iShook Daily & Latest Posts iShook Daily & Latest Posts en Copyright 2022 iShook & All Rights Reserved. Biden brought down a Chinese spy balloon. But he hasn’t tanked bilateral ties

President Joe Biden’s decision to shoot down a Chinese surveillance balloon on Saturday is a blow to a U.S.-China relationship that has been spiraling downward for years.

But it is not necessarily a death blow.

U.S.-China ties have already weathered years of Beijing’s saber-rattling across the Taiwan Strait, its military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea and high-tech espionage. Beijing has in turn accused the U.S. of a Cold War mentality and of seeking to suppress China economically and militarily.

This latest incident hits home in the U.S. — literally — because the nonstop coverage of the balloon’s presence in American airspace and its destruction captured on live video made the China threat real for many.

“This was a pretty big hit for the [public] trust factor in U.S.-China relations — Chinese spying has never been so front and center in the American public consciousness,” said Lyle Morris, former country director for China at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. “If there were any people still on the fence about a China threat or not, that's pretty much been foreclosed.”

In the short term, GOP lawmakers are arguing that Biden needs to get tougher on China. A senior State Department official sounded a similar stern line on Beijing by calling the balloon’s incursion “a clear violation of our sovereignty” and declaring that it was “unacceptable”in a press briefing on Friday.

China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Saturday protesting Biden's decision to shoot down the surveillance balloon. The ministry called the downing of the airship “a clear overreaction and a serious violation of international practice” and warned that China reserved the right “to make further responses if necessary."

But the incident will likely only further bruise, rather than break, the bilateral relationship.

Regardless of rampant political rhetoric about economic decoupling, the two countries are too interdependent to opt for a drastic downgrade in bilateral ties. Both the Biden administration and senior Chinese officials, including paramount leader Xi Jinping, have recently emphasized the need to improve the tenor in the U.S.-China relationship. And historically, other U.S.-Chinese incidents that have roiled the relationship eventually faded in favor of resumed, if strained, ties.

In recent weeks, Xi and his aides have launched a charm offensive aimed at easing tensions with Washington as they struggle with a Covid outbreak and an economic downturn. The Chinese government was even preparing to welcome Secretary of State Antony Blinken for a now-postponed visit in which he would potentially have met with Xi.

And because the discovery of the airship is an untimely embarrassment for Xi, he may keep China’s response to the downing limited. In fact, Beijing signaled its desire to prevent the balloon incursion from rupturing ties by issuing a rare expression of “regrets,” although it also claimed the object was a weather balloon that went off course.

In comments Saturday to reporters, Biden said he ordered on Wednesday that the balloon be shot down “as soon as possible.” Ultimately, authorities decided to wait until the object was over water to avoid “doing damage to anyone on the ground,” the president said.

Biden did not answer a question about how the decision would affect U.S. relations with China. Foreign affairs observers, however, predicted that both Beijing and Washington would try to minimize the fallout.

“The Biden administration has already signaled that it will seek to reschedule the Blinken visit when conditions allow,” noted Daniel Russel, a former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration who has close ties to Biden aides. “If this closes the book on the incident, the two sides can get back to work. If, instead, the Chinese elect to play the aggrieved victim or to retaliate, we may find ourselves back climbing the escalation ladder.”

Should the United States recover the remnants of the balloon and prove that it is a spy contraption and not a weather tracker, that could further embarrass Xi and lead him to back down. Biden could use that wreckage “to humiliate China or as a bargaining chip in private discussions,” said Yun Sun, China program director at the Stimson Center.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The United States and China have a history of recovering from relation-disrupting incidents that initially outraged the other.

On May 7, 1999, for instance, a U.S.-led NATO air campaign bombed China’s embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists and wounding 20 other Chinese citizens. Though the United States insisted the bombing was a mistake, to this day it is a source of sore feelings in China, where one state media account in 2021 called it “barbaric.” Still, the incident hasn’t prevented efforts to improve relations.

In 2001, a U.S. spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea and landed in China’s Hainan island. China detained the U.S. plane’s 24-member crew for 11 days, during which the fighter jet pilot was said to have died. After several days of tense negotiations, the two countries brokered a deal hinged on a U.S. expression of regret for the incident.

Even years of rising tensions over Taiwan, the self-governing democratic island that Beijing claims as its own, have not severed ties. In 2013, when Biden was vice president, Beijing declared the launch of an “air defense identification zone” in the East China Sea. Biden went to China with the message that Washington would not recognize the zone; U.S. military planes were already flying through it without Chinese permission.

Biden has also repeatedly said the administration will send U.S. troops to help Taiwan if China attacks, although official U.S. policy is more ambiguous.

And when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, the Chinese government reacted furiously, conducting days of live fire military drills around the island. Beijing also suspended bilateral military dialogues and joint efforts in China’s role in the U.S. opioid crisis.

But three months later, Biden met with Xi on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Indonesia, and both pledged to try to ease tensions in order to “manage this competition responsibly.” The Chinese government has also recently shifted to a softer diplomatic tone — an effort by Beijing to reduce U.S.-China tensions while it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

The balloon incident is likely to reverberate strongly on Capitol Hill, where there is a bipartisan consensus that China poses a long-term threat to U.S. power.

“Congress will almost certainly hold hearings about the administration’s response, which will extend this story’s shelf life and raise important questions about the efficacy of the Biden administration’s China policy,” said Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The possibility of Blinken going ahead with the trip to China was considered before it was ultimately postponed after administration officials realized the visit would be overshadowed by questions about a balloon that could still be hovering over U.S. soil.

“The objective of the trip was to seek a ‘floor’ in relationship and explore potential areas of cooperation in mutual interest,” a U.S. official familiar with the issue said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The balloon, however, “would have dominated all the conversations,” the official said. “It was better to postpone for a better time, and the interagency all agreed with that.”

It’s not clear when Blinken will reschedule his trip. Whether Chinese officials agree to host him fairly soon could be a sign of how quickly they want to put the balloon incident behind them.

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 22:20:03 -0500 ishook
Downing of Chinese Spy Balloon Ends Chapter in a Diplomatic Crisis Sat, 04 Feb 2023 20:20:03 -0500 ishook SEC’s Gensler weighs scaling back climate rule as lawsuits loom

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler is considering scaling backa potentially groundbreaking climate-risk disclosure rule that has drawn intense opposition from corporate America, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The top Wall Street regulator’s team has signaled that a primary concern is the wave of lawsuits that are expected to challenge the rule once it's finalized, said the people, who asked not to be named while discussing private conversations. The SEC is weighing what to do with one of the most contentious pieces of the plan: A mandate that certain large public companies report data about carbon emissions from their extensive supply chain networks and customers, known as scope 3, the people said.

Potential changes to the proposal have been debated for months. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that the agency is also considering whether to ease a separate financial reporting element of the plan because of the legal challenges to come. But Gensler’s lingering legal concerns about the draft scope 3 requirements indicate that the SEC — nearly a year after proposing the rule — is still grappling with what to do about one of the most aggressive parts of the plan.

Officials at the SEC stress that no decision has yet been made. How much the agency might ease up on the proposal is not clear. The final rule will need to be approved by three of the SEC's five commissioners, including Gensler, before it can take hold. But any move to substantially limit the regulation could spark a backlash from climate activists, sustainable investors and progressive Democrats, who have been pressing for years for greater insight into companies’ climate footprints.

Under the proposed rule, public companies would have to disclose information about the climate risks their businesses face, as well as the carbon emissions of parts of their operations — just as they do annual revenue, executive compensation and any new updates on legal issues.

Lawmakers, companies and business trade groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have voiced broad objections to the proposal ever since its introduction, saying the changes are unnecessary and would be too burdensome and costly. Lawsuits are expected to challenge both the content of the rule itself and the SEC’s authority to pursue it — an argument that may carry new weight with the Supreme Court moving to rein in the so-called administrative state.

Another person familiar with the matter said the SEC has also discussed making the scope 3 requirements “more workable” for companies, given the feedback the agency is getting.

If the carbon emission disclosure requirements are curtailed, the SEC could preempt one of the business community’s biggest concerns about the plan.

But if the agency goes too far,it risks causing a significant break with the left. Progressive lawmakers, sustainability-minded investors and environmental advocates have pressed for as strong a rule as possible. They argue that predicting what the courts will do is impossible and shouldn't discourage action now.

“The courts are obviously stacked with pro-pollution judges,” a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. “But the SEC should not back down in the face of baseless attacks by corporate lobbyists and preemptively water down the rule.”

An SEC spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

A growing corner of the investment world has been calling on the SEC for years to require companies to provide a clearer lens into how they are handling climate change, as the proposed rule would do. The final rule would also mark another major climate win for President Joe Biden following the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. One of Biden’s first executive orders declared that the federal government must push for climate-related risk disclosures across the economy.

Yet as the rule has taken shape within the agency, Republican state attorneys general across the country, the business world and GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill have criticized it.

Their warnings have varied. But a common one is that the SEC is going outside its mission in seeking to mandate climate risk disclosure. The significance of that complaint quickly escalated following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its bounds in trying to rein in power plant emissions.

The SEC is seeking a broad slate of new information from public companies under the rule, including details on how climate-related risks are affecting their business models, if the companies use a carbon price and how, and any details about climate-related goals set by the companies, such as net-zero emissions targets.

Companies would also have to detail the greenhouse gas emissions from their operations and energy use.

For many larger companies, though, executives would face the added responsibility of disclosing estimated emissions from their supply chains and customers, the scope 3 emissions. Proponents argue that scope 3 is critical to the rule’s success, given the amount of a company’s emissions that it represents.

“We still think the proposal should be finalized broadly in the same form,” said Alex Martin, a senior policy analyst for climate and finance at Americans for Financial Reform, a consumer and investor advocacy group. “It would be a mistake to not follow through."

But groups like the National Association of Manufacturers say scope 3 emission disclosures would be riddled with legal, reliability and usefulness questions for investors and companies.

“All options are on the table,” said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president of policy and government relations at NAM, in an interview about how the group would respond to the final rule. Newhouse said that could include a lawsuit against the SEC over the rule, once finalized. “We’re going to throw the full weight of the industry behind [this] effort.”

Litigation has been hanging over the SEC’s head for some time. In September, while testifying on Capitol Hill, Gensler was peppered with questions about the rule, as many Republican senators zeroed in on the implications of the Supreme Court case, West Virginia v. EPA. At the time, Gensler said the SEC takes “seriously the courts and particularly the Supreme Court,” but defended the agency’s ability to pursue the plan.

“Investors are using this information now, and they want the information,” Gensler said. “And I think it does fit into our 80- or 90-year history of how we do disclosures. … We have a role to ensure that there is not only investor protection, but, as the law said, fair dealing that the actual disclosures are not misleading.”

Many in the legal world agree. Former SEC officials, including several commissioners from both sides of the aisle, academics and even one former clerk to conservative Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch have written in support of the agency’s powers to regulate corporate disclosures, even if they relate to emissions.

“This is essentially core SEC rulemaking,” University of Pennsylvania law Professor Jill Fisch said.

The final rule is likely to look different from the proposal no matter what, as is typical for many SEC regulations.

Whether the SEC opts to include scope 3 as it is drafted in the proposal or scrap it entirely, the lawsuits will come either way, said Fisch, though she added that scope 3 does make the rule “more vulnerable.”

The question is whether the courts will look to brush back decades of legal precedent.

“It’s very hard to predict how far the court will go,” Fisch said.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 18:30:02 -0500 ishook
U.S. Shoots Down Chinese Spy Balloon Off the Coast of the Carolinas Sat, 04 Feb 2023 15:20:04 -0500 ishook DNC approves Biden’s primary calendar shakeup

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved President Biden’s proposal to dramatically alter the state lineup for Democrats’ presidential primary calendar, placing South Carolina in the leadoff spot in a bid to give minority voters more representation in shaping the party’s lineup.

Read more…

The post DNC approves Biden’s primary calendar shakeup appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
How Democrats’ early&voting order in 2024 compares with 2020

The Democratic National Committee on Saturday approved a new calendar lineup for the early stages of the party’s presidential nominating contests in 2024. Additional changes are possible. A look at how the revised calendar would compare with the 2020 order:

Read more…

The post How Democrats’ early-voting order in 2024 compares with 2020 appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
Biden says he’ll ‘take care of’ Chinese balloon

President Biden said on Saturday that he will “take care of” the Chinese spy balloon that continues to fly over U.S. airspace.

Read more…

The post Biden says he’ll ‘take care of’ Chinese balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 14:55:05 -0500 ishook
Biden officials kept quiet about suspected Chinese spy balloon fearing diplomatic, political fallout

Biden administration officials kept quiet for nearly a week after the suspected Chinese spy balloon first entered U.S. airspace, fearing the matter would derail Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned trip to Beijing, according to a new report.

Read more…

The post Biden officials kept quiet about suspected Chinese spy balloon fearing diplomatic, political fallout appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Electronic pollbook security raises concerns going into 2024

ATLANTA — They were blamed for long lines in Los Angeles during California’s 2020 presidential primary, triggered check-in delays in Columbus, Ohio, a few months later and were at the center of former President Donald Trump’s call for supporters to protest in Detroit during last November’s midterms.

Read more…

The post Electronic pollbook security raises concerns going into 2024 appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
State of the Union 2023: What to know ahead of Biden's speech Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook DNC votes to shake up presidential primary calendar

Members of the Democratic National Committee overwhelmingly approved a dramatic shakeup of the party’s presidential nominating calendar Saturday morning, reordering what states will vote first in primaries and upending a century of political tradition.

The new calendar — recommended by President Joe Biden and his advisers and approved by a majority vote of the DNC — elevates South Carolina to the first-place position in the primary calendar on Feb. 3, replacing the Iowa caucuses, which held the coveted perch for a half-century.

Under the new schedule, New Hampshire and Nevada would jointly host their primaries three days later on Feb. 6, followed by Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27, two brand-new states added to the early window. But several hurdles remain to ultimately implement this calendar.

Iowa, which has held its caucuses first since 1972, will fall out of the early nominating process altogether.

“We are overdue in changing this primary calendar,” said Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, who has led her state’s effort to join the early window for almost two decades. “No one state should have a lock on going first.”

The DNC reopened the presidential nominating calendar earlier this year, under pressure from both inside and outside the party to diversify the voters who get to participate early in the process. In December, Biden recommended his preferred slate, giving a particular nod to states like South Carolina and Georgia that gave him a boost in his 2020 presidential bid. It also nearly eliminates any path for a potential Democratic primary challenge ahead of 2024 by elevating states that represent the president’s base of support.

The vote comes on the heels of a rare joint appearance by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in back-to-back speeches Friday night, previewing the likely 2024 ticket as the pair road tested campaign one-liners and themes of attack against the GOP.

But there are still logistical challenges that Democrats must face before implementing the new lineup, particularly around New Hampshire and Georgia, where Republican-controlled legislatures and governors stand in the way of changing the primary dates.

Resistance out of New Hampshire is particularly fierce, where elected officials and party leaders insist that they cannot comply with the DNC’s new calendar because it directly conflicts with state law, which requires them to host the first presidential primary one week before any other state. They have vowed to hold their contest first regardless of the DNC’s decision.

On Saturday morning, the New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats made a final appeal to DNC members, urging them to reconsider the proposal. But it did not change the vote.

“This is not about New Hampshire’s history or state pride. This is about a state law that we cannot unilaterally change,” said Joanne Dowdell, who represents New Hampshire on the Rules and Bylaws Committee.

She also raised the possibility that if Biden doesn’t file in New Hampshire, a potential sanction against the state, “it could provide an opening for an insurgent candidate” who could “potentially win the first presidential primary of 2024, something that no one in this room wants to see.”

But some DNC members pushed back on New Hampshire, including Leah Daughtry, a Rules and Bylaws committee member who said she’s “heard a lot about a state law” that “somehow gives some people a divine right of privilege,” but “none of that is more important than what the party says it wants in its process.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Biden on Chinese balloon: 'We’re going to take care of it'

President Joe Biden on Saturday broke his public silence on the suspected Chinese spy balloon drifting across the U.S., telling reporters “we’re going to take care of it.”

Biden’s comments in Syracuse, N.Y., come as the balloon is hovering over North Carolina, according to local news reports. It was first spotted in Montana on Wednesday.

China has denied that it was using the balloon to spy on the U.S., saying it was a civilian airship used to monitor weather that blew off course due to unexpected wind. The Pentagon has so far cautioned against shooting the balloon down out of fears falling debris could hurt people on the ground.

“Last thing we wanted was for something the size of a school bus to go through the roof of a preschool,” a Defense Department official said Friday.

The Chinese airship forced the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets and led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to postpone his trip to Beijing this weekend.

Throughout the week lawmakers have called on Biden to address the potential threat, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs the panel that oversees the Pentagon’s budget, calling the balloon a “clear threat” to national security.

“I’m demanding answers from the Biden Administration,” Tester said in a statement. “I will be pulling people before my committee to get real answers on how this happened, and how we can prevent it from ever happening again.”

Adam Cancryn contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
China plays down Blinken's canceled visit over balloon

TAIPEI, Taiwan — China played down the cancellation of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken after a large Chinese balloon suspected of conducting surveillance on U.S. military sites roiled diplomatic relations, saying that neither side had formally announced any such plan.

“In actuality, the U.S. and China have never announced any visit, the U.S. making any such announcement is their own business, and we respect that," China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday morning.

Blinken was due to visit Beijing on Sunday for talks aimed at reducing U.S.-China tensions, the first such high-profile trip after the countries' leaders met last November in Indonesia. But the U.S. abruptly canceled the trip after the discovery of the huge balloon despite China’s claim that it was merely a weather research “airship” that had blown off course.

The Pentagon rejected that out of hand — as well as China’s contention that the balloon was not being used for surveillance and had only limited navigational ability.

Uncensored reactions on the Chinese internet mirrored the official government stance that the U.S. was hyping up the situation.

Many users made jokes about the balloon. Some said that since the U.S. had put restrictions on the technology that China is able to buy to weaken the Chinese tech industry, they couldn’t control the balloon.

Others called it the “wandering balloon" in a pun that refers to the newly released Chinese sci-fi film called “The Wandering Earth 2.”

Still others used it as a chance to poke fun at U.S. defenses, saying it couldn’t even defend against a balloon, and nationalist influencers leapt to use the news to mock the U.S. One wrote wryly: "The U.S., because of the balloon incident, delays Blinken’s visit to China.”

Censorship was visible on the topic — the “wandering balloon” hashtag on Weibo was no longer searchable by Saturday evening.

“The U.S. is hyping this as a national security threat posed by China to the U.S. This type of military threat, in actuality, we haven’t done this. And compared with the U.S. military threat normally aimed at us, can you say it’s just little? Their surveillance planes, their submarines, their naval ships are all coming near our borders,” Chinese military expert Chen Haoyang of the Taihe Institute said on Phoenix TV, one of the major national TV outlets.

The balloon was spotted earlier over Montana, which is home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields at Malmstrom Air Force Base, defense officials said.

President Joe Biden had declined to shoot down the balloon, following advice of defense officials who worried the debris could injure people below. Meanwhile, people with binoculars and telephoto lenses tried to find the “spy balloon” in the sky as it headed southeastward over Kansas and Missouri at 60,000 feet.

The Pentagon also acknowledged reports of a second balloon flying over Latin America. “We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a question about the second balloon.

Blinken, who had been due to depart Washington for Beijing late Friday, said he had told senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in a phone call that sending the balloon over the U.S. was “an irresponsible act and that (China’s) decision to take this action on the eve of my visit is detrimental to the substantive discussions that we were prepared to have.”

China has denied any claims of spying, and said it is a civilian-use balloon intended for meteorology research. Experts have said that their response was feasible.

But analysts said the unexpected incident will not help the strained ties between the two countries, and particularly China's initial response where it said they could not control the balloon and “regretted” that it unintentionally entered U.S. space.

On Saturday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs again emphasized that the balloon's journey was out of its control and urged the U.S. to not “smear” it based on the balloon.

Wang said China “has always strictly followed international law, we do not accept any groundless speculation and hype. Faced with unexpected situations, both parties need to keep calm, communicate in a timely manner, avoid misjudgments and manage differences.”

Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore, said China’s apology did not appear sincere.

“In the meantime, the relationship will not improve in the near future ... the gap is huge.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 13:40:05 -0500 ishook
Chinese balloon spotted in North Carolina as suspected spy craft floats eastward over U.S. airspace

The suspected Chinese spy balloon that entered U.S. airspace earlier this week was spotted over North Carolina on Saturday as it makes its eastward course toward the Atlantic Ocean.

Read more…

The post Chinese balloon spotted in North Carolina as suspected spy craft floats eastward over U.S. airspace appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 12:35:04 -0500 ishook
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a … Chinese Spy Balloon? Sat, 04 Feb 2023 12:30:03 -0500 ishook Democrats set to shake up start of 2024 presidential primary

PHILADELPHIA — Democrats are poised to reorder their presidential primary schedule beginning next year, replacing Iowa with South Carolina in the leadoff spot as part of a major overhaul meant to empower Black and other minority voters critical to the party’s base of support.

Read more…

The post Democrats set to shake up start of 2024 presidential primary appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
State of the Union: Joe Biden sees economic glow, GOP sees gloom

WASHINGTON — Going into Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Joe Biden sees a nation with its future aglow.

Read more…

The post State of the Union: Joe Biden sees economic glow, GOP sees gloom appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
Sen. Jon Tester readies defense panel for hearing into Chinese balloon

Sen. Jon Tester has announced that his Senate defense subcommittee will hold a hearing to demand answers from Biden administration officials on the suspected Chinese spy balloon that overflew U.S. airspace.

Read more…

The post Sen. Jon Tester readies defense panel for hearing into Chinese balloon appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
China’s Mideast buildup stirs security worries for U.S.

Chinese state-owned firms are building up their presence near the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East, a new report says, raising the risks of a future clash with U.S. interests in one of the world’s busiest oil transitways.

The growing footprint of Chinese commercial activity in the area, including billions of dollars in investments in oil pipelines and storage terminals alongside the Persian Gulf, is fueling worries from U.S. national security hawks who fear it could provide Beijing with dangerous influence over a major choke point for petroleum shipments.

About a third of the globe’s seaborne crude oil passes through the strait, which narrows to only about 20 miles between Iran and the Arabian peninsula. That includes as much as 45 percent of China’s own oil imports, the report from the Center for Strategic & International Studies notes.

China has previously used spending on pipelines, ports and other commercial facilities to pave the way for military bases near strategic locations such as the mouth of the Red Sea, the CSIS authors write. Now, China’s investment in regional ports and infrastructure in Oman and the United Arab Emirates could provide an entry point for Chinese naval ships in the strait. Such ships already travel nearby waters to patrol against pirate vessels.

“China has laid the groundwork for something it might do in the future,” said Matthew Funaiole, senior fellow at the CSIS China Power Project. “It’s all about giving itself options.”

He added: “China has cast a wide net in the region, which gives it plenty of leverage. And a military facility on the western side of the Arabian peninsula does make sense from a military planning standpoint.”

The Biden administration has kept an eye on Beijing’s presence in the area, said a senior administration official who requested anonymity because of lack of authorization to speak to the media.

“The administration is focused on infrastructure buildout by China and has developed strategies with our G7 allies to ensure a global high-quality and diversified supply chain,” the official said.

The CSIS report documents China’s billions of dollars of investment over the past decade in port facilities in the UAE and Oman, two countries that straddle the strait across the water from Iran. The expansion of Beijing’s footprint at the Khalifa Port in the UAE, plus its ownership stake at a fuels storage terminal at the country’s Port of Fujairah about 100 miles to the east and investment at Duqm Port in Oman, raise the issue of Chinese power growing in the region, the report says.

The report notes that the China Harbour Engineering Co. won a bid in October 2022 to build a 700,000-square-meter container yard and 36 supporting buildings at Khalifa Port. The company is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Co., one of the firms that the Trump administration sanctioned for supporting China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

Years earlier,Shanghai-based shipping giant COSCO signed a $738 million agreement to build a container terminal at the same port. The deal includes provisions giving China exclusive design, construction and management rights over the terminal for 35 years.

Good reasons exist for concern that the Chinese government may use its commercial relationships in the Hormuz Strait as a foundation for the development of a military foothold in the region.

Beijing parlayed its commercial relations with Djibouti to seal a deal in 2014 to allow the Chinese navy to use the African country’s port near the mouth of the Red Sea. Beijing used that agreement to establish a naval installation in 2017 that U.S. Africa Command has accused of using military- grade lasers to harass U.S. fighter pilots landing in Djibouti.

Western interests worry that Beijing’s focus on the area may eventually lay the groundwork for the Chinese military to add its presence to the area. The U.S. government has flagged this as a concern for years. The Defense Department noted in a report to Congress last year that China is “likely” considering the UAE as a location for military logistics facilities.

“The [Persian] Gulf area is now going to become a contested region, subject to superpower strategic competition,” said John O’Connor, chief executive at J.H. Whitney Investment Management, a firm that analyzes geopolitical risk. “And that's a new feature, not a bug.”

Not everyone thinks a military buildup is inevitable, however.

Other assessments of China’s military in the Strait of Hormuz suggest that it’s highly unlikely that Beijing will seek to extend its reach in the region with the creation of facilities for People’s Liberation Army Navy units or personnel. A RAND Corp. analysis published in December that rated the relative attractiveness of 24 countries for potential PLA facilities assessed the possibility of such a development in the UAE as “low feasibility” due to the Pentagon’s close scrutiny of the country and the Arab nation’s dealings with potential rivals.

And China has its own concerns about the flow of oil out of the strait that would make it want to build up infrastructure there. It has surpassed the United States as the world’s No. 1 consumer of oil and heavily depends on the Middle East for much of its supply. Ports and storage facilities could be a way to protect China’s own supply from being disrupted in an area known for regional conflict.

Other analysts say the PLA doesn’t need to establish formal military facilities in strategic ports where Chinese state firms are already present.

“Rather than raise international threat perceptions with overt shows of military presence, the PLA may opt to embed plainclothes personnel … and use nominally commercial warehousing, communications, and other equipment to quietly meet military needs,” an article in the spring 2022 edition of the journal International Security concluded.

Despite China's substantial and growing economic and political relations with the UAE and Oman, “I don’t see any indications that China currently seeks to establish a base or enduring military presence in either of those countries, or elsewhere in the Middle East,” said Dawn Murphy, associate professor of national security strategy at the National War College and an expert on China’s relations in the Middle East. “I see no signs that China desires to fundamentally change its security presence in the Middle East, pick sides between countries, or challenge the U.S. security role in the region – for now China is primarily an economic and political power in the region.”

Still, a heavy Chinese presence in the area could roil oil markets if concerns over possible military tensions with the United States or Europe over Taiwan spill into the area. Crude prices often spike whenever anxieties grow over friction between the U.S. and Iran.

That China’s buildup in the area can raise concerns in the United States shows how oil politics can still loom large for the U.S., the world’s biggest oil producer. Even a benign presence at the choke point would give Chinese companies information about fuel or ship movements that they could send back to Beijing as intelligence, said Republican aides with the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Everything in the private industry in China is somewhat connected to the larger CCP or the PLA,” said the official, who was granted anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to be quoted in the media. “Even if you're a private company, you might be called upon by the Chinese government to share intel.”

At worst, having a direct PLA presence on the Strait of Hormuz would set off alarm bells among energy security experts, said Scott Modell, chief executive of consulting firm Rapidan Energy and a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who served in the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America.

“National security hawks like me will view the news of Chinese bases along the Strait of Hormuz as an unacceptable threat to U.S. national security, sensing that Beijing's long-term objective is the placement of military bases at choke points around the world to offset the risk to strategic commodity flows in the event of a major geopolitical event such as a forced reunification with Taiwan,” Modell said.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 11:10:05 -0500 ishook
Abortion debate to dominate 2024 races with Republican Party doubling down on bans

Abortion, an issue that helped flatten a GOP red wave in the last elections, is poised to make a big comeback in 2024 and likely make it harder for Republicans to win in critical swing states.

Read more…

The post Abortion debate to dominate 2024 races with Republican Party doubling down on bans appeared first on ENM NEWS.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 10:00:02 -0500 ishook
American aid worker killed while evacuating civilians in Ukraine Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook Shrinking Colorado River hands Biden his first climate brawl

A fracas among the seven states along the drought-stricken Colorado River is forcing the first major reckoning for the Biden administration over who should bear the pain of adapting to a changing climate.

At issue is whether it’s fair to use century-old rules, created during an era of relative abundance, to ration water from the rapidly shriveling river now that the West is on the precipice of climate disaster. With California and its six neighbors locked in a dispute over two competing approaches to divvying up the cuts in water deliveries, whatever the administration decides will almost certainly end up in court.

The dispute is an early glimpse of the type of fights the U.S. will face as the warming climate supercharges drought, wildfires, storms and floods, forcing wrenching choices over which communities get protected. Those decisions pose a political minefield — something President Joe Biden's Interior Department is learning from the fight over the West's most important river, which is creating existential risks for some of the country's most economically and politically powerful states and industries.

The current feud centers on California, a longtime Democratic stronghold, and Arizona, a newfound swing state that has proven crucial to the party's control of the White House and Senate.

The 1,450-mile long Colorado River made much of the West inhabitable, and now supplies water to 40 million Americans from Wyoming to the border with Mexico, as well as an enormously productive agricultural industry. But climate change has shriveled its flows by 20 percent over the past two decades, and for each additional degree of warming, scientists predict the river will shrink another 9 percent.

Water levels at the system’s two main reservoirs are falling so fast, the Interior Department has said that water users must cut consumption by as much as a third of the river’s flows or risk a collapse that could cripple their ability to deliver water out of those dams. That would also cut off hydropower production that is crucial to the stability of the Western grid.

The states broadly agree that the vast majority of those immediate cuts must be made by the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, whose decades of overuse have accelerated the crisis. But the fight is over whether California, which holds strong legal rights to the lion's share of the Lower Basin's water, should have to share in those reductions.

This week, six of the seven states along the river asked the Biden administration to spread the cuts among the Lower Basin's water users. They argued, in effect, that climate change has so fundamentally altered the waterway that the century-old legal system governing who must sacrifice in times of shortage should not be the final word in how those cuts are divvied up.

But California, whose major agricultural regions would be among the last to take cuts under the existing rules, is refusing to budge from its legal claim. Its rival proposal for apportioning the pain would almost entirely cut off Colorado River deliveries to Phoenix, Tucson and the 11 Native American tribes getting water from central Arizona’s primary canal before California's agricultural users would face any mandatory cuts.

“We agree there needs to be reduced use in the Lower Basin, but that can’t be done by just completely ignoring and sidestepping federal law,” said J.B. Hamby, who leads the Colorado River Board of California and serves on the board of the state’s biggest user of the river’s water, the Imperial Irrigation District.

But Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, argued that his state agreed to take junior rights to river water back in 1968, before climate change was known to be a factor in shrinking the river's flow.

“Why should Arizona in the Lower Basin take the entire cost of climate change changes to the river?” he asked.

The state-level politics, alone, are a disaster for a Democratic administration.

On one side of the fight is the most populous state in the country with a $3.4 trillion economy, fueled in large part by its powerhouse agricultural sector. A Democratic stronghold run by a governor with his own presidential ambitions, California has also enacted some of the most aggressive climate mitigation policies in the country.

On the other side is Arizona — a swing state on which Democrats’ national electoral fate could turn — joined by every other state in the river basin.

And while the immediate fight is centered on Arizona and California, the Upper Basin states of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, which backed Arizona's approach, have their own interest in moving toward a more flexible interpretation of century-old water rules. Climate change is expected to soon make it impossible for them to deliver the legally required amount of water to the Lower Basin without draconian cuts to their own cities and tribes — an even bigger brawl that will have to be fought out in the next two years.

But within each state, the fault lines aren't always clear. Since Western water law allows whoever claimed the water first to be first in line, agricultural users often hold some of the strongest rights, whereas cities and suburbs are almost always the first to take cuts.

Meanwhile, notably absent from the dueling proposals were any of the 29 tribes that reside within the river basin, and whose interests the Biden administration has vowed to be particularly attentive to. They haven’t been in the room for negotiations involving the states and the federal government.

Tribal interests on the river are also complex and competing: The Gila River Indian Community, whose ancestors farmed with Colorado River water for millennia, are among those most vulnerable to cuts under thepriority approach backed by California. But the Colorado River Indian Tribes hold senior rights decreed by the Supreme Court that align their interests with the Golden State's approach.

Environmentalists are also likely to enter the fight soon, with the fate of nearly three dozen endangered species hanging on the line and a risk that the Grand Canyon could one day have no river running through it.

Adding to the pressure on the Biden administration is the fact that lawmakers on Capitol Hill are increasingly jumping into the fray.

Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection last fall in one of the most competitive Senate races in the country after staking out an aggressive position defending his state’s Colorado River water interests — and fighting California’s. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Arizona and Nevada this week wrote Biden to endorse their states’ “consensus” proposal, calling it “a roadmap to avoid devastating economic impacts while sharing in the sacrifice of adapting to a permanently reduced water supply.”

But California’s Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla shot back in a statement contending that “six other Western states dictating how much water California must give up simply isn’t a genuine consensus solution.” Feinstein has for years wielded intense power over Western water issues on Capitol Hill and chairs the appropriations panel overseeing water funding.

The Biden administration won't have to make any tough decision on who wins and who loses just yet, though. First, the Interior Department will need to publicly lay out exactly what effect the competing approaches would mean to communities and ecosystems across the West if the next few years turn out to be dry ones.

The analysis is part of the National Environmental Policy Act process that Interior's Bureau of Reclamation launched in October to give itself legal cover if the states can’t reach agreement among themselves and the Biden administration decides it must act unilaterally — which it has indicated it could do as soon as this summer.

“The Department remains committed to pursuing a collaborative and consensus-based approach, and ongoing conversations with the Basin states, Tribes, water managers, farmers, irrigators and other stakeholders are helping to inform the supplemental process to revise the current interim operating guidelines for the operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams,” Interior spokesperson Tyler Cherry said by email.

Some of the state negotiators think this process of publicly detailing the exact risks and costs to communities of the two competing concepts could help energize the negotiations among the states.

If the analysis of California's proposal shows the result would be "drying up the Central Arizona Project [and] major metropolitan areas and taking all of the water away from native American tribes, I think the choices will become really stark," said John Entsminger, Nevada's top Colorado River negotiator.

“I definitely think there’s still a chance for a seven-state agreement, and I think the modeling outputs that are going to be public could be very helpful for helping drive some form of compromise,” he said.

Regardless of how the negotiations turn out and what Interior decides, many legal experts expect the fight to ultimately land in court.

“No matter what that decision is, one or more of the states is going to sue the Bureau of Reclamation and we’re going to have to work this out through litigation,” said Rhett Larson, who teaches water law at the Arizona State University and has worked on water rights issues along the Colorado River.

But while a legal battle may be the only way to resolve some of the longstanding conflicts among the river’s users, it could also slow down the federal government’s ability to respond to a fast-evolving crisis on the Colorado River.

Even more concerning tofederal, state and local water managers is the risk that a court decision, particularly from the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court, could end up curtailing the federal government’s broad authorities to manage not just the Colorado River, but waterways across the West. This would be occurring at a time when climate change requires flexibility to adapt to hydrologic systems that are evolving in unprecedented and unpredictable ways.

“The court could impose real limits on its ability to adapt existing laws to hydrologic and climatologic realities,” Larson said. “That’s something that the Bureau of Reclamation doesn’t want to do for practical reasons — climate change is changing our hydrologic systems and we need to be able to adapt it — and also for institutional reasons. No one likes to give up power.”

Reporter Camille von Kaenel contributed to this report.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
‘It’s about damn time’: College workers organize amid nationwide labor unrest

Frustrated by low wages and new laws limiting what they can teach — and buoyed by President Joe Biden's pro-union bent — campus workers across the country are moving with new urgency to organize.

A historic strike at the University of California kicked things off in November. Andthe six-week standoff among 48,000 campus workers, a broader surge in labor strikes across industries, a depleted pandemic workforce and a friendlier atmosphere in Washington has culminated in a wave of uprisings.

University of Illinois-Chicago faculty went on strike for four days last month. Hundreds of graduate students at Temple University in Philadelphia took to picket lines earlier this week. And the University of Washington averted a scheduled walkout by librarians and other campus employees in December just three hours before staff planned to hit the streets.

Workers are demanding increased wages, better health benefits, more job security and improved working conditions, and so far colleges are scrambling to meet them.

“We have seen the past two to three years a lot of interest from higher ed workers organizing in states that do not necessarily have the collective bargaining rights or the ability to bargain with their employer on their wages and benefits,” said Enida Shuku, an organizer with United Campus Workers who said the group is in discussions with several institutions about joining UCW.

Even in Southern states, including Tennessee, Arizona and Mississippi, organizers are pressing school leaders about pay and fights over free speech on college campuses.

“We’re all seeing it and experiencing it … and it's about damn time,” Shuku said.

Graduate students typically double as employees for their institutions, teaching general education classes and working as lab assistants while pursuing their degrees. Many workers say they make below a living wage. At Temple, for example, the average graduate student worker can expect to make around $19,500 a year.

With union-friendly Biden in the White House, campus workers feel they have the extra leverage they need to unionize and strike.

Under President Donald Trump, campus organizers feared the Republican-majority on the National Labor Relations Board would use their cases to overturn a precedent that allowed graduate students at private universities to unionize, said Mark Gaston Pearce, who chaired the board under President Barack Obama.

“Anything that required having to go through the board processes was avoided because they did not want to put the board in the position to weigh in relative to that question,” said Pearce, who is now the executive director of the Workers’ Rights Institute at Georgetown University. “Now — that no longer being an obstacle — it's not surprising that there is a flurry of organizing going on.”

In fact, Biden has been stocking the NLRBwith commissioners who favor unionization among graduate students, something Trump administration appointees once considered banning altogether.

Boston University graduate students had backed off a unionization drive during the Trump administration,fearing a rejection from the board. But workers regrouped last fall, encouraged by a Democratic majority on the NLRB, and eventually voted to unionize in December.

“With the shift in political landscape more recently, it kind of lightened the stressors of whether or not we'd be able to unionize to begin with and allowed us to have another go at it,” said Alex Lion, a PhD candidate and organizer at the university.

UIC faculty almost went on strike in 2019, but the night before they were set to stop work, they agreed on a contract. Following “exhausting” semesters of online instruction, months of inflation chipping away at workers’ earnings and a surge in labor action nationwide, faculty vacated lecture halls in January for four days before agreeing to a contract that will raise the lowest-paid employees’ wages by $9,000.

“Across the nation, faculty and students everywhere are pretty exhausted,” said Charitianne Williams, a UIC English professor and a member of the union’s bargaining team.“I think that whether you're faculty union at UIC or in a union at Starbucks, that's a really difficult space to live in.”

Campus workers at the University of California got tens of thousands of dollars in raises, larger child care stipends and commuter benefits after weeks on the picket line. University of Washington’s union was able to secure salary boosts and academic freedom protections in January, negating reason to strike.

Conservative critics, though, argue the successful labor wave could spread universities’ resources thinner — forcing them to slash student worker positions or make other cuts — to afford the raises won during bargaining.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” said Timothy Snowball, a civil rights attorney at the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit organization that challenges labor unions, “and I think this is when ideology kind of comes up hard against basic economics.”

He said the UC strike will have unintended consequences across the system.

"The best way to view this in my eyes is not really the strikers versus the administration of the UC system," Snowball said an interview. "The undergrads are the ones who suffered the most, for a public service that the population of California had already paid for."

Graduate students laid the groundwork for labor action in 2022. Students at the University of Southern California, Northwestern University in Chicago, Yale University in Connecticut, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, among others, moved to unionize that year.

At the California State University system, graduate student workers union president Lark Winner said the UC strike will “absolutely” add to her unit’s leverage as it heads into contract negotiations in the coming weeks.

“Bargaining does not happen in a vacuum,” Winner said. “All of us were paying attention to what happened at UC, and we need to make those same critical wins that our UC folks did.”

Labor action is bubbling in right-to-work states in the South too, especially as statehouses move to pass legislation that restricts how educators can discuss “divisive concepts” related to race and gender.

Bills introduced in 2022 targeted higher education more so than in the previous year, according to PEN America. The free speech advocacy group found that 39 percent of bills in 2022 targeted higher education, compared to 30 percent in 2021. At least four bills were passed in Florida, Mississippi, South Dakota and Tennessee.

United Campus Workers started about 20 years ago in Tennessee over fair pay and wages at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. When Tennessee’s S.B. 2290 — which outlines how to discuss race and gender at public universities — was signed into law last year, professors began to organize against the law’s restrictions.

Sarah Eldridge, associate professor of German at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said while state laws do not allow collective bargaining, the union that represents all campus workers has managed to boost non-tenure track faculty pay by about $9,000 in the last six years. Their graduate student union committee also recently won a fight to waive administrative fees that were being imposed on their stipends.

But when the bill took effect, the union got fired up again.

Some tenured professors are looking to continue to protest the law each semester, despite pushback from state legislators. The union is now urging the university to increase campus minimum wage to $20 an hour immediately, and to $25 an hour by 2025.

While campus workers can’t officially go on strike in the state and don’t have immediate plans to do so, Eldridge said: “Never say never.”

Mackenzie Wilkes contributed to this story.

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
The Surprising Reason Europe Came Together Against Putin

Since Feb. 24, when Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine, we’ve heard from many quarters that Europe is united as never before. “Fifteen years ago, during the financial crisis, it took us years to find lasting solutions,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her State of the European Union address to the European Parliament on Sept. 14. “But this year, as soon as Russian troops crossed the border into Ukraine, our response was united, determined and immediate.”

Apart from Hungary (which continues to pay Russian President Vladimir Putin obsequious court), Europe has indeed displayed an uncommon unity since the invasion began. Converging on Brussels within hours of the invasion, European leaders surprised the world by swiftly passing package after package of sanctions designed to crush Russian finance, deprive it of revenue from energy exports, hamstring its defense sector, punish its elites and shut down its propaganda organs.

Von der Leyen attributes this uncommon unity and efficiency to Europe’s “courage and solidarity.” The Biden administration attributes it to the president’s diplomatic prowess: Administration officials told the Washington Post that Biden had engaged “in discreet diplomacy with European allies, and in recent weeks he ha[d] encouraged them to take action.” One European diplomat attributed it to Putin: “Putin has done much more than any other to unite the Europeans and to go for a stronger European Union.” All of this is true. The prospect of invasion by Russia concentrates the mind wonderfully.

But there is another, less widely acknowledged source of Europe’s newfound unity: The latest version of Google Translate, which has turned the ancient dream of a world without language barriers into reality.

Jérôme Piodi, a French Eurocrat who has spent more than a decade in public administration in the European Parliament and in related Parisian ministries, said the key factor in making progress in Europe is a common understanding of complex ideas. “Until very recently, access to instantaneous translation of speech and ideas was reserved to a certain kind of elite — the kind who could spend money to pay translators,” Piodi said.

Europe has more than 200 native languages and mutually incomprehensible dialects. All of its 24 official languages are highly developed, each with its own media, textbooks, movies and language academies. These languages, and their use in schools, workplaces and families, define a country’s identity.

But we’re now living, for the first time, in an era where everyone in Europe — from politicians to cab drivers — can understand one another. It’s true that previously, diplomats could communicate through translators and, typically, in English. Now, ordinary Europeans can understand one another, instantly and accurately, and because of the compulsive lure of social media — and Twitter’s decision to automatically translate every tweet — Europeans can and do talk to each other all day long. Talking to Ukrainians, and hearing directly from them, has hardened public support for sanctions and weapons transfers in the EU, despite Russian threats and soaring energy prices. Eurobarometer polling shows that 74 percent of EU citizens back the bloc’s support for Kyiv.

This public support for Ukraine has translated into action. The West’s assistance to Ukraine has also been notable for the way Western politicians have responded to their citizens’ sentiment, rather than shaping it. At every stage, citizens have pushed their leaders to move faster and further. We’ve seen this recently in German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine after an eternity of hesitation and dithering. He faced mounting public fury and protests, withering criticism and an outraged social media campaign to #FreeTheLeopards. In late January, Scholz relented and freed the Leopards — a decision lambasted by Putin in a flamethrower of a speech on Thursday.

Google Translate isn’t the complete explanation for the newfound European unity, of course, but it’s an underappreciated part of the story.

“It’s had a huge effect on people and their ability to share ideas on social media,” Piodi says. “Twitter is a small window on the world; Google Translate made the window bigger.”

While Peter Thiel lamented receiving 140 characters instead of flying cars, Google was working on a technological revolution that makes flying cars seem like the horse and buggy: high-quality machine translation. The audacity of its accomplishment has been curiously uncelebrated. It ranks with the mRNA platform upon which our Covid vaccinations were built as a great achievement of the 21st century, but it has mostly changed our world without applause. Few truly grasp the technological revolution that has transpired in the past several years.

Research into machine translation, inspired by the mathematician Claude Shannon’s work in information theory, among others, began in the 1950s. Early prototypes relied upon bilingual dictionaries and hand-coded rules. The results were garbled.

In 1964, the U.S. government established a commission to study machine translation. The commission declared the project hopeless: Human language was too subtle, complex, idiomatic, irregular and ambiguous for it to work. The Defense Department ceased funding research, and the technology stalled for decades.

Those early approaches foundered because researchers used a dead-end approach. They had envisioned machines learning language much the way humans learn second languages — by studying a grammar. They tried to analyze sentences in terms of the rules that governed them and translate them into a universal machine language, from which they could then be re-translated into the target language. The approach, called rule-based machine translation, or RBMT, failed because human language is indeed too subtle, complex, idiomatic, irregular and ambiguous for that to work.

With the growing power of processors and falling price of data storage, however, machine translation became a feasible target for the private sector. Google had ample resources for a project like this. Google’s early prototype, which debuted in 2006, was based on statistical machine translation, or SMT. SMT presumes that for each phrase, there are many possible translations, some more and some less likely to be correct. It works by searching a massive corpus of translated texts to see which translation is statistically most probable. The first Google Translate used phrase-based SMT — phrase-based, because it translates one phrase at a time, without considering the context of the phrase.

Such an engine can only be as good as the corpora of translated texts upon which it’s based. For this, Google used United Nations and European Parliament transcripts. The original version was popular, despite its deficiencies, and by 2016, it translated 140 billion words per day.

But while sheer processing power gave Google an edge over other SMT engines, it was still a primitive product. Characteristic was an infamous fiasco, in 2013, involving the English-language version of the Turkish daily Yeni Şafak and the old version of Google Translate. The newspaper decided to embroider an interview with Noam Chomsky with a few fabricated quotes suggesting his enthusiastic support for the Turkish government. (This is typical of Yeni Şafak,an Islamist paper known for fabrications and half-truths.) It ran these invented quotes through the old Google Translate, then published these immortal lines: “This complexity in the Middle East, do you think the Western states flapping because of this chaos? Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West. I’ve seen the plans works.”

“Milkport” — from the Turkish süt liman, an idiom akin to “smooth sailing” — became Turkish shorthand for an amalgam of ludicrous machine translation and fake news.

Improvements in quality had stalled.

The revolution came in 2016, when Google introduced digital neural networks, modeled on the way learning takes place, we think, in the human brain. A Neural Machine Translation (NMT) model uses neural networks to study the relationship between the source and target languages by processing massive amounts of parallel text data. It learns from the data and improves the translations by adjusting the weights of the neurons. Unlike its predecessor, it isn’t phrase-based. In NMT, words or parts of words are converted into numerical representations called “word vectors.” These contain information not only about the meaning of the word, but its context. So “milk,” for example, no longer merely represents a word that may be translated as leche, Milch, or молоко. It represents all the information the model has about how humans use that word.

Google formally launched its NMT model for Google Translate in November 2016. It did so discreetly and with little fanfare. By the next day, it had shown improvements equal to the total gains the old system had shown over its lifetime. It continues to learn at this speed. The results, now in more than 109 languages, are astonishing. Mother-tongue language speakers asked to rate Google’s translations on a scale from 0 to 6 offer an average rating of 5.43.

It’s not entirely free of error, of course. At times — especially when the original text is highly idiomatic, misspelled or full of shorthand — the translations are imperfect. But they’re almost always good enough that you can get the gist. The machine model can also be rigged to provide deliberate mistranslations: For a time, for example, it automatically converted “Russian Federation” to “Mordor,” “Russians” to “occupiers,” and the name of Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to “sad little horse.” But Google Translate is used by too many people, daily, for fraud to be sustained.

In 2019, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study pronouncing Google Translate so accurate that it could be used to translate the results of medical trials — a task where an error could have deadly consequences. Professional translators hate it. Of course they do: It’s putting them out of work. They’re prone to writing articles insisting that Google doesn’t translate properly. It’s true that for literary nuance, you want a human translator. But for everyday translation — in medicine, in courts, in diplomacy, even — Google Translate often does the job as well as a professional and does it faster, for free. Most participants in translation Turing tests are unable to distinguish its translations from a human’s.

Although these advances were astonishing, it was perhaps unsurprising that many people didn’t realize it had happened at all. If you’re an English speaker, your search engine will serve you English, not foreign-language results. (Google earns money by selling advertising, and you’re not likely, if you live in Milwaukee, to do your shopping in Budapest.) Unless you traveled to foreign countries frequently, Google Translate likely wouldn’t be a daily part of your life.

The new technology’s relatively low profile changed by late 2020, when Twitter integrated the new Google Translate into its platform, replacing the comparatively primitive Bing translation service, which no one liked. From then on, every single tweet on the platform was translated automatically into the user’s native tongue.

This, says Piodi, was the “almost perfect combo, with high [internet] connectivity in most of Europe allowing citizens in Paris, London, Kyiv or Stockholm to (almost) have an immediate understanding of the others.” Twitter integrated the translation engine seamlessly. You didn’t need to sign up, opt in or laboriously copy-and-paste. Suddenly, the whole community of Twitter users could read everyone else’s tweets, no matter what language they were written in. Twitter became multilingual, with people following foreign language accounts and replying to them in their native language, knowing their response would be translated automatically.

Other social media platforms have incorporated Google Translate, too, but Twitter plays a unique role in the social media ecosystem because it’s entirely text-based and because accounts on Twitter are interlinked in a way that makes it ideal for rapid news diffusion and debate. Unlike Facebook or Instagram, Twitter’s primary function isn’t the maintenance or expansion of personal contacts, but the dissemination of news and information. This is why journalists, politicians, NGOs and PR companies are disproportionately represented on Twitter — and why it has outsized political influence. This structure and user base makes Twitter an ideal venue for testing slogans, debunking lies, reproaching politicians and winning converts.

These very qualities also turned Twitter into a playground for Russian information operations. But the eradication of language barriers has compromised Russia’s effectiveness. “Back in 2014,” Piodi recalls, “Twitter users will remember that there was little [international] communication on social media.” In those days, Ukrainian leadership relied on a slow, traditional process to communicate with the European public. Allies helped them craft press releases, which reached no one. Since the war began in early 2022, however, ordinary Ukrainians and governmv ent leaders have been masterful with social media, putting their message out directly (and very creatively).

Today, Ukraine’s official and unofficial communication through social media is focused on the country’s European partners, along with the rest of the international community, especially the United States. It is the unofficial communication, though, that is most powerful. Now, if you’re on Twitter, you don’t need to speak a word of Ukrainian to understand ordinary Ukrainians speaking directly about their experience. “If you don’t understand the message, you can easily ignore it; once you understand it, you have to deal with [it],” Piodi says. NGOs such as the Ukraine Crisis Center, too, have been particularly effective in conveying Ukraine’s message to the world via social media; their international audience outreach aims to share information about Ukraine abroad and ensure the war does not fall out of Western discourse. Their skill in creating infographics, memes, slogans and hashtags — in English and other European languages — has been a tremendous asset to the Ukrainian effort.

Users throughout Europe follow the Ukrainian president and defense minister; they follow Ukrainian defense analysts, soldiers and ordinary families. Ukrainians who don’t speak English tweet in English and often go viral. Ukrainians on the battlefield have used Twitter to show Europeans what they’re facing and what they’re doing with the weapons their allies have sent, giving rise to social media memes such as, “It’s HIMARS o’clock.” They have shown life trapped in subway stations, sheltering from missiles. They have shown the effects on civilians of Russian missile strikes. They have shared photos of fallen soldiers, videos of tearful reunions between soldiers and their small children. They have shown soldiers with cats — a Ukrainian soldier, befriending a cat, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. They’ve used social media to take on Russian propaganda narratives, exposing fake photos, such as one depicting Ukraine’s first lady dressed in luxury clothes on a First Class flight: They have made the real photo from which the fake photo was cobbled go viral.

When these tweets spread around the world, Westerners not only grasp the horror of the war, but the extent and the nature of Russian propaganda operations. The tweets are often picked up by the news media. Ukrainians mock their Russian tormentors, too, in tweets that because they are amusing are destined to go viral. Western publics have become well-educated about the conflict, and much more adept at separating truth from Russian misinformation.

Multilingual campaigns on Twitter have shaped the course of the war. NAFO, for example — short for “North Atlantic Fellas Organization” — is a self-organized social media army mostly composed of ordinary men and women from around the world, with politicians and members of the national security community joining in pour le sport. Aided by Google Translate, NAFO Fellas respond to Russian propaganda on Twitter with cavalcades of Shiba Inu dog memes and ruthless ridicule. It makes Russian diplomats and propagandists look ludicrous, and the more outraged their response, the more ludicrous they seem. NAFO’s mockery forced one especially egregious Russian ambassador offline. Flustered Russian propagandists insist that NAFO must be some kind of CIA weapon. The Fellas have also raised millions of dollars for the Ukrainian military,

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:50:03 -0500 ishook
Karen Bass’ mission: Get 17,000 people off the streets of Los Angeles in a year

LOS ANGELES — Karen Bass has pledged to tackle the homelessness problem here by getting 17,000 people off the streets during her first year in office. But her success as mayor will depend on what happens after that.

Bass’ strategy — to move thousands of people into motels as a stopgap measure while the city works out a long-term fix — is being closely watched by elected officials from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Joe Biden have made tackling homelessness centerpieces of their policy agendas this year, and progress in Southern California would play an outsize role in improving overall numbers. Susan Rice, Biden’s top domestic policy adviser, spent a weekend with Bass last month discussing the crisis and meeting with residents.

“The homelessness crisis is front and center,” Bass said in an interview Thursday. “It’s what’s impacting everybody, the fact that people are dying on the streets every day.”

Local leaders have for years struggled to control skyrocketing rents and a shrinking affordable housing market that’s priced countless Angelenos out of their homes, leaving the county short 500,000 affordable units. They readily admit they don’t have enough city staff, social workers or funding to create a safety net for residents struggling with severe mental health conditions or drug addiction.

Jennifer Shurley, who has been in and out of homelessness for years and is now staying at a Venice motel, said she has watched people fall out of the shelter system.

“You can throw as many temporary solutions at it as you want, if there’s no long-term solution to what’s actually causing the homelessness, it’s just a Band-Aid,” she said.

Shurley moved into her motel room last month, an early beneficiary of Bass’ effort. Before then, she lived in her truck among the fashionable restaurants and multi-million-dollar homes in Venice, one of Los Angeles’ most famous neighborhoods.

The city’s homelessness count has steadily grown in recent decades and now stands at nearly 42,000 people, a population larger than many California cities. About two-thirds of the city’s homeless residents live on the streets. Swelling housing costs, a proliferation of drugs like fentanyl and methamphetamine and temperate weather have pushed the figure ever higher.

Of the 230,000 unsheltered homeless people across the U.S., one in five is in Los Angeles County — and most live in the city of Los Angeles.

Bass won election in November after an expensive race against real estate developer Rick Caruso on a promise to shrink the encampments that have proliferated across the city.

Residents have made it clear in polling over the last year that homelessness is their top concern, putting pressure on the mayor to quickly show results.

“What they want to see is the problem solved,” Bass said in an interview.

The former congresswoman wasted little time. Soon after taking office in December, Bass got the City Council on board with a state of emergency that gives her office more power to expedite affordable housing development, execute lease agreements with building owners and sign contracts with service providers. County supervisors declared a similar emergency a month later, linking arms with Bass for a photo moments after the decision was finalized.

Veteran local officials have taken note of Bass’ ability to coordinate fractious governmental bodies, a skill she honed as a community organizer and leader of the state Assembly, where she befriended Republicans like House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“That has not been done before,” said County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who has worked in Los Angeles County government since 1988. “Finally, we are on the same page.”

Bass also launched a new outreach program that has moved 138 people in Venice and Hollywood into temporary housing while promising permanent options and services.

That strategy has so far targeted two large encampments that have been sources of frustration for years, including the Venice location where Shurley lived. The program recently expanded to South Los Angeles and an area near Culver City, and Bass said she hopes to scale it up over the next month.

Jason Neroni, a chef and owner of a Venice restaurant near that multi-block encampment, said he was surprised at the speed with which Bass’ team organized the operation to remove the tents centered on Hampton Drive. He said calls to the city for help often went unanswered in the past, even as car break-ins and confrontations between restaurant workers and homeless people became a problem.

“It happened in such a whirlwind,” he said. “It feels like somebody's trying to do something and help.”

Locals are still wary, having seen encampments disappear, only to return. Carly Achenbach, a server at Neroni’s restaurant who works multiple jobs to afford her rent in Santa Monica, said she worries people who are moved from one location will end up on the street somewhere else.

“I guess if that [encampment] clears and it stays clear, maybe something really happened,” she said. “But do we ever know?

So far Bass has avoided deploying police to forcibly remove people and their belongings, perhaps considering the protests sparked by such actions — even as other liberal cities resort to more punitive measures in response to public pressure.

Shurley, who said she first experienced homelessness as a Colorado teenager fleeing an abusive relationship, is the lead plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against the city of Boulder, where she was ticketed multiple times for violating a ban on camping in public places.

In Venice last month, she was so relieved to have a place to go that she “cried like a baby” when she and her four dogs were offered a ground-floor room at a motel less than two miles from where she’d been living. She said staff at the motel assured her that she can stay on her city voucher as long as necessary.

But Shurley said she’s worried about finding a job that will allow her to afford rent in Los Angeles. She wants tobe a social worker, conducting the same sort of outreach efforts that helped her.

“I need a decent job that pays me a decent amount of money to where I don't need any kind of assistance programs,” she said.

Bass, who herself has a degree in social work, has won early approval from homelessness researchers for her commitment to scaling up programs methodically and measuring the city’s progress. The city’s past efforts have not been closely linked to data, making it hard to see whether they are actually working, said Gary Dean Painter, director of USC’s Homelessness Policy Research Institute.

“That provides me confidence, that, in fact, she will have a plan from her team that will hold everyone accountable,” Painter said.

The goodwill will ultimately be short-lived, however, unlessBass and other local leaders can solve the massive housing shortage and rising cost of living that have made the city difficult to live in. The average cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city is around $2,300, while the sale price of a single-family home is $900,000.

County officials estimate that they’ve moved tens of thousands of people into permanent and temporary housing since 2017, an effort aided by a quarter-cent sales tax. But those successes are offset by a grim reality: On average, 227 people lose their homes each day.

“If the inflow stopped, if people stopped becoming homeless,” said Cheri Todoroff, executive director of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative, “we would solve homelessness in this county in about three years.”

In the city alone, roughly 352,000 residents live in poverty and are at risk of becoming homeless. That risk will intensify after Los Angeles County’s long-standing eviction moratorium is lifted in April, giving renters just six months to pay off debt. Bass has said that she supports renter assistance programs, but is not pushing for the moratorium to be extended.

Tenant advocates like Tony Carfello, a member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, said they fear renters will be hit by a deluge of eviction notices from landlords of rent-controlled units who have long wanted to hike rents held below market rate for decades.

Bass, like other city and state leaders, is pushing to build more units of affordable and market-rate housing, and to scrap parts of a bureaucracy that slows the process down. Even if these initiatives are implemented smoothly, Los Angeles would still be years away from closing its affordable housing gap.

She’s already trying to temper expectations.

“Literally, we’re just getting started,” she said, “and I hope that there will be some consideration given to that.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:45:04 -0500 ishook
Diane Feinstein's extremely awkward, very uncomfortable exit from the political stage

LOS ANGELES — Several of her House colleagues are already running for her Senate seat. She isn’t raising real money. And it’s so widely assumed that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is on her way out that Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, felt free this week to publicly endorse a would-be successor — if Feinstein retires.

An extreme awkwardness has fallen over California political circles, where virtually everyone is acting as if Feinstein is done, but without her explicitly saying so. It’s the electoral equivalent of clearing the dessert from the dinner table as one guest sits there, nibbling at the main course chicken dish that had been served hours prior.

“God bless her,” said Garry South, a Democratic strategist who has worked on major statewide campaigns in California. “But the most pathetic part of politics is when somebody doesn’t know when it’s time to leave.”

Feinstein, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, is in the midst of one of the most uneasy codas to a political career. Her extended pre-departure has, for many of her fellow Democrats, turned into an abject lesson in the perils of hanging on.

“She’s still the state’s senior senator,” said one longtime Democratic strategist in California. “And they’re dancing on her [political] grave.”

The oldest member of Congress at 89, Feinstein has for decades been a fixture in Democratic politics here. But as the electorate in California shifted, her brand of centrism fell out of step with her party’s progressive base — so much so that the California Democratic Party in the 2018 primary declined to endorse her reelection bid. She ran and won handily anyway.

More problematic for Feinstein has been the persistent questions about her health. Even Democrats sympathetic to the senator have been reading headlines about her cognitive fitness to serve. The stories about it pop up with such regularity now that they no longer elicit the shock value of the early versions, when publication of such matters seemed to be violating some unwritten code of D.C. conduct.

Feinstein’s office has long batted down such talk, saying she has her full facilities and remains utterly capable of executing the job of senator to the nation’s most populous state. Still, it’s a long way from the days of Harvey Milk or the “year of the woman” when she and Barbara Boxer became the first women elected to the Senate from California in 1992. Heck, it’s a long way from 2019, when Annette Bening was portraying her as an anti-torture, Bush administration-fighting crusader in the political drama “The Report.”

In California, Democrats are left looking for signs that she, too, sees that the show is coming to a close. That includes even those supporting her.

After Feinstein this week reported raising less than $600 in the last fundraising period, one of her small-dollar donors, a Carlsbad, Calif., man named William Betts, said, “I have some automatic payments in there that are still ongoing.”

“I would much prefer a younger candidate, certainly anybody from Gen X,” he said. “My preference is that she retires.”

Much of California would appear to be ready for that. In a Berkeley IGS Poll taken about a year ago, Feinstein’s job approval rating in the state hit an all-time low of 30 percent. An October measure by the Public Policy Institute of California put her approval rating higher, at 41 percent among likely voters, but still underwater.

“There hasn’t been much that’s been said in terms of her recent leadership that’s been positive,” said Mark Baldassare, director of the poll. “It really has been a while since I’ve read or heard glowing remarks about her.”

Still, he said that if he was polling on the Senate race now, he would include her.

“Until further notice,” he said, “she’s the senator.”

But almost everyone else in California, it seems — some more gently than others — is preparing for her not to be. Pelosi, before issuing her conditional endorsement of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), said that if Feinstein does seek reelection, “she has my whole-hearted support.” But no politician puts out that kind of statement if they expect her to. Schiff and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) are already running. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), has told her colleagues she plans to. Rep Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is giving consideration to the race.

The already declared candidacies, in turn, have ignited a scramble among eager Democrats downstream from them to announce campaigns for their soon-to-be-open House seats.

“It seems like all of them are handling it professionally, and honoring Dianne,” said Bob Mulholland, a veteran Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee member.

Even if the rush to fill a chair that Feinstein still occupies is, collectively, “pretty tasteless,” as one Democratic strategist described it, it may be hard to fault politically. The California primary will be in March of 2024 — just more than a year away — and candidates will need to raise tens of millions of dollars to compete in the state’s enormous media markets.

“What’s sad about this is that she’s always been somebody you didn’t dare mess around with,” the strategist said. “And it looks like that’s just gone.”

Already, Schiff is raising money and Porter, with her whiteboards out, is bringing in cash too. At her first campaign event, in Northern California last month, she told the crowd it’s time for “a fresh new voice” in the Senate.

For her part, Feinstein has hardly batted an eye at the spectacle surrounding her, even if the pre-announcement announcements run counter to what Boxer adviser Rose Kapolczynski called “a long tradition of deference.”

“The senator has said on a few occasions the more the merrier,” a Feinstein spokesperson said. Of Feinstein’s own timeline, she told Bloomberg News that she’ll announce plans “in the spring sometime.”

“Not in the winter,” Feinstein said. “I don’t announce in the winter.”

If she does announce her retirement, it may dramatically shift the opinion her constituents have of her. Politicians are often more popular when they go.

“There will be all the usual retrospectives about her career and her groundbreaking moments, and gun control and abortion and Harvey Milk and all of that,” Kapolczynski said. “There’ll be an afterglow. Once you announce you’re not running again, you get an afterglow from the voters.”

That will likely come no matter when Feinstein makes her announcement. And after 30 years in the Senate, some Democrats say, she has clearly earned the right to make her plans on whatever timeline she likes.

“I think she’s been a great senator, but you know … the writing’s been on the wall all for a while,” said Steve Maviglio, a former New Hampshire state lawmaker and Democratic strategist in California. “I think she wants to bow out on her terms.”

Sat, 04 Feb 2023 08:45:04 -0500 ishook
Democrats Set to Vote on Overhauling Party’s Primary Calendar Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:25:03 -0500 ishook The Pentagon Saw a Warship Boondoggle. Congress Saw Jobs. Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Before Balloon Sighting, Classified Report Highlighted Foreign Surveillance Tech Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Ties to Kabul Bombing Put ISIS Leader in Somalia in U.S. Cross Hairs Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Selling Trump Isn’t What It Used to Be Sat, 04 Feb 2023 06:15:03 -0500 ishook Pentagon says another Chinese spy balloon spotted over Latin America

The Chinese spy balloon above the United States isn’t the only one flying somewhere it shouldn’t be.

News outlets in Costa Rica reported Thursday that a similar-looking aircraft hovered above the country’s western coast, raising suspicions that the balloon over Montana wasn’t alone in the sky.

In a statement first given to POLITICO on Friday night, the Pentagon confirmed that the spherical flying object was another Chinese spy balloon.

“We are seeing reports of a balloon transiting Latin America. We now assess it is another Chinese surveillance balloon,” chief Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.

It remains unclear why China sent such vehicles above the United States and Costa Rica at the same time, especially since Beijing has space-based satellites that can surveil the same territory with more reliability. It’s possible, though unconfirmed, that other balloons were launched elsewhere around the world but not spotted.

But the news of the Latin American balloon adds to the mystery of why China sent another one to fly over Alaska, Canada, Idaho, Montana and Kansas this week. Earlier on Friday, Ryder said the aircraft in U.S. airspace is headed eastward.

While some have asserted that the Chinese balloons wandered into U.S. airspace by accident, two balloons being coincidentally off course in two different places certainly seems to deflate that theory,” said Blake Herzinger of the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.

Senior Pentagon officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chief chair, recommended that the U.S. military not shoot down the balloon to eliminate the risk of debris harming civilians some 60,000 feet below the flight path. But lawmakers, mostly Republicans, insist that the U.S. should take the aircraft out of the sky.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken indefinitely postponed a high-stake visit to China over the discovery of the first balloon above Montana.

Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:45:02 -0500 ishook
Trump campaign promised to ‘fan the flame’ of 2020 election lie, audio reveals – as it happened
  • Audio shows strategy to spread word of stolen election
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • Senior state officials have commented on the postponement of Blinken’s trip to China after a Chinese spy balloon was discovered over the US yesterday, noting that conditions were no longer right for Blinken’s travel.

    From Reuters’ reporter Hümeyra Pamuk:

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:20:04 -0500 ishook
    Republicans remove Ilhan Omar from House foreign affairs committee – as it happened
  • Democrats say ousting from key committee is simply ‘spite’
  • Sign up to receive First Thing – our daily briefing by email
  • The House voted along party lines as it ousted Democratic representative Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee while Democrats defended her.

    The vote was divided 218 to 211, CBS reports. One GOP member voted “present.”

    “This debate today, it’s about who gets to be an American? What opinions do we get to have, do we have to have to be counted as American?… That is what this debate is about, Madam Speaker. There is this idea that you are suspect if you are an immigrant. Or if you are from a certain part of the world, of a certain skin tone or a Muslim.

    Well, I am Muslim. I am an immigrant, and interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?” she said.

    “A blatant double standard is being applied here. Something just doesn’t add up. And what is the difference between Rep. Omar and these members? Could it be the way that she looks? Could it be her religious practices?” he said.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 23:20:04 -0500 ishook
    2016 Trump Campaign to Pay $450,000 to Settle Nondisclosure Agreements Suit Fri, 03 Feb 2023 22:45:03 -0500 ishook 'Are you with me?' Biden previews re&elect campaign at DNC

    PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered an early preview of their reelection campaign Friday night, rallying the Democratic Party faithful ahead of an expected formal 2024 announcement.

    In their back-to-back speeches, Biden and Harris took a victory lap on strong economic numbers released this week, touted accomplishments from their first term and doubled-down on attacking Republicans as “extreme MAGA.” Their rare joint appearance at the DNC served as a soft launch for their reelection efforts as the pair road tested their 2024 pitch.

    "Let me ask you a simple question: Are you with me?” Biden said, sparking chants of "four more years" from the crowd, waving signs blazoned with “Go Joe” and “Kamala.”

    Biden’s campaign rhetoric on Friday night doesn’t necessarily mean a formal announcement is imminent, as Democrats expect an announcement in late March or April. But the DNC has already hired several communications rapid response directors who will be deployed to the four Republican early states and Florida, according to a party aide.

    "We have momentum," Harris said in her speech. "And now, let's let the people know this is what they voted for."

    Democrats are also eager to present a united front, hoping to contrast themselves with a Republican Party that is struggling with its own intra-party drama and a divided presidential field.

    Even though former President Donald Trump announced another presidential run last year, several other GOP candidates are still expected to launch their own bids. Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley is expected to launch her presidential campaign in two weeks, while Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) will kick off a "listening tour" in South Carolina and Iowa. Former Vice President Mike Pence is also planning stops in South Carolina, an early presidential nominating state. And last weekend, the Republican National Committee closed out its own winter meeting with a contentious chair’s race.

    “It makes sense for them to come here, talk to the party, as a ticket, and both of them make the case, heading into the State of the Union,” said Mo Elleithee, a DNC member, citing Tuesday’s State of the Union speech, another high-profile, message-testing vehicle.

    “It’s feeling like showtime,” Elleithee added.

    It’s also a marked contrast from Biden’s standing a year ago, when his legislative agenda appeared stalled, inflation continued to spike and Democrats privately worried about Biden’s 2024 prospects.

    In his speech, Biden ticked through Democratic priorities accomplished during his first term, including lowering the cost of prescription drugs, investing in combating climate change and appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. He also laid out a number of policy goals for a potential second term, including banning assault weapons, codifying Roe v. Wade and strengthening voter access laws — a policy wish list that’s not currently possible with a divided Congress.

    “America is back,” Biden said, “and we’re leading the world again.”

    Biden and Harris also veered into sharper attacks on Republicans, returning to themes that they regularly hit ahead of the 2022 midterms by tying the GOP to extremism and election denialism.

    In 2022, Harris said, “we defeated ‘Big Lies’ and extremism," but "extremist so-called leaders" are still banning books and "criminali[zing] doctors."

    “This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said. “These aren’t conservatives. These are disruptive people. They intend to destroy the progress we made.”

    Mark Longabaugh, a Democratic strategist who served as a senior adviser on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 bid, said the Democratic Party “feels like this worked for them in the 2022 elections,” and “I'm guessing they've got a certain amount of research that shows that it continues to be a salient message.”

    Biden and Harris also appeared at a Democratic fundraiser Friday afternoon, where Biden told donors that Democrats have to “lay out what we’ve done, tell them what more we have to get done and how we’re going to pay for it.”

    The three-day DNC gathering will culminate on Saturday with a vote to dramatically upend the presidential nominating calendar. The proposal, recommended by Biden, would elevate South Carolina to a coveted first-place position and eliminate Iowa from the early window. It would also seek to add Georgia and Michigan to the early nominating process.

    The proposal has faced significant pushback from New Hampshire Democrats, who have waged a public battle against their state’s position in the lineup, which would put them three days after the South Carolina primary and on the same day as the Nevada primary.

    “We’re in an impossible, no-win situation,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley at a press conference on Friday afternoon, citing the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s opposition to repealing or changing the state’s century-old law that requires them to be the first-in-the-nation primary.

    “It seems odd we’d be punished for something that’s completely out of our control,” he said.

    They also stressed that by forcing New Hampshire out of compliance with its own state law, it would “give Republicans an opportunity to out-organize us” and “create a perfect storm to hurt Biden and Democrats all the way down” the ticket, Buckley said.

    But the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, the group charged with recommending the new line up early states, delayed any talk of sanctions against New Hampshire by granting them an extension until June 3 to comply with the DNC’s requirements. Georgia, another state controlled by a Republican governor and legislature, was also granted an extension.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:05 -0500 ishook
    A balloon upended Blinken’s trip to China. That could be a good thing.

    Not everyone in Washington is freaking out about the suspected Chinese spy balloon flying high over the United States. Some former officials say it’s giving U.S. diplomats exactly what they need: more leverage over Beijing.

    The Chinese airship forced the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets, prompted lawmakers to demand answers from the Biden administration and led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to indefinitely postpone his trip to Beijing this weekend.

    But Blinken was going to China without much hope of getting concessions on major issues such as Beijing’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine, its human rights abuses or its threats to Taiwan. Now, some former officials who’ve worked on international negotiations say he may be in a stronger position, though that advantage may fade over time.

    “This event definitely strengthens the hands of the United States,” said Heather McMahon, a former senior director at the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. “Anytime an espionage operation is exposed, [it] gives the advantage to the targeted nation.”

    Blinken was preparing to see top officials in China on Sunday and Monday in a follow-up to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in Bali in November. At the time, Biden pledged to “maintain open lines of communication” with Beijing amid worsening bilateral tensions.

    The Pentagon’s announcement Thursday of an alleged Chinese surveillance balloon hovering over Montana changed that plan. In canceling Blinken’s trip, at least for now, the State Department said the incident “would have narrowed the agenda in a way that would have been unhelpful and unconstructive.”

    Beijing admitted Friday that the balloon was Chinese, reversing its initial claims of ignorance, and said it was a civilian airship used primarily for meteorological purposes that had been blown into U.S. airspace by high winds.

    That admission and the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s rare expression of “regrets” for the incident in a statement published on Friday suggests Beijing is in damage control mode at a time when it’s trying to stabilize ties with the U.S.

    The revelation “has pushed China a little bit on the back foot,” said Zack Cooper, former assistant to the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism at the National Security Council and now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

    And that could give Blinken an edge in his efforts to prod Beijing to deliver meaningful results when he eventually travels to China.

    John Kamm, who has decades of experience negotiating with Chinese officials in his role as founder of the Dui Hua prisoner advocacy organization, said “it puts pressure on China to do something as a goodwill gesture in response to what they've done.”

    Much of Blinken’s planned two days with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang — and a possible meeting with Xi — would have been lost to ritual recitations of respective U.S.-China positions on issues ranging from Taiwan and trade tensions to concerns about Beijing’s human rights record, its growing nuclear arsenal and its alignment with Russia’s war on Ukraine.

    In an interview before the balloon was reported, David R. Stilwell, former assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said the meeting was unlikely to produce movement on any of those issues. “Beijing uses ‘talks’ to reduce pressure — while giving nothing of significance — and to humiliate the other side,” Stillwell said.

    Still, some say Blinken could have seized the opportunity to make heavier demands in person.

    “If Tony went now, Xi and the Chinese would be deeply embarrassed, grateful that he came, wanting to put it behind him,” said Danny Russel, a former senior Asia hand in the Obama administration. The balloon incident could have become “a teachable moment,” he said.

    Delaying the trip risks the Chinese becoming more defensive over time, and less inclined to come to a meeting of the minds, said Russel, who nonetheless stressed that he understood the Biden administration’s calculations.

    The Chinese government had recently shifted to a softer diplomatic tone — an effort by Beijing to reduce U.S.-China tensions while it grapples with a disastrous Covid outbreak and an economic downturn.

    Blinken’s indefinite postponement of his Beijing trip until “the conditions are right” has won him measured praise from GOP lawmakers.

    Delaying the trip is “a right call for now,” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) chair of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party, said in a video he tweeted on Friday.

    The trip postponement “is an appropriate step to underscore the seriousness” of the balloon’s intrusion, Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) said in a statement.

    Blinken can now see if Beijing’s eagerness for even symbolic gestures of reduced bilateral rancor produces Chinese diplomatic sweeteners for a rapid rescheduling of Blinken’s China travel plans.

    But time may not be on Blinken’s side given the crowded Chinese political calendar.

    “The Chinese have their national legislative session in early March, and House Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy is projected to visit Taiwan around Easter, so the trip may not happen until the late spring, where the bilateral atmosphere arguably will be even more challenging,” said Chris Johnson, president and chief executive of the China Strategies Group, a risk consultancy.

    Regardless of the spy balloon’s short-term diplomatic fallout and the possible short-term advantage Blinken could reap from it, the longer-term prospects for U.S.-China relations remain grim.

    “Beijing is hoping talks provide a timeout from bilateral friction that allows it to focus on domestic issues; the U.S. wants China to agree to guardrails that allow relations to remain abrasive without getting too hot,” said Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States at the Wilson Center. “Those goals are probably irreconcilable.”

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:05 -0500 ishook
    Biden sounds ready to seek second term while rallying Democrats

    PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden sounded like a candidate making his case for a second term Friday night as he rallied a raucous meeting of national Democrats who chanted, “Four more years!”

    Read more…

    The post Biden sounds ready to seek second term while rallying Democrats appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 21:25:03 -0500 ishook
    WI18: ABA Education Director Kim Hooyboer Pulls Back the Curtain Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:40:02 -0500 ishook WI18: Children’s Authors & Illustrators to Meet Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:40:02 -0500 ishook WI18: Adult Authors to Meet Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:30:03 -0500 ishook WI18: Indie Booksellers Reunite at Winter Institute 18 Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:30:03 -0500 ishook Reinventing the Wheel: New Travel Books Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:25:05 -0500 ishook The Parent Trip: PW Talks with Connie Wang Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:20:06 -0500 ishook This Week's Bestsellers: February 6, 2023 Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:20:06 -0500 ishook The Sensitive Question of Sensitivity Readers Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:20:05 -0500 ishook House G.O.P. Subpoenas Biden Officials for Investigating School&Related Threats Fri, 03 Feb 2023 20:20:03 -0500 ishook Ex&prosecutor’s new book details fight over indicting Trump

    NEW YORK — As the Manhattan district attorney’s office ramps up its yearslong investigation of Donald Trump, a new book by a former prosecutor details just how close the former president came to getting indicted – and laments friction with the new D.A. that put that plan on ice.

    Read more…

    The post Ex-prosecutor’s new book details fight over indicting Trump appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook
    New House Judiciary panel subpoenas Garland, Wray over FBI targeting of parents

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan on Friday subpoenaed Attorney General Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for withholding documents relating to the administration’s targeting of parents at school board meetings.

    Read more…

    The post New House Judiciary panel subpoenas Garland, Wray over FBI targeting of parents appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook
    Ron DeSantis strips liquor license from a theater that let kids watch drag queen show

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has revoked the Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation’s liquor license after the venue hosted an explicit Christmas drag queen show with children in the audience.

    Read more…

    The post Ron DeSantis strips liquor license from a theater that let kids watch drag queen show appeared first on ENM NEWS.

    Fri, 03 Feb 2023 19:00:02 -0500 ishook