Dec. 2022

 

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Editor’s Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and views in December 2022 

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

 

 

Dec. 1

Top Headlines

 

colorado river w

 

Ukraine War

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

World News, Human Rights

 

Jan. 6, Trump, Election Denier Probes

 

Climate, Disasters, Energy

 

U.S. High Tech, Media, Culture

Sam Bankman-Fried (shown in a newshubweek photo).

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

Top Stories

 

colorado river w

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River, Joshua Partlow, Dec. 1, 2022. A once-unfathomable scenario — Lake Powell dropping to historic lows and shutting down power generators that serve millions — could start as soon as July.

The first sign of serious trouble for the drought-stricken American Southwest could be a whirlpool.

It could happen if the surface of Lake Powell, a man-made reservoir along the Colorado River (shown above and in other illustrative scenes) that’s already a quarter of its former size, drops another 38 feet down the concrete face of the 710-foot Glen Canyon Dam here. At that point, the surface would be approaching the tops of eight underwater openings that allow river water to pass through the hydroelectric dam.

colorado river in grand canyon pima point 2010 viewThe normally placid Lake Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, could suddenly transform into something resembling a funnel, with water circling the openings, the dam’s operators say.

If that happens, the massive turbines that generate electricity for 4.5 million people would have to shut down — after nearly 60 years of use — or risk destruction from air bubbles. The only outlet for Colorado River water from the dam would then be a set of smaller, deeper and rarely used bypass tubes with a far more limited ability to pass water downstream to the Grand Canyon and the cities and farms in Arizona, Nevada and California.

Such an outcome — known as a “minimum power pool” — was once unfathomable here. Now, the federal government projects that day could come as soon as July.

Worse, officials warn, is the possibility of an even more catastrophic event. That is if the water level falls all the way to the lowest holes, so only small amounts could pass through the dam. Such a scenario — called “dead pool” — would transform Glen Canyon Dam from something that regulates an artery of national importance into a hulking concrete plug corking the Colorado River.

Anxiety about such outcomes has worsened this year as a long-running drought has intensified in the Southwest. Reservoirs and groundwater supplies across the region have fallen dramatically, and states and cities have faced restrictions on water use amid dwindling supplies. The Colorado River, which serves roughly 1 in 10 Americans, is the region’s most important waterway.

\The 1,450-mile river starts in the Colorado Rockies and ends in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico. There are more than a dozen dams along the river, creating major reservoirs such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden’s Meeting With Macron Comes Amid Rising Trans-Atlantic Tensions, Alan Rappeport, Ana Swanson and Jim Tankersley, Dec. 1, 2022. President Biden’s “Made in America” plan has drawn accusations of protectionism from Europe as the U.S. tries to keep its Western allies aligned against Russia. The brewing tensions are expected to be a central topic of discussion on emmanuel macronThursday, when President Emmanuel Macron of France, right, visits the White House.

At a meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen in Bali, Indonesia, last month, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire raised objections about the Biden administration’s plan to bolster America’s clean energy industry through subsidies and other preferential treatment for U.S. automakers that make electric vehicles.

Mr. Le Maire made clear that France, a key U.S. ally, viewed the policy as a protectionist move that would benefit the United States at the expense of his nation’s economy and its car industry. He was not alone in his concerns.

President Biden’s “Made in America” plan has fueled anger across Europe at a critical moment, as the United States tries to keep its Western allies aligned against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Allies who are critical to supporting Mr. Biden in that fight are increasingly accusing the United States of undercutting them at the expense of domestic priorities.

French FlagThose frustrations have clouded what had been a trans-Atlantic effort to starve President Vladimir V. Putin of oil revenues needed to fuel his war in Ukraine. A looming European ban on Russian oil prompted the Biden administration to push for a workaround that would allow critical supplies of it to continue flowing in order to prevent a spike in global oil prices. European officials reluctantly agreed earlier this year to embrace a U.S. plan that would impose a cap on how much Russia could earn for each barrel it sells.

But determining that price has divided the European Union, leaving the issue in limbo just days before the embargo is set to take effect. A U.S. official on Wednesday pushed back against the rock-bottom price cap proposals that some European nations have been pitching and argued that a cap that falls between $60 and $70 a barrel would represent a meaningful reduction in Russian revenues. The Group of 7 nations is expected to finalize a cap on the price of Russian oil ahead of a Dec. 5 ban by the European Union.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tech firms ‘facilitated’ covid aid fraud, collecting billions in fees, report finds, Tony Romm, Dec. 1, 2022. The findings, released Thursday and shared in advance with The Washington Post, come after an 18-month congressional investigation.

The probe revealed significant flaws that undermined the Paycheck Protection Program, a roughly $800 billion federal effort to support small businesses. Little-known firms such as Blueacorn and Womply allegedly collected taxpayer-funded fees as they overlooked signs of grift, according to a report released Thursday by congressional investigators

“The faster the better,” the workers were told at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, as the little-known financial technology company Blueacorn raced to review small businesses that sought federal loans.

Speeding through applications, Blueacorn employees and contractors allegedly began to overlook possible signs of fraud, according to interviews and communications later amassed by investigators on Capitol Hill. The company weighed whether to prioritize “monster loans that will get everyone paid,” as the firm’s co-founder once said. And investigators found that Blueacorn collected about $1 billion in processing fees — while its operators may have secured fraudulent loans of their own.

The allegations against Blueacorn and several other firms are laid out in a sprawling, roughly 120-page report released Thursday by the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, a congressional watchdog tasked to oversee roughly $5 trillion in federal pandemic aid. The 18-month probe — spanning more than 83,000 pages of documents, and shared in advance with The Washington Post — contends there was rampant abuse among a set of companies known as fintechs, which jeopardized federal efforts to rescue the economy and siphoned off public funds for possible private gain.

Some of the companies involved had never before managed federal aid, the report found. At the height of the pandemic, they failed to hire the right staff to thwart fraud. They amassed major profits from fees generated from the loans — large and small, genuine and problematic — that they processed and reviewed. And they repeatedly escaped scrutiny from the Small Business Administration, putting billions of dollars at risk, the probe found.

 

hakim jeffries

washington post logoWashington Post, House Democrats elect first Black party leader in Congress and prepare for new generation, Marianna Sotomayor and Camila DeChalus, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). House Democrats elected a new generation of leaders Wednesday who will be responsible for keeping the caucus united on policies and messaging as they set their sights on winning back the majority next term.

The decision by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) to step aside after leading Democrats for two decades has paved the way for the caucus to unite around a younger, more diverse trio of leaders. Democrats on Wednesday morning elected Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-U.S. House logoN.Y.) to serve as minority leader, Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) as minority whip and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) as chair. Jeffries will make history as the first Black member to lead either party in either chamber of Congress.

The trio, as well as others who will be elected later this week to round out the full leadership slate, will be faced with ensuring the ideological factions within the caucus are heard and represented in key decisions, a desire members have long had after decades of centralized power wielded by Pelosi. While the lack of a singular strong hand can present challenges coalescing the caucus in a majority, being in the minority could allow Democrats to find consensus in challenging the Republican agenda with their own policy prescriptions they hope will allow them to reclaim the majority in 2025.

washington post logoWashington Post, Who is Hakeem Jeffries? Azi Paybarah, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has been elected House Democratic leader, the first Black lawmaker to lead a congressional conference in the United States and the first new leader for House Democrats in two decades.

The 52-year-old lawyer, hails from central Brooklyn, the epicenter of New York’s Democratic power. A self-described progressive, he was first elected to in 2012 and has forged relationships with Democratic establishment figures in Washington while navigating the ascending left in his backyard.

He was elected by unanimous voice vote Wednesday in a closed-door meeting of House Democrats. He succeeds House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the first woman to hold that position.

After Democrats did far better than expected in this year’s midterms but narrowly lost the House majority, Pelosi announced that she would step down as the top Democrat. The day after her announcement, Jeffries, who’s served as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, formally announced his bid for it and was unopposed.

ny times logoNew York Times, Indiana Attorney General Asks Medical Board to Discipline Abortion Doctor, Ava Sasani and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an OB-GYN who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim, was at the center of the nation’s abortion debate.

Indiana’s attorney general, Todd Rokita, asked a state medical board on Wednesday to discipline the doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim this summer.

Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an Indianapolis obstetrician-gynecologist, treated the girl, who had traveled from Ohio when the state enacted a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

The case became a focus of the national abortion debate after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. It also put a focus on childhood pregnancies and the emerging legal risks to doctors who provide abortions. Mr. Rotika began an investigation into Dr. Bernard; she sued in an effort to stop him from obtaining medical records of her patients as part of that investigation.

Mr. Rokita’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that he was asking the board to discipline Dr. Bernard because she had “failed to uphold legal and Hippocratic responsibilities by exploiting a 10-year-old little girl’s traumatic medical story to the press for her own interests.”

 

 Paul Whelan at the Moscow City Court in January 2019. He was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and convicted on espionage charges in 2020 (Photo by Yuri Kochetkov for EPA via Shutterstock and the New York Times).

Paul Whelan at the Moscow City Court in January 2019. He was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and convicted on espionage charges in 2020 (Photo by Yuri Kochetkov for EPA via Shutterstock and the New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Concern is growing about the health of Paul Whelan, an American who is imprisoned in Russia, Michael Crowley, Updated Dec. 1, 2022. His family and the Biden administration are worried about his transfer to a prison hospital.

The Biden administration is “deeply concerned” about Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia who has been transferred to a prison hospital, a White House spokesman said on Wednesday.

Mr. Whelan’s brother, David, said in emails to supporters this week that his brother was moved on Nov. 17 to a hospital in the prison where he is being held.

His family, who have not heard from him in a week, grew particularly alarmed when Mr. Whelan missed a scheduled call home on Thanksgiving Day and further still when he failed to call home on Wednesday, his father’s 85th birthday.

“Paul was not complaining of any health conditions that required hospitalization, so has there been an emergency?” David Whelan wrote. He added that his brother “appeared healthy and well” to U.S. Embassy staff who visited him in November.

John Kirby, a National Security Council spokesman, told reporters in a telephone briefing on Wednesday that the U.S. government had been trying unsuccessfully to get information on Mr. Whelan’s condition and his whereabouts.

“As we speak this morning, regrettably, we do not have an update specifically about where he is or what condition he’s in,” Mr. Kirby said. He added: “We are deeply concerned about the lack of information and the lack of contact from Paul, and we’re working on this really as hard as we can through diplomatic channels.”

Speaking on MSNBC during a visit to Bucharest, Romania, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that U.S. officials had visited Mr. Whelan on Nov. 16 and spoken to him by phone at “roughly” the same time but had not had contact with him since. “We are working every day to make sure that we have contact with him, that we understand what the exact situation is,” Mr. Blinken said.

David Whelan said in an email on Wednesday: “It could be nothing but, in this case, you always have to consider worst case scenarios.”

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who later worked as a corporate security executive, was arrested at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and was convicted in June 2020 on espionage charges that the U.S. government says were manufactured.

 

Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Lavrov says Ukraine’s energy system is a legitimate target, Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 1, 2022. Russia’s foreign minister defended the strikes on Ukraine’s energy system. The U.N. has said they could amount to war crimes.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Thursday defended Moscow’s mass missile and drone strikes against Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, calling it a legitimate military target, despite sergey lavrovwarnings by the United Nations that the strikes could amount to war crimes.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Mr. Lavrov (shown at right in a file photo) said that the repeated strikes against Ukraine’s infrastructure — which have knocked out electricity and water for millions of people as winter looms — were justified because Russia is hitting targets that are used to replenish Ukrainian forces with weapons provided by Western nations.

Russian FlagHe said that Russia used high-precision weapons against Ukrainian energy facilities that support Kyiv’s combat operations and are used “to pump up Ukraine with Western weapons for it to kill Russians.” He did not elaborate. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of trying to make life miserable for people by striking residential areas, electrical transformers, power plants and other civilian targets.

Mr. Lavrov said the West had targeted energy facilities during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. He defended Russia’s strikes against Ukrainian areas that Moscow considers part of its own territory, such as the southern region of Kherson.

United Nations

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Live Updates: U.N. Asks for Record Amount of Aid to Deal With Growing Disasters and War, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Dec. 1, 2022. The appeal is aimed at tackling what the U.N. called “the largest global food crisis in modern history,” fueled in part by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The United Nations launched a record-breaking appeal to international donors on Thursday asking for $51.5 billion to tackle spiraling levels of desperation, fueled in part by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The disruption to food and fertilizer shipments caused by the war has combined with climate-related disasters and a looming threat of a global economic recession to produce what the U.N. appeal warns is “the largest global food crisis in modern history.”

“The needs are going up because we have been smitten by the war in Ukraine, by Covid, by climate, and I fear that 2023 is going to see an acceleration of all those trends,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator, told reporters in Geneva.

About 339 million people, or one in every 23 people on the planet, will need assistance in 2023, the United Nations estimates. That is 25 percent more than in 2022 and more than the population of the United States, the world’s third most-populous country.

“It’s a phenomenal number, and it’s a depressing number,” Mr. Griffiths said. Global needs, he added, are outstripping the capacity of relief agencies to meet them.

Ukraine tops the list of funding needs for a single country going into 2023, he said.

U.N. agencies have delivered aid to more than 13 million people in Ukraine this year and are seeking $5.7 billion in 2023 to keep assistance flowing to country and to some five million Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war for other countries in Europe. To deal with the humanitarian crisis triggered by the war, the United Nations said it had delivered the largest cash assistance program on record, providing $1.7 billion to a total of more than six million people, up from 11,000 people in the previous year.

At least 222 million people in 53 countries will face acute food shortages by the end of this year, the United Nations estimates. Five countries are already grappling with famine, Mr. Griffiths said, and 45 million people in 37 countries are facing the risk of starvation.

Here’s what we know:

  • The United Nations’ appeal is aimed at tackling spiraling levels of desperation, fueled in part by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
  • The U.N. seeks $51.5 billion in aid, driven in part by the war in Ukraine.
  • Russian shelling again cuts power to Kherson.
  • Lavrov says Ukraine’s energy system is a legitimate target.
  • Concern grows about Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia.
  • For Putin’s opponents, exile from Russia proves a boon.

 

volodymyr zelenski t shirt siege

ny times logoNew York Times, President Zelensky of Ukraine rebukes Elon Musk’s peace proposal, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Speaking at the DealBook summit, the Ukrainian leader (shown above in a file photo) said the billionaire would do well to fully understand the situation before making pronouncements about it.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Wednesday invited Elon Musk to visit Ukraine to see the damage done to the country by Russian forces, saying that such a visit could help the billionaire understand the situation before making pronouncements about it. He also said he didn’t think there was any immediate threat that Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, would use nuclear weapons as the war enters a new phase of winter combat.

Mr. Zelensky’s comments, made via video link to The New York Times’ DealBook Summit, were an implicit rebuke of Mr. Musk, the entrepreneur who last month proposed a peace plan for Ukraine that included ceding territory to Russia.

ukraine flag“If you want to understand what Russia has done here, come to Ukraine and you will see this with your own eyes,” Mr. Zelensky said. “After that, you will tell us how to end this war, who started and when we can end it.”

SpaceX, which Mr. Musk owns, funds the operation of the Starlink internet service in Ukraine, where it has become a digital lifeline for soldiers and civilians amid Russian attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure.

Mr. Musk backed off a threat in October to withdraw funding for the service in Ukraine. “The hell with it,” he wrote on Twitter. He added that “even though Starlink is still losing money” and “other companies are getting billions” in tax dollars, “we’ll just keep funding” the Ukrainian service.

Mr. Musk’s wealth has given him a prominent voice in geopolitics, and the Kremlin welcomed his proposal. Mr. Zelensky posted a Twitter poll asking, “Which Elon Musk do you like more: one who supports Ukraine, or one who supports Russia?” Mr. Musk later said in a tweet that he supported Ukraine.

During the interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin of The Times, the video link cut out, and when it resumed, Mr. Sorkin joked that Mr. Musk might have somehow cut the connection.

“I hear you,” Mr. Zelensky said. “Most important is that Mr. Musk will hear us.”

Mr. Zelensky said the risk that Mr. Putin would use nuclear weapons was not his biggest fear, and that it shouldn’t be the biggest fear of the West.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Retreat Reveals Signs of an Atrocity in a Ukrainian Village, Jeffrey Gettleman, Photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, Nov. 30, 2022 (print ed.). In the southern Kherson region, the pattern seen in eastern Ukraine is repeating: Russia’s withdrawal yields evidence of possible war crimes.

First came small pieces of bone. Then a pair of arms tied at the wrists with rope.

And then the shovel unearthed a skull with a bullet hole, mouth cracked open, teeth covered in thick, black mud.

Even though scenes like this have been repeated across Ukraine wherever the Russians have retreated, the clump of villagers and police officers seemed stunned on Monday as they stood at the lip of a common grave in Pravdyne, a village near the city of Kherson.

A cold rain pelted their backs but they didn’t move as the grave was exhumed. None of the villagers even knew the last names of the six men who had been killed, execution-style, and then buried here, but that didn’t matter. “They were Ukrainians,” said Kostiantyn Podoliak, a prosecutor who had come to investigate.

And now their remains lay in a shallow grave because of it.

Kherson and the surrounding villages in southern Ukraine were liberated after eight brutal months of occupation, when the embattled Russian forces abruptly pulled out more than two weeks ago. Residents streamed into the streets, waving flags, hugging soldiers and clinking glasses of cognac.

But as days pass, that elation has given way to mounting evidence of atrocities, and the sobering reality of battered, barely livable communities from which most civilians fled months ago and may not return anytime soon. On their way out, the Russians blew up power stations, taking down electricity, running water, heat and phone service and casting residents back more than a century.

Related Headlines 

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Governance

  In more than two dozen counties, thousands of voters came out to vote, some waiting for hours for the chance to cast their ballot early for the Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), above right, and Republican Herschel Walker, above left.

 In more than two dozen counties, thousands of voters came out to vote, some waiting for hours for the chance to cast their ballot early for the Dec. 6 runoff between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D), above right, and Republican Herschel Walker, above left.

ny times logoNew York Times, In Georgia, Walker’s Pace in the Finish Worries Republican Allies, Maya King, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The Senate candidate’s performance in the final days of the runoff campaign has Republicans airing frustrations. But no one is counting him out yet.

Herschel Walker was being swamped by negative television ads. His Democratic opponents were preparing to flood the polls for early voting as soon as doors opened. After being hit by fresh allegations of carpetbagging, he was left with just over a week to make his final appeals to voters in the runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat.

georgia mapBut for five days, Mr. Walker was off the campaign trail.

The decision to skip campaigning over the crucial Thanksgiving holiday weekend has Mr. Walker’s Republican allies airing frustrations and concerns about his campaign strategy in the final stretch of the overtime election against Senator Raphael Warnock.

Democrats, they point out, have gotten a head start on Republicans in their early-voting push and are drowning out the G.O.P. on the airwaves — outspending them two-to-one. With less than a week to go, time is running out fast for Mr. Walker to make inroads with the moderate conservatives who did not support him during the general election.

“We almost need a little bit more time for Herschel’s campaign to get everything off the ground,” said Jason Shepherd, the former chairman of the Cobb County Republican Party, pointing to the transition from a general election campaign to a runoff sprint. Notably, the runoff campaign was cut from nine weeks to four by a Republican-backed law passed last year.

“I think we’re behind the eight ball on this one,” Mr. Shepherd added.

Mr. Shepherd said Mr. Walker’s decision not to campaign during Thanksgiving was just one troubling choice. He also pointed to a series of mailers sent by the Georgia Republican Party encouraging voters to find their polling places that contained broken QR codes as examples of poor organizing. And he raised concern about the steady stream of advertisements supporting Warnock, a first-term senator and pastor, on conservative talk radio and contemporary Christian stations.

washington post logoWashington Post, Democrat-aligned group pumps money into Georgia runoff ground game, Sabrina Rodriguez, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). A top Democratic Party-aligned nonprofit is teaming up with a coalition of left-leaning grass-roots groups in a multimillion-dollar effort to get Georgia voters out to the polls for the runoff election between Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D) and GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Majority Forward, a nonprofit affiliated with Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), announced on Wednesday that it has partnered with the America Votes coalition to spend more than $11 million to mobilize voters ahead of the Dec. 6 runoff. The goal is to knock on more than 4 million doors before the election, according to details shared first with The Washington Post.

The America Votes Georgia coalition — which includes nearly 50 national and state partner groups including the New Georgia Project Action Fund, BlackPAC, Mijente and Asian American Action Fund — has already knocked on more than 1 million doors since the general election, Majority Forward shared. Majority Forward’s investment will help fund the coalition’s ground game and paid media, including radio, mail and digital ads.

The investment comes less than a week before the runoff and as early voting is already underway in the Peach State. In-person early turnout has been breaking records, with Georgians turning out at historic levels on both Monday and Tuesday. Over the weekend, more than two dozen counties conducted early voting.

Georgia voters on Tuesday set a record for turnout on a single day of early voting with more than 309,000 people heading to the polls, according to Gabriel Sterling, the chief operating officer for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. That surpassed the record set on Monday when more than 301,000 Georgians voted early. Before that, the record was from the 2016 election when more than 252,000 voters cast ballots on a single day of in-person early voting.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s student loan forgiveness program dealt another setback, Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Dec. 1, 2022. A federal appeals court rejected the Education Department’s request to put a hold on an order from a federal judge in Texas vacating President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program.

The decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit arrives weeks after U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman in Texas declared Biden’s policy unlawful, effectively shutting down the program to cancel up to $20,000 in federal student debt for more than 40 million Americans. It upholds Pittman’s order while the court considers the merits of the administration’s appeal. The court indicated it would expedite the matter.

Wednesday’s ruling is the latest legal setback for Biden, who is contending with an injunction in a separate lawsuit involving six Republican-led states seeking to overturn the president’s program. The Biden administration has asked the Supreme Court to intervene in that case before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and reinstate the program.

The White House did not immediately comment on the appellate court’s decision. But in its filing to the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said, “If the Fifth Circuit denies a stay, the government intends to seek relief from this Court.”

The Biden administration has said more than half of borrowers eligible had applied for forgiveness before the program was halted, and the Education Department approved some 16 million applications. The department recently told borrowers that the administration will discharge the debt if and when it prevails in court.

The legal battles over the debt relief plan have led the administration to extend the pause on federal student loan payments. The pandemic-era freeze, which has been extended multiple times since it was imposed by the Trump administration, had been set to expire on Dec. 31.

washington post logoWashington Post, House votes to block rail strike that could deal a blow to the economy, John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The House voted Wednesday for legislation aimed at blocking a national rail strike that could deal a major blow to the economy ahead of the holidays.

U.S. House logoA strike could occur as early as Dec. 9 after some unions rejected a contract deal brokered earlier this year by the White House. President Biden asked Congress to put the force of law behind that agreement, which would raise wages but provide no paid sick days.

Ahead of the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned that a strike would cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The House vote was 290 to 137. The Senate is expected to pass similar legislation.

The House plans to vote on a second bill Wednesday that would add seven sick days for workers, but the fate of that legislation is unclear in the Senate.

The decision by Pelosi to hold a vote on the second bill comes after a growing chorus of Democrats voiced opposition to Congress passing a railroad deal they viewed as unfriendly to rail workers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Senate could take up measure to impose rail deal, averting a strike, Lauren Kaori Gurley, Dec. 1, 2022. The House voted with bipartisan support to pass legislation blocking a rail strike before a Dec. 9 deadline, but the path in the Senate is more fraught.

The Senate could take up legislation Thursday forcing a contract between national freight railroads and unions, averting a Dec. 9 strike that threatens travel, supply chains and the busy holiday shopping season.

The House-passed legislation imposing a White House-brokered deal and opposed by some union workers, faces a tricky path in the Senate. Republican lawmakers, at least 10 of whom would be needed to consider the legislation, have an array of opinions on whether to intervene and force the tentative deal. Meanwhile, some of the more liberal Democrats are pushing to allow rail workers seven days of paid sick leave.

What you need to know about the threat of a rail strike and Congress

The timing of any Senate action remained unclear early Thursday, but Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg are expected to head to Capitol Hill to talk with Democrats about the agreement.

Without congressional intervention, unions are poised to strike Dec. 9. Four of 12 unions involved in the rail dispute voted down the tentative contract, brokered by the White House, because it lacked paid sick days or changes to an attendance policy that rail workers say is punitive.

A shutdown of the nation’s railway systems could cost the economy as much as $2 billion a day, according to the rail carriers trade group.

Congress hasn’t intervened in a rail strike since 1992. But on Wednesday, the House voted 290-137 to force the rail deal that was brokered by the White House earlier this year. The House also narrowly approved a separate version of the rail bill, 221-207, to give rail workers seven paid sick days, a move embraced by liberal Democrats in the House as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

President Biden has pressed the Senate to act quickly to avert a rail strike, calling for a bill to reach his desk by Saturday.

Rail strikes that changed America

The bizarre politics around the rail strike — with the economic threat of an infrastructure shutdown prompting a pro-union Democratic president to push an agreement despite some union workers’ objections — make it harder to predict the bill’s path in the Senate.

Several liberal senators, including Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), pressed to adopt the version of the agreement that included paid sick days, while moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he was undecided on whether he’d vote to add the sick days.

On the Republican side, at least one senator, Josh Hawley of Missouri said he would only favor an agreement that included sick days. “I will absolutely not support it without some sick leave,” he said. Others who previously seemed open to adding the leave, including Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), walked back that support on Wednesday, saying they did not wish to alter an agreement that had already been reached.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. gas prices plunge toward $3 a gallon as demand drops worldwide, Evan Halper, Dec. 1, 2022. The average price of gas is back to where it was before Russia invaded Ukraine. It is putting real money back in Americans’ wallets.

The cost of gasoline is falling so fast that it is beginning to put real money back in the pockets of drivers, defying earlier projections and offering an unexpected gift for the holidays.

Filling up is now as cheap as it was in February, just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine touched off a global energy crisis. AAA reported the average nationwide price of a gallon of regular Wednesday was $3.50, and gas price tracking company GasBuddy projected it could drop below $3 by Christmas. And all of that relief probably helped drive robust shopping over Thanksgiving weekend.

“People are realizing that they might be back to spending $50 to fill their tank instead of $80,” said Emma Rasiel, a professor of economics at Duke University. “It is the main signal consumers notice on inflation. It is the one thing they are likely to track, how much it has gone up or down, because every week they need to fill up their car.”

But Rasiel cautioned that less-expensive gas can also give consumers the wrong idea. Prices of other goods and services are much less volatile, and there is no indication that this moment of more-affordable fuel is pushing the cost of other things down.

Even as the plunge in prices at the pump helps fuel a national holiday shopping spree, it is a reflection of the financial strain consumers and businesses are confronting worldwide. Prices are going down because demand for oil and gas is falling as countries brace for recession, coronavirus outbreaks in China threaten major financial disruption and drivers cut back on gas-guzzling as they try to save money to cover skyrocketing mortgage payments and stock market losses.

Earlier worries that sanctions on Russian oil would create a shortage in supply and send prices soaring toward the end of the year have, for now at least, given way to ailing economies and jittery financial markets.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s dinner with antisemites provides test of GOP response to extremism, Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Marianna Sotomayor, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Republicans are showing increasing willingness to criticize Trump over his meeting with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West who has issued anti-Jewish diatribes.

Former president Donald Trump’s refusal to apologize for or disavow the outspoken antisemites he dined with last week is setting him increasingly at odds with leaders of his own party, providing the first test of his political endurance since launching his third run for the White House.

The fracas is also testing how Republicans will handle the party’s extreme fringe in the months ahead after years of racist, misogynist and antisemitic speech flooding into the political bloodstream during the Trump era.

Trump has been taken aback by the backlash and maintained that the controversy over his Mar-a-Lago dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, who has been vocally spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories, would blow over, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations. “I think it’s dying down,” they recalled Trump saying.

Politico, Senate Dems wrestle over weakening leaders’ power, Burgess Everett and Andrew Desiderio, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). After battling the caucus’ No. 2 in the past, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has a new plan that could force three senior colleagues to cede influence.

politico CustomDick Durbin and Sheldon Whitehouse are at odds once again over limiting the power of Senate Democratic leaders.

The last time the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat was this openly perturbed with Whitehouse (D-R.I.), they were vying in 2020 for what became the gavel of the powerful Judiciary Committee. This month, Durbin (D-Ill.) isn’t thrilled to see his colleague proposing a rules change that could force top party leaders to relinquish their committee chairmanships — an idea that’s dividing the caucus just days after Democrats secured another two years in control of the chamber.

Whitehouse’s pitch would prevent any Democratic senator from holding a leadership position while simultaneously chairing an in-demand committee. It wouldn’t go into effect until 2025, but it would target Durbin’s dual position as Judiciary chair and whip. It would also likely affect Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chair the Rules and Agriculture committees, respectively, while also serving in leadership ranks where they’re set to ascend next year.

Politico, Braun to run for Indiana governor, opening Senate seat in 2024, Adam Wren, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The first-term Republican senator filed paperwork to run to succeed Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is term-limited.

politico CustomPolitico reported in September that Braun, elected to the Senate in 2018 after defeating former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), was leaning toward a gubernatorial run. He won a fierce GOP primary six years ago, defeating former Reps. Todd Rokita and Luke Messer.

A former executive of a distribution company, Braun has long chafed at the speed of the Senate, and Indiana Republicans close to him say he is more suited to being an executive.

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Jan. 6, Trump, Election Denier Probes

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary, January 6th Committee Report — The devil may be in the details, Wayne Madsen, author of 22 books (including The Rise of the Fascist Fourth Reich, shown below) and a former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2022. wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallAs the House Select Committee on the January 6th insurrection by Donald Trump and his allies wraps up, there is hope that some details of the planned coup d’état will be found either in the main report or its appendices.

wayne madesen report logoAs just one example, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have not advanced their investigations of who planted pipe bombs at Democratic and Republican National Committee headquarters.

wayne madsen fourth reich coverIn September last year, the FBI was requesting the public to supply any additional information on the identity of the suspect who planted the bombs.

The FBI said that the two pipe bombs were of sufficient explosive strength to have seriously injured or killed bystanders had they detonated.

There is other evidence that points to the January 6th insurrectionists having inside help in the Congress, including the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms; the Secret Service; and possibly other federal and local law enforcement agencies.

With the November 29 convictions for seditious conspiracy being handed down by a Washington, DC jury for insurrection leaders Stewart Rhodes and Kelly Meggs, the government has established that there was a criminal plot to overthrow the government. Such a predicate will undoubtedly empower the January 6th Committee to identify in its report others who were part of the conspiracy.

washington post logoWashington Post, Garland praises Oath Keepers verdict, won’t say where Jan. 6 probe goes, Perry Stein, Spencer S. Hsu and Devlin Barrett, Dec. 1, 2022. Justice Dept. will weigh seditious conspiracy conviction in deciding whether to pursue other high-profile Trump allies, people familiar with the matter said.

A day after a federal jury convicted two far-right extremists of leading a plot to unleash political violence to prevent the inauguration of Joe Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that his Justice Department would continue to “work tirelessly” to hold accountable those responsible for efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors highlighted the defendants’ links to key allies of President Donald Trump, such as Roger Stone, “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani.

But Garland declined to say Wednesday if he expected prosecutors to eventually file charges against them or any other people who did not physically participate in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“I don’t want to speculate on other investigations or parts of other investigations,” Garland told reporters at a briefing where he also touted Justice Department efforts to establish federal oversight of the water supply system in Jackson, Miss.

Garland called the sprawling Jan. 6 investigation, and Jackson’s water crisis, “significant matters of public interest.”

“I’m very proud of the attorneys, investigators and staff whose unwavering commitment to rule of law and tireless work resulted in yesterday in these two significant victories,” he said.

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge sentences men behind election robocall scam to register new voters, Daniel Wu, Dec. 1, 2022. In the summer of 2020, tens of thousands of people across five states received robocalls urging them not to vote by mail. The calls falsely warned that mailing in their ballots that fall could lead to their information being harvested by police, debt collectors or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ohio prosecutors in October 2020 charged right-wing operatives Jack Burkman and Jacob Wohl with telecommunications fraud in connection with the scheme, and two years later, the two men pleaded guilty.

Now, they have their punishment: They must spend 500 hours helping register people to vote.

Judge John Sutula in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court also sentenced Burkman and Wohl to two years of probation, fines of $2,500 each and electronic monitoring from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. for six months, according to the county prosecutor’s office.

“I think it’s a despicable thing that you guys have done,” the judge said on Tuesday, comparing the robocall scam to efforts to suppress Southern Black voters in the 1960s, Cleveland.com reported.

Burkman, 56, and Wohl, 24, staged several irreverent stunts to add to the stream of disinformation that bombarded Americans in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. The pair called a news conference promising to produce a sexual assault accuser against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, though the alleged accuser never showed. They allegedly recruited young Republican men to make false sexual assault claims against then-presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. They staged a fake FBI raid on Burkman’s Arlington, Va., home that briefly fooled The Washington Post.

“These two individuals attempted to disrupt the foundation of our democracy,” a spokesperson for the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office wrote to The Post on Wednesday. “Their sentence of two years’ probation and 500 hours of community work service at a voter-registration drive is appropriate.”

In October 2020, Michigan’s attorney general first brought felony charges against the pair of intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election law and using a computer to commit a crime. Dave Yost, the Ohio attorney general, investigated Burkman and Wohl before referring them to the Cuyahoga County prosecutor the same month, he said in a statement. New York’s attorney general joined a lawsuit against the pair started by various civil rights organizations in May 2021.

The attorneys general alleged that the robocalling operation targeted minority communities to suppress their voting power.

The cases against Burkman and Wohl in Michigan and New York are ongoing. Burkman and Wohl may also face a historic $5 million fine from the Federal Communications Commission for making robocalls to cellphones without people’s consent.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump’s very bad week leaves him teetering on the brink of disaster, Jennifer Rubin, right, author of Resistance, shown below, Dec. 1, 2022. Donald jennifer rubin new headshotTrump just had very bad week.

Five members of the Oath Keepers were convicted for serious felonies relating to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that the former president instigated. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows must testify in Georgia’s criminal investigation into his attempt to overturn the state’s results. And a federal judge denied Trump’s claim that he has absolute immunity jennifer rubin book resistancefrom civil suits.

And that’s just the court-related developments. More Republicans have turned on him for dining with a Holocaust denier. Congress also made progress to fund the government — including the Justice Department — through September, potentially taking away a tool that Republicans could have used to blunt Trump’s legal woes.

The convictions against the Oath Keeper members should be particularly troubling for Trump. Two members, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Florida Oath Keeper Kelly Meggs, were found guilty of seditious conspiracy. The other three were not found guilty of seditious conspiracy, but all five were found guilty of obstructing a congressional proceeding and aiding and abetting. Rhodes faces Justice Department log circularup to 60 years in prison, unless he cuts a deal with prosecutors.

Each of these charges could be applied to Trump should he be indicted for his role in triggering the violence on Jan. 6, although the facts would differ for a seditious conspiracy case against him. Still, as Norman Eisen, who served as co-counsel for the House Judiciary Committee during Trump’s first impeachment, puts it, “Now we know D.C. jurors can be receptive to that count.” He adds, “Perhaps a more likely charge against the former president is obstruction of Congress, and here again, DOJ can only be emboldened by its success on those counts in the Oath Keepers case.”

merrick garlandAttorney General Merrick Garland took a well-earned victory lap on Tuesday. “Today the jury returned a verdict convicting all defendants of criminal conduct, including two Oath Keepers leaders for seditious conspiracy against the United States,” Garland said in a written statement. “The Justice Department is committed to holding accountable those criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy on January 6, 2021.” That could include characters in Trump’s inner circle with whom Rhodes was in communication with, such as Roger Stone and Michael Flynn.

The convictions raise the Justice Department’s incentive to indict Trump for a number of reasons. First, the verdict should breed confidence in the Justice Department that juries will convict of serious crimes arising from the coup plot. It also effectively confirms that the violent assault on the Capitol to stop the transfer of power meets the definition of “sedition” and that seeking to disrupt the electoral voting counting amounts to an obstruction of an official proceeding. Second, failing to hold Trump accountable would appear contrary to the principle of “equal justice” for all people regardless of their position of power. Finally, these verdicts make convictions in cases against others who participated in the insurrection more likely, increasing the number of potential cooperating witnesses.

Politico, Mark Meadows ordered to testify in Trump investigation, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, Nov. 30, 2022 (print ed.). South Carolina’s Supreme Court has ordered former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify to an Atlanta-area grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election in Georgia.

politico CustomSouth Carolina’s Supreme Court has unanimously ordered former White House Chief of staff Mark Meadows to testify to an Atlanta-area grand jury investigating Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the election in Georgia.

“We have reviewed the arguments raised by [Meadows] and find them to be manifestly without merit,” South Carolina’s Supreme Court justices wrote in a brief opinion.

Mark MeadowsThe decision affirmed a lower court’s ruling requiring Meadows, right, to testify to the Fulton County grand jury investigation led by District Attorney Fani Willis. Meadows was initially scheduled to appear for testimony on Nov. 30, and it’s unclear if that appearance is still on track.

Attorneys for Meadows and a spokeswoman for Willis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The five-member court’s decision was just three paragraphs long. It cited the “exigent circumstances involved” but did not go into detail about the dispute.

Willis sought Meadows’ testimony in September as part of her expansive investigation into efforts by Trump and his allies to disrupt the election process in Georgia, including his push for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state.

The fight over the Meadows’ subpoena wound up before the South Carolina courts under procedures many states have agreed on to enforce court orders for testimony issued by courts in another state. To compel testimony from out-of-state residents, Willis must first get the approval of local courts. Meadows is a resident of South Carolina.

Courts in New York and Florida have similarly upheld efforts by Willis to obtain testimony from non-Georgia residents, including Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

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steward rhodes kelly meigs jessica watkins kenneth harrelson thomas caldwell

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

ny times logoNew York Times, Widespread Racial Disparities in Discipline Found at N.Y. Prisons, Grace Ashford, Dec. 1, 2022.  The state inspector general concluded that the disparities had worsened since a 2015 New York Times investigation.

A new report from the inspector general’s office has documented significant racial and ethnic disparities in discipline across New York State prisons, finding that over a six-year period, Black inmates were 22 percent more likely to be disciplined than white ones.

The report, issued by Inspector General Lucy Lang, comes six years after The New York Times published a 2015 investigation into racial bias in state prisons. The Times found that Black prisoners faced more punishment than white ones, leading to loss of privileges, longer stays in solitary confinement and, ultimately, more time behind bars.

State inspectors reviewed 385,057 misbehavior reports filed from 2015 through 2020 to expand upon The Times’s analysis. They found that the discrepancies had actually worsened over time, most significantly in 2020, when Black prisoners were 38 percent more likely, and Hispanic prisoners 29 percent more likely, to be cited in misbehavior reports.

The inspector general concurred with The Times that these discrepancies were most pronounced for violations that were, according to the report, arguably more subjective. The largest disparities were for offenses like gang activity, assault on another inmate and “involvement in a demonstration detrimental to facility order,” which saw Black prisoners five times more likely, and Hispanic prisoners three times, to be found in violation than white inmates.

 

supreme court Custom

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The court’s supremely obtuse response to its ethical problems, Ruth Marcus, right, Nov. 30, 2022 (print ed.). The Supreme Court sent a two-page ruth marcusletter to Democratic lawmakers looking into allegations of a leak by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., left, or his wife. Words weren’t really necessary; a see-no-evil monkey emoji would have aptly summarized the court’s response.

The letter, by Ethan V. Torrey, legal counsel to the court, could scarcely have been more obtuse. The New York Times reported earlier this month the story of a conservative Ohio couple, Donald and Gayle Wright, who were deployed by a religious rights, antiabortion samuel alito oorganization to befriend the Alitos and other conservative justices as part of an influence campaign.

The Rev. Rob Schenck, who headed the organization, said that Gayle Wright had tipped him off in advance about the outcome and authorship of a 2014 case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, involving religious employers’ obligations to provide contraceptive coverage. Gayle Wright and the Alitos denied any leak (Donald Wright died in 2020), but contemporaneous evidence bolsters Schenck’s claim of advance knowledge.

“Rob, if you want some interesting news please call. No emails,” Gayle Wright wrote Schenck the day after the Alitos hosted the Wrights for dinner at their Virginia home. Wright’s unconvincing explanation? “I was so excited to tell him that Justice Alito had actually gotten in his car to take me home,” she told The Post. “We wanted to talk to him and share it with him.”

The Times article, along with coverage by Politico and Rolling Stone, depicts a disturbing, coordinated effort by conservative activists to insinuate themselves into the lives of sympathetic justices via six-figure donations to the Supreme Court Historical Society and access to vacation spots such as the Wrights’ Jackson, Wyo., home.

A Supreme Court that took ethics seriously would want to get to the bottom of this smarmy arrangement. That is not, apparently, this Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. didn’t bother to respond to a July letter from Schenck alerting him to the episode. But a nonresponse might have been preferable to Torrey’s legalistic and defensive letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), who had asked the court about what plans it had to investigate or refine its ethics policies.

In a statement, Whitehouse and Johnson called Torrey’s letter “an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues.” This seems like a fair diagnosis. And Roberts should keep in mind: If the patient isn’t willing to take steps to heal itself, others will step in to administer the necessary medicine.

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U.S. High Tech, Media, Culture

 

Sam Bankman-Fried (shown in a newshubweek photo).

ny times logoNew York Times, Sam Bankman-Fried Blames ‘Huge Management Failures’ for FTX Collapse, David Yaffe-Bellany, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Mr. Bankman-Fried spoke at The New York Times’s DealBook conference, in his first public appearance since his crypto exchange imploded.

Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, made his first public appearance on Wednesday since his business empire imploded this month, insisting that he “did not ever try to commit fraud” and repeatedly saying he didn’t know the extent of what was going on within his crypto businesses.

ftx logoIn a live interview at The New York Times’s DealBook conference in Manhattan, Mr. Bankman-Fried blamed “huge management failures” and sloppy accounting for the collapse of his $32 billion company, which has sparked civil and criminal investigations.

Those investigations are focused on whether FTX broke the law by lending its customers’ funds to a trading firm, Alameda Research, which Mr. Bankman-Fried also owned. Speaking via a video feed from the Bahamas, where FTX was based, the 30-year-old said he didn’t “knowingly commingle funds.” At another point, he said, “I didn’t know exactly what was going on.”

Mr. Bankman-Fried also took responsibility for the collapse. “Look, I screwed up,” he said. “I was C.E.O.”

FTX disintegrated practically overnight after it was unable to meet a run on deposits that left the company with an $8 billion hole in its accounts. Within a week, the crypto exchange filed for bankruptcy.

Traders have lost billions of dollars that they stored on the platform, which served as a marketplace for crypto enthusiasts to buy and sell tokens. Companies with ties to FTX have also found themselves on shaky financial footing. On Monday, the crypto lending firm BlockFi filed for bankruptcy, blaming its links to FTX.

Mr. Bankman-Fried, who became a billionaire as FTX soared and was viewed as a wunderkind, faces significant legal trouble. The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating FTX’s transfer of funds to Alameda. The chief executive of Alameda, Caroline Ellison, told staff this month that the trading firm had dipped into FTX customer funds to finance its own trading activity, The Times and others have reported.

Mr. Bankman-Fried has since come under heavy criticism. In court filings, FTX’s new chief executive, who is managing the company’s bankruptcy, said he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate control” and listed a series of “unacceptable management practices.”

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen called FTX’s collapse a “Lehman moment” for the cryptocurrency industry, referring to the bankruptcy of the Wall Street bank Lehman Brothers at the start of the 2008 financial crisis. She indicated that she viewed cryptocurrencies with skepticism, calling them “very risky assets” and adding that she was thankful that their recent volatility had not spilled over into the mainstream banking sector.

For someone facing possible criminal charges, Mr. Bankman-Fried has been surprisingly willing to speak publicly. As the crisis unfolded in early November, he posted a series of apologetic tweets — statements his lawyers later chastised him for making, he has said. Two days after FTX’s bankruptcy filing this month, he spoke with The Times for more than an hour about how he had managed his business empire while dodging questions about his company’s use of customer money.

On the video stream at the DealBook conference, Mr. Bankman-Fried, wearing a black T-shirt, fidgeted at times, as he often does during interviews. He said he was speaking publicly against the advice of his lawyers, who have instructed him to keep quiet and “recede into a hole.” He said he had decided to disregard their advice.

“That’s not who I am,” he said. “I have a duty to talk.”

The relationship between FTX and Alameda had long been a source of criticism. Alameda traded heavily on the FTX platform, meaning it sometimes benefited when FTX’s other customers lost money, raising a conflict of interest. Mr. Bankman-Fried lived with Ms. Ellison in a penthouse in the Bahamas, and at times the two were romantically involved.

Mr. Bankman-Fried claimed he was “nervous about a conflict of interest” with Alameda, and distanced himself from its operations partly for that reason.

In addressing the impact of the company’s collapse on his own future, he was understated. “I’ve had a bad month,” he said at one point, to laughter from the audience.

Mr. Bankman-Fried also said the crisis had reduced his net worth to about $100,000. “I don’t have any hidden funds,” he said. “I put everything I had into FTX.”

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Collapse of Sam Bankman-Fried’s Crypto Empire Has Disrupted A.I., Cade Metz, Dec. 1, 2022. Mr. Bankman-Fried and his colleagues spent more than $530 million to battle what they saw as the dangers of artificial intelligence. Now those efforts are reeling.

In April, a San Francisco artificial intelligence lab called Anthropic raised $580 million for research involving “A.I. safety.”

Few in Silicon Valley had heard of the one-year-old lab, which is building A.I. systems that generate language. But the amount of money promised to the tiny company dwarfed what venture capitalists were investing in other A.I. start-ups, including those stocked with some of the most experienced researchers in the field.

ftx logoThe funding round was led by Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and chief executive of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange that filed for bankruptcy last month. After FTX’s sudden collapse, a leaked balance sheet showed that Mr. Bankman-Fried and his colleagues had fed at least $500 million into Anthropic.

Their investment was part of a quiet and quixotic effort to explore and mitigate the dangers of artificial intelligence, which many in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s circle believed could eventually destroy the world and damage humanity. Over the past two years, the 30-year-old entrepreneur and his FTX colleagues funneled more than $530 million — through either grants or investments — into more than 70 A.I.-related companies, academic labs, think tanks, independent projects and individual researchers to address concerns over the technology, according to a tally by The New York Times.

Now some of these organizations and individuals are unsure whether they can continue to spend that money, said four people close to the A.I. efforts who were not authorized to speak publicly. They said they were worried that Mr. Bankman-Fried’s fall could cast doubt over their research and undermine their reputations. And some of the A.I. start-ups and organizations may eventually find themselves embroiled in FTX’s bankruptcy proceedings, with their grants potentially clawed back in court, they said.

The concerns in the A.I. world are an unexpected fallout from FTX’s disintegration, showing how far the ripple effects of the crypto exchange’s collapse and Mr. Bankman-Fried’s vaporizing fortune have traveled.

 washington post logoWashington Post, Lawmakers who benefited from FTX cash set to probe its collapse, Tory Newmyer, Dec. 1, 2022. The Senate Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on crypto regulation in the wake of FTX’s implosion.

Congress is launching its official response to the collapse of cryptocurrency giant FTX on Thursday, as investors and investigators struggle to understand the shocking implosion three weeks ago of one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is the first of three congressional panels to convene a hearing on the matter, with Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Chairman Rostin Behnam set to testify. Behnam, a former Senate Agriculture Committee staffer, has been angling for jurisdiction over crypto markets, and in the months before FTX’s collapse, both the committee and the company had been pushing to hand it to him.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.), the committee’s leaders, introduced a bill in August with input from Behnam’s office that would give the CFTC the authority to regulate crypto spot markets.

The measure was also FTX’s top legislative priority. Former chief executive Sam Bankman-Fried argued to colleagues that the industry would receive more favorable treatment from the CFTC than the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is much larger and has staked out a more aggressive posture toward crypto interests.

Stabenow and Boozman have continued to make the case for their bill — officially the Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act — in the wake of the FTX bankruptcy. But the company’s collapse has remade the debate over crypto regulation. Other top policymakers are arguing for a tougher brand of federal oversight than what FTX was advocating, as the company has transformed from Washington darling to villain.

Inside Sam Bankman-Fried’s courtship of a Washington regulator

Bankman-Fried and one of his top deputies, former FTX Digital Markets CEO Ryan Salame, spread tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture Committee for this year’s elections, part of a multimillion-dollar blitz that saw the two executives emerge among the top overall donors in the country.

Politico, Never mind, Musk says — accusation against Apple was a ‘misunderstanding,’ Staff Report, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The billionaire writes that he and Apple CEO Tim Cook “resolved the politico Custommisunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store.”

Elon Musk had a much different tone Monday, when he issued a series of tweets accusing Apple of threatening to “withhold” Twitter from the App Store. See: Washington Post, Elon Musk says he’s launching a ‘war’ against Apple. It’s probably a losing battle, Naomi Nix.

elon musk 2015Elon Musk publicly retracted his accusations that Apple had threatened to remove Twitter from its App Store — two days after his claim unleashed a tsunami of Republican attacks twitter bird Customand threats of reprisals against the iPhone-maker.

In fact, the billionaire said in an unusually cordial tweet late Wednesday it was all just a big mix-up that Apple CEO Tim Cook managed to resolve in a “good conversation.”

 “Among other things, we resolved the misunderstanding about Twitter potentially being removed from the App Store,” Musk wrote. “Tim was clear that Apple never considered doing so.”

apple logo rainbowApple did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Musk did not explain how the alleged misunderstanding had occurred.

Cook is expected to be in Washington on Thursday, meeting with senators among others.

Musk had a much different tone Monday, when he issued a series of tweets accusing Apple of threatening to “withhold” Twitter from the App Store, among other unspecified “censorship actions” that he laid at Apple’s feet. Those tweets remained live on Musk’s Twitter feed as of Wednesday night.

washington post logoWashington Post, The Washington Post will end its Sunday magazine, eliminate positions, Sarah Ellison, Dec. 1, 2022. Executive editor Sally Buzbee said the magazine would end ‘in its current form’ after printing its final issue on Dec. 25.

The Washington Post will stop publishing its stand-alone print magazine, one of the last of its kind in the country and which has been published under different names for more than six decades, the newspaper’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, announced Wednesday.

The Sunday magazine has 10 staff members, who were told in a meeting that their positions have been eliminated, according to Shani George, The Post’s vice president for communications.

“We will end the print Sunday Magazine in its current form as we continue to undergo our global and digital transformation,” Buzbee said in a subsequent email to staff early Wednesday afternoon. She noted that “we will be shifting some of the most popular content, and adding more, in a revitalized Style section that will launch in the coming months.”

“We deeply appreciate the contributions this staff has made to our print readers over the years,” she wrote in conclusion.

The Post launched the magazine in its current form in 1986, though it had published a print Sunday magazine for the previous quarter century. The magazine is distributed with copies of the Sunday paper. Its last issue will publish on Dec. 25, Buzbee said.

Buzbee praised the magazine this year in a town hall. “I think the magazine is doing an excellent job right now,” she said at the time, praising in particular a special issue dedicated to the decline of local news. She added that The Post was “committed to print” and said that the magazine was “a fabulous longform opportunity for us, and pushing that and making it into a distinctive destination is something we want to do.”

Along with the Boston Globe and New York Times, The Post had been one of the few remaining newspapers to publish a weekly magazine. They were once popular features for major metropolitan dailies — “prime real estate for long-form newspaper features, especially as they were surrounded by gorgeous ads for expensive condos and watches,” said Bill Grueskin, a professor at Columbia Journalism School and a former editor for the Miami Herald and Wall Street Journal. “Those ads have largely disappeared from most newspapers, and so have the magazines.”

And although newspaper journalists once craved the opportunity to write at magazine length, “that’s less of a priority now, given the infinite space available online,” he said.

 

southern baptist convention logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Pastors say Johnny Hunt, former SBC president accused of abuse, can return to ministry, Bob Smietana, Nov. 30, 2022. Disgraced former Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt plans a return to ministry after completing a restoration process overseen by four pastors, according to a video released last week.

Hunt, a longtime megachurch pastor in Georgia, was named earlier this year in the Guidepost Solutions report on sexual abuse in the SBC, which alleged that Hunt had sexually assaulted another pastor’s wife in 2010. Guidepost, a third-party investigation firm, found the claims credible.

“We believe the greatest days of ministry for Johnny Hunt are the days ahead,” said Rev. Steven Kyle, pastor of Hiland Park Baptist Church in Panama City, Fla., in the video.

Kyle, along with pastors Mark Hoover of NewSpring Church in Wichita; Benny Tate of Rock Springs Church in Milner, Ga.; and Mike Whitson of First Baptist Church in Indian Trail, N.C., said they had worked with Hunt and his wife on an “intentional and an intense season of transparency, reflection and restoration” in recent months.

In that process, Kyle said he and other pastors had observed Hunt’s “genuine brokenness and humility before God” and deemed him fit for ministry in the future.

The allegations against Hunt caught his many admirers by surprise. At the time of the Guidepost report, Hunt was a popular speaker and a vice president at the SBC’s North American Mission Board and was beloved by many SBC leaders.

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World News, Disasters, Human Rights

washington post logoWashington Post, Letter bombs strike Spain, including premier’s office, U.S. and Ukraine embassies, Andrew Jeong and Beatriz Rios, Dec. 1, 2022. A string of letter bombs in Spain, mailed to the office of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez as well the embassies of Ukraine and the United States, have prompted authorities to boost security around public buildings while racing to look for clues about the letters’ origins.

Five of the six known letters — all mailed in recent days — have been detected in time. But the letter sent to the Ukrainian mission exploded Wednesday, injuring an embassy employee, Spain’s Interior Ministry said.

Other targets have included the Defense Ministry, the arms manufacturer Instalaza in Zaragoza, and the satellite center at a Madrid air base.

The letter sent to the U.S. Embassy was intercepted midday Thursday, Spain’s Interior Ministry said, and showed “similar characteristics to the previous ones.” It added that the letter was then detonated by security officials in a controlled explosion.

washington post logoWashington Post, Rise in Iranian assassination, kidnapping plots alarms Western officials, Shane Harris, Souad Mekhennet and Yeganeh Torbati, Dec. 1, 2022. Former president Donald Trump’s refusal to apologize for or disavow the outspoken antisemites he dined with last week is setting him increasingly at odds with leaders of his own party, providing the first test of his political endurance since launching his third run for the White House.

The Iranian government has stepped up its efforts to kidnap and kill government officials, activists and journalists around the world, including in the United States, according to government documents and interviews with 15 officials in Washington, Europe and the Middle East, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

Tehran has targeted former senior U.S. government officials; dissidents who have fled the country for the United States, Britain, Canada, Turkey and Europe; media organizations critical of the regime; and Jewish civilians or those with links to Israel, according to the officials and government documents.

Iran’s intelligence and security services rely largely on proxies to carry out their plans, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to jewel thieves, drug dealers and other criminals in murder-for-hire schemes, the officials said. That hands-off approach probably caused some operations to fail, the officials said, as plots have been disrupted — and, in some cases, the hired hit men appear to have gotten cold feet and never carried out their orders.

But officials say Iran’s persistence makes it likely to eventually carry out the killing of a high-profile dissident, journalist or Western government figure, and that could spark direct confrontation with Tehran.

Iran’s security services have carried out lethal operations abroad since the regime took power four decades ago, officials said. More recently, they said, between 2015 and 2017, Tehran is believed to have killed at least three dissidents in Western Europe, including an Iranian Arab activist who was gunned down in front of his home in The Hague.

The fracas is also testing how Republicans will handle the party’s extreme fringe in the months ahead after years of racist, misogynist and antisemitic speech flooding into the political bloodstream during the Trump era.

Trump has been taken aback by the backlash and maintained that the controversy over his Mar-a-Lago dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper Ye, who has been vocally spouting antisemitic conspiracy theories, would blow over, according to advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations. “I think it’s dying down,” they recalled Trump saying. Tehran has targeted former senior U.S. government officials; dissidents who have fled the country for the United States, Britain, Canada, Turkey and Europe; media organizations critical of the regime; and Jewish civilians or those with links to Israel, according to the officials and government documents.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iranian forces kill man celebrating country’s World Cup loss, activists say, Victoria Bisset, Dec. 1, 2022. An Iranian man — a childhood friend of a midfielder on the country’s World Cup squad — was killed by Iranian state forces while celebrating the country’s loss against the United States in the World Cup this week, human rights groups based outside the country reported, as mass anti-government protests continue in Iran.

Mehran Samak, 27, was shot in the head Tuesday evening as he joined festivities in the northwestern city of Bandar Anzali, according to the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) organization. Another group, the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, said Samak was reportedly killed by security forces while honking his car’s horn as part of celebrations in cities across the country.

In footage on social media late Tuesday depicting scenes across the country, car horns can be heard being blasted in celebration after the defeat of the Team Melli, as the squad is known in Iran, in what could be interpreted as a blow to the country’s rulers.

The Washington Post could not independently verify the reports surrounding Samak’s death. But his death was mourned by one of Iran’s national soccer players, who posted an image of them together as children and described Samak as a “childhood teammate.”

“I wish we had stayed this age forever,” Saeid Ezatolahi wrote on Instagram. “After last night’s bitter game, my heart burned even more at the news of your death.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Iran’s regime at an impasse as protest movement defies crackdown, Miriam Berger, Dec. 1, 2022. The uprising in Iran, well into its third month, continues to defy expectations, persisting even amid an increasingly violent crackdown and opponents of clerical rule uniting across class and ethnic lines.

The movement, born out of long-seething anger over decades of repression, cascaded after police arrested 22-year-old Mahsa Amini — also known by her Kurdish name, Jina — in a Tehran metro station for violating Iran’s conservative dress code for women, then allegedly beat her to death and tried to cover it up. What began in Amini’s hometown in a Kurdish-dominated province has grown into a sustained, nationwide challenge to the regime — and one not easily defeated.

As weeks passed, the government escalated its deadly crackdown, especially in Kurdish areas, but the demonstrations persisted. They have left Iran’s leadership in what appears to be at an impasse, unsure of how far to go to regain control. The regime could fully unleash the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to crush the movement, but it would risk drawing even more ire from opponents at home and inviting further international condemnation.

What Iran’s protest slogans tell us about the uprising

“I feel it is not too late to save myself and others in my generation,” Nazanin, a university student in the city of Azad, told The Washington Post. Out of concern for her safety, she gave only her first name. She had seen no future for herself in Iran, she said, until the protests changed her, “like they changed many people.”

Day after day, demonstrators chant “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the dictator,” and burn images of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Women cast off headscarves, standing side by side with demonstrators who choose to wear them.

Major social upheaval is afoot — but Iran’s clerical leadership and the security forces backing it remain strong. At the first sign of unrest, authorities followed a familiar playbook. They cut off internet and cellular access, violently disrupted protests and launched mass arrest and intimidation campaigns, even targeting doctors and schools. More than 400 people have been killed, among them more than 60 minors, and more than 18,000 arrested, human rights group Hrana estimates. On-the-ground reporting is extremely difficult under the circumstances, so exact numbers are impossible to determine.

ny times logoNew York Times, This is what to expect at President Biden’s first state dinner: lobster, wine and a reset button, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Dec. 1, 2022. The black-tie dinner marks a return of diplomatic pomp and an effort by the United States and France to display the strength of their alliance after a trans-Atlantic dust-up.

More than a year after a trans-Atlantic contretemps threatened to sour U.S.-French relations, President Emmanuel Macron and his wife will be at the White House on Thursday as honored guests for the first state dinner since President Biden took office.

French FlagIn the days leading up to the black-tie dinner, the office of the first lady, which handles most of the planning, made every effort to show that relations were strong as the White House marks a return of the diplomatic pomp that was largely on hold during the pandemic.

“This dinner was inspired by the shared colors of our flags,” the first lady, Jill Biden, said as she unveiled the menu and floral decorations for the dinner. “And our common values: liberty and democracy, equality and fellowship. These form the bedrock upon which our enduring friendship was built.”

The tributes ranged from the design of the menu to the French-made wine glasses. The leaders will toast with American-made wine, and an image of the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, will be the backdrop of the toasts.

ny times logoNew York Times, After Xi’s Coronation, a Roar of Discontent Against His Hard-Line Politics, Chris Buckley, Dec. 1, 2022. Protests in China have awoken a tradition of dissent that had seemed spent after 10 years under Xi Jinping. The effects may outlast the street clashes.

Striding out to speak to the Chinese nation just under six weeks ago, Xi Jinping exuded regal dominance. He had just won what was likely to be another decade in power. His new team of subordinates stood out as unbending loyalists. A Communist Party congress had cemented his authoritarian agenda and promised a “new era” when China’s 1.4 billion people would stay in ever-loyal step with him and the party.

But a nationwide surge of protest has sent a stunning sign that even after one decade under Mr. Xi’s rule, a small and mostly youthful part of the population dares to imagine, even demand, another China: more liberal, less controlling, politically freer. A murmur of dissent that has survived censorship, detentions and official damnation under Mr. Xi suddenly broke into a collective roar.

“I can regain my faith in society and in a generation of youth,” Chen Min, an outspoken Chinese journalist and writer who goes by the pen name Xiao Shu, wrote in an essay this week. “Now I’ve found grounds for my faith: Brainwashing can succeed, but ultimately its success has its limits.”

Since the weekend, the police have galvanized to stamp out new protests. The authorities have been searching people’s phones, warning would-be protesters, interrogating detained participants and staging loud shows of force at potential protest sites. Vigilance will only grow after the death on Wednesday of Jiang Zemin, a former Chinese president who, more in retirement than in office, gained a political patina as a relatively mild leader. His memorial service will be held on Tuesday.

 

vicky ward investigates

Vicky Ward Investigates, The World Cup: Politics, Petrol & Power, Vicky Ward, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2022. How Middle Eastern aristocrats learned to flex and why the West appears unable to push back.

Even if you are not an avid football fan, most likely you’ve noticed that, for the first time, the World Cup is being played in the Middle East—specifically in the tiny state of Qatar—and that there have been all sorts of controversies to do with that.

In no particular order:

Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, gave a surreal hour-long interview, seemingly to try to defend Qatar’s human rights and LGBTQ rights abuses (criticism has been levied on the death toll of the migrants building the World Cup stadiums) by accusing the West of being hypocritical.

Noticeably absent from the action in Doha is MBZ, who reportedly wanted the World Cup to happen in the UAE. “He’s not public-facing like MBS, and you never know—depending on who is in the final, he might go for that,” a source told me.

But who did show up regardless of who was winning on the football field? The U.S.’s Middle-East-Beneficiary-in-Chief Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump.

jared kushner ivanka trump family qatar world cup 2022Ivanka Trump posted on her Instagram page about her family’s visit to the World Cup in Qatar. [Credit: Instagram]

But what does it all mean for you in your armchair at home?

I spoke to the British academic Matthew Hedges, who specializes in the region. It’s Hedges’s informed opinion that what we are witnessing this World Cup is the crescendo of political and economic influence that has been so carefully curated and bought in both the U.S. and the UK by the Gulf states. These countries have all shown us recently they are not desert fiefdoms many miles away; they control a great deal more of our lives than most of us know.

You can listen to my conversation with Hedges in the player above or read the transcript, edited and condensed for clarity.

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Climate, Disasters, Energy 

 

 

climate change photo

ny times logoNew York Times, With Federal Aid on the Table, Utilities Shift to Embrace Climate Goals, Eric Lipton, Nov. 30, 2022 (print ed.). As billions in government subsidies were at stake, the electric utility industry shed its opposition to clean-air regulation and put its lobbying muscle behind passing President Biden’s climate bill.

Just two years ago, DTE Energy, a Michigan-based electric utility, was still enmeshed in a court fight with federal regulators over emissions from a coal-burning power plant on the western shore of Lake Erie that ranks as one of the nation’s largest sources of climate-changing air pollution.

But in September, Gerard M. Anderson, who led DTE for the last decade, was on the South Lawn of the White House alongside hundreds of other supporters of President Biden, giving a standing ovation to the president for his success in pushing a climate change package through Congress — a law that will help accelerate the closure of the very same coal-burning behemoth, known as DTE Monroe, that his company had been fighting to protect.

 washington post logoWashington Post, We looked at 1,200 possibilities for the planet’s future. These are our best hope, Chris Mooney, Naema Ahmed and John Muyskens, Dec. 1, 2022. Limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is the world’s most important climate goal. These scenarios help show us what needs to be done — and what we can still do.

It’s the world’s most important climate goal: limiting the Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). It’s the aspiration of global agreements, and to inhabitants of some small island nations, the marker of whether their homes will continue to exist.

Keeping warming this low will help save the world’s coral reefs, preserve the Arctic’s protective sea ice layer and could avoid further destabilizing Antarctica and Greenland, staving off dramatic sea level rise.

But with the world having already warmed by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial temperatures, achieving the goal is in grave doubt.

To see what hope remains, The Washington Post examined over 1,200 different scenarios for climate change over the coming century, based on the models produced by the world’s leading climate scientists and considered in a key 2022 report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Working with experts from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, we explored the central features of these scenarios — how fast the world embraces clean energy, how quickly we can remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere — and looked at how these in turn affect the planet’s temperature over the course of the century.

The results, as you will see, show a world that keeps inching closer to catastrophic climate change. But they also point a way toward a less hot future. The scenarios help show us what needs to be done — and what we can still do.

ny times logoNew York Times, D.O.J. Strikes Deal to Address Failing Water System in Jackson, Miss., Glenn Thrush, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). The Justice Department has sharply increased its role in monitoring the antiquated and failing water system in Jackson, Miss., reaching an agreement to help stabilize the drinking water supply in the city after tens of thousands of residents had no access to water over the summer.

As part of the agreement, the government’s lawyers proposed appointing an outside expert to oversee operations until the system is reorganized and major repairs can be made.

Local officials and Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican who has been highly critical of their efforts to deal with the problem, have agreed to the plan, and a federal judge approved the matter late Tuesday.

“We are approaching this with the greatest possible urgency and we believe our partners in this are doing so as well, so we will bring this to conclusion as soon as we possibly can,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told reporters at the Justice Department on Wednesday.

The department, acting on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, also filed a civil suit against the city on Tuesday, accusing officials of failing to provide drinking water that reliably complied with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The city has long struggled with a lack of investment in its core infrastructure and diminished funding for city services like the water supply, trash pickup and road repairs as white residents have left for the suburbs. Boil-water advisories and disruptions to running water are common, and the city’s out-of-date pipes and water treatment facilities are prone to failure. In February last year, a winter storm burst pipes and water mains across the city, leaving more than 70 percent of residents on a boil-water notice.

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Public Health, Pandemics

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Medicare Advantage? More like Medicare Disadvantage, Helaine Olen, Dec. 1, 2022. When the annual enrollment period for Medicare ends on Dec. 7, analysts expect that, for the first time, more seniors will receive their 2023 health-care coverage from Medicare Advantage than the traditional program.

That’s not a good thing for either elderly Americans or federal coffers. And while seniors are well advised to approach these plans with caution, we should all be paying attention to what’s going on.

Medicare Advantage plans, which are private insurance plans for seniors paid for with federal dollars, originated as a government savings strategy, on the theory that the private sector could improve on government performance at a lower cost. But over the past two decades, it has become clear that Medicare Advantage does not result in improved care for less money. Instead, it will come as no surprise to Americans familiar with the health insurance industry that insurers found a way to turn it into yet another profit center, while putting bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of patients.

The problems are so pronounced that Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) — both advocates of Medicare-for-all — recently introduced little-noticed legislation that would ban private insurers from using the word “Medicare” in their names or advertisements.

“Medicare implies universal coverage. You can go to any doctor, you can get your claims reimbursed,” Khanna told me. “You shouldn’t be able to appropriate the trust and faith people have in Medicare to sell a private product for personal profit that doesn’t have the same rules.”

David Goldhill: In health care, America is the world’s indispensable nation

Insurers in Medicare Advantage are paid a flat fee by the government, based on the enrollee’s health. These insurance companies often want their members to appear as ill as possible — at least as far as the Feds are concerned. They might “upcode,” in doctor speak, maximizing the amount of money they receive. (The federal government calls that practice “fraud” and has sued several of the largest insurers in federal court for it, including Anthem and Cigna, in cases still ongoing.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Chinese state TV obscures maskless crowd in World Cup broadcast, Miriam Berger, Dec. 1, 2022 (print ed.). Amid rare anti-government protests in China in response to “zero covid” restrictions, soccer fans on social media have been quick to point out an unusual quality in World Cup broadcasts on state TV: They have featured scant footage of the crowd.

china flag SmallA review of CCTV’s coverage, by no means comprehensive, compared with the official FIFA World Cup stream, other international broadcasts and past CCTV World Cup broadcasts indicates that the online observers might have a point: While other international broadcasts emphasize the onlookers and atmosphere, CCTV, China’s state-owned broadcaster, appears to be doing just the opposite, its cameras glued to the field.

The World Cup, which draws more than half a billion viewers in China, comes at an awkward time for Beijing’s censorship apparatus, already in overdrive as protesters challenge Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature coronavirus policies. Fans have speculated that the government hopes to de-emphasize the unmasked spectators from around the world, gathered in Qatar, who have in large part moved on from coronavirus precautions, even as the virus continues to spread.

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