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said in October in a joint statement alongside GOP legislative leaders.

School choice expansions are fueled, in part, by groups like theAmerican Federation for Children — founded by former Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — sending millions of dollars to candidates who support them. For the 2022 election cycle, the organization boasted donating $9 million to candidates backing school choice with reportedly solid success — winning 277 out of 368 races.

The organization is vowing to pump $10 million into contesting 2024 elections through a new national political action committee.

“If you’re a candidate or lawmaker who opposes school choice and freedom in education – you’re a target,” Tommy Schultz, CEO of American Federation for Children, said in a statement.

So far, though, it’s mainly Republicans jumping on school choice.

In Democrat-controlled Illinois, for example, lawmakers declined to keep paying for vouchers that served almost 10,000 low-income students as the state’s legislative session wrapped up in November. Against cries from Republicans and supporters, a vote for keeping the scholarships alive was never called by Democratic House leaders there.

Urban-rural divide

One of the most contentious fights over a universal school choice bill is taking place in Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott pressured the GOP-controlled Legislature to consider a proposal giving around 40,000 students access to about $10,500 in vouchers for private schooling or $1,000 toward homeschooling. It’s all part of a $7 billion education package.

The price tag, though, spurred an unlikely alliance this month between some House Republicans and Democrats to oppose the massive bill, claiming the plan was too expensive and would disrupt traditional public schools in rural areas, which are often one of the only options for students besides homeschooling.

“We can’t pay for the program,” state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from rural Bryan, Tex. who sponsored the amendment removing the school choice provision from the education package, said recently on the Texas House floor. “It is going to break the state of Texas when this thing reaches its maximum use.”

Other Texas Republicans pleaded with their counterparts to embrace the voucher program, telling them it would benefit students who are stuck in failing schools or bad situations like being bullied in their current school. The legislation would allow thousands of new students access to private schooling options that without a voucher may not be possible, they said.

“The rich in Texas have school choice,” state Rep. Brian Harrison, a Midlothian Republican, said on the floor opposing Raney’s amendment. “Poor Texans do not.”

Texas lawmakers ultimately rejected Abbott’s voucher proposal last week by an 84-63 vote in the House, the latest time the Legislature has rebuffed the governor’s top education priority. Abbott in turn warned lawmakers that he would order them back to the Capitol next year to try again.

That dynamic — the wealthy benefitting from vouchers while the poor are stuck — appears to be playing out nationally. While school choice is especially popular for families with incoming kindergarteners, data shows students who are accessing thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds are often already enrolled in private schools.

In Florida, 84,505, or 69 percent, of these new voucher recipients were already enrolled in private school. A much smaller group — 16,096, or 13 percent of voucher students — left their public schools to enter the program. Another 22,294 students began kindergarten with a scholarship.

“Does 16,096 [students] represent an ‘exodus’ from the public schools as critics forecast [the law] would cause?” officials with Step Up For Students, Florida’s central scholarship administering organization, wrote in response to concerns raised about potential legislation costs.

Nearly half of new enrollees to Florida’s expanded scholarship program — 53,828 students — are above the previous income thresholds for scoring Florida’s scholarships, feeding criticism from Democrats and other adversaries to the 2023 voucher law they argued would be a “blank check” for millionaires and billionaires.

More than half of the voucher funding in Arizona is going to students previously enrolled in private school, homeschooling or other non-public options, according to a memo circulated by the Hobbs administration. In 2022 in Arizona, 45 percent of scholarship applicants came from the wealthiest quarter of students in the state, according to an analysis from one think tank.

In a similar trend, nearly all students participating in the $32.5 million Arkansas voucher program — 95 percent — were either entering kindergarten or enrolled in a private school the previous year, according to the latest available data. The program is open to students from failing schools, incoming kindergarteners, disabled students and current private school enrollees — though kids from low-ranked schools aren’t yet accessing the vouchers.

The results in Arkansas illustrate an issue for states attempting to scale up school choice: availability of private schools. For Arkansas, 75 percent of voucher recipients came from the most populated areas of the state, the central region including Little Rock and northwest encompassing Fayetteville. The GOP-controlled Legislature acknowledged that upping the supply of schooling options, “particularly in currently underrepresented geographies,” is a key goal as the program expands to all students by 2025.

“The hope is as this program scales up, additional supply will come,” said Wolf, a leading school choice scholar in Arkansas. “I think the number of students participating coming out of low-rated public schools is going to increase pretty substantially next year.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:00:04 -0500 ishook
Altman’s OpenAI ouster leaves D.C. asking: Now what?

Four days and counting after the OpenAI board abruptly fired company co-founder and CEO Sam Altman, the corporate melodrama is far from resolved. And Washington policymakers already struggling to catch up with a fast-moving technology were caught off-guard by an even faster-moving boardroom drama.

“We lived through three, maybe four seasons of Succession this weekend,” said Divyansh Kaushik, an AI policy researcher and associate director for emerging technologies and national security at the Federation of American Scientists.

There’s no finale in sight. Reports emerged on Tuesday that Altman, who has since taken a job at Microsoft, could still return to OpenAI in some capacity. Regardless of how things shake out, the chaos is likely to impact how Congress and the Biden administration approach AI regulation.

Altman has played a central role as a kind of AI guide for Congress ever since OpenAI’s uncannily human chatbot, ChatGPT, triggered Washington’s newfound fixation on AI. His Senate testimony in May was lauded by both sides of the aisle, with lawmakers praising his “genuine and authentic” desire to help craft new AI rules.

The upheaval could spark new antitrust concerns. If Microsoft, formerly OpenAI’s top investor, emerges as the direct owner of most or all of the company’s infrastructure and talent, its direct clout in the space will only grow, raising new questions about corporate concentration in the AI industry.

“I wouldn't be surprised if antitrust advocates on the Hill want more scrutiny on Microsoft's new AI lab by making the argument that essentially Microsoft acquired OpenAI without any regulatory scrutiny,” said Kaushik. He added that the issue will be “even more pronounced” if most OpenAI employees follow through on their threat to join Altman at Microsoft.

Rohit Chopra, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is already warning that the AI industry could be heading toward oligopoly. Altman’s ouster, and a Microsoft consolidation of power, could send it further in that direction.

The OpenAI board’s chaotic coup, reportedly undertaken in the name of AI safety, could also heighten Washington’s interest in existential risks posed by advanced AI — or discredit those fears and the tech-world ideologies associated with them, including effective altruism and longtermism.

AI experts across Silicon Valley are increasingly at odds over the risks and rewards associated with advanced AI, a debate that is also shaping Washington’s efforts to corral it.

While some researchers and venture capitalists push for the technology’s rapid development, others warn that long-term risks posed by advanced AI systems — including, in some readings, possible human extinction — require an incredibly cautious approach.

Both sides of the fight are already battling for influence in Washington.

Zach Graves, executive director at the Foundation for American Innovation, said how Washington responds to future arguments about existential AI risk will depend on why the OpenAI board chose to oust Altman.

“It might just be that they made a very big miscalculation, [and] they didn’t have much to back it up,” Graves said.

But if details emerge that suggest real safety concerns — including the possible development of “artificial general intelligence,” seen as a dangerous technological line to cross by some on OpenAI’s board — policymakers could become even more interested in AI’s cataclysmic potential and the organizations sounding the alarm.

“I think there's going to be more scrutiny on [effective altruist] stuff in general, probably from both sides of the aisle,” Graves said. “They broke through into the mainstream discourse.”

With the dust still swirling around OpenAI and Altman, even lawmakers at the forefront of Washington’s AI efforts were reluctant to immediately weigh in.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did not respond to a request to comment on the kerfuffle. Neither did spokespeople for Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). Spokespeople for Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) declined to comment. Only Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) — who serves as part of the Senate’s AI “gang of four” policy leaders alongside Schumer, Heinrich and Young — had thoughts.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with Sam Altman several times on Capitol Hill and have appreciated his insight into the development of artificial intelligence,” Rounds said in a statement to POLITICO. The senator added that Altman’s “willingness to work with policymakers has been extremely helpful,” and said he’s “confident [Altman] will continue to contribute to the advancement of this valuable new tool.”

Expect more scrutiny of OpenAI’s leadership shift once the dust settles. As of Tuesday, the company is now being led by Emmett Shear, the former CEO of video streaming service Twitch whose ties to effective altruism dovetail with his deep skepticism of rapid AI development. Shear has previously put the risk of AI “doom” at somewhere between five and 50 percent — and if he sticks around as CEO, he may take that apocalyptic message to Washington.

Kaushik said Shear’s appointment “might intensify calls in D.C. for stricter regulation and more rigorous AI safety measures.” He pointed to a June tweet from Shear that suggested a Nazi world takeover would be preferable to an advanced AI that goes rogue.

“I don't see how that bodes well for OpenAI's relationships in D.C., or anywhere for that matter,” Kaushik said.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:00:04 -0500 ishook
Nikki Haley is consolidating the ‘Never Trump’ vote

Two years after Nikki Haley vowed not to challenge Donald Trump for the presidential nomination, the former South Carolina governor who served in his administration and once called him a “friend” is becoming the standard-bearer of the movement to knock him out.

In recent weeks, Haley has drawn a surge in support from Trump-skeptical Republicans across the GOP, including donors and organizers in early voting states. A group of former Tim Scott donors is preparing to host a fundraiser for her in Manhattan. Haley’s campaign events in New Hampshire this week required overflow rooms. And in Iowa — where Haley has steeper competition from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantissome conservatives are busy corralling support for her.

“Nikki Haley is certainly locking up a lot of the Never Trumpers,” said Matthew Bartlett, a Republican operative who has worked on several presidential campaigns and is unaffiliated this cycle. “She also has real room to grow.”

Donors getting ready to host Haley in New York on Dec. 4 include two people close to Paul Singer, the hedge fund billionaire who has been critical of Trump. Greg Wendt, a former Scott supporter who has donated to moderate, anti-Trump Republicans such as John Kasich and John McCain, is now expressing interest in Haley, according to a New York City-based Republican fundraiser granted anonymity to speak freely about private conversations. And Doug Gross, a Republican operative who was the Iowa GOP nominee for governor in 2002, told POLITICO he plans to caucus for Haley after surveying the field for months in search of an alternative to Trump.

“Never Trumpers and ‘Anybody but Trumpers’ are really consolidating around her from a financial standpoint,” said Gross, who was chief of staff to former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

Haley is benefiting from this recent surge of support. She is now polling ahead of DeSantis in New Hampshire, the first primary state, and in her home state of South Carolina. One recent survey showed her running neck and neck with DeSantis in Iowa.

“I was kind of vacillating between three or four different people,” said Carmine Boal, a former state lawmaker from Iowa who said she’s supporting Haley because she thinks she is the most likely candidate to topple Trump. “The only thing I knew was I would not support him in the caucuses. … I think [Haley] will do well with the independents, particularly suburban women. And everyone knows elections are won or lost by the independent vote.”

Alyssa Farah Griffin, a co-host of “The View” and former Trump White House aide who has been critical of the former president’s candidacy, described Haley on Tuesday as “hands down the best option to beat Trump.”

Still, Haley is running far behind the former president. And in a party he continues to dominate, consolidating the anti-Trump vote is likely to get Haley only so far. In a still-crowded primary, Haley is in some ways the latest manifestation of the challenge confronting all of them: Run hard against Trump, and turn off those who stick by his side. Support him and lose those desperate for a different choice next year.

“It’s a lot of the old-school Republicans who did not like Trump, but voted for him the first time with their fingers crossed, and then refused to vote for him a second time,” Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican who routinely conducts focus groups of GOP voters, said of Haley’s sweet spot in the primary electorate.

But that is still not where most of the Republican electorate is.

“I do think that most people seem aware that her path is an extraordinarily narrow one,” Longwell said. “I mean, extraordinarily narrow.”

Haley is trying to widen that path by appealing to both the MAGA base and the rest of the Republican Party, as well as to its far-right conservatives and more moderate voters. After months of delivering unspecific answers on abortion policy that aimed to show nuance and compassion at the November debate, she voiced support for a state-level, six-week ban during a candidate forum hosted by a conservative evangelical group in Des Moines last week.

That is not unlike how Haley has approached Trump’s supporters and detractors, going through phases over the last eight years of opposing and praising Trump — and more recently, doing both.

As governor of South Carolina in 2016, Haley spoke out against Trump becoming the Republican nominee, putting her endorsement behind Sen. Marco Rubio. Then, after Trump’s election, her appointment as United Nations ambassador changed her relationship with the now-former president, and she included glowing remarks about Trump in a book she published after leaving the post in 2018.

But Haley in the aftermath of the 2021 riot at the Capitol oscillated between condemning Trump for decisions he made in the White House, to later declaring that conservatives “need him in the Republican Party.”

Now on the trail, Haley has sought to hold space for everyone’s feelings about Trump, repeatedly saying that he was “the right president at the right time,” but criticizing aspects of his foreign policy and personality. Even if she is drawing the support of “Never Trump” Republicans, she isn’t campaigning like one, as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie does.

“Where her support comes from are people who are ‘Maybe Trump,’ the people who voted for Trump twice, would vote for him against Joe Biden in a heartbeat, but are worried or at least interested in who else is out there,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.

At the moment, it appears to be working, and Haley is about to unleash a torrent of advertising in the final run-up to the early state contests. The Haley camp is currently leading the rest of the field with upcoming television ad reservations. From Thanksgiving week through the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, the top two groups to reserve ad time are the Haley campaign and her super PAC, Stand for America Fund Inc.

The Haley campaign so far has booked $4.2 million worth of ads from now to then in Iowa and New Hampshire, while SFA Fund has reserved $3.8 million, according to the tracking firm AdImpact. Haley’s campaign announced it plans to reserve a total of $10 million in television, radio and digital ads in the first two states.

DeSantis, meanwhile, has booked $1.5 million on TV in that same time frame — all in Iowa — and his aligned super PAC, Never Back Down, has $3.3 million worth of TV ads on the books in New Hampshire and Iowa ahead of the New Hampshire primary.

DeSantis is still drawing support of his own from some Trump critics: On Tuesday, Bob Vander Plaats, an influential evangelical leader in Iowa, endorsed him. But while people in DeSantis’ inner circle downplay Haley’s rise, NBC reported Tuesday that the super PAC closely aligned with the Florida governor’s campaign is pulling anti-Haley ads in Iowa because they aren’t well received.

Haley and her campaign are now taking a victory lap, openly claiming ownership of the No. 2 spot in the race, one that belonged exclusively to DeSantis for months.

“There is a growing consensus that Nikki Haley is the best challenger to take on Donald Trump and Joe Biden,” Olivia Perez-Cubas, Haley’s spokesperson, said in a statement to POLITICO. “This is a two-person race — between one man and one woman.”

On Tuesday, Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said, “Ron DeSantis must be devastated his Never Trump sugar daddies have found someone new.”

The DeSantis campaign declined to respond to Cheung’s comment.

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:00:04 -0500 ishook
How one judge is slowing down one of Trump’s biggest criminal cases

Judge Aileen Cannon seems to be in no hurry.

On paper, she has scheduled a trial to open next May in the case charging Donald Trump with hoarding national security secrets at Mar-a-Lago.

In reality, she has run the pretrial process at a leisurely pace that will make a postponement almost inevitable, according to experts on criminal prosecutions related to classified information.

Delaying Trump’s trial until after the November election would have a momentous implication: It might mean the trial never happens at all. If Trump wins the election and the case is still pending, he’s expected to order the Justice Department to shut it down.

Even a shorter delay would be fraught: Pushing the trial into the summer or fall could run headlong into the Republican National Convention or the heart of the general election campaign.

For now, Cannon, a Trump-appointed federal district judge in Florida, is officially sticking with the May 20 trial date she announced four months ago. She even recently denied Trump’s bid to push it back. But in a series of more technical rulings, Cannon has postponed key pretrial deadlines, and she has added further slack into the schedule simply by taking her time to resolve some fairly straightforward matters.

“It could be seen as a stealth attempt to delay the ultimate trial date without actually announcing that yet,” said Brian Greer, a former Central Intelligence Agency attorney.

“There’s pretty much no chance they could go to trial on May 20 with the current schedule,” he added.

David Aaron, a former DOJ national security prosecutor, agreed, saying a May 20 trial is unlikely “unless a lot of discipline is imposed.”

Early delays in a complex case

The case would not be a simple one for any judge to manage. Trump is charged with retaining classified documents at his Florida estate after he left the White House and then impeding the government’s effort to retrieve the records. Because much of the evidence in the case is classified, a 1980 law known as the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA, governs how that evidence should be handled.

Most federal judges outside the Washington area rarely encounter CIPA cases, and Cannon isn’t known to have handled one before Trump’s. She has already lamented some of the practical complications surrounding this one. A facility to store classified information near the southern Florida courthouse she has designated for the trial isn’t expected to be ready until early next year, the judge said during a Nov. 1 hearing.

Other delays are more substantive. Last month, after prosecutors in special counsel Jack Smith’s office ran into difficulties making a small amount of evidence in the case available to Trump and his lawyers due to what the government says is its extremely sensitive nature, Cannon suspended the deadlines for motions related to classified information.

She took more than five weeks to hold a hearing on Trump’s request for a new schedule and nine days more after that to issue a new one. And when she did finally set a new schedule, she put off the deadline for many pretrial motions by nearly 16 weeks.

“She’s certainly taken her time to litigate things,” Greer said.

Last week, prosecutors tried to jump-start the case by asking Cannon to give defense lawyers a Dec. 18 deadline to file most of their requests to use classified information at trial. The next day, before any of the defense attorneys had even responded, Cannon denied the request and said she doesn’t plan to set such a deadline until March 1.

“The signals are of a court that is proceeding slowly and methodically through the process,” said Brandon Van Grack, a former national security prosecutor who also was part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. “In order to have a trial by May, the court would just need to push the parties on a tighter deadline.”

At a hearing earlier this month, Cannon said prosecutors pressing for a faster schedule in the case were being unrealistic about the complications involved.

“I’m just having a hard time seeing how realistically this work can be accomplished in this compressed period of time, given the realities that we’re facing,” Cannon said.

A clash of legal and political calendars

Cannon’s approach stands in stark contrast with her counterpart in Washington, Judge Tanya Chutkan, who is overseeing the other federal criminal case against Trump. (Trump faces separate state-level criminal charges in Georgia and New York.)

The case in Washington, involving Trump’s efforts to interfere with the 2020 election results, is scheduled for trial in March — and Chutkan, an Obama appointee, has seemed determined to stick with that timeline. She has repeatedly insisted that she will not, and cannot, consider Trump’s political schedule as she sets deadlines for the case.

Cannon, in contrast, has so far danced around the issue of whether Trump should get any deference in scheduling because of his status as a presidential candidate. But those questions may soon become impossible to dodge.

The classified documents trial is expected to last for weeks or longer. If the May 20 start date proves infeasible, the trial could risk overlapping with the Republican convention, set to open July 15 in Milwaukee.

“Could she try to squeeze it in before that? Maybe, but I doubt she’d do that,” Greer said.

Delaying it until August, September or October would open its own can of worms, assuming Trump wins the GOP nomination. The political stakes would be white hot, as Trump would be sidelined from the campaign trail to attend a trial on charges that carry decades of potential prison time.

But pushing the trial until after the election might be the most controversial move of all. It would set up the chance for Trump to avoid the trial altogether by winning the election, because as president he could appoint an attorney general willing to fire the special counsel and drop the charges. Trump might even be able to pardon himself.

Many Trump critics are already deeply skeptical of Cannon. Before he was even indicted, she sided with Trump on issues related to the materials that investigators seized from Mar-a-Lago. A federal appeals court quickly blocked part of Cannon’s order and later overturned the rest of it.

“Judge Cannon’s bias is showing over and over again,” former Mueller deputy Andrew Weissmann wrote last week on X, formerly known as Twitter, declaring the judge to be “in the bag for Trump.”

Cannon is surely aware of the suspicion about her in some quarters. That has led some lawyers to conclude she may already know the trial is unlikely to start in May, but sees no reason at the moment to ignite the firestorm she would face if she puts it off.

Whatever Cannon’s motivations, there’s little dispute that she and prosecutors have very different views of the urgency of getting the case to trial.

“The Department of Justice is trying to do everything in its power ahead of trial to move as expeditiously as possible,” Van Grack said. “And the court is just reluctant to or resistant to any efforts to expedite the process.”

More delays on the horizon

Other significant pretrial showdowns are lurking in the case, all of which may cause further delays, attorneys warn.

One almost certain clash is over Trump’s plan to ask the judge to force prosecutors to gather more evidence that the defense thinks might be relevant to the case, like files from the National Archives and Records Administration, which manages presidential records. The Justice Department’s probe into Trump’s retention of classified records after his presidency kicked off after NARA notified the department that it was missing many records.

If any of that additional evidence is classified, the parties and the judge may have to go through multiple rounds of litigation about what portions can be used at the trial.

Another layer of complexity: Trump is not the only defendant in the case. His personal aide, Walter Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago facilities manager, Carlos de Oliveira, are also charged for allegedly helping Trump conceal the records and other evidence from investigators.

“With three defendants all having the opportunity to make motions, it could be that at least one of the defense teams decides to move to use a lot of classified information as evidence,” Aaron said.

Prosecutors are also likely to ask Cannon to allow special procedures at the trial itself, potentially proposing a procedure called the “silent witness rule” to try to admit some evidence without it being shown or read out in court. Sometimes witnesses testifying about classified matters even appear in disguise or are obscured from the public by a divider placed in the courtroom.

Trump, his co-defendants and members of the media will likely oppose such measures, leading to more litigation. This can put the government to a choice — sometimes called graymail — between making secrets public and abandoning a prosecution or part of it.

“There are valid reasons [to object] from a press perspective and a defense perspective, but it also does provide an opportunity for mischief by the defense as part of the graymail problem that CIPA is supposed to thwart,” Aaron said. “CIPA will thwart the graymail problem, but that does sometimes take time.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 06:00:04 -0500 ishook
In Brief: November 21, 2023 Wed, 22 Nov 2023 01:25:05 -0500 ishook Dutch election is wide open as voting begins Wed, 22 Nov 2023 00:40:03 -0500 ishook Ukrainians who fled their country for Israel find themselves yet again living with war

ASHKELON, Israel — Tatyana Prima thought she’d left the bombs behind when she fled Ukraine more than a year and a half ago, after Russia decimated her city, Mariupol. The 38-year-old escaped with her injured husband and young daughter, bringing the family to safety in southern Israel.

The calm she was slowly regaining shattered again on Oct. 7, when Hamas militants invaded.

“All these sounds of war that we hear now, they sometimes work as a trigger that brings back memories of what we’ve gone through in Mariupol,” she said. “It’s hard feeling like that you’re the one responsible for your child, the one who wants what’s best for them, and in some way like you’ve failed them.”

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, more than 45,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in Israel, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics and aid groups. Like Prima, most of them were slowly picking up the pieces of their lives and finding ways to cope when the war in Israel erupted. Now they are reliving their trauma. Some have left Israel, but many remain — refusing to again flee a war. Most have lost in-person support systems due to restrictions around gatherings. Others have lost hope of reuniting with loved ones they left behind.

On Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked, killing some 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages, Prima awoke to the sound of alarms. She lives in the coastal city of Ashkelon, a few kilometers from the Gaza Strip. The thud of airstrikes and shelling is constant as Israel pushes forward with its offensive. She describes it as “deja vu,” reminding her of the morning in Mariupol that forever changed her life.

Mariupol has been one of Ukraine’s hardest-hit cities, besieged and bombarded for weeks as people scrounged for food, water and heat and were cut off from the world with no telecommunications. During the war’s early weeks, Prima cooked over an outdoor fire, used snow for drinking water, and sheltered with a dozen relatives on the outskirts of the city, she said.

But the shelling intensified, and rockets fell around them. After her husband’s hand was blown off fetching water, she decided to leave.

“That day marked a descent into hell,” she said.

The family joined a convoy of cars fleeing the city, passing corpses as black ash fell from airstrikes. They went through countless Russian checkpoints and by April 2022 arrived in Israel, where her husband’s relatives lived in Ashkelon. Many Ukrainians live in the country’s south. There’s a large Russian-speaking community, and rent is often lower than in bigger, central cities.

Ashkelon residents were accustomed to occasional rockets from Gaza, but attacks have surged in the war. Air raid sirens are a constant sound. While most rockets are intercepted, about 80 have landed since the war in populated areas or empty fields, accounting for nearly one-third of all Hamas rocket incidents in Israel, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

Shelling sounds remind Prima of her agony in Ukraine, yet she remains stoic when speaking about Israel’s war, convinced the army and the country’s Iron Dome defense system will protect her family.

But the war has intensified feelings of isolation, she said. Her community support groups have moved online — in-person gatherings are restricted to buildings with bomb shelters because of the threat of attacks.

“There is this tremendous hopelessness that these people are facing,” said Dr. Koen Sevenants, a mental health specialist with experience in conflict zones. Sevenants and other experts warn that when people who haven’t fully recovered from a traumatic incident are revictimized, the triggering event can often be worse, with risk for depression and anxiety.

Refugee organizations have adapted some of their programs, providing financial assistance and bringing food to people who don’t feel safe leaving their homes. But they can’t do it all, said Rabbi Olya Weinstein of Project Kesher, which helps some 6,000 people who fled the war in Ukraine and brings families groceries or provides food vouchers.

“Under rockets, it’s very hard to be available for everyone,” said Weinstein, who hears people’s concerns for the future. “They’re asking what will happen ... what will happen with Israel, will we remain here forever, will we remain alive, what will happen to our kids?”

Some Ukrainians have been forced to move within Israel since the war began. About 100 children sheltering at a Jewish home in Ashkelon fled soon after Hamas attacked to the center of the country, said Yael Eckstein, of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a philanthropic organization that supports the children.

It was the second time they were forced from their home in less than two years — they fled a city near Ukraine’s capital and evacuated to Israel during the early weeks of that war. They’re struggling to process everything, Eckstein said, with one asking: “Since he’s now living in a war zone, why can’t he go back to Ukraine?”

Other Ukrainians are trapped in Gaza, with 160 evacuated so far, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It’s unclear how many remain in Hamas-ruled Gaza, where more than 12,700 Palestinians, most of them women and minors, have been killed since the war began, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilian and militant deaths.

In Israel, Veronika Chotari thought she’d see her 18-year-old daughter, Tereza, for the holidays. Her daughter stayed in Ukraine last year when Chotari sought cancer treatment in Israel for her youngest child, moving into the quiet central town of Petah Tikva. Until October, she’d never heard a siren there, she said.

Now, instead of planning to see each other, the two spend hours texting from bomb shelters, making sure the other is alive.

“I’m worried about you mom, please I know it’s impossible but let’s find another place for you,” Tereza wrote. “I’m tired of all this, I hate these wars.”

Wed, 22 Nov 2023 00:40:03 -0500 ishook
Colorado Supreme Court Agrees to Take Up Trump 14th Amendment Case Tue, 21 Nov 2023 22:50:05 -0500 ishook Political Pressures on Biden Helped Drive ‘Secret Cell’ of Aides in Hostage Talks Tue, 21 Nov 2023 22:50:05 -0500 ishook Inside the ‘excruciating’ 5 weeks that led to the Israel&Hamas deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu grabbed the arm of the White House’s top Middle East official as they exited a contentious meeting in Israel on Nov. 14. Talks to secure the release of 240 hostages held by Hamas militants were stalling and tensions were high.

Brett McGurk turned around to find the Israeli leader looking straight back at him. “We need this deal,” Netanyahu said.

A week later, the Israeli leader got what he wanted.

Both the Israeli government and Hamas announced Tuesday night that they agreed to a long-anticipated deal: Hamas would release 50 women and children taken from Israel on Oct. 7.

Three Americans will be among them, including a three year old girl, Abigail, whose parents the militants killed during last month’s attack. Israel will release around 150 Palestinian prisoners, women and teenagers, as fighting in the six week war pauses for four to five days. The release of every additional 10 hostages beyond the initial 50 would lead to an extra day’s pause in fighting, Netanyahu’s office said Tuesday night.

The multi-page agreement, which will take effect 24 hours after the announcement, details the technical aspects of a treacherous pact that took five grueling weeks to complete — even though there was a deal on the table before Israel launched its military operation against Hamas. The arrangement still amounts to one thing: the biggest diplomatic breakthrough of the conflict, one that Biden administration officials hope leads to a surge in humanitarian aid for suffering Palestinians in Gaza and space to bring more hostages home.

“We are determined to get them all out. That has been a main demand of this deal,” a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday night before the announcement.

The job is not done. Around 200 hostages — men, Israel Defense Forces soldiers, dual and foreign nationals — will remain behind, though the U.S. and Israel hold out hope some of them will immediately follow the initial wave. Negotiations continue for their release, with U.S. officials noting Hamas, which is under immense military pressure, could use the break in fighting to release more people.

The war will proceed whenever the hostage transfers end. “We are at war, and we will continue the war,” Netanyahu said hours before the announcement. “We will continue until we achieve all our goals.” Those objectives, the prime minister’s office reiterated Tuesday, are to “continue the war in order to return home all of the hostages, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that there will be no new threat to the State of Israel from Gaza.”

Still, diplomacy that began shortly after the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history, which saw 1,200 people killed, has led to the first sign of a light in a dark time. The Biden administration’s intention is to use the first real deescalation by Israel and Hamas as a springboard to get more hostages home.

A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing how the hostage deal crossed the finish line. A second senior administration official provided additional details of the negotiations to POLITICO. Both were granted anonymity to reveal sensitive and intense diplomatic moments.

Qatar, the close U.S. ally with influence over Hamas, approached the White House shortly after Oct. 7 with information about the hostages the militants had just taken. Israel and the world were still reeling from the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, and the taking of nearly 250 people only added to the trauma. Their return would partially heal the open wound.

Qatar suggested that a small cell be formed between the U.S. and Israel to work the hostage issue. National security adviser Jake Sullivan turned to two of his top lieutenants, McGurk and Josh Geltzer, a deputy assistant to the president in the National Security Council. Together, they worked their contacts and the phones to coordinate on how best to strike a deal with Hamas.

The stakes were made clear during an Oct. 13 Zoom call between President Joe Biden and the families of unaccounted for Americans and hostages. The conversation went longer than the schedule allowed, as Biden let everyone on the line tell stories about their loved ones and express their fears. “It was one of the most gut-wrenching things I've ever experienced in that office,” said the first senior administration official.

The hostage issue became a central component of Biden’s multiple phone calls and face-to-face meetings with Netanyahu, along with pressing Israel to allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need and to ensure military operations to root out Hamas in Gaza prioritized civilian safety.

Those efforts got their first win on Oct. 23. Two American citizens, Natalie and Judith Raanan, a mother and daughter, were let go by Hamas. It proved the concept that the cell’s work could eventually secure the release of even more hostages.

A day later, Hamas sent word through its channels to the cell: a number of women and children held captive could leave Gaza. The catch, though, was their safe transit out could only be secured if Israel didn’t launch its ground invasion of the enclave.

“U.S. officials asked the Israelis hard questions about whether or not the ground offensive should be delayed to give the deal a chance,” said the second senior administration official. “The Israelis determined that terms were not firm enough to delay the ground invasion. There still was no proof of life of any hostages from the Hamas side.” Neither the U.S. nor Israel agreed a deal should be struck without a guarantee that the militants would let people go.

Israeli troops invaded Gaza near the end of October. But, the official said, the “invasion plan was adapted to be phased and designed to support a pause if a deal came together.”

A flurry of diplomacy proceeded behind closed doors. The contours of a deal were coming together. Hamas provided information on 50 of its hostages, signaling to Biden that it was possible to get them out. The U.S. president related his views to Netanyahu on a Nov. 14 call, and the Israeli leader agreed.

It was later that day that Netanyahu chased down McGurk, telling him how important it was for Israel to get the deal done. While the Israeli people were behind the war, they still faulted Netanyahu for failing to secure the nation from Hamas and for failing to bring Israeli hostages home. An agreement wasn’t just the moral thing to do. It was a political necessity.

Complications remained. Israel cut off communications inside Gaza during its military operations, making it hard to relay any information to and from Hamas. The militants also threatened to end negotiations entirely after the IDF entered al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, which Israeli and the U.S. officials claim Hamas uses as a command center to attack Israel. Talks only resumed once Israel, through the cell channel, got word to Hamas that the IDF would keep the hospital running.

Biden felt that time to make something happen was running out. On Nov. 17, he called the Emir of Qatar, noting McGurk would be in his country the next day. They could go over the final text of the forming agreement. Just before the top Middle East aide arrived, Qatar received some comments on the proposed deal from Hamas. Both men dialed in CIA Director Bill Burns, who had been doing his own regional diplomacy and was the main conduit with Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.

The deal, the second administration official said, was “structured for women and children in the first phase, but with an expectation for future releases and the aim to bring all hostages home to their families.”

The next morning, McGurk was in Cairo meeting with Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s intelligence chief. As they talked, an Egyptian aide walked in with a message: Hamas leaders in Gaza accepted almost all of what had been worked out in Doha the night before.

McGurk flew back to Israel on Nov. 19 to speak to the war cabinet, relaying the deal on hand and Hamas’ reaction to it. That evening, senior Israeli officials let the U.S. know that they agreed to the pact with only some minor changes.

Qatar sent that version to Hamas. “It’s the final offer,” Qatar’s leader emphasized to their Hamas counterparts, per the two U.S. officials.

There was some minor back and forth over the next 48 hours, but it became clear that all parties would accept the agreement. On Nov. 21, Hamas gave the green light. All that remained was Israel’s full cabinet to approve the deal, which everyone in the cell expected would happen.

Word of their sign off came later on Nov. 21 in Washington. It was over. It was an “excruciating five-week process,” said the first senior administration official.

Even after all the work to strike the hostage deal, those involved in the process still think of the human toll. The official, thinking of Abigail, said “I can't even imagine the state of a three year old girl in this situation.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 22:40:05 -0500 ishook
Latino Business Advocate Stung by Misconduct Claims Resurfaces With ‘No Labels’ Tue, 21 Nov 2023 21:35:05 -0500 ishook Cuomo weighs run for NYC mayor amid Adams’ woes

NEW YORK — Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is indicating to allies he may want to run for New York City mayor if fellow Democrat Eric Adams sinks under the weight of a federal investigation.

Cuomo, who resigned more than two years ago amid allegations of sexual harassment and claims his administration covered up the number of Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes, has begun in recent days to gauge the viability of a potential mayoral bid, according to eight people who have talked to him or his inner circle.

And a new poll that began circulating last week measures how voters feel about Cuomo, his accomplishments in office and the controversies that led to his resignation.

“I got the impression that he is ready,” said the Rev. Ruben Diaz Sr., a former state senator and ex-member of the New York City Council, who spoke to Cuomo last week. “No one knows what’s going to happen in the city.”

The entreaties come as Adams’ mayoral campaign is facing a federal investigation that has deepened in recent weeks and heightened the uncertainty around the mayor's political future. Cuomo would not run in a primary race that includes Adams, whom he considers a friend, three people familiar with the former governor’s thinking said.

Diaz, a Pentecostal minister who holds conservative social views, left the City Council after making comments widely considered to be homophobic. But he has remained a steadfast supporter of both Cuomo and Adams despite their differences on issues like LGBTQ rights.

“My opinion is if he runs, he will win,” Diaz said of Cuomo in an interview. “People are in need of a leader. Even though Governor Cuomo and I have our differences, we’ve had many fights in the past, and besides the differences, I think he was a great governor.”

Cuomo could not be reached for comment, and a spokesperson declined to discuss his future plans.

Scandal-scarred politicians in New York have come up short in past efforts to return to elected office: Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in particular, failed to win a Democratic primary in 2013 for New York City comptroller.

And a run for mayor by the former three-term governor would come with myriad complexities as he looks to rehabilitate his name.

For one, a run would be hindered by the overlapping base of support Adams and Cuomo share in New York City: working class Black voters, labor unions and the business community. A Cuomo-vs.-Adams primary would split up what has been a successful coalition for both Democrats and potentially aid a more progressive challenger.

Yet some of his backers see a way.

“Though difficult, he could still be competitive,” Basil Smikle, a former executive director for the state Democratic Committee who remains close with Cuomo, said. “He does have support in African-American and Latino communities. He does have the support of more moderate voters.”

A number of factors could make the environment more favorable to a Cuomo mayoral bid as voter discontent has grown over issues like the influx of migrants and public safety. A Marist College poll Tuesday showed just 37 percent of city voters approved of the job Adams was doing.

Cuomo could also have an edge if the chaos surrounding New York City’s budget woes grow, Smikle said.

“I think that could happen if the mayor’s legal problems or the quality of life and crime issues that a lot of people are concerned about worsen,” he said.

Adams’ campaign did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Cuomo’s current residency is unclear — for much of his governorship, he split time between Albany and Westchester County.

But he was born and raised in Queens, lived in the city as an adult, and the only residency requirement for the office is to be living in New York City on Election Day. (POLITICO’s reporting in 2021 raised questions about where Adams was living just weeks before the Democratic primary, but he still walked away as the nominee.)

New York political circles buzzed in recent days after some voters received a poll testing a variety of potential Cuomo comeback messages.

Questions from the poll included whether Cuomo should apologize for his behavior toward women and if he would be a competitive candidate in a hypothetical Democratic primary against Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Tish James.

“It’s beyond exploratory; this is a full message test. They’re putting money where their mouth is,” Evan Roth Smith, pollster and founding partner of Slingshot Strategies, said. “This is expensive stuff. This is thorough, thorough polling.”

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi denied any connection to the poll.

"The future is the future, and he gets these questions often, which I think are fueled by the fact that many people are facing a crisis in confidence in government at many levels and now view the circumstances in which he left office as the political railroading that it was,” Azzopardi said in a statement.

Cuomo, 65, himself has not ruled out another run for public office as he also faces lawsuits filed against him by women who have accused him of harassment.

“Do I believe I could run for political office again? Yes. I think I have a lot of options, and there are a lot of issues I’m working on now that I care about,” he said in an interview with POLITICO in October. “I haven’t ruled any in; I haven’t ruled any out.”

The former governor has considered jumping back into elected politics before without launching a campaign.

And Cuomo has conducted his own polling since he left office in August 2021, including surveys during the 2022 gubernatorial election after a series of campaign-style ads aired on New York television. He ultimately stayed out of the Democratic primary, which Hochul won.

Kathy Wylde, the influential president and CEO of the business-allied Partnership for New York City, is skeptical Cuomo could mount a successful comeback bid.

He did the same with Governor Hochul in the governor's race,” she said. “But I have not heard from him, no. And I think at this point, Adams is safe for a second term.”

Mutual friends of both Adams and Cuomo believe a head-to-head primary between the two men won't happen.

“He’s legitimately close to Eric Adams, and there’s no way he’d run against him,” said a Cuomo friend who was granted anonymity to speak frankly about the dynamic.

The Rev. Al Cockfield, the pastor of a Brooklyn-based church who has strong ties to both Cuomo and Adams, wants the former governor to set his sights higher than the mayor’s office.

“I think Governor Cuomo should run for president of the United States,” Cockfield said. “The nation needs him.”

Publicly, Cuomo has been sympathetic of Adams amid the investigation into the mayor’s campaign and whether it colluded with the Turkish government and received illegal campaign donations.

Adams, whose electronic devices were seized for several days by federal investigators, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

“I think they have been very heavy-handed here with the mayor, publicly humiliating the mayor,” Cuomo said in an interview with Fox 5 in New York City this month.

Cuomo would also face a similar challenge with voters after his decadelong administration ended in scandal. Cuomo is being sued by two women, a former aide and a former member of his State Police security detail over sexual harassment allegations.

Cuomo has sought to counter the allegations in a bombshell report released by James’ office through deposing several of the women who accused him of harassment in the report and having them questioned by his attorneys.

Cuomo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Progressive critics of both the mayor and former governor take a dim view of Cuomo potentially returning to power — a sign of the trouble he would face in the city.

“The city already has one mayor mired in corruption scandals,” said Ana Maria Archila, the co-director of the progressive Working Families Party. “We don’t need another.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 20:45:04 -0500 ishook
Adams keeps blaming Washington for budget woes amid his own troubles

NEW YORK — For more than a year, Mayor Eric Adams has been demanding financial support from the federal government to pay for migrants in the city’s care.

A federal investigation into the mayor’s fundraising — unrelated to the crisis of housing migrants — hasn’t changed his attacks on the White House and Congress.

In fact, it has served as a way for Adams to continue to show he’s in control of the city and fighting, even with President Joe Biden, for its needs as scandal swirls around him.

“We’re not trying to negotiate with Washington. We’re trying to say that 140,000 people — three to four thousand [a week] — are coming here. There is a cost,” Adams said at a wide ranging City Hall press briefing Tuesday.

Adams confirmed plans to ask nearly all city agencies to make further 5 percent spending cuts to their budgets before he releases his preliminary city budget in January. And he’s planning to cut spending on housing and serving migrants by 20 percent.

Last week, Adams released his November financial plan, which included 5 percent cuts to agency spending totaling nearly $4 billion over two years — which includes cuts to garbage collection, new police recruits and library hours.

The cuts are necessary, in part, because the city projects spending nearly $11 billion on migrants over this fiscal year and the next, Adams has said.

The federal government has barely given New York City any money to cover the new costs, and Adams is quick to point the finger — turning the angst facing him and his administration onto those in Washington.

Cuts include a $60 million reduction to the school food program, which Adams suggested Tuesday would hurt his healthy eating initiative.

“That’s how painful this is. The initiative that we put in place to improve the lives of everyday, working class people, is being impacted right now,” he said. “And D.C. needs to do its job.”

That echoed his comments at a town hall in Brooklyn Monday night. “D.C. has abandoned us, and they need to be paying their cost to this national problem,” he said. If you have a problem, “Don’t yell at me, yell at D.C. We deserve better as a city.”

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.

City budget cuts are not leverage in his tough talk to federal officials, Adams said. It’s a reflection of the costs of trying to house more than 50,000 migrants.

Adams has been calling for federal funding for more than a year, dating back to summer 2022, when the increase in homeless asylum-seekers coming to the city was first acknowledged.

He’s also called for a “decompression strategy,” hoping the federal government would divert migrants away from the city. It has created a growing rift with the White House — Biden and Adams haven’t talked in nearly a year, and Biden didn’t meet with him in his latest visit to the city.

But it makes sense that Adams would want to divert blame — and perhaps talk about policy rather than his own political troubles.

The FBI briefly temporarily seized his electronic devices earlier this month as part of an investigation into the Turkish government’s influence in local politics.

Adams and nobody else has been charged, and his chief counsel said she had no reason to believe Adams was the target of an investigation.

But amid that news, Adams’ approval rating is sagging. Only 37 percent of New York City voters approved of the job Adams is doing, while 56 percent disapproved, according to a Marist poll released Tuesday.

Adams is keeping his focus on Washington amid all the troubles swirling around him — despite it dogging him wherever he goes.

Earlier this month, he ditched a White House meeting to ask for federal migrant funding when his campaign fundraiser’s home was raided by the FBI. But Adams said Tuesday he’s scheduling another trip to the capital with clergy members.

“I’m looking forward to getting to D.C.,” he said, “to have a real conversation around the impact of the migrant crisis on our city.”

New York’s leaders in Congress, meanwhile, have taken a muted approach on migrant funding for the city.

And Adams is pressing them too — saying again Tuesday he wants his fellow elected officials to push for federal funding as much as he is.

City Comptroller Brad Lander and leadership of the City Council have accused Adams of using misleading budget practices, deliberately underestimating revenue while overestimating spending on migrants to present a more dire fiscal situation than reality.

Adams ripped them, calling for message discipline.

“If one wants to dispute that you should pay $300 [per day for shelter] instead of $315, OK let’s do that argument. But to constantly send out the signal that this is not impacting our city, I just think is wrong,” Adams said.

“And when you have elected officials looking for political points, instead of making the point that New York City tax dollars should not be going to paying for a national problem? Every conversation should start with that from my elected officials.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 20:45:04 -0500 ishook
Federal Judge Rules Undated Mail&In Ballots in Pennsylvania Must Be Counted Tue, 21 Nov 2023 19:05:03 -0500 ishook British state 'surprisingly bad' at responding to Covid&19, inquiry hears Tue, 21 Nov 2023 18:45:03 -0500 ishook European Union gives France an 'F' grade on spending plans Tue, 21 Nov 2023 18:45:03 -0500 ishook Biden admin officials see proof their strategy is working in hostage deal

Some Biden administration officials quietly say the near-complete hostage agreement is the clearest signal yet its strategy toward the Israel-Hamas war is working.

In the potential breakthrough, 50 women and children could be released by Hamas in exchange for 150 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. A four- to five-day pause would allow them a safer transfer and ease the delivery of life-saving aid to suffering Palestinians in Gaza. Amid so much wreckage and chaos, the hostage deal — which could be finalized as soon as Tuesday — might prove a rare bright spot in a dark time.

Three U.S. administration officials said there’s no explicit victory lap to take as around 200 hostages will stay behind in Hamas’ grasp. And it would be uncouth to celebrate any win after Hamas killed 1,200 people on Oct. 7, leading Israel to forcefully respond with a military campaign that Hamas-led health ministries claim killed more than 13,000 people.

But all suggested President Joe Biden shouldn’t shy away from what the policy has accomplished to date. “It’s vindication,” said one of the officials, “but there’s more to do.”

Increasing demands from progressive-minded Democrats for a cease-fire and an end to support for Israel’s retaliation fell on deaf ears in the White House. Biden and his team repeated, again and again, that the only way to make meaningful humanitarian progress was a hostage deal to cool passions and temporarily stop bombs from falling throughout the enclave.

To reach such a moment, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who already faced immense pressure from hostage families and a restless nation, could only be nudged with hugs in public and quiet cajoling.

The deal may still fall apart, with U.S. officials insisting nothing is really final until it is formally announced, the hostages are brought home and the guns go silent. Still, on the verge of the administration’s biggest diplomatic victory of the conflict, questions are swirling internally about how much credit Biden’s approach deserves.

Another three administration officials, including one senior official during an on-record interview, said that working to secure the release of hostages, and pause the fighting for four or five days, was simply necessary as Israel’s retaliation against Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack has devastated Gaza and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

“It’s not a question of vindication of strategy,” said David Satterfield, the U.S. lead on humanitarian issues in the Israel-Gaza war during a live Tuesday interview with al-Monitor. “It is the right and necessary thing to do.”

All the officials were granted anonymity to discuss sensitive internal discussions and the state of negotiations. On Tuesday morning, Biden said "nothing is done until it's done," adding that he'd spoken recently to Netanyahu as well as the emir of Qatar. "But things are looking good at the moment."

The hostage talks have been complicated at times by the sheer range of parties involved — including Israel, Hamas, Qatar and the U.S. — as well as various outside groups that tapped their own diplomatic channels, said one former U.S. official familiar with the discussions. The large number of hostages, who range in nationality and age and in some cases had pressing medical needs, added another tricky variable to the mix.

“Hostage negotiations are always challenging,” the former official said. “But this one has been very complex.”

The Biden administration insists that Israel has an obligation to defend itself but should minimize civilian harm in the process. Over recent weeks, the U.S. worked to get 100 aid trucks a day into Gaza from Egypt and is in touch with humanitarian groups on how to further alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in the enclave.

But the administration remains wary about Netanyahu’s endgame and seeming lack of a plan for what to do once Hamas is defeated. There was no sense that the pause would turn into a lengthier cease-fire, a senior administration official said. And there was some concern in the administration about an unintended consequence of the pause: that it would allow journalists broader access to Gaza and the opportunity to further illuminate the devastation there and turn public opinion on Israel.

Israel is unlikely to ramp down its military operation in Gaza when the temporary pause ends, experts say. Israeli officials have vowed to continue the offensive until it destroys Hamas, arguing in some cases that the campaign from the enclave’s north to the south helped the hostage negotiations by making a halt more attractive.

“There is no indication on the Israeli side that they think this actually changes what they need to do on the military side,” said Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Daalder, who is close to senior administration officials, added that the White House remains “deeply, deeply worried” about Israel’s longer-term strategy and what the next phase of the war may look like, making the next few days critical for the U.S. to ramp up pressure on Netanyahu to think through his approach.

“The administration has judged that supporting Israel post-Oct.7 was a necessary ingredient of having influence on Israel,” said Daalder. “It doesn’t mean that influence has been total … but had they not done that, they would’ve had no influence. And in some ways that remains very much the focus of their strategy.”

Back home, Biden has resisted calls from his own party to endorse a cease-fire and condition for military aid for Israel, even though his stance is hemorrhaging support from younger voters heading into the 2024 presidential election.

A Democratic aide in the House said that, depending on the circumstances of the deal, progressives would leverage the moment to push Biden toward backing longer pauses in fighting. "If there are no bombings for five days, the goal would be to turn that temporary respite into a longer-lasting cessation” to deal with humanitarian issues, the staffer said.

Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor who held conversations with Senate Democrats on conditioning support to Israel, said all parties needed the deal right now, “including the Biden administration, which has come under increasing pressure not only globally, but also among Democrats who fear Biden is taking them for granted.”

“A pause and prisoner exchange is welcome of course, but whether or not it will be an opportunity for the parties to reconsider the disastrous path they have been on remains to be seen,” he said.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 18:45:03 -0500 ishook
OpenAI and Silicon Valley’s new era of personal rule

Where did you follow the OpenAI drama over the weekend?

For most people, the chaos of former OpenAI CEO Sam Altman’s ouster unfolded — and is still unfolding — largely on X.

For all the controversy around the platform formerly known as Twitter, it’s still as central to conversations in Silicon Valley as it was in its early days. (You could argue that Elon Musk’s takeover has performed a sort of version control, returning it to an early-Obama-era Wild West feel and laser focus on internecine techie politics.)

But the collision of Musk’s Twitter takeover and the chaos at OpenAI reveals something even bigger than social media’s shifting tectonic plates — the extent of the society-shaping power wielded by a very small cadre of Silicon Valley titans.

One of Sam Altman’s co-founders at OpenAI was, after all… Elon Musk. Musk turned his back on the project because of a complicated disagreement with Altman over their progress compared to Google DeepMind, as well as his own personal beliefs about AI development, and has now launched his own AI venture.

Meanwhile, Greg Brockman, the OpenAI president ousted alongside Altman, was the first CTO of Stripe, which raised early money from Musk and fellow OpenAI co-founder Peter Thiel. Musk also tried using his huge account on X to intervene personally in the OpenAI drama this weekend, tweeting directly at board member and the company’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, someone he says “has a good moral compass and does not seek power.”

And if you think OpenAI’s governance shakeup is a chance to shake off these ties, think again. New OpenAI CEO Emmett Shear is a visiting partner at Y Combinator, the startup accelerator where Sam Altman once was president. It still serves as a Silicon Valley business and social hub, and two of its co-founders were Jessica Livingston and Trevor Blackwell, also — you guessed it — OpenAI co-founders. Still following?

With “how to govern AI” still topic A in the Washington policy space (or close to it), the blowup at the most high-profile AI company shines a light on a particularly thorny challenge for regulators trying to shape the future.

Individual personalities — and individual fortunes — matter far more in the world of Silicon Valley startups than they do in corporate America’s more consensus-oriented, traditional bureaucracies. Once, industrial names like Morgan or Rockefeller or Ford drove national policy from their boardroom chairs, a version of America we might have thought we’ve put to rest. Not in tech: Today we take it for granted that Bezos, Zuckerberg and Musk are more or less synonymous with their corporate empires. (Perhaps blame Steve Jobs, the charismatic Apple founder and world-shaper who looms large over them all in the mind of business builders.)

Big organizations move slowly, and respond to rules. Startup titans, not so much. It’s extremely difficult to imagine more established tech giants like IBM or Microsoft changing their business model on a personal whim or passion, like with Musk’s free speech crusade for Twitter, or Mark Zuckerberg’s sudden commitment to the metaverse, or Altman’s belief in human-like AI superintelligence.

OpenAI, in particular, was intended to serve a greater mission under its unconventional nonprofit structure, but it’s become clear just how much the company is shaped by a single person, its ousted CEO. Samuel Hammond, a senior economist at the Foundation For American Innovation, and a blogger focusing on AI and governance, calls it a “cultish and borderline messianic employee culture, as shown in their willingness to all resign in solidarity,” citing social media reports that Altman personally interviewed every new hire at the company, a philosophy he once advocated for in a blog post.

He described to me how Sam Altman’s personal beliefs have come to define the company, and therefore the larger existential debates around the potential existence (and risk) of superhuman “AGI,” or artificial general intelligence.

“Over the last year, Altman reoriented OpenAI to be even more mission driven, changing their core values to emphasize that anything that didn't advance AGI was ‘out of scope,’” Hammond said.

The lesson for not just America, but humanity writ large, is that a very small group of people have come to wield total, personalized control over many of the systems, whether Musk’s social media platform or Altman’s intelligence machines, that are shaping society’s present and future.

Regulators and critics have proposed strategies for reining in that influence, from the European Union’s elaborate regulatory regime to Federal Trade Commission chair Lina Khan’s belief in antitrust enforcement to some proposals to emulate Silicon Valley governance itself.

None have yet succeeded. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra told Morning Money's Sam Sutton this week that the dawn of powerful AI creates new urgency for tech regulators: “There is a race to develop the foundational AI models. There will probably not be tons of those models. It may in fact be a natural oligopoly,” he said. “The fact that Big Tech companies are now overlapping with the major foundational AI models is adding even more questions about what we do to make sure that they do not have outsized power.”

Personal rule in Silicon Valley had major, well-documented ramifications for the era of startup culture that was dominated by app-based social and connectivity companies like Facebook or Uber. It will have even larger ones in the AI era, where, realistic or not, the discourse is characterized by arguments about the very fate of humanity.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 18:45:03 -0500 ishook
US has sent Israel data on aid group locations to try to prevent strikes

The Biden administration has been providing Israel with the location of humanitarian groups in Gaza for weeks to prevent strikes against their facilities. But Israel has continued to hit such sites.

The information included GPS coordinates of a number of medical facilities and information on movements of aid groups in Gaza to the Israeli government for at least a month, according to three people familiar with the communications. All were granted anonymity because they feared speaking publicly would make it more difficult for aid groups to operate in Gaza.

Still, Israel has launched operations against Hamas in or near aid sites, including hospitals, leading to the destruction of buildings and the blocking of fuel and other critical supplies.

It’s unclear if the U.S. has compiled a formal “no-strike” list or if it is providing one-off guidance. But officials have helped transmit coordinates of groups that provide food and medical care in Gaza and operate out of hospitals, smaller offices and live in guest houses. Among the sites provided to the Israeli government are medical facilities, including Al-Shifa hospital, parts of which Israeli forces took over on Nov. 15.

In public statements, U.S. officials have stressed that aid groups are struggling to operate in the Gaza Strip because of Hamas, noting the militant group uses civilians as human shields and operates tunnels underneath hospitals.

But Israel’s continued bombardment of these humanitarian facilities raises more questions about whether Washington has the political sway many in the administration want with Israel. And the divide is particularly stark given that the goal is protecting aid workers — one of the most fundamental tenets of international humanitarian law.

“It could be that the Biden administration is trying behind the scenes … but they probably aren’t getting anywhere. When the Israelis feel that they're in an existential threat situation, the amount of American leverage drops,” said Robert Ford, a former U.S. diplomat who served extensively in the Middle East, including under President Barack Obama.

The National Security Council pointed to spokesperson John Kirby’s previous comments during Monday’s press conference, in which he told reporters the administration does not “want to see hospitals as battlegrounds.”

On Tuesday, U.S. officials said an announcement of a deal between Israel and Hamas for the release of hostages and a pause in fighting was imminent. But such a pause would likely only take effect for a few days, and Israel has given no indication it would adjust its targeting of sites afterward.

Those who’ve worked for aid groups in the region say Israel is deserting practices it has used previously to protect humanitarian groups.

"There is really no justification for the lack of a functioning deconfliction channel with aid groups,” said a senior aid group official who has worked on previous crises across the region. “The IDF is familiar with deconfliction practices and has put a channel in place in previous conflicts.”

The U.S. is far from the only group providing such data to Israel. The main clearinghouse for so-called humanitarian deconfliction is the United Nations. Humanitarian organizations in Gaza say they primarily rely on the U.N. system and send their coordinates to the U.S. — and directly to the Israeli government — as a stopgap in an effort to prevent further civilian casualties under intensifying bombardment.

Aid groups, particularly those working in hospitals in Gaza, said Israel’s operations have made it almost impossible to continue providing care to patients, including premature babies.

“I have spent my entire adult professional life working on basically medical care in conflict zones, and I have never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Amber Alayyan, a physician with Doctors Without Borders. “It's not only attacks on structures that should be safe, like hospitals and schools, but also holding an entire population without food or water or fuel for over a month.”

The Israel Defense Forces did not respond to requests for comment. Jessica Jennings, a spokesperson with USAID — the agency that supports some aid groups operating in Gaza — said the U.S. is “engaging” the United Nations and the Israeli government “on protecting humanitarian and civilian movements and infrastructure.”

But a U.N. official familiar with refugee operations in Gaza said Israel often defines targets as worthy of strikes despite there being a humanitarian site or activity nearby.

“We don’t see eye-to-eye on what they consider collateral damage or military necessity and what we consider a very high civilian toll, whether it’s in life or in infrastructure, including ours,” said the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations. “The response we get is, ‘Well, your school is in the middle of what we consider to be a military or an operation area.’”

David Satterfield, the U.S. special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, said at a public event with Al-Monitor that the administration asked Israel to create a “single, coordinated, functional deconfliction mechanism.”

“Over the last 48 hours following several tragic incidents in which there were attacks … suffered by humanitarian agencies, we impressed upon Israel that more had to be done,” Satterfield said. “Israel does recognize the need and is acting.”


Soon after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, aid groups in Gaza sent their coordinates to the United Nations — using a longstanding arrangement called the Humanitarian Notification System — to prevent incidental attacks on civilians. HNS was used by Israel during the 2014 war with Hamas in Gaza. It is just one of several such systems that exist in conflict zones around the world.

But last month, as aerial bombardments ratcheted up in Gaza, aid groups searched for additional communication channels to share their GPS coordinates and information about their work, including calling senior U.S. officials and members of Congress — hoping that Washington could help protect their workers, two of the people familiar with the matter said.

However, as Washington engaged with the Israeli government about the locations of aid groups’ offices, guest houses and medical facilities, attacks on aid workers continued.

Human Rights Watch said an Israeli airstrike hit an area behind the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza that killed two people, according to the United Nations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, one of the U.N. aid agencies operating in Gaza, said that 176 people sheltering in its facilities have been reported killed during “Israeli forces’ bombardment.”

Doctors Without Borders said last week that its staff had sheltered in the organization’s offices and guest houses, and despite outreach to the Israeli government, could not leave.

“We shared our coordinates. We were asked [by the Israelis] to evacuate our guest house. We still, however, have staff sheltering there with their families and they are stuck and they're out of water and they are out of food,” Alayyan said. “We are begging — begging — to be able to let civilians move.”

Improving the system 

It’s unclear whether Israel is choosing to ignore the provided information or if the deconfliction systems are simply too patchy. Either possibility is alarming given that the Israel-Hamas war is already in its second month, with no end in sight.

“The situation is without parallel,” said one aid group leader whose organization works in Gaza and who was granted anonymity because they feared for aid workers safety on the ground. “This kind of concentrated bombing in such a small area makes deconfliction all the more important.”

Aid groups are crucial lifelines for Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire, and their leaders argue that it is critical that the parties at war, including the militants of Hamas, spare them.

Humanitarian organizations and U.S. officials say the U.N. notification system needs to be improved.

Despite the multiple channels for coordinate sharing, more U.N. aid workers have been killed in Gaza this year than in any other conflict in the agency’s history. While details of their deaths have not always been made available, U.N. and other aid groups have said that many of their staff have died in the course of living their everyday lives and outside of their official duties. (Those private activities are not reported to the notification system.)

Asked if the U.N. notification system alerts Hamas to aid groups’ activities and sites, a U.N. official familiar with the issue said the Gaza system tries to notify “all parties to a conflict, including non-state actor groups and other de facto authorities.”

“What we're seeing in terms of the scale of conflict now is very different than it was previously,” the official said. “We are trying to streamline so [the Israelis] can, maybe under this environment, they don’t get overwhelmed.”

Asked if the U.N. effort to help the Israelis better use the notification system was an indication that they were not doing it well, the U.N. official replied: “We’ve had over 50 facilities hit or damaged.”

Still, the U.N. official and others familiar with the topic said the Israeli government appears willing to improve the system. “They are working with us,” the U.N. official said.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 18:45:03 -0500 ishook
Carlton Pearson, Pastor Deemed a Heretic for Denying Hell, Dies at 70 Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:50:03 -0500 ishook How the Voting Rights Act, Newly Challenged, Has Long Been Under Attack Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:50:03 -0500 ishook Rights Report: Week of November 20, 2023 Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook On Tour with Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook Four Questions with H.E. Edgmon Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook Babycake's Book Stack Brings Books to Readers Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook New Kids' and YA Books: Week of November 27, 2023 Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook 'Italian Excellence': Society of Illustrators Celebrates 100 Years of Calvino Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook Optimism and Opportunities at the 2023 Shanghai Children's Book Fair Tue, 21 Nov 2023 17:05:04 -0500 ishook Feds fine crypto giant $4.4B, alleging it aided Hamas financing, violated sanctions

Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, is being booted out of the U.S. after federal prosecutors alleged the company aided terrorist networks like Hamas, violated sanctions and facilitated human and narcotics trafficking.

Binance, a global trading platform that accounts for about half of all crypto activity, has agreed to pay $4.4 billion to settle charges brought by the Department of Justice, Treasury and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Binance CEO Changpeng Zhao — who played a prominent role in the collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX exchange last year — will plead guilty to money laundering charges, step down from the company and pay a $50 million fine. Zhao will also pay a $150 million penalty to the CFTC, while Samuel Lim, the company’s former chief compliance officer, has agreed to a $1.5 million penalty to the agency, according to the authorities.

“Binance turned a blind eye to its legal obligations in the pursuit of profit. Its willful failures allowed money to flow to terrorists, cybercriminals, and child abusers through its platform,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. In prepared remarks, Yellen said groups like Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and ISIS had all used Binance to conduct transactions.

Most of the transactions alleged to have violated U.S. sanctions programs involved Iran, according to a senior Treasury official.

The more than $1 trillion crypto market has long been dogged by accusations of fraud. But the Binance settlement — the penalties assessed by the authorities are the largest in history — marks the latest sign that the industry has entered a new age of law and order in the U.S.

“The result of these agreements will be an end to company behavior that has posed risks to the U.S. financial system, U.S. citizens, and our country’s national security for too long,” Yellen said. “And let me be clear: We are also sending a message to the virtual currency industry more broadly, today and for the future.”

Under the terms of the settlement, Binance will also enter into a monitorship and undertake new compliance efforts, including “to ensure Binance’s complete exit from the United States,” the Treasury Department said. The monitor — a first for the crypto market — will give Treasury access to Binance’s books and records for five years. The senior Treasury official compared it to the oversight structure imposed on banks following the global financial crisis.

Treasury officials declined to comment on what the settlement means for Binance.US — a separate, smaller crypto exchange owned by Zhao that is registered with FinCEN as a money services business.

Binance did not immediately provide a comment for this story.

The U.S. accelerated efforts to rein in the crypto market over the last year following the downfall of Bankman-Fried’s FTX, the one-time chief rival of Binance and Zhao whose collapse shook Washington and Wall Street. Prosecutors have since gone after a number of major crypto executives on fraud charges, while regulators like the Gary Gensler-led Securities and Exchange Commission have nabbed several leading crypto companies including Gemini, Coinbase and, most recently, Kraken for allegedly skirting market rules.

The CFTC and SEC alleged earlier this year that Binance was, among other things, tapping into the American market without the authority to do so. The SEC’s case was not part of the settlements unveiled Tuesday.

“Binance’s activities undermined the foundation of safe and sound financial markets by intentionally avoiding basic, fundamental obligations that apply to exchanges, all the while collecting approximately $1.35 billion in trading fees from U.S. customers,” CFTC Chair Rostin Behnam said. “Binance and its leaders sought to dupe and indoctrinate their employees and customers, building a cult-like following premised on circumventing their own compliance controls to maximize corporate profits above all else.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 16:45:03 -0500 ishook
Adams' standing plummets in NYC in latest Marist poll amid federal probe

ALBANY, New York, — New Yorkers have soured on the state's two top Democratic leaders, a Marist College poll on Tuesday found.

Among New York City voters, 37 percent approved of the job Eric Adams has done as mayor while 54 percent disapproved. That's a long way from a Marist survey in March 2022, just a few months into his term, when he polled favorably 61 percent to 24 percent.

On Adams’ interactions with Turkey that are part of a federal campaign-finance investigation, more than seven in ten New York City residents thought he did something wrong during his 2021 campaign.

With Adams, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, 33 percent of New York City voters said they thought he “has done something illegal”; 39 percent said he “has done something unethical, but not illegal"; while 18 percent said he “has done nothing wrong.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul also struggled in the poll. Only 43 percent of registered voters approved of the job she is doing as governor, while 44 percent disapproved.

"There’s no good news for New York’s major officials," Lee Miringoff, the poll's director, said in a statement. "Governor Hochul’s standing has deteriorated in the state; Mayor Adams faces a more negative constituency."

For Adams, he was most popular with Black voters and older voters who were surveyed.

As for Hochul, only 39 percent of respondents said she is “changing the way things work in Albany for the better,” while 56 percent said she is not. She scored favorably on that question by a margin of 46 percent to 39 when Marist last asked it in October 2021, two months into her tenure.

A total of 59 percent of respondents said “the overall quality of life” in New York has “gotten worse” over the past year, while 11 percent said it has “gotten better.”

The Siena College Research Institute had been the only major independent pollster to release numbers on New York’s state government in 2023. The new Marist numbers help confirm months of conclusions by Siena that Hochul is in the polling doldrums — one Siena survey released on Monday found she was viewed favorably by 40 percent of registered voters and unfavorably by 43 percent.

Siena had a similar finding on Adams last month in a statewide poll: His job approval rating was 30 percent positive and 46 percent negative as he expects to run for a second term in 2025.

Marist also asked voters’ thoughts on Hochul’s political ideology.

Among Democrats, 19 percent said she was “too liberal,” 18 percent said “too conservative,” and 60 percent said “about right.” A total of 69 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of unaffiliated voters said she is “too liberal.”

The poll found that 48 percent of registered voters said Sen. Chuck Schumer is doing an “excellent” or “good” job in office, while 51 percent said his performance is “fair” or “poor.” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand landed at 40 percent to 55 percent on that question as she plans to run for reelection next year.

Only 44 percent of New Yorkers approved of President Joe Biden’s job performance, while 53 percent disapproved.

Pollsters surveyed 1,556 registered voters from Nov. 13-15. The statewide numbers have a margin of error of 3.2 points, while the New York City numbers have a margin of error of 5.3 points.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 16:45:03 -0500 ishook
DeSantis Will Pick Up Endorsement by Bob Vander Plaats of Iowa Tue, 21 Nov 2023 15:20:04 -0500 ishook Republican Presidential Candidates on Matters of Democracy Tue, 21 Nov 2023 15:20:04 -0500 ishook Feds probe $10B deal for Subway sandwich chain

Amid its high-profile assaults on Amazon and Microsoft, the FTC isn't too busy to worry about people’s lunch.

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating if the $10 billion purchase of Subway creates a sandwich shop monopoly with Jimmy John's and Arby's. The latter two, in addition to McAlister’s Deli and Schlotzky’s, are owned by private equity firm Roark Capital, which inked a deal to buy Subway in August. The government is focused in part on whether the addition of Subway gives Roark too much control of a lucrative segment of the fast food industry, the people said.

Roark paid around $10 billion for Subway, according to a third person with knowledge of the deal.

The Atlanta-based Roark focuses on consumer chains with franchise models, and which also include Dunkin’, Buffalo Wild Wings and Baskin-Robbins.

The investigation is emblematic of the agency’s increased focus under FTC Chair Lina Khan on both deal-making by private equity firms and prices of consumer staples. The FTC in September sued a group of anesthesia practices in Texas and its private equity owner for a series of acquisitions that it says illegally consolidated the market. The agency is also investigating the pending merger of grocery store chains Kroger and Albertsons, and a decision on whether to challenge the deal is expected in the coming months.

Spokespeople for the FTC and Roark declined to comment. A spokesperson for Subway did not respond to a request for comment.

The FTC’s investigation began earlier this month, according to one of the people. Most mergers valued over $111.4 million must undergo a mandatory 30-day review period by either the FTC or Justice Department. Any investigation beyond that time period is discretionary. The companies unsuccessfully sought to stave off a prolonged probe through a procedural move that extended the initial period by another 30 days, according to the third person.

The investigation is in the early stages, and any resolution is likely months away. Merger reviews by antitrust regulators can often take a year or more. The FTC can either sue to block the merger, reach an agreement with the companies that alleviates its concerns, or take no action at all.

In any merger review, regulators must first determine the market where they believe competition is harmed. The companies are arguing the FTC should widen its focus beyond sandwiches, saying consumers are choosing between a wider array of options when deciding what to eat, and that Roark owns only a small fraction of the total U.S. fast food market, according to two of the people.

According to August 2023 rankings from QSR Magazine, which tracks the quick-service restaurant industry, Subway is the largest U.S. sandwich chain based on 2022 sales, with Arby’s, Jimmy John’s and McAlister’s Deli also in the top seven.

Subway’s franchise agreement notes the chain considers McAlister’s Deli and Schlotzky’s as key competitors, in addition to Jimmy John’s, according to the New York Post. It does not mention restaurants selling burgers and burritos, according to the Post, suggesting that Subway may not view those offerings as its primary competition.

The resource-constrained FTC is investigating many high-profile mergers and will ultimately have to make tough choices on which cases to pursue.

In addition to the Kroger-Albertsons tie-up, the FTC is also considering whether to challenge Amazon’s $1.8 billion takeover of robot vacuum maker iRobot and investigating Pfizer’s $43 billion purchase of cancer drugmaker Seagen. It also recently opened a probe of luxury brand owners Tapestry and Capri, and is expected to investigate a pair of megadeals by oil and gas giants Exxon and Chevron.

And while the FTC has succeeded in blocking deals by companies including Lockheed Martin and Nvidia, it has yet to win a merger challenge in court during Khan’s tenure, upping the pressure to bring home a litigation win. High-profile losses include an attempt to block Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard (which is on appeal), and Meta’s purchase of a virtual reality game developer.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 14:35:04 -0500 ishook
CFPB chief's warning: AI is a 'natural oligopoly' in the making

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra is warning that the nature of the technology powering artificial intelligence could lead to oligopolies with sweeping implications for the economy.

Chopra's comments came in the wake of the stunning ouster of OpenAI’s co-founder and CEO Sam Altman. The reaction to Altman's firing — and his subsequent hiring by Microsoft, OpenAI’s largest investor — underscores how AI’s future will likely rest with a handful of very large companies and their boards, Chopra told POLITICO on Monday.

“There is a race to develop the foundational AI models. There will probably not be tons of those models. It may in fact be a natural oligopoly," said Chopra, a longtime critic of how tech companies have addressed privacy and competition issues.

AI programs will likely have applications across sectors, Chopra said, and “the fact that Big Tech companies are now overlapping with the major foundational AI models is adding even more questions about what we do to make sure that they do not have outsized power,” he added.

He's not alone in his concern. For months, policymakers from the White House to the Securities and Exchange Commission have been strategizing over how to address some of the headaches AI could cause for financial institutions and markets.

SEC Chair Gary Gensler has voiced alarm that Wall Street firms will likely rely on a limited number of AI platforms, which could lead to sudden market swoons. And Rostin Behnam, chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, recently unveiled a task force that could lead to new rules or guidance around AI in derivatives markets.

Separately, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is working on legislation that would task the Financial Stability Oversight Council — an interagency body of top regulators — with responding to AI-related risks.

Chopra, an ally of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), has focused on how artificial intelligence has been used by lenders to automate decisions around who gets access to credit. The bureau is developing rules to address how data brokers use the technology in an attempt to stem abuses.

While there has been plenty of chatter about the need for AI-specific regulation, compiling a rulebook will take time. Discussions on how to address existential challenges that the fast-evolving technology could pose to the economy are more urgent now that internal debates over OpenAI’s future have become public.

“I don't think it's quite known what all the risks are that are out there,” Christy Goldsmith Romero, a longtime regulator who now serves on the CFTC, said in an interview.

Goldsmith Romero, who has sponsored an advisory committee to help the derivatives regulator chart a course on AI, said the technology is “evolving so quickly that I think the first thing to do is to come at the concept from high-level principles that always apply whenever we're looking at things; risk management, governance.”

Fears that the potential abuse of generative AI could lead to out-of-control computer programs often sound like science fiction. In the context of financial markets, AI programs could put automated trading and lending capabilities at financial institutions “on steroids,” Chopra said.

If those programs are making their own decisions based on incoming data, that can “actually lead to very procyclical effects that would magnify tremors into much larger financial quakes,” he said.

OpenAI’s interim CEO Emmett Shear wrote on X that the board did not remove Altman “over any specific disagreement on safety” of OpenAI’s tech.

There are also questions about what Microsoft’s hiring of Altman and other OpenAI executives might mean for the competitive landscape around AI, with some speculating that the personnel moves are akin to an acquisition.

That could be a difficult argument to make. OpenAI’s technology still belongs to OpenAI, and Altman’s ability to replicate his early successes under Microsoft’s corporate auspices — rather than as an independent startup answering to a nonprofit board — will pose a challenge.

Still, FTC Chair Lina Khan has been interested in exploring if major tech firms have used strategic investments in artificial intelligence startups to avoid regulatory scrutiny or otherwise harm competition.

In the meantime, Altman’s move to Microsoft will benefit from at least one policy designed to keep labor markets more competitive.

“I’m sure OpenAI’s leadership and staff are grateful that non-competes are unenforceable in California,” one FTC official told POLITICO.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 12:30:02 -0500 ishook
Pro&Palestinian staffers ask progressive Chicago mayor to back a cease&fire

More than 30 progressive City Hall staffers have written a letter to Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson urging him to support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The staffers invoked the 2024 Democratic Convention, which is planned for Chicago next year, saying a cease-fire is “directly tied to showing that our city is united in support of human rights,” according to their letter, which was obtained by POLITICO. “If we are planning to spend public dollars to support the convention, we cannot invest in programs that do not support calls for peace.”

The staffers did not sign their names but described themselves as “a diverse coalition of 30+ staffers across aldermanic offices and the Mayor's Office.”

Their letter says a cease-fire is of “utmost urgency” as the death toll in Gaza has exceeded 12,000 “with the majority being children.”

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a temporary pause in fighting in exchange for the release of the Oct. 7 Israeli hostages captured by Hamas, but activists are calling for a permanent cease-fire.

The letter follows protest letters written by White House staffers calling on Biden to pursue a cease-fire and by Congressional staffers, including progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been targeting who they see as their closest allies. Johnson himself is a former organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, and was backed by the pro-Palestinian group Democratic Socialists of America during his 2023 race.

Progressive staffers are feeling emboldened after seeing initiatives to fund homeless prevention and increase minimum wage for tipped workers pass through the council. They are both efforts supported by the mayor.

On the issue of the Middle East, however, Johnson has walked a careful line by attending vigils for both Jewish and Palestinian communities.

Chicago staffers’ also want the mayor to support a resolution being carried by Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez that urges President Joe Biden to push for “a de-escalation” of military action in the region. The resolution was presented earlier this month but has been stuck in the Rules Committee.

The staffers have also started the Chicago Progressive Staffers (@312Staffers) handle on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Like this content? Consider signing up for POLITICO’s Illinois Playbook newsletter.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 12:30:02 -0500 ishook
Barbara Lee is down, but definitely not out

Rep. Barbara Lee is doubling down on her campaign for U.S. Senate despite falling short of a decisive showing at the California Democratic Party convention.

Lee’s supporters had hoped the weekend convention in Sacramento would give her campaign a much-needed jolt of momentum. She has struggled for months to gain traction in polls and fundraising to keep pace with Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter.

Delegates supporting the Oakland congressmember were ubiquitous throughout the event, dominating the halls and main floor with their “Barbara Lee Speaks for Me” chants and fluttering yellow-and-green pom poms. She received the loudest applause from party activists as she took the stage for a Q&A-style forum.

Yet while Lee won a slight plurality of the delegate vote, she was effectively tied with Schiff and didn’t notch the 60-percent threshold necessary to win the endorsement. It wasn’t the breakout moment that she would seemingly need to change the race’s trajectory.

Several Democrats in recent weeks told POLITICO that Lee might shift course if she wasn’t successful at the convention, and perhaps even opt to leave the race and run for reelection to the House. That would upset the plans of Democrat Lateefah Simon, the frontrunner to replace Lee in the East Bay districtBut people Lee spoke with over the weekend, who were granted anonymity to share private conversations, said she made it clear she intends to remain in the Senate race.

“The congresswoman is running one race, and that is to be the next senator for California,” said Anna Bahr, senior adviser to the campaign.

That means Lee will have to find a spark elsewhere — perhaps starting with her support for a cease-fire in Israel's war with Hamas. The issue is deeply dividing Democrats across the country. Lee is trying to use it to consolidate progressives in California. She points to her vote against the invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks as a demonstration of her foresight and independence.

The three leading Democratic candidates agree on most other issues, so the conflict could be the most significant distinction ahead of the March 5 primary. “There’s a very clear contrast on their attitudes toward the military and foreign policy,” Bahr said.

Lee’s Super PAC recently began airing a TV ad introducing her to the statewide electorate. And she’ll have pre-primary debates to boost her standing in the race. Yet it remains an uphill slog — one she’ll now be forced to make without the imprimatur of the party.

Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.

Like this content? Consider signing up for POLITICO’s California Playbook newsletter.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 12:30:02 -0500 ishook
Cornel West sets his sights on a key battleground state

Independent presidential hopeful Cornel West is taking aim at Michigan by courting voter groups that Joe Biden is struggling with — in a state where a single percentage point could make the difference for the president’s reelection bid.

West will take his threadbare campaign to the state early next year to rally support among Arab American voters in Dearborn, "environmental justice advocates" in the majority Black city of Flint, university students and indigenous populations, according to plans shared with POLITICO.

Michigan’s diverse population gives West the opportunity to court support at a time when Biden's weakness with voters of color is becoming more pronounced. Recent polling in Michigan shows Biden's softening support among Black voters and the large Arab American population in the state has been highly critical of the administration's handling of the Israel-Hamas conflict.

West, a Black intellectual who has a long history with both communities, believes he is well positioned to appeal to these groups. But he is operating on a shoestring budget and with an unconventional campaign structure, raising questions about whether he has the wherewithal to make significant headway in the state.

“We're the only major candidate, I think, who’s bringing any kind of sanity and sensitivity to the suffering in Gaza. Just strikes me that all the other three major candidates are living in a Neolithic Age when it comes to dealing with what's going on in the Middle East,” West said in an interview. “They would take us back, and I'm the only one who would take us forward.”

But as West begins charting out the type of campaign he wants to run around the country, he is also still trying to assemble the right team to execute his vision.

The first-time candidate started his 2024 presidential run on the People's Party ticket, before moving to the Green Party, and is now running as an independent. West also since replaced campaign manager Peter Daou with four co-campaign managers.

The West team is now led by Anthony Karefa Rogers-Wright, who specializes in environmental and climate justice; Ceyanna Dent, a Midwest-based grassroots organizer; as well as former Bernie Sanders presidential campaign staffers Edwin DeJesus and Madeline Merritt.

In the jazz parlance that West regularly uses to describe his candidacy, the campaign is getting more out and free.

“I am in no way an ordinary politician,” West said. “Therefore, it's a matter of making sure that we have people in place who are willing to be unorthodox and cut against the grain, organizationally, internally and politically and morally.”

"We want to be jazz-like, in terms of raising all of the different voices," he added.

One strength West does bring to the campaign is his appeal to progressive groups. And he appears keen on utilizing those connections.

West, who has been to several pro-Palestinian demonstrations in recent weeks, plans to make a stop in Dearborn, a town outside of Detroit with a significant Arab American population and in collaboration with Jewish Voice for Peace. The town has had several pro-Palestinian demonstrations since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, and in 2021, Arab American advocates protested a Biden visit to the local Ford plant over his stance on Israel and Palestine.

West will also travel to Flint, Michigan to focus on the town’s water crisis and environmental justice issues, as well as stops at the University of Michigan and Michigan State to rally with students. West also plans to stop at the state's remote Upper Peninsula to visit with indigenous populations.

“By speaking to Michignaders, we will be speaking to pretty much the entire country at the same time,” said Rogers-Wright, West’s co-campaign manager. “This is a very critical state. Whoever wins that state is going to be the president.”

“We’re following the lead of young folk and Arab Americans in a pivotal state who themselves have said they wouldn’t be voting for President Biden if the election was tomorrow," he said. "The same can be said by people in the environmental justice community.”

The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

West is campaigning on a small budget. He has raised just over $320,000 in about four months of campaigning. Compared to the major party candidates and fellow independent candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the campaign has a major financial disadvantage.

Still, West is averaging about 3.8 percent in the national polls of a four-way race that includes Biden, Trump and Kennedy, according to RealClearPolitics.

The biggest question for West is in how many states he’ll get himself on the ballot. In recent interviews West said at least 35 is possible, but a person familiar with his campaign operations said they’re optimistic about surpassing that number.

West said the campaign has legal support from two lawyers who can help the inevitable challenges that third party candidates face when trying to get on the ballot as well as the “collective support” from "brother" Ralph Nader and "sister" Jill Stein, who both ran for president outside of the two major parties in multiple election cycles. Stein announced last week that she will again seek the Green Party nomination in 2024.

There will also be rallies and events in every state where West is seeking to get on the ballot, starting with Utah, which has the first presidential filing deadline for the general election.

West is also weighing his options for his vice presidential pick. Naming a running mate in advance is a requirement in some states for third party candidates to gain ballot access. Rodgers-Wright said the campaign is giving more consideration to female running mates in an effort to have a more representative ticket.

But the odds are against West. No candidate outside of the two party system has won the presidency since it was established in the 19th century. The last third party candidate to win any states in a presidential contest was “Dixiecrat” George Wallace in 1968.

Voters in swing states have also been less likely to vote for third party candidates in recent presidential election cycles, according to a POLITICO analysis.

But West’s vision is that voters in 2024 will feel differently about a “free” candidate like himself.

“People are looking for not just leadership, but they're looking for statespersons,” he said. “They’re tired of these garden variety politicians.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 12:30:02 -0500 ishook
Poet Detained in Gaza Is Released, Publisher Confirms Tue, 21 Nov 2023 11:50:04 -0500 ishook Johnson Pays Trump Visit as He Faces Mounting Criticism from the Right Tue, 21 Nov 2023 11:30:04 -0500 ishook Ignore Trump? Democrats Now Want Him Plastered All Over the News. Tue, 21 Nov 2023 10:20:02 -0500 ishook ACLU, Parents, and Students Sue Alaska School District Over Book Bans Tue, 21 Nov 2023 10:10:06 -0500 ishook Close&Up on: Jamie Oliver’s ‘Billy and the Giant Adventure’ Tue, 21 Nov 2023 10:10:06 -0500 ishook Former Marvel Publisher John Nee Unveils New Multiplatform Publishing Venture Tue, 21 Nov 2023 10:10:06 -0500 ishook Deal to free hostages, pause fighting between Israel and Hamas nears announcement

The U.S. has brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas to free dozens of hostages held in Gaza in exchange for a four or five day pause in fighting, according to three current U.S. officials and a former U.S. official with knowledge of the talks.

The people said an announcement could come from the relevant parties as soon as Tuesday — though all stressed that arrangements can always fall apart at the last moment.

Elements of the deal, including the release of some 50 hostages by Hamas, could begin within hours, they said. Two of the U.S. officials added that about 150 Palestinian prisoners will also be released from Israel as part of the arrangement.

“We’re the closest we’ve been,” said one of the U.S. officials, who like others was granted anonymity to detail a sensitive development before it was announced.

CNN reported the arrangement also includes Israel grounding surveillance drone flights for six hours a day in northern Gaza, but none of the three people POLITICO spoke to were aware that element made it into the final deal. The former official said that was “a sticking point” in negotiations.

All officials stressed that a deal isn’t final until it’s officially announced, and it’s unclear which party will first officially confirm the arrangement. While the broad outlines of the deal have been agreed to, Israel’s war cabinet still needs to formally approve it. That group is meeting Tuesday.

Release of the hostages could lead to the first sustained pause in fighting since Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,000 people. That would allow a significant increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been living for weeks without food, water and power.

The language from officials involved in painstaking talks turned optimistic in recent days. Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, said Sunday that a deal was “closer” to being finalized than ever before. On Tuesday, a Hamas leader stated that a temporary truce was “approaching,” while the Qataris said negotiations were approaching a “critical and final stage.”

Although Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week agreed to short, four-hour pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian assistance to flow into the enclave, he has strongly rejected the idea of a sustained cease-fire. The Biden administration agrees with Israel that a cease-fire would only help Hamas reconstitute itself.

But concern about the 239 people believed to be in captivity in Gaza, as well as about the dire humanitarian situation and rising civilian death toll in the enclave, increased pressure to act.

President Joe Biden has also been feeling the pressure. Democrats in the House and Senate are pushing to condition military aid to Israel, with some calling for a full cease-fire, as the death toll mounts. Hamas-led health authorities in Gaza report more than 11,000 people have been killed since Israel launched its retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 09:50:04 -0500 ishook
Hamas Is Not ISIS — and the Comparison Itself Is Counterproductive

Shortly after the horrific attacks of October 7th, when Hamas terrorists brutally killed more than 1,400 men, women and children, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “Hamas is ISIS.” It’s a comparison that has been reinforced by numerous Israeli and American officials, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who, while visiting Israel shortly after the attack, commented that what Hamas did was “worse than ISIS.”

We study terrorism in the Islamic world, and after this analogy began spreading widely, we decided to call some of our sources — including high-ranking jihadists and ISIS sympathizers — to see how they perceived the comparison. They flatly dismissed it.

To be clear, the savagery of Hamas’ attack opened the door to comparisons to the Islamic State, the most vicious terrorist group of modern times. Hamas targeted civilians and killed them in brutal ways. The world was shocked by gruesome reports of rape, mutilated and burned bodies, and the kidnapping of babies and the elderly. It’s the sort of grotesque behavior and violation of human rights and international law that recalls the worst of ISIS.

And yet, it must be said that Hamas is not ISIS. There are far more differences between the two groups than similarities. Acknowledging this reality is critical: Only when it’s understood how Hamas really works — and what it’s aiming for — will it be possible to confront the group in a way that will help Israel regain its security and ultimately end the war.

As a former leader of a Salafi militant group sympathetic to ISIS recently told us, “There is a world of difference between ISIS and Hamas.”

Here is what policymakers and the public need to know:

A State vs a Caliphate

Hamas is a nationalist organization that seeks the destruction of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state. It is also a militant religious group, to be sure, styled in the Islamist mold of the Muslim Brotherhood, from which it originated. But it seeks a state that would ultimately be like any other in the international community, with a seat at the United Nations and in regional organizations like the Arab League. Its objectives are local.

The Islamic State, on the other hand, has transnational goals and is a fundamentalist religious organization. ISIS seeks to build a global caliphate grounded in its literalist interpretation of scripture. Rather than aspiring to be a member of the global community of nations, ISIS sought to conquer states and subdue their citizens under threats of intimidation and death. Had ISIS succeeded in consolidating its territorial base in Iraq and Syria, it would have sought to undermine and destroy the United Nations, not join it.

“ISIS is a pure Islamic group” that follows Islamic ideas and concepts, culminating in the “divine, obligatory way of life called the caliphate,” says the ISIS sympathizer. Hamas “carries the flag of Palestine,” he adds, while ISIS “carries the flag of Islam.”

“Sovereignty of Man”

Hamas-ruled Gaza is certainly no democratic beacon, but ISIS members and supporters castigate Hamas for engaging in the electoral process, as it did in 2006 when Hamas won an election in Gaza with 44 percent of the vote.

Hamas “accepts the sovereignty of man” and denies God’s “sovereignty and supremacy,” the ISIS sympathizer contends. “There is nothing called democracy and man-made legislation,” he adds, “because everything is legislated by Almighty God in the sharia.” In other words, ISIS supporters criticize Hamas for failing to implement sharia law according to the Islamic State’s interpretations.

Divisions on Iran

ISIS also regularly denigrates Hamas for recognizing and receiving support from the (Shia) Islamic Republic of Iran. The unofficial English translation of a recent ISIS statement slams the Palestinian group for “getting close” to the Iranian regime “in friendship and brotherhood.”

ISIS considers Iran to be an enemy more devious than even the United States and Israel because ISIS considers the Shia to be rafidha, or rejectionists, and prioritized targeting them for death above any other adversary. Promoting sectarianism forms the core of ISIS’ recruiting methods, so a Sunni group like Hamas receiving support from a Shia country like Iran is considered beyond the Islamic pale.

For these and other differences, the Islamic State “holds Hamas in contempt and as apostates,” according to a second ISIS sympathizer.

Indeed, one other reason why ISIS views Hamas with disdain is that Hamas has tolerated other religious groups in Gaza, something ISIS would never do.

“It’s not fair to call Hamas ISIS,” the first ISIS sympathizer concludes, “That’s an insult to ISIS.”

Given these deep theological and ideological differences, it is not surprising that ISIS and its supporters have refrained from praising Hamas for its October 7th attack, even as it was applauded by al-Qaeda and a host of its affiliates, including al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent.

An Endgame

The distinctions between Hamas and ISIS will also impact how the current conflict ultimately comes to an end.

With ISIS, there was never any room for negotiation. ISIS had no state sponsor, as Hamas does with Iran (and used to have with Syria). Nor did ISIS have the level of popular support that Hamas enjoys, either within its area of operations or internationally. Indeed, the Islamic State was so threatening that it generated a truly global response with the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh, comprised of 86 nations. Countries with large Muslim populations had overwhelmingly negative views of the terrorist group.

Unlike ISIS, some of Hamas’ goals are actually political, and so there will be no effective solution to the crisis unless it also includes a political resolution.

Yet, if Hamas is equated with ISIS, as specious analogies suggest, the only available options for dealing with it will be military-oriented. Such analogies also risk creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more Israeli and American officials equate Hamas with ISIS, the more they close the door to any possible political settlement.

The ongoing effort to demolish Hamas could very well prove counterproductive as civilian deaths mount and global public opinion turns against Israel and, by extension, the United States. Pursuing a solely kinetic response to Hamas may end up weakening the group, but it is unlikely to destroy it completely. Hamas’ operational commanders were likely moved out of Gaza prior to the attack, perhaps to Lebanon, Iran or Syria, to ensure the continuity of the organization, particularly among its hardliners.

The fallout could lead to an even more extreme iteration of the group — Hamas 2.0 — that could rise from the ashes in Gaza and continue perpetrating acts of violence and terrorism against Israel. If that were to happen, Hamas would prove similar to ISIS in at least one unwelcome respect: its resilience.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 07:45:03 -0500 ishook
House GOP's Biden impeachment effort heads into final stage

House Republicans are closing in on a make-or-break moment in their drive to impeach Joe Biden, with GOP centrists remaining highly skeptical of the effort even as its leaders look to decide in January on whether to file formal articles against the president.

Even with a planned deposition of Hunter Biden in the coming weeks, the party remains in a tense spot, with centrists signaling that the party’s investigation hasn’t yet met their bar for an impeachment vote and the right flank ratcheting up pressure to move forward.

It's all building to a decision on whether to pursue impeachment articles as soon as January. Republicans would likely accuse the president of improperly using his political office to further his family’s business dealings — though they haven’t yet found a smoking gun to that effect and some members acknowledge that seems increasingly unlikely. Impeachment advocates are still probing other issues as well, such as the federal investigation that resulted in a failed plea deal for Hunter Biden.

“We get those depositions done this year and … then we can decide on whether or not there’s articles,” House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLITICO, predicting that decision would happen early next year.

But a familiar obstacle for Republicans stands in their way here, too: their thin majority. Though Republicans can draft and file articles without a locked-in whip count, impeachment backers will need near unanimity to actually recommend booting Biden from office, since it's virtually assured no Democrat would vote to impeach Biden.

Ending an impeachment inquiry without a vote — or a failed one — would be an embarrassing political setback both for hardliners and Speaker Mike Johnson, who conservatives view as their ally on the issue. But centrists remain unconvinced that impeachment is necessary, and what’s more, that group has grown increasingly willing to buck leadership after the three-week speaker fight and with 2024 drawing closer.

“Any kind of an impeachment puts our Biden people in a really tough spot,” a GOP lawmaker involved in the investigation, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly, said in an interview. “Impeachment hurts us politically — it makes our base feel better.”

Republicans are aware that the deeper they go into 2024 the larger the shadow of the upcoming election looms, both for Biden and their own vulnerable members. And there's no guarantee any potential political benefits of keeping the conversation in the spotlight into the presidential election will negate the added pressure on Biden-district Republicans.

“We understand that the further you go toward an election, the more politicized these conversations become. That’s why it’s all the more important for us to begin to take action sooner rather than later,” said Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Jordan estimated that he and Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) have a dozen to 15 interviews they still want to finish by the end of the year. At least one of those interviews is likely to spill over into January: Elizabeth Hirsh Naftali, who purchased Hunter Biden artwork. Jordan, Comer and Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-Mo.) also briefed Johnson on the status of their Biden investigations last week.

And more fights on that front could further drag out the inquiry. Comer has said that he wants to hold individuals who don’t comply with the subpoenas in contempt, though he acknowledged that it’s a decision for the conference. If anyone in Republicans' final batch of interviews fights a subpoena in court, that could tee off a lengthy legal challenge.

Not to mention, decisions on impeachment could easily run into a pair of government funding deadlines in mid-January and early February. But conservatives are eager to move the impeachment effort to its next phase, with the Judiciary Committee expected to take the lead on drafting any formal articles.

“I think it needs to move with alacrity. I’ve always felt that we should be able to move faster. … But I do anticipate that it comes to Judiciary soon,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), a member of that panel.

Republicans are months into their sweeping investigation into the Biden family. They’ve poked holes in some of Joe Biden's and the White House’s previous statements and found examples of Hunter Biden trading on his family name, including invoking his father to try to bolster his own influence. But they’ve struggled to find a direct link that shows Biden took official actions as president or vice president to benefit his family’s business deals.

But Republicans aren't putting all their bets on the one basket. They've hinted that they could also draw obstruction allegations into the impeachment articles, citing any refusal by the Biden administration to cooperate.

Meanwhile, Democrats and the White House are already previewing their rebuttal to that potential charge. They've cited a Trump-era Justice Department opinion that states investigative steps and subpoenas initiated so far aren’t valid because Republicans never held a formal vote to start the inquiry — and are likely to point back to fulfilled records requests and interviews.

“House Republicans have already spent a year on their expensive and time-consuming so-called ‘investigation’ and they’ve turned up zero evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden. In fact, their own witnesses and the thousands of pages of documents they’ve obtained have repeatedly debunked their false allegations,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement to POLITICO.

GOP lawmakers have also pointed to unproven allegations of bribery as a potential focus of impeachment articles, though they are facing doubt from some colleagues that they will be able to find the kind of direct evidence that shows Joe Biden participated in the sort of “pay for play” scandal that conservatives accuse him of. Oversight Committee Republicans also argued in a memo earlier this year that they didn’t need to show direct payments to Joe Biden to prove “corruption.”

The House GOP has also touted two payments from James Biden to Joe Biden — one for $200,000 and another for $40,000 — as evidence of “money laundering” and the president benefiting from his family’s business deals. The checks from James Biden are earmarked as loan repayments and the White House has said they were a loan, an idea contested by Republicans. Both payments came a month or two after an account that appears to be associated with Joe Biden, based on records reviewed by POLITICO, wired James Biden both $200,000 and $40,000.

“I don’t think we’re going to have a closed-caption video with some Chinese national handing Joe Biden the bank money,” the GOP lawmaker who was granted anonymity said, acknowledging the impeachment case would ride on a “mountain of circumstantial evidence.” But, they argued, some federal prosecutions had been built on similar bases.

Centrists have credited the GOP investigations with uncovering new evidence about Biden family business dealings and raised questions about Biden himself. But they’ve also warned leadership that they don’t want to move forward on a vote without a “smoking gun.” Johnson, during a recent meeting with that faction of the conference, indicated that he wasn’t yet ready to pull the trigger on impeachment, but that they should keep following the evidence, according to two Republicans in the meeting.

Still, that sparked quick pushback from his right flank, who worried that Johnson was trying to quietly pull the plug on impeachment. In a statement late last week that appeared aimed at trying to clear the air, Johnson said the GOP investigators “have my full and unwavering support.”

“Now, the appropriate step is to place key witnesses under oath and question them under the penalty of perjury, to fill gaps in the record,” Johnson said, adding that Republicans are moving “toward an inflection point in this critical investigation.”

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 07:45:03 -0500 ishook
Food aid for low&income mothers, babies becomes spending flashpoint

Congress’ failure to include extra aid money for low-income moms and babies in last week’s spending bill sets up a potential showdown early next year.

At stake: whether the government will have to begin turning away large numbers of mothers and their children from the program, known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, breaking with decades of precedent.

Unlike other federal nutrition programs, WIC funding has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support, with Republicans and Democrats committed to ensuring every eligible mother and baby who applies for the program can receive benefits. That consensus is now fraying, with House Republicans pushing to pare back WIC spending this year, arguing tough cuts are needed across the government amid the nation’s mounting debt.

The result, advocates and state-based WIC administrators fear, is that they may have to begin putting people on waitlists to receive aid like breastfeeding support, baby formula and other nutrition assistance.

Those warnings have become more urgent after Congress passed a stop-gap spending bill last week that left out the White House’s request for an additional $1 billion in funding to cover rising WIC program costs — the result of growing enrollment since the Covid-19 pandemic and record high food prices.

Many Democrats voted for last week’s short-term spending bill to avert a government shutdown, even though it didn’t include the White House request. But they made clear they are going to continue to fight for the funding again next year.

“Failing to fully fund WIC for the first time ever is not an acceptable outcome to me under any circumstances,” Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said last Wednesday night, just before the short-term funding package passed.

That next opportunity to bump up WIC funding comes Jan. 19, when the short-term spending bill covering food and agriculture programs expires. That gives lawmakers just five legislative weeks to hash out a deal on WIC and other spending flashpoints.

“It’s like we’re on the train tracks and I see a train coming,” said Washington state WIC Director Paul Throne. “We know that costs are continuing to rise and we’re not getting relief. And so the train has not hit us yet, but we can see it coming.”

First established as a pilot program in 1972, WIC has grown to become a key part of the country’s social safety net. The program provides breastfeeding support to new moms, and formula and other nutrition assistance to roughly half of all babies born in the U.S. WIC participation has been growing in most states, especially as pandemic-era boosts to its fruit and vegetable cash benefit made it more appealing to eligible low-income moms and their young children. Food costs have also spiked in recent years, reducing how far federal dollars can stretch.

In some states where enrollment has been particularly high, that has led administrators to warn that, come 2024, some mothers and children may be denied benefits or placed on waitlists until funding becomes available.

“Every day that we deny funds for WIC, it endangers women, infants and child nutrition,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said during the debate on the funding package last week.

Traditionally, WIC funding has enjoyed bipartisan support, more so than other federal nutrition programs. But House Republicans are pushing to pare back WIC spending this year, arguing tough cuts are needed across the government amid the nation’s mounting debt.

Republicans note that Johnson’s stopgap plan continues a measure from the September federal funding patch, which allows USDA to more quickly spend current WIC funding in order to avoid any disruptions to WIC benefits until mid-January.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who chairs the House Appropriations panel on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education, recently argued there's nothing stopping USDA from requesting more funding from the Office of Management and Budget for WIC if the program runs short during the stop-gap period.

"If this becomes a problem, that's because the administration is purposefully making it a problem for not allocating these necessary funds," Aderholt said.

But even some House conservatives have voiced wariness about the WIC funding levels senior Republicans have proposed. Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, initially questioned this summer what he said were WIC “cuts” in the House GOP’s agriculture spending bill, telling Democrats he agreed with their criticism of the lower WIC funding level in the legislation.

Norman added that Democrats and Republicans should work together to secure other spending offsets in an effort to spare WIC.

Officials from the White House Domestic Policy Council convened a series of meetings this fall with anti-hunger advocates as they sought to build pressure on lawmakers to fully fund WIC in any stopgap funding measure, according to two people familiar with the meetings who were granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The White House also invited produce organizations, which provide a key piece of the WIC program's fruit and vegetable benefit, and have a large presence in GOP-held agriculture districts.

Democrats are hoping to revive negotiations on WIC funding in the lead-up to the Jan. 19 government funding deadline for food and ag programs, possibly by tapping other pots of money to pay for the increase.

Without congressional action, Minnesota WIC director Kate Franken said states will be forced to add families to wait lists for the first time in nearly 30 years.

“If WIC funding is not adequate, and funds are cut, our families and our communities would suffer the consequences,” Franken said.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 07:45:03 -0500 ishook
Chinese Forced Labor Processed the Fish Sticks in Your Kid’s School Lunch

This story was produced by The Outlaw Ocean Project, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Washington. Reporting and writing was contributed by Ian Urbina, Daniel Murphy, Joe Galvin, Maya Martin, Susan Ryan, Austin Brush and Jake Conley. This reporting was partially supported by the Pulitzer Center.

Few workplaces are as gritty and brutal as distant-water fishing ships from China, and there are a lot of them: With as many as 6,500 ships, China today operates the world’s largest distant-water fishing fleet, which is more than double the size of its next competitor. It’s rarely easy for crew members to leave these ships, and often it’s forbidden.

With ships so far from shore, constantly in transit, typically operating in international waters, where national governments have limited jurisdiction, the severity and extent of forced labor in China’s seafood supply chain has long been difficult to measure. Throughout a four-year effort to document the human rights and environmental crimes associated with seafood tied to China as catch moves from bait to plate, a team of investigators at The Outlaw Ocean Project, a journalism organization in Washington, followed and, in some instances, boarded for inspection, Chinese fishing ships at sea in several locations, including in the waters close to North Korea, The Gambia, the Falkland Islands and the Galapagos Islands. When Chinese ships did not want to talk and fled the scene, the reporters followed in a skiff and threw plastic bottles with interview questions written in Indonesian, Chinese and English onto the back of the ship. In many cases, deckhands wrote answers and sent the bottles back.

The team monitored the ships by satellite back to ports, and then to pin down who was cleaning, processing and freezing the catch for eventual export, we tracked Chinese fishing ships as they moved their catch to refrigeration ships and carried it to ports in China, where the trucks from one vessel were filmed by our investigators and followed to the processing plants. And this is where we discovered that forced labor is as much a problem on land as it is far at sea.

We documented the use of Uyghur and North Korean labor to process seafood coming from Chinese ships tied to human trafficking and illegal fishing. Then we used bills of lading and other customs information, product packaging and company press releases and annual reports to track the seafood to grocery stores, restaurants and food service companies in Europe and the United States, and federal contracts databases to tie imported seafood — everything from pollock to salmon to haddock — to American and European government purchasing.

The U.S. government is among the largest institutional buyers of seafood, purchasing more than $400 million in 2022. The investigation found that a portion of this spending goes toward importers that source fish from processing plants using Uyghur labor, in violation of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which was passed almost unanimously in December 2021, and requires U.S. Customs and Border Protection to block the import of goods produced by Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities from Xinjiang province. The Chinese government has systematically subjected these groups in recent years to forced labor programs at factories across the country monitored by uniformed guards, in dorms surrounded by barbed wire. (The Chinese Foreign Ministry declined to answer questions about the use of Uyghur and forced labor in seafood processing plants. But in response to the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, the ministry released a statement that called the allegations of forced labor, “nothing but vicious lies concocted by anti-China forces.”)

Since 2022, Customs and Border Protection has detained more than a billion dollars of these goods, especially tied to industries like cotton, solar panels and tomatoes that were previously known to be heavily worked by Uyghurs. Seafood imports have largely slipped oversight, however, partly because the plants relying on these workers are located far from Xinjiang, a western area of the country that is among the farthest from the sea of anywhere on the planet. The Chinese government has instead forcibly relocated tens of thousands of these workers, loading them onto trains, planes and buses, and sending some to seafood processing plants in Shandong province, a fishing hub on the eastern coast. These findings were based on Outlaw Ocean Project reporting conducted using cell phone footage from factories and other places in China posted to social media, seafood company newsletters that mention meetings with government officials about solving labor shortages, state media reports, more than three dozen worker testimonies and direct surveillance of some plants. (For more detailed sourcing, see Outlaw Ocean Project’s website.)

The investigation found that more than $50 million worth of salmon was supplied to federally funded soup kitchens and programs to feed low-income elders by importers that source from plants using Uyghur labor. This wasn’t the only species produced by forced labor that ended up on plates in the U.S. Over $20 million worth of pollock, mostly as fish sticks, was shipped to the National School Lunch Program and other federal food assistance programs. The National School Lunch Program feeds kids in over 100,000 public schools in the country. More than $140 million worth of cod, salmon and halibut was delivered to commissaries and cafeterias at hundreds of U.S. military bases domestically and abroad. Thousands of dollars’ worth of fish patties went to federal inmates in Wisconsin. The U.S. government even donated over $300,000 worth of canned pink salmon to Ukraine to support the war effort, some of it supplied by an American company named OBI Seafoods, which, the investigation found, sources from a Chinese plant using Uyghurs. (OBI Seafoods did not respond to requests for comment.)

By email, Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), a member of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, which monitors human rights in the country, said he was proud that the Uyghur law was being robustly enforced by Customs and Border Protection, including the recent addition of 24 companies that use forced labor to the restricted list. He added, in response to the findings of this investigation: “I hope that any and all allegations of forced labor, especially for products purchased by American taxpayers, are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.”

In separate reports over the past two years, the U.S. State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration named China in a list of countries most likely to engage in illegal labor practices in the seafood sector — forced labor through debt bondage, wage withholding, excessive working hours, beatings of deckhands and passport confiscation, as well as abandoning crew in port and general neglect. In one case, we received a video from Filipino deckhands who had filmed aboard a Chinese vessel where they said they were being held captive. “Please rescue us,” one of the deckhands on the Han Rong 368 pleaded in a July 2020 video, recorded on his cell phone from the Indian Ocean, near Sri Lanka. “We need to go to the hospital,” he said. “Please, we are already sick here. The captain won’t send us to the hospital.” (The agency that placed these workers on the ship, PT Puncak Jaya Samudra, did not respond to requests for comment.)

The Department of Defense, which runs military bases, and the Department of Justice which runs the Federal Bureau of Prisons, declined to comment about the purchase of seafood from American importers tied to processing plants in China using Xinjiang labor. Allan Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the USDA, which oversees the National School Lunch Program, said: “USDA requires that our seafood products be sourced in U.S. waters by U.S. flagged vessels and produced in U.S. establishments approved by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Seafood Inspection Program.”

The U.S. government is by no means the only buyer of seafood coming from these ships and the processing facilities in violation of the import ban. The investigation found more than 6,000 tons of seafood coming from the plants since June 2022 went to U.S. restaurant chains, grocery stores and food service companies including Walmart, Costco, Kroger and Sysco.

In response to questions about these concerns, a spokesperson for Walmart said the company “expects all our suppliers to comply with our standards and contractual obligations, including those relating to human rights.” A spokesperson for Sysco said that their supplier, Yantai Sanko Fisheries, had undergone audits and had reassured them that it had never “received any workers under a state-imposed labor transfer program.” Costco and Kroger did not respond to requests for comment.

The investigation also found seafood from these plants going to companies in the EU, Australia, South America and the Middle East. But the revelation that even the U.S. government is buying goods tainted by Chinese forced labor is striking since such purchases, paid for by taxpayer dollars, are supposed to face higher scrutiny.

This lapse highlights the murky nature of the world’s seafood supply chains and has spurred calls from American lawmakers, ocean conservationists, consumer advocates and human rights organizations to require U.S. importers to track their seafood from bait to plate to ensure it is not tied to labor and environmental crimes or violates sanctions on “pariah” states like North Korea and Iran. In the many handoffs of catch between fishing boats, carrier ships, processing plants and exporters, there are gaping holes in traceability.

In 2022, the Biden administration was confronted by the difficulty of tracing this supply chain after it issued an executive order prohibiting the import of Russian seafood. The effort was aimed at depriving Russia of billions of dollars that might go toward the war in Ukraine. But members of Congress soon pushed back, saying that the ban was largely unenforceable. During a hearing on the import ban in April 2022, Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman from California said that until the U.S. closes loopholes in their oversight of this supply chain, “Russian seafood will continue to line grocery store shelves, and American consumers will continue to unwittingly support Putin’s war machine.”

American lawmakers say that China’s dependence on illegal practices puts domestic fishermen at a competitive disadvantage. (The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment on this allegation.) “We cannot continue to allow countries such as China and Russia to undercut our honest fishers by abusing our oceans and fellow human beings,” said a June 2022 letter to Biden signed by Huffman and Republican Rep.

Tue, 21 Nov 2023 07:45:03 -0500 ishook
What Are the Risks of A.I. Drones and Weapons? Tue, 21 Nov 2023 05:15:04 -0500 ishook A.I. Killer Drones Are Becoming Reality. Nations Disagree on Limits. Tue, 21 Nov 2023 05:15:04 -0500 ishook The Asylum Crisis in America: A Look at the Numbers Tue, 21 Nov 2023 05:15:04 -0500 ishook Dutch on brink of electing first female leader Mon, 20 Nov 2023 23:45:04 -0500 ishook Our warnings on Hamas were ignored, Israel's women border troops say Mon, 20 Nov 2023 23:45:04 -0500 ishook ‘Don’t yell at me, yell at DC': Adams blames NYC budget crisis on feds

NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Monday night blamed the federal government for his need to cut billions of dollars in city programs — including from police, fire and sanitation — because of a surge in costs to pay for new migrants.

“DC has abandoned us, and they need to be paying their cost to this national problem,” Adams said during a town hall in Brooklyn.

The city has been overwhelmed by more than 125,000 migrants since last year, including about half still in its care. The problem has meant funding tent facilities and paying for hotel stays across the five boroughs, crippling the city’s finances.

As a result, the city last week announced a slew of cuts to services, such as getting rid of some public garbage cans, lessening aid to libraries and eliminating new classes of police officers.

Speaking to Coney Island residents with more than three dozen city officials and elected officials at a dais behind him, the Democratic mayor continued to place blame on the federal government for the city’s ballooning migrant costs, specifically pointing out the inability of migrants to obtain legal work permits.

“This is unfair what we're doing to migrant asylum seekers, and it's unfair what we're doing to everyday taxpayers,” Adams said.

The battle with Washington has put Adams on the outs with the White House and President Joe Biden, with whom he hasn't spoken to in nearly a year. But Adams has been unapologetic, saying the president needs to do more to help the nation’s largest city.

“I tell people all the time when they stop me on the subway system, ‘Don't yell at me, yell at DC,’” Adams said. “We deserve better as a city.”

In September, Adams called for a citywide hiring freeze due to spending on the crisis. The city has already dropped about $1.5 billion on the migrant surge for the fiscal year that runs through June 30, and it expects to spend about $11 billion over the next two fiscal years, according to his recent budget plan.

The federal government has provided help, as has the state with about $1.5 billion in aid. But the complexity and cost of the problem has strained the city’s budget, impacting overall services and programs.

On Thursday, Adams announced $4 billion in budget cuts over the next year and a half. Adams says he has to close a $7.1 billion gap before the new fiscal year begins July 1.

The cuts are also hitting services for migrants. His administration confirmed Monday they will seek 20 percent budget cuts for “asylum-seeker expenses.”

Adams has been eager to blame the federal government, and Gov. Kathy Hochul has also repeatedly called on Biden for more support, but not with the same biting criticism as the mayor.

But Adams’ calls for help have also been impacted by a federal investigation into his campaign finances. Earlier this month, he was set to meet with White House officials to plead for more aid, along with other big city mayors, but quickly returned to New York to deal with an FBI probe into his campaign. He never ended up meeting with any federal officials that day.

To finance legal costs associated with the federal investigation into his campaign, Adams has set up a legal defense fund, POLITICO reported Friday.

"Do you see all these people that love me?” Adams told reporters when he was asked about the defense fund, pointing to constituents gathered to take a photo with him after the event. “People love me as mayor. So they have the right to do whatever they want when they love their mayor. … That’s what America’s about.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 23:45:04 -0500 ishook
Musk sues Media Matters as advertising exodus continues

Elon Musk on Monday made good on his promise to sue Media Matters, filing a federal lawsuit that accuses the left-leaning watchdog group and one of its reporters of doctoring images in an article that showed ads for major corporations next to posts depicting hate speech on X, Musk’s social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

In a complaint filed in a Texas federal court, lawyers for X argued that Media Matters “knowingly and maliciously manufactured side-by-side images depicting advertisers’ posts” on X. The lawsuit alleges that the images and the media promotion of that research were done with the intention “to drive advertisers from the platform and destroy” X, citing “a blatant smear campaign” against the company over the last year.

The lawsuit comes as Musk and X, facing allegations that they endorsed and promoted antisemitic content on the platform, try to quell a recent exodus of advertisers.

The complaint contends that an internal investigation found that Media Matters used accounts for its research that bypassed “X’s ad filter for new users” and followed only accounts “known to produce extreme, fringe content” and “accounts owned by X’s big-name advertisers.”

The complaint further alleges that Media Matters “resorted to endlessly scrolling and refreshing its unrepresentative, hand-selected feed … until it finally received pages containing the result it wanted: controversial content next to X’s largest advertisers’ paid posts.”

Shortly after Musk filed his lawsuit, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has in the past aligned himself with the tech mogul, announced that his office would open a probe into “potential fraudulent activity” by Media Matters.

Ahead of the lawsuit, Media Matters’ president, Angelo Carusone, said in a statement that “we are going to continue our work undeterred. If he sues us, we will win.”

Media Matters did not immediately respond to a request for updated comment in light of the lawsuit and Paxton’s announcement of an investigation.

Musk — the richest person in the world and the owner of Tesla and SpaceX — pledged over the weekend to file a “thermonuclear lawsuit” against Media Matters, a self-described “progressive research and information center” that says it monitors “conservative disinformation,” in response to the advertising boycott on X.

Media Matters published a report last week alleging that X had run ads for major companies next to neo-Nazi posts, prompting companies like Apple, IBM and Disney to pull advertising from the site.

That research challenged earlier claims from X CEO Linda Yaccarino, who had said that brands are now “protected from the risk of being next to” potentially toxic content on the platform.

The battle with Media Matters also comes as Musk — the owner of Tesla and SpaceX, who bought Twitter last year and then rebranded it — has come under fire for what some have characterized as tolerating and, at times, encouraging antisemitism on the social media platform. Musk himself appeared to express his support for an antisemitic tweet as “the actual truth” of what Jewish people were doing amid Israel’s war against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

The White House starkly condemned the post, and the tweet has been seen as a precipitating factor in the advertising exodus the company has experienced over the last few days.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 21:45:03 -0500 ishook
House Republicans are quarreling and their campaign arm fundraising has slowed

Donations to the House Republicans' campaign committee lagged in a month marked by a historic leadership ouster and party infighting.

The National Republican Congressional Committee raised slightly over $5 million in October, according to a filing Monday with the Federal Election Commission.

That’s about half of what it raised at the same point in past off-year cycles: around $10 million in October 2019 and $9.8 million in October 2021. And it’s the committee’s third-lowest fundraising month of this year, after the traditionally difficult fundraising months of January and August.

The latest report underscores the NRCC’s cash challenges heading into a competitive election year. The Republican campaign committee reported having $37.3 million in the bank at the end of October, trailing its Democratic counterpart by about $10 million. At this point in 2021, the NRCC had $67.7 million in its coffers, and in 2019, it had $28.3 million.

The House was without a speaker for three weeks last month after Kevin McCarthy was stripped of the gavel on Oct. 3. Republicans fought each other for weeks over who should replace him. After multiple unsuccessful candidates and votes, Mike Johnson (R-La.) was elected to the position on Oct. 25.

The tumult also left Republicans without their chief fundraiser in the post. The House speaker gig is critical in funneling cash to the conference and McCarthy has been a fundraising juggernaut with an extensive donor network. Johnson didn’t have a prolific track record when it came to raking in cash, but in the days immediately following his ascension to the role, the NRCC said it had its strongest online fundraising of the cycle.

Overall, the NRCC has raised $23.2 million this year directly from individual donors and $16 million from PACs. It has also raised $15.3 million through joint fundraising committees, with the vast majority of that coming from a McCarthy-affiliated committee, Protect the House 2024, which did not make any new transfers to the NRCC in October.

A spokesperson for the NRCC declined to comment beyond noting the cycle-high fundraising after Johnson was elected to the role.

Johnson has also begun building out his campaign finance infrastructure. He launched a joint fundraising committee on Monday that will be his chief fundraising vehicle. The committee, Grow the Majority, said it will fundraise on behalf of vulnerable incumbents; Republican challengers; the NRCC; the Congressional Leadership Fund, which Johnson has blessed as House Republicans’ chief super PAC; and others.

The NRCC spent $3.8 million last month. Among its largest expenses was digital consulting, with $696,000 paid to Targeted Victory, a GOP firm and longtime NRCC vendor. That total is largely in line with the committee’s previous digital spending this year. Other large expense categories in October included payroll, at $596,000, and postage, which accounted for $328,000.

NRCC’s Democratic rival, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, brought in $8.1 million in October and has raised $101.3 million year-to-date, which it touted as breaking its previous record at this point for fundraising in a presidential cycle off-year. (The NRCC has raised $75.2 million this year, surpassing its 2019 total at this point.) DCCC Chair Suzan DelBene in a statement attributed the haul to “the contrast between Democrats and Republicans” of “extremism and chaos versus responsible leadership and getting things done.”

The NRCC’s October fundraising was on par with the party committees in the upper chamber. The National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $5.4 million, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee brought in $5.3 million.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 21:45:03 -0500 ishook
Humanitarian groups tell White House ceasefire is only viable aid option

Humanitarian organizations met privately with national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Monday to discuss ways to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, two people familiar with the meeting said.

The six groups in attendance requested the conversation to present their view that only a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas would make it safe enough for assistance to reach those in need. Sullivan reiterated the administration’s position that a cease-fire is not an option, prompting the exchange to center around other steps the administration could pursue.

One of the people said that President Joe Biden’s team is looking for short-term solutions to improve humanitarian conditions in the Hamas-run enclave. The other, though, said “what we're talking about, there's nothing creative about it. It's just the stuff that's more meaningful than the status quo, but nowhere in the ballpark of sufficient.” Both people were granted anonymity to detail the private conversation in the West Wing.

The White House didn’t immediately return a request for comment. On Monday, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the administration is still looking to “increase the flow of lifesaving humanitarian assistance,” advocating for international law to be followed and “humanitarian pauses so that people can get out of harm’s way and that aid and assistance can get in.” He also noted a deal to pause fighting to secure hostages is nearing finalization, but “nothing is done until it’s all done.”

The meeting comes at a critical time for the administration, which has received increasing criticism for its response to the humanitarian conditions in Gaza.

The situation on the ground for aid groups is extremely dire. The United Nations alone has lost more than 100 workers in Gaza since Israel launched its retaliation following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. One person was killed and another injured over the weekend in an attack that struck a Doctors Without Borders convoy evacuating Palestinian staffers and their families.

Organizations say they lack the basic fuel and supplies needed to treat injured civilians. Kirby said Israel is now allowing more fuel for humanitarian groups to use at America's "strong request." They have long pushed for the need to get more fuel into Gaza to power hospitals and bakeries. Only about two tanker trucks enter the enclave a day, humanitarian groups say, as Israeli officials claim more fuel only helps Hamas propel rockets at Israel.

In the roughly 45-minute conversation, the groups discussed alternate routes to deliver aid to Gaza, including sending food and other assistance via maritime passages or the Kerem Shalom border crossing at the enclave’s southeastern tip. “It’s much better suited to what’s needed,” said one of the people, adding it could be opened along with the current transit point at the Rafah crossing.

The groups also broached the need for a deconfliction channel that would allow humanitarian organizations to operate more safely. Another point of discussion was getting water to Palestinians, as one group outlined how half of the above-ground water networks have been destroyed and the status of the below-ground networks are likely in worse condition. Ensuring access to basic services like water is a fundamental element of international humanitarian law, the organizations noted.

None of the six organizations in the meeting wanted to confirm their attendance on the record, with some citing fears they could lose access to the highest levels of the Biden administration.

Attendees did not detail Sullivan’s reactions and it’s unclear if he will incorporate the groups’ thinking into the administration’s policy.

The top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, Brett McGurk, over the weekend appeared to link sending more humanitarian aid to Gaza to Hamas releasing a large number of its roughly 200-plus hostages. The White House strongly pushed back on that idea Monday, with NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson saying “the United States does not support conditions on the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We never have, and never will.”

The administration contends it has been appropriately focused on humanitarian issues from the beginning, with Biden getting personally involved to ensure around 100 trucks enter Gaza a day to provide necessary food, water, fuel and medical supplies. On Friday, the president ordered members of his cabinet to prepare options for penalizing extremist settlers in the West Bank committing violent acts against Palestinians.

Senior administration officials have said they’re encouraging the Israeli military to prioritize civilian safety as they operate within a dense and booby trapped urban environment.

Speaking on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said Israel had the right to keep fighting Hamas, including moving southward in Gaza where hundreds of thousands of people fled following Israel’s instruction. “We think that their operations should not go forward until those additional civilians have been accounted for in their military planning,” he said.

Israel has already entered Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital, which it claims Hamas used as a central operation center to attack Israel. Israeli forces took media to the entrance of what it says is a tunnel used by the militants to move hostages and equipment underground. Fighting broke out around the enclave’s Indonesian hospital on Monday, which currently houses thousands of patients and displaced Palestinians.

“Even if tomorrow morning, this were to end in terms of a cease-fire, we still have a huge problem on our hands,” Michael Ryan, a top World Health Organization official, told reporters on Monday from Geneva. “The hospital situation — the primary health care system situation — in Gaza is catastrophic and it is the worst you can imagine [in the] north.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 21:45:03 -0500 ishook
California’s Looming Power Outage

Another day, another congressional retirement. Today, California Democratic Rep. Tony Cardenas announced he won’t be running for reelection, bringing the number of House members who are either retiring or seeking other office up to 30.

In the battle for control of the House, his retirement doesn’t mean much: He represents a solidly blue San Fernando Valley-area district where three out of four voters cast ballots for Joe Biden in 2020. But his departure is symptomatic of a bigger problem facing California — it’s waning clout in Washington.

The decade began with a significant blow to the state — for the first time since achieving statehood in 1849, California’s slowing growth led to the loss of one House seat in reapportionment.

Even with 52 members, California still has the largest congressional delegation in the House — 40 Democrats and 12 Republicans. But the retirements of Cardenas and Rep. Grace Napolitano, and the departures of Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee, and Adam Schiff, who are seeking the state’s open Senate seat, represent a collective loss of nearly 90 years of legislative experience.

The brain drain — so far, all Democrats — isn’t likely to end there. We’re still not through prime retirement announcement season, which essentially runs until the end of January, after members spend time with their families over the holidays. And there are as many as 10 competitive seats in California next year, a handful of which are considered toss-ups. That means — at a bare minimum — roughly a tenth of the California House delegation in the next Congress will be first-termers who are learning the ropes in an institution where seniority matters.

That’s not ideal for a big-state delegation that is already pretty green — 15 of the 52 current members were elected in 2018 and after.

Under current Republican House rule, the blue state’s clout was already diminished — and that was before former Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield was ousted in October. Today, there are no Californians in GOP leadership and the state holds no committee chairmanships. While the power of committee chairs has been in decline for years, a chairmanship remains a powerful asset for protecting and advancing state interests — rank-and-file members alone can’t match their role in policymaking or the distribution of federal spending.

California still fields the largest and most dominant bloc in the Democratic Caucus. That will come in handy in the event the House flips in 2024. But former Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in the twilight of her career and the top Californian currently in leadership, Rep. Pete Aguilar, only holds the third-ranking position. It’s true that California boasts the top ranking Democrat on three committees, but two of them are 75 years or older.

Compare that circumstance with the beginning of the Obama era, when the Golden State was unquestionably the top dog in a Democratic-controlled Congress, led by then-House Speaker Pelosi and four House committee chairs. In the Senate, the state had two powerhouse senators who served for decades, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

At the moment, California has two relatively junior senators — Alex Padilla, who was appointed in 2021 and won his first full term last year, and Laphonza Butler, who was appointed last month. Since she has announced she is not running for a full term next year, she’ll be replaced by another Senate rookie.

The recent spate of House retirements are part of a broader national phenomenon — Cardenas was the 10th member of the House or Senate this month to announce they’re hanging it up, the second-most in any one month going back at least as far as 2011. It’s welcome news to the legion of ambitious politicians back in California, who are typically piling up in a holding pattern awaiting the next big political opportunity. But it’s not so great for the nation’s most populous state to be a weakling in Washington.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 21:45:03 -0500 ishook
Trump Releases Health Report With Few Details Mon, 20 Nov 2023 21:40:02 -0500 ishook Sasse dismisses Florida Republican’s claim that UF professor compared Israel to Nazi Germany

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida’s only Republican Jewish lawmaker publicly called on the University of Florida to terminate a professor for sharing a social media post comparing Israel to Nazi Germany — but UF President Ben Sasse, in a sharp rebuke, asserted that the instructor hasn’t worked at the school for years.

The exchange between state Rep. Randy Fine and the top official at Florida’s flagship university is emblematic of the heightened pressure on school leaders to officiate stateside reactions to the Israel-Hamas war on their campuses. Sasse, who had been praised by many Republicans for defending Israel amid outcry of some pro-Palestinian students in the aftermath of Hamas attacks, slammed Fine’s social media criticism of UF as a “thirsty, attention-desperate post.”

“A tenured UF professor is supposedly forcing despicable antisemitic garbage on UF students in UF classrooms,” Sasse, a former GOP senator from Nebraska, wrote in a lengthy memo Monday to UF’s cabinet and deans. “This seems to have started from a member of the legislature in Tallahassee exaggerating on social media and sharing too-good-to-be-checked clickbait that he knows isn’t true.”

Fine, an outspoken lawmaker who recently sponsored a resolution condemning Hamas and supporting Israel, posted on social media Friday that a UF professor is “teaching that Israel eradicating Hamas is like Germany eradicating Jews.” Fine’s post included a screenshot from a user named Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons comparing the Auschwitz concentration camp death toll to the Gaza Strip under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that “Israel is a Nazi state.”

“In Florida,” Fine wrote. “Where there is a law that requires her termination. This has to end.”

Simmons, who did not respond to a message seeking comment for this story, retired in 2019, according to one post from UF that noted she in the past taught numerous courses such as Key Issues in Black Atlantic Thought, Race and Religion, African American Religion, and Civil Rights and Religion. Simmons spoke at a pro-Palestinian rally earlier this month and was cited by Florida Alligator student newspaper as a former religion professor.

Sasse in his Monday memo blasted the post shared by Simmons and noted the former instructor “hasn’t been paid here for four years.”

“The antisemitic drivel was shared on social media, not in any UF classroom,” Sasse wrote.

“Our professors have the high and special calling of shepherding our students into engagement with hard issues inside the classroom,” Sasse added. “But that’s very different than activists using public dollars to enforce ideology.”

The Israel-Hamas war has been a flashpoint issue at U.S. universities, with students and faculty accusing their schools of doing too little to denounce antisemitism, while others want campuses to pay more attention to struggles of Gazans trapped in the middle.

In Florida, state officials led by DeSantis have attempted to break up local Students for Justice in Palestine groups for allegedly supporting Hamas. But the state has been unable to enforce the policy against chapters at UF and the University of South Florida due to possible legal concerns encapsulated by UF’s group last week, which sued the state and school in federal court over the move.

Schools in other states, such as Brandeis University, Columbia University and George Washington University have taken action against SJP groups, either banning or suspending them, something Fine points to when leveling criticism against UF.

After Sasse attempted to clarify the social media tumult, Fine doubled down Monday by again targeting the school president. This time, Fine, who recently flipped his support from Ron DeSantis to Donald Trump as Republican presidential nominee over the governor’s response to the war, said Sasse should do more than “composing word salad” to protect Jewish students.

“It seems like Ben Sasse needs to go to how to be a university president 101,” Fine said during an interview.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 19:50:04 -0500 ishook
Biden urged to go big on Social Security as a way to beat Trump

It's a story Joe Biden loves to tell: Midway through his State of the Union address, as the president accused Republicans of trying to cut entitlements like Social Security, loud objections from the House chamber suddenly turned his speech into a negotiation.

Pausing to spar with GOP lawmakers, Biden extracted a promise to take entitlement cuts off the table in the upcoming debt ceiling showdown, securing a major victory before talks even began.

"I never thought my third State of the Union address would be negotiated on the floor of the United States Congress," Biden mused afterward. "But it worked."

That unscripted moment has taken on outsized political significance in the months since, held up as an example of Biden’s negotiating prowess and his commitment to the social safety net.

But among Democrats bracing for a tight 2024 contest, some now want him to go further.

Progressives have pitched Biden officials and Democratic leaders in recent months on endorsing a plan to expand Americans' Social Security benefits, according to several people involved in the informal discussions.

The proposal, they argue, would be broadly popular with an electorate that ranks Social Security among the top issues they care deeply about, especially among seniors more likely to vote. And after Republicans swore off cuts — for the time being — it would allow Biden to stake out a new contrast with the GOP, one painting him as more supportive of the cherished social insurance program.

"The only weakness that Democrats have on their Social Security policies is not enough people know that it's them," said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, one of the groups advocating for the idea. "The way to get Republicans even more on the back foot about their plans to cut Social Security is to draw that incredibly clear distinction that Democrats want to expand, Republicans want to cut."

Biden embraced Social Security expansion during the 2020 Democratic primary, proposing to boost benefits for the lowest-income retirees and shore up Social Security's main trust fund by raising taxes on those making $400,000 or more a year. But faced with slim congressional majorities once he took office, Biden largely dropped the idea.

Three years later, progressive groups want him to revisit it, in part because the candidate he’s likely to face, Donald Trump, has publicly insisted he doesn’t want to cut entitlement programs (even though he previously backed such policies).

Polling presented this fall to top White House officials and other leading Democrats by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Data for Progress found just 41 percent trusted Biden more than Trump to safeguard Social Security benefits. More than 4 in 10 were also skeptical that Republican candidates who had called for cutting benefits or raising the retirement age would follow through on it if elected.

Biden officials have expressed openness to the case for benefit expansions, Lawson and others who talked with them said, though the campaign is still early in the process of building out a 2024 policy platform and remains noncommittal on the idea.

"Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis and the rest of the MAGA Republicans have repeatedly campaigned on gutting Social Security and Medicare and have the records to back it up," campaign spokesperson Ammar Moussa said in a statement. "Joe Biden will not let that happen, and we'll make certain the millions of Americans who have paid for Social Security their entire lives now that when they head to vote next November."

There’s skepticism among some in the president’s orbit who say Biden’s message on protecting benefits versus Republicans seeking cuts is already well established. They question whether adding a brand new idea to the mix would confuse matters. The president is also already planning to run on a slew of concrete accomplishments that may mean more to voters than aspirational ideas like Social Security expansion.

And as Democrats are wont to do, some have gotten caught up in the underlying policy specifics. They warn the party would need to settle debates over which retirees would benefit, and ultimately how the entire thing would be paid for. In addition to Biden's 2020 proposal, several lawmakers — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) — had longstanding expansion plans of their own.

"They probably don't want to open that can of worms," said Dean Baker, a progressive economist who has long supported expanding Social Security.

The progressive groups pushing for Social Security expansion aren't lobbying for a specific proposal. But they do have an answer for how to pay for the benefits: Taxing the wealthy.

"It just really puts all of the pieces in place, and you can't muddy it up," said Lawson. "Tax the wealthy more in order to increase Social Security benefits. Electorally, this is a Democratic wedge issue."

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Mon, 20 Nov 2023 19:50:04 -0500 ishook
Washington watches as West Coast nerds fight for future of AI

The sudden ouster of CEO Sam Altman from OpenAI, the hottest startup in artificial intelligence, by the organization’s board has roiled the tech world.

In doing so, it has also highlighted the extraordinary power that the culture and characters of Silicon Valley consumer-tech startups now wield over the development of strategically vital technologies.

Washington, a town of over-socialized strivers answering to octogenarian bosses, is watching from the sidelines. Young, eccentric techies are fighting for control of the future while operating on a model largely inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s success turning a web tool for rating his college classmates’ attractiveness into an $800 billion attention-harvesting juggernaut.

The success of that startup model in consumer tech has led both to its adoption for more sensitive technologies — including those with national security applications — and to the development of idiosyncratic, tech-centric worldviews among the Silicon Valley set. This week, it has created a dramatic contrast with the more prosaic concerns of the people trying to understand and regulate it.

The typical critique of Washington is that its policy disputes often mask more venal motives like money and power. The OpenAI rift seems almost exactly the opposite: While the details of the firing remain unclear, early reports indicate that what looks like a business argument is actually wrapped up in an ideological schism.

In one corner, the majority of OpenAI's board members were sympathetic to the effective altruism movement — a worldview made infamous by Sam Bankman-Fried — whose adherents, guided by long-term utilitarian thinking, worry a great deal about the potential existential risks of a super-intelligent AI.

Altman, meanwhile, has expressed more optimistic views about AI’s trajectory, and kept releasing more powerful versions of his AI platform. The competitive pressures of a technological arms race led to internal tensions over the tradeoffs between speed and caution.

The rift was exacerbated by OpenAI’s unusual corporate structure, in which the board of a nonprofit umbrella organization wields influence over a for-profit subsidiary subject to commercial pressures.

The firing has made Altman, at least for the moment, a hero of yet another Silicon Valley intellectual movement: the effective accelerationists. They want to speed up disruptive change on the theory that, to quote one of its manifestos, “the force of technocapitalistic progress is inevitable."

Of course, not everybody agrees that the founders and executives of tech companies are quite so important to the future of humanity as these dueling Silicon Valley ideologies make them out to be.

But you don’t have to buy into these ideologies to recognize that their rifts might be important — especially if when those involved wield massive budgets and influence. A century ago, Mensheviks and Bolsheviks looked, from a distance, like one big blob of Marxists, only to have their internecine factional struggles determine the fates of nations.

Altman came to OpenAI as a classic bright young Silicon Valley figure, by way of his role as CEO of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator famous for its ability to churn out Facebook-style tech successes. The company has launched well-known consumer products such as Reddit, Airbnb and DoorDash, as well as less well-known companies such as 9Gag, a platform for posting internet memes.

On Monday, the board of OpenAI announced that it was replacing Altman with Emmett Shear, who until earlier this year was the CEO of Twitch, an online platform that lets people watch other people play video games.

In the world of effective altruism, Shear is also known for appearing as a wizard in a long piece of Harry Potter fan fiction, “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality,” written between 2010 and 2015 by Eliezer Yudkowsky, an influential thinker among those concerned about the risks of AI.

It's safe to say none of this came up in May, when Altman made his tour of Washington. He spoke in front of the Senate on the risks and benefits of AI, offering — unusually for a CEO — to play ball with reasonable regulations, even licensing of the most powerful versions of the technology.

He did something similar in Europe, becoming the friendly face of a company otherwise profoundly opaque to the people trying to govern it from the outside.

The real reason Altman occupied that spot of influence, of course, was that OpenAI was already worth tens of billions of dollars, and had a product that Altman himself had succeeded in framing as transformative.

The fact that these kinds of baroque, almost science-fiction arguments are at the same time bubbling beneath the surface only illustrates the risks of letting Silicon Valley's self-appointed icons run away with the conversation. In Washington, the big debates tend to center around clear public issues like fairness and national security. In the world of AI, the big debates can be hard to distinguish from fantasy literature.

For now, Altman is winning the break-up — at least on the business front. Large segments of the tech world have rallied to his side, from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt down to the lowliest entrepreneurs, while most of OpenAI’s staff is in open revolt over his dismissal. And Microsoft, a part owner of OpenAI that was reportedly blindsided by the firing, has already brought Altman on to lead an internal AI division.

Ironically, the botched board coup could help safety-minded effective altruists win the broader argument, by highlighting the curious conditions under which the development of AI is currently proceeding.

The news has hit Washington during a preholiday lull, and insiders have been staying mum about the chaos around what was, until Friday, the leading AI company. But it is fair to say that the next time Altman, or another AI wunderkind, tours Washington, he's likely to face a little less deference, and a few more pointed questions.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 19:50:04 -0500 ishook
Families of Hostages in Gaza Are Desperate for Proof of Life Mon, 20 Nov 2023 19:15:03 -0500 ishook Who’s who at COP28 Mon, 20 Nov 2023 17:55:03 -0500 ishook Right&wing populist Milei set to take Argentina down uncharted path

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — What many deemed impossible just months ago is reality: Right-wing populist Javier Milei resoundingly won Argentina’s presidency.

The fiery freshman lawmaker’s victory Sunday night has thrust the country into the unknown regarding how extreme his policies will be following a campaign in which he revved a chainsaw to symbolically cut the state down to size.

With almost all votes tallied, Milei handily beat Economy Minister Sergio Massa, 55.7 percent to 44.3 percent. Milei won all but three of the nation’s 24 provinces, and Massa conceded even before the electoral authority began announcing the preliminary results.

Milei, 53, a libertarian economist, started to outline some of his planned policies on Monday morning. He said in a radio interview that would quickly move forward with plans to privatize state-run media outlets he received negative coverage from during his campaign and which he deemed “a covert ministry of propaganda.”

The president-elect also said that state-controlled energy firm YPF should eventually be privatized but first must be repaired so it can be “sold in a very, very, very beneficial way for Argentines.”

“Everything that can be in the hands of the private sector will be in the hands of the private sector,” he told Bueno Aires station Radio Mitre.

Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist with a disheveled mop of hair, made his name by furiously denouncing the “political caste” on television programs. His pledge for abrupt, severe change resonated with Argentines weary of annual inflation soaring above 140 percent and a poverty rate that reached 40 percent.

Once in office, he has said he would slash government spending, dollarize the economy and eliminate the Central Bank as well as key ministries, including those of health and education.

An admirer of former U.S. President Donald Trump, Milei has likewise presented himself as a crusader against the sinister creep of global socialism with plans to purge the government of corrupt establishment politicians. In the weeks before the runoff, though, he walked back some of his more unpopular proposals, such as loosening gun controls and sweeping, indiscriminate privatization.

“Hang on to your hat,” Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, told The Associated Press by phone. “Milei has toned down his anti-establishment rage lately and downplayed his more outlandish proposals, but it’s going to be a wild ride, given his combative style, inexperience and the few allies he has in Congress.”

Milei said in the Radio Mitre interview that plans to travel to the United States and Israel before taking office on Dec. 10. The U.S. trip has a “spiritual connotation” and involves visiting rabbis in Miami and New York with whom he is close. From there, he intends to head to Israel.

Milei, who has long said he was considering converting to Judaism, has often emphasized his support for Israel and frequently waved an Israeli flag at his rallies. He had previously said he wanted to move Argentina’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, following in Trump’s footsteps.

Supporters celebrated Sunday night outside Milei’s headquarters in downtown Buenos Aires, drinking beer and chanting as fireworks went off overhead. They waved both Argentine flags and the yellow Gadsden flag, emblazoned with the words “Don’t Tread On Me,” which Milei’s movement has adopted as its own.

“We no longer want the past; we are betting on the future,” said Ezequiel Fanelli, 45, who works for an insurance company and had a Gadsden flag in hand.

Brazil’s far-right former president, Jair Bolsonaro, spoke in a video call with Milei, congratulating him on his victory and praising its signal to the world. Bolsonaro posted video of the call to social media.

“You have big work ahead,” he told the president-elect. “The work goes beyond Argentina. You represent a lot to us democrats, and we are lovers of liberty. You represent a lot for Brazil and be sure that everything that’s possible to do for you, I will be at your disposal.”

By wresting power from Massa’s Peronist party that has dominated Argentine politics for decades, Milei’s victory represents a political paradigm shift in the country. He is the first outsider to reach the presidency and considerably farther right-wing than anyone who has held the position before.

“I have a lot of faith in the policies that he can push forward, and I hope he can fulfill everything he proposed without obstacles in the middle,” said Ayalen Abalos, a 22-year-old tourism student.

The way in which voters proved willing to hand the country’s reins to someone untested lays bare the deep discontent Argentines harbor for the ruling class and the status quo. Yet the presidential election marked the culmination of an improbable rise to power.

Milei parlayed his television stardom into a seat in Argentina’s lower house of Congress two years ago. His presidential bid was viewed as a mere sideshow just months ago — until he scored the most votes in August primary elections and sent shock waves through the political landscape.

Milei focused much of his campaign on economic proposals, casting blame on successive administrations for printing money with abandon to fund state spending. Ahead of the first round, Milei sometimes carried a chainsaw at rallies, a symbol of his intention to cut state spending.

In the run-up to the vote, Massa and his allies had cautioned Argentines that his opponent’s plan to eliminate key ministries and otherwise sharply curtail the state would threaten public services, including health, education and welfare programs many rely on.

Milei accused his opponent of running a “campaign of fear” and, in his final campaign spot, stared starkly into the camera and promised he would not privatize education, healthcare nor soccer clubs.

The wide margin of Milei’s victory suggests voters agreed that the hype was overblown, and were turned off, said Andrei Roman, CEO of Brazil-based pollster Atlas Intel, one of the only pollsters to correctly call the election’s first round.

Some of Milei’s positions appear to echo those of more conservative Republicans in the U.S.; he opposes sex education, feminist policies and abortion, which is legal in Argentina, and rejects the notion that humans have a role in causing climate change.

His profanity-laden rhetoric has already inserted the country into the global culture war that has overwhelmed political discourse in the U.S. and Brazil.

“Despite Milei, despite all his campaign mistakes, despite all his peculiarities that raise doubts, concerns … despite all of that, the demand for change prevailed,” said Lucas Romero, the head of Synopsis, a local political consulting firm.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 17:55:03 -0500 ishook
Dates, locations announced for 2024 presidential debates

The nonpartisan, nonprofit group that has conducted debates for the past nine presidential elections is plowing ahead with four events next year, despite Republicans’ promises to boycott.

The Commission on Presidential Debates on Monday announced the dates and venues for three presidential debates and one debate between the candidates’ running mates, beginning on Sept. 16 and ending on Oct. 9. The presidential debates will take place in San Marcos, Texas; Petersburg, Virginia; and Salt Lake City, Utah; with the vice presidential debate in Easton, Pennsylvania.

Aggrieved by what they call political bias, former President Donald Trump and the GOP have promised to sit out any debate conducted by the commission. The Republican National Committee voted last year to boycott the commission’s debates, saying they would instead find “other avenues for candidates to have a free and fair forum for all Americans.”

Trump has not participated in any of the three GOP primary debates so far this year, citing his already significant leads in the polls.

Critically for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and other potential independent or third-party candidates considering the race — like retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — the commission also said it’s keeping in place the 15 percent polling threshold to qualify for the debates. In order to earn an invitation, a candidate must be on the ballot in enough states to earn a majority of Electoral College votes, and average 15 percent in surveys conducted by five polling firms to be identified later.

No independent candidate has participated in a debate since Ross Perot in 1992. The latest RealClearPolitics average of a three-way race between Kennedy, President Joe Biden and Trump shows Kennedy with 14.7 percent, just shy of the commission’s threshold.

Recent polling of hypothetical 2024 matchups between the two parties’ frontrunners have shown Biden trailing Trump, though his campaign has shrugged off the grim polls. Biden’s approval rating is also down to 40 percent, according to an NBC News poll published Sunday.

Next year’s events will mark the first presidential and vice presidential debates hosted in Texas and Pennsylvania, and the Virginia State University debate will be the first at a historically Black college or university.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 17:55:03 -0500 ishook
Biden Celebrates 81st Birthday and Pardons Turkeys in Pre&Thanksgiving Ritual Mon, 20 Nov 2023 16:40:03 -0500 ishook Why are politicians acting like influencers?

Donald Trump was the Twitter president.

Joe Biden is slinging Dark Brandon merch.

And now, candidates in the 2024 GOP field are adopting many of the same marketing tactics that voters are more used to seeing from social media influencers such as Jake Paul, Tinx and Dave Portnoy.

Is this because American politics has hit a new bottom? Or is the pivot toward influencer marketing on the campaign trail a clever solution?

This election cycle candidates are struggling to fundraise and to penetrate the increasingly fragmented media ecosystem. Watch this video to see what POLITICO’s Alex Keeney finds as he explores whether emulating influencers is delivering results.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 15:55:03 -0500 ishook
‘A careful scalpel’: Appeals court signals it will cut back on Trump’s federal gag order

A federal appeals court panel appeared poised to significantly narrow a gag order imposed against Donald Trump by the judge presiding over his Washington, D.C. criminal trial.

The three-judge D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel raised concerns that the order — which bars Trump from targeting witnesses, prosecutors and courthouse staff in the criminal case related to his effort to subvert the 2020 election — created murky restrictions that stifled the former president’s right to push back against his detractors, particularly in the heat of a presidential campaign.

Judge Patricia Millett, an appointee of President Barack Obama, suggested the gag order could amount to a straitjacket for Trump if his prosecution became the focus of attacks during a presidential debate.

“He has to speak ‘Miss Manners’ while everyone else is throwing targets at him?” Millett said skeptically during a two-hour oral argument at the federal courthouse in Washington. “It would be really hard in a debate, when everyone else is going at you full bore. Your attorneys would have to have scripted little things you can say.”

“It’s not how I want my children to speak,” Millett added of Trump’s rhetoric, “but that’s really not the question.”

Another appeals judge, Nina Pillard, suggested on at least five occasions that the trial judge’s order goes too far by appearing to bar Trump from making hostile comments about individuals in the public eye who could be witnesses in the case.

Pillard said she doubted figures like former Vice President Mike Pence, former Attorney General Bill Barr or former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mark Milley were likely to change their stories based on Trump’s invective — or even based on more direct threats or attacks that might flow from them.

“I would assume that their testimony would not be affected,” said Pillard, also an Obama appointee.

Despite the panel’s concerns with the breadth of the gag order, imposed last month by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, the appeals judges nevertheless seemed prepared to endorse a narrower version of it, agreeing with prosecutors that Trump shouldn’t have carte blanche to make statements that could intimidate witnesses or threaten the integrity of the proceedings.

“We have to use a careful scalpel here,” Millett said.

It’s unclear whether the appeals court panel intends to rewrite the gag order itself or send it back to Chutkan with new instructions. The timeline for action is also unclear. The panel took up the case on an emergency basis, but it often takes weeks or months for an appeals court panel to rule on complex issues of law. And the panel is likely not the final word: The losing side may appeal the panel’s decision to the full bench of the appeals court or the Supreme Court.

Both Millett and Pillard suggested that Trump’s attorneys gave too little weight to Chutkan’s responsibility to protect the trial. And the appeals panel’s third judge, Bradley Garcia, an appointee of President Joe Biden, noted that Chutkan had issued the gag order after holding a detailed hearing on the matter and gathering voluminous facts to support her decision.

Chutkan issued the order on Oct. 16, but it’s not currently in effect because the appeals court panel suspended it while the panel considers the matter.

Chutkan imposed the gag order to constrain Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, saying his attacks on prosecutors and potential witnesses posed a threat to the “administration of justice” and risked stoking threats against people involved in the case. Trump is set to go on trial March 4 on charges that he committed multiple conspiracies to derail the transfer of power in a bid to remain president despite losing the 2020 election.

On Monday, at a federal courthouse steps from the Capitol, special counsel Jack Smith — under guard by deputy U.S. marshals — watched as one of his prosecutors, Cecil VanDevender, argued for the reinstatement of the gag order.

In her order, Chutkan barred Trump from “targeting” potential witnesses or referencing the subject of their testimony. She also forbade Trump from going after prosecutors by name, while permitting him to make broader attacks on the Biden administration and the Justice Department. And the Obama-appointed judge also barred Trump from attacking court personnel.

After the panel suspended the gag order while it hears Trump’s appeal, Trump used the interim to resume his attacks on Smith’s team — and even on Smith’s family members — as well as potential witnesses.

Pillard seemed to concur with Trump lawyers’ arguments that language in the gag order prohibiting their client from “targeting” prosecutors, jurors and witnesses was vague.

“‘Targeting’ does raise a little bit of unclarity,” she said.

The appeals court judges sharply criticized Trump’s position that virtually any restriction on his ability to discuss the case publicly would be a violation of his First Amendment free speech rights. But they seemed at times to be equally confounded by prosecutors’ efforts to draw lines about which aspects of Trump’s speech were acceptable and which weren’t.

At one point, to the judges’ consternation, VanDevender said Trump’s description of a prospective witness as a “liar” would be impermissible, but he could describe the same witness as someone who tells “untruths.”

“I know that’s a little bit of a fine line,” VanDevender said.

The judges also seemed perplexed by the order’s prohibition on statements that target Smith himself — or even the line prosecutors who work for him. Many of those attorneys may be public figures in their own right and represent the government the same way Smith does, they noted.

In an apparent concession, VanDevender told the judges that Smith was not asking to be personally protected from criticism by Trump.

The judges didn’t dwell on the question of whether it’s proper to consider Trump’s political role when making decisions related to his criminal case, but Millett pressed Trump’s attorney, John Sauer, about whether he would be making these arguments if Trump were not a candidate for president.

“It’s still unconstitutional,” Sauer said of the gag order. “The campaign adds an additional, but still-powerful, reason.”

On several occasions during Monday’s arguments in the large ceremonial courtroom, Millett raised her voice in frustration at lawyers for both sides. She also briefly buried her head in her hands late in the court session.

Prosecutors cast the gag order as an urgent constraint on Trump’s ability to intimidate or threaten witnesses. They say he knowingly stokes violent supporters to act against his perceived adversaries and has overtly attempted to silence key witnesses like his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows — messages that could also chill the testimony of less powerful figures.

They cited his August social media post — “If you go after me, I’m coming after you” — as well as his targeted attacks on Meadows, Pence and Milley, all potential witnesses in the case. In September, Trump accused Milley of treason and said he would have been put to death in an earlier era.

Trump also repeatedly casts Smith as “deranged” and has attacked specific prosecutors in his office.

Chutkan's directive is separate from a gag order a New York state judge issued against Trump last month, barring him from commenting publicly about the judge's principal law clerk or other court staff. That judge, Arthur Engoron, has been overseeing a lengthy bench trial in a civil case the New York attorney general filed targeting Trump's business empire over claims of pervasive fraud.

Last week, a state appeals court judge temporarily lifted the gag order there. Trump responded by quickly taking to his social media site to fire off a new salvo against Engoron and his clerk.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 15:55:03 -0500 ishook
Trump’s Dire Words Raise New Fears About His Authoritarian Bent Mon, 20 Nov 2023 15:30:03 -0500 ishook A New Group Linked to DeSantis Allies Pops Up in Iowa Mon, 20 Nov 2023 15:30:03 -0500 ishook Rebecca Yarros to Write Two More Romance Novels for Montlake Mon, 20 Nov 2023 15:00:03 -0500 ishook 2024 Presidential Debate Dates and Locations Are Announced Mon, 20 Nov 2023 14:10:04 -0500 ishook Federal Court Moves to Drastically Weaken Voting Rights Act Mon, 20 Nov 2023 14:10:04 -0500 ishook Biden talks turkey — then pardons them

Joe Biden spent his 81st birthday the only way a president would want to, really: pardoning turkeys and telling jokes.

“By the way, it’s my birthday today. I just want you to know, it’s difficult turning 60,” Biden said Monday at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon.

He chuckled at his own joke. The crowd gobbled it up. But the turkeys didn’t laugh.

Which is odd, because they should have been in a good mood. After all, they were the lucky ones this year, spared from a fate that involved basting and roasting, or a deep fryer, or being lined with smaller birds and consumed alongside a heap of stuffing.

This year’s presidentially spared birds hail from Minnesota — a perhaps telling biographical tidbit, as it’s not quite a swing state but could be one if Biden truly plummets in the polls. In classic Biden fashion, however, there was a Pennsylvania connection, too. This year’s flock of turkeys were named Liberty and Bell. Get it?

“These birds have a new appreciation of the words, let freedom ring,” Biden said, speaking from the White House Rose Garden.

Monday’s annual event marked the 76th anniversary of the White House turkey pardon, which dates back to 1947, when the National Turkey Federation first presented the national Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman. Biden, in another age reference, quipped that he was not present at Truman’s event. But he was alive; he was a mere 5 years old at the time — old enough, for certain, to eat turkey.

While the Thanksgiving bird used to be for the first family’s consumption, that is no longer the case. Beginning in the late 1980s, the event evolved into an oftentimes funny ceremony (minus the occasional snap at the pardoner’s hand) in which the turkeys are given a second chance at life. Liberty and Bell will make the trek back to live out their lives at the University of Minnesota.

There were a few jokes throughout Biden’s short ceremony on Monday. But let’s just say it was, like the cooked variety, relatively dry.

But like all Thanksgiving festivities, there was also some awkwardness around the table. Biden bungled one joke referencing the challenging nature of getting a ticket to Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour or Taylor Swift’s Eras concert — appearing to confuse Swift with Britney Spears.

“Just to get here, Liberty and Bell had to beat some tough odds and competition. They had to work hard to show patience and be willing to travel over 1,000 miles,” Biden said. “You could say even it’s harder than getting a ticket to the Renaissance tour or, or, for Brittney’s tour. She’s down in — it’s kind of warm in Brazil right now.”

Oops, he did it again. Gobble gobble.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 14:05:03 -0500 ishook
Federal court deals devastating blow to Voting Rights Act

A federal appeals court issued a ruling Monday that could gut the Voting Rights Act, saying only the federal government — not private citizens or civil rights groups — is allowed to sue under a crucial section of the landmark civil rights law.

The decision out of the 8th Circuit will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court. But should it stand, it would mark a dramatic rollback of the enforcement of the law that led to increased minority representation in American politics.

The appellate court ruled that there is no “private right of action” for Section 2 of the law — which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race.

That, in practice, would severely limit the scope of protections in the act. For decades, private parties — including civil rights groups, individual voters and political parties — have brought Section 2 challenges on everything from redistricting to voter ID requirements.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 14:05:03 -0500 ishook
Biden Pardons Turkeys in Annual Thanksgiving Tradition Mon, 20 Nov 2023 13:00:03 -0500 ishook The Great Disconnect: Why Voters Feel One Way About the Economy but Act Differently Mon, 20 Nov 2023 13:00:03 -0500 ishook UAW formally claims contract wins at Big Three

Unionized workers at Detroit’s Big Three car companies have officially ratified their contracts, the United Auto Workers announced Monday.

The details: Across General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, 64 percent of UAW members voted in favor of the tentative agreements brokered by union leadership last month that included sizable pay raises, cost-of-living adjustments and improved terms for temporary workers, as well as the right to strike over future plant closures.

“The UAW is back to setting the standard,” President Shawn Fain said in a statement. “Now, we take our strike muscle and our fighting spirit to the rest of the industries we represent, and to millions of non-union workers ready to Stand Up and fight for a better way of life.”

POLITICO reported last week that UAW members at all three automakers were on track to approve their deals. GM workers came the closest to voting down their agreement — about 45 percent voted no — whereas approval at Stellantis and Ford was closer to 70 percent.


The UAW employed new tactics, applying pressure on all three companies simultaneously — as opposed to singling out one first and using the resulting tentative agreement as a template at the others — and strategically going on strike at individual plants with little notice, to maximize the effect on their operations.

The resulting strike lasted for about a month and a half, and the union got the White House to take the extraordinary step of sending the sitting president to the picket line to demonstrate support for the striking workers. President Joe Biden also held an event with Fain in Illinois and donned a red UAW shirt earlier this month.

The administration has repeatedly navigated high-profile labor disputes by putting its faith in the collective bargaining process and offering top officials to serve as facilitators — though negotiating parties have, at times, rejected such intervention.

Why it matters

The UAW is hoping to use the Big Three contracts to reinvigorate organizing efforts at non-union auto manufacturers in the U.S. Several car companies have recently announced that they would be boosting pay and benefits to their workers, though executives have denied that the moves were a response to UAW’s ambitions.

Past UAW efforts to unionize auto manufacturing plants that are proliferating in the South have struggled, due in part to right-to-work laws that hinder organizing, and Fain made reversing the union’s stagnation a key part of his bid to head the union earlier this year.

What’s next

The companies are still in the process of getting their operations back up to full speed in the wake of the strike, and executives are figuring out how to absorb the additional labor costs resulting from the new contract.

“The reality is that this labor agreement added significant cost, and we are going to have to work very hard on productivity and efficiency to become more competitive,” Ford CEO Jim Farley said in a statement, vowing to “attack cost and waste throughout our operations.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 12:15:03 -0500 ishook
Crypto super PAC spends big to back Hill allies in 2024 push

The downfall of Sam Bankman-Fried, briefly one of the most prolific spenders in American politics, hobbled the cryptocurrency industry’s influence machine.

Now, others are starting to rebuild.

A new crypto-focused super PAC has pumped over $1.2 million into television ads supporting House candidates over the last two months. The group, Fairshake, could become a key vehicle for the crypto industry to insert itself into the 2024 elections in the coming year. Fairshake is backed in part by Brian Armstrong, the CEO of the largest U.S. crypto exchange, Coinbase. He publicly pledged to contribute $1 million to the organization and has said the goal is for other companies to join in to grow its war chest to $50 million.

The spending comes at a precarious political moment for crypto firms in the U.S. They're on the cusp of winning a House floor vote on landmark legislation that would help legitimize digital assets and create a framework for regulating them. But the industry has faced a series of PR problems in recent months with the fraud trial and conviction of Bankman-Fried and Capitol Hill scrutiny over the use of digital currency in terror financing. The crypto market is also reeling from a major bust last year.

Fairshake has so far backed 13 incumbent lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. The candidates span the ideological spectrum, but all of them serve on the House Financial Services and Agriculture committees, which advanced the industry-blessed crypto legislation earlier this year.

The biggest beneficiaries of the spending, which hasn’t been previously reported, include House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.). McHenry and Johnson are leading efforts on the House crypto bills, which Gottheimer has supported.

The group has also bought ads backing several House members in swing districts, including Reps. Don Davis (D-N.C.), Zach Nunn (R-Iowa), Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Wiley Nickel (D-N.C.), Yadira Caraveo (D-Colo.) and Young Kim (R-Calif.).

Fairshake’s website says it supports candidates “committed to securing the United States as the home to innovators building the next generation of the internet.” The group’s treasurer, Brandon Philipczyk, declined to comment.

The crypto industry’s political spending has previously sparked controversy. Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of the FTX digital asset exchange, has been accused of making millions of dollars of illegal campaign contributions in the 2022 midterms. He and fellow FTX executives were prolific donors before the company's bankruptcy last November.

Fairshake’s ads don’t explicitly focus on crypto regulation — hardly a kitchen table issue that can swing an election. Many feature images of the candidates and their districts over narrated biographical information. They tout candidates as bipartisan problem solvers and focus broadly on economic issues.

But nearly all the ads mention that the lawmakers have worked to “attract the jobs of the future” and build “the next generation of the internet” in the U.S. — a veiled reference to crypto.

In the months to come, the group is expected to get behind more pro-crypto candidates, including in the Senate, according to a person with direct knowledge who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

While Armstrong has publicly pledged his financial support, the full scope of Fairshake’s fundraising is unclear because of the lag in super PAC disclosures. Johnson said last month that he was unaware who funded the Fairshake ads backing him, according to South Dakota News Watch.

It’s just one way that the crypto industry is engaging in the 2024 election. A pair of super PACs affiliated with the Blockchain Innovation Project, a pro-crypto group led by former Reps. Tim Ryan and David McIntosh, are expected to back candidates in the coming year. Two presidential candidates, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Vivek Ramaswamy, have campaigned on crypto policies. Both spoke last week at the North American Blockchain Summit in Texas.

Coinbase is one of the most active players this cycle, having launched a grassroots advocacy initiative to promote digital asset legislation. The company is hosting a town hall event on Monday in Cleveland focused on the issue.

“Crypto jobs and innovation will be on the ballot in 2024,” Coinbase spokesperson Julia Krieger said in a statement, adding that the company plans to make sure Americans "know whose sides candidates are on — for change or for the status quo.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 12:15:03 -0500 ishook
Rosalynn Carter Helped Shape the Role of the Modern First Lady Mon, 20 Nov 2023 11:40:04 -0500 ishook Amicus Briefs Urge Appeals Court to Uphold Block on Texas Book Rating Law Mon, 20 Nov 2023 11:25:04 -0500 ishook Amicus Briefs Urge Appeals Court to Uphold Block Texas Book Rating Law Mon, 20 Nov 2023 11:20:03 -0500 ishook Kristin Rasmussen and Ann Seaton Are Moving On from CALIBA Mon, 20 Nov 2023 11:05:04 -0500 ishook Amicus Briefs Urge Appeals Court to Uphold on Block Texas Book Rating Law Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:40:05 -0500 ishook Numerous Organizations Urge Appeals Court to Block Texas Book Rating Law Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:35:06 -0500 ishook PRH and Sourcebooks Launch Callisto China Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:35:06 -0500 ishook Late Former Razorbill Publisher's Medical Fundraiser to Erase Millions in Medical Debt Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:35:06 -0500 ishook Black&Owned Bookstores in the Twin Cities Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:35:06 -0500 ishook Rosalynn Carter, White House Trendsetter Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:30:03 -0500 ishook They’re talking, but a climate divide between Beijing and Washington remains Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:20:03 -0500 ishook The state of the planet in 10 numbers Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:20:03 -0500 ishook World on pace to blow past Paris climate targets, UN says

Earth is on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming, and humanity needs to make deep emission cuts this decade to have a chance of fulfilling the goals of the Paris climate agreement, the United Nations said in a report released Monday.

The findings come amid record setting global temperatures and as the amount of planet warming pollution in the atmosphere reaches new heights. It also underscores the enormity of the task facing climate negotiators as they prepare for talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, later this month.

The U.N. found global emissions need to fall 42 percent by 2030 to put the world on track to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 or by 28 percent to hold temperature increases to the 2 C targeted by the Paris Agreement. Doing so would require a sudden reversal in global emission trends, which have risen steadily in recent decades. The longer it takes the world to meaningfully cut emissions, the more carbon dioxide removal technology will be needed to stabilize global temperatures, the U.N. said.

“There is no person or economy left on the planet untouched by climate change, so we need to stop setting unwanted records on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature highs and extreme weather,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environmental Programme. “We must instead lift the needle out of the same old groove of insufficient ambition and not enough action, and start setting other records: on cutting emissions, on green and just transitions and on climate finance.”

The annual emissions gap report highlighted both the progress and challenges facing global climate efforts.

A growing number of nations have pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions, and fulfilling those pledges would limit global temperature rise to 2.5 C. Yet few of those pledges "are currently considered credible," the U.N. said.

The lifetime emissions of current and planned oil and gas fields and coal mines is three and a half times greater that the carbon budget needed to hold temperature increase to 1.5 C. It would exhaust almost all the budget needed for 2 C, the U.N. said.

"The only way to close the yawning emissions gap and curtail this spiraling crisis — which is already causing unprecedented climate disasters — is through wholesale changes to the global energy system," said Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists' climate and energy program.

The U.N. estimated global CO2 emissions reached 57.4 gigatons in 2022, a new record. That puts the world on track for 3 C of warming if policies continue on their current course.

"Most countries and major emitters have set net-zero targets for 2050 or a little later," said Taryn Fransen, director of science, research and data at the World Resources Institute and a contributor to the report. The problem is that near-term policy is "not putting countries on track to achieve those net-zero targets."

Nevertheless, there are signs that the gap between countries' climate ambitions and the policies they are pursuing is closing. At the time of the Paris Agreement, global emissions were expected to grow 16 percent by 2030. Now, emissions are expected to increase by 3 percent, by the end of the decade, the U.N. said. Fransen said she was encouraged by progress in the United States and Europe, where governments are pushing forward with plans to deploy clean energy technologies and cut emissions.

This year's reports reflects some methodological changes. The finding that the world is on track for 3 C of warming is higher than the 2.8 C anticipated in last year's report. The U.N. findings draw on a series of modeling studies. This year's edition drew on a larger collection of studies, which prompted an increase in the headline temperature finding.

Greenhouse gas levels have climbed steadily this century, falling briefly only for a global recession in 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic before resuming their climb. Many analysts believe the world is on course for an emissions plateau, with reductions in the United States and Europe offset by rising pollution in Asia. Carbon Monitor, an academic emissions tracker, estimates that global emissions were 0.4 percent higher through the first nine months of 2023, compared to the same time last year.

A version of this report first ran in E&E News’ Climatewire. Get access to more comprehensive and in-depth reporting on the energy transition, natural resources, climate change and more in E&E News.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:20:03 -0500 ishook
US defense secretary meets with Zelenskyy in Kyiv to show steadfast support for Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday in a high-profile push to keep money and weapons flowing to Ukraine even as U.S. and international resources are stretched by the new global risks raised by the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Austin, who traveled to Kyiv by train from Poland, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and was scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and Chief of Staff Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

In Kyiv, Austin said Ukraine’s effort to defeat Russia’s invasion “matters to the rest of the world” and that U.S. support would continue “for the long haul.”

Zelenskyy said Austin’s visit was “a very important signal for Ukraine.”

“We count on your support,“ Zelenskyy said, thanking Congress as well as the American people for their backing.

This is Austin’s second trip to Kyiv, but he’s making it under far different circumstances, as the world’s attention is drawn to the Middle East and signs of fatigue set in with the almost 21-month Russia-Ukraine war.

Austin’s first visit occurred in April 2022, just two months after the start of the war. At the time, Ukraine was riding a wave of global rage at Moscow’s invasion, and Austin launched an international effort that now sees 50 countries meet monthly to coordinate on what weapons, training and other support could be pushed to Kyiv.

But the conflict in Gaza could pull attention and resources from the Ukraine fight. The U.S. has worked feverishly since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, and the weeks of devastating bombardment on Gaza by Israel that has followed, killing more than 10,000 civilians, to keep those attacks from turning into a regional war.

The U.S. has already committed two carrier strike groups, scores of fighter jets and thousands of U.S. personnel to the Middle East, and has had to shift its force posture and conduct airstrikes against Iranian-backed militant groups that are now hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria on a regular basis.

To date, Ukraine has received more than $44 billion from the U.S. and more than $35 billion from other allies in weapons, ranging from millions of bullets to air defense systems, advanced European and U.S. battle tanks and, finally, pledges for F-16 fighter jets.

But Ukraine still needs more, and after almost 20 months of shipping arms to Ukraine, cracks are beginning to show. Some European countries such as Poland have scaled back support, noting their need to maintain adequate fighting ability to defend themselves.

Ukrainian officials have strongly pushed back on suggestions they are in a stalemate with Russia after a long-awaited counteroffensive over the summer did not radically change the battle lines on the ground. In a visit to Washington last week, Andriy Yermak, head of the president’s office, provided no details but confirmed that Ukrainian forces had finally pushed through to the east bank of the Dnieper River, which has essentially served as the immovable front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces for months.

However, as winter sets in it will become more difficult for either side to make large gains due to ground conditions. That could further work against Ukraine if U.S. lawmakers perceive there’s time to wait before more funds are needed. Ukraine and the U.S. expect that this winter Russia will go after Ukraine’s infrastructure again, like the power grid, making air defenses critical.

Fred Kagan, a senior resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said it would be a mistake to think there is time to wait.

“If we stop providing aid to Ukraine, it’s not that the stalemate continues. The aid is actually essential to preventing the Russians from beginning to maneuver again in ways that can allow them to defeat Ukraine,” Kagan said. “So the cost of cutting off aid is that Russia wins and Ukraine loses and NATO loses.”

Further complicating the support is that the Pentagon has only a dwindling amount of money left in this year’s budget to keep sending weapons to Ukraine, and Congress is months late on getting a new budget passed and has not taken up a supplemental spending package that would include Ukraine aid.

Since the war began in February 2022, the U.S. has provided more than $44.2 billion in weapons to Ukraine, but the funding is nearly gone. The Pentagon can send about $5 billion more in weapons and equipment from its own stocks. But it only has about $1 billion in funding to replace those stocks. As a result, recent announcements of weapons support have been of much smaller dollar amounts than in months past.

“You have seen smaller packages, because we need to parse these out,” Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Thursday. “Because we don’t know when Congress is going to pass our supplemental package.”

Officials have been urging Congress to provide additional money, but a growing number of Senate Republicans have opposed additional Ukraine aid without securing support for other unrelated provisions, such as stricter immigration laws and additional funding for border control. A stopgap spending bill passed last week to avoid a government shutdown during the holidays did not include any money for Ukraine.

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 10:20:03 -0500 ishook
Even Bad Reviews Can Be Good News Mon, 20 Nov 2023 09:55:04 -0500 ishook Rasmussen and Seaton Moving On from CALIBA Mon, 20 Nov 2023 09:55:03 -0500 ishook Black Romance Authors and Editors Share Their Passion for Love Stories Mon, 20 Nov 2023 09:55:03 -0500 ishook Asylum in the Americas: PW Talks with Jonathan Blitzer Mon, 20 Nov 2023 09:55:03 -0500 ishook GOP moves to split Arizona Democrats in 3&way Senate race

Senate Republicans are rolling out a provocative new strategy as they try to boost the GOP’s chances in Arizona next year: propping up incumbent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

NRSC operatives have been fretting about polls that have shown Sinema, an independent, pulling in nearly twice as many Republican voters as Democrats in a three-way race. So in a bid to keep GOP voters behind the GOP nominee while splitting the Democratic vote, they’re launching a new digital ad Monday boosting Sinema’s liberal bona fides while hammering Rep. Ruben Gallego, the likely Democratic nominee.

The new ad, titled “A Choice,” paints Sinema as being firmly behind President Joe Biden and his legislative agenda, voting with the president “100%” of the time and backing his climate initiatives in the Inflation Reduction Act. Not mentioned are the multitude of headaches and setbacks she dealt to Biden as she successfully worked to trim the IRA’s ambitions and preserve the Senate filibuster.

Conversely, the ad slams Gallego — whom the NRSC has nicknamed “Rotten Ruben” — in intensely personal terms. The spot points out that Gallego divorced his ex-wife, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, in 2016 just a few weeks before she gave birth to their first child, then blasts him for marrying a lobbyist, Sydney Barron, several years later. The ad closes by calling him a “deadbeat dad,” without evidence to support the claim.

Gallego declined to comment on the attack — one that suggests that Republicans are intensely worried about the early strength of his candidacy in a three-way race. The attack is risky — a Marine veteran of the Iraq War, Gallego has long been forthright about his struggles with PTSD and “survivor’s guilt,” which he blamed in his memoir for the unraveling of his first marriage.

A person close to Gallego also noted that he and his ex-wife remain “good friends” and share custody of his now 6-year-old son, who is often spotted at his side on the House floor and on the campaign trail — including in this NYT picture last month. It’s not hard to imagine the personal attack backfiring.

Casting Sinema as a “liberal Democrat,” meanwhile, might generate chuckles here in Washington, where she’s seen as a centrist spoiler. But it makes good political sense back in Arizona, where she has carefully built an aisle-crossing image — and used it to pick up support from traditional GOP voters who have been alienated by far-right candidates like Kari Lake, the bombastic former gubernatorial nominee who’s expected to win next year’s GOP Senate primary.

Sinema, notably, has yet to even announce a 2024 run. But Republicans are preparing as if she will appear on the ballot.

One strategist, speaking anonymously to candidly discuss party strategy, said the GOP's mission is straightforward: Make any three-way race into a Republican-vs.-two-Democrats battle rather than Democrat-vs.-two-Republicans one.

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Mon, 20 Nov 2023 08:30:02 -0500 ishook
Anti&green backlash hovers over COP climate talks Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:40:04 -0500 ishook Who wants what out of COP28 Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:40:04 -0500 ishook ‘No will to change course’: Even deficit hawks doubt Washington can curb debt.

The national debt has reemerged as a paramount economic issue for the first time in nearly a decade, raising alarms from Congress to Wall Street.

But even with all the outward drama, there’s little evidence that Washington is ready to stem the tide of red ink.

In interviews with a dozen members of both parties on Capitol Hill, even GOP lawmakers acknowledged an inability to reach consensus within their own ranks on the path forward. Democrats want to focus on raising taxes, not spending reductions — and some don’t agree that deficits are an urgent issue at all. Both President Joe Biden and Donald Trump have refused to entertain cuts to Social Security and Medicare — taking two of the biggest drivers of the debt off the table.

“Do Republicans have the political will? We sure do talk big,” House Budget Chair Jodey Arrington (R-Texas) said. But he questioned whether either party can put aside “the politics of brinkmanship” to “come up with something that probably both sides won’t like.”

The debt is looming larger now because the Federal Reserve’s aggressive campaign to jack up borrowing costs to kill inflation has spurred a jump in interest payments for the government. Though the U.S. is still able to comfortably finance its more than $26 trillion in publicly held debt, increased spending on entitlements and interest could snowball in the coming decades, putting pressure on Washington to act earlier to rein in annual deficits.

“I don't want us to arrive at the crash site, but I think we're headed there,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), a Freedom Caucus member who serves on the House Financial Services Committee. “There is no will to change course.”

There are growing calls to change course, however.

Republicans just threatened to shut down the government, citing the ballooning national debt. And executives of the Wall Street firms that finance the debt are becoming more vocal in their concerns about the U.S.’s ability to keep its long-term finances in check as waves of new securities enter the markets amid lower revenue, higher rates and the spending binge of recent years.

The debt is already eating into the government’s coffers, with the Congressional Budget Office projecting the Treasury will have to spend trillions of dollars on interest alone in the next decade, taking away from other priorities.

“If interest rates basically stay at their current levels, interest will be the second-largest government program in two years,” said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. "Only Social Security will be larger."

Voters themselves are increasingly worried about federal borrowing. Fifty-six percent of Americans rate the budget deficit as "a very big national problem," up from 51 percent last year, a Pew Research survey in June showed. Biden's pledge to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and the debate over whether to extend the Trump tax cuts will make this a major battleground in next year's election.

But getting policymakers to move on the issue has “always been a challenge,” Goldwein said. “The consequences are diffuse and subtle, and in the future, unless you have any kind of acute crisis, and I don’t see that in the near term.”

The mounting pressure has Republicans eying a long shot at consensus-building in the form of a fiscal commission, which would bring together lawmakers from both sides of the aisle with “the guts to do the things no one else wants to do,” as Arrington describes it. But even that lacks the Democratic buy-in to survive one chamber, let alone both.

The White House last month referred to the idea as a “Trojan Horse commission to open up Social Security and Medicare.”

“When you have no idea what to do, and everything that you might have to do is very unpopular, you form a commission,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).

“Frankly, unless we have truly extraordinary economic growth, we're headed for a pretty bad outcome,” Sherman said. “You need revenue, you need to deal with spending, you need to deal with entitlements — and you need to wonder whether democracy is capable of doing any of that.”

There's also no clear consensus on what, exactly, reining in the debt even means. On the campaign trail, Republicans talk of balancing the budget, but economists focus more on whether the debt is growing faster than the economy as the relevant measure.

Deficit spending has long been considered a drag on the economy over the long term, diverting private investment into government bonds and swallowing tax dollars into a pile of interest payments. To avoid these effects, government spending is often framed like business or household spending: Costs should be offset by revenue.

But the federal government’s finances are not like a household's. The U.S. borrows money by selling bonds that are traded on the open market, and they can be owned by anyone from regular citizens to foreign governments. The more demand there is for those bonds, the lower the interest rate the government has to pay.

“We need to stabilize, to get debt-to-GDP at a stable level and not continue to go up,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said. “Forecasts, based on current programs, suggest that it’s going to get to an unsustainably high level.”

The Biden administration has also focused on another popular benchmark: comparing interest costs to GDP, a measure cited by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

“Real net interest is an important metric for assessing fiscal sustainability because it ensures the cost of financing our deficit remains manageable relative to the size of the economy,” said a Treasury official, granted anonymity to speak more freely.

The official noted that, under the president’s proposed fiscal plans, interest costs would be kept below 2 percent of GDP, a level considered manageable by many economists.

The Biden budget would achieve that result in no small part by raising taxes on corporations and wealthier Americans. Indeed, the administration argues that rising debt has been driven mostly by higher interest rates and less revenue — pointing to tax cuts under Republican presidents.

“The administration thinks it’s appropriate that this conversation is in the forefront,” the Treasury official said, but added that it’s “important to emphasize that the renewed focus on deficits isn’t based on Democratic spending programs.”

The GOP, in contrast, hammers the administration for spending bills, particularly the 2021 American Rescue Plan, which they also say is a culprit for inflation and therefore higher rates.

Republicans are resistant to discussing higher taxes, particularly before 2024.

“Tax receipts, according to the Fed, are at one of the highest [levels] they’ve ever been in history since World War Two,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said. “What are they looking for? They want to get in a situation where the economy is contracting?”

GOP lawmakers tout the importance of economic growth to cut into the debt, citing deregulation as one alternative that could increase revenue.

“The onslaught of regulations that we’ve seen — that’s all growth depressant,” Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) said.

A big question is how long interest rates stay high. The Fed expects to keep its main policy rate above 5 percent through the end of next year. By the end of 2026, it could still be at 3 percent. That could mean trillions more in interest payments.

There are some rumblings within the GOP about pushing forward with the fiscal commission without floor votes. But most Republicans are skeptical of the viability of a unilateral approach.

“Involvement with the administration is the only way to do this,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said. Without that, “as soon as you bring something up, people are going to come out and start throwing rocks at it.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:40:04 -0500 ishook
Senate Dems stake their 2024 hopes on last 2 red&state incumbents

Democrats’ hopes of clinging to the Senate next fall now rest almost entirely on their party’s most endangered species: red-state incumbents seeking reelection.

After Joe Manchin’s retirement announcement, the party is down to just two of them on the ballot next year — Montana’s Jon Tester and Ohio's Sherrod Brown. Tester and Brown will need to defy their states' ideological leanings by persuading a sizable number of ticket-splitters to vote for them.

It’s an ominous reality for Democrats, who are simultaneously confronting lackluster swing-state polling for President Joe Biden. Democrats are investing in campaigns in Florida and Texas in a bid to oust Rick Scott and Ted Cruz, respectively, but Democratic leaders know the easiest path to retaining the Senate majority runs through victories for Tester, Brown and Biden, whose victory is necessary to break a 50-50 tie.

Next fall will bring “real opportunities” to go on offense, said Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), the chair of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm. “But I'm very confident we're going to be at 50 by holding all of our incumbents and we win the White House. Having battle-hardened candidates is a real strength.”

This isn’t the first campaign that will force Tester and Brown to rely on their distinctive personalities and quasi-populist politics in the face of steep challenges. Both men won their second terms alongside former President Barack Obama, then won in pro-Trump states six years later. Each time they defeated GOP challengers who tried to brand them as too liberal.

Still, there are huge differences between now and then. Obama won Brown’s state in 2012, but Ohio got redder once former President Donald Trump flipped it in 2016. When Tester and Brown both prevailed again in 2018, five Democratic senators stood for reelection in states Trump won by double-digits.

Now Tester stands alone in that category. That puts him and Brown on the front line of the fight for the Senate to an unparalleled degree.

Brown has "got his own challenges — they are similar to mine. Mine are similar to his,” the Montanan said in an interview. “Bottom line is: Work your ass off and see what happens.”

Republicans privately laughed at Peters’ optimism about Democratic chances in 2022, when the party had to withstand challenges in New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia and Nevada while Biden’s popularity sagged. Yet every single one of the party's incumbents held on in a remarkable midterm show; Democrats even picked up a seat in Pennsylvania.

Repeating that type of success next year will be a lot more difficult. Democrats are virtually guaranteed to lose in West Virginia, now that Manchin is out. Nobody is taking any chances when it comes to Tester and Brown.

“I take all the races seriously, but those two are particularly challenging,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “We’re dedicating the resources and attention to them.”

The two races combined could approach $500 million in total spending between the GOP primaries and the general election, said one party strategist granted anonymity to candidly assess the map. The DSCC is investing resources on the ground and working to stoke intra-party divisions among GOP candidates in both states.

And the Democratic super PAC may be a big player as well. J.B. Poersch, who runs the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC, said his group is “going to make sure voters in Montana and Ohio understand the choice they face next November” between Brown and Tester and anti-abortion GOP candidates.

Tester’s campaign is fundraising off Manchin's retirement plans; in a solicitation on Thursday his campaign manager said that the West Virginian's departure “officially makes us Mitch McConnell’s Number One target” and that money destined for West Virginia is now coming to Big Sky Country.

Tester is already running TV ads in Montana, where population growth during the pandemic means he has plenty of new voters to introduce himself to. His unique style has confounded Republicans for three straight cycles — prompting the GOP to focus on anointing former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy to avoid another nomination of Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), who lost to Tester in 2018.

“Ohio and Montana are states where every elected statewide official is a Republican. Except for the two Democratic senators. Those are clearly the races they will have the toughest time defending,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Peters’ counterpart on the GOP campaign arm. “There’s a reason why, in Montana, Tester’s already up full-blown on TV.”

Still, Tester and Brown have built-in advantages aside from incumbency and winning track records. They are fundraising juggernauts at this point: each has raised more than $14 million this year, and both are strategically breaking with the Biden administration on foreign policy and border policy as their campaigns heat up.

Brown is clearly more progressive than Tester, who votes against Biden’s regulatory regime more often. Both are far more reliable Democratic votes than Manchin and past red-state Democrats, yet they still stand out in the caucus.

“I run the way I govern. I take on the railroads and take on interest groups that I think hurt people in my state, and trade agreements. I take on the presidents of my own party … drug companies and oil companies,” Brown said in an interview. “That’s, in the end, why I win.”

Brown’s had tough races before, but none with the relentless national GOP focus that he's about to receive. In the interview, he recounted that former red-state Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) had harder campaigns than him in 2018 (all lost) but said he’s ready for the challenge at hand: “I am always targeted. It’s Ohio, and Democrats don’t win a lot here.”

He got some good news this month, as Ohio voters codified a right to abortion in their state constitution. Brown said that’s evidence “that the narrative is changing in Ohio.”

And at least Biden might keep it relatively close in Brown's state. Tester’s got an even bigger challenge: Biden lost by 16 points in Montana, double his losing margin in Ohio in 2020. That means the burly, seven-fingered farmer has to outpace his party's presidential nominee by margins not seen since … 2012, when Tester won as Obama got crushed in the state by 13 points.

Tester recalled texting Manchin after his retirement announcement earlier this month to express his displeasure. But he made clear that it wasn’t frustration about more national GOP money now pouring into Montana.

“I told Joe this: I said, ‘I respect your decision, but I don't like it.’ Because he was good to work with,” Tester said. He dismissed the idea that Manchin’s loss saddles him with an even tougher reelection fight: “I couldn’t lose before.”

With memories of blowing winnable races that run long beyond last year, Republicans aren’t exactly guaranteeing the majority yet. They think they need to get Sheehy through Montana's GOP primary and then unify behind whoever wins the crowded Ohio GOP contest between Secretary of State Frank LaRose, businessperson Bernie Moreno and state senator Matt Dolan.

But they feel closer to Senate control than they have since losing it in January 2021.

“It’s never a layup, but [Manchin’s retirement] sure helps. We get back to a 50-50. So we get the White House, we’re there,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). “It takes one seat off the map. Which is why Democrats are freaking out.”

Mon, 20 Nov 2023 06:40:04 -0500 ishook
Army Ammunition Factory Tied to Mass Shootings Faces New Scrutiny Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:20:04 -0500 ishook The Supreme Court’s Search for a More Attractive Gun Rights Case Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:20:04 -0500 ishook Appeals Court to Hear Arguments on Trump Election Case Gag Order Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:20:04 -0500 ishook The Crisis in Issue Polling, and What We’re Doing About It Mon, 20 Nov 2023 05:20:04 -0500 ishook In Death Valley, a Rare Lake Comes Alive Mon, 20 Nov 2023 04:00:04 -0500 ishook Western air defenses turn Kyiv into rare safe spot in war&torn Ukraine Mon, 20 Nov 2023 00:20:04 -0500 ishook Rosalynn Carter Lauded for Humanitarian Work, Mental Health Advocacy Sun, 19 Nov 2023 23:20:03 -0500 ishook Populist Javier Milei prevails in Argentina's presidential runoff

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s Economy Minister Sergio Massa conceded defeat to populist Javier Milei in Sunday’s fiercely polarized presidential runoff even before the country’s electoral authority released official results.

Massa congratulated his opponent, a right-wing economist who has promised a dramatic shake-up for many of the nation’s institutions and welcomed frequent comparisons of him to former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Immediately after Massa’s concession speech, the Argentine electoral authority released partial results: With 86.6% of votes tallied, Milei had 55.95% and Massa 44.04%.

With a Milei victory, the country will swing to the right amid discontent over soaring inflation and rising poverty, and empower a freshman lawmaker who describes himself as an anarcho-capitalist and got his start as a television talking head blasting what he called the “political caste.”

Inflation has soared above 140% and poverty has worsened while Massa has held his post. Milei, a self-described anarcho-capitalist, has proposed to slash the size of the state and rein in inflation, while the government minister he was running against warned people about the negative impacts of such policies. The election forced many to decide which of the two they considered to be the least bad choice.

Milei’s screeds resonated widely with Argentines angered by their struggle to make ends meet, particularly young men.

“Money covers less and less each day. I’m a qualified individual, and my salary isn’t enough for anything,” Esteban Medina, a 26-year-old physical therapist from Ezeiza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, told The Associated Press on the sidelines of a Milei rally earlier this week.

Massa, as one of the most prominent figures in a deeply unpopular administration, was once seen as having little chance of victory. But he managed to mobilize the networks of his Peronist party and clinched a decisive first-place finish in the first round of voting.

His campaign cautioned Argentines that his libertarian opponent’s plan to eliminate key ministries and otherwise sharply curtail the state would threaten public services, including health and education, and welfare programs many rely on. Massa also drew attention to his opponent’s often aggressive rhetoric and openly questioned his mental acuity; ahead of the first round, Milei sometimes carried a revving chainsaw at rallies.

Speaking after casting her vote at the stately University of Buenos Aires Law School, Jenifer Pio, 36, told the AP that she fears a Milei victory would risk the return of dictatorship.

“Milei doesn’t have the faintest idea of how to govern,” said Pio, a homemaker. “It isn’t bad that he’s prideful, but he would need to have a bit more stability. He’s unstable emotionally and psychologically. He’s unwell.”

Ana Iparraguirre, a partner at pollster GBAO Strategies, said Massa’s “only chance to win this election when people want change ... is to make this election a referendum on whether Milei is fit to be president or not.”

“We’re starting a new chapter in Argentina, and this chapter requires not only goodwill, intelligence and capability but above all, dialogue and the necessary consensus for our homeland to traverse a much more virtuous path in the future,” Massa told journalists Sunday after casting his ballot.

Milei accused Massa and his allies of running a “campaign of fear” and he walked back some of his most controversial proposals, such as loosening gun control. In his final campaign ad, Milei looks at the camera and assures voters he has no plans to privatize education or health care.

“We did a great job despite the fear campaign and all the dirty tactics they used against us,” Milei told journalists after he voted amid a large security operation as dozens of supporters and journalists gathered at his polling place.

One of his supporters is María Gabriela Gaviola, a 63-year-old entrepreneur doing everything she can to avoid shuttering her company, which manufactures veterinary products, amid surging prices for materials. And the government hasn’t helped, including Massa who has held his ministerial post for over a year.

“The productive sector of this country isn’t considered. How long can a country that doesn’t produce be OK?” said Gaviola, who has taken on two side jobs to keep her company afloat. “Truth is, I don’t know Milei. I’ve heard him a bit. I don’t know him, but the one who I already know doesn’t help me. I prefer to try something new.”

Most pre-election polls, which have been notoriously wrong at every step of this year’s campaign, showed a statistical tie between the two candidates. Voters for first-round candidates who didn’t make the runoff will be key. Patricia Bullrich, who placed third, has endorsed Milei.

Underscoring the bitter division this campaign has brought to the fore, Milei received both jeers and cheers on Friday night at the legendary Colón Theater in Buenos Aires.

Those divisions were also evident Sunday when Milei’s running mate, Victoria Villaruel, went to vote and was met by protesters angry at her claims that the number of victims from Argentina’s bloody 1976-1983 military dictatorship is far below what human rights organizations have long claimed, among other controversial positions.

The vote took place amid Milei’s allegations of possible electoral fraud, reminiscent of those from Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Without providing evidence, Milei claimed that the first round of the presidential election was plagued by irregularities that affected the result. Experts say such irregularities cannot swing an election, and that his assertions were partly aimed at firing up his base and motivating his supporters to become monitors of voting stations.

Such claims spread widely on social media and, at Milei’s rally in Ezeiza earlier this week, all those interviewed told the AP they were concerned about the integrity of the vote.

Sun, 19 Nov 2023 20:10:03 -0500 ishook
With Joe Biden Turning 81, the White House Is Focused Elsewhere Sun, 19 Nov 2023 19:00:03 -0500 ishook During visit to border, Texas governor endorses Trump

EDINBURG, Texas — Donald Trump picked up the Texas governor’s endorsement Sunday during a visit to a U.S.-Mexico border town and promised that his hard-line immigration policies in a second presidential term would make Greg Abbott’s “job much easier.”

“You’ll be able to focus on other things in Texas,” Trump told Abbott as they each appeared before a crowd of about 150 at an airport hangar in Edinburg.

Abbott, a longtime ally and fellow border hawk, said he was proud to endorse the former president, who is the Republican Party’s front-runner for the 2024 nomination.

“We need a president who’s going to secure the border,” Abbott said, speaking in a town that is about 30 miles from the Hidalgo Port of Entry crossing with Mexico. “We need Donald J. Trump back as our president of the United States of America.”

Earlier, Trump served meals to Texas National Guard soldiers, troopers and others who will be stationed at the border over Thanksgiving. Trump and Abbott handed out tacos, and the former president shook hands and posed for pictures.

“What you do is incredible, and you want it to be done right,” Trump told them.

Abbott said about the Guard members and Texas troopers who are stationed at the border: “They should not be here at this time. They should be at home.” He said that ”the only reason why they are here is because we have a president of the United States of America who is not securing our border.”

Trump has been laying out immigration proposals that would mark a dramatic escalation of the approach he used in office and that drew alarms from civil rights activists and numerous court challenges. Though Trump has peppered campaign speeches with his immigration plans, he only made brief remarks in border country on Sunday. He spoke for only about 10 minutes against a backdrop of state police choppers, a plane and an armed patrol boat — all used by Texas at the border.

Trump did not get into the policies he would pursue if elected. He did complain about inflation, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and news media coverage. He said most technology outside of wheels and walls eventually becomes obsolete.

“We just need the walls. And it worked,” Trump said.

His plan calls for building more of the wall along the border.

He also wants to:

— revive and expand his controversial travel ban, which initially targeted seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump’s initial executive order was fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld what Trump complained was a “watered down” version that included travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan officials.

— begin new “ideological screening” for all immigrants, aiming to bar “Christian-hating communists and Marxists” and “dangerous lunatics, haters, bigots and maniacs” from entering the United States. “Those who come to and join our country must love our country,” he has said.

— bar those who support Hamas. “If you empathize with radical Islamic terrorists and extremists, you’re disqualified,” Trump says. “If you want to abolish the state of Israel, you’re disqualified. If you support Hamas or any ideology that’s having to do with that or any of the other really sick thoughts that go through people’s minds — very dangerous thoughts — you’re disqualified.”

— deport immigrants living in the country who harbor “jihadist sympathies” and send immigration agents to “pro-jihadist demonstrations” to identify violators. He would target foreign nationals on college campuses and revoke the student visas of those who express anti-American or antisemitic views.

— invoke the Alien Enemies Act to to remove from the United States all known or suspected gang members and drug dealers. That law was used to justify internment camps in World War II. It allows the president to unilaterally detain and deport people who are not U.S. citizens.

— end the constitutional right to birthright citizenship by signing an executive order his first day in office that would codify a legally untested reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment. Under his order, only children with at least one U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent would be eligible for a passport, Social Security number and other benefits.

— terminate all work permits and cut off funding for shelter and transportation for people who are in the country illegally.

— crack down on legal asylum-seekers and reimplement measures such as Title 42, which allowed Trump to turn away immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border on the grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19.

— press Congress to pass a law so anyone caught trafficking women or children would receive the death penalty.

— shift federal law enforcement agents, including FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration personnel, to immigration enforcement, and reposition at the southern border thousands of troops currently stationed overseas. “Before we defend the borders of foreign countries we must secure the border of our country,” he said said.

Trump has made frequent trips to the border as a candidate and president. During his 2016 campaign, he traveled to Laredo, Texas in July 2015 for a visit that highlighted how his views on immigration helped him win media attention and support from the GOP base.

The border has also become a centerpiece of Abbott’s agenda and the subject of an escalating fight with the Biden administration over immigration. The three-term governor has approved billions of dollars in new border wall construction, authorized razor wire on the banks of the Rio Grande and bused thousands of migrants to Democrat-led cities across the United States.

Sun, 19 Nov 2023 18:00:03 -0500 ishook
5 ways Democrats are coping with Biden’s terrible polls

Poll after poll has brought bad news for Joe Biden. Whether the incumbent president is trailing his likely 2024 Republican challenger, hitting a new low in approval or seeing the majority of Democrats raise concerns about his age, the numbers should be disconcerting for the Biden camp.

Despite the grim data, so far Democrats are sticking with their man. And rather than confronting just how bleak things look at the moment, many Democrats are finding solace in a cycle of self-soothing spin that explains away the difficult political reality.

Here are some of those rationalizations — and why they might not be so rock-solid.

1. Biden was underestimated in 2020, too.

Many people close to the president like to point back to the 2020 election as proof that Biden can beat the odds. People doubted Biden then, too — and they turned out to be wrong.

“The campaign can either build a campaign that is knee-jerk responsive to the same Washington sources that were wrong in ’20 and ’22, or they can put in the historic time and money they are right now to mobilize their coalition to win a year from now. Personally, I think a strategy centered on voters — not Washington — is the right one,” one pro-Biden source told Playbook.

Sure, there were times during the 2020 race when Biden’s nomination — and his defeat of Donald Trump — seemed far from a sure thing. But this isn’t 2020, when Democratic voters were mobilized by four years of a Trump presidency defined by chaos in the White House and a slow, shoddy response to a deadly pandemic.

2. The polls this far out aren't predictive.

As bad as the numbers look now, some Democrats like to say, don’t forget they could still change.

“The only thing you can be sure of after today’s NBC poll is that people will short-circuit again. Polls a year out are about as good at predicting election results as a Magic 8 Ball would be,” former Barack Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina pointed out on X (formerly Twitter). “They just don’t show the full picture.”

Well, true — these polls are not a crystal ball. But they show where things stand at this moment in time, and where they stand isn't great.

3. Trump is much much worse! 

One tactic Democrats and liberal commentators use to counter Biden’s vulnerabilities is to highlight Trump’s egregious flaws.

For instance, the writer Michael Tomasky recently countered a wave of coverage of Biden’s age — a key concern for most voters — with a long catalog of Trump’s misdeeds. Tomasky’s list included some of Trump’s most infamous moments (sharpie on the hurricane map, “alternative facts,” suggesting people should inject bleach to prevent Covid-19 infections, and his lies about the 2020 election results, to name a few).

“So, to those voters more repulsed by Biden’s age than Trump’s deeds: Is your memory really that short? Do you seriously want to live through all this again?,” Tomasky writes.

But many of Trump’s serious missteps happened while he was in office. Voters had a chance to vote for Trump when those flaws were still fresh — and nearly half still did. If voters will change their minds when they focus on Trump’s baggage, some of which is new since the last election, it’s unclear why they haven’t yet.

4. There’s no other option.

The Washington Post reported that during a September political panel in Aspen, Colorado, an attendee raised concerns about Biden’s viability as the Democratic nominee, and asked: What’s the backup plan?

According to the Post, former Biden chief of staff Ron Klain had a quick rebuttal: “The president is the party’s nominee, Klain said, and a strong nominee at that. There is no backup plan.”

There is certainly no backup plan that would be as orderly as renominating Biden. But there’s an entire fleet of Democratic up-and-comers biding their time and laying the groundwork for future White House bids — whether it’s by hosting a debate in the first-in-the-nation primary state, or holding a surprise meeting with President Xi Jinping in China.

And there are a few members of the Biden administration whom the president has cast as the party’s political future, including his vice president.

However, pitching Biden as the only option plays into Democrats’ fear of the unknown, particularly when up against Trump.

5. Whatever the polls say, the world needs Biden as president.

This is less of a response to the polls than a plea to ignore them from Democrats who think Biden is uniquely equipped to manage a moment of global tension and war.

Attendees at the Halifax International Security Forum heard a version of this from Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a national co-chair of Biden’s reelection campaign. Coons suggested there’s “absolutely” more concern about America’s future because of the possibility of another Trump presidency, Alex Ward, Lara Seligman and Paul McLeary report from Nova Scotia.

A year ago, Coons said, foreign officials would broach the possibility of a Trump return to office in their fourth or fifth question. “Now they’re saying ‘Oh my God, Trump could be president again!’ I’m going, ‘Uh huh, this is going to be close.’ Even the co-chair of the Biden reelection campaign will tell you this is going to be close,” Coons said.

Sun, 19 Nov 2023 18:00:03 -0500 ishook
Former first lady Rosalynn Carter dies at 96

Rosalynn Carter, one-half of the longest-lived presidential couple in American history and perhaps the most egalitarian as well, died on Sunday, the Carter Center announced.

She was 96.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” former President Jimmy Carter said in a statement on Sunday. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

In May, her family reported that she was living with dementia; last week, they said that she had entered hospice care. The Carter Center said she “died peacefully, with family by her side.” Her husband, who turned 99 last month, has been in hospice care since February.

Carter, who married the future governor and president in 1946, was widely credited with expanding the role of first lady beyond the nation’s most prominent hostess to an active partner in policy and international travel, becoming a trusted adviser even in an era when most newspapers would only call her “Mrs. Carter.”

“Rosalynn Carter set a new precedent for first ladies,” wrote historian E. Stanly Godbold, author of “Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: A Biography.” “She established the Office of First Lady, worked side by side with her husband as an equal partner in most of the responsibilities of the presidency, and actively pursued her own agenda to make the world a gentler place.“

The Carters were perceived as exemplars of the “new” South in the 1970s, a marked change from the years of George Wallace, John Patterson, Lester Maddox and other Southern governors who thrived on rage and intolerance in support of segregation and states’ rights — and who, at least some of the time, countenanced extrajudicial violence against African Americans.

Jimmy Carter, as much as it was possible for an ambitious political leader to do so, projected beneficence, not bitterness, and Rosalynn Carter was a picture-book complement to her husband, a woman of gentle grace. It was these traits that made them much-admired figures long after Jimmy Carter’s thorny presidency had left his reputation nowhere to go but up.

In their long post-presidential lives, she would remain by his side through public and private matters.

“The best thing I ever did was marrying Rosalynn. That’s a pinnacle in my life,” Jimmy Carter would say.

Eleanor Rosalynn Smith was born Aug. 18, 1927, in Plains, a small Georgia town that certainly didn’t know it was on its way to becoming world-famous. Her father died of cancer when she was 13, leaving her with extended family responsibilities in difficult financial times.

Her future husband was also from Plains. They first dated when she was 17 — she was a friend of his sister’s — and a student at Georgia Southwestern College, and while he was attending the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“I thought he was the most handsome young man I had ever seen,” she would say later. Jimmy Carter would tell his mother after the first date that he had met his future wife.

In her autobiography, Rosalynn Carter said that she didn’t accept his first proposal, determined as she was to honor a promise to her father to finish college. On July 7, 1946, shortly after Jimmy’s graduation, they were married. The couple had four children, the youngest of whom, Amy, would grow up in the public eye in the White House.

The family returned to Plains in 1953, and Jimmy Carter entered politics a few years later. By 1970, she was making speeches for him as he ran for governor of Georgia.

In December 1974, her husband launched his presidential campaign. He started as the longest of longshots, but, amazingly, Carter ended up getting elected in November 1976.

During that underdog campaign, Rosalynn Carter visited more than 40 states on his behalf, maintaining a busy speaking schedule.

“It drew us closer together,” she told a Plains audience 40 years later. “We were separated for 18 months during the campaign. I always felt like he could not have won without me.”

Her husband then added: “We used the wisdom and advice of each other throughout.”

She established a different tone for a first lady even before he took office: She chose to wear the same gown to the inaugural balls she had worn when Jimmy was sworn in as a governor in 1971.

“It enhanced the incoming Carter presidency’s notions of modesty and frugality,” Smithsonian curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy said years later.

Once they were in the White House, it was clear the first lady would have a meaningful role: She had her own office and sometimes attended Cabinet meetings.

In June 1979, The New York Times described her partnership with her husband in “The Importance of Being Rosalynn.” The article shined a light on their weekly working luncheon, one that the Times said was devoid of typical husband-and-wife small talk.

“For the next 40 minutes, the Carters explore a wide range of subjects as they sit through a meal of lamb chops, baby potatoes and salad. They customarily discuss the minutiae of political appointments and the status of the White House staff; they weigh the future of their pet bills in Congress and the fate of Mrs. Carter’s favorite projects; they consider lobbying efforts and campaign plans. Their discussions move from domestic politics to assessments of China, Iran, and the latest events in the Middle East,” the Times wrote.

The president added: “I have found, that the more that she and I can share responsibilities, with her being in an unofficial position and me in an official position, then that tends to strengthen the personal kind of relationship between husband and wife.”

Her advice sometimes led to important breakthroughs. It was at her suggestion that Jimmy Carter invited Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt to Camp David, which became the site of their stunning 1978 peace deal.

She made her presence felt around the globe. In 1977, she embarked on a 13-day trip that took her to Jamaica, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, drawing praise for her knowledge and empathy.An official in Peru called her “highly competent,” and she was praised in Ecuador as “a lively spokesman of the greatest good will.”

In November 1979, she visited tens of thousands of Cambodian refugees in Thailand. The trip was widely credited with increasing awareness of a humanitarian crisis created by years of war, tyranny and international indifference.

“Rosalynn Carter walked among the hungry and the dying, trailed by 150 reporters,” wrote George Packer of the Thailand-Cambodia trip in 2015. “She held a starving baby in her arms while speaking to the infant’s mother, who lay on the ground. ‘Give me a smile,‘ she told another woman, kissing her forehead. Afterward, Mrs. Carter said that she wanted to hurry home ‘and tell my husband.‘”

Carter had other causes she made her own. She fought for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, attempting “to present ERA in a way that would appeal to mothers, housewives and Southerners,” Texas Christian University professor Elizabeth Flowers said. Despite her efforts, time ran out before the ERA amendment was approved by the required number of states.

She was an advocate for mental health, serving as an honorary member of the President’s Commission on Mental Health and lobbying on behalf of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. Implementation of that law, however, was left to the incoming Reagan administration, which had little interest in it. “The incoming president put it on the shelf,” she lamented in 2013.

She was also an articulate defender of the United States. In 1978, the Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn assailed America and the West during a speech in Harvard: “Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence.” Addressing the National Press Club, Rosalynn Carter responded: “I’m not a Pollyanna about the mood of the country, but I can tell you flatly — the people of this country are not weak, not cowardly and not spiritually exhausted.”

After Jimmy Carter failed to win reelection in 1980, the couple returned to Plains. In the decades afterward, they were involved in a seemingly never-