Sept. 2023 News

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

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

Sept. 3

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Prosecutions Of Trump, Allies

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ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: Quietly Crushing a Democracy: Millions on Trial in Bangladesh, Mujib Mashal, Photographs by Atul Loke, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). The most active rivals to the country’s ruling party face dozens, even hundreds, of court cases each, paralyzing the opposition as a crucial election approaches.

Bangladesh’s multiparty democracy is being methodically strangled in crowded courtrooms across this country of 170 million people.

Nearly every day, thousands of leaders, members and supporters of opposition parties stand before a judge. Charges are usually vague, and evidence is shoddy, at best. But just months before a pivotal election pitting them against the ruling Awami League, the immobilizing effect is clear.

About half of the five million members of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are embroiled in politically motivated court cases, the group estimates. The most active leaders and organizers face dozens, even hundreds, of cases. Lives that would be defined by raucous rallies or late-night strategizing are instead dominated by lawyers’ chambers, courtroom cages and, in Dhaka, the torturously snail-paced traffic between the two.

One recent morning, a party leader, Saiful Alam Nirob, was ushered into Dhaka’s 10-story magistrate court in handcuffs. Mr. Nirob faces between 317 and 394 cases — he and his lawyers are unsure exactly how many. Outside the court, a dozen supporters — facing an additional 400 cases among them — waited in an alley whose bustle was cleared only by intermittent monsoon downpours and the frequent blowing of a police whistle to open the way for another political prisoner.

“I can’t do a job anymore,” said one of the supporters, Abdul Satar, who is dealing with 60 cases and spends three or four days a week in court. “It’s court case to court case.”

In recent years, Bangladesh has been known mostly as an economic success story, with a strong focus on a garment export industry that brought in a Sheikh Hasina, shown in a 2018 photo in New York Citysteady flow of dollars, increased women’s participation in the economy and lifted millions out of poverty. A country once described by American officials as a basket case of famine and disease appeared to be overcoming decades of coups, countercoups and assassinations.

But under the surface, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, shown at right in a 2018 photo in New York City, has waged a campaign of political consolidation whose goal, opposition leaders, analysts and activists say, is to turn the South Asian republic into a one-party state.In a related human rights tragedy, Bangladesh is now home to vast numbers of Rohinga refugees expelled from their homeland by the neighboring military dictatorship of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), as indicated by the above protests last month by Rohinga refugees seeking a return to the Myanmar (AFP photo Aug. 25, 2023).

myanmar flagIn a related human rights tragedy, Bangladesh is now home to vast numbers of Rohinga refugees expelled from their homeland by the neighboring military dictatorship of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), as indicated by the above protests last month by Rohinga refugees seeking a return to the Myanmar (AFP photo Aug. 25, 2023). 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Abortion fight unites the left and rattles the right in key Wis. battleground, Danielle Paquette, Sabrina Rodriguez and Carolyn Van Houten, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans in Door County, which has backed all but two presidential winners in the last 50 years, are grappling with the political fallout of an unpopular ban.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomThe Supreme Court’s move to overturn Roe v. Wade 14 months ago has reshaped the landscape of American politics, right down to the familiar ritual of county fair politicking. Long a rousing issue among conservatives, abortion is stirring voters on the left and mobilizing independents troubled by the government’s policing intimate decisions.

Most Americans aren’t in favor of revoking the option to end a pregnancy, and growing numbers of political moderates indicate that the issue will influence their vote. Republicans felt the impact in November when five states across the political spectrum put abortion referendums on the ballot, and voters in each case chose to safeguard access. Even in conservative strongholds, typically sleepy statewide contests have seen unusually high turnout when abortion access was at stake — most recently in Ohio, where a hearty majority rejected a measure that would have made it tougher to enshrine protections.

In Wisconsin, the high court’s decision reactivated a 174-year-old law interpreted as forbidding the procedure except to save a woman’s life — and ignited a fierce legal battle over whether that rule will stay on the books. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, has pledged to repeal the ban through litigation expected to land as early as next year before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court — which flipped to a liberal majority after voters this spring elected a justice who had campaigned on abortion rights.

Abortion is a galvanizing topic in Door County, a peninsular expanse between Green Bay and Lake Michigan known as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest” — and the swingiest place in what’s shaping up to be a crucial 2024 battleground. It’s one of nine U.S. counties that has sided with every presidential election’s winner since 2000. The county’s role as a barometer of political opinion extends to other races, too: the winners of Wisconsin’s state and federal races last year — including the governorship and House — all won this region of roughly 30,000.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Maui’s neglected grasslands caused Lahaina fire to grow with deadly speed, Imogen Piper, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Elahe Izadi and Brianna Sacks, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). A Washington Post investigation retraced the fire’s path, revealing that nonnative invasive grasses were key to creating the fast-moving, uncontrollable blaze.

The hills above Lahaina’s historic downtown have been surrounded by nonnative grasses for more than a century.

hawaii mapThe grasses — relics of the sugar cane plantations in the area that largely shuttered in 1999 — dried out the landscape. They grew taller after winter rains. Brushfires would sweep through and the species adapted and regrew, crowding out native grasses and moving close to homes. Locals who live surrounded by these fields say they rarely saw anyone come to manage the vegetation.

Then on Aug. 8, power lines fell near one of these flammable fields, whipping fire down the hills, in a sequence of events that would lead to one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

A Washington Post investigation found that the inferno that burned Lahaina town to the ground began on a fallow, unmanaged plot of land on a hill north of downtown, and the geographic spread and density of the nonnative grasses were key elements to creating a fast-moving, uncontrollable fire.

The comprehensive retracing is based on a review of topographic maps, satellite imagery, videos recorded by eyewitnesses and tax parcel data, as well as interviews with area residents and experts in fire, ecology and botany. It shows how powerful southwesterly winds pushed the flames down hills through massive fields of overgrown vegetation — feeding a fire that would consume propane tanks, melt steel and kill at least 115 people, though the toll is expected to rise.

The Post’s investigation reveals that despite years of repeated warnings of fire risk, weak code enforcement and a lack of government resources have hampered meaningful action to manage the grasses.

 

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping speaking at the August BRICS conference in August 2023.

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping speaking at the August BRICS conference in August 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Rural areas sacrificed for Xi Jinping’s new city, satellite imagery shows, Lily Kuo, Meg Kelly, Vic Chiang, Nilo Tabrizy and Pei-Lin Wu, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). When the remnants of Typhoon Doksuri battered northern China this month, dumping the most rain on Beijing since records began in 1883, it wasn’t only the capital that was threatened. The extreme weather also posed a severe risk to Xiong’an New Area, a sprawling development more than twice the size of New York City.

China FlagXiong’an is a pet project of Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, who declared that it would be a “city of the future” — a “socialist modern metropolis” far beyond the imagination of Western capitals.

Officials jumped into action, pledging to protect the capital and Xiong’an — under construction for the past six years — at all costs. Authorities began using a network of dams and reservoirs starting July 30 to discharge water from overflowing rivers into seven designated flood zones in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing. It was the region’s largest effort to control flooding in 60 years.

Visual evidence and firsthand accounts gathered by The Washington Post show that, while the effort diverted water away from Xiong’an and other urban areas, it directly contributed to the devastation of rural villages in Hebei, destroying homes and livelihoods. Satellite images reveal that authorities’ actions led to a dramatic increase of water across those areas, covering at least 95 square miles — almost 46,000 football fields. In one of the clearest examples, more than 20 square miles of farmland near Xiong’an’s high-speed railway station were still underwater on Aug. 5.

It may never be known how many people died or were displaced as a result of these decisions, but at least 29 people in Hebei perished during the flooding. About 1.75 million people were relocated, including more than 900,000 from zones where houses were flooded. The economic damage totaled $13 billion in a province where rural incomes are less than a quarter of incomes in Beijing.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bill Richardson, Champion of Americans Held Overseas, Dies at 75, Sam Roberts, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). After serving in Congress and as governor of New Mexico, he practiced quasi-public and freelance diplomacy, often with considerable success.

Bill Richardson, bill richardson energy secretaryshown at right in a 1998 photo, who served two terms as governor of New Mexico and 14 years as a congressman, then continued to devote himself to liberating Americans who were being held hostage or who he believed were being wrongfully detained by hostile countries overseas, died on Friday at his summer home in Chatham, Mass., on Cape Cod. He was 75.

His death was announced by the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which he founded. A cause was not given.

Under President Bill Clinton, Mr. Richardson was also ambassador to the United Nations, succeeding Madeleine Albright in early 1997, after having served in the House of Representatives, as a member of the New Mexico delegation, from January 1983 to February 1997 and as the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. He was Mr. Clinton’s secretary of energy from 1998 until 2001.

Born in California — his mother had traveled to Pasadena from Mexico City, where the family was living, to give birth so there were would be no question about his citizenship — and descended from William Brewster, a passenger on the Mayflower, Mr. Richardson was the nation’s only Hispanic governor during his two terms, from 2003 to 2011.

Representative Gabe Vasquez, a New Mexico Democrat, described Mr. Richardson in a statement as “one of the most powerful Hispanics in politics that this nation has seen.”

But his home-state popularity — he was re-elected in 2006 by a 68 percent to 32 percent margin, a record for New Mexico — did not translate into national office.

In 2008, Mr. Richardson mounted a short-lived campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination but finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Despite having served in the Clinton administration, he endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton.

After winning the presidency, Mr. Obama nominated Mr. Richardson as secretary of commerce, but Mr. Richardson withdrew because of a pending investigation into allegations of improper business dealings in his home state. No charges were ever filed against him, and the investigation was later dropped.

After Mr. Richardson completed his second term as governor, he honed the quasi-public and freelance diplomacy skills that he had learned first in college and further developed on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and when he worked on congressional relations for the State Department under Henry Kissinger.

His separate humanitarian missions on behalf of some 80 families won the release of hostages and American servicemen in countries hostile to the United States, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba and Colombia.

“I plead guilty to photo ops and getting human beings rescued and improving the lives of human beings,” he once said. (More coverage below.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Republican race remains stuck as Trump dominates heading into fall, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Marianne LeVine, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Some campaigns don’t want to go after Trump for fear of alienating his supporters — but don’t see a path to beating him without attacking him at some point.

President Donald Trump officialRepublican rivals of Donald Trump and their allies have run about $75 million in advertising, hosted hundreds of events, deployed small armies of door-knockers and staged a presidential debate with ratings akin to the NBA Finals.

But they have little to show for any of it. The former president has continued to dominate the polls while racking up 91 felony indictments in four courtrooms, campaigning less than many of his competitors, skipping the debate and repeatedly slashing popular fellow Republicans.

djt maga hatA majority of the national GOP electorate now tell pollsters they support Trump’s renomination after the first debate, up about 10 points from the spring. His closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has watched his support cut in half from the 30s in March to now approaching the rest of the single-digit field.

republican elephant logoThe dire situation has forced Trump’s would-be successors to refocus their post-Labor Day push on the first voting states, fueled by a near-providential conviction that about 400,000 people in Iowa and New Hampshire — the first two nominating contests — can change history once again. It has also led to frenzied conversations among some candidates and campaign consultants who don’t want to go after Trump for fear of alienating his supporters — but who don’t see a path to beating him without attacking him at some point.

They find themselves scrambling to make the case that they can stand up to the front-runner, while fighting back against the notion that Trump’s dominance has permanently transformed the party around his personality.

“Every day that goes by — no one has come up with a good idea,” said Dave Carney, a Republican consultant who worked in the presidential campaigns of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking about the major rivals to Trump. “This was a perfect opportunity to lay out your attack on Trump, since he wasn’t at the debate, and no one had the [guts] to talk about it. You know why? They don’t know what to do.”

 

Prosecutions Of Trump, Allies

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Appeals court won’t block Trump deposition in ex-FBI employees’ suit, Rachel Weiner, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). An appellate court won’t block former president Donald Trump from being questioned under oath in a lawsuit brought by two former FBI employees who say his administration persecuted them for political reasons.

peter strzok 7 12 18The Justice Department sought to block Trump from being compelled to answer questions about the handling of text messages between FBI attorney Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, right, that exposed their opposition to his candidacy and their personal relationship. The two are suing the Justice Department, not Trump, but say the former president was inappropriately involved in how they were treated.

FBI logoJudge Amy Berman Jackson allowed for the two-hour deposition earlier this year, saying that Trump’s repeated public statements about the pair justifies further probing of whether he pressured the Justice Department to retaliate against them after the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday denied an emergency petition from the Justice Department to block Berman Jackson’s ruling. Absent another appeal, Trump’s deposition will now go forward. The former president has not intervened to prevent the deposition.

The two judges who voted to deny the Justice Department petition are Democratic appointees; a Republican appointee on the panel said she would have blocked the deposition.

Page, who resigned, says the texts were released in violation of her privacy; Strzok says he was fired in retaliation for protected speech.

Both were assigned before that election to investigate whether Hillary Clinton broke the law by using a private email server and Russian interference into Trump’s campaign. The exposure of their anti-Trump messages in 2017 fueled Republican allegations that FBI bias drove the Russia probe. An inspector general investigation found no evidence that their opinions affected their work; a special counsel appointed by Trump was more critical of the FBI but agreed investigating Russian interference was warranted.

Attorneys for the Justice Department argued that other officials have already testified that their decisions to release the texts and fire Strzok were made independently of Trump. But the plaintiffs say some of those officials did not recall relevant details, and note that Trump personally took credit for driving them both out of the FBI.

Mother Jones Magazine, A New Rudy Scandal: FBI Agent Says Giuliani Was Co-opted by Russian Intelligence, Dan Friedman and David Corn, right, Sept. 1, david corn headshot2023. The whistleblower says his probe of Giuliani’s ties to suspected Russian operatives was thwarted.

It was big news when Rudy Giuliani, once hailed as America’s Mayor, was indicted last month by a district attorney in Atlanta for allegedly being part of a criminal enterprise led by Donald Trump that sought to overturn the 2020 election results. Giuliani was back in headlines this week when he lost a defamation suit filed against him by two Georgia election workers whom he had falsely accused of ballot stuffing. Giuliani’s apparent impoverishment, caused by his massive legal bills, and even his alleged drinking have been fodder for reporters. But another major Giuliani development has drawn less attention: An FBI whistleblower filed a statement asserting that Giuliani “may have been compromised” by Russian intelligence while working as a lawyer and adviser to Trump during the 2020 campaign.

That contention is among a host of explosive assertions from Johnathan Buma, an FBI agent who also says that an investigation involving Giuliani’s activities was stymied within the bureau.

In July, Buma sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a 22-page statement full of eye-popping allegations, and the document leaked and was first reported last month by Insider (after a conservative blogger had posted it online). According to Buma’s account, Giuliani was Russian Flagused as an asset by a Ukrainian oligarch tied to Russian intelligence and other Russian operatives for a disinformation operation that aimed to discredit Joe Biden and boost Trump in the 2020 presidential race. Moreover, Buma says he was the target of retaliation within the bureau for digging into this.

The FBI declined to comment on Buma’s claims.

Buma’s revelations may only be the start. A source familiar with his work tells Mother Jones that other potential FBI whistleblowers who participated in the investigation involving Giuliani have consulted the same lawyer as Buma and might meet with congressional investigators in coming weeks. That attorney, Scott Horton, declined to comment.

Giuliani faces a heap of legal and financial problems, including those felony charges in Georgia. He is also an uncharged co-conspirator in the federal case in which Trump was indicted for his efforts to retain power after losing the 2020 election. He has been sued by a former assistant for rape. And apparently Trump has not helped the supposedly broke Giuliani cover his legal bills, though the former president did agree to headline a fundraiser for Giuliani.

Still, Buma’s statement suggests that Giuliani has been lucky to avoid deeper trouble over his attempt during the 2020 race to deploy made-in-Ukraine disinformation to sully Joe Biden.

It is widely known that Giuliani tried mightily to unearth and disseminate dirt on Biden in Ukraine—particularly regarding the unfounded allegation that as vice president Biden squashed an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company for which his son Hunter was a director. This smear campaign led to Trump’s first impeachment and resulted in a federal investigation into whether Giuliani violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutors ended that probe last year.

But Buma’s allegations that FBI and Justice Department officials blocked his efforts to investigate these Giuliani activities and the work of suspected Russian agents who may have influenced the former New York City mayor could spark a new dust-up on Capitol Hill. As Republicans keep trying to gin up a controversy over the Bidens, Burisma, and other matters, Buma’s statement reinforces the case that this supposed Biden-Ukraine scandal was egged on or orchestrated by Russian intelligence. And it contradicts the narrative pushed by Trump and his defenders that the FBI and Justice Department have been in cahoots with Democrats.

Giuliani’s role in Trump’s coup attempt and his string of public humiliations may overshadow the Ukrainian chapter in Giuliani’s downfall. But, according to Buma and various US intelligence findings, Giuliani apparently was a dupe—a useful idiot—for suspected Russian operatives and propagandists. And the bureau, Buma says, investigated this—until it didn’t.

Buma’s statement highlights Giuliani’s relationship with Pavel Fuks, a wealthy Ukrainian developer, who in 2017 hired Giuliani and paid him $300,000. Fuks once told the New York Times that he had retained Giuliani to lobby in the United States for the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where Fuks then lived. Giuliani has denied that he was paid to lobby for Kharkiv, insisting he only provided advice regarding security to the city. And Fuks has changed his tune. Through a spokesperson, he told Mother Jones that Giuliani’s work was limited to advising the city.
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In his statement, Buma says that the FBI assessed Fuks to be a “co-opted asset” of Russian intelligence services, meaning a person who Russian intelligence used to advance its goals. Buma’s complaint does not name a specific Russian intelligence agency, but a person who spoke to agents involved in this investigation says that the FBI believes Fuks worked for the FSB, the successor to KGB. All this raises the possibility that Giuliani, a former Republican presidential candidate who became a close adviser to Trump, received a large payment directly from a Russian asset.

Buma alleges that Fuks has carried out various tasks for Russian spies, including laundering money for them. Fuks also reportedly paid locals to spray-paint swastikas around Kharkiv in the weeks before Russia’s invasion. Buma says Fuks did so to bolster Vladmir Putin’s claim that the invasion aimed to achieve the “de-Nazification of Ukraine.”

Fuks denies these claims. “Mr. Fuks has never cooperated with Russian intelligence,” his spokesperson says.

Buma maintains that his investigative work led to Customs and Border Patrol in 2017 revoking Fuks visa for travel to the United States and that the FBI assessed that Fuks constituted “a national security threat,” a finding that caused Fuks to be placed on an organized crime watch list. Buma also says that he sent the Treasury Department a recommendation that the United States sanction Fuks. To date, the US government has not done so.
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Ukraine has sanctioned Fuks, and it is reportedly investigating him for fraud and tax evasion. Fuks now lives in London, according to recent media reports.

In his statement, Buma says that he developed suspicions that Giuliani, through his relationship with Fuks, was “compromised by the RIS,” meaning the Russian Intelligence Services. That is a striking claim—an allegation that Russian spies may have obtained influence over a top adviser to the US president.

It’s a new piece of information to add to a pile of public indications that Giuliani left himself wide open to manipulation by Russian agents, while he was dredging Ukraine in search of derogatory information about Hunter and Joe Biden.

Giuliani has previously asserted that his work for Fuks ended before he joined Trump’s legal team in April 2018. And Fuks’ spokesperson also says that Fuks’ dealings with Giuliani finished in 2018. But Buma suggests that Fuks may have maintained an indirect connection to Giuliani by hiring in 2019 Andriy Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomatic official, to mount a public relations effort for him in the United States. Buma says that a source told him that Fuks retained Telizhenko to help him “establish contacts with US politicians.” Telizhenko went on to work with Giuliani, feeding him information on the Bidens.

Telizhenko, in a recent interview with Mother Jones, maintained that his work for Fuks and his contacts with Giuliani were unrelated.

But Telizhenko’s interactions with Giuliani raise serious questions about whether this Trump adviser, wittingly or not, played. a part in a covert Russian operation to discredit Biden. In 2021, the Treasury Department sanctioned Telizhenko for promoting Russian “disinformation narratives that U.S. government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine.” Telizhenko denies advancing disinformation or aiding Russia. He says the sanctions resulted from an FBI informant making false claims about him.

Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine placed him in contact with several Ukrainians since sanctioned for allegedly assisting Russian disinformation efforts. The most prominent was Andriy Derkach, the son of a former KGB officer and then a Ukrainian legislator, who supplied Giuliani with unsubstantiated information about the Bidens’ supposed activities in Ukraine. After making a trip to Ukraine in the summer of 2020, Giuliani told the Washington Post that he kept in touch with Derkach and called him “very helpful.”

Trump’s Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach in 2020, calling him an “active Russian agent for over a decade.” In March 2021, a declassified report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that Putin in 2020 signed off on a Russian intelligence effort to use proxies to feed prominent US individuals “influence narratives” aimed at hurting Biden’s campaign and helping Trump. The report cited Derkach, asserting that Putin “had purview” over his activities. Though the report did not name him, Giuliani was obviously one of the Americans the ODNI believed had been manipulated by the Russians. Last year, federal prosecutors hit Derkach with criminal charges for his alleged attempts to evade sanctions.

In his statement, Buma says he investigated Giuliani’s use of “funds he collected from political influencers to travel and conduct a series of interviews with former Ukrainian officials”—a reference to Giuliani’s campaign to gather opposition research on the Bidens. But he adds that “Giuliani was himself never considered a subject” of that part of his probe, which focused on “foreign organized crime figures and intelligence service assets or agents who chose to deal with him.”

Giuliani has admitted to meeting Ukrainians subsequently cited by the US government as Russian operatives. But he has defended his actions by arguing he had to deal with questionable people to seek information on what he has referred to as alleged Biden crimes. (No evidence has surfaced to prove Biden acted improperly in Ukraine to help his son.)

Buma reveals in his statement that he also probed whether Russian operatives or assets were involved in a 2020 Giuliani effort to make a film about Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine and elsewhere. As Mother Jones reported, the GOP activists behind this venture noted in legal documents that they were considering seeking foreign financing for the film. The anti-Biden film was to include commentary from Konstantin Kulyk, a former Ukrainian prosecutor who Treasury sanctioned in 2021 for working with Derkach to spread “fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations” about Biden. That is, this project was to feature information from sources who the US government later deemed were connected to a disinformation campaign linked to Russian intelligence.

Giuliani played a key role in trying to line up investors for the movie. His lawyer, Robert Costello, denied that Giuliani solicited money from foreign investors. The investors Giuliani did help find were two brothers, David and Kable Munger, who own a large blueberry producing company in California and have donated generously to GOP candidates. The movie never came close to being made, and people involved in the endeavor told Mother Jones the project was disorganized and incompetently managed.
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The Mungers recently sued two GOP activists involved in producing the film, Tim Yale and George Dickson, along with a company they formed. Giuliani was not named as a defendant in the suit. The Mungers say that Giuliani helped persuade them to invest $1 million by saying that they would receive a share of the film’s profits. The brothers also claim that Yale and Dickson told them the movie would be “more profitable than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.” Giuliani, Dickson, and Yale also said, according to the Mungers’ lawsuit, that they possessed “smoking guns” revealing Joe Biden was corrupt.

Giuliani and his colleagues possessed no such material. The Mungers allege that Dickson and Yale stole their investment. In a text message to Mother Jones, Yale insisted that the lawsuit is “total hogwash.” He declined to comment further. Dickson did not respond to requests for comment.

Giuliani, according to the lawsuit, was paid $300,000 for his participation in the film project. A lawyer and a spokesperson for Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

Buma’s disclosures spell new trouble for Giuliani. They further implicate him in a covert Russian operation to tilt the 2020 election toward Trump. They also raise the possibility that Giuliani was protected by FBI officials. (After the 2016 election, the Justice Department investigated whether Giuliani had improper contacts with FBI agents during that race regarding the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton, and it found no evidence Giuliani had been leaked information.) Buma’s statement offers an investigative roadmap for inquiries that could soil Giuliani’s already tarnished reputation. But the down-and-out Giuliani may get lucky: With all the controversy and scandal swirling about him, there just may not be much room in the Giuliani coverage for the allegation that he was a puppet for Putin.

 

ethan nordean WSJ

washington post logoWashington Post, Proud Boys leader gets 18 years, matching longest Jan. 6 punishment to date, Tom Jackman, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Ethan Nordean, above, led a group to the Capitol. Dominic Pezzola, who smashed a Capitol window, received a 10-year term.

Two more members of the Proud Boys convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol were sentenced to lengthy prison terms Friday, with one of the group’s leaders that day receiving an 18-year sentence for seditious conspiracy, the longest term for a Proud Boys member so far and equal to the longest Jan. 6 sentence yet imposed. Another member who gained national renown for smashing a window at the Capitol, enabling the first breach of the building by rioters, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But some of the defendants seemed unrepentant. After expressing deep remorse over his actions on Jan. 6, and receiving the 10-year term, half what dominic spaz pezzola mug resizedprosecutors had sought, Dominic Pezzola, right, turned to the audience as he left the courtroom Friday, raised his fist and yelled, “Trump won!”

The sentencings are the latest milestone in the Jan. 6 investigation, which has targeted leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers who led their members to the Capitol and inflamed the actions of the larger crowd of Donald Trump supporters angry with the 2020 election results.

Prosecutors have now racked up dozens of guilty pleas or trial convictions for members of the two groups, with sentences ranging from home detention to 18 years for Ethan Nordean, who was sentenced after Pezzola on Friday, and for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was sentenced earlier this year. Nordean and Pezzola were convicted after a five-month trial with co-defendants Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and former Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, shown second from the right with co-defendant Proud Boys below.

ethan nordean joseph biggs zachery rehl enrique tarrio dominic pezzola proud boys J6On Thursday, Biggs was sentenced to 17 years and Rehl received 15 years. Tarrio, who prosecutors say deserves a 33-year prison term, is set to be sentenced Tuesday.

Nordean, 33, of Washington, was tapped to head the “boots on the ground” in D.C. after Tarrio was banned from the city because of a Jan. 4 arrest. Nordean and Biggs, a far-right online personality and associate of broadcaster Alex Jones, used bullhorns to direct about 200 men away from a rally featuring Trump.

 

Ethan Nordean, with bullhorn, leads members of the Proud Boys in marching to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. To the left of Nordean is Zachary Rehl, and to the right is Joseph Biggs, fellow Proud Boys. All three were convicted of seditious conspiracy (Associated Press Photo by Carolyn Kaster).Ethan Nordean, right, with bullhorn, leads members of the Proud Boys in marching to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. To the left of Nordean is Joseph Biggs, another Proud Boys leader. Both were convicted of seditious conspiracy (Associated Press Photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Photos and videos show the two marching the group toward the Capitol long before Trump’s remarks at the “Stop the Steal” rally, and then imploring Proud Boys as well as the arriving crowd of Trump supporters to overrun the police and enter the Capitol after the electoral vote certification began at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6.

The prosecution asked U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly to enhance the sentences of Pezzola and Nordean on Friday by ruling that their acts to disrupt the electoral vote certification qualified as terrorism. Kelly had agreed to this request with Biggs and Rehl, and did so again with Pezzola and Nordean.

Prosecutors initially sought a 27-year term for Nordean and 20 years for Pezzola. But as with Biggs and Rehl, Kelly decided that the sentencing ranges for Nordean and Pezzola were too severe. After seeing the sentences for Biggs and Rehl, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough argued Friday that Nordean deserved at least 17 years, as a “structural equal” of Biggs.

“The truth is I did help lead a group of men back to the Capitol,” Nordean told the judge. “There is no excuse for my actions, ignoring police commands, going past barricades, entering the Capitol. Adding myself to the dangerous situation was sorely irresponsible. I would like to take the time to apologize to anyone I wronged. There is no excuse for what I did. I would also like to apologize for my lack of leadership that day.”

Kelly said that most cases with terrorism adjustments “seem to incorporate an intent to kill people or at least a means in the offense to risk serious injury or death. I don’t think — while what Mr. Nordean was convicted of was a serious crime — I don’t think he intended to kill anyone that day.”

He did not say why he gave Nordean one more year than Biggs.

 

djt march 2020 Custom

washington post logo Washington Post, While Trump’s other trials remain largely off-camera, Georgia offers a new level of access, Paul Farhi, Sept. 2, 2023. Thus far, Donald Trump’s metastasizing legal troubles have largely been visible only from the outside.

Barred from arraignments and other preliminary courtroom activities, television news has resorted to showing the former president’s motorcades arriving and departing. Sometimes the only thing on the screen was a static shot of the building he had entered.
Keeping up with politics is easy with The 5-Minute Fix Newsletter, in your inbox weekdays.

georgia mapIt appears that’s about to change — thanks to the relatively open-door media policies of the Georgia court system, the site of Trump’s most recent criminal indictment.

On Thursday, the Atlanta-area judge overseeing the racketeering case gave the go-ahead for live TV and streaming video coverage of his trial, probably the only occasion the general public could have opportunity to watch him sit through courtroom proceedings amid the heat of a 2024 campaign.

The ruling by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott F. McAfee carries several big question marks. First, it’s unclear when exactly Trump will stand trial; the judge hasn’t set a date. Second, Trump’s attorneys could still ask to move the case to federal court; co-defendant Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, argued for such a change of venue this week. If that happens, it would render McAfee’s ruling about televising moot.

If the trial remains with Fulton County, however, daily video coverage could turn it into an enormous media event — a veritable trial of the century.

“It’s frankly hard to imagine a case of higher public interest than the trial of a former president who is accused of trying to overturn an election,” said Sonja R. West, a professor at the University of Georgia’s law school who specializes in First Amendment law. With TV and streaming, she said, “there will literally be far more eyes on this trial than on the others.”

dominic spaz pezzola mug resized

Politico, Proud Boy who triggered breach of Capitol building on Jan. 6 sentenced to 10 years, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 1, 2023. The image of Dominic Pezzola smashing the Senate wing window became emblematic of the threat to democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.

politico CustomDominic Pezzola, right, a New York Proud Boy who triggered the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the Capitol when he smashed a window with a stolen police riot shield, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the attack.

“You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly, below, left, said as he delivered his sentence on Friday. “It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”

timothy kellyPezzola’s sentence closes one of the most harrowing chapters of the Jan. 6 riot. The image of Pezzola smashing the window became emblematic of the threat to democracy that unfolded that day, and it was featured during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump that unfolded a month later.

Pezzola also filmed himself inside the Capitol smoking a cigar and celebrating the breach.

“I knew we could take this motherfucker over if we just tried hard enough,” Pezzola said in the video in which he also repeated a Proud Boys slogan.

Pezzola was convicted in May alongside four Proud Boys leaders, including the group’s national chair on Jan. 6, 2021, Enrique Tarrio, with conspiring to obstruct Congress’ proceedings that day. Pezzola was also convicted of civil disorder, destruction of government property, assaulting a police officer and stealing the riot shield. Unlike Tarrio and the other three codefendants — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl — Pezzola was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, the gravest charge the group faced.

Biggs and Rehl were sentenced Thursday to 17 years and 15 years, respectively.

Pezzola’s route to Jan. 6 differed sharply from his codefendants. A businessperson whose work suffered amid the Covid pandemic, Pezzola grew disillusioned with government and delved deeply into far-right politics while largely isolated at home. In November 2020, he sought out camaraderie from the Proud Boys and began attending events and rallies with the group, but he was not a member of senior leadership like his codefendants.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in historic indictment linked to Stormy Daniels hush money probe (Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a blue suit, sits with his attorneys shortly before arraignment in New York City’s state court on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records related to the 2016 presidential campaign season, reportedly involving in part hush money to women ((Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, ImmigrationICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Families crossing U.S. border illegally reached all-time high in August, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). At least 91,000 migrants crossing in a family group were arrested in August, an influx that may return immigration to the spotlight for the 2024 election.

Record numbers of migrant families streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border in August, according to preliminary data obtained by The Washington Post, an influx that has upended Biden administration efforts to discourage parents from entering illegally with children and could once again place immigration in the spotlight during a presidential race.

The U.S. Border Patrol arrested at least 91,000 migrants who crossed as part of a family group in August, exceeding the prior one-month record of 84,486 set in May 2019, during the Trump administration. Families were the single largest demographic group crossing the border in August, surpassing single adults for the first time since Biden took office.

Overall, the data show, border apprehensions have risen more than 30 percent for two consecutive months, after falling sharply in May and June as the Biden administration rolled out new restrictions and entry opportunities. The Border Patrol made more than 177,000 arrests along the Mexico border in August, up from 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June.

Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Biden administration is trying to slow illegal entries by expanding lawful options and also stiffening penalties. The government ramped up deportation flights carrying families in August, she said, and since May has repatriated more than 17,000 parents and children who recently crossed the border in a family group.

“But as with every year, the U.S. is seeing ebbs and flows of migrants arriving fueled by seasonal trends and the efforts of smugglers to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable migrants and encourage migration,” Heeter said in a statement.

Family groups have been an Achilles’ heel for U.S. immigration enforcement for over a decade. Most migrants in that category who are detained by Border Patrol agents are quickly released and allowed to live and work in the United States while their humanitarian claims are pending. Backlogged U.S. immigration courts typically take several years to reach a decision, and the process rarely ends in deportation, federal data show.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ohio police release video of officer fatally shooting pregnant woman, Amber Ferguson, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Ohio police released body-camera video Friday that shows officers interacting with a pregnant woman for about one minute before an officer fired a single shot through her windshield, killing her and her unborn baby, after authorities said the woman drove forward into one of the officers.

ohio mapThe Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is reviewing the Aug. 24 shooting and the officer who fired his gun remains on administrative leave, authorities said, while also declining to release the officer’s name. Attorneys representing the family of the slain woman, 21-year-old Ta’Kiya Young, have called for the officer who fired the shot to be identified.

“We demand accountability for the loss of two precious lives, Ta’Kiya and her unborn daughter,” Sean L. Walton, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference Wednesday. “The officer of this department must be held accountable for his actions that escalated this encounter.”

The incident took place in the parking lot of a Kroger’s grocery store in Westerville, Ohio. Body-camera video shows Blendon Township police officers were already in the lot assisting another woman who had been locked out of her car when a store employee approached them and claimed a woman had stolen bottles of alcohol before entering a car parked in a handicap space outside the store.

The video shows one officer approach Young’s driver’s side window, which Young partially rolled down, and repeatedly tell her to exit the car. A second officer then steps in front of the vehicle.

Young can be heard on camera denying that she stole anything and arguing with the officers before turning the wheel of the car.

The officer standing in front of the vehicle then draws his handgun, puts one of his hands on the vehicle’s hood and also orders Young to get out of the car, as it moves forward. The officer is then seen on video shooting once into the windshield, striking Young.

The car continued moving forward after the shot and came to a halt on the sidewalk near the store. Authorities said Young was quickly removed from the car and a nearby emergency medicine physician provided medical aid before EMTs arrived.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Texas judge again orders Southwest lawyers to reeducation camp, Ruth Marcus, right, Sept. 1, 2023. Federal judge Brantley ruth marcus twitter CustomStarr isn’t backing down from his order that lawyers for Southwest Airlines undergo “religious liberty” training from a conservative group dedicated to opposing abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. The airline’s complaint that the court-ordered training violates its First Amendment rights, Starr wrote, “appears to be more of a gripe than a legal objection.”

texas mapStarr’s latest ruling came in a case involving Charlene Carter, a Southwest flight attendant who sent graphic antiabortion messages to a fellow flight attendant and called her “despicable.” Southwest fired Carter, saying her conduct “crossed the boundaries of acceptable behavior.” Carter sued, claiming that Southwest discriminated against her based on her religious beliefs. A jury agreed; Southwest is appealing.

In early August, however, Starr, a Donald Trump appointee who sits in Dallas, found that Southwest hadn’t accurately informed its flight attendants about his ruling in the case or the fact that their religious freedom is protected under Title VII, the federal employment discrimination law. So he ordered three Southwest lawyers to undergo “a minimum” of eight hours of religious liberty training — to be conducted, he specified, by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Ruth Marcus: A Trump judge sends Southwest Airlines to right-wing reeducation camp

Starr’s order referred to “esteemed nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom,” but ADF is no neutral, academic entity. It is a full-throated, highly effective combatant in the culture wars, with particular — and to many people, particularly offensive — views about abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. It argued in favor of criminalizing homosexual conduct and against gays in the military. It litigated cases defending the rights of Christian bakers and website designers to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings; it’s in court right now arguing that the abortion drug Mifepristone should be taken off the market.

All of this is fully within ADF’s constitutional rights. But forcing lawyers to submit to indoctrination by ADF embodies the antithesis of the First Amendment values that Starr purports to be protecting. Somehow, he is exquisitely sensitive to a perceived bias against Carter — although there’s scant evidence the airline was motivated by animus toward her faith — and resolutely oblivious to the offensiveness of required reeducation training at the hands of ADF.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: It’s not going to be easy to make D.C.’s youth curfew work, Colbert I. King, right, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). D.C. Mayor Muriel E. colbert king newestBowser’s partial youth curfew went into effect Friday in areas of the city where police have found patterns of criminal activity by juveniles in the overnight hours. The U Street entertainment corridor in Northwest Washington is one designated curfew-enforcement area. I can’t help but wonder: What if the special curfew had been in place last weekend?

Time will tell whether this pilot curfew program will reduce the toll of crime on our youths. Thirteen boys and girls younger than 18 have been killed so far in D.C. this year. More than 80 youths have been shot. Hundreds of minors have been charged with crimes of violence — all numbers that have increased since this time last year.

True, not all crimes were committed after 11 p.m. But enough goes wrong, at least in the mayor’s view, to get unsupervised youths under 17 off the streets late at night.

Bowser rightly recognizes the risks of curfew stoking up tensions between the police and affected residents. Curfew violators won’t be taken to police stations. Instead, they will be transported to the Youth Services Center, where their families can come get them. This is also an opportunity to confront the reality that many D.C. youths getting in trouble are often in troubled families. Under this pilot program, the center will connect both parent and child with the kind of help and rehabilitation services they might need.

All of which is a good idea — on paper. But does the city have the capacity to make it work?

This spring, the Youth Services Center reached such an extreme state with staff shortages that young people were reportedly confined to hours-long lockdowns in their rooms, beyond legal limits. Problems also were so severe that administrative or maintenance staff were substituting for trained youth development workers. The mayor’s office assured me the facility can now handle all detained youths. But the center is an 88-bed facility. As of Thursday, 78 beds were filled. Will additional space be made available to accommodate the influx of curfew violators?

washington post logoWashington Post, Manhunt underway for convicted murderer who escaped Pa. prison, officials say, Ben Brasch, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). A Pennsylvania manhunt involving police dogs, drones and helicopters is underway in a county 30 miles west of Philadelphia for a convicted murderer authorities say escaped from a nearby prison.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, broke out of the Chester County Prison about 8:50 a.m. Thursday, roughly a week after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his 33-year-old ex-girlfriend, said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan at a news conference Thursday.

“If you see him, do not approach him,” Ryan said. “He is considered extremely dangerous.”

Cavalcante was found guilty of stabbing Deborah Brandao about 38 times in front of her two children, ages 4 and 7, in August 2021, according to a statement from Ryan’s office announcing the sentencing. Cavalcante fled the scene before police arrived, according to authorities, but was arrested after being tracked to Virginia.

  • Washington Post, ATF proposes rules aimed to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ Perry Stein, Sept. 1, 2023..

  Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 

Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, A Brutal Path Forward for Ukraine, Village by Village, Marc Santora, Photographs by Tyler Hicks, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). As Ukraine pushes slowly forward in its counteroffensive, it’s relying heavily on the effort of hundreds of small-scale assault groups.

The mission for the Ukrainian unit was to take a single house, in a village that is only a speck on the map but was serving as a stronghold for Russian soldiers.

Andriy, a veteran marine, had waited for three days with his small assault team — none of whom had seen combat before — as other Ukrainian units crawled through minefields, stormed trenches and cleared a path to the farming village of Urozhaine. Finally, one day last month, the order came to move.

They raced to a predetermined location in an armored personnel carrier, and disembarked as explosions and gunfire rattled the ground beneath their feet, Andriy and members of his unit said. Driving out or killing the remaining Russians, they secured the house as night fell, posting guards and reviewing the day’s tactics to see how they might improve.

In the morning, the new order came: Take another house.

The monthslong campaign to breach heavily fortified Russian lines is being conducted in many domains and in many forms of battle, with artillery duels and drone strikes across the breadth of the front in southern Ukraine. But the engine driving the effort are hundreds of small-scale assault groups, often just eight to 10 soldiers, each tasked with attacking a single trench, tree line or house.

washington post logoWashington Post, Nobel Prize foundation scraps plan to invite Russia, Belarus after criticism, Ellen Francis, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). The Nobel Foundation reversed course on Saturday and said it would not invite the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus to this year’s award ceremony in Stockholm, after a decision to invite them back to the annual event drew objections in Sweden and Ukraine.

Earlier this week, the foundation which administers the award said ambassadors from all countries which are diplomatically represented in Sweden would be invited to the ceremony in December, after barring Russia and its ally Belarus in 2022 over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

The private foundation had said it sought to invite everyone this year, even “those who do not share the values of the Nobel Prize,” in an effort to promote dialogue and counter a tendency of growing global polarization.

But a number of Swedish officials said as a result that they would boycott the event, which takes place on Dec. 10, the anniversary of scientist Alfred Nobel’s death.“I was looking forward to participating,” Muharrem Demirok, the leader of Sweden’s Center Party, said Friday. “But as long as Russia is waging its war against Ukraine, I cannot attend the same celebration as their ambassador.”

Ukraine objects after Russia and Belarus invited back to Nobel ceremonies

A Swedish member of the European Parliament, Karin Karlsbro, called the invites “extremely inappropriate.” The move was also criticized by Kyiv, which said this would reinforce the Kremlin’s “feeling of impunity.”

The Nobel Foundation said Saturday that its decision to return to the practice of inviting all ambassadors, after last year’s exception, had “provoked strong reactions.”

“The basis for the decision is that we believe that it is important and right to reach out as widely as possible with the values and messages that the Nobel Prize stands for,” it said.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Never-Ending Nightmare of Ukraine’s Dam Disaster, Jeffrey Gettleman, Photographs by Finbarr O’Reilly, Sept. 3, 2023. The destruction of the Kakhovka dam unleashed untold damage. Months later, many communities are still reeling.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia said it had thwarted a Ukrainian attack on a vital bridge that links Russia to occupied Crimea, Marc Santora, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it had destroyed three sea drones targeting the Kerch Strait Bridge, a vital supply line for Moscow’s forces that links occupied Crimea to Russia.

The claims could not be independently verified, and Ukraine’s military did not explicitly comment Saturday on whether its drones had targeted the bridge.

But Ukrainian officials have said that they consider the destruction of the vital 12-mile-long bridge a strategic priority, and Kyiv’s forces have repeatedly targeted it.

World Crisis Radio, World Strategic Analysis: Ukrainian ground forces advance south towards cutting vital Russian supply line from Donetsk to Kherson and webster tarpley 2007Crimea! Webster G. Tarpley, right, historian, commentator, Sept. 1, 2023 (131 mins.). Despite wretched defeatism of controlled corporate media, defenders register ”notable progress” against invaders over last 72 hours; Large Russian anti-tank ditch now within striking distance south of Robotyne; West Point Professor Jan Kallberg writes that ”victory is closer than you think”; Time to deliver armored vehicle launched assault bridges to Kiev;

Neoliberal ideologue Larry Summers freaks out over Bidenomics, says he’s ”profoundly concerned by the doctrine of manufacturing-centered economic nationalism that is increasingly being put forth as a general principle to guide policy,” in contrast to policies of Clinton and Obama; Summers doesn’t like compulsory labor standards built into federal funding, and views offshoring of 10,000 US factories as a golden age;

For Labor Day, White House proposes raising eligibility wage level for overtime pay rates to $55,000 per year;

If he wants to fight immiseration and despair, singer Oliver Anthony should support Biden’s anti-globalization revolution in trade and industrial policy, the only detailed reform plan that goes beyond crass platitudes;
State officials across US are evaluating throwing Trump off their presidential ballots based on XIV Amendment’s section 3, participation in rebellion;

Success of US system requires constitutional democracy with due process and representative government; But a rising standard of living is also indispensable, in line with FDR’s dictum that needy people cannot be free people; Biden gets it;

Former President Donald J. Trump and several of his fellow defendants, in mug shots released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Atlanta (Photos by Fulton County Sheriff’s Office).Conviction of Trump would deprive Putin of any hope of prevailing in Ukraine through US betrayal of Kyiv; defeat of Putin can dissuade Xi from aggression while isolating North Korea and Iran;

Getting right with Lincoln at the start of a decisive world historical year.

84 years ago, Hitler attacked Poland under cover of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, starting World War II in Europe.

ny times logo

Politico, Russia declares Nobel Prize-winning journalist ‘foreign agent,’ Gabriel Gavin, Sept. 2, 2023. Putin’s own spokesman had previously admitted Dmitry Muratov ‘works according to his own values.’

politico CustomDmitry Muratov, one of Russia’s best-known journalists, has been added to the country’s list of foreign agents, less than two years after the Kremlin praised the principled reporting that saw him awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

dmitry muratovMuratov, right, the former editor of now-shuttered liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was included in an update Friday evening to the Russian Ministry of Justice’s register of journalists, politicians and activists that Moscow claims are acting on behalf of hostile states.

The designation of foreign agent, which has been repeatedly used on critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and opponents of his war in Ukraine, means that Muratov will have to adhere to strict rules on political activity. It also bars him from engaging in public life. Any mention of him in Russian media or social networks must reference his status.

According to Human Rights Watch, “in Russia, the term foreign agent is tantamount [to] spy or traitor,” and has been used “to smear and punish independent voices.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine says it has manufactured and fired a long-range missile, David L. Stern and Serhiy Morgunov, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.).  Ukrainian officials say their military is now using a long-range missile that was designed and manufactured domestically and can reach targets inside Russia — a potentially crucial capability because the United States and other Western supporters have imposed restrictions on using weapons they donate to strike Russian territory.

ukraine flagThe development of the Ukrainian missile started well before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a top Ukrainian security official said Friday. Officials have not disclosed the name of the missile.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, posting on the social media platform Telegram, said Ukrainian forces had successfully hit a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away, using a missile “of our own production.”

The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said Friday that the missile could travel farther but did not specify its full range. Russia is “already feeling” the effect of the new missiles, Danilov said on Ukrainian television, adding: “Production is underway.”

Drone strikes hit military aircraft deep inside Russia

The Ukrainian officials’ statements could not be independently verified, and did not provide further details such as when the missile was fired, what object was struck, or where.

If confirmed, however, a domestically produced long-range missile would be a threshold development for the Ukrainian military, which has been denied similar weapons by Western backers for fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Believe me, already very soon someone [in Russia] will be burned, and burned in the direct sense of the word,” Danilov said.

Danilov said that Zelensky wrote the first decree helping to create the missile program in March 2020.

“It is a very complex process, and is very complex technically,” Danilov said. “In order for it to be up to date, for it to have a distance of thousands of kilometers, keep in mind, this is the work of large teams.”

Putin struggles with falling ruble, rising prices as sanctions bite

Danilov on Thursday also tweeted a short video of a missile being fired. “The missile program of the President of Ukraine in action,” he wrote. “The tests are successful, the implementation is effective.”

  Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, How Xi Returned China to One-Man Rule, Weiyi Cai, Aaron Byrd, Chris Buckley and Pablo Robles, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). For decades, China built guardrails to prevent another Mao. Here’s how Xi Jinping has dismantled them and created his own machinery of power.

Sunset along the Kakhovka Reservoir in central Ukraine, especially in summer, used to be gorgeous: kids played in the shallow water near the shore, men fished and young couples walked under the pine trees as the last traces of sunlight reflected off the water.

But after the destruction of a major dam just downriver, that shimmering lake, one of Europe’s biggest, simply disappeared. Now all that remains is a 150-mile-long meadow.

For 60-plus years, the Bezhan family ran a fishing business on these shores. They bought boats, nets, freezers and enormous rumbling ice-making machines, and generation after generation made a living off the fish. But now there are no fish.

“If the war ended tomorrow, and I don’t think it will,” said Serhii Bezhan, the family’s broad-chested patriarch, “it would take five years to rebuild that dam and then at least two more for the reservoir to fill up. Then it would take another 10 years for the fish to grow — for some species, 20.”

He looked away as his eyes misted up.

On June 6, seismic meters hundreds of miles away detected an enormous explosion at the Kakhovka dam along the Dnipro River. The reinforced concrete walls, more than 60 feet high and as much as 100 feet thick, crumbled, and 4.8 trillion gallons of water gushed out.

Scientific evidence indicates that the dam was blown up from the inside, almost certainly by the Russian forces occupying it. In one stroke, they unleashed epic floods on Ukraine and an ensuing drought that, taken together, brought a stunning level of destruction to the environment, the economy and the lives of civilians already enduring the hardships of war.

ny times logoNew York Times, China to Its People: Spies Are Everywhere. Help Us Catch Them, Vivian Wang, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). As Beijing tries to enlist the “whole of society” to guard against foreign enemies, the line between vigilance and paranoia fades.

Beijing sees forces bent on weakening it everywhere: embedded in multinational companies, infiltrating social media, circling naïve students. And it wants its people to see them, too.

Chinese universities require faculty to take courses on protecting state secrets, even in departments like veterinary medicine. A kindergarten in the eastern city of Tianjin organized a meeting to teach staffers how to “understand and use” China’s anti-espionage law.

China’s Ministry of State Security, a usually covert department that oversees the secret police and intelligence services, has even opened its first social media account, as part of what official news media described as an effort at increasing public engagement. Its first post: a call for a “whole of society mobilization” against espionage.

“The participation of the masses,” the post said, should be “normalized.”

China’s ruling Communist Party is enlisting ordinary people to guard against perceived threats to the country, in a campaign that blurs the line between vigilance and paranoia. The country’s economy is facing its worst slowdown in years, but China’s authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, appears more fixated on national security and preventing threats to the party’s control.

“We must be prepared for worst-case and extreme scenarios,” Mr. Xi told China’s National Security Commission in May. He called on officials to “enhance real-time monitoring” and “get prepared for actual combat.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Why Did a Drug Gang Kill 43 Students? Text Messages Hold Clues, Natalie Kitroeff and Ronen Bergman, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). This article is part of a series by Natalie Kitroeff and Ronen Bergman investigating abuses by Mexico’s military. The Mexican police and others secretly colluded with a cartel that kidnapped 43 students. Wiretaps show just how much the authorities helped the gang.

It is perhaps Mexico’s most notorious cold case — 43 college students shot at by the police, forced into patrol cars, handed over to a drug cartel and never seen again.

The mystery has haunted the nation for nearly a decade. How could a relatively unknown gang pull off one of the worst atrocities in Mexico’s recent history, with the help of the police and the military watching the mass abduction unfold in real time?

A vast trove of about 23,000 unpublished text messages, witness testimony and investigative files obtained by The New York Times point to an answer: Just about every arm of government in that part of southern Mexico had been secretly working for the criminal group for months, putting the machinery of the state in the cartel’s hands and flattening any obstacle that got in its way.

The police commanders whose officers snatched many of the students that night in 2014 had been taking direct orders from the drug traffickers, the text messages show. One of the commanders gave guns to cartel members, while another hunted down their rivals on command.

The military, which closely monitored the abduction but never came to the students’ aid, had been showered with cartel bribes, too. In the text messages, which were caught on wiretaps, traffickers and their collaborators griped about the soldiers’ endless greed, calling them “whores” who they had “in the bag.”

One lieutenant even armed gunmen connected to the cartel and, a witness said, helped the police try to cover up their role in the crime after the students were kidnapped and killed.

It has long been known that police officers and an assortment of government officials either helped the cartel abduct the students, or watched the crime happen and did nothing to stop it.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mohamed al-Fayed, Tycoon Whose Son Died With Princess Diana, Is Dead at 94, Robert D. McFadden, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). An Egyptian businessman, he built an empire of properties in Europe and elsewhere, but it was overshadowed by a fatal car crash that stunned the world.

mohamed al fayed 2011Mohamed al-Fayed, shown in a 2011 photo at right, the Egyptian business tycoon whose empire of trophy properties and influence in Europe and the Middle East was overshadowed by the 1997 Paris car crash that killed his eldest son, Dodi, and Diana, the Princess of Wales, below at left, died on Wednesday. He was 94.

princess diana martin bashir 1995 headshotHis death was confirmed on Friday in a statement by the Fulham Football Club in Britain, of which Mr. Fayed was a former owner. It did not say where he died.

The patriarch of a family that rose from humble origins to fabled riches, Mr. Fayed controlled far-flung enterprises in oil, shipping, banking and real estate, including the palatial Ritz Hotel in Paris and, for 25 years, the storied London retail emporium Harrods. Forbes estimated his net worth at $2 billion this year, ranking his wealth as 1,516th in the world.

In a sense, Mr. Fayed was a citizen of the world. He had homes in London, Paris, New York, Geneva, St. Tropez and other locales; a fleet of 40 ships based in Genoa, Italy, and in Cairo; and businesses that reached from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, Europe and the Americas. He held Egyptian citizenship but rarely if ever returned to his native land.

Mr. Fayed lived and worked mostly in Britain, where for a half-century he was a quintessential outsider, scorned by the establishment in a society still embedded with old-boy networks. He clashed repeatedly with the government and business rivals over his property acquisitions and attempts to influence members of Parliament. He campaigned noisily for British citizenship, but his applications were repeatedly denied.

“It’s the colonial, imperial fantasy,” Mr. Fayed told The New York Times in 1995. “Anyone who comes from a colony, as Egypt was before, they think he’s nothing. So you prove you’re better than they are. You do things that are the talk of the town. And they think, ‘How can he? He’s only an Egyptian.’”

He reveled in the trappings of a British aristocrat. He bought a castle in Scotland and sometimes wore a kilt; snapped up a popular British football club; cultivated Conservative prime ministers and members of Parliament; sponsored the Royal Horse Show at Windsor; and tried unsuccessfully to salvage Punch, the moribund satirical magazine that had lampooned the British establishment for 150 years.

His takeover of the venerable Harrods in 1985 struck many Britons as shameless brass, something akin to buying Big Ben. A year later, as if securing a jewel in the crown of British heritage, Mr. Fayed signed a 50-year lease on the 19th-century villa in Paris that had been the home of the former King Edward VIII of Britain and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the divorced American woman for whom he abdicated his throne in 1936.
But Mr. Fayed’s triumph as an Anglophile was the made-for-tabloids romance between his eldest son, Emad, known as Dodi, and the Princess of Wales, who had recently been divorced from Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and alienated from the royal family. It began in the summer of 1997, when Mr. Fayed invited Diana and her sons to spend some time at his home on the French Riviera and on one of his yachts. Dodi was there too.

Washington Post, WorldView Analysis: Amid a wave of West African coups, France faces a reckoning, Ishaan Tharoor, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). In West Africa, the dominoes keep falling.

Barely more than a month has passed since the presidential guard in Niger toppled the country’s democratically elected government, triggering a tense standoff between a usurping junta and the international community. Then, this week, the top brass in Gabon unseated the country’s long-ruling President Ali Bongo in the wake of a controversial election. The ouster of the Gabonese president, who is currently believed to be under house arrest, marked the seventh coup in the region in the space of three years — including putsches in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The wave of military coups has led to widespread hand-wringing that a form of political “contagion” risks destabilizing a whole swath of the African continent.

“My fear has been confirmed in Gabon that copycats will start doing the same thing until it is stopped,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who chairs ECOWAS, West Africa’s main regional body, said Thursday.

There are many contextual differences between the various putsches, but they share an apparent and inescapable common denominator: the prevalence of anti-French sentiment driving a rejection of the political status quo. In much of West Africa — and in all the countries in the region that experienced these recent anti-democratic takeovers — France is the old colonial power. The juntas that have swept aside the previous regimes have weaponized resentment of Paris’s deep and complicated imperial legacy, much to the opportunistic glee of Russia, which has offered both rhetorical and, in some instances, substantive support to the coup-plotting regimes.

That was the case in Burkina Faso and Mali, where French peacekeepers were compelled to withdraw after the juntas made it clear their presence was unwanted. And in Niger, long the centerpiece of France’s counterterrorism efforts in the restive Sahel, anti-French rhetoric abounds. On Thursday, the country’s junta ordered police to expel the French ambassador — a move officials in Paris, which only recognizes the authority of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, said they did not consider legitimate.

washington post logoWashington Post, Egypt aspired to be a natural gas powerhouse. Now the lights are out, Claire Parker and Heba Farouk Mahfouz, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Analysts say Egypt was overzealous in its drive to produce and export natural gas, contributing to rolling blackouts across Cairo this summer.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and European demand for natural gas skyrocketed, Egypt saw an opportunity. Riding high on the discovery of a massive offshore field in 2015, and desperate for foreign cash, the government ramped up gas shipments across the Mediterranean.

A year later, during a sweltering summer, gas shortages have left Egypt struggling to keep the lights on. Exports have ground to a halt. For the first time in nearly a decade, Cairo is experiencing rolling blackouts, fueling public discontent as President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi prepares to run for a third term.

For an hour each day, air conditioners and fans whir to a stop. Elevators stop running. Internet cuts out. Neighborhoods without power at night are illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars.

In rural areas outside the capital, the outages are more frequent and last longer.

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More On Climate, Hawaiian Disaster, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Scorching Heat Is Contributing to Migrant Deaths, Edgar Sandoval, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Amid a heat wave, some migrants are succumbing to heat exhaustion. More than 500 people have died of various causes this year trying to cross from Mexico.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow, Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle, Blacki Migliozzi and Eli Murray, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The first article in a series on the causes and consequences of disappearing water,

Unchecked overuse is draining and damaging aquifers, a Times data investigation found, threatening millions of people and the nation’s status as a food superpower.

Global warming has focused concern on land and sky as soaring temperatures intensify hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. But another climate crisis is unfolding, underfoot and out of view.

Many of the aquifers that supply 90 percent of the nation’s water systems, and which have transformed vast stretches of America into some of the world’s most bountiful farmland, are being severely depleted. These declines are threatening irreversible harm to the American economy and society as a whole.

The New York Times conducted a months-long examination of groundwater depletion, interviewing more than 100 experts, traveling the country and creating a comprehensive database using millions of readings from monitoring sites. The investigation reveals how America’s life-giving resource is being exhausted in much of the country, and in many cases it won’t come back. Huge industrial farms and sprawling cities are draining aquifers that could take centuries or millenniums to replenish themselves if they recover at all.

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are five takeaways from our investigation into America’s groundwater crisis, Christopher Flavelle and Mira Rojanasakul, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Aquifer are shrinking nationwide, threatening supplies of drinking water and America’s status as a food superpower. Climate change is amplifying the problem.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The threat to groundwater is a classic tragedy of the commons, David Leonhardt, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The water that lies beneath the earth’s surface — known as groundwater — has been a vital resource for thousands of years. Communities that are far away from lakes and rivers use groundwater to irrigate crops and provide drinking water.

For most of human history, groundwater has existed in a convenient equilibrium. The pockets of water under the surface need years or decades to replenish as rainwater and other moisture seep into the earth. Fortunately, though, people have used groundwater slowly, allowing replenishment to happen.

Now that equilibrium is at risk.

Several of my colleagues — led by Mira Rojanasakul and Christopher Flavelle — have spent months compiling data on groundwater levels across the U.S., based on more than 80,000 monitoring stations. Chris and Mira did so after discovering that no comprehensive database existed. The statistics tended to be local and fragmented, making it difficult to understand national patterns.

The trends in this new database are alarming. Over the past 40 years, groundwater levels at most of the sites have declined. At 11 percent of the sites, levels last year fell to their lowest level on record. The U.S., in other words, is taking water out of the ground more quickly than nature is replenishing it.

“There’s almost no way to convey how important it is,” Don Cline, the associate director for water resources at the United States Geological Survey, told The Times.

Already, there are consequences. In parts of Kansas, the shortage of water has reduced the amount of corn that an average acre can produce.

In Norfolk, Va., officials have resorted to pumping treated wastewater into underground rock layers that store groundwater — known as aquifers — to replenish them. On Long Island, the depletion of aquifers has allowed saltwater to seep in and threatened the groundwater that remains.

“We’ve built whole parts of the country and whole parts of the economy on groundwater, which is fine so long as you have groundwater,” Chris told me. “I don’t think people realize quite how quickly we’re burning through it.”

Aquifer water levels are falling nationwide. The danger is worse and more widespread than many people realize.

ny times logoNew York Times, Storm Brings Heavy Flooding to the Carolinas, Staff Reports, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Idalia moved just offshore into the Atlantic after leaving a trail of destruction across four Southeastern states. More than 300,000 customers in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia were without power.

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Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

 

2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, In Florida, Even a Hurricane Can’t Sweep Away Presidential Politics, Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Nehamas, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). President Biden said he would meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. The governor’s aide said he had no such plans.

In normal times, the politics of disaster dictate that a president and a governor from opposite parties come together to show the victims of a natural disaster — and potential voters across the country — that they care.

These are not normal times.

On Friday, a spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican seeking his party’s nomination for president, said the governor doesn’t “have any plans” to meet President Biden on Saturday when he visits a Florida community ravaged by Hurricane Idalia.

At a news conference, Mr. DeSantis said he had told Mr. Biden that it “would be very disruptive to have the whole kind of security apparatus” that comes along with a presidential visit. He said he told the president that “we want to make sure that the power restoration continues, that the relief efforts continue.”

The governor’s statement came just hours after Mr. Biden confirmed to reporters that he would meet with the governor during his visit to the state. White House officials responded by saying the president had told Mr. DeSantis he planned to visit before announcing it publicly — and that the governor had not expressed any concerns at that time.

“President Biden and the first lady look forward to meeting members of the community impacted by Hurricane Idalia and surveying impacts of the storm,” said Emilie Simons, a deputy press secretary at the White House. “Their visit to Florida has been planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations.”

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Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

washington post logoWashington Post, Arizona GOP rejects single-day vote proposal, angering election deniers, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Josh Dawsey, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). A proposal by Republican election deniers in Arizona who want to opt out of the state’s government-run presidential primary election in 2024 and instead hold the party’s own one-day, in-person election, with paper ballots that would be counted by hand, has caused anxiety among top Republicans in arizona mapWashington, who fear being drawn into a messy fight.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosThe state party leader rejected the Maricopa County Republican Committee’s proposal shortly ahead of a deadline on Friday after days of frenzied discussions that involved national Republicans and advisers to former president Donald Trump — likely setting up political backlash in 2024 in a state whose GOP has been pulled to the right in recent years by MAGA loyalists and election skeptics.

Jeff DeWit, chair of the state party, concluded that the party does not have the money, the manpower or the infrastructure to run an election for an estimated 1.4 million eligible voters.

The fight over management of the state’s nominating contest on March 19 demonstrates most vividly the divide between conservatives who want to radically change voting procedures after Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat and those who have accepted his loss and want to work within institutional election norms during the 2024 contest.

The battle — which is playing out within the largest voting jurisdiction in a state that will help decide the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate — follows years of vilification of voting norms by Trump and his supporters. It is a consequence of deepening dysfunction within the party on an issue that has accelerated Democratic gains in the newly competitive state.

 

matt schlapp cpac

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-employee sues CPAC alleging racial bias, defamation by Schlapp, others, Maegan Vazquez and Beth Reinhard, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). The lawsuit threatens to compound mounting legal expenses for the influential conservative organization.,

A former employee of the Conservative Political Action Conference is suing the group, alleging racial discrimination and defamation by her former bosses, including the influential organization’s leader, Matt Schlapp, shown above in a file photo.

Regina Bratton, who worked as a communications and marketing supervisor in 2021 and 2022, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia on Friday that she was the only African American employee out of about 30 employees, interns and volunteers across CPAC. She claims she faced hostility up and down the chain of command.

CPAC leadership “conspired to and embarked upon a systematic, concerted effort to create a hostile work environment,” the suit alleges. The suit seeks $55 million in damages.

The lawsuit also names as defendants CPAC’s parent organization, the American Conservative Union, and its foundation arm. Schlapp, a prominent ally of former president Donald Trump; Schlapp’s wife and CPAC senior fellow Mercedes Schlapp; and general counsel David Safavian are also listed as defendants.

ny times logoNew York Times, Bill Richardson Reveled in Role of Freelance Envoy to Dictators, Sept. 3, 2023. The former New Mexico governor and energy secretary filled a specialized diplomatic niche, talking to strongmen when presidents and other officials could not.

National Public Radio, Bill Richardson, former N.M. governor who worked to free Americans held abroad, dies, Emma Bowman, Sept. 2, 2023. Bill Richardson, a former Democratic governor of New Mexico who went on to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has died. He was 75.

Richardson died in his sleep at his summer home in Chatham, Mass., the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, a nonprofit foundation started by the former governor, confirmed on Saturday.

Before he was elected as governor in 2002, and later ran an unsuccessful bid as the first Latino U.S. presidential nominee, Richardson served 14 years as a congressman representing northern New Mexico. Under President Bill Clinton, he served as U.N. ambassador and energy secretary.

After his career in government, he cemented his legacy as an unofficial diplomat through his volunteer work in securing the release of Americans detained overseas.

“He lived his entire life in the service of others,” Mickey Bergman, vice president of the Richardson Center, said in a statement. “The world has lost a champion for those held unjustly abroad and I have lost a mentor and a dear friend.”

Richardson sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination but dropped out of the race after placing fourth in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. He then backed Obama, who as president-elect named Richardson as his secretary of commerce. Richardson withdrew as a nominee for the post amid a federal investigation into an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving campaign contributions in exchange for a state contract. The probe ended with no charges against Richardson and his former aides.

As a public servant, he also made his mark as a pro handshaker. During his 2002 gubernatorial race, Richardson set a Guinness World Record — one that still stands — for shaking 13,392 hands in eight hours while on the campaign trail.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bill Richardson traveled the world and brought detained Americans home, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Osman Khan was a 24-year-old Floridian visiting his girlfriend’s family in Venezuela when he was detained at the country’s border with Colombia in January 2022. Accused of being a spy, he said he was electrocuted, waterboarded and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officials. During a month of solitary confinement, he tried to take his own life.

Khan’s captors told him they wouldn’t negotiate directly with the U.S. government, so his family placed calls to Bill Richardson and his associate Mickey Bergman, who “opened dialogues,” Khan recalled in an interview with The Washington Post.

“Out of desperation, my family got in contact with the Richardson Center,” Khan said, referring to the organization Richardson founded that works to free Americans detained abroad. His family was told that the Center would do whatever it could to get Khan home and started speaking with Caracas.

After a storied career as a lawmaker, governor and U.N. ambassador, Richardson, who died late Friday at 75, became something of a guru in the white-knuckle world of international hostage negotiations.

“It felt like a death in the family today,” Khan said from Orlando. “I’m torn apart.”

Richardson helped free hostages from Iran to Russia and Myanmar to Libya. The list included basketball player Brittney Griner, journalist Danny Fenster and U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, among many others.

It also included Khan, who, with the help of the State Department and the Richardson Center, was freed last October along with six others, in exchange for two relatives of President Nicolás Maduro jailed in the United States.

Matthew Heath, one of the six others freed alongside Khan and who also attempted to take his own life four months before he was released, said Richardson was a “beacon of hope” while he was in captivity.

“Long before the US government and Maduro were speaking, Gov. Richardson traveled to Caracas to negotiate my release,” Heath said in a statement to The Post. “His center provided hundreds and hundreds of hours of support to my family while I was in detention.”

Richardson’s work as a negotiator started unexpectedly in 1994, when he was on a visit to North Korea as a congressman. A U.S. Army helicopter was shot down while he was there after it veered over the country’s border, killing one American while another was taken into North Korean custody. Richardson had traveled to Pyongyang for nuclear weapons talks but became singularly focused on securing the pilot’s release and refused to leave until a deal was struck, The Post reported at the time.

 

mitch mcconnel grim faced

washington post logoWashington Post, McConnell tries to tamp down health concerns after second incident, Paul Kane, Amy B Wang and Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Senate minority leader, shown above in a file photo, is “medically clear” to work, attending physician to Congress says.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to tamp down concerns about his health on Thursday, a day after freezing while speaking in public for the second time in five weeks and again sparking questions about his physical condition and age.

Publicly, Republican senators remained supportive of McConnell and none has questioned whether the 81-year-old Senate stalwart should set a timeline for resigning his leadership post. But the public nature of Wednesday’s incident proved jarring again for senators, raising concerns about how their GOP leader was faring and prompting calls among some Republicans outside the Senate for McConnell to step down.

kentucky map

If Republicans grow dissatisfied with McConnell’s continued practice of keeping matters of his health private, they could request a special meeting of republican elephant logothe Senate GOP conference to discuss it, needing just a handful of signatures to prompt such a conversation. So far no Republican has made that request, and privately senior aides think senators will want to see McConnell — and each other — in person next week before deciding whether such action is necessary.

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matt schlapp cpac

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Budgets, Crypto Currency

New York Times, Biden Struggles to Make ‘Bidenomics’ a Plus, Not a Minus, Reid J. Epstein, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). Wages are up, inflation has slowed and the White House has a new slogan. Still, President Biden’s poor marks on the economy are making Democrats worried.

When a chant slamming President Biden spread from a NASCAR race to T-shirts and bumper stickers across red America two years ago, the White House pulled off perhaps its savviest messaging feat to date. Biden aides and allies repackaged the “Let’s Go Brandon” insult and morphed it into “Dark Brandon,” a celebratory meme casting Mr. Biden as some sort of omnipotent mastermind.

Now, the White House and the Biden campaign is several weeks into another appropriation play — but it isn’t going nearly as well. Aides in July announced that the president would run for re-election on the virtues of “Bidenomics,” proudly reclaiming the right’s derisive term for Mr. Biden’s economic policies.

The gambit does not appear to be working yet. Even as Mr. Biden presides over what is by all indicators a strong economy — one on track to dodge the recession many had feared — he is still struggling to convince most of the country of the strength of his economic stewardship. Wages are up, inflation has slowed, but credit to the president remains in short supply.

Polling last month from the Democratic organization Navigator found that 25 percent of Americans support Mr. Biden’s major actions, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, but still think the president is doing a poor job handling the economy. It’s a group that tends to be disproportionately younger than 40 and is more likely to be Black or Latino — voters critical to Democratic victories.

“This is the thing that’s vexing all Democrats,” said Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Center for American Progress.

Democratic economists, pollsters and officials have a variety of explanations for why voters don’t credit Mr. Biden for the economy. Inflation remains elevated, and interest rates have made home buying difficult. There is also evidence that voters’ views on the economy are shaped as much by their political views as by personal experiences.

And then there is the regular refrain that people don’t know about Mr. Biden’s successes. Even Mr. Biden’s supporters say that he and his administration have been too reluctant to promote their record and ineffective when they do.

“I’ve never seen this big of a disconnect between how the economy is actually doing and key polling results about what people think is going on,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

Mr. Biden on Friday attempted another victory lap in a White House speech celebrating the latest jobs report, which found no sign of an imminent recession and a slight increase in the unemployment rate as more people sought work. He credited the heart of his economic plan, including investment in infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing and climate-related industries along with caps on the price of insulin medication.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House asks Congress for short-term funding extension to avert shutdown, Tony Romm, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The federal government will shut down Oct. 1 unless lawmakers either extend current spending or fund programs through next year.

The White House on Thursday urged Congress to adopt a short-term measure to fund the federal government, a move meant to buy time for lawmakers to craft a broader spending deal and avert a shutdown at the end of September.

The Biden administration coupled its call to action with a new request that Congress address funding for a series of cash-starved programs — including, for example, an additional $1.4 billion to prevent a potential disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families.

djt maga hatFor the second time this year, the United States finds itself barreling toward a crisis: Unless Congress acts, the government will run out of money on Sept. 30, triggering a shutdown that jeopardizes countless federal programs on which millions of Americans rely.

Democrats and Republicans for months have tried to advance a series of appropriations bills that would fund the government through the 2024 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But the two parties remain vastly opposed on the specifics, with House Republicans seeking spending cuts so deep that Biden and his Democratic allies refuse to entertain them.

The GOP demands mark a sharp break with the deal that party leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), worked out with the president this spring to raise the nation’s debt limit — an agreement that was supposed to prevent another stalemate over spending this fall. Now, the Biden administration is explicitly asking Congress to adopt what is known as a continuing resolution, preserving most spending at its existing levels as negotiations proceed.

“Although the crucial work continues to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, it is clear that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed next month,” a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget said Thursday.

Even with such a stopgap, though, OMB said some federal accounts would need spending increases. That includes the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC, which provides monthly aid to roughly 6.6 million poor families. With food prices still high and program participation on the rise, its existing, roughly $5.69 billion budget is not sufficient to provide benefits at their current level through next fiscal year, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its finances.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Job Growth Remains Steady Amid Efforts to Cool Economy, Lydia DePillis and Jeanna Smialek, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The labor market continued to moderate, adding 187,000 jobs last month, reflecting the effects of high interest rates.

The United States added 187,000 jobs in August but the unemployment rate jumped unexpectedly, reflecting the impact of high interest rates and the U.S. economy’s gradual cooling from the boom that followed pandemic lockdowns.

The data, reported Friday by the Labor Department, is the latest indication that while hiring has weakened, there is no sign of an imminent recession that would result in widespread joblessness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that truck transportation shaved off quite a few jobs in August, about 37,000. That was “largely reflecting a business closure.” The trucking company Yellow filed for bankruptcy last month.

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

washington post logoWashington Post, With wary eye on China, U.S. moves closer to former foe Vietnam, Ellen Nakashima and Rebecca Tan, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.).  The two countries are boosting economic and tech ties as Beijing increases its assertiveness in the region. The United States and Vietnam are poised to vietnam flagsignificantly enhance their economic and technological ties, bringing the former foes closer at a time of increased Chinese assertiveness in theThe deal, expected to be announced when President Biden makes a state visit to Vietnam next weekend, is the latest step by the Biden administration to deepen relations in Asia. For Hanoi, the closer relationship with Washington serves as a counterweight to Beijing’s influence.

China Flag

Russian FlagThe establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” will give the United States a diplomatic status that Vietnam has so far reserved for only a handful of other countries: China, Russia, India and South Korea. The move was confirmed by a senior Biden administration official and two people in Hanoi familiar with the matter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Taxes, Drugs and … TikTok? Sapna Maheshwari, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). One of Montana’s top elected officials has made banning the app a top priority, putting the state at the center of a geopolitical storm.

On a recent summer day, Austin Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general, drove his red Buick from Helena, the state’s capital, to Boulder, a tiny town about a half-hour away whose main claim to fame is that it’s home to the state’s highway border patrol. The road was quiet, flanked by the sort of sprawling pastures and expansive landscapes that give Montana its nickname of Big Sky Country.

When Mr. Knudsen visits the highway patrol, which is under his purview, he swears by the steak and burgers at the Windsor, a local haunt that grills its meats behind the bar and where patrons can be spotted drinking beer straight from a pitcher.

As his meal arrived and the jukebox played music from the country artist and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, Mr. Knudsen addressed the question that seemed particularly relevant given his current location: Why had he, the top cop in one of the country’s most sparsely populated states, put himself and Montana at the center of a fight between geopolitical superpowers?

In May, the state passed a law to ban TikTok that was drafted by Mr. Knudsen’s office. The law, which is the first of its kind in the United States, is set to go into effect in January, putting the state far ahead of Washington, D.C., where officials of both parties have been threatening — but not acting — to restrict use of the app. Federal lawmakers, just like Mr. Knudsen, have been concerned that TikTok could expose private user data to Beijing because the app is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.

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More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, In Monitoring Child Sex Abuse, Apple Is Caught Between Safety and Privacy, Tripp Mickle, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). An advocacy group is starting a $2 million campaign calling for the company to better police materials on its products and services.

\In 2021, Apple was embroiled in controversy over a plan to scan iPhones for child sexual abuse materials. Privacy experts warned that governments could abuse the system, and the backlash was so severe that Apple eventually abandoned the plan.

apple logo rainbowTwo years later, Apple is facing criticism from child safety crusaders and activist investors who are calling on the company to do more to protect children from online abuse.

A child advocacy group, the Heat Initiative, has raised $2 million for a new national advertising campaign calling on Apple to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse materials from iCloud, its cloud storage platform.

Next week, the group will release digital advertisements on websites popular with policymakers in Washington, such as Politico. It will also put up posters across San Francisco and New York that say: “Child sexual abuse material is stored on iCloud. Apple allows it.”

The criticism speaks to a predicament that has dogged Apple for years. The company has made protecting privacy a central part of its iPhone pitch to consumers. But that promise of security has helped make its services and devices, two billion of which are in use, useful tools for sharing child sexual abuse imagery.

The company is caught between child safety groups, which want it to do more to stop the spread of such materials, and privacy experts, who want it to maintain the promise of secure devices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Highways are the next antiabortion target. One Texas town is resisting, Caroline Kitchener, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). A new ordinance, passed in several jurisdictions and under consideration elsewhere, aims to stop people from using local roads to drive someone out of state for an abortion.

No one could remember the last time so many people packed into City Hall.

As the meeting began on a late August evening, residents spilled out into the hallway, the brim of one cowboy hat kissing the next, each person jostling for a look at the five city council members who would decide whether to make Llano the third city in Texas to outlaw what some antiabortion activists call “abortion trafficking.”

For well over an hour, the people of Llano — a town of about 3,400 deep in Texas Hill Country — approached the podium to speak out against abortion. While the procedure was now illegal across Texas, people were still driving women on Llano roads to reach abortion clinics in other states, the residents had been told. They said their city had a responsibility to “fight the murders.”

The cheers after each speech grew louder as the crowd readied for the vote. Then one woman on the council spoke up.

“I feel like there’s a lot more to discuss about this,” said Laura Almond, a staunch conservative who owns a consignment shop in the middle of town. “I have a ton of questions.”

More than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, many conservatives have grown frustrated by the number of people able to circumvent antiabortion laws — with some advocates grasping for even stricter measures they hope will fully eradicate abortion nationwide.

That frustration is driving a new strategy in heavily conservative cities and counties across Texas. Designed by the architects of the state’s “heartbeat” ban that took effect months before Roe fell, ordinances like the one proposed in Llano — where some 80 percent of voters in the county backed President Donald Trump in 2020 — make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within the city or county limits. The laws allow any private citizen to sue a person or organization they suspect of violating the ordinance.

Antiabortion advocates behind the measure are targeting regions along interstates and in areas with airports, with the goal of blocking off the main arteries out of Texas and keeping pregnant women hemmed within the confines of their antiabortion state. These provisions have already passed in two counties and two cities, creating legal risk for those traveling on major highways including Interstate 20 and Route 84, which head toward New Mexico, where abortion remains legal and new clinics have opened to accommodate Texas women. Several more jurisdictions are expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

“This really is building a wall to stop abortion trafficking,” said Mark Lee Dickson, the antiabortion activist behind the effort.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican Women, Fearing Backlash on Abortion, Pivot to Birth Control, Annie Karni, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A group of vulnerable G.O.P. women has backed legislation that purports to expand birth control access but would have little effect. Critics say it is a distraction.

She had barely opened her town hall to questions when Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from a competitive district in Iowa, was pressed to defend her opposition to abortion rights.

“One of the main functions of the federal government is to protect life,” Ms. Miller-Meeks, who won election in 2020 by just six votes, told a sparse crowd this month in Iowa City, a younger, more progressive part of her district where she rarely campaigns.

Ms. Miller-Meeks then quickly pivoted to politically safer terrain, telling her constituents about how she had also sponsored legislation aimed at expanding access to contraception.

“The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent pregnancy,” she said.

It is an increasingly common strategy among vulnerable House Republicans — especially those in politically competitive districts — who are trying to reconcile their party’s hard-line anti-abortion policies with the views of voters in their districts, particularly independents and women.

While many of these G.O.P. lawmakers have cast votes in the House this year to limit abortion access — maintaining a stance that some Republicans concede hurt their party in last year’s midterm elections — Ms. Miller-Meeks and others spent part of the summer congressional recess talking up their support for birth control access, which is broadly popular across the country and across party lines.

Appearing to embrace access to contraception has become an imperative for Republican candidates at all levels who are concerned that their party’s opposition to abortion rights has alienated women, particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and the extreme abortion bans in G.O.P.-led states that have followed.

“Can’t we all agree contraception should be available,” Nikki Haley, the only Republican woman in the presidential primary, said last week at the first primary debate, seeking to blunt attacks from Democrats on the issue of reproductive health care.

Just ahead of lawmakers’ long summer break, Ms. Miller-Meeks was part of a group of House Republican women who introduced the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023, a bill that they pitched as a way to expand access to contraception and that she called “a significant step forward for health care.”

Abortion rights advocates argue that the legislation is essentially meaningless and merely an effort by Republican lawmakers to mislead voters about their positions on women’s health. But for the G.O.P. women who are backing it, the bill offers an elegant way to shift the conversation away from the divisive issue of abortion.

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Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Covid is back. A fruitless national freakout shouldn’t come with it, Ramesh Ponnuru, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The coronavirus is spreading nationally again. It has hit my family over the past couple of weeks, although my own case was mild. I’m hoping that if there’s another flare-up of the covid-19 wars in our politics, it will be mild, too.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Here and there you can see people saying that all of us need to retrieve our masks, and others vowing that they will never submit to mandates and lockdowns. But this debate seems useful only for inflaming our social and political divisions. We’re not going to return to social distancing or shut down schools.

That’s partly because the current coronavirus numbers are still much lower than previous peaks. Yet even if the numbers rise considerably, the public is not going to accept restrictive coronavirus mitigation measures again, regardless of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other public health authorities say.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why the new covid variant is not cause for concern — yet, Leana S. Wen, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Scientists have raised alarms in recent weeks about a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant that might evade the protection of existing immune defenses. The variant, an offshoot of omicron named BA.2.86, requires careful attention by public health experts. But just like the summer uptick in coronavirus cases, it is not yet cause for concern for most Americans.

It’s not at all surprising that new variants are constantly emerging. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, when viruses replicate, they acquire mutations.

Whether a new set of mutations has public health consequences hinges on three key questions: Does it cause more severe disease? Will immunity through prior infection and vaccination protect against it? And is it more transmissible than currently dominant variants?

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U.S. Media, Education, Sports, High Tech

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Musk’s new Twitter policies helped spread Russian propaganda, E.U. says, Joseph Menn, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). X’s failure to slow the spread of disinformation on the Internet would have violated E.U. social media law, had it been in effect

Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) has played a major role in allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to reach more people than before the war european union logo rectanglebegan, according to a study released this week by the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union.

The research found that, despite voluntary commitments to take action against Russian propaganda by the largest social media companies, including Meta, Russian disinformation against Ukraine, thrived. Allowing the disinformation and hate speech to spread without limits would have violated the Digital Services Act, the E.U.’s social media law, had it been in force last year, the year-long commission study concluded.

x logo twitter“Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased substantially all over Europe,” the study found. “Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.” The social media platform was recently renamed X.

The E.U. has taken a far more aggressive regulatory approach to government-backed disinformation than the United States has. The twitter bird CustomDigital Services Act, which went into effect for the biggest social media companies Aug. 25, requires them to assess the risk of false information, stop the worst from being boosted by algorithms and subject their performance to auditing. Separately, European sanctions on Russian state media have prompted YouTube and other platforms to ban the likes of RT, the Russian news outlet formerly known as Russia Today that was once one of the most-followed channels.

The study is the starkest indication yet that the legal and voluntary measures are not getting the job done, following June warnings from E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton that X had work to do to avoid potentially massive fines under the DSA. The research was conducted by nonprofit analysis group Reset, which advocates for greater oversight of digital platforms.

Without full access to data held by the companies — data that must be made more available under the new law — Reset relied on public information, such as the number of interactions that problematic content drew from people who had not been following the account that posted it.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Truth Social facing a key funding deadline, Drew Harwell, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). The ‘blank check’ ally of former president Donald Trump’s media start-up was once a stock-market star. It’s now days away from potential liquidation.

When former president Donald Trump’s media start-up announced in October 2021 that it planned to merge with a Miami-based company called Digital World Acquisition, the deal was an instant stock-market hit.

With the $300 million Digital World had already raised from investors, Trump Media & Technology Group, creator of the pro-Trump social network Truth Social, pledged then that the merger would create a tech titan worth $875 million at the start and, depending on the stock’s performance, up to $1.7 billion later.

All they needed was for the merger to close — a process that Digital World, in a July 2021 preliminary prospectus, estimated would happen within 12 to 18 months.

“Everyone asks me why doesn’t someone stand up to Big Tech? Well, we will be soon!” Trump said in a Trump Media statement that month.

Now, almost two years later, the deal faces what could be a catastrophic threat. With the merger stalled for months, Digital World is fast approaching a Sept. 8 deadline for the merger to close and has scheduled a shareholder vote for Tuesday to extend the deadline another year.

If the vote fails, Digital World will be required by law to liquidate and return $300 million to its shareholders, leaving Trump’s company with nothing from the transaction.

For Digital World, it would signal the ultimate financial fall from grace for a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that turned its proximity to the former president into what was once one of the stock market’s hottest trades. Its share price, which peaked in its first hours at $175, has since fallen to about $14.

Digital World’s efforts to merge with Trump Media have been troubled almost from the start, beset by allegations that it began its conversations with the former president’s company before they were permitted under SPAC rules.

 

jimmy buffett

washington post logoWashington Post, Jimmy Buffett, musical ‘mayor of Margaritaville,’ dies at 76, Glenn Rifkin, Sept. 3, 2023 (print ed.). The singer-songwriter sold 20 million records from his greatest hit, “Margaritaville,” created a lifestyle brand of tropical breezes, frozen cocktails and laid-back escapism.

Mr. Buffett, a frustrated Nashville country artist, found his muse when he moved to Key West, Fla., in spring 1972, leaving behind a failed marriage and stalled career. Surrounded by blue water, he donned Hawaiian shirts, cutoff shorts and flip-flops, grabbed an old blender, and embraced the quirky beach community with his musical soul.

“It was a scene,” he told Playboy magazine. “Everyone went out and applauded the sunset every night. Bales of marijuana washed up on the shore. There were great cheap Cuban restaurants … Key West seemed like the End: East Coast Division — a common reason people wind up there, especially writers, artists, musicians and other interesting derelicts, drawn by the idea that Key West is the final stroke of a great comma in the map of North America, suggesting more to come but maybe not.”

Steady, Commentary: Margaritaville — A Reason To Smile, Dan Rather,dan rather 2017 right, former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor, and Elliott Kirschner, Sept. 2, 2023. There was something quintessentially dan rather steady logoAmerican about the singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76.

He was a showman, selling a laid-back vision of life: beaches, cocktails, sunbaked days, and parties after dark. The allure of letting loose and having fun has been a part of our national identity.

But so have hard work and seizing opportunities to monetize an idea, which Buffett did with such skill that Forbes estimated his net worth this year at $1 billion.Buffett’s life followed an arc that exemplified the American Dream.

Originally a reporter working for Billboard, he struggled as a young musician to find his voice and make his mark. That changed when he moved to Key West, Florida. He would later say that there “I found a lifestyle, and I knew that whatever I did would have to work around my lifestyle.”

And it was this lifestyle — a blend of love for the open sea and the camaraderie of a seaside bar, all infused with music — that drew legions of loyal fans over decades of success.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2018 Profile: Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Feb. 8, 2018. Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, “Escape to Margaritaville,” was coming along nicely, but something was off.

It wasn’t the music — they’d been careful to include a finely titrated playlist of crowd pleasers. It wasn’t the book — the TV writers Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Mike O’Malley (“Shameless”) managed to strike a balance of goofy, accessible romantic comedy and some deep cuts for the Parrotheads, as his fans are called. It wasn’t the casting, either; Paul Alexander Nolan is a compelling early-Buffett avatar as Tully Mars, a dreamy bar singer at a rundown Caribbean hotel called Margaritaville. And he was happy with the direction of Christopher Ashley, off a best direction Tony for “Come From Away.”

So what could it be? It hit him like a thunderbolt. It was Mr. Nolan. Mr. Nolan had just the right vibe. He could do the laid-back thing well; his singing is strong and contemporary. But there is a fatal flaw about him: He wasn’t tan.

Mr. Buffett hasn’t stopped touring in his nearly half-century as a performer, but it had been a long time since he did a last-minute set at a bar. He had to get on a stage with a pickup band like in the old days and really get back into the original iteration of Jimmy Buffett. That night, he went to the original Margaritaville bar in Key West, which he opened in the mid-1980s, unannounced, and played a three-and-a-half-hour set. He told stories between songs. He kept the audience active. It felt good to be back there, remembering who he once was.

Because that, in a coconut shell, was the problem. Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett — the nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett — has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. And therein lies the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub: The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.

IN 1979, Mr. Buffett showed up literally years late to a Rolling Stone interview, barefoot, in St. Barts, where he was living off a boat. On the first day we met, back in October, in New Orleans, the morning after opening night of the musical, he showed up on time at 9 a.m. Now he is surrounded by publicists and producers and a bodyguard. Now he has a boat but also another boat and some airplanes. Now he wears shoes just about whenever you’re supposed to.

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ny times logoNew York Times, Why Did a Drug Gang Kill 43 Students? Text Messages Hold Clues, Natalie Kitroeff and Ronen Bergman, Sept. 2, 2023. This article is part of a series by Natalie Kitroeff and Ronen Bergman investigating abuses by Mexico’s military. The Mexican police and others secretly colluded with a cartel that kidnapped 43 students. Wiretaps show just how much the authorities helped the gang.

It is perhaps Mexico’s most notorious cold case — 43 college students shot at by the police, forced into patrol cars, handed over to a drug cartel and never seen again.

The mystery has haunted the nation for nearly a decade. How could a relatively unknown gang pull off one of the worst atrocities in Mexico’s recent history, with the help of the police and the military watching the mass abduction unfold in real time?

A vast trove of about 23,000 unpublished text messages, witness testimony and investigative files obtained by The New York Times point to an answer: Just about every arm of government in that part of southern Mexico had been secretly working for the criminal group for months, putting the machinery of the state in the cartel’s hands and flattening any obstacle that got in its way.

The police commanders whose officers snatched many of the students that night in 2014 had been taking direct orders from the drug traffickers, the text messages show. One of the commanders gave guns to cartel members, while another hunted down their rivals on command.

The military, which closely monitored the abduction but never came to the students’ aid, had been showered with cartel bribes, too. In the text messages, which were caught on wiretaps, traffickers and their collaborators griped about the soldiers’ endless greed, calling them “whores” who they had “in the bag.”

One lieutenant even armed gunmen connected to the cartel and, a witness said, helped the police try to cover up their role in the crime after the students were kidnapped and killed.

It has long been known that police officers and an assortment of government officials either helped the cartel abduct the students, or watched the crime happen and did nothing to stop it.

ny times logoNew York Times, Quietly Crushing a Democracy: Millions on Trial in Bangladesh, Mujib Mashal, Photographs by Atul Loke, Sept. 2, 2023. The most active rivals to the country’s ruling party face dozens, even hundreds, of court cases each, paralyzing the opposition as a crucial election approaches.

Bangladesh’s multiparty democracy is being methodically strangled in crowded courtrooms across this country of 170 million people.

Nearly every day, thousands of leaders, members and supporters of opposition parties stand before a judge. Charges are usually vague, and evidence is shoddy, at best. But just months before a pivotal election pitting them against the ruling Awami League, the immobilizing effect is clear.

About half of the five million members of the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, are embroiled in politically motivated court cases, the group estimates. The most active leaders and organizers face dozens, even hundreds, of cases. Lives that would be defined by raucous rallies or late-night strategizing are instead dominated by lawyers’ chambers, courtroom cages and, in Dhaka, the torturously snail-paced traffic between the two.

One recent morning, a party leader, Saiful Alam Nirob, was ushered into Dhaka’s 10-story magistrate court in handcuffs. Mr. Nirob faces between 317 and 394 cases — he and his lawyers are unsure exactly how many. Outside the court, a dozen supporters — facing an additional 400 cases among them — waited in an alley whose bustle was cleared only by intermittent monsoon downpours and the frequent blowing of a police whistle to open the way for another political prisoner.

“I can’t do a job anymore,” said one of the supporters, Abdul Satar, who is dealing with 60 cases and spends three or four days a week in court. “It’s court case to court case.”

In recent years, Bangladesh has been known mostly as an economic success story, with a strong focus on a garment export industry that brought in a steady flow of dollars, increased women’s participation in the economy and lifted millions out of poverty. A country once described by American officials as a basket case of famine and disease appeared to be overcoming decades of coups, countercoups and assassinations.

But under the surface, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has waged a campaign of political consolidation whose goal, opposition leaders, analysts and activists say, is to turn the South Asian republic into a one-party state.

washington post logoWashington Post, Abortion fight unites the left and rattles the right in key Wis. battleground, Danielle Paquette, Sabrina Rodriguez and Carolyn Van Houten, Sept. 2, 2023. Republicans in Door County, which has backed all but two presidential winners in the last 50 years, are grappling with the political fallout of an unpopular ban.

wisconsin map with largest cities CustomThe Supreme Court’s move to overturn Roe v. Wade 14 months ago has reshaped the landscape of American politics, right down to the familiar ritual of county fair politicking. Long a rousing issue among conservatives, abortion is stirring voters on the left and mobilizing independents troubled by the government’s policing intimate decisions.

Most Americans aren’t in favor of revoking the option to end a pregnancy, and growing numbers of political moderates indicate that the issue will influence their vote. Republicans felt the impact in November when five states across the political spectrum put abortion referendums on the ballot, and voters in each case chose to safeguard access. Even in conservative strongholds, typically sleepy statewide contests have seen unusually high turnout when abortion access was at stake — most recently in Ohio, where a hearty majority rejected a measure that would have made it tougher to enshrine protections.

In Wisconsin, the high court’s decision reactivated a 174-year-old law interpreted as forbidding the procedure except to save a woman’s life — and ignited a fierce legal battle over whether that rule will stay on the books. The state’s Democratic attorney general, Josh Kaul, has pledged to repeal the ban through litigation expected to land as early as next year before Wisconsin’s Supreme Court — which flipped to a liberal majority after voters this spring elected a justice who had campaigned on abortion rights.

Abortion is a galvanizing topic in Door County, a peninsular expanse between Green Bay and Lake Michigan known as “the Cape Cod of the Midwest” — and the swingiest place in what’s shaping up to be a crucial 2024 battleground. It’s one of nine U.S. counties that has sided with every presidential election’s winner since 2000. The county’s role as a barometer of political opinion extends to other races, too: the winners of Wisconsin’s state and federal races last year — including the governorship and House — all won this region of roughly 30,000.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Maui’s neglected grasslands caused Lahaina fire to grow with deadly speed, Imogen Piper, Joyce Sohyun Lee, Elahe Izadi and Brianna Sacks, Sept. 2, 2023. A Washington Post investigation retraced the fire’s path, revealing that nonnative invasive grasses were key to creating the fast-moving, uncontrollable blaze.

The hills above Lahaina’s historic downtown have been surrounded by nonnative grasses for more than a century.

hawaii mapThe grasses — relics of the sugar cane plantations in the area that largely shuttered in 1999 — dried out the landscape. They grew taller after winter rains. Brushfires would sweep through and the species adapted and regrew, crowding out native grasses and moving close to homes. Locals who live surrounded by these fields say they rarely saw anyone come to manage the vegetation.

Then on Aug. 8, power lines fell near one of these flammable fields, whipping fire down the hills, in a sequence of events that would lead to one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history.

A Washington Post investigation found that the inferno that burned Lahaina town to the ground began on a fallow, unmanaged plot of land on a hill north of downtown, and the geographic spread and density of the nonnative grasses were key elements to creating a fast-moving, uncontrollable fire.

The comprehensive retracing is based on a review of topographic maps, satellite imagery, videos recorded by eyewitnesses and tax parcel data, as well as interviews with area residents and experts in fire, ecology and botany. It shows how powerful southwesterly winds pushed the flames down hills through massive fields of overgrown vegetation — feeding a fire that would consume propane tanks, melt steel and kill at least 115 people, though the toll is expected to rise.

The Post’s investigation reveals that despite years of repeated warnings of fire risk, weak code enforcement and a lack of government resources have hampered meaningful action to manage the grasses.

 

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping speaking at the August BRICS conference in August 2023.

Chinese Leader Xi Jinping speaking at the August BRICS conference in August 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Rural areas sacrificed for Xi Jinping’s new city, satellite imagery shows, Lily Kuo, Meg Kelly, Vic Chiang, Nilo Tabrizy and Pei-Lin Wu, Sept. 2, 2023. When the remnants of Typhoon Doksuri battered northern China this month, dumping the most rain on Beijing since records began in 1883, it wasn’t only the capital that was threatened. The extreme weather also posed a severe risk to Xiong’an New Area, a sprawling development more than twice the size of New York City.

China FlagXiong’an is a pet project of Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader in decades, who declared that it would be a “city of the future” — a “socialist modern metropolis” far beyond the imagination of Western capitals.

Officials jumped into action, pledging to protect the capital and Xiong’an — under construction for the past six years — at all costs. Authorities began using a network of dams and reservoirs starting July 30 to discharge water from overflowing rivers into seven designated flood zones in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing. It was the region’s largest effort to control flooding in 60 years.

Visual evidence and firsthand accounts gathered by The Washington Post show that, while the effort diverted water away from Xiong’an and other urban areas, it directly contributed to the devastation of rural villages in Hebei, destroying homes and livelihoods. Satellite images reveal that authorities’ actions led to a dramatic increase of water across those areas, covering at least 95 square miles — almost 46,000 football fields. In one of the clearest examples, more than 20 square miles of farmland near Xiong’an’s high-speed railway station were still underwater on Aug. 5.

It may never be known how many people died or were displaced as a result of these decisions, but at least 29 people in Hebei perished during the flooding. About 1.75 million people were relocated, including more than 900,000 from zones where houses were flooded. The economic damage totaled $13 billion in a province where rural incomes are less than a quarter of incomes in Beijing.

 

ethan nordean WSJ

washington post logoWashington Post, Proud Boys leader gets 18 years, matching longest Jan. 6 punishment to date, Tom Jackman, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Ethan Nordean, above, led a group to the Capitol. Dominic Pezzola, who smashed a Capitol window, received a 10-year term.

Two more members of the Proud Boys convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol were sentenced to lengthy prison terms Friday, with one of the group’s leaders that day receiving an 18-year sentence for seditious conspiracy, the longest term for a Proud Boys member so far and equal to the longest Jan. 6 sentence yet imposed. Another member who gained national renown for smashing a window at the Capitol, enabling the first breach of the building by rioters, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But some of the defendants seemed unrepentant. After expressing deep remorse over his actions on Jan. 6, and receiving the 10-year term, half what dominic spaz pezzola mug resizedprosecutors had sought, Dominic Pezzola, right, turned to the audience as he left the courtroom Friday, raised his fist and yelled, “Trump won!”

The sentencings are the latest milestone in the Jan. 6 investigation, which has targeted leaders of the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers who led their members to the Capitol and inflamed the actions of the larger crowd of Donald Trump supporters angry with the 2020 election results.

Prosecutors have now racked up dozens of guilty pleas or trial convictions for members of the two groups, with sentences ranging from home detention to 18 years for Ethan Nordean, who was sentenced after Pezzola on Friday, and for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was sentenced earlier this year. Nordean and Pezzola were convicted after a five-month trial with co-defendants Joseph Biggs, Zachary Rehl and former Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, shown second from the right with co-defendant Proud Boys below.

ethan nordean joseph biggs zachery rehl enrique tarrio dominic pezzola proud boys J6On Thursday, Biggs was sentenced to 17 years and Rehl received 15 years. Tarrio, who prosecutors say deserves a 33-year prison term, is set to be sentenced Tuesday.

Nordean, 33, of Washington, was tapped to head the “boots on the ground” in D.C. after Tarrio was banned from the city because of a Jan. 4 arrest. Nordean and Biggs, a far-right online personality and associate of broadcaster Alex Jones, used bullhorns to direct about 200 men away from a rally featuring Trump.

 

Ethan Nordean, with bullhorn, leads members of the Proud Boys in marching to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. To the left of Nordean is Zachary Rehl, and to the right is Joseph Biggs, fellow Proud Boys. All three were convicted of seditious conspiracy (Associated Press Photo by Carolyn Kaster).Ethan Nordean, right, with bullhorn, leads members of the Proud Boys in marching to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. To the left of Nordean is Joseph Biggs, another Proud Boys leader. Both were convicted of seditious conspiracy (Associated Press Photo by Carolyn Kaster).

Photos and videos show the two marching the group toward the Capitol long before Trump’s remarks at the “Stop the Steal” rally, and then imploring Proud Boys as well as the arriving crowd of Trump supporters to overrun the police and enter the Capitol after the electoral vote certification began at 1 p.m. on Jan. 6.

The prosecution asked U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly to enhance the sentences of Pezzola and Nordean on Friday by ruling that their acts to disrupt the electoral vote certification qualified as terrorism. Kelly had agreed to this request with Biggs and Rehl, and did so again with Pezzola and Nordean.

Prosecutors initially sought a 27-year term for Nordean and 20 years for Pezzola. But as with Biggs and Rehl, Kelly decided that the sentencing ranges for Nordean and Pezzola were too severe. After seeing the sentences for Biggs and Rehl, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough argued Friday that Nordean deserved at least 17 years, as a “structural equal” of Biggs.

“The truth is I did help lead a group of men back to the Capitol,” Nordean told the judge. “There is no excuse for my actions, ignoring police commands, going past barricades, entering the Capitol. Adding myself to the dangerous situation was sorely irresponsible. I would like to take the time to apologize to anyone I wronged. There is no excuse for what I did. I would also like to apologize for my lack of leadership that day.”

Kelly said that most cases with terrorism adjustments “seem to incorporate an intent to kill people or at least a means in the offense to risk serious injury or death. I don’t think — while what Mr. Nordean was convicted of was a serious crime — I don’t think he intended to kill anyone that day.”

He did not say why he gave Nordean one more year than Biggs.

World Crisis Radio, World Strategic Analysis: Ukrainian ground forces advance south towards cutting vital Russian supply line from Donetsk to Kherson and webster tarpley 2007Crimea! Webster G. Tarpley, right, historian, commentator, Sept. 1, 2023 (131 mins.). Despite wretched defeatism of controlled corporate media, defenders register ”notable progress” against invaders over last 72 hours; Large Russian anti-tank ditch now within striking distance south of Robotyne; West Point Professor Jan Kallberg writes that ”victory is closer than you think”; Time to deliver armored vehicle launched assault bridges to Kiev;

Neoliberal ideologue Larry Summers freaks out over Bidenomics, says he’s ”profoundly concerned by the doctrine of manufacturing-centered economic nationalism that is increasingly being put forth as a general principle to guide policy,” in contrast to policies of Clinton and Obama; Summers doesn’t like compulsory labor standards built into federal funding, and views offshoring of 10,000 US factories as a golden age;

For Labor Day, White House proposes raising eligibility wage level for overtime pay rates to $55,000 per year;

If he wants to fight immiseration and despair, singer Oliver Anthony should support Biden’s anti-globalization revolution in trade and industrial policy, the only detailed reform plan that goes beyond crass platitudes;
State officials across US are evaluating throwing Trump off their presidential ballots based on XIV Amendment’s section 3, participation in rebellion;

Success of US system requires constitutional democracy with due process and representative government; But a rising standard of living is also indispensable, in line with FDR’s dictum that needy people cannot be free people; Biden gets it;

Former President Donald J. Trump and several of his fellow defendants, in mug shots released by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in Atlanta (Photos by Fulton County Sheriff’s Office).Conviction of Trump would deprive Putin of any hope of prevailing in Ukraine through US betrayal of Kyiv; defeat of Putin can dissuade Xi from aggression while isolating North Korea and Iran;

Getting right with Lincoln at the start of a decisive world historical year.

84 years ago, Hitler attacked Poland under cover of Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, starting World War II in Europe.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Struggles to Make ‘Bidenomics’ a Plus, Not a Minus, Reid J. Epstein, Sept. 2, 2023. Wages are up, inflation has slowed and the White House has a new slogan. Still, President Biden’s poor marks on the economy are making Democrats worried.

When a chant slamming President Biden spread from a NASCAR race to T-shirts and bumper stickers across red America two years ago, the White House pulled off perhaps its savviest messaging feat to date. Biden aides and allies repackaged the “Let’s Go Brandon” insult and morphed it into “Dark Brandon,” a celebratory meme casting Mr. Biden as some sort of omnipotent mastermind.

Now, the White House and the Biden campaign is several weeks into another appropriation play — but it isn’t going nearly as well. Aides in July announced that the president would run for re-election on the virtues of “Bidenomics,” proudly reclaiming the right’s derisive term for Mr. Biden’s economic policies.

The gambit does not appear to be working yet. Even as Mr. Biden presides over what is by all indicators a strong economy — one on track to dodge the recession many had feared — he is still struggling to convince most of the country of the strength of his economic stewardship. Wages are up, inflation has slowed, but credit to the president remains in short supply.

Polling last month from the Democratic organization Navigator found that 25 percent of Americans support Mr. Biden’s major actions, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, but still think the president is doing a poor job handling the economy. It’s a group that tends to be disproportionately younger than 40 and is more likely to be Black or Latino — voters critical to Democratic victories.

“This is the thing that’s vexing all Democrats,” said Patrick Gaspard, the president of the Center for American Progress.

Democratic economists, pollsters and officials have a variety of explanations for why voters don’t credit Mr. Biden for the economy. Inflation remains elevated, and interest rates have made home buying difficult. There is also evidence that voters’ views on the economy are shaped as much by their political views as by personal experiences.

And then there is the regular refrain that people don’t know about Mr. Biden’s successes. Even Mr. Biden’s supporters say that he and his administration have been too reluctant to promote their record and ineffective when they do.

“I’ve never seen this big of a disconnect between how the economy is actually doing and key polling results about what people think is going on,” said Heidi Shierholz, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

Mr. Biden on Friday attempted another victory lap in a White House speech celebrating the latest jobs report, which found no sign of an imminent recession and a slight increase in the unemployment rate as more people sought work. He credited the heart of his economic plan, including investment in infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturing and climate-related industries along with caps on the price of insulin medication.

washington post logoWashington Post, Bill Richardson traveled the world and brought detained Americans home, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Sept. 2, 2023. Osman Khan was a 24-year-old Floridian visiting his girlfriend’s family in Venezuela when he was detained at the country’s border with Colombia in January 2022. Accused of being a spy, he said he was electrocuted, waterboarded and tortured by Venezuelan intelligence officials. During a month of solitary confinement, he tried to take his own life.

Khan’s captors told him they wouldn’t negotiate directly with the U.S. government, so his family placed calls to Bill Richardson and his associate Mickey Bergman, who “opened dialogues,” Khan recalled in an interview with The Washington Post.

“Out of desperation, my family got in contact with the Richardson Center,” Khan said, referring to the organization Richardson founded that works to free Americans detained abroad. His family was told that the Center would do whatever it could to get Khan home and started speaking with Caracas.

After a storied career as a lawmaker, governor and U.N. ambassador, Richardson, who died late Friday at 75, became something of a guru in the white-knuckle world of international hostage negotiations.

“It felt like a death in the family today,” Khan said from Orlando. “I’m torn apart.”

Richardson helped free hostages from Iran to Russia and Myanmar to Libya. The list included basketball player Brittney Griner, journalist Danny Fenster and U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, among many others.

It also included Khan, who, with the help of the State Department and the Richardson Center, was freed last October along with six others, in exchange for two relatives of President Nicolás Maduro jailed in the United States.

Matthew Heath, one of the six others freed alongside Khan and who also attempted to take his own life four months before he was released, said Richardson was a “beacon of hope” while he was in captivity.

“Long before the US government and Maduro were speaking, Gov. Richardson traveled to Caracas to negotiate my release,” Heath said in a statement to The Post. “His center provided hundreds and hundreds of hours of support to my family while I was in detention.”

Richardson’s work as a negotiator started unexpectedly in 1994, when he was on a visit to North Korea as a congressman. A U.S. Army helicopter was shot down while he was there after it veered over the country’s border, killing one American while another was taken into North Korean custody. Richardson had traveled to Pyongyang for nuclear weapons talks but became singularly focused on securing the pilot’s release and refused to leave until a deal was struck, The Post reported at the time.

Mother Jones Magazine, A New Rudy Scandal: FBI Agent Says Giuliani Was Co-opted by Russian Intelligence, Dan Friedman and David Corn, Sept. 1, 2023. The whistleblower says his probe of Giuliani’s ties to suspected Russian operatives was thwarted.

It was big news when Rudy Giuliani, once hailed as America’s Mayor, was indicted last month by a district attorney in Atlanta for allegedly being part of Russian Flaga criminal enterprise led by Donald Trump that sought to overturn the 2020 election results. Giuliani was back in headlines this week when he lost a defamation suit filed against him by two Georgia election workers whom he had falsely accused of ballot stuffing. Giuliani’s apparent impoverishment, caused by his massive legal bills, and even his alleged drinking have been fodder for reporters. But another major Giuliani development has drawn less attention: An FBI whistleblower filed a statement asserting that Giuliani “may have been compromised” by Russian intelligence while working as a lawyer and adviser to Trump during the 2020 campaign.

That contention is among a host of explosive assertions from Johnathan Buma, an FBI agent who also says that an investigation involving Giuliani’s activities was stymied within the bureau.

In July, Buma sent the Senate Judiciary Committee a 22-page statement full of eye-popping allegations, and the document leaked and was first reported last month by Insider (after a conservative blogger had posted it online). According to Buma’s account, Giuliani was used as an asset by a Ukrainian oligarch tied to Russian intelligence and other Russian operatives for a disinformation operation that aimed to discredit Joe Biden and boost Trump in the 2020 presidential race. Moreover, Buma says he was the target of retaliation within the bureau for digging into this.

The FBI declined to comment on Buma’s claims.

Buma’s revelations may only be the start. A source familiar with his work tells Mother Jones that other potential FBI whistleblowers who participated in the investigation involving Giuliani have consulted the same lawyer as Buma and might meet with congressional investigators in coming weeks. That attorney, Scott Horton, declined to comment.

Giuliani faces a heap of legal and financial problems, including those felony charges in Georgia. He is also an uncharged co-conspirator in the federal case in which Trump was indicted for his efforts to retain power after losing the 2020 election. He has been sued by a former assistant for rape. And apparently Trump has not helped the supposedly broke Giuliani cover his legal bills, though the former president did agree to headline a fundraiser for Giuliani.

Still, Buma’s statement suggests that Giuliani has been lucky to avoid deeper trouble over his attempt during the 2020 race to deploy made-in-Ukraine disinformation to sully Joe Biden.

It is widely known that Giuliani tried mightily to unearth and disseminate dirt on Biden in Ukraine—particularly regarding the unfounded allegation that as vice president Biden squashed an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company for which his son Hunter was a director. This smear campaign led to Trump’s first impeachment and resulted in a federal investigation into whether Giuliani violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Prosecutors ended that probe last year.

But Buma’s allegations that FBI and Justice Department officials blocked his efforts to investigate these Giuliani activities and the work of suspected Russian agents who may have influenced the former New York City mayor could spark a new dust-up on Capitol Hill. As Republicans keep trying to gin up a controversy over the Bidens, Burisma, and other matters, Buma’s statement reinforces the case that this supposed Biden-Ukraine scandal was egged on or orchestrated by Russian intelligence. And it contradicts the narrative pushed by Trump and his defenders that the FBI and Justice Department have been in cahoots with Democrats.

Giuliani’s role in Trump’s coup attempt and his string of public humiliations may overshadow the Ukrainian chapter in Giuliani’s downfall. But, according to Buma and various US intelligence findings, Giuliani apparently was a dupe—a useful idiot—for suspected Russian operatives and propagandists. And the bureau, Buma says, investigated this—until it didn’t.

Buma’s statement highlights Giuliani’s relationship with Pavel Fuks, a wealthy Ukrainian developer, who in 2017 hired Giuliani and paid him $300,000. Fuks once told the New York Times that he had retained Giuliani to lobby in the United States for the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where Fuks then lived. Giuliani has denied that he was paid to lobby for Kharkiv, insisting he only provided advice regarding security to the city. And Fuks has changed his tune. Through a spokesperson, he told Mother Jones that Giuliani’s work was limited to advising the city.
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In his statement, Buma says that the FBI assessed Fuks to be a “co-opted asset” of Russian intelligence services, meaning a person who Russian intelligence used to advance its goals. Buma’s complaint does not name a specific Russian intelligence agency, but a person who spoke to agents involved in this investigation says that the FBI believes Fuks worked for the FSB, the successor to KGB. All this raises the possibility that Giuliani, a former Republican presidential candidate who became a close adviser to Trump, received a large payment directly from a Russian asset.

Buma alleges that Fuks has carried out various tasks for Russian spies, including laundering money for them. Fuks also reportedly paid locals to spray-paint swastikas around Kharkiv in the weeks before Russia’s invasion. Buma says Fuks did so to bolster Vladmir Putin’s claim that the invasion aimed to achieve the “de-Nazification of Ukraine.”

Fuks denies these claims. “Mr. Fuks has never cooperated with Russian intelligence,” his spokesperson says.

Buma maintains that his investigative work led to Customs and Border Patrol in 2017 revoking Fuks visa for travel to the United States and that the FBI assessed that Fuks constituted “a national security threat,” a finding that caused Fuks to be placed on an organized crime watch list. Buma also says that he sent the Treasury Department a recommendation that the United States sanction Fuks. To date, the US government has not done so.
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Ukraine has sanctioned Fuks, and it is reportedly investigating him for fraud and tax evasion. Fuks now lives in London, according to recent media reports.

In his statement, Buma says that he developed suspicions that Giuliani, through his relationship with Fuks, was “compromised by the RIS,” meaning the Russian Intelligence Services. That is a striking claim—an allegation that Russian spies may have obtained influence over a top adviser to the US president.

It’s a new piece of information to add to a pile of public indications that Giuliani left himself wide open to manipulation by Russian agents, while he was dredging Ukraine in search of derogatory information about Hunter and Joe Biden.

Giuliani has previously asserted that his work for Fuks ended before he joined Trump’s legal team in April 2018. And Fuks’ spokesperson also says that Fuks’ dealings with Giuliani finished in 2018. But Buma suggests that Fuks may have maintained an indirect connection to Giuliani by hiring in 2019 Andriy Telizhenko, a former low-level Ukrainian diplomatic official, to mount a public relations effort for him in the United States. Buma says that a source told him that Fuks retained Telizhenko to help him “establish contacts with US politicians.” Telizhenko went on to work with Giuliani, feeding him information on the Bidens.

Telizhenko, in a recent interview with Mother Jones, maintained that his work for Fuks and his contacts with Giuliani were unrelated.

But Telizhenko’s interactions with Giuliani raise serious questions about whether this Trump adviser, wittingly or not, played. a part in a covert Russian operation to discredit Biden. In 2021, the Treasury Department sanctioned Telizhenko for promoting Russian “disinformation narratives that U.S. government officials have engaged in corrupt dealings in Ukraine.” Telizhenko denies advancing disinformation or aiding Russia. He says the sanctions resulted from an FBI informant making false claims about him.

Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine placed him in contact with several Ukrainians since sanctioned for allegedly assisting Russian disinformation efforts. The most prominent was Andriy Derkach, the son of a former KGB officer and then a Ukrainian legislator, who supplied Giuliani with unsubstantiated information about the Bidens’ supposed activities in Ukraine. After making a trip to Ukraine in the summer of 2020, Giuliani told the Washington Post that he kept in touch with Derkach and called him “very helpful.”

Trump’s Treasury Department sanctioned Derkach in 2020, calling him an “active Russian agent for over a decade.” In March 2021, a declassified report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said that Putin in 2020 signed off on a Russian intelligence effort to use proxies to feed prominent US individuals “influence narratives” aimed at hurting Biden’s campaign and helping Trump. The report cited Derkach, asserting that Putin “had purview” over his activities. Though the report did not name him, Giuliani was obviously one of the Americans the ODNI believed had been manipulated by the Russians. Last year, federal prosecutors hit Derkach with criminal charges for his alleged attempts to evade sanctions.

In his statement, Buma says he investigated Giuliani’s use of “funds he collected from political influencers to travel and conduct a series of interviews with former Ukrainian officials”—a reference to Giuliani’s campaign to gather opposition research on the Bidens. But he adds that “Giuliani was himself never considered a subject” of that part of his probe, which focused on “foreign organized crime figures and intelligence service assets or agents who chose to deal with him.”

Giuliani has admitted to meeting Ukrainians subsequently cited by the US government as Russian operatives. But he has defended his actions by arguing he had to deal with questionable people to seek information on what he has referred to as alleged Biden crimes. (No evidence has surfaced to prove Biden acted improperly in Ukraine to help his son.)

Buma reveals in his statement that he also probed whether Russian operatives or assets were involved in a 2020 Giuliani effort to make a film about Hunter Biden’s business activities in Ukraine and elsewhere. As Mother Jones reported, the GOP activists behind this venture noted in legal documents that they were considering seeking foreign financing for the film. The anti-Biden film was to include commentary from Konstantin Kulyk, a former Ukrainian prosecutor who Treasury sanctioned in 2021 for working with Derkach to spread “fraudulent and unsubstantiated allegations” about Biden. That is, this project was to feature information from sources who the US government later deemed were connected to a disinformation campaign linked to Russian intelligence.

Giuliani played a key role in trying to line up investors for the movie. His lawyer, Robert Costello, denied that Giuliani solicited money from foreign investors. The investors Giuliani did help find were two brothers, David and Kable Munger, who own a large blueberry producing company in California and have donated generously to GOP candidates. The movie never came close to being made, and people involved in the endeavor told Mother Jones the project was disorganized and incompetently managed.
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The Mungers recently sued two GOP activists involved in producing the film, Tim Yale and George Dickson, along with a company they formed. Giuliani was not named as a defendant in the suit. The Mungers say that Giuliani helped persuade them to invest $1 million by saying that they would receive a share of the film’s profits. The brothers also claim that Yale and Dickson told them the movie would be “more profitable than Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.” Giuliani, Dickson, and Yale also said, according to the Mungers’ lawsuit, that they possessed “smoking guns” revealing Joe Biden was corrupt.

Giuliani and his colleagues possessed no such material. The Mungers allege that Dickson and Yale stole their investment. In a text message to Mother Jones, Yale insisted that the lawsuit is “total hogwash.” He declined to comment further. Dickson did not respond to requests for comment.

Giuliani, according to the lawsuit, was paid $300,000 for his participation in the film project. A lawyer and a spokesperson for Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

Buma’s disclosures spell new trouble for Giuliani. They further implicate him in a covert Russian operation to tilt the 2020 election toward Trump. They also raise the possibility that Giuliani was protected by FBI officials. (After the 2016 election, the Justice Department investigated whether Giuliani had improper contacts with FBI agents during that race regarding the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton, and it found no evidence Giuliani had been leaked information.) Buma’s statement offers an investigative roadmap for inquiries that could soil Giuliani’s already tarnished reputation. But the down-and-out Giuliani may get lucky: With all the controversy and scandal swirling about him, there just may not be much room in the Giuliani coverage for the allegation that he was a puppet for Putin.

washington post logoWashington Post, Republican race remains stuck as Trump dominates heading into fall, Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Marianne LeVine, Sept. 2, 2023. Some campaigns don’t want to go after Trump for fear of alienating his supporters — but don’t see a path to beating him without attacking him at some point.

President Donald Trump officialRepublican rivals of Donald Trump and their allies have run about $75 million in advertising, hosted hundreds of events, deployed small armies of door-knockers and staged a presidential debate with ratings akin to the NBA Finals.

But they have little to show for any of it. The former president has continued to dominate the polls while racking up 91 felony indictments in four courtrooms, campaigning less than many of his competitors, skipping the debate and repeatedly slashing popular fellow Republicans.

djt maga hatA majority of the national GOP electorate now tell pollsters they support Trump’s renomination after the first debate, up about 10 points from the spring. His closest rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has watched his support cut in half from the 30s in March to now approaching the rest of the single-digit field.

republican elephant logoThe dire situation has forced Trump’s would-be successors to refocus their post-Labor Day push on the first voting states, fueled by a near-providential conviction that about 400,000 people in Iowa and New Hampshire — the first two nominating contests — can change history once again. It has also led to frenzied conversations among some candidates and campaign consultants who don’t want to go after Trump for fear of alienating his supporters — but who don’t see a path to beating him without attacking him at some point.

They find themselves scrambling to make the case that they can stand up to the front-runner, while fighting back against the notion that Trump’s dominance has permanently transformed the party around his personality.

“Every day that goes by — no one has come up with a good idea,” said Dave Carney, a Republican consultant who worked in the presidential campaigns of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking about the major rivals to Trump. “This was a perfect opportunity to lay out your attack on Trump, since he wasn’t at the debate, and no one had the [guts] to talk about it. You know why? They don’t know what to do.”

 

Trump-Related Probes, Indictments

 

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Families crossing U.S. border illegally reached all-time high in August, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). At least 91,000 migrants crossing in a family group were arrested in August, an influx that may return immigration to the spotlight for the 2024 election.

Record numbers of migrant families streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border in August, according to preliminary data obtained by The Washington Post, an influx that has upended Biden administration efforts to discourage parents from entering illegally with children and could once again place immigration in the spotlight during a presidential race.

The U.S. Border Patrol arrested at least 91,000 migrants who crossed as part of a family group in August, exceeding the prior one-month record of 84,486 set in May 2019, during the Trump administration. Families were the single largest demographic group crossing the border in August, surpassing single adults for the first time since Biden took office.

Overall, the data show, border apprehensions have risen more than 30 percent for two consecutive months, after falling sharply in May and June as the Biden administration rolled out new restrictions and entry opportunities. The Border Patrol made more than 177,000 arrests along the Mexico border in August, up from 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June.

Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Biden administration is trying to slow illegal entries by expanding lawful options and also stiffening penalties. The government ramped up deportation flights carrying families in August, she said, and since May has repatriated more than 17,000 parents and children who recently crossed the border in a family group.

“But as with every year, the U.S. is seeing ebbs and flows of migrants arriving fueled by seasonal trends and the efforts of smugglers to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable migrants and encourage migration,” Heeter said in a statement.

Family groups have been an Achilles’ heel for U.S. immigration enforcement for over a decade. Most migrants in that category who are detained by Border Patrol agents are quickly released and allowed to live and work in the United States while their humanitarian claims are pending. Backlogged U.S. immigration courts typically take several years to reach a decision, and the process rarely ends in deportation, federal data show.

djt march 2020 Custom

washington post logo Washington Post, While Trump’s other trials remain largely off-camera, Georgia offers a new level of access, Paul Farhi, Sept. 2, 2023. Thus far, Donald Trump’s metastasizing legal troubles have largely been visible only from the outside.

Barred from arraignments and other preliminary courtroom activities, television news has resorted to showing the former president’s motorcades arriving and departing. Sometimes the only thing on the screen was a static shot of the building he had entered.
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georgia mapIt appears that’s about to change — thanks to the relatively open-door media policies of the Georgia court system, the site of Trump’s most recent criminal indictment.

On Thursday, the Atlanta-area judge overseeing the racketeering case gave the go-ahead for live TV and streaming video coverage of his trial, probably the only occasion the general public could have opportunity to watch him sit through courtroom proceedings amid the heat of a 2024 campaign.

The ruling by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott F. McAfee carries several big question marks. First, it’s unclear when exactly Trump will stand trial; the judge hasn’t set a date. Second, Trump’s attorneys could still ask to move the case to federal court; co-defendant Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, argued for such a change of venue this week. If that happens, it would render McAfee’s ruling about televising moot.

If the trial remains with Fulton County, however, daily video coverage could turn it into an enormous media event — a veritable trial of the century.

“It’s frankly hard to imagine a case of higher public interest than the trial of a former president who is accused of trying to overturn an election,” said Sonja R. West, a professor at the University of Georgia’s law school who specializes in First Amendment law. With TV and streaming, she said, “there will literally be far more eyes on this trial than on the others.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Appeals court won’t block Trump deposition in ex-FBI employees’ suit, Rachel Weiner, Sept. 2, 2023. An appellate court won’t block former president Donald Trump from being questioned under oath in a lawsuit brought by two former FBI employees who say his administration persecuted them for political reasons.

The Justice Department sought to block Trump from being compelled to answer questions about the handling of text messages between FBI attorney Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok that exposed their opposition to his candidacy and their personal relationship. The two are suing the Justice Department, not Trump, but say the former president was inappropriately involved in how they were treated.

FBI logoJudge Amy Berman Jackson allowed for the two-hour deposition earlier this year, saying that Trump’s repeated public statements about the pair justifies further probing of whether he pressured the Justice Department to retaliate against them after the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Friday denied an emergency petition from the Justice Department to block Berman Jackson’s ruling. Absent another appeal, Trump’s deposition will now go forward. The former president has not intervened to prevent the deposition.

The two judges who voted to deny the Justice Department petition are Democratic appointees; a Republican appointee on the panel said she would have blocked the deposition.

Page, who resigned, says the texts were released in violation of her privacy; Strzok says he was fired in retaliation for protected speech.

Both were assigned before that election to investigate whether Hillary Clinton broke the law by using a private email server and Russian interference into Trump’s campaign. The exposure of their anti-Trump messages in 2017 fueled Republican allegations that FBI bias drove the Russia probe. An inspector general investigation found no evidence that their opinions affected their work; a special counsel appointed by Trump was more critical of the FBI but agreed investigating Russian interference was warranted.

Attorneys for the Justice Department argued that other officials have already testified that their decisions to release the texts and fire Strzok were made independently of Trump. But the plaintiffs say some of those officials did not recall relevant details, and note that Trump personally took credit for driving them both out of the FBI.

dominic spaz pezzola mug resized

Politico, Proud Boy who triggered breach of Capitol building on Jan. 6 sentenced to 10 years, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 1, 2023. The image of Dominic Pezzola smashing the Senate wing window became emblematic of the threat to democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.

politico CustomDominic Pezzola, right, a New York Proud Boy who triggered the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the Capitol when he smashed a window with a stolen police riot shield, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the attack.

“You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly, below, left, said as he delivered his sentence on Friday. “It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”

timothy kellyPezzola’s sentence closes one of the most harrowing chapters of the Jan. 6 riot. The image of Pezzola smashing the window became emblematic of the threat to democracy that unfolded that day, and it was featured during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump that unfolded a month later.

Pezzola also filmed himself inside the Capitol smoking a cigar and celebrating the breach.

“I knew we could take this motherfucker over if we just tried hard enough,” Pezzola said in the video in which he also repeated a Proud Boys slogan.

Pezzola was convicted in May alongside four Proud Boys leaders, including the group’s national chair on Jan. 6, 2021, Enrique Tarrio, with conspiring to obstruct Congress’ proceedings that day. Pezzola was also convicted of civil disorder, destruction of government property, assaulting a police officer and stealing the riot shield. Unlike Tarrio and the other three codefendants — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl — Pezzola was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, the gravest charge the group faced.

Biggs and Rehl were sentenced Thursday to 17 years and 15 years, respectively.

Pezzola’s route to Jan. 6 differed sharply from his codefendants. A businessperson whose work suffered amid the Covid pandemic, Pezzola grew disillusioned with government and delved deeply into far-right politics while largely isolated at home. In November 2020, he sought out camaraderie from the Proud Boys and began attending events and rallies with the group, but he was not a member of senior leadership like his codefendants.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in historic indictment linked to Stormy Daniels hush money probe (Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a blue suit, sits with his attorneys shortly before arraignment in New York City’s state court on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records related to the 2016 presidential campaign season, reportedly involving in part hush money to women ((Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

 

More On Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration

washington post logoWashington Post, Ohio police release video of officer fatally shooting pregnant woman, Amber Ferguson, Sept. 2, 2023. Ohio police released body-camera video Friday that shows officers interacting with a pregnant woman for about one minute before an officer fired a single shot through her windshield, killing her and her unborn baby, after authorities said the woman drove forward into one of the officers.

ohio mapThe Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is reviewing the Aug. 24 shooting and the officer who fired his gun remains on administrative leave, authorities said, while also declining to release the officer’s name. Attorneys representing the family of the slain woman, 21-year-old Ta’Kiya Young, have called for the officer who fired the shot to be identified.

“We demand accountability for the loss of two precious lives, Ta’Kiya and her unborn daughter,” Sean L. Walton, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference Wednesday. “The officer of this department must be held accountable for his actions that escalated this encounter.”

The incident took place in the parking lot of a Kroger’s grocery store in Westerville, Ohio. Body-camera video shows Blendon Township police officers were already in the lot assisting another woman who had been locked out of her car when a store employee approached them and claimed a woman had stolen bottles of alcohol before entering a car parked in a handicap space outside the store.

The video shows one officer approach Young’s driver’s side window, which Young partially rolled down, and repeatedly tell her to exit the car. A second officer then steps in front of the vehicle.

Young can be heard on camera denying that she stole anything and arguing with the officers before turning the wheel of the car.

The officer standing in front of the vehicle then draws his handgun, puts one of his hands on the vehicle’s hood and also orders Young to get out of the car, as it moves forward. The officer is then seen on video shooting once into the windshield, striking Young.

The car continued moving forward after the shot and came to a halt on the sidewalk near the store. Authorities said Young was quickly removed from the car and a nearby emergency medicine physician provided medical aid before EMTs arrived.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Texas judge again orders Southwest lawyers to reeducation camp, Ruth Marcus, right, Sept. 2, 2023. Federal judge Brantley ruth marcus twitter CustomStarr isn’t backing down from his order that lawyers for Southwest Airlines undergo “religious liberty” training from a conservative group dedicated to opposing abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. The airline’s complaint that the court-ordered training violates its First Amendment rights, Starr wrote, “appears to be more of a gripe than a legal objection.”

texas mapStarr’s latest ruling came in a case involving Charlene Carter, a Southwest flight attendant who sent graphic antiabortion messages to a fellow flight attendant and called her “despicable.” Southwest fired Carter, saying her conduct “crossed the boundaries of acceptable behavior.” Carter sued, claiming that Southwest discriminated against her based on her religious beliefs. A jury agreed; Southwest is appealing.

In early August, however, Starr, a Donald Trump appointee who sits in Dallas, found that Southwest hadn’t accurately informed its flight attendants about his ruling in the case or the fact that their religious freedom is protected under Title VII, the federal employment discrimination law. So he ordered three Southwest lawyers to undergo “a minimum” of eight hours of religious liberty training — to be conducted, he specified, by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Ruth Marcus: A Trump judge sends Southwest Airlines to right-wing reeducation camp

Starr’s order referred to “esteemed nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to preserving free speech and religious freedom,” but ADF is no neutral, academic entity. It is a full-throated, highly effective combatant in the culture wars, with particular — and to many people, particularly offensive — views about abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. It argued in favor of criminalizing homosexual conduct and against gays in the military. It litigated cases defending the rights of Christian bakers and website designers to refuse to provide services for same-sex weddings; it’s in court right now arguing that the abortion drug Mifepristone should be taken off the market.

All of this is fully within ADF’s constitutional rights. But forcing lawyers to submit to indoctrination by ADF embodies the antithesis of the First Amendment values that Starr purports to be protecting. Somehow, he is exquisitely sensitive to a perceived bias against Carter — although there’s scant evidence the airline was motivated by animus toward her faith — and resolutely oblivious to the offensiveness of required reeducation training at the hands of ADF.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: It’s not going to be easy to make D.C.’s youth curfew work, Colbert I. King, right, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). D.C. Mayor Muriel E. colbert king newestBowser’s partial youth curfew went into effect Friday in areas of the city where police have found patterns of criminal activity by juveniles in the overnight hours. The U Street entertainment corridor in Northwest Washington is one designated curfew-enforcement area. I can’t help but wonder: What if the special curfew had been in place last weekend?

That’s when 16-year-old Naima Liggon was stabbed to death by another 16-year-old girl outside a McDonald’s near 14th and U Streets NW just after 2 a.m. Precious life was lost in an argument apparently over sweet-and-sour sauce. If curfew enforcement had been underway, would Naima still be with us today? Would both girls have been at home?

True, there are plenty of other locations where fighting could have taken place. And, of course, stabbings can occur at any time of day. But the police were obviously on to something when they identified the U Street corridor as a target location for enforcement of a midnight curfew on weekends (and 11 p.m. on weekdays). For those reasons, the curfew will also be enforced in Chinatown and Navy Yard; on streets around Howard University and Banneker Recreation Center; on 14th Street between Otis Place and Spring Road NW in Columbia Heights; on the 4000 block of Georgia Avenue NW; on the 4400 through 4600 blocks of Benning Road SE and on the 1300 block of Congress Street SE.

Time will tell whether this pilot curfew program will reduce the toll of crime on our youths. Thirteen boys and girls younger than 18 have been killed so far in D.C. this year. More than 80 youths have been shot. Hundreds of minors have been charged with crimes of violence — all numbers that have increased since this time last year.

True, not all crimes were committed after 11 p.m. But enough goes wrong, at least in the mayor’s view, to get unsupervised youths under 17 off the streets late at night.

“The vast majority of our young people are doing the right thing — they are back in school, they are involved in extracurriculars, and in the evenings and at night, they are where they need to be — supervised and safe. But we need that to be true for all of our young people, and if we have kids and teenagers who are not in safe situations, we need to connect with those families,” Bowser (D) said. “I’ve shared before that when I was young, my father used to tell me: There’s nothing good in the street after 11 o’clock. We want our kids home, we want them safe, and if they’re not, we want families working with us to get their kids the help that they need.”

Bowser rightly recognizes the risks of curfew stoking up tensions between the police and affected residents. Curfew violators won’t be taken to police stations. Instead, they will be transported to the Youth Services Center, where their families can come get them. This is also an opportunity to confront the reality that many D.C. youths getting in trouble are often in troubled families. Under this pilot program, the center will connect both parent and child with the kind of help and rehabilitation services they might need.

All of which is a good idea — on paper. But does the city have the capacity to make it work?

This spring, the Youth Services Center reached such an extreme state with staff shortages that young people were reportedly confined to hours-long lockdowns in their rooms, beyond legal limits. Problems also were so severe that administrative or maintenance staff were substituting for trained youth development workers. The mayor’s office assured me the facility can now handle all detained youths. But the center is an 88-bed facility. As of Thursday, 78 beds were filled. Will additional space be made available to accommodate the influx of curfew violators?

 

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shown in a file photo speaking at the McConnell Center, named for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longtime U.S. senator from Kentucky.Clarence Thomas McConnell Center flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shown in a file photo speaking at the McConnell Center, named for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longtime U.S. senator from Kentucky.

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Thomas Defends Trips With Texas Billionaire in Financial Disclosure, Abbie VanSickle, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The latest disclosures from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito come amid increased scrutiny of their dealings and the court’s lack of an ethics code.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his annual financial disclosure form that was released Thursday, responded in detail to reports that he had failed to disclose luxury trips, flights on a private jet and a real estate transaction with a Texas billionaire.

In an unusual move, the justice included a statement defending his travel with the billionaire, Harlan Crow, who has donated to conservative causes.

The latest financial disclosures come as the justices face increased scrutiny about their financial dealings and about the court’s lack of an ethics code. Although the justices, like other federal judges, are required to file annual reports that document their investments, gifts and travel, the justices are not bound by ethics rules, instead following what Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has referred to as a set of foundational “ethics principles and practices.”

The justices file the financial forms each spring, and most were released in early June. But Justices Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. requested 90-day extensions, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which collects and publishes the forms. Justice Alito’s financial disclosure form was also released on Thursday morning.

Justice Thomas also acknowledged errors in his previous financial reports, including personal bank accounts and his wife’s life insurance, which he said were “inadvertently omitted from prior reports.”

The justice also listed four trips from 2022, the year covered by the form. Three of the trips were speaking engagements. The fourth, from July 2022, was a trip to Mr. Crow’s estate in the Adirondacks.

The nature of Justice Thomas’s decades-long relationship with Mr. Crow has elicited questions after a series of reports in ProPublica described the extent of his generosity and the justice’s failure to disclose it. Mr. Crow treated the justice on a series of lavish trips, including flights on his private jet, island-hopping on his superyacht and vacationing at his estate in the Adirondacks. Mr. Crow also bought the justice’s mother’s home in Savannah, Ga., and covered a portion of private school tuition for the justice’s great-nephew, whom he was raising.

Other wealthy friends have hosted Justice Thomas, including David L. Sokol, the former heir apparent to Berkshire Hathaway. Another, Anthony Welters, underwrote — at least in part — his motor coach, a 40-foot Prevost Marathon that he has said allows him to slip away from the “meanness that you see in Washington.”

Justice Alito, for his part, acknowledged in June that he had taken a private plane on a vacation in 2008 to a luxury fishing lodge in Alaska, where he was hosted by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire. In the years that followed, Mr. Singer repeatedly had business before the court.

Read the forms from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

In his disclosure, Justice Thomas addressed his decision to fly on Mr. Crow’s private jet, suggesting that he had been advised to avoid commercial travel after the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating a constitutional right to an abortion.

“Because of the increased security risk following the Dobbs opinion leak, the May flights were by private plane for official travel as filer’s security detail recommended noncommercial travel whenever possible,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Justice Thomas also defended his past filings, which did not include many of the trips with Mr. Crow and other wealthy friends. He wrote that he had “adhered to the then existing judicial regulations as his colleagues had done, both in practice and in consultation with the Judicial Conference.”

But he said he “continues to work with Supreme Court officials and the committee staff for guidance on whether he should further amend his reports from any prior years.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-cardinal McCarrick’s sex abuse case is dismissed, without a ‘reckoning,’ Michelle Boorstein and Fredrick Kunkle, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday dismissed a criminal charge against former high-ranking Catholic cleric Theodore McCarrick, ruling that the 93-year-old former archbishop of Washington is incompetent to stand trial for alleged child sexual abuse.

The decision underscores the fast-closing window for potential accountability for McCarrick, who once was one of the U.S. Catholic Church’s most visible and connected leaders and now is one of its most notorious figures.

McCarrick had been charged with assaulting a 16-year-old boy at a wedding in 1974, the first criminal charge since a slew of sexual misconduct accusations surfaced in 2018 and he was removed from public ministry. He still faces a second criminal sexual abuse case, involving the same alleged victim, in Wisconsin.

These abuse survivors thought they knew the details. Then came the clergy reports.

Judge Paul McCallum, of the Dedham District Court in Massachusetts, dismissed the case in a morning hearing, after experts for the defense and the prosecution agreed that McCarrick was unable to help with his own defense, said David Traub, a spokesman for the district attorney.

“Under Massachusetts law, the case can’t go forward,” Traub said.

McCarrick was the first U.S. cardinal and only the second U.S. bishop to be charged with abuse. His accuser in the case, James Grein, a tennis coach from Northern Virginia, submitted a statement to the court for Wednesday’s hearing that said the case was “to have provided a modest level of payback.”

“I have trouble reconciling the concept that someone who is intelligent and articulate is also not competent to stand trial and answer for his actions,” Grein wrote. “I brought the charges in this matter, in the hope of finding justice in this court. Instead, McCarrick walks a free man and I am left with nothing.”

The steep fall of McCarrick has wounded the world’s largest Christian group and produced several unprecedented — if incremental — steps toward accountability.

But, as an individual, McCarrick has not faced justice in the ways his alleged victims and his own American society typically demand it — through a guilty verdict, victim impact statements or financial penalties. Some clergy abuse experts and McCarrick accusers said Wednesday that the judge’s decision was harmful, while others said they were looking to a more eternal verdict.

“From my perspective, the God he claimed to serve will now be his judge,” said John Bellocchio, who has accused McCarrick of abusing him in the 1990s, when Bellocchio was 14. “And I doubt — in his profound arrogance — I doubt he will fare well.”

washington post logoWashington Post, FBI says it dismantled a botnet that hacked hundreds of thousands of computers, David DiMolfetta, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Qakbot network was responsible for enabling ransomware, financial fraud and other cyber crimes, the FBI said.

U.S. authorities on Tuesday announced a multinational operation that they said took down a network that had infected hundreds of thousands of computers with malware and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from cyberattacks worldwide.

The FBI called the action that disabled the infamous Qakbot malware “one of the largest U.S.-led disruptions of a botnet infrastructure used by cybercriminals to commit ransomware, financial fraud, and other cyber-enabled criminal activity.” The Justice Department said law enforcement agencies in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Romania and Latvia also participated in the operation, which it said was code-named “Duck Hunt.”

Some $8.6 million in stolen cryptocurrency related to the network’s operations also was seized and will be returned to victims, the FBI said.
Qakbot, first discovered in 2008, has frequently targeted victims’ computers through spam email messages containing malicious hyperlinks or attachments. Victim machines would then become another link in the network, surreptitiously under control of those seeking to use the network for cybercrime. Some 700,000 victims have been identified worldwide, with 200,000 of them in the United States, according to the Justice Department.

The botnet enabled the operations of number of high-profile ransomware groups, including Conti and REvil, that targeted organizations such as hospitals, schools and municipal governments, holding their sensitive data hostage in exchange for a ransom payment. Victims have included a power engineering firm based in Illinois, a financial services company in Alabama and a food distribution company in California, according to authorities, who added that Qakbot administrators received about $58 million in ransoms paid by victims between October 2021 and April 2023.

 

manhattan institute

The Guardian, Billionaire-linked US thinktank behind supreme court wealth tax case lobbying, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dominic Rushe, Aug. 27, 2023. Manhattan Institute one of eight conservative advocacy groups that filed amicus briefs urging the court to hear ‘Moore v US.’

An influential thinktank closely linked to two billionaires who provided lavish travel gifts to conservative supreme court justices is behind a successful lobbying campaign to get the US high court to take on a case that could protect them and other billionaires from a possible future wealth tax.

manhattan institute logoThe Manhattan Institute was one of eight conservative advocacy groups that filed amicus briefs urging the supreme court to take on Moore v US, a $15,000 tax case that Democrats have warned could permanently “lock in” the right of billionaires to opt out of paying fair taxes.

The billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer is chairman of the Manhattan Institute and Kathy Crow, who is married to the real estate mogul Harlan Crow, serves as a trustee of the group. Both have provided two of the justices – Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, respectively – with private travel gifts and have socialised with the judges on lavish vacations, according to reports in ProPublica and other media outlets.

The revelations have stoked serious accusations of ethical and legal violations by the two rightwing justices, who failed to disclose the travel and – in Thomas’s case – hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional gifts from the Crows, including property purchases and private tuition payments for Thomas’s great-nephew.

Thomas has called the Crows his “dearest friends” and claimed Harlan Crow “did not have business before the Court”. Alito has said he could recall speaking to Singer only on a “handful of occasions” and that the two had never discussed Singer’s business or issues before the court.

But Alito and Thomas’s dealings with the conservative billionaires have nevertheless raised questions about how the justices’ close ties might influence which cases are taken on by the court.

The supreme court announced it would hear Moore vs US on 26 June. On its face, the case appears to be centered on a relatively minor tax dispute between Charles and Kathleen Moore, a Washington-state couple, and the US government.

Charles Moore spent most of his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, where he met one of the future founders of KisanKraft, a company that provides low-cost tools to farmers in India.

In 2006, the Moores invested about $40,000 in KisanKraft. The investment gave them an 11% stake in the company, which made profits but did not pay dividends, the Moores said.

In 2017, the Trump administration passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a law that contained a one-off levy on US corporations’ foreign earnings – the Mandatory Repatriation Tax (MRT). It was estimated that MRT would raise $340bn in tax revenue. To the Moores’ chagrin, it also created an unexpected $15,000 tax liability in connection to their KisanKraft holding.

The tax was unfair and unconstitutional – they argue – because they never realized any gains from the investment. In a video interview of the couple created by the rightwing Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – which took on a key role in the legal matter – the couple explain their decision to take legal action.

The only “return” the couple had made, Kathleen noted, was knowing that the company was helping and reaching people “all over India”. “We are doing this because we strongly believe in the rule of law in this country,” said Charles.

The couple enlisted the help of the CEI and one of the most powerful and well-connected law firms in Washington, BakerHostetler, whose clients have included Boeing, ExxonMobil and Major League Baseball, and sued the US government. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Manhunt underway for convicted murderer who escaped Pa. prison, officials say, Ben Brasch, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). A Pennsylvania manhunt involving police dogs, drones and helicopters is underway in a county 30 miles west of Philadelphia for a convicted murderer authorities say escaped from a nearby prison.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, broke out of the Chester County Prison about 8:50 a.m. Thursday, roughly a week after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his 33-year-old ex-girlfriend, said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan at a news conference Thursday.

“If you see him, do not approach him,” Ryan said. “He is considered extremely dangerous.”

Cavalcante was found guilty of stabbing Deborah Brandao about 38 times in front of her two children, ages 4 and 7, in August 2021, according to a statement from Ryan’s office announcing the sentencing. Cavalcante fled the scene before police arrived, according to authorities, but was arrested after being tracked to Virginia.

  • Washington Post, ATF proposes rules aimed to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ Perry Stein, Sept. 1, 2023..

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 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 

Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, A Brutal Path Forward for Ukraine, Village by Village, Marc Santora, Photographs by Tyler Hicks, Sept. 2, 2023. As Ukraine pushes slowly forward in its counteroffensive, it’s relying heavily on the effort of hundreds of small-scale assault groups.

The mission for the Ukrainian unit was to take a single house, in a village that is only a speck on the map but was serving as a stronghold for Russian soldiers.

Andriy, a veteran marine, had waited for three days with his small assault team — none of whom had seen combat before — as other Ukrainian units crawled through minefields, stormed trenches and cleared a path to the farming village of Urozhaine. Finally, one day last month, the order came to move.

They raced to a predetermined location in an armored personnel carrier, and disembarked as explosions and gunfire rattled the ground beneath their feet, Andriy and members of his unit said. Driving out or killing the remaining Russians, they secured the house as night fell, posting guards and reviewing the day’s tactics to see how they might improve.

In the morning, the new order came: Take another house.

The monthslong campaign to breach heavily fortified Russian lines is being conducted in many domains and in many forms of battle, with artillery duels and drone strikes across the breadth of the front in southern Ukraine. But the engine driving the effort are hundreds of small-scale assault groups, often just eight to 10 soldiers, each tasked with attacking a single trench, tree line or house.

washington post logoWashington Post, Nobel Prize foundation scraps plan to invite Russia, Belarus after criticism, Ellen Francis, The Nobel Foundation reversed course on Saturday and said it would not invite the ambassadors of Russia and Belarus to this year’s award ceremony in Stockholm, after a decision to invite them back to the annual event drew objections in Sweden and Ukraine.

Earlier this week, the foundation which administers the award said ambassadors from all countries which are diplomatically represented in Sweden would be invited to the ceremony in December, after barring Russia and its ally Belarus in 2022 over the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

The private foundation had said it sought to invite everyone this year, even “those who do not share the values of the Nobel Prize,” in an effort to promote dialogue and counter a tendency of growing global polarization.

But a number of Swedish officials said as a result that they would boycott the event, which takes place on Dec. 10, the anniversary of scientist Alfred Nobel’s death.“I was looking forward to participating,” Muharrem Demirok, the leader of Sweden’s Center Party, said Friday. “But as long as Russia is waging its war against Ukraine, I cannot attend the same celebration as their ambassador.”

Ukraine objects after Russia and Belarus invited back to Nobel ceremonies

A Swedish member of the European Parliament, Karin Karlsbro, called the invites “extremely inappropriate.” The move was also criticized by Kyiv, which said this would reinforce the Kremlin’s “feeling of impunity.”

The Nobel Foundation said Saturday that its decision to return to the practice of inviting all ambassadors, after last year’s exception, had “provoked strong reactions.”

“The basis for the decision is that we believe that it is important and right to reach out as widely as possible with the values and messages that the Nobel Prize stands for,” it said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia said it had thwarted a Ukrainian attack on a vital bridge that links Russia to occupied Crimea, Marc Santora, Sept. 2, 2023. Russia’s Ministry of Defense said it had destroyed three sea drones targeting the Kerch Strait Bridge, a vital supply line for Moscow’s forces that links occupied Crimea to Russia.

The claims could not be independently verified, and Ukraine’s military did not explicitly comment Saturday on whether its drones had targeted the bridge.

But Ukrainian officials have said that they consider the destruction of the vital 12-mile-long bridge a strategic priority, and Kyiv’s forces have repeatedly targeted it.

Politico, Russia declares Nobel Prize-winning journalist ‘foreign agent,’ Gabriel Gavin, Sept. 2, 2023. Putin’s own spokesman had previously admitted Dmitry Muratov ‘works according to his own values.’

politico CustomDmitry Muratov, one of Russia’s best-known journalists, has been added to the country’s list of foreign agents, less than two years after the Kremlin praised the principled reporting that saw him awarded a Nobel Peace Prize.

dmitry muratovMuratov, right, the former editor of now-shuttered liberal newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was included in an update Friday evening to the Russian Ministry of Justice’s register of journalists, politicians and activists that Moscow claims are acting on behalf of hostile states.

The designation of foreign agent, which has been repeatedly used on critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin and opponents of his war in Ukraine, means that Muratov will have to adhere to strict rules on political activity. It also bars him from engaging in public life. Any mention of him in Russian media or social networks must reference his status.

According to Human Rights Watch, “in Russia, the term foreign agent is tantamount [to] spy or traitor,” and has been used “to smear and punish independent voices.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine says it has manufactured and fired a long-range missile, David L. Stern and Serhiy Morgunov, Sept. 2, 2023. Ukrainian officials say their military is now using a long-range missile that was designed and manufactured domestically and can reach targets inside Russia — a potentially crucial capability because the United States and other Western supporters have imposed restrictions on using weapons they donate to strike Russian territory.

ukraine flagThe development of the Ukrainian missile started well before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a top Ukrainian security official said Friday. Officials have not disclosed the name of the missile.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, posting on the social media platform Telegram, said Ukrainian forces had successfully hit a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away, using a missile “of our own production.”

The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, said Friday that the missile could travel farther but did not specify its full range. Russia is “already feeling” the effect of the new missiles, Danilov said on Ukrainian television, adding: “Production is underway.”

Drone strikes hit military aircraft deep inside Russia

The Ukrainian officials’ statements could not be independently verified, and did not provide further details such as when the missile was fired, what object was struck, or where.

If confirmed, however, a domestically produced long-range missile would be a threshold development for the Ukrainian military, which has been denied similar weapons by Western backers for fear of provoking Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Believe me, already very soon someone [in Russia] will be burned, and burned in the direct sense of the word,” Danilov said.

Danilov said that Zelensky wrote the first decree helping to create the missile program in March 2020.

“It is a very complex process, and is very complex technically,” Danilov said. “In order for it to be up to date, for it to have a distance of thousands of kilometers, keep in mind, this is the work of large teams.”

Putin struggles with falling ruble, rising prices as sanctions bite

Danilov on Thursday also tweeted a short video of a missile being fired. “The missile program of the President of Ukraine in action,” he wrote. “The tests are successful, the implementation is effective.”

ny times logoNew York Times, As Ukraine’s Fight Grinds On, Talk of Negotiations Becomes Nearly Taboo, Steven Erlanger, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Discussion of a Plan B, should Ukraine fail to win a total victory, has become more fraught than ever, say those who have tried.

Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff to the secretary general of NATO, recently had his knuckles rapped when he commented on possible options for an end to the war in Ukraine that did not envision a complete Russian defeat.

“I’m not saying it has to be like this, but I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory and get NATO membership in return,” he said during a panel discussion in Norway, according to the country’s VG newspaper. He also said that “it must be up to Ukraine to decide when and on what terms they want to negotiate,” which is NATO’s standard line.

But the damage was done. The remarks provoked an angry condemnation from the Ukrainians; a clarification from his boss, Jens Stoltenberg; and ultimately an apology from Mr. Jenssen.

The contretemps, say some analysts who have been similarly chastised, reflects a closing down of public discussion on options for Ukraine just at a moment when imaginative diplomacy is most needed, they say.

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More Global News

ny times logoNew York Times, Mohamed al-Fayed, Tycoon Whose Son Died With Princess Diana, Is Dead at 94, Robert D. McFadden, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). An Egyptian businessman, he built an empire of properties in Europe and elsewhere, but it was overshadowed by a fatal car crash that stunned the world.

mohamed al fayed 2011Mohamed al-Fayed, shown in a 2011 photo at right, the Egyptian business tycoon whose empire of trophy properties and influence in Europe and the Middle East was overshadowed by the 1997 Paris car crash that killed his eldest son, Dodi, and Diana, the Princess of Wales, below at left, died on Wednesday. He was 94.

princess diana martin bashir 1995 headshotHis death was confirmed on Friday in a statement by the Fulham Football Club in Britain, of which Mr. Fayed was a former owner. It did not say where he died.

The patriarch of a family that rose from humble origins to fabled riches, Mr. Fayed controlled far-flung enterprises in oil, shipping, banking and real estate, including the palatial Ritz Hotel in Paris and, for 25 years, the storied London retail emporium Harrods. Forbes estimated his net worth at $2 billion this year, ranking his wealth as 1,516th in the world.

In a sense, Mr. Fayed was a citizen of the world. He had homes in London, Paris, New York, Geneva, St. Tropez and other locales; a fleet of 40 ships based in Genoa, Italy, and in Cairo; and businesses that reached from the Persian Gulf to North Africa, Europe and the Americas. He held Egyptian citizenship but rarely if ever returned to his native land.

Mr. Fayed lived and worked mostly in Britain, where for a half-century he was a quintessential outsider, scorned by the establishment in a society still embedded with old-boy networks. He clashed repeatedly with the government and business rivals over his property acquisitions and attempts to influence members of Parliament. He campaigned noisily for British citizenship, but his applications were repeatedly denied.

“It’s the colonial, imperial fantasy,” Mr. Fayed told The New York Times in 1995. “Anyone who comes from a colony, as Egypt was before, they think he’s nothing. So you prove you’re better than they are. You do things that are the talk of the town. And they think, ‘How can he? He’s only an Egyptian.’”

He reveled in the trappings of a British aristocrat. He bought a castle in Scotland and sometimes wore a kilt; snapped up a popular British football club; cultivated Conservative prime ministers and members of Parliament; sponsored the Royal Horse Show at Windsor; and tried unsuccessfully to salvage Punch, the moribund satirical magazine that had lampooned the British establishment for 150 years.

His takeover of the venerable Harrods in 1985 struck many Britons as shameless brass, something akin to buying Big Ben. A year later, as if securing a jewel in the crown of British heritage, Mr. Fayed signed a 50-year lease on the 19th-century villa in Paris that had been the home of the former King Edward VIII of Britain and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the divorced American woman for whom he abdicated his throne in 1936.
But Mr. Fayed’s triumph as an Anglophile was the made-for-tabloids romance between his eldest son, Emad, known as Dodi, and the Princess of Wales, who had recently been divorced from Prince Charles (now King Charles III) and alienated from the royal family. It began in the summer of 1997, when Mr. Fayed invited Diana and her sons to spend some time at his home on the French Riviera and on one of his yachts. Dodi was there too.

washington post logoWashington Post, Climate change is making it unbearable to labor in Asia’s factories, Rebecca Tan and Vasapa Wanichwethin, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Record-setting temperatures, coupled with humidity, are pushing communities to the brink, experts say.

When temperatures in Thailand shot past 112 degrees earlier this year, the government issued extreme heat warnings for large swaths of the country. It wasn’t safe, officials said, to be outdoors.

But Rungnapa Rattanasri, 51, didn’t work outdoors.

She worked inside, on the second floor of a dilapidated garment factory with no fans or air-conditioning. For $10 a day, she cut and trimmed bolts of rayon in rooms where the ambient temperature regularly exceeded 100 degrees. One evening in May, near the end of what climatologists said was probably Southeast Asia’s longest and most brutal heat wave on record, Rungnapa said it felt as though the engine that kept her running had been emptied. “Inside here,” she said, circling her head and her chest with her palms, “Nothing left.”

Extreme heat caused by human-induced climate change has wreaked havoc on the bodies of outdoor workers, from delivery drivers in India to construction workers in Qatar. Now, heat scientists and labor researchers say even those who labor indoors are not safe. Across Southeast Asia’s manufacturing hubs, rising temperatures, mixed with high humidity, are leaving workers like Rungnapa baking in poorly ventilated sweatshops.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Gabon coup fits a pattern that is made in Moscow, Wayne Madsen, left, commentator, author of 23 books and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, Aug. 31 – Sept. 1, 2023. Western wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallintelligence agencies are closely examining the chief players in the August 30 coup that ousted President Ali Bongo from power in Gabon.

wayne madesen report logoThe ouster of the Gabonese president and the entire government, including the parliament and Supreme Court, marks an end to over a half century of rule by the Bongo family.

Although the Gabonese junta that seized power claims did so after Bongo Gabon World Mapstaged a fraudulent election that saw him re-elected, there is concern that the top coup leaders all hail from the same province, Haut-Ogooué, located in southeastern Gabon. Western Russian Flagintelligence agencies will be scrutinizing any contacts the Haut-Ogooué junta members may have had with Russian Wagner mercenaries that are operating in the nearby Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Of note is the fact that Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, referred to Gabon as a country friendly to Russia following the military coup. There was also no Russian condemnation of the putsch that ousted Bongo from power.

The likely assassination of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on the orders of Vladimir Putin was thought by many to likely result in a curtailment of Wagner activities in Africa. In fact, just before his plane was shot down while en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Prigozhin was in the Central African Republic and Mali voicing support for the recent military coup in Niger that ousted that nation’s democratically-elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Wagner has been linked to seven military coups in Africa prior to the Gabon putsch: Mali in 2020 and 2021, Chad in 2021, Burkina Faso twice in 2022, Guinea in 2021, and Niger in July of this year. There were also coup attempts in 2021 in Niger; 2022 in Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Gambia; and last month in Sierra Leone.

Gabon was a kleptocracy under Ali Bongo and his late father, Omar Bongo. Gabon’s new military rulers will be investigating Bongo’s French-born wife, Sylvia Valentin Bongo and her non-profit Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation. [left] Bongo’s ex-wife, American Inge Collins Bongo, [right] moved back to her native California following her separation from Bongo. Their divorce was finalized in 2015. While Inge Bongo was estranged from her husband and living in Los Angeles, she was receiving food stamps from the state. Inge and Bongo married in Madrid in 1994 after having met on a blind date in California.

There will likely be an attempt by the military junta, which calls itself the Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, to recover the wealth the Bongos possessed in foreign bank accounts and overseas real estate.

washington post logoWashington Post, China infuriates India with new map, upsetting chances of thaw in relations, Gerry Shih, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). India has responded angrily to a new map published by the Chinese government showing Beijing’s claims to contested territory, as the dispute threatens another flare-up in relations between the two Asian giants at a key diplomatic juncture.

China FlagWhile the map did not illustrate any new Chinese territorial claims, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Tuesday that India has lodged an official diplomatic protest. China’s so-called “standard map” is released annually by the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources and usually shows Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s far northeast, as part of China. Arunachal, governed by India but long claimed by China as “southern Tibet,” was the site of fighting during a 1962 war between the two nations.

Two other Asian governments, Malaysia and Taiwan, joined in Wednesday to criticize China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan. The Philippines said Thursday it also “rejected” the map’s depiction of Chinese maritime claims.

Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may seek a settlement of a border dispute that has persisted since 2020 and led to military clashes and a costly buildup by both sides. The two leaders met last week in South Africa at a summit of the BRICS bloc of major emerging economies — including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and pledged to intensify efforts to settle the dispute, which is being negotiated by high-ranking officers from the Indian and Chinese armies.

But the new edition of China’s map, which had “no basis,” would complicate those negotiations, Bagchi warned. At a Wednesday briefing with reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying the maps were released on a “routine” basis and asked India to “stay objective and calm.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Why Is China in So Much Trouble? Paul Krugman, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). China Is Suffering From the Paradox of Thrift. The narrative about China has changed with stunning speed, from unstoppable juggernaut to pitiful, helpless giant. How did that happen?

My sense is that much writing about China puts too much weight on recent events and policy. Yes, Xi Jinping is an erratic leader. But China’s economic problems have been building for a long time. And while Xi’s failure to address these problems adequately no doubt reflects his personal limitations, it also reflects some deep ideological biases within China’s ruling party.

Let’s start with the long-run perspective.

ny times logoNew York Times, Vladimir Putin will meet Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, the Kremlin said, as grain deal talks appear stalled, Valeriya Safronova and Matt Surman, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are set to meet in Russia next week, the Kremlin said on Friday, as international efforts to revive a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea appear to be stalled.

The announcement by Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, had been long anticipated and came a day after talks between the countries’ top diplomats in Moscow ended with no apparent progress in restoring the grain deal.

Russia dropped out of the agreement, which was mediated by Turkey and the United Nations, about six weeks ago, complaining that it was being carried out unfairly, and has since repeatedly bombarded Ukrainian grain facilities and threatened civilian ships heading to Ukrainian ports.

ny times logoNew York Times, Grim Struggle Begins to Identify Victims in South African Fire, Isabella Kwai, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Families on Friday were trying to identify relatives caught in the blaze, which consumed a sprawling settlement and killed at least 74 people,Families of the victims of a fire in downtown Johannesburg were still searching for relatives at mortuaries and hospitals on Friday to see if they had lived or died, a day after the blaze tore through an overcrowded building in one of the deadliest residential fires in South African history.

south africa flag after 1994The fire, which broke out in the early hours of Thursday, consumed a five-story building that was an illegal home for hundreds of families and which has become a grisly symbol of official failure to address a dire housing crisis in Johannesburg.

At least 74 people died in the fire, a dozen of them children, with some victims jumping to their deaths from the building and others trapped inside.

Preliminary evidence suggested that the fire started on the ground floor of the building, a local official said, and a security gate may have trapped many residents as they tried to flee. Some of the earliest flames, according to imagery of the fire, were spotted in the building’s courtyard but the exact origin of the blaze was unknown.

washington post logoWashington Post, WorldView Analysis: Amid a wave of West African coups, France faces a reckoning, Ishaan Tharoor, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). In West Africa, the dominoes keep falling.

Barely more than a month has passed since the presidential guard in Niger toppled the country’s democratically elected government, triggering a tense standoff between a usurping junta and the international community. Then, this week, the top brass in Gabon unseated the country’s long-ruling President Ali Bongo in the wake of a controversial election. The ouster of the Gabonese president, who is currently believed to be under house arrest, marked the seventh coup in the region in the space of three years — including putsches in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The wave of military coups has led to widespread hand-wringing that a form of political “contagion” risks destabilizing a whole swath of the African continent.

“My fear has been confirmed in Gabon that copycats will start doing the same thing until it is stopped,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who chairs ECOWAS, West Africa’s main regional body, said Thursday.

There are many contextual differences between the various putsches, but they share an apparent and inescapable common denominator: the prevalence of anti-French sentiment driving a rejection of the political status quo. In much of West Africa — and in all the countries in the region that experienced these recent anti-democratic takeovers — France is the old colonial power. The juntas that have swept aside the previous regimes have weaponized resentment of Paris’s deep and complicated imperial legacy, much to the opportunistic glee of Russia, which has offered both rhetorical and, in some instances, substantive support to the coup-plotting regimes.

That was the case in Burkina Faso and Mali, where French peacekeepers were compelled to withdraw after the juntas made it clear their presence was unwanted. And in Niger, long the centerpiece of France’s counterterrorism efforts in the restive Sahel, anti-French rhetoric abounds. On Thursday, the country’s junta ordered police to expel the French ambassador — a move officials in Paris, which only recognizes the authority of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, said they did not consider legitimate.

washington post logoWashington Post, Egypt aspired to be a natural gas powerhouse. Now the lights are out, Claire Parker and Heba Farouk Mahfouz, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Analysts say Egypt was overzealous in its drive to produce and export natural gas, contributing to rolling blackouts across Cairo this summer.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and European demand for natural gas skyrocketed, Egypt saw an opportunity. Riding high on the discovery of a massive offshore field in 2015, and desperate for foreign cash, the government ramped up gas shipments across the Mediterranean.

A year later, during a sweltering summer, gas shortages have left Egypt struggling to keep the lights on. Exports have ground to a halt. For the first time in nearly a decade, Cairo is experiencing rolling blackouts, fueling public discontent as President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi prepares to run for a third term.

For an hour each day, air conditioners and fans whir to a stop. Elevators stop running. Internet cuts out. Neighborhoods without power at night are illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars.

In rural areas outside the capital, the outages are more frequent and last longer.

washington post logoWashington Post, Gabon army claims overthrow of 56-year-old political dynasty after election, Eve Sampson, Victoria Bisset and Rachel Chason, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Gabon army officers announce seizure of power after presidential vote.

Military officers in Gabon said they were seizing power Wednesday, just minutes after President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of a controversial election marred by violence and allegations of vote rigging.

The officers who appeared on state television Wednesday announced the closure of borders and dissolved state institutions including the Senate, National Assembly and Constitutional Court. They said in a later statement that Bongo was under house arrest.

Bongo, who was seeking a third term in office, came to power following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009, after more than four decades in power. Both men were key allies of the oil-rich country’s former colonial power, France, and the family is believed to have amassed significant wealth — which is the subject of a judicial investigation in France.

Gabon is generally considered more stable than other countries that have experienced unrest in recent years, but it now appears set to join a growing list of junta-led states — including Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan — that create a geographical belt of turmoil across sub-Saharan Africa.

Rebel soldiers in Niger deposed the country’s Western-allied president, Mohamed Bazoum, on July 26 amid political upheaval, a rise in Islamist extremism and growing Russian influence across the region.

Britain, France, Germany and the European Union announced the end of aid to Niger after the ouster, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States could follow suit. So far, President Biden has not labeled the situation a coup.

A key regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said in August that it was prepared for military intervention and had decided on a “D-Day” for intervention — though it did not give a date and said diplomacy was still possible.

Why a bloc of West African countries is threatening to invade Niger

Coup supporters in Niger’s capital, Niamey, as well as in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, have been spotted waving Russian flags, and experts say uncertainty around the coup leaders’ motivation may hamper Western attempts to restore Bazoum through diplomacy.

The coup has also thrust the fate of Niger’s uranium to center stage as experts say European countries may have to grapple with the effects on the nuclear industry — especially in France, which evacuated European nationals from the country but has resisted an ultimatum from the coup leaders for its ambassador to leave.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pope Says a Strong U.S. Faction Offers a Backward View of the Church, Jason Horowitz and Ruth Graham, Aug. 30, 2023. Pope Francis said some conservative American Catholics wrongly ignore much of the Church’s mission and reject the possibility of change.

Pope Francis has expressed in unusually sharp terms his dismay at “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” opposing him within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, one that fixates on social issues like abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of caring for the poor and the environment.

The pope lamented the “backwardness” of some American conservatives who he said insist on a narrow, outdated and unchanging vision. They refuse, he said, to accept the full breadth of the Church’s mission and the need for changes in doctrine over time.

“I would like to remind these people that backwardness is useless,” Francis, 86, told a group of fellow Jesuits early this month in a meeting at World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon. “Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith.”

His words became public this week, when a transcript of the conversation was published by the Vatican-vetted Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

His comments were an unusually explicit statement of the pope’s longstanding lament that the ideological bent of some leading American Catholics has turned them into culture warriors rather than pastors, offering the faithful a warped view of Church doctrine rather than a healthy, well-rounded faith. It has become a major theme of his papacy that he sees himself as bringing the church forward while his misguided conservative critics try to hold it back.

In 2018, in a major document called an apostolic exhortation on the subject of holiness, Francis explicitly wrote that caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” he wrote. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”

He has urged priests to welcome and minister to people who are gay, divorced and remarried, and he has called on the whole world to tackle climate change, calling it a moral issue. Francis is set to travel on Thursday to Mongolia for a trip that will highlight interreligious dialogue and the protection of the environment — issues far from the top of the priority list for many American conservatives.

For nearly a decade, Francis’ conservative critics have accused him of leading the church astray and of diluting the faith with a fuzzy pastoral emphasis that blurred — or at times erased — the Church’s traditions and central tenets. Some U.S. bishops have issued public warnings about the Vatican’s direction, with varying degrees of alarm, and clashed with the pope over everything from liturgy and worship styles, to the centrality of abortion opposition in the Catholic faith, to American politics.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Viktor Orbán tells Tucker Carlson: Trump’s the man to save the West, Laura Hulsemann, Aug. 30, 2023. Ukraine has no chance of winning the war against Russia — and Donald Trump is the West’s only hope, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told controversial American TV host Tucker Carlson.

In an interview Tuesday, Orbán said that Kyiv’s victory against Moscow “is not just a misunderstanding. It is a lie. It’s impossible … [Ukrainians] will run out earlier … of soldiers than the Russians. What finally will count is boots on the ground and the Russians are far stronger.”

Only the U.S. can end the war, the Hungarian leader added.

politico Custom“We missed the historic opportunity” to admit Ukraine to NATO, Orbán told Carlson in the interview, saying that Russia is getting “stronger and stronger.” Ukraine’s admission to NATO “is not a realistic proposal at this moment, so forget about it,” he added.

He also does not believe that Russians will get sick of President Vladimir Putin, and he sees little chance for Crimea to be returned to Ukraine.

Asked what he would do if he were U.S. President Joe Biden, Orbán said: “Call back Trump! Because you know, you can criticize him for many reasons … but … the best foreign policy of the recent several decades belongs to him. He did not initiate any new war, he treated nicely the North Koreans, and Russia and even the Chinese … and if he would have been the president at the moment of the Russian invasion [of Ukraine], it would be not possible to do that by the Russians.”

“Trump is the man who can save the Western world” and all of humanity, he said.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Classified Australian report on climate change rings alarm bells, Wayne Madsen, Aug. 30-31, 2023. wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallAustralian intelligence may have written a Doomsday report on climate change.

The Australian government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is withholding release of a classified report on climate change that is so secret even the date of the report is not being revealed. The report on the national security implications to Australia of global climate change was prepared by the Office of National Intelligence (ONI). It was completed sometime last year.

wayne madesen report logoThe only thing Albanese has said about the report is that it was completed within the last 12 months. He stressed that “the specific timing of the assessment board is classified.” Perhaps an inkling of what the report contains is found in an 80-page government statement on national security and the climate that was submitted to Parliament in December of last year. That submission was quite clear on the risks to Australia of climate change, stating that the spike in global temperature will “increasingly exacerbate risks [as] geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond.”

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More On Climate, Hawaiian Disaster, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Scorching Heat Is Contributing to Migrant Deaths, Edgar Sandoval, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Amid a heat wave, some migrants are succumbing to heat exhaustion. More than 500 people have died of various causes this year trying to cross from Mexico.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow, Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle, Blacki Migliozzi and Eli Murray, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The first article in a series on the causes and consequences of disappearing water,

Unchecked overuse is draining and damaging aquifers, a Times data investigation found, threatening millions of people and the nation’s status as a food superpower.

Global warming has focused concern on land and sky as soaring temperatures intensify hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. But another climate crisis is unfolding, underfoot and out of view.

Many of the aquifers that supply 90 percent of the nation’s water systems, and which have transformed vast stretches of America into some of the world’s most bountiful farmland, are being severely depleted. These declines are threatening irreversible harm to the American economy and society as a whole.

The New York Times conducted a months-long examination of groundwater depletion, interviewing more than 100 experts, traveling the country and creating a comprehensive database using millions of readings from monitoring sites. The investigation reveals how America’s life-giving resource is being exhausted in much of the country, and in many cases it won’t come back. Huge industrial farms and sprawling cities are draining aquifers that could take centuries or millenniums to replenish themselves if they recover at all.

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are five takeaways from our investigation into America’s groundwater crisis, Christopher Flavelle and Mira Rojanasakul, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Aquifer are shrinking nationwide, threatening supplies of drinking water and America’s status as a food superpower. Climate change is amplifying the problem.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The threat to groundwater is a classic tragedy of the commons, David Leonhardt, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The water that lies beneath the earth’s surface — known as groundwater — has been a vital resource for thousands of years. Communities that are far away from lakes and rivers use groundwater to irrigate crops and provide drinking water.

For most of human history, groundwater has existed in a convenient equilibrium. The pockets of water under the surface need years or decades to replenish as rainwater and other moisture seep into the earth. Fortunately, though, people have used groundwater slowly, allowing replenishment to happen.

Now that equilibrium is at risk.

Several of my colleagues — led by Mira Rojanasakul and Christopher Flavelle — have spent months compiling data on groundwater levels across the U.S., based on more than 80,000 monitoring stations. Chris and Mira did so after discovering that no comprehensive database existed. The statistics tended to be local and fragmented, making it difficult to understand national patterns.

The trends in this new database are alarming. Over the past 40 years, groundwater levels at most of the sites have declined. At 11 percent of the sites, levels last year fell to their lowest level on record. The U.S., in other words, is taking water out of the ground more quickly than nature is replenishing it.

“There’s almost no way to convey how important it is,” Don Cline, the associate director for water resources at the United States Geological Survey, told The Times.

Already, there are consequences. In parts of Kansas, the shortage of water has reduced the amount of corn that an average acre can produce.

In Norfolk, Va., officials have resorted to pumping treated wastewater into underground rock layers that store groundwater — known as aquifers — to replenish them. On Long Island, the depletion of aquifers has allowed saltwater to seep in and threatened the groundwater that remains.

“We’ve built whole parts of the country and whole parts of the economy on groundwater, which is fine so long as you have groundwater,” Chris told me. “I don’t think people realize quite how quickly we’re burning through it.”

Aquifer water levels are falling nationwide. The danger is worse and more widespread than many people realize.

ny times logoNew York Times, Storm Brings Heavy Flooding to the Carolinas, Staff Reports, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Idalia moved just offshore into the Atlantic after leaving a trail of destruction across four Southeastern states. More than 300,000 customers in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia were without power.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden pledges $95 million for Hawaii’s electrical grid after Maui wildfires, Amy B Wang, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will spend $95 million to help strengthen Hawaii’s electrical grid in the wake of deadly wildfires that swept through parts of Maui earlier this month. The fast-moving fires were the deadliest in modern U.S. history, killing more than 100 people on the island, forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying the historic town of Lahaina.

President Biden plans to deliver remarks Wednesday afternoon on the government’s long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts on the island, as well as the administration’s ongoing response to Hurricane Idalia, a major storm that made landfall in Florida on Wednesday morning. Biden traveled to Maui earlier this month to survey the devastation caused by wildfires and has vowed that “every asset we have will be available” to the victims.

Republicans, however, have been highly critical of the administration’s response to the wildfires in Hawaii and took aim at Biden for not answering questions about the episode while he was on vacation earlier this month. The GOP-led House Oversight Committee this week announced an investigation into the government’s response to the disaster.

The $95 million for Hawaii’s electrical grid will be provided through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the $1.2 trillion package that Biden signed into law in 2021. According to the White House, the funds will help strengthen critical power transmission lines, including two on Maui; harden utility poles that support critical facilities like hospitals; replace wooden utility poles with a fire-resistant material; remove trees considered hazardous; and relocate the Maui control center.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

 

2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, In Florida, Even a Hurricane Can’t Sweep Away Presidential Politics, Michael D. Shear and Nicholas Nehamas, Sept. 2, 2023. President Biden said he would meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia. The governor’s aide said he had no such plans.

In normal times, the politics of disaster dictate that a president and a governor from opposite parties come together to show the victims of a natural disaster — and potential voters across the country — that they care.

These are not normal times.

On Friday, a spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican seeking his party’s nomination for president, said the governor doesn’t “have any plans” to meet President Biden on Saturday when he visits a Florida community ravaged by Hurricane Idalia.

At a news conference, Mr. DeSantis said he had told Mr. Biden that it “would be very disruptive to have the whole kind of security apparatus” that comes along with a presidential visit. He said he told the president that “we want to make sure that the power restoration continues, that the relief efforts continue.”

The governor’s statement came just hours after Mr. Biden confirmed to reporters that he would meet with the governor during his visit to the state. White House officials responded by saying the president had told Mr. DeSantis he planned to visit before announcing it publicly — and that the governor had not expressed any concerns at that time.

“President Biden and the first lady look forward to meeting members of the community impacted by Hurricane Idalia and surveying impacts of the storm,” said Emilie Simons, a deputy press secretary at the White House. “Their visit to Florida has been planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations.”

ny times logoNew York Times, DeSantis Super PAC’s Urgent Plea to Donors: ‘We Need 50 Million Bucks,’ Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Hours before the Republican Party’s first presidential debate, the chief strategist for the super PAC that has effectively taken over Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign met with donors in Milwaukee.

“Now let me tell you a secret — don’t leak this,” the strategist, Jeff Roe, told the donors last Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting reviewed by The New York Times. “We need to do this now. We’re making a move now.”

The audio revealed that the people running the DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, are placing big bets now in the hope that donors will cover them later. And it underscored just how steep a task the group confronts as it heads into the fall with its candidate far behind Mr. Trump in the polls, a campaign that is low on cash and a growing recognition that a Trump victory in Iowa could accelerate the end of the Republican race.

In his meeting with the donors — a portion of which was reported on earlier Thursday by CNN — Mr. Roe made a cutting assessment of much of the Republican field competing against Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mr. Roe said, was deemed nice by voters but not seen as presidential. Nikki Haley, he added, was “not actually a lovely person” and also viewed as unpresidential. He mocked former Vice President Mike Pence, recalling the fly that landed on his head during his only debate with his ultimate successor, Kamala Harris, in 2020. And Mr. Roe said that Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the nomination by a wide margin, was certain to lose the general election and drag down other Republicans on the ballot.

While Mr. Roe predicted multiple paths to victory ahead of Super Tuesday in early March, it was his plaintive warnings about when the race would be “moving” that made clear he sees Mr. DeSantis’s chances as resting on winning Iowa.

washington post logoWashington Post, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez drops out of Republican presidential race, Mariana Alfaro, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Suarez, the only high-profile Hispanic candidate in the field, is the first aspirant to drop out of the crowded GOP primary field.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, right, is ending his long-shot 2024 presidential campaign less than three months after he launched it.

“While I have decided to suspend my campaign for President, my commitment to making this a better nation for every American remains,” Suarez said in a post shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Keeping up with politics is easy with The 5-Minute Fix Newsletter, in your inbox weekdays.

Suarez, the only Hispanic candidate in the GOP nominating contest, launched his campaign in mid-June, later than most of his now-former rivals. Last week, he failed to qualify for the first Republican debate after falling short of the necessary polling requirements.

In a lengthy post on X, Suarez said it was “a privilege to come so close to appearing on stage with the other candidates at last week’s first debate.”

“I had looked forward to sharing the story of Miami, America’s most successful city, especially at a time when so many cities are plagued with poverty, unemployment, high taxes, violent crime, and homelessness,” he said. “I know what we have achieved during my tenure leading the City of Miami can be replicated in every community in our great country.”

washington post logoWashington Post, No Labels preps playbook to select presidential candidates, broaden support, Michael Scherer, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The group that’s preparing a potential third-party bid is seeking ways to grow grass roots before deciding whether to field candidates next year.

The organizers of No Labels, the bipartisan group preparing a potential third-party presidential ticket, have been conducting focus groups with like-minded voters to help draft a candidate selection plan next year without a traditional state-run primary system.

The group is also considering staging televised town halls or debates in the coming months, possibly with a media partner, to help kick-start the process of selecting presidential and vice-presidential nominees. No Labels plans to nominate candidates at an April convention in Dallas only if the group’s leaders first determine that there is a viable path to victory against the Democratic and Republican nominees.

The logistical challenges the group faces are unusual as it seeks to stand up a one-time ballot line in 50 states without a traditional queue of jockeying candidates or an established political party structure. Organizers say they want to convince more than a third of the country to feel ownership of their effort but are wary of making the process so open that partisans on the left or right can hijack the ballot line for candidates who reject their founding mission of elevating bipartisan compromise.

“The whole idea of this is that this has to be a demand-driven phenomenon. We want a ticket like this to be selected because there is an overwhelming desire for something different,” No Labels senior adviser Ryan Clancy said, while making clear that the group wants to keep its options open.

“The endgame of this effort isn’t necessarily a ticket. The endgame is a voice for the common-sense majority,” he said.

The public announcement of a nominating process, which is expected this fall, is aimed at pushing back on some criticism — largely from Democrats, who have attacked the structure of the group, which shields the identities of its donors. Matt Bennett, a No Labels critic at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, has warned that No Labels candidates will be selected “by a cabal of insiders and secret donors.”

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Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

washington post logoWashington Post, Arizona GOP rejects single-day vote proposal, angering election deniers, Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Josh Dawsey, Sept. 2, 2023. A proposal by Republican election deniers in Arizona who want to opt out of the state’s government-run presidential primary election in 2024 and instead hold the party’s own one-day, in-person election, with paper ballots that would be counted by hand, has caused anxiety among top Republicans in arizona mapWashington, who fear being drawn into a messy fight.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosThe state party leader rejected the Maricopa County Republican Committee’s proposal shortly ahead of a deadline on Friday after days of frenzied discussions that involved national Republicans and advisers to former president Donald Trump — likely setting up political backlash in 2024 in a state whose GOP has been pulled to the right in recent years by MAGA loyalists and election skeptics.

Jeff DeWit, chair of the state party, concluded that the party does not have the money, the manpower or the infrastructure to run an election for an estimated 1.4 million eligible voters.

The fight over management of the state’s nominating contest on March 19 demonstrates most vividly the divide between conservatives who want to radically change voting procedures after Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat and those who have accepted his loss and want to work within institutional election norms during the 2024 contest.

The battle — which is playing out within the largest voting jurisdiction in a state that will help decide the presidency and control of the U.S. Senate — follows years of vilification of voting norms by Trump and his supporters. It is a consequence of deepening dysfunction within the party on an issue that has accelerated Democratic gains in the newly competitive state.

 

matt schlapp cpac

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-employee sues CPAC alleging racial bias, defamation by Schlapp, others, Maegan Vazquez and Beth Reinhard, Sept. 2, 2023. The lawsuit threatens to compound mounting legal expenses for the influential conservative organization.,

A former employee of the Conservative Political Action Conference is suing the group, alleging racial discrimination and defamation by her former bosses, including the influential organization’s leader, Matt Schlapp, shown above in a file photo.

Regina Bratton, who worked as a communications and marketing supervisor in 2021 and 2022, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia on Friday that she was the only African American employee out of about 30 employees, interns and volunteers across CPAC. She claims she faced hostility up and down the chain of command.

CPAC leadership “conspired to and embarked upon a systematic, concerted effort to create a hostile work environment,” the suit alleges. The suit seeks $55 million in damages.

The lawsuit also names as defendants CPAC’s parent organization, the American Conservative Union, and its foundation arm. Schlapp, a prominent ally of former president Donald Trump; Schlapp’s wife and CPAC senior fellow Mercedes Schlapp; and general counsel David Safavian are also listed as defendants.

ny times logoNew York Times, Kevin McCarthy Tries to Leverage Biden Impeachment to Avoid a Shutdown, Carl Hulse and Luke Broadwater, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed). But some conservatives are dismissive, saying the House could continue investigating the president and his family even if funding for the government lapses at the end of September.

Facing the prospect of a politically damaging government shutdown within weeks, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, right, is offering a new argument to conservatives reluctant to vote to keep funding flowing: A shutdown would make it more difficult for Republicans to pursue an impeachment inquiry against President Biden, or to push forward with investigations of him and his family that could yield evidence for one.

Mr. McCarthy first made the case on Sunday during an interview on Fox News in which he warned that a shutdown would stall the House’s ongoing inquiries into the president and his family. His argument reflected the speaker’s growing desperation to find a way to persuade right-wing Republicans to drop their opposition to a stopgap measure that is needed to keep federal money flowing beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

By tying the issue to the prospect of impeaching Mr. Biden, Mr. McCarthy appears to be hoping that the conservative desire to investigate and possibly charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors — particularly amid the multiple criminal cases against former President Donald J. Trump — might outweigh their resistance to voting in favor of federal spending.

“If we shut down, all the government shuts it down — investigation and everything else,” Mr. McCarthy said about the prospect of funding running out Sept. 30. “It hurts the American public.”

 

mitch mcconnel grim faced

washington post logoWashington Post, McConnell tries to tamp down health concerns after second incident, Paul Kane, Amy B Wang and Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Senate minority leader, shown above in a file photo, is “medically clear” to work, attending physician to Congress says.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to tamp down concerns about his health on Thursday, a day after freezing while speaking in public for the second time in five weeks and again sparking questions about his physical condition and age.

Publicly, Republican senators remained supportive of McConnell and none has questioned whether the 81-year-old Senate stalwart should set a timeline for resigning his leadership post. But the public nature of Wednesday’s incident proved jarring again for senators, raising concerns about how their GOP leader was faring and prompting calls among some Republicans outside the Senate for McConnell to step down.

kentucky map

If Republicans grow dissatisfied with McConnell’s continued practice of keeping matters of his health private, they could request a special meeting of republican elephant logothe Senate GOP conference to discuss it, needing just a handful of signatures to prompt such a conversation. So far no Republican has made that request, and privately senior aides think senators will want to see McConnell — and each other — in person next week before deciding whether such action is necessary.

Politico, GOP senators weigh ‘special’ meeting on their leadership after McConnell’s freeze, Burgess Everett, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). It takes just five Republicans to force such a sitdown, the most direct way to specifically discuss their future amid revived questions about the leader’s health.

politico CustomA handful of GOP senators is weighing whether to force a fraught internal debate about their leadership’s future after Mitch McConnell’s second public freeze-up in a month.

Some rank-and-file Republicans have discussed the possibility of a broader conversation once senators return to Washington next week, according to a person directly involved in the conversations who confirmed them on condition of anonymity. Party leadership is not currently involved in those discussions, and nothing has been decided yet, this person added.

It takes just five Republican senators to force a special conference meeting, which is the most direct way to have a specific discussion about the minority leader after his public pause on Wednesday revived questions about his condition. But the Senate GOP also holds private lunches two or three times a week, giving members another forum for hashing out the direction of the party’s leadership — one that could forestall the need for a special confab.

washington post logoWashington Post, Interviews and records shed light on George Santos’s long-obscured life in Brazil, Terrence McCoy and Marina Dias, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). In the United States, as an openly gay member of a party now targeting the type of show he once performed, Santos has backed hard-line policies that many in the LGBTQ community find discriminatory. He has supported a Florida law that bars educators from discussing sexual orientation in republican elephant logoearly elementary education. He has co-sponsored a bill that separates the sexes based on “immutable biological differences.” He has criticized same-sex parents, calling them the “flavor of the decade.”

george santosBut in his mother’s native Niterói, Santos, shown in a file photo from that era, actively participated in the budding gay rights movement, according to photos and people who knew him, and performed in drag more often than he has acknowledged. He attended the city’s first Pride parades, handed out pamphlets at events, befriended some of the city’s leading activists, and climbed nightclub stages to dance and lip sync in his drag persona, Kitara Ravache, promising to one day compete himself in Miss Brasil Gay.

Santos declined to be interviewed for this report. In a response to written questions, he issued a blanket denial. “None of what you are asking is true and I would advise that you have your facts straight and proof of what you write,” he said. He added, “My political opinion has always been consistent.”

Santos, who previously denied performing in drag in Brazil, told The Washington Post that he did so only on that 2007 day, when he was 19, at the behest of family friend Manoel Antiqueira, one of the city’s most renowned drag queens. (Antiqueira disputed Santos’s account.)

Santos has rarely discussed his life in Brazil, where he spent significant time during his formative early-adult years. But a close examination of that past, including a review of court records and interviews with 25 Brazilian family members, former friends and acquaintances, helps bring into focus what amounts to the unpublished first chapter of the George Santos story.

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U.S. Economy, Jobs, Budgets, Crypto Currency

washington post logoWashington Post, White House asks Congress for short-term funding extension to avert shutdown, Tony Romm, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The federal government will shut down Oct. 1 unless lawmakers either extend current spending or fund programs through next year.

The White House on Thursday urged Congress to adopt a short-term measure to fund the federal government, a move meant to buy time for lawmakers to craft a broader spending deal and avert a shutdown at the end of September.

The Biden administration coupled its call to action with a new request that Congress address funding for a series of cash-starved programs — including, for example, an additional $1.4 billion to prevent a potential disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families.

djt maga hatFor the second time this year, the United States finds itself barreling toward a crisis: Unless Congress acts, the government will run out of money on Sept. 30, triggering a shutdown that jeopardizes countless federal programs on which millions of Americans rely.

Democrats and Republicans for months have tried to advance a series of appropriations bills that would fund the government through the 2024 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But the two parties remain vastly opposed on the specifics, with House Republicans seeking spending cuts so deep that Biden and his Democratic allies refuse to entertain them.

The GOP demands mark a sharp break with the deal that party leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), worked out with the president this spring to raise the nation’s debt limit — an agreement that was supposed to prevent another stalemate over spending this fall. Now, the Biden administration is explicitly asking Congress to adopt what is known as a continuing resolution, preserving most spending at its existing levels as negotiations proceed.

“Although the crucial work continues to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, it is clear that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed next month,” a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget said Thursday.

Even with such a stopgap, though, OMB said some federal accounts would need spending increases. That includes the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC, which provides monthly aid to roughly 6.6 million poor families. With food prices still high and program participation on the rise, its existing, roughly $5.69 billion budget is not sufficient to provide benefits at their current level through next fiscal year, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its finances.

Politico, Schumer moves to split House and Senate Republicans ahead of potential shutdown, Rachael Bade and Matt Berg, Sept. 1, 2023. “We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year,” Schumer wrote.

politico CustomSenate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’d blame House Republicans for any government shutdown if they fail to pass spending legislation by the end of the month.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Friday morning, Schumer sought to drive a wedge between House and Senate Republicans — offering praise for both Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (R-Maine), a lawmaker with whom Schumer is often at loggerheads.

“We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year when they pushed our country to the brink of default to appease the most extreme members of their party,” Schumer wrote.

The chamber passed all 12 appropriations bills out of committee on a bipartisan basis, he boasts. That drew an implicit contrast to the House, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy has broken faith on his spending caps deal with President Joe Biden, and is instead pushing partisan proposals that don’t have a prayer of becoming law.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Job Growth Remains Steady Amid Efforts to Cool Economy, Lydia DePillis and Jeanna Smialek, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The labor market continued to moderate, adding 187,000 jobs last month, reflecting the effects of high interest rates.

The United States added 187,000 jobs in August but the unemployment rate jumped unexpectedly, reflecting the impact of high interest rates and the U.S. economy’s gradual cooling from the boom that followed pandemic lockdowns.

The data, reported Friday by the Labor Department, is the latest indication that while hiring has weakened, there is no sign of an imminent recession that would result in widespread joblessness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that truck transportation shaved off quite a few jobs in August, about 37,000. That was “largely reflecting a business closure.” The trucking company Yellow filed for bankruptcy last month.

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

washington post logoWashington Post, With wary eye on China, U.S. moves closer to former foe Vietnam, Ellen Nakashima and Rebecca Tan, Sept. 2, 2023. The two countries are boosting economic and tech ties as Beijing increases its assertiveness in the region. The United States and Vietnam are poised to vietnam flagsignificantly enhance their economic and technological ties, bringing the former foes closer at a time of increased Chinese assertiveness in theThe deal, expected to be announced when President Biden makes a state visit to Vietnam next weekend, is the latest step by the Biden administration to deepen relations in Asia. For Hanoi, the closer relationship with Washington serves as a counterweight to Beijing’s influence.

China Flag

Russian FlagThe establishment of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” will give the United States a diplomatic status that Vietnam has so far reserved for only a handful of other countries: China, Russia, India and South Korea. The move was confirmed by a senior Biden administration official and two people in Hanoi familiar with the matter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Taxes, Drugs and … TikTok? Sapna Maheshwari, Sept. 2, 2023. One of Montana’s top elected officials has made banning the app a top priority, putting the state at the center of a geopolitical storm.

On a recent summer day, Austin Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general, drove his red Buick from Helena, the state’s capital, to Boulder, a tiny town about a half-hour away whose main claim to fame is that it’s home to the state’s highway border patrol. The road was quiet, flanked by the sort of sprawling pastures and expansive landscapes that give Montana its nickname of Big Sky Country.

When Mr. Knudsen visits the highway patrol, which is under his purview, he swears by the steak and burgers at the Windsor, a local haunt that grills its meats behind the bar and where patrons can be spotted drinking beer straight from a pitcher.

As his meal arrived and the jukebox played music from the country artist and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, Mr. Knudsen addressed the question that seemed particularly relevant given his current location: Why had he, the top cop in one of the country’s most sparsely populated states, put himself and Montana at the center of a fight between geopolitical superpowers?

In May, the state passed a law to ban TikTok that was drafted by Mr. Knudsen’s office. The law, which is the first of its kind in the United States, is set to go into effect in January, putting the state far ahead of Washington, D.C., where officials of both parties have been threatening — but not acting — to restrict use of the app. Federal lawmakers, just like Mr. Knudsen, have been concerned that TikTok could expose private user data to Beijing because the app is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.

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More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, In Monitoring Child Sex Abuse, Apple Is Caught Between Safety and Privacy, Tripp Mickle, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). An advocacy group is starting a $2 million campaign calling for the company to better police materials on its products and services.

\In 2021, Apple was embroiled in controversy over a plan to scan iPhones for child sexual abuse materials. Privacy experts warned that governments could abuse the system, and the backlash was so severe that Apple eventually abandoned the plan.

apple logo rainbowTwo years later, Apple is facing criticism from child safety crusaders and activist investors who are calling on the company to do more to protect children from online abuse.

A child advocacy group, the Heat Initiative, has raised $2 million for a new national advertising campaign calling on Apple to detect, report and remove child sexual abuse materials from iCloud, its cloud storage platform.

Next week, the group will release digital advertisements on websites popular with policymakers in Washington, such as Politico. It will also put up posters across San Francisco and New York that say: “Child sexual abuse material is stored on iCloud. Apple allows it.”

The criticism speaks to a predicament that has dogged Apple for years. The company has made protecting privacy a central part of its iPhone pitch to consumers. But that promise of security has helped make its services and devices, two billion of which are in use, useful tools for sharing child sexual abuse imagery.

The company is caught between child safety groups, which want it to do more to stop the spread of such materials, and privacy experts, who want it to maintain the promise of secure devices.

washington post logoWashington Post, Highways are the next antiabortion target. One Texas town is resisting, Caroline Kitchener, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). A new ordinance, passed in several jurisdictions and under consideration elsewhere, aims to stop people from using local roads to drive someone out of state for an abortion.

No one could remember the last time so many people packed into City Hall.

As the meeting began on a late August evening, residents spilled out into the hallway, the brim of one cowboy hat kissing the next, each person jostling for a look at the five city council members who would decide whether to make Llano the third city in Texas to outlaw what some antiabortion activists call “abortion trafficking.”

For well over an hour, the people of Llano — a town of about 3,400 deep in Texas Hill Country — approached the podium to speak out against abortion. While the procedure was now illegal across Texas, people were still driving women on Llano roads to reach abortion clinics in other states, the residents had been told. They said their city had a responsibility to “fight the murders.”

The cheers after each speech grew louder as the crowd readied for the vote. Then one woman on the council spoke up.

“I feel like there’s a lot more to discuss about this,” said Laura Almond, a staunch conservative who owns a consignment shop in the middle of town. “I have a ton of questions.”

More than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, many conservatives have grown frustrated by the number of people able to circumvent antiabortion laws — with some advocates grasping for even stricter measures they hope will fully eradicate abortion nationwide.

That frustration is driving a new strategy in heavily conservative cities and counties across Texas. Designed by the architects of the state’s “heartbeat” ban that took effect months before Roe fell, ordinances like the one proposed in Llano — where some 80 percent of voters in the county backed President Donald Trump in 2020 — make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within the city or county limits. The laws allow any private citizen to sue a person or organization they suspect of violating the ordinance.

Antiabortion advocates behind the measure are targeting regions along interstates and in areas with airports, with the goal of blocking off the main arteries out of Texas and keeping pregnant women hemmed within the confines of their antiabortion state. These provisions have already passed in two counties and two cities, creating legal risk for those traveling on major highways including Interstate 20 and Route 84, which head toward New Mexico, where abortion remains legal and new clinics have opened to accommodate Texas women. Several more jurisdictions are expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

“This really is building a wall to stop abortion trafficking,” said Mark Lee Dickson, the antiabortion activist behind the effort.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican Women, Fearing Backlash on Abortion, Pivot to Birth Control, Annie Karni, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A group of vulnerable G.O.P. women has backed legislation that purports to expand birth control access but would have little effect. Critics say it is a distraction.

She had barely opened her town hall to questions when Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from a competitive district in Iowa, was pressed to defend her opposition to abortion rights.

“One of the main functions of the federal government is to protect life,” Ms. Miller-Meeks, who won election in 2020 by just six votes, told a sparse crowd this month in Iowa City, a younger, more progressive part of her district where she rarely campaigns.

Ms. Miller-Meeks then quickly pivoted to politically safer terrain, telling her constituents about how she had also sponsored legislation aimed at expanding access to contraception.

“The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent pregnancy,” she said.

It is an increasingly common strategy among vulnerable House Republicans — especially those in politically competitive districts — who are trying to reconcile their party’s hard-line anti-abortion policies with the views of voters in their districts, particularly independents and women.

While many of these G.O.P. lawmakers have cast votes in the House this year to limit abortion access — maintaining a stance that some Republicans concede hurt their party in last year’s midterm elections — Ms. Miller-Meeks and others spent part of the summer congressional recess talking up their support for birth control access, which is broadly popular across the country and across party lines.

Appearing to embrace access to contraception has become an imperative for Republican candidates at all levels who are concerned that their party’s opposition to abortion rights has alienated women, particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and the extreme abortion bans in G.O.P.-led states that have followed.

“Can’t we all agree contraception should be available,” Nikki Haley, the only Republican woman in the presidential primary, said last week at the first primary debate, seeking to blunt attacks from Democrats on the issue of reproductive health care.

Just ahead of lawmakers’ long summer break, Ms. Miller-Meeks was part of a group of House Republican women who introduced the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023, a bill that they pitched as a way to expand access to contraception and that she called “a significant step forward for health care.”

Abortion rights advocates argue that the legislation is essentially meaningless and merely an effort by Republican lawmakers to mislead voters about their positions on women’s health. But for the G.O.P. women who are backing it, the bill offers an elegant way to shift the conversation away from the divisive issue of abortion.

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Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Covid is back. A fruitless national freakout shouldn’t come with it, Ramesh Ponnuru, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The coronavirus is spreading nationally again. It has hit my family over the past couple of weeks, although my own case was mild. I’m hoping that if there’s another flare-up of the covid-19 wars in our politics, it will be mild, too.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Here and there you can see people saying that all of us need to retrieve our masks, and others vowing that they will never submit to mandates and lockdowns. But this debate seems useful only for inflaming our social and political divisions. We’re not going to return to social distancing or shut down schools.

That’s partly because the current coronavirus numbers are still much lower than previous peaks. Yet even if the numbers rise considerably, the public is not going to accept restrictive coronavirus mitigation measures again, regardless of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other public health authorities say.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why the new covid variant is not cause for concern — yet, Leana S. Wen, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Scientists have raised alarms in recent weeks about a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant that might evade the protection of existing immune defenses. The variant, an offshoot of omicron named BA.2.86, requires careful attention by public health experts. But just like the summer uptick in coronavirus cases, it is not yet cause for concern for most Americans.

It’s not at all surprising that new variants are constantly emerging. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, when viruses replicate, they acquire mutations.

Whether a new set of mutations has public health consequences hinges on three key questions: Does it cause more severe disease? Will immunity through prior infection and vaccination protect against it? And is it more transmissible than currently dominant variants?

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U.S. Media, Education, Sports, High Tech

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Musk’s new Twitter policies helped spread Russian propaganda, E.U. says, Joseph Menn, Sept. 2, 2023 (print ed.). X’s failure to slow the spread of disinformation on the Internet would have violated E.U. social media law, had it been in effect

Elon Musk’s X (formerly Twitter) has played a major role in allowing Russian propaganda about Ukraine to reach more people than before the war european union logo rectanglebegan, according to a study released this week by the European Commission, the governing body of the European Union.

The research found that, despite voluntary commitments to take action against Russian propaganda by the largest social media companies, including Meta, Russian disinformation against Ukraine, thrived. Allowing the disinformation and hate speech to spread without limits would have violated the Digital Services Act, the E.U.’s social media law, had it been in force last year, the year-long commission study concluded.

x logo twitter“Over the course of 2022, the audience and reach of Kremlin-aligned social media accounts increased substantially all over Europe,” the study found. “Preliminary analysis suggests that the reach and influence of Kremlin-backed accounts has grown further in the first half of 2023, driven in particular by the dismantling of Twitter’s safety standards.” The social media platform was recently renamed X.

The E.U. has taken a far more aggressive regulatory approach to government-backed disinformation than the United States has. The twitter bird CustomDigital Services Act, which went into effect for the biggest social media companies Aug. 25, requires them to assess the risk of false information, stop the worst from being boosted by algorithms and subject their performance to auditing. Separately, European sanctions on Russian state media have prompted YouTube and other platforms to ban the likes of RT, the Russian news outlet formerly known as Russia Today that was once one of the most-followed channels.

The study is the starkest indication yet that the legal and voluntary measures are not getting the job done, following June warnings from E.U. Commissioner Thierry Breton that X had work to do to avoid potentially massive fines under the DSA. The research was conducted by nonprofit analysis group Reset, which advocates for greater oversight of digital platforms.

Without full access to data held by the companies — data that must be made more available under the new law — Reset relied on public information, such as the number of interactions that problematic content drew from people who had not been following the account that posted it.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s Truth Social facing a key funding deadline, Drew Harwell, Sept. 2, 2023. The ‘blank check’ ally of former president Donald Trump’s media start-up was once a stock-market star. It’s now days away from potential liquidation.

When former president Donald Trump’s media start-up announced in October 2021 that it planned to merge with a Miami-based company called Digital World Acquisition, the deal was an instant stock-market hit.

With the $300 million Digital World had already raised from investors, Trump Media & Technology Group, creator of the pro-Trump social network Truth Social, pledged then that the merger would create a tech titan worth $875 million at the start and, depending on the stock’s performance, up to $1.7 billion later.

All they needed was for the merger to close — a process that Digital World, in a July 2021 preliminary prospectus, estimated would happen within 12 to 18 months.

“Everyone asks me why doesn’t someone stand up to Big Tech? Well, we will be soon!” Trump said in a Trump Media statement that month.

Now, almost two years later, the deal faces what could be a catastrophic threat. With the merger stalled for months, Digital World is fast approaching a Sept. 8 deadline for the merger to close and has scheduled a shareholder vote for Tuesday to extend the deadline another year.

If the vote fails, Digital World will be required by law to liquidate and return $300 million to its shareholders, leaving Trump’s company with nothing from the transaction.

For Digital World, it would signal the ultimate financial fall from grace for a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that turned its proximity to the former president into what was once one of the stock market’s hottest trades. Its share price, which peaked in its first hours at $175, has since fallen to about $14.

Digital World’s efforts to merge with Trump Media have been troubled almost from the start, beset by allegations that it began its conversations with the former president’s company before they were permitted under SPAC rules.

 

jimmy buffett

washington post logoWashington Post, Jimmy Buffett, musical ‘mayor of Margaritaville,’ dies at 76, Glenn Rifkin, Sept. 2, 2023. The singer-songwriter sold 20 million records from his greatest hit, “Margaritaville,” created a lifestyle brand of tropical breezes, frozen cocktails and laid-back escapism.

Mr. Buffett, a frustrated Nashville country artist, found his muse when he moved to Key West, Fla., in spring 1972, leaving behind a failed marriage and stalled career. Surrounded by blue water, he donned Hawaiian shirts, cutoff shorts and flip-flops, grabbed an old blender, and embraced the quirky beach community with his musical soul.

“It was a scene,” he told Playboy magazine. “Everyone went out and applauded the sunset every night. Bales of marijuana washed up on the shore. There were great cheap Cuban restaurants … Key West seemed like the End: East Coast Division — a common reason people wind up there, especially writers, artists, musicians and other interesting derelicts, drawn by the idea that Key West is the final stroke of a great comma in the map of North America, suggesting more to come but maybe not.”

Steady, Commentary: Margaritaville — A Reason To Smile, Dan Rather,dan rather 2017 right, former CBS Evening News Anchor and Managing Editor, and Elliott Kirschner, Sept. 2, 2023. There was something quintessentially dan rather steady logoAmerican about the singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, who passed away yesterday at the age of 76.

He was a showman, selling a laid-back vision of life: beaches, cocktails, sunbaked days, and parties after dark. The allure of letting loose and having fun has been a part of our national identity.

But so have hard work and seizing opportunities to monetize an idea, which Buffett did with such skill that Forbes estimated his net worth this year at $1 billion.Buffett’s life followed an arc that exemplified the American Dream.

Originally a reporter working for Billboard, he struggled as a young musician to find his voice and make his mark. That changed when he moved to Key West, Florida. He would later say that there “I found a lifestyle, and I knew that whatever I did would have to work around my lifestyle.”

And it was this lifestyle — a blend of love for the open sea and the camaraderie of a seaside bar, all infused with music — that drew legions of loyal fans over decades of success.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2018 Profile: Jimmy Buffett Does Not Live the Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Feb. 8, 2018. Jimmy Buffett awoke one morning last year in one of his many homes — he can’t remember which one, there are a lot of them — and a panic gripped him in his throat. His new Broadway musical, “Escape to Margaritaville,” was coming along nicely, but something was off.

It wasn’t the music — they’d been careful to include a finely titrated playlist of crowd pleasers. It wasn’t the book — the TV writers Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope”) and Mike O’Malley (“Shameless”) managed to strike a balance of goofy, accessible romantic comedy and some deep cuts for the Parrotheads, as his fans are called. It wasn’t the casting, either; Paul Alexander Nolan is a compelling early-Buffett avatar as Tully Mars, a dreamy bar singer at a rundown Caribbean hotel called Margaritaville. And he was happy with the direction of Christopher Ashley, off a best direction Tony for “Come From Away.”

So what could it be? It hit him like a thunderbolt. It was Mr. Nolan. Mr. Nolan had just the right vibe. He could do the laid-back thing well; his singing is strong and contemporary. But there is a fatal flaw about him: He wasn’t tan.

Mr. Buffett hasn’t stopped touring in his nearly half-century as a performer, but it had been a long time since he did a last-minute set at a bar. He had to get on a stage with a pickup band like in the old days and really get back into the original iteration of Jimmy Buffett. That night, he went to the original Margaritaville bar in Key West, which he opened in the mid-1980s, unannounced, and played a three-and-a-half-hour set. He told stories between songs. He kept the audience active. It felt good to be back there, remembering who he once was.

Because that, in a coconut shell, was the problem. Jimmy Buffett is not really Jimmy Buffett anymore. He hasn’t been for a while. Jimmy Buffett — the nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake, getting drunk and screwing, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere Jimmy Buffett — has been replaced with a well-preserved businessman who is leveraging the Jimmy Buffett of yore in order to keep the Jimmy Buffett of now in the manner to which the old Jimmy Buffett never dreamed he could become accustomed. And therein lies the Margaritaville® Mesquite BBQ Rub: The more successful you become at selling the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle, the less you are seen as believably living the Jimmy Buffett lifestyle.

IN 1979, Mr. Buffett showed up literally years late to a Rolling Stone interview, barefoot, in St. Barts, where he was living off a boat. On the first day we met, back in October, in New Orleans, the morning after opening night of the musical, he showed up on time at 9 a.m. Now he is surrounded by publicists and producers and a bodyguard. Now he has a boat but also another boat and some airplanes. Now he wears shoes just about whenever you’re supposed to.

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United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shown in a file photo speaking at the McConnell Center, named for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longtime U.S. senator from Kentucky.Clarence Thomas McConnell Center flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0

 United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shown in a file photo speaking at the McConnell Center, named for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the longtime U.S. senator from Kentucky.

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Thomas Defends Trips With Texas Billionaire in Financial Disclosure, Abbie VanSickle, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The latest disclosures from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito come amid increased scrutiny of their dealings and the court’s lack of an ethics code.

Justice Clarence Thomas, in his annual financial disclosure form that was released Thursday, responded in detail to reports that he had failed to disclose luxury trips, flights on a private jet and a real estate transaction with a Texas billionaire.

In an unusual move, the justice included a statement defending his travel with the billionaire, Harlan Crow, who has donated to conservative causes.

The latest financial disclosures come as the justices face increased scrutiny about their financial dealings and about the court’s lack of an ethics code. Although the justices, like other federal judges, are required to file annual reports that document their investments, gifts and travel, the justices are not bound by ethics rules, instead following what Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. has referred to as a set of foundational “ethics principles and practices.”

The justices file the financial forms each spring, and most were released in early June. But Justices Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. requested 90-day extensions, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, which collects and publishes the forms. Justice Alito’s financial disclosure form was also released on Thursday morning.

Justice Thomas also acknowledged errors in his previous financial reports, including personal bank accounts and his wife’s life insurance, which he said were “inadvertently omitted from prior reports.”

The justice also listed four trips from 2022, the year covered by the form. Three of the trips were speaking engagements. The fourth, from July 2022, was a trip to Mr. Crow’s estate in the Adirondacks.

The nature of Justice Thomas’s decades-long relationship with Mr. Crow has elicited questions after a series of reports in ProPublica described the extent of his generosity and the justice’s failure to disclose it. Mr. Crow treated the justice on a series of lavish trips, including flights on his private jet, island-hopping on his superyacht and vacationing at his estate in the Adirondacks. Mr. Crow also bought the justice’s mother’s home in Savannah, Ga., and covered a portion of private school tuition for the justice’s great-nephew, whom he was raising.

Other wealthy friends have hosted Justice Thomas, including David L. Sokol, the former heir apparent to Berkshire Hathaway. Another, Anthony Welters, underwrote — at least in part — his motor coach, a 40-foot Prevost Marathon that he has said allows him to slip away from the “meanness that you see in Washington.”

Justice Alito, for his part, acknowledged in June that he had taken a private plane on a vacation in 2008 to a luxury fishing lodge in Alaska, where he was hosted by Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire. In the years that followed, Mr. Singer repeatedly had business before the court.

Read the forms from Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

In his disclosure, Justice Thomas addressed his decision to fly on Mr. Crow’s private jet, suggesting that he had been advised to avoid commercial travel after the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating a constitutional right to an abortion.

“Because of the increased security risk following the Dobbs opinion leak, the May flights were by private plane for official travel as filer’s security detail recommended noncommercial travel whenever possible,” Justice Thomas wrote.

Justice Thomas also defended his past filings, which did not include many of the trips with Mr. Crow and other wealthy friends. He wrote that he had “adhered to the then existing judicial regulations as his colleagues had done, both in practice and in consultation with the Judicial Conference.”

But he said he “continues to work with Supreme Court officials and the committee staff for guidance on whether he should further amend his reports from any prior years.”

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Families crossing U.S. border illegally reached all-time high in August, Nick Miroff and Maria Sacchetti, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). At least 91,000 migrants crossing in a family group were arrested in August, an influx that may return immigration to the spotlight for the 2024 election.

Record numbers of migrant families streamed across the U.S.-Mexico border in August, according to preliminary data obtained by The Washington Post, an influx that has upended Biden administration efforts to discourage parents from entering illegally with children and could once again place immigration in the spotlight during a presidential race.

The U.S. Border Patrol arrested at least 91,000 migrants who crossed as part of a family group in August, exceeding the prior one-month record of 84,486 set in May 2019, during the Trump administration. Families were the single largest demographic group crossing the border in August, surpassing single adults for the first time since Biden took office.

Overall, the data show, border apprehensions have risen more than 30 percent for two consecutive months, after falling sharply in May and June as the Biden administration rolled out new restrictions and entry opportunities. The Border Patrol made more than 177,000 arrests along the Mexico border in August, up from 132,652 in July and 99,539 in June.

Erin Heeter, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, said the Biden administration is trying to slow illegal entries by expanding lawful options and also stiffening penalties. The government ramped up deportation flights carrying families in August, she said, and since May has repatriated more than 17,000 parents and children who recently crossed the border in a family group.

“But as with every year, the U.S. is seeing ebbs and flows of migrants arriving fueled by seasonal trends and the efforts of smugglers to use disinformation to prey on vulnerable migrants and encourage migration,” Heeter said in a statement.

Family groups have been an Achilles’ heel for U.S. immigration enforcement for over a decade. Most migrants in that category who are detained by Border Patrol agents are quickly released and allowed to live and work in the United States while their humanitarian claims are pending. Backlogged U.S. immigration courts typically take several years to reach a decision, and the process rarely ends in deportation, federal data show.

washington post logoWashington Post, White House asks Congress for short-term funding extension to avert shutdown, Tony Romm, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The federal government will shut down Oct. 1 unless lawmakers either extend current spending or fund programs through next year.

The White House on Thursday urged Congress to adopt a short-term measure to fund the federal government, a move meant to buy time for lawmakers to craft a broader spending deal and avert a shutdown at the end of September.

The Biden administration coupled its call to action with a new request that Congress address funding for a series of cash-starved programs — including, for example, an additional $1.4 billion to prevent a potential disruption in nutritional aid for low-income families.

djt maga hatFor the second time this year, the United States finds itself barreling toward a crisis: Unless Congress acts, the government will run out of money on Sept. 30, triggering a shutdown that jeopardizes countless federal programs on which millions of Americans rely.

Democrats and Republicans for months have tried to advance a series of appropriations bills that would fund the government through the 2024 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. But the two parties remain vastly opposed on the specifics, with House Republicans seeking spending cuts so deep that Biden and his Democratic allies refuse to entertain them.

The GOP demands mark a sharp break with the deal that party leaders, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), worked out with the president this spring to raise the nation’s debt limit — an agreement that was supposed to prevent another stalemate over spending this fall. Now, the Biden administration is explicitly asking Congress to adopt what is known as a continuing resolution, preserving most spending at its existing levels as negotiations proceed.

“Although the crucial work continues to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, it is clear that a short-term continuing resolution (CR) will be needed next month,” a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget said Thursday.

Even with such a stopgap, though, OMB said some federal accounts would need spending increases. That includes the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, known as WIC, which provides monthly aid to roughly 6.6 million poor families. With food prices still high and program participation on the rise, its existing, roughly $5.69 billion budget is not sufficient to provide benefits at their current level through next fiscal year, according to a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe its finances.

Politico, Schumer moves to split House and Senate Republicans ahead of potential shutdown, Rachael Bade and Matt Berg, Sept. 1, 2023. “We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year,” Schumer wrote.

politico CustomSenate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he’d blame House Republicans for any government shutdown if they fail to pass spending legislation by the end of the month.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent Friday morning, Schumer sought to drive a wedge between House and Senate Republicans — offering praise for both Senate Appropriations Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (R-Maine), a lawmaker with whom Schumer is often at loggerheads.

“We cannot afford the brinkmanship or hostage-taking we saw from House Republicans earlier this year when they pushed our country to the brink of default to appease the most extreme members of their party,” Schumer wrote.

The chamber passed all 12 appropriations bills out of committee on a bipartisan basis, he boasts. That drew an implicit contrast to the House, where Speaker Kevin McCarthy has broken faith on his spending caps deal with President Joe Biden, and is instead pushing partisan proposals that don’t have a prayer of becoming law.

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Job Growth Remains Steady Amid Efforts to Cool Economy, Lydia DePillis and Jeanna Smialek, Sept. 1, 2023. The labor market continued to moderate, adding 187,000 jobs last month, reflecting the effects of high interest rates.

The United States added 187,000 jobs in August but the unemployment rate jumped unexpectedly, reflecting the impact of high interest rates and the U.S. economy’s gradual cooling from the boom that followed pandemic lockdowns.

The data, reported Friday by the Labor Department, is the latest indication that while hiring has weakened, there is no sign of an imminent recession that would result in widespread joblessness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that truck transportation shaved off quite a few jobs in August, about 37,000. That was “largely reflecting a business closure.” The trucking company Yellow filed for bankruptcy last month.

washington post logoWashington Post, Climate change is making it unbearable to labor in Asia’s factories, Rebecca Tan and Vasapa Wanichwethin, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Record-setting temperatures, coupled with humidity, are pushing communities to the brink, experts say.

When temperatures in Thailand shot past 112 degrees earlier this year, the government issued extreme heat warnings for large swaths of the country. It wasn’t safe, officials said, to be outdoors.

But Rungnapa Rattanasri, 51, didn’t work outdoors.

She worked inside, on the second floor of a dilapidated garment factory with no fans or air-conditioning. For $10 a day, she cut and trimmed bolts of rayon in rooms where the ambient temperature regularly exceeded 100 degrees. One evening in May, near the end of what climatologists said was probably Southeast Asia’s longest and most brutal heat wave on record, Rungnapa said it felt as though the engine that kept her running had been emptied. “Inside here,” she said, circling her head and her chest with her palms, “Nothing left.”

Extreme heat caused by human-induced climate change has wreaked havoc on the bodies of outdoor workers, from delivery drivers in India to construction workers in Qatar. Now, heat scientists and labor researchers say even those who labor indoors are not safe. Across Southeast Asia’s manufacturing hubs, rising temperatures, mixed with high humidity, are leaving workers like Rungnapa baking in poorly ventilated sweatshops.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Gabon coup fits a pattern that is made in Moscow, Wayne Madsen, left, commentator, author of 23 books and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer, Aug. 31 – Sept. 1, 2023. Western wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Smallintelligence agencies are closely examining the chief players in the August 30 coup that ousted President Ali Bongo from power in Gabon.

wayne madesen report logoThe ouster of the Gabonese president and the entire government, including the parliament and Supreme Court, marks an end to over a half century of rule by the Bongo family.

Although the Gabonese junta that seized power claims did so after Bongo Gabon World Mapstaged a fraudulent election that saw him re-elected, there is concern that the top coup leaders all hail from the same province, Haut-Ogooué, located in southeastern Gabon. Western Russian Flagintelligence agencies will be scrutinizing any contacts the Haut-Ogooué junta members may have had with Russian Wagner mercenaries that are operating in the nearby Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Of note is the fact that Maria Zakharova, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, referred to Gabon as a country friendly to Russia following the military coup. There was also no Russian condemnation of the putsch that ousted Bongo from power.

The likely assassination of Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin on the orders of Vladimir Putin was thought by many to likely result in a curtailment of Wagner activities in Africa. In fact, just before his plane was shot down while en route from Moscow to St. Petersburg, Prigozhin was in the Central African Republic and Mali voicing support for the recent military coup in Niger that ousted that nation’s democratically-elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. Wagner has been linked to seven military coups in Africa prior to the Gabon putsch: Mali in 2020 and 2021, Chad in 2021, Burkina Faso twice in 2022, Guinea in 2021, and Niger in July of this year. There were also coup attempts in 2021 in Niger; 2022 in Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Gambia; and last month in Sierra Leone.

Gabon was a kleptocracy under Ali Bongo and his late father, Omar Bongo. Gabon’s new military rulers will be investigating Bongo’s French-born wife, Sylvia Valentin Bongo and her non-profit Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation. [left] Bongo’s ex-wife, American Inge Collins Bongo, [right] moved back to her native California following her separation from Bongo. Their divorce was finalized in 2015. While Inge Bongo was estranged from her husband and living in Los Angeles, she was receiving food stamps from the state. Inge and Bongo married in Madrid in 1994 after having met on a blind date in California.

There will likely be an attempt by the military junta, which calls itself the Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, to recover the wealth the Bongos possessed in foreign bank accounts and overseas real estate.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Kerplunk! Bill Palmer, right, Sept. 1, 2023. Now that New York Attorney General Letitia James has asked the courts to issue a $250 bill palmermillion summary judgment against the Trump Organization, it suggests she has quite a strong hand. Even if she doesn’t get the summary judgment and she has to take it to trial, she’ll presumably win that fairly easily. This has led to a lot of speculation about what might happen to Donald Trump’s financial house of cards.

bill palmer report logo headerDonald Trump and the Trump Organization may have billions of dollars in assets, but that doesn’t amount to anything if the debts exceeds the assets. It’s like having a car you can’t get rid of because you owe more on it than it’s worth. As far as Trump’s liquid President Donald Trump officialassets, he doesn’t appear to have any. Last week Trump had to use a bail bondsman (at a 10% penalty) just to come up with $200,000 in cash. That’s less than 0.1% of what Letitia James is seeking to take from him.

So if the courts agree to James’ $250 million fine, and Trump can’t write a check to cover it, what then? He’d have to sell off some of his assets. But what’s he going to sell? He appears to be upside down on most of his properties. Last year Trump sold off his claim to his Washington DC hotel – his most profitable and perhaps only profitable property – presumably to try to salvage the rest of the portfolio. But what’s he supposed to sell off now?

 

Trump-Related Probes, Indictments

Politico, Proud Boy who triggered breach of Capitol building on Jan. 6 sentenced to 10 years, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 1, 2023. The image of Dominic Pezzola smashing the Senate wing window became emblematic of the threat to democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.

politico CustomDominic Pezzola, a New York Proud Boy who triggered the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the Capitol when he smashed a window with a stolen police riot shield, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the attack.

“You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly said as he delivered his sentence on Friday. “It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”

Pezzola’s sentence closes one of the most harrowing chapters of the Jan. 6 riot. The image of Pezzola smashing the window became emblematic of the threat to democracy that unfolded that day, and it was featured during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump that unfolded a month later.

Pezzola also filmed himself inside the Capitol smoking a cigar and celebrating the breach.

“I knew we could take this motherfucker over if we just tried hard enough,” Pezzola said in the video in which he also repeated a Proud Boys slogan.

Pezzola was convicted in May alongside four Proud Boys leaders, including the group’s national chair on Jan. 6, 2021, Enrique Tarrio, with conspiring to obstruct Congress’ proceedings that day. Pezzola was also convicted of civil disorder, destruction of government property, assaulting a police officer and stealing the riot shield. Unlike Tarrio and the other three codefendants — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl — Pezzola was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, the gravest charge the group faced.

Biggs and Rehl were sentenced Thursday to 17 years and 15 years, respectively.

Pezzola’s route to Jan. 6 differed sharply from his codefendants. A businessperson whose work suffered amid the Covid pandemic, Pezzola grew disillusioned with government and delved deeply into far-right politics while largely isolated at home. In November 2020, he sought out camaraderie from the Proud Boys and began attending events and rallies with the group, but he was not a member of senior leadership like his codefendants.

Politico, Trump pleads ‘not guilty’ in Georgia racketeering case, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The plea came in a court filing in which Trump waived his appearance at a scheduled Sept. 6 arraignment.

politico CustomDonald Trump has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to subvert the 2020 election in Georgia, formally signaling his intent to fight the charges in the sprawling racketeering case brought by Fulton County prosecutors.

Trump entered his plea Thursday in a two-page court filing meant to waive his appearance at an arraignment scheduled for Sept. 6, when he was slated to have the charges read to him in court. Several of the 18 defendants charged alongside him have also waived their appearances at the scheduled arraignment.

In the filing, Trump refers to himself three times as “President Trump” or “President Donald Trump.”

The plea signals a new phase of the criminal proceedings against Trump in Georgia, triggering the start of evidence-sharing by prosecutors as they advance toward a still unscheduled trial. District Attorney Fani Willis is seeking to try Trump and the other defendants at an expedited Oct. 23 trial date that was demanded by Kenneth Chesebro, an attorney charged alongside Trump for his role in the alleged scheme.

Trump, however, has signaled he intends to sever his case from the others, and several other defendants — including Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows — are seeking to transfer the case to federal court, a move that could result in all 19 defendants being tried on a different timeline.

ny times logoNew York Times, Giuliani Is Liable for Defaming Georgia Election Workers, Judge Says, Alan Feuer, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The ruling means that a defamation case against Rudy Giuliani, stemming from his role in seeking to overturn the 2020 election, can proceed to a trial.

rudy giuliani mayorA federal judge ruled on Wednesday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, right, was liable for defaming two Georgia election workers by repeatedly declaring that they had mishandled ballots while counting votes in Atlanta during the 2020 election.

The ruling by the judge, Beryl A. Howell, below left, in Federal District Court in Washington, means that the defamation case against Mr. Giuliani, a central figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to remain in power after his election loss, can proceed to trial on the beryl howellnarrow question of how much, if any, damages he will have to pay the plaintiffs in the case.

A lawyer for Mr. Giuliani declined to comment.

Judge Howell’s decision came a little more than a month after Mr. Giuliani conceded in two stipulations in the case that he had made false statements when he accused the election workers, Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, of manipulating ballots while working at the State Farm Arena for the Fulton County Board of Elections.

Mr. Giuliani later sought to explain that his stipulations were solely meant to get past a dispute with Ms. Freeman and Ms. Moss about discovery evidence in the case and move toward dismissing the allegations outright. But Judge Howell, complaining that Mr. Giuliani’s stipulations “hold more holes than Swiss cheese,” took the proactive step of declaring him liable for “defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy and punitive damage claims.”

Politico, Judge rejects Navarro’s ‘executive privilege’ claim for defying Jan. 6 committee, Kyle Cheney, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The ruling paves the way for Navarro’s trial to begin next week on contempt-of-Congress charges.

politico CustomPeter Navarro, a former senior White House adviser to former President Donald Trump, failed to prove that Trump asserted executive privilege to block him from testifying to the House Jan. 6 select committee, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta keeps on track Navarro’s Sept. 5 contempt-of-Congress trial, where he will face jurors on two charges that he defied the committee’s subpoena for testimony and documents related to Navarro’s role in Trump’s bid to subvert the 2020 election.

Navarro has long claimed that Trump asserted privilege to block him from appearing before the Jan. 6 select committee in early 2022 when the panel subpoenaed him. But Navarro has never produced direct evidence to back that claim and, more importantly, Trump and his attorneys have repeatedly declined to say whether Navarro was accurately reflecting their conversations.

Mehta cited Trump’s refusal to corroborate Navarro’s claims as the most compelling reason that he found Trump did not, in fact, seek to block Navarro’s testimony to the select committee.

“There was no formal invocation of executive privilege by [Trump] after personal consideration nor authorization to Mr. Navarro to invoke privilege on his behalf,” Mehta said.

Navarro’s trial, which is likely to be brief, will head to jury selection on Tuesday. Mehta’s ruling means the former Trump trade adviser will not be able to argue to the jury that he believed Trump asserted privilege and effectively blocked him from complying with aspects of the select committee’s subpoena.

In addition, Mehta noted that even if he had shown Trump asserted privilege, the select committee had indicated it planned to ask him questions about topics that did not touch on his communications with Trump and therefore wouldn’t be covered by any privilege assertion.

Old Goats, Commentary: She’s The Boss,.Jonathan Alter, Aug. 30-31, 2023. Judge Chutkan and Trump’s approaching Day of Judgment.

John Lauro was in a predicament Monday that bodes well for the survival of the Republic.

Lauro is Donald Trump’s lead attorney in the most important trial the former president faces — the one that will resolve whether he is guilty of masterminding a coup against the government and people of the United States.

In federal court, Lauro began talking trash in a loud and aggressive manner. He sounded like he was on a cable show, not standing before the bar of justice.

Judge Tanya Chutkan, who next year will become one of the most famous American jurists in American history (even though the trial will not be televised), brought Lauro up short. Twice, she told him to “turn down the temperature.” Lauro finally comprehended that in this courtroom—in front of this judge— properly “representing” Trump will mean more than channeling his indignation. So he complied.

But it was too late. Lauro had asked for a 2026 trial date—a ludicrous bid—and refused to show up this week with a more reasonable proposal. Bad move. With the trial date now scheduled for March 4, 2024, the day before Super Tuesday, Lauro is caught between his client — who wants him to pursue a noisy political case in court — and Judge Chutkan, who made it clear that any such strategy will blow up in the Orange Menace’s face.

Lauro knows he must do it Trump’s way or be fired, which means he’ll put on a blustery MAGA defense in front of a District of Columbia jury that isn’t likely to buy it.

And so in the course of a few days, the notion of the Republican Party nominating a convicted felon for president has gone from liberal fantasy to strong possibility.

While Trump’s attorneys will file various motions to delay, legal experts this week are predicting that these motions will be quickly adjudicated — often by Chutkan herself. And there is no provision in federal law for a higher court to overturn a trial date.

Trump’s best hope — a change of venue — doesn’t seem likely. Efforts by insurrectionists to avoid being tried in the District of Columbia have all failed. So prepare for some momentous history to unfold next spring. The Day of Judgment is nearly upon us.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump enters not guilty plea in Georgia election case, waives hearing, Holly Bailey and Amy Gardner, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The former president had been scheduled by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee to be arraigned in Atlanta next Wednesday

Donald Trump entered a plea of not guilty to charges alleging he participated in a vast criminal conspiracy to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia and waived his right to an in-person arraignment hearing in the matter, according to a new court filing from his attorney in the Fulton County election interference case.

The written plea was filed Thursday by Steve Sadow, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney who was tapped Aug. 24 to lead the former president’s Georgia-based legal team. The filing means Trump won’t return to Atlanta on Wednesday, where Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is overseeing the proceedings, has scheduled a series of arraignment hearings for Trump and the 18 co-defendants in the sprawling criminal racketeering case.

In the filing, titled “President Trump’s entry of plea of not guilty and enter of waiver of appearance at arraignment,” the former president stated that he was “freely and voluntarily” waiving his right to be present at his arraignment and have his charges read to him in open court.

Trump is facing 13 counts in the Georgia case, including violating the state’s racketeering act, soliciting a public officer to violate their oath, conspiring to impersonate a public officer, conspiring to commit forgery in the first degree and conspiring to file false documents. The former president has denied any wrongdoing and has condemned the investigation, led by Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D), as a “political witch hunt.”

Trump surrendered last week at the Fulton County Jail, a notorious Atlanta lockup where he was booked and quickly released on a $200,000 bond that includes restrictions on his conduct, including provisions that bar him from intimidating witnesses or fellow co-defendants or making any “direct or indirect threat of any nature against the community.”

Trump’s attorney has signaled he will vigorously challenge the charges against his client, who he has said should have never been charged in the case. Sadow has said he will file a motion to dismiss the charges and move to sever Trump’s case from other co-defendants, including former Trump campaign attorney Kenneth Chesebro, who are seeking a speedy trial in the matter.

brian kemp 2019 CustomSeparately Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R), right, told reporters at a news conference that he would not call a special session of the General Assembly to seek to remove Willis from office, as several conservative lawmakers have requested. Kemp said his concerns about “highly charged indictments” during an election cycle “have been well-documented,” but his intervention would be improper and possibly even unconstitutional.

“We have a law in the state of Georgia that clearly outlines the legal steps that can be taken if constituents believe their local prosecutors are violating their oath by engaging in unethical or illegal behavior,” he said. “Up to this point I have not seen any evidence at that D.A. Willis’s actions or lack thereof warrant action by the Prosecuting Attorney Oversight Commission. But that will ultimately be a decision that the commission will make.”

Trump is expected to follow his former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in seeking to move his case from state to federal court. Meadows spent more than four hours testifying on Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones, who is considering Meadows’s petition to move his case to federal court, where he will then seek to dismiss charges.

In his testimony, Meadows sought to portray himself as Trump’s gatekeeper and depicted his involvement in efforts to question Joe Biden’s legitimate victory in Georgia as part of his duties as Trump’s top White House aide and senior adviser. His attorneys have argued that should qualify his case for federal removal since they say he was acting under the “color” of his federal position.

But prosecutors have argued Meadows’s post-election efforts, including a visit to a suburban Atlanta ballot processing center and arranging the now-infamous Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), violated the federal Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from using their official roles to influence an election. They say Meadows saw “no distinction” between his White House work and the Trump campaign and have pressed Jones to deny Meadows’s petition — an outcome which could have sweeping effect on other current and future removal requests in the case, including Trump’s expected petition.

Palmer Report, Analysis, One and done, Bill Palmer, right, Aug. 31, 2023.  It’s now been a full week since Donald Trump’s fourth arrest. At this rate he might bill palmerconsider himself lucky that there hasn’t been a fifth one already. But it’s also been a full week since something else: Trump’s one and only tweet since leaving office.

bill palmer report logo headerBack when Trump was reinstated to Twitter, the owner of the platform publicly begged Trump to return. But it never did happen. Instead Trump continued to spend all day every day pandering to his niche base on his own niche social network. The ferocity with which Trump rants and raves on Truth Social, basically talking to no one, suggests that he’d love to be back on Twitter and have a real audience. But even his one tweet last week is now very much looking like a one-off.

President Donald Trump officialWe’ve heard all kinds of speculation about how Trump might have an exclusive contract with Truth Social. But even if so, that doesn’t come within a million miles of adequately explaining why he never returned to Twitter. Deals like that are made to be renegotiated or worked around. And really, what is Truth Social going to do to Trump in retaliation for returning to Twitter? Ban him from his own platform? Truth Social is such a niche failure that there would be no platform without Trump.

Instead, Trump’s failure to return to Twitter is probably the biggest giveaway that he’s not really running for anything. Twitter is a huge marketing and outreach opportunity for any political candidate. Trump in particular has shown an affinity, almost an addiction, to tweeting. It allowed him to speak directly to the general public in real time. And by declining to tweet, he’s throwing away that opportunity.

Is this because Trump is so senile? His incoherently embarrassing rambling on Truth Social is at least mitigated by the fact that so few people are on there reading it. If he were posting these same screeds on Twitter, the general public would see that his brain is now a bag of cats, and his faux-campaign would probably be closer to finished. So are Trump’s handlers trying to protect him from himself by giving him flimsy and misleading excuses about why he shouldn’t tweet?

If you think about it, the only two things Trump ever seemed to enjoy about politics were rallies and tweeting, and now his babysitters have managed to convince him to very rarely do either one of them. Instead they have him tucked away rambling on a failed social media platform that no one uses. Trump’s handlers seem to view him as being so far gone, they have to keep him in a box. And Trump, for his part, seems to be so far gone that his handlers can convince him of anything. Whatever reasons they’ve fed him for why he should do very few rallies and stay off Twitter, he’s swallowed it.

Politico, Joe Biggs, Proud Boys leader, gets 17-year prison sentence for role in Jan. 6 attack, Kyle Cheney, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Biggs is the first of four Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy to face sentencing.

politico CustomJoseph Biggs, a Florida leader of the Proud Boys on Jan. 6, 2021, has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for conspiring to derail the peaceful transfer of power — the second-longest sentence of the hundreds handed down since the violent assault on the Capitol.

“That day broke our tradition of peacefully transferring power,” said U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly as he delivered his sentence. “The mob brought an entire branch of government to heel.”

Biggs is the first of four Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy to face sentencing. The others include Philadelphia Proud Boys leader Zachary Rehl, Seattle Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean and former national Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who will all be sentenced between Thursday and early next week.

A fifth member of the group, Dominic Pezzola, who was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other Jan. 6 felonies, faces sentencing on Friday. He smashed a Senate-wing window of the Capitol with a stolen police riot shield, triggering the mob’s breach of the building.

Kelly, an appointee of Donald Trump, applied a “terrorism” enhancement to Biggs’ sentence, a distinction that so far has only been applied to members of the Oath Keepers similarly convicted of seditious conspiracy. Kelly spoke at length about his decision to apply that label and how it compared to other, more stereotypical acts of terrorism that involve mass casualties or bombings.

“While blowing up a building in some city somewhere is a very bad act, the nature of the constitutional moment we were in that day is something that is so sensitive that it deserves a significant sentence,” Kelly said.

The sentence is an important marker in the fraught aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack. Prosecutors, who had asked for a 33-year sentence for Biggs, said he and his co-conspirators were the driving force behind the violence that unfolded that day, facilitating breaches at multiple police lines and helping the crowd advance into the building itself. A jury convicted the five men of multiple conspiracies in June, after a four-month trial that recounted their actions in painstaking detail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough urged Kelly to severely punish Biggs as a way to deter others who might consider similar actions in the future aimed at disrupting the government. The fear and effect on society caused by Jan. 6 , he said, is “no different than the act of a spectacular bombing of a building.”

“There’s a reason why we will hold our collective breath as we approach future elections,” McCullough said. “We never gave it a second thought before Jan. 6. … They pushed us to the edge of a constitutional crisis.”

“It’s almost seductive in how tangible a future act like this could be,” the prosecutor added. “It doesn’t take the step of amassing bomb-making equipment to bring the United States government and our society to the brink of a constitutional crisis. It just takes slick propaganda and an environment where you encourage people to basically say, ‘It’s us against them,’ and we’re going to use force to achieve our political ends.”

Prosecutors say the group amassed a force of 200 hand-selected Proud Boys and marched them to the Capitol, where many of them skirmished with police or removed barriers intended to keep the crowd at bay. Nordean and Biggs were convicted of dismantling a black metal fence that was one of police’s last obstacles before the crowd reached the building.

Biggs, who didn’t take the stand during the trial, spoke for the first time about the charges as he pleaded with Kelly for a lenient sentence. He said he had withdrawn from politics and refused to engage in it with other Jan. 6 defendants detained at the D.C. jail where he’s been housed for more than two years. Biggs said he had always planned to quit the Proud Boys after Jan. 6 to focus on his daughter.

“I know that I have to be punished,” he said, but begged Kelly to allow him to “take my daughter to school one day and pick her up.”

The Proud Boys’ trajectory toward Jan. 6 became a major focus of the trial. The group, which had become infamous for street fighting with left-wing activists, had aligned itself with Trump, who famously told the group to “stand back and stand by” during a debate with rival Joe Biden.

Prosecutors say the group feared that if Trump lost the election, they would become marginalized and quickly embraced his false claims of election fraud. The group attended two pro-Trump marches in Washington, D.C., that were marred by street violence, including a Dec. 14 event in which four Proud Boys were stabbed outside a bar. That violence fueled the group’s fury at police in Washington, prosecutors said, which the members displayed openly on Jan. 6.

When Trump told supporters on Dec. 19, 2020 to amass in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, Tarrio and the Proud Boys leaders quickly responded and began assembling a new chapter that they described as a group of more disciplined and obedient men who would follow their orders. That group, which they dubbed the “Ministry of Self-Defense,” became the core of the group that descended on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Biggs’ attorney Norm Pattis argued that too harsh a sentence would erode trust in government and have a similarly perverse result: making Americans fearful of attending protests.

“I think we’re an ongoing threat to ourselves in this republic right now,” he said. “Just how, how we are in a situation where a presidential candidate, indicted four times by state and federal officials, is in a statistical dead heat with the incumbent. … The government’s suggestion that [Biggs] is some domestic threat, he’s going to go out and make things worse — you just can’t get much worse than that.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Asks to Dismiss Suit as A.G. Says He Inflated Worth by $2.2 Billion, Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Before Donald J. Trump was indicted four times over, he was sued by New York’s attorney general, who said that for years the former president, his business and members of his family had fraudulently overvalued their assets by billions of dollars.

Before any of those criminal trials will take place, Mr. Trump is scheduled for a civil trial in New York in October. During the trial, the attorney general, Letitia James, will seek to bar him and three of his children from leading their family business, the Trump Organization, and to require him to pay a fine of around $250 million.

On Wednesday, Ms. James fired an opening salvo, arguing that a trial is not necessary to find that Mr. Trump and the other defendants inflated the value of their assets in annual financial statements, fraudulently obtaining favorable loans and insurance arrangements.

The fraud was so pervasive, she said in a court filing, that Mr. Trump had falsely boosted his net worth by between $812 million and $2.2 billion each year over the course of a decade.

Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, asked a judge to find, without a trial, that former President Trump had fraudulently overvalued his assets.
“Based on the undisputed evidence, no trial is required for the court to determine that defendants presented grossly and materially inflated asset values,” the filing said.

But Mr. Trump’s lawyers, in their own motion, argued that the entire case should be thrown out, relying in large part on a recent appellate court decision that appeared as if it could significantly narrow the scope of the case because of a legal time limit. Mr. Trump had received most of the loans in question too long ago for the matter to be considered by a court, his lawyers argue.

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump, Under Oath, Says He Averted ‘Nuclear Holocaust,’ Ben Protess, Jonah E. Bromwich and William K. Rashbaum, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). During a deposition in his civil case, former President Trump offered a series of strange defenses, digressions and meandering explanations.

Under oath and under fire, Donald J. Trump sat for a seven-hour interview with the New York attorney general’s office in April, part of the civil fraud case against him and his company.

But as lawyers from the office grilled Mr. Trump on the inner-workings of his family business, which is accused of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars, he responded with a series of meandering non sequiturs, political digressions and self-aggrandizing defenses.

Asked about his authority at the Trump Organization while he was in the White House, Mr. Trump responded that he considered the presidency “the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives.”

“I think you would have nuclear holocaust, if I didn’t deal with North Korea,” he explained, and then added: “And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.”

Although Mr. Trump invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination when initially questioned by the office last year, he answered questions from the attorney general, Letitia James, and her lawyers in the April deposition, a transcript of which was unsealed on Wednesday.

The transcript shows a combative Mr. Trump, who was named as a defendant in the case alongside his company and three of his children, at times barely allowing lawyers to get a word in. The former president frequently seems personally offended by the idea that his net worth is being questioned.

Mr. Trump is seeking to have the case thrown out. A judge could rule on that effort next month, but for now, the case appears headed to trial in early October.

Below are some of the highlights from the transcript of his deposition:

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Could Clinch the Nomination Before the G.O.P. Knows if He’s a Felon, Reid J. Epstein, Maggie Haberman, Charlie Savage and Jonathan Swan, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The federal election interference case — one of four involving Donald Trump — is set to start just before Super Tuesday and a cascade of primaries.

By the time Donald J. Trump is sitting at his federal trial on charges of criminally conspiring to overturn the 2020 election, he may have already secured enough delegates to effectively clinch the Republican Party’s 2024 presidential nomination.

The former president’s trial is scheduled to start March 4, by which point five states are expected to have held nominating contests. The next day, March 5, is Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including delegate-rich California and Texas, plan to hold votes that will determine if any Trump challenger has enough political oxygen to remain a viable alternative.

Primaries in Florida, Ohio and Illinois come two weeks later. Florida and Ohio will be the first winner-take-all contests, in which the top vote-getter statewide seizes all of the delegates rather than splitting them proportionally. Winner-take-all primaries have historically turbocharged the front-runner’s path to the presidential nomination. Mr. Trump’s federal trial, if it proceeds on its current timeline, won’t be close to finished by then.

The collision course between the Republican Party’s calendar and Mr. Trump’s trial schedule is emblematic of one of the most unusual nominating contests in American history. It is a Trump-dominated clash that will define not only the course of the 2024 presidential primary but potentially the future direction of the party in an eventual post-Trump era.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump co-defendant reaches bond agreement after weekend in jail, Amy Gardner and Holly Bailey, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Harrison Floyd, accused of harassing an Atlanta area election worker in the weeks after the 2020 election, posted $100,000 bond.

The last of former president Donald Trump’s co-defendants in the Fulton County, Ga., election interference case reached a bond agreement Tuesday after spending the weekend in jail.

harrison ford mugHarrison William Prescott Floyd, right, who is accused of harassing an Atlanta-area election worker in the weeks following the 2020 election, posted bond of $100,000 Tuesday. Jail records showed that Floyd was still in custody after 5 p.m. Tuesday, and it was not clear when he would be released.

Unlike the other defendants in the case, Floyd did not initially retain a lawyer and did not contact the office of District Attorney Fani T. Willis to negotiate a bond agreement before surrendering at the county jail on Thursday. As a result, he was held in jail for five nights — until Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee ordered a public defender to take up Floyd’s case to reach a bond agreement to get him out of jail.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Donald Trump pleads not guilty to 34 felony counts in historic indictment linked to Stormy Daniels hush money probe (Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

Former President Donald J. Trump, in a blue suit, sits with his attorneys shortly before arraignment in New York City’s state court on 34 felony charges of falsifying business records related to the 2016 presidential campaign season, reportedly involving in part hush money to women ((Associated Press photo by Seth Wong).

 

More On Courts, Crime, Guns, Civil Rights, Immigration

washington post logoWashington Post, Ex-cardinal McCarrick’s sex abuse case is dismissed, without a ‘reckoning,’ Michelle Boorstein and Fredrick Kunkle, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A Massachusetts judge on Wednesday dismissed a criminal charge against former high-ranking Catholic cleric Theodore McCarrick, ruling that the 93-year-old former archbishop of Washington is incompetent to stand trial for alleged child sexual abuse.

The decision underscores the fast-closing window for potential accountability for McCarrick, who once was one of the U.S. Catholic Church’s most visible and connected leaders and now is one of its most notorious figures.

McCarrick had been charged with assaulting a 16-year-old boy at a wedding in 1974, the first criminal charge since a slew of sexual misconduct accusations surfaced in 2018 and he was removed from public ministry. He still faces a second criminal sexual abuse case, involving the same alleged victim, in Wisconsin.

These abuse survivors thought they knew the details. Then came the clergy reports.

Judge Paul McCallum, of the Dedham District Court in Massachusetts, dismissed the case in a morning hearing, after experts for the defense and the prosecution agreed that McCarrick was unable to help with his own defense, said David Traub, a spokesman for the district attorney.

“Under Massachusetts law, the case can’t go forward,” Traub said.

McCarrick was the first U.S. cardinal and only the second U.S. bishop to be charged with abuse. His accuser in the case, James Grein, a tennis coach from Northern Virginia, submitted a statement to the court for Wednesday’s hearing that said the case was “to have provided a modest level of payback.”

“I have trouble reconciling the concept that someone who is intelligent and articulate is also not competent to stand trial and answer for his actions,” Grein wrote. “I brought the charges in this matter, in the hope of finding justice in this court. Instead, McCarrick walks a free man and I am left with nothing.”

The steep fall of McCarrick has wounded the world’s largest Christian group and produced several unprecedented — if incremental — steps toward accountability.

But, as an individual, McCarrick has not faced justice in the ways his alleged victims and his own American society typically demand it — through a guilty verdict, victim impact statements or financial penalties. Some clergy abuse experts and McCarrick accusers said Wednesday that the judge’s decision was harmful, while others said they were looking to a more eternal verdict.

“From my perspective, the God he claimed to serve will now be his judge,” said John Bellocchio, who has accused McCarrick of abusing him in the 1990s, when Bellocchio was 14. “And I doubt — in his profound arrogance — I doubt he will fare well.”

washington post logoWashington Post, FBI says it dismantled a botnet that hacked hundreds of thousands of computers, David DiMolfetta, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Qakbot network was responsible for enabling ransomware, financial fraud and other cyber crimes, the FBI said.

U.S. authorities on Tuesday announced a multinational operation that they said took down a network that had infected hundreds of thousands of computers with malware and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages from cyberattacks worldwide.

The FBI called the action that disabled the infamous Qakbot malware “one of the largest U.S.-led disruptions of a botnet infrastructure used by cybercriminals to commit ransomware, financial fraud, and other cyber-enabled criminal activity.” The Justice Department said law enforcement agencies in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Romania and Latvia also participated in the operation, which it said was code-named “Duck Hunt.”

Some $8.6 million in stolen cryptocurrency related to the network’s operations also was seized and will be returned to victims, the FBI said.
Qakbot, first discovered in 2008, has frequently targeted victims’ computers through spam email messages containing malicious hyperlinks or attachments. Victim machines would then become another link in the network, surreptitiously under control of those seeking to use the network for cybercrime. Some 700,000 victims have been identified worldwide, with 200,000 of them in the United States, according to the Justice Department.

The botnet enabled the operations of number of high-profile ransomware groups, including Conti and REvil, that targeted organizations such as hospitals, schools and municipal governments, holding their sensitive data hostage in exchange for a ransom payment. Victims have included a power engineering firm based in Illinois, a financial services company in Alabama and a food distribution company in California, according to authorities, who added that Qakbot administrators received about $58 million in ransoms paid by victims between October 2021 and April 2023.

 

manhattan institute

The Guardian, Billionaire-linked US thinktank behind supreme court wealth tax case lobbying, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dominic Rushe, Aug. 27, 2023. Manhattan Institute one of eight conservative advocacy groups that filed amicus briefs urging the court to hear ‘Moore v US.’

An influential thinktank closely linked to two billionaires who provided lavish travel gifts to conservative supreme court justices is behind a successful lobbying campaign to get the US high court to take on a case that could protect them and other billionaires from a possible future wealth tax.

manhattan institute logoThe Manhattan Institute was one of eight conservative advocacy groups that filed amicus briefs urging the supreme court to take on Moore v US, a $15,000 tax case that Democrats have warned could permanently “lock in” the right of billionaires to opt out of paying fair taxes.

The billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer is chairman of the Manhattan Institute and Kathy Crow, who is married to the real estate mogul Harlan Crow, serves as a trustee of the group. Both have provided two of the justices – Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, respectively – with private travel gifts and have socialised with the judges on lavish vacations, according to reports in ProPublica and other media outlets.

The revelations have stoked serious accusations of ethical and legal violations by the two rightwing justices, who failed to disclose the travel and – in Thomas’s case – hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional gifts from the Crows, including property purchases and private tuition payments for Thomas’s great-nephew.

Thomas has called the Crows his “dearest friends” and claimed Harlan Crow “did not have business before the Court”. Alito has said he could recall speaking to Singer only on a “handful of occasions” and that the two had never discussed Singer’s business or issues before the court.

But Alito and Thomas’s dealings with the conservative billionaires have nevertheless raised questions about how the justices’ close ties might influence which cases are taken on by the court.

The supreme court announced it would hear Moore vs US on 26 June. On its face, the case appears to be centered on a relatively minor tax dispute between Charles and Kathleen Moore, a Washington-state couple, and the US government.

Charles Moore spent most of his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, where he met one of the future founders of KisanKraft, a company that provides low-cost tools to farmers in India.

In 2006, the Moores invested about $40,000 in KisanKraft. The investment gave them an 11% stake in the company, which made profits but did not pay dividends, the Moores said.

In 2017, the Trump administration passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, a law that contained a one-off levy on US corporations’ foreign earnings – the Mandatory Repatriation Tax (MRT). It was estimated that MRT would raise $340bn in tax revenue. To the Moores’ chagrin, it also created an unexpected $15,000 tax liability in connection to their KisanKraft holding.

The tax was unfair and unconstitutional – they argue – because they never realized any gains from the investment. In a video interview of the couple created by the rightwing Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – which took on a key role in the legal matter – the couple explain their decision to take legal action.

The only “return” the couple had made, Kathleen noted, was knowing that the company was helping and reaching people “all over India”. “We are doing this because we strongly believe in the rule of law in this country,” said Charles.

The couple enlisted the help of the CEI and one of the most powerful and well-connected law firms in Washington, BakerHostetler, whose clients have included Boeing, ExxonMobil and Major League Baseball, and sued the US government. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Manhunt underway for convicted murderer who escaped Pa. prison, officials say, Ben Brasch, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). A Pennsylvania manhunt involving police dogs, drones and helicopters is underway in a county 30 miles west of Philadelphia for a convicted murderer authorities say escaped from a nearby prison.

Danelo Cavalcante, 34, broke out of the Chester County Prison about 8:50 a.m. Thursday, roughly a week after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for killing his 33-year-old ex-girlfriend, said Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan at a news conference Thursday.

“If you see him, do not approach him,” Ryan said. “He is considered extremely dangerous.”

Cavalcante was found guilty of stabbing Deborah Brandao about 38 times in front of her two children, ages 4 and 7, in August 2021, according to a statement from Ryan’s office announcing the sentencing. Cavalcante fled the scene before police arrived, according to authorities, but was arrested after being tracked to Virginia.

  • Washington Post, ATF proposes rules aimed to close the ‘gun show loophole,’ Perry Stein, Sept. 1, 2023..

  Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 University of North Carolina Professor Zijie Yan, left, is shown with his accused murderer, Tailei Qi, a grad student advisee of the professor.

 

Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, As Ukraine’s Fight Grinds On, Talk of Negotiations Becomes Nearly Taboo, Steven Erlanger, Sept. 1, 2023. Discussion of a Plan B, should Ukraine fail to win a total victory, has become more fraught than ever, say those who have tried.

Stian Jenssen, the chief of staff to the secretary general of NATO, recently had his knuckles rapped when he commented on possible options for an end to the war in Ukraine that did not envision a complete Russian defeat.

“I’m not saying it has to be like this, but I think that a solution could be for Ukraine to give up territory and get NATO membership in return,” he said during a panel discussion in Norway, according to the country’s VG newspaper. He also said that “it must be up to Ukraine to decide when and on what terms they want to negotiate,” which is NATO’s standard line.

But the damage was done. The remarks provoked an angry condemnation from the Ukrainians; a clarification from his boss, Jens Stoltenberg; and ultimately an apology from Mr. Jenssen.

The contretemps, say some analysts who have been similarly chastised, reflects a closing down of public discussion on options for Ukraine just at a moment when imaginative diplomacy is most needed, they say.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian officials said drones targeted six regions in a barrage on Russian soil, Staff Reports, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Exploding drones attacked six regions of Russia overnight Wednesday and damaged four military cargo planes at an airfield hundreds of miles from Ukraine, Russian officials said, suggesting that, after months of enduring missile and drone strikes with little recourse, Ukraine is increasingly able to hit back deep inside Russia.

In what appeared to be the most successful of the strikes, four Russian Il-76 military cargo planes were damaged while parked near a runway at an airfield in Pskov, 30 miles from the border with Estonia, a NATO member. The Russian regional governor posted video footage of smoke billowing from an airfield where he said drones had damaged the planes, although the extent was unclear.

Russia also launched a wave of attacks on Ukraine early Wednesday that targeted at least three regions. Ukraine’s Air Force said it had shot down 43 of 44 missiles and drones, although officials in Kyiv, the capital, said that falling debris from drones or missiles shot down by air defense systems killed at least two people.

Russian officials said Ukrainian drones targeted six regions in one of the biggest barrages on Russian soil since the war began. In Ukraine, at least two people were killed after strikes on Kyiv.

Here’s what we’re covering:

  • Drones were fired at six Russian regions, damaging military planes at an airport.
  • As Ukraine’s counteroffensive pushes south, Tokmak is a strategic target.
  • The war will leave poorer countries struggling for food this year, a U.S. intelligence report says.
  • Attacks in Russia appear to show the range of Ukraine’s drones, and bolster frontline morale.
  • Both Russia and Ukraine have struggled to fend off drone attacks.
  • Ukraine’s drone strikes against Russia are a message for its own people, U.S. officials say.
  • The Pentagon announces $250 million more in military hardware and ammunition for Ukraine.

 

vladimir putin 9 21 2022 pool gavriil grigorov

washington post logoWashington Post, Putin struggles with falling ruble, rising prices as sanctions bite, Catherine Belton, Jeff Stein and Robyn Dixon, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Rising prices caused by a drop in the value of the ruble are bringing Russia’s war — and the impact of sanctions — home to many Russians for the first time.

Russian FlagWhen Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed top economic officials last week after a bruising month in which the Russian ruble plummeted to a 16-month low against the U.S. dollar, the Russian president sought to set a confident tone. The Russian economy, he said, was growing again and wages were rising.

But despite the show of bravado, Putin could not avoid mentioning a growing weakness that is stalking the economy as Western sanctions bite ever deeper, and one that has been exacerbated by the ruble’s plunge.

“Objective data shows that inflationary risks are increasing, and the task of reining in price growth is now the number one priority,” Putin said, with a note of tension in his voice. “I ask my colleagues in the government and the Central Bank to keep the situation under constant control.”

ukraine flagRapidly rising prices caused by a 20 percent drop in the value of the ruble between early June and mid-August and the government’s pouring of funds into Russia’s defense industry are bringing Russia’s war — and the impact of sanctions — home to many Russians for the first time, economists say.

“The Russian people have been isolating themselves from these political developments, but the inflation rate is something they can’t isolate themselves from because they have to pay,” said Janis Kluge, an economist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. “It is a way in which politics really interferes in their lives, and this is the part which is worrying for the Russian leadership. Because no propaganda will make this go away.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian and Turkish officials are discussing Moscow’s pitch to replace the grain deal it abandoned, Jesus Jiménez, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Russia, which has targeted Ukraine’s grain facilities, is pitching an alternative to the deal that appears aimed at helping its own exports.

About six weeks ago, Russia abandoned a deal that mitigated a global food crisis by enabling Ukrainian grain exports to get past Moscow’s warships in the Black Sea. Since then, Russian forces have repeatedly struck the port of Odesa, as well as other facilities connected to Ukraine’s grain industry, and warned civilian shippers that they could be considered to be aiding Ukraine in the war.

Moscow is now pitching a plan that it casts as an alternative to the deal, one that appears aimed at helping its own exports. The foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey are set to discuss the proposal on Thursday in Moscow.

Turkey, along with the United Nations brokered the deal, known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative, in July 2022. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been trying to balance relations with Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, of which it is a member, has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but has maintained ties to Moscow and did not join NATO allies in imposing sanctions on Russia.
Here’s what we’re covering:

  Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More Global News

washington post logoWashington Post, China infuriates India with new map, upsetting chances of thaw in relations, Gerry Shih, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). India has responded angrily to a new map published by the Chinese government showing Beijing’s claims to contested territory, as the dispute threatens another flare-up in relations between the two Asian giants at a key diplomatic juncture.

China FlagWhile the map did not illustrate any new Chinese territorial claims, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said Tuesday that India has lodged an official diplomatic protest. China’s so-called “standard map” is released annually by the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources and usually shows Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s far northeast, as part of China. Arunachal, governed by India but long claimed by China as “southern Tibet,” was the site of fighting during a 1962 war between the two nations.

Two other Asian governments, Malaysia and Taiwan, joined in Wednesday to criticize China’s claims over nearly the entire South China Sea and over self-ruled Taiwan. The Philippines said Thursday it also “rejected” the map’s depiction of Chinese maritime claims.

Speculation has mounted in recent weeks that Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may seek a settlement of a border dispute that has persisted since 2020 and led to military clashes and a costly buildup by both sides. The two leaders met last week in South Africa at a summit of the BRICS bloc of major emerging economies — including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — and pledged to intensify efforts to settle the dispute, which is being negotiated by high-ranking officers from the Indian and Chinese armies.

But the new edition of China’s map, which had “no basis,” would complicate those negotiations, Bagchi warned. At a Wednesday briefing with reporters, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin responded by saying the maps were released on a “routine” basis and asked India to “stay objective and calm.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Why Is China in So Much Trouble? Paul Krugman, Sept. 1, 2023. China Is Suffering From the Paradox of Thrift. The narrative about China has changed with stunning speed, from unstoppable juggernaut to pitiful, helpless giant. How did that happen?

My sense is that much writing about China puts too much weight on recent events and policy. Yes, Xi Jinping is an erratic leader. But China’s economic problems have been building for a long time. And while Xi’s failure to address these problems adequately no doubt reflects his personal limitations, it also reflects some deep ideological biases within China’s ruling party.

Let’s start with the long-run perspective.

ny times logoNew York Times, Vladimir Putin will meet Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, the Kremlin said, as grain deal talks appear stalled, Valeriya Safronova and Matt Surman, Sept. 1, 2023. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are set to meet in Russia next week, the Kremlin said on Friday, as international efforts to revive a deal that allowed Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea appear to be stalled.

The announcement by Dmitri S. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, had been long anticipated and came a day after talks between the countries’ top diplomats in Moscow ended with no apparent progress in restoring the grain deal.

Russia dropped out of the agreement, which was mediated by Turkey and the United Nations, about six weeks ago, complaining that it was being carried out unfairly, and has since repeatedly bombarded Ukrainian grain facilities and threatened civilian ships heading to Ukrainian ports.

ny times logoNew York Times, Grim Struggle Begins to Identify Victims in South African Fire, Isabella Kwai, Sept. 1, 2023. Families on Friday were trying to identify relatives caught in the blaze, which consumed a sprawling settlement and killed at least 74 people,Families of the victims of a fire in downtown Johannesburg were still searching for relatives at mortuaries and hospitals on Friday to see if they had lived or died, a day after the blaze tore through an overcrowded building in one of the deadliest residential fires in South African history.

south africa flag after 1994The fire, which broke out in the early hours of Thursday, consumed a five-story building that was an illegal home for hundreds of families and which has become a grisly symbol of official failure to address a dire housing crisis in Johannesburg.

At least 74 people died in the fire, a dozen of them children, with some victims jumping to their deaths from the building and others trapped inside.

Preliminary evidence suggested that the fire started on the ground floor of the building, a local official said, and a security gate may have trapped many residents as they tried to flee. Some of the earliest flames, according to imagery of the fire, were spotted in the building’s courtyard but the exact origin of the blaze was unknown.

washington post logoWashington Post, WorldView Analysis: Amid a wave of West African coups, France faces a reckoning, Ishaan Tharoor, Sept. 1, 2023. In West Africa, the dominoes keep falling.

Barely more than a month has passed since the presidential guard in Niger toppled the country’s democratically elected government, triggering a tense standoff between a usurping junta and the international community. Then, this week, the top brass in Gabon unseated the country’s long-ruling President Ali Bongo in the wake of a controversial election. The ouster of the Gabonese president, who is currently believed to be under house arrest, marked the seventh coup in the region in the space of three years — including putsches in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The wave of military coups has led to widespread hand-wringing that a form of political “contagion” risks destabilizing a whole swath of the African continent.

“My fear has been confirmed in Gabon that copycats will start doing the same thing until it is stopped,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who chairs ECOWAS, West Africa’s main regional body, said Thursday.

There are many contextual differences between the various putsches, but they share an apparent and inescapable common denominator: the prevalence of anti-French sentiment driving a rejection of the political status quo. In much of West Africa — and in all the countries in the region that experienced these recent anti-democratic takeovers — France is the old colonial power. The juntas that have swept aside the previous regimes have weaponized resentment of Paris’s deep and complicated imperial legacy, much to the opportunistic glee of Russia, which has offered both rhetorical and, in some instances, substantive support to the coup-plotting regimes.

That was the case in Burkina Faso and Mali, where French peacekeepers were compelled to withdraw after the juntas made it clear their presence was unwanted. And in Niger, long the centerpiece of France’s counterterrorism efforts in the restive Sahel, anti-French rhetoric abounds. On Thursday, the country’s junta ordered police to expel the French ambassador — a move officials in Paris, which only recognizes the authority of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, said they did not consider legitimate.

washington post logoWashington Post, Egypt aspired to be a natural gas powerhouse. Now the lights are out, Claire Parker and Heba Farouk Mahfouz, Sept. 1, 2023. Analysts say Egypt was overzealous in its drive to produce and export natural gas, contributing to rolling blackouts across Cairo this summer.

When Russia invaded Ukraine last year, and European demand for natural gas skyrocketed, Egypt saw an opportunity. Riding high on the discovery of a massive offshore field in 2015, and desperate for foreign cash, the government ramped up gas shipments across the Mediterranean.

A year later, during a sweltering summer, gas shortages have left Egypt struggling to keep the lights on. Exports have ground to a halt. For the first time in nearly a decade, Cairo is experiencing rolling blackouts, fueling public discontent as President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi prepares to run for a third term.

For an hour each day, air conditioners and fans whir to a stop. Elevators stop running. Internet cuts out. Neighborhoods without power at night are illuminated only by the headlights of passing cars.

In rural areas outside the capital, the outages are more frequent and last longer.

washington post logoWashington Post, Gabon army claims overthrow of 56-year-old political dynasty after election, Eve Sampson, Victoria Bisset and Rachel Chason, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Gabon army officers announce seizure of power after presidential vote.

Military officers in Gabon said they were seizing power Wednesday, just minutes after President Ali Bongo was declared the winner of a controversial election marred by violence and allegations of vote rigging.

The officers who appeared on state television Wednesday announced the closure of borders and dissolved state institutions including the Senate, National Assembly and Constitutional Court. They said in a later statement that Bongo was under house arrest.

Bongo, who was seeking a third term in office, came to power following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, in 2009, after more than four decades in power. Both men were key allies of the oil-rich country’s former colonial power, France, and the family is believed to have amassed significant wealth — which is the subject of a judicial investigation in France.

Gabon is generally considered more stable than other countries that have experienced unrest in recent years, but it now appears set to join a growing list of junta-led states — including Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Sudan — that create a geographical belt of turmoil across sub-Saharan Africa.

Rebel soldiers in Niger deposed the country’s Western-allied president, Mohamed Bazoum, on July 26 amid political upheaval, a rise in Islamist extremism and growing Russian influence across the region.

Britain, France, Germany and the European Union announced the end of aid to Niger after the ouster, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States could follow suit. So far, President Biden has not labeled the situation a coup.

A key regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said in August that it was prepared for military intervention and had decided on a “D-Day” for intervention — though it did not give a date and said diplomacy was still possible.

Why a bloc of West African countries is threatening to invade Niger

Coup supporters in Niger’s capital, Niamey, as well as in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali, have been spotted waving Russian flags, and experts say uncertainty around the coup leaders’ motivation may hamper Western attempts to restore Bazoum through diplomacy.

The coup has also thrust the fate of Niger’s uranium to center stage as experts say European countries may have to grapple with the effects on the nuclear industry — especially in France, which evacuated European nationals from the country but has resisted an ultimatum from the coup leaders for its ambassador to leave.

ny times logoNew York Times, Pope Says a Strong U.S. Faction Offers a Backward View of the Church, Jason Horowitz and Ruth Graham, Aug. 30, 2023. Pope Francis said some conservative American Catholics wrongly ignore much of the Church’s mission and reject the possibility of change.

Pope Francis has expressed in unusually sharp terms his dismay at “a very strong, organized, reactionary attitude” opposing him within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church, one that fixates on social issues like abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of caring for the poor and the environment.

The pope lamented the “backwardness” of some American conservatives who he said insist on a narrow, outdated and unchanging vision. They refuse, he said, to accept the full breadth of the Church’s mission and the need for changes in doctrine over time.

“I would like to remind these people that backwardness is useless,” Francis, 86, told a group of fellow Jesuits early this month in a meeting at World Youth Day celebrations in Lisbon. “Doing this, you lose the true tradition and you turn to ideologies to have support. In other words, ideologies replace faith.”

His words became public this week, when a transcript of the conversation was published by the Vatican-vetted Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica.

His comments were an unusually explicit statement of the pope’s longstanding lament that the ideological bent of some leading American Catholics has turned them into culture warriors rather than pastors, offering the faithful a warped view of Church doctrine rather than a healthy, well-rounded faith. It has become a major theme of his papacy that he sees himself as bringing the church forward while his misguided conservative critics try to hold it back.

In 2018, in a major document called an apostolic exhortation on the subject of holiness, Francis explicitly wrote that caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion. “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate,” he wrote. “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned.”

He has urged priests to welcome and minister to people who are gay, divorced and remarried, and he has called on the whole world to tackle climate change, calling it a moral issue. Francis is set to travel on Thursday to Mongolia for a trip that will highlight interreligious dialogue and the protection of the environment — issues far from the top of the priority list for many American conservatives.

For nearly a decade, Francis’ conservative critics have accused him of leading the church astray and of diluting the faith with a fuzzy pastoral emphasis that blurred — or at times erased — the Church’s traditions and central tenets. Some U.S. bishops have issued public warnings about the Vatican’s direction, with varying degrees of alarm, and clashed with the pope over everything from liturgy and worship styles, to the centrality of abortion opposition in the Catholic faith, to American politics.

ap logoAssociated Press via Politico, Viktor Orbán tells Tucker Carlson: Trump’s the man to save the West, Laura Hulsemann, Aug. 30, 2023. Ukraine has no chance of winning the war against Russia — and Donald Trump is the West’s only hope, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told controversial American TV host Tucker Carlson.

In an interview Tuesday, Orbán said that Kyiv’s victory against Moscow “is not just a misunderstanding. It is a lie. It’s impossible … [Ukrainians] will run out earlier … of soldiers than the Russians. What finally will count is boots on the ground and the Russians are far stronger.”

Only the U.S. can end the war, the Hungarian leader added.

politico Custom“We missed the historic opportunity” to admit Ukraine to NATO, Orbán told Carlson in the interview, saying that Russia is getting “stronger and stronger.” Ukraine’s admission to NATO “is not a realistic proposal at this moment, so forget about it,” he added.

He also does not believe that Russians will get sick of President Vladimir Putin, and he sees little chance for Crimea to be returned to Ukraine.

Asked what he would do if he were U.S. President Joe Biden, Orbán said: “Call back Trump! Because you know, you can criticize him for many reasons … but … the best foreign policy of the recent several decades belongs to him. He did not initiate any new war, he treated nicely the North Koreans, and Russia and even the Chinese … and if he would have been the president at the moment of the Russian invasion [of Ukraine], it would be not possible to do that by the Russians.”

“Trump is the man who can save the Western world” and all of humanity, he said.

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: Classified Australian report on climate change rings alarm bells, Wayne Madsen, Aug. 30-31, 2023. wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallAustralian intelligence may have written a Doomsday report on climate change.

The Australian government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is withholding release of a classified report on climate change that is so secret even the date of the report is not being revealed. The report on the national security implications to Australia of global climate change was prepared by the Office of National Intelligence (ONI). It was completed sometime last year.

wayne madesen report logoThe only thing Albanese has said about the report is that it was completed within the last 12 months. He stressed that “the specific timing of the assessment board is classified.” Perhaps an inkling of what the report contains is found in an 80-page government statement on national security and the climate that was submitted to Parliament in December of last year. That submission was quite clear on the risks to Australia of climate change, stating that the spike in global temperature will “increasingly exacerbate risks [as] geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond.”

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Leaders from Brazil, China, South Africa, India and Russia convene at the BRICS Summit in South Africa on Aug. 23 2023 (Pool photo).Leaders from Brazil, China, South Africa, India and Russia (left to right) convene at the BRICS Summit in South Africa on Aug. 23 2023 (Pool photo).

 

More On Climate, Hawaiian Disaster, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Scorching Heat Is Contributing to Migrant Deaths, Edgar Sandoval, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Amid a heat wave, some migrants are succumbing to heat exhaustion. More than 500 people have died of various causes this year trying to cross from Mexico.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: America Is Using Up Its Groundwater Like There’s No Tomorrow, Mira Rojanasakul, Christopher Flavelle, Blacki Migliozzi and Eli Murray, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The first article in a series on the causes and consequences of disappearing water,

Unchecked overuse is draining and damaging aquifers, a Times data investigation found, threatening millions of people and the nation’s status as a food superpower.

Global warming has focused concern on land and sky as soaring temperatures intensify hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. But another climate crisis is unfolding, underfoot and out of view.

Many of the aquifers that supply 90 percent of the nation’s water systems, and which have transformed vast stretches of America into some of the world’s most bountiful farmland, are being severely depleted. These declines are threatening irreversible harm to the American economy and society as a whole.

The New York Times conducted a months-long examination of groundwater depletion, interviewing more than 100 experts, traveling the country and creating a comprehensive database using millions of readings from monitoring sites. The investigation reveals how America’s life-giving resource is being exhausted in much of the country, and in many cases it won’t come back. Huge industrial farms and sprawling cities are draining aquifers that could take centuries or millenniums to replenish themselves if they recover at all.

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are five takeaways from our investigation into America’s groundwater crisis, Christopher Flavelle and Mira Rojanasakul, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Aquifer are shrinking nationwide, threatening supplies of drinking water and America’s status as a food superpower. Climate change is amplifying the problem.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The threat to groundwater is a classic tragedy of the commons, David Leonhardt, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The water that lies beneath the earth’s surface — known as groundwater — has been a vital resource for thousands of years. Communities that are far away from lakes and rivers use groundwater to irrigate crops and provide drinking water.

For most of human history, groundwater has existed in a convenient equilibrium. The pockets of water under the surface need years or decades to replenish as rainwater and other moisture seep into the earth. Fortunately, though, people have used groundwater slowly, allowing replenishment to happen.

Now that equilibrium is at risk.

Several of my colleagues — led by Mira Rojanasakul and Christopher Flavelle — have spent months compiling data on groundwater levels across the U.S., based on more than 80,000 monitoring stations. Chris and Mira did so after discovering that no comprehensive database existed. The statistics tended to be local and fragmented, making it difficult to understand national patterns.

The trends in this new database are alarming. Over the past 40 years, groundwater levels at most of the sites have declined. At 11 percent of the sites, levels last year fell to their lowest level on record. The U.S., in other words, is taking water out of the ground more quickly than nature is replenishing it.

“There’s almost no way to convey how important it is,” Don Cline, the associate director for water resources at the United States Geological Survey, told The Times.

Already, there are consequences. In parts of Kansas, the shortage of water has reduced the amount of corn that an average acre can produce.

In Norfolk, Va., officials have resorted to pumping treated wastewater into underground rock layers that store groundwater — known as aquifers — to replenish them. On Long Island, the depletion of aquifers has allowed saltwater to seep in and threatened the groundwater that remains.

“We’ve built whole parts of the country and whole parts of the economy on groundwater, which is fine so long as you have groundwater,” Chris told me. “I don’t think people realize quite how quickly we’re burning through it.”

Aquifer water levels are falling nationwide. The danger is worse and more widespread than many people realize.

ny times logoNew York Times, Storm Brings Heavy Flooding to the Carolinas, Staff Reports, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Idalia moved just offshore into the Atlantic after leaving a trail of destruction across four Southeastern states. More than 300,000 customers in the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia were without power.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden pledges $95 million for Hawaii’s electrical grid after Maui wildfires, Amy B Wang, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration announced Wednesday it will spend $95 million to help strengthen Hawaii’s electrical grid in the wake of deadly wildfires that swept through parts of Maui earlier this month. The fast-moving fires were the deadliest in modern U.S. history, killing more than 100 people on the island, forcing thousands to evacuate and destroying the historic town of Lahaina.

President Biden plans to deliver remarks Wednesday afternoon on the government’s long-term recovery and rebuilding efforts on the island, as well as the administration’s ongoing response to Hurricane Idalia, a major storm that made landfall in Florida on Wednesday morning. Biden traveled to Maui earlier this month to survey the devastation caused by wildfires and has vowed that “every asset we have will be available” to the victims.

Republicans, however, have been highly critical of the administration’s response to the wildfires in Hawaii and took aim at Biden for not answering questions about the episode while he was on vacation earlier this month. The GOP-led House Oversight Committee this week announced an investigation into the government’s response to the disaster.

The $95 million for Hawaii’s electrical grid will be provided through the bipartisan infrastructure law, the $1.2 trillion package that Biden signed into law in 2021. According to the White House, the funds will help strengthen critical power transmission lines, including two on Maui; harden utility poles that support critical facilities like hospitals; replace wooden utility poles with a fire-resistant material; remove trees considered hazardous; and relocate the Maui control center.

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Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

Destruction along Front Street in Lahaina, Hawaii. As people tried to flee to safer areas, the belongings, homes and businesses they left behind were reduced to ashes. The charred remains of a car sits on a street next to a building that was destroyed by fire. Mountains are in the distance (New York Times photo by Philip Cheung).

 

2024 Presidential Race

ny times logoNew York Times, DeSantis Super PAC’s Urgent Plea to Donors: ‘We Need 50 Million Bucks,’ Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, Sept. 1, 2023. Hours before the Republican Party’s first presidential debate, the chief strategist for the super PAC that has effectively taken over Ron DeSantis’s presidential campaign met with donors in Milwaukee.

“Now let me tell you a secret — don’t leak this,” the strategist, Jeff Roe, told the donors last Wednesday, according to a recording of the meeting reviewed by The New York Times. “We need to do this now. We’re making a move now.”

The audio revealed that the people running the DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, are placing big bets now in the hope that donors will cover them later. And it underscored just how steep a task the group confronts as it heads into the fall with its candidate far behind Mr. Trump in the polls, a campaign that is low on cash and a growing recognition that a Trump victory in Iowa could accelerate the end of the Republican race.

In his meeting with the donors — a portion of which was reported on earlier Thursday by CNN — Mr. Roe made a cutting assessment of much of the Republican field competing against Mr. DeSantis, the Florida governor.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mr. Roe said, was deemed nice by voters but not seen as presidential. Nikki Haley, he added, was “not actually a lovely person” and also viewed as unpresidential. He mocked former Vice President Mike Pence, recalling the fly that landed on his head during his only debate with his ultimate successor, Kamala Harris, in 2020. And Mr. Roe said that Mr. Trump, the front-runner for the nomination by a wide margin, was certain to lose the general election and drag down other Republicans on the ballot.

While Mr. Roe predicted multiple paths to victory ahead of Super Tuesday in early March, it was his plaintive warnings about when the race would be “moving” that made clear he sees Mr. DeSantis’s chances as resting on winning Iowa.

washington post logoWashington Post, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez drops out of Republican presidential race, Mariana Alfaro, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Suarez, the only high-profile Hispanic candidate in the field, is the first aspirant to drop out of the crowded GOP primary field.

francis suarez oMiami Mayor Francis Suarez, right, is ending his long-shot 2024 presidential campaign less than three months after he launched it.

“While I have decided to suspend my campaign for President, my commitment to making this a better nation for every American remains,” Suarez said in a post shared on X, formerly known as Twitter.
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Suarez, the only Hispanic candidate in the GOP nominating contest, launched his campaign in mid-June, later than most of his now-former rivals. Last week, he failed to qualify for the first Republican debate after falling short of the necessary polling requirements.

In a lengthy post on X, Suarez said it was “a privilege to come so close to appearing on stage with the other candidates at last week’s first debate.”

“I had looked forward to sharing the story of Miami, America’s most successful city, especially at a time when so many cities are plagued with poverty, unemployment, high taxes, violent crime, and homelessness,” he said. “I know what we have achieved during my tenure leading the City of Miami can be replicated in every community in our great country.”

washington post logoWashington Post, No Labels preps playbook to select presidential candidates, broaden support, Michael Scherer, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The group that’s preparing a potential third-party bid is seeking ways to grow grass roots before deciding whether to field candidates next year.

The organizers of No Labels, the bipartisan group preparing a potential third-party presidential ticket, have been conducting focus groups with like-minded voters to help draft a candidate selection plan next year without a traditional state-run primary system.

The group is also considering staging televised town halls or debates in the coming months, possibly with a media partner, to help kick-start the process of selecting presidential and vice-presidential nominees. No Labels plans to nominate candidates at an April convention in Dallas only if the group’s leaders first determine that there is a viable path to victory against the Democratic and Republican nominees.

The logistical challenges the group faces are unusual as it seeks to stand up a one-time ballot line in 50 states without a traditional queue of jockeying candidates or an established political party structure. Organizers say they want to convince more than a third of the country to feel ownership of their effort but are wary of making the process so open that partisans on the left or right can hijack the ballot line for candidates who reject their founding mission of elevating bipartisan compromise.

“The whole idea of this is that this has to be a demand-driven phenomenon. We want a ticket like this to be selected because there is an overwhelming desire for something different,” No Labels senior adviser Ryan Clancy said, while making clear that the group wants to keep its options open.

“The endgame of this effort isn’t necessarily a ticket. The endgame is a voice for the common-sense majority,” he said.

The public announcement of a nominating process, which is expected this fall, is aimed at pushing back on some criticism — largely from Democrats, who have attacked the structure of the group, which shields the identities of its donors. Matt Bennett, a No Labels critic at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, has warned that No Labels candidates will be selected “by a cabal of insiders and secret donors.”

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Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

Fox News debate moderators Brent Baier and Martha MacCallum are shown above.

 

More On U.S. Politics, Governance, Elections

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Kevin McCarthy Tries to Leverage Biden Impeachment to Avoid a Shutdown, Carl Hulse and Luke Broadwater, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed). But some conservatives are dismissive, saying the House could continue investigating the president and his family even if funding for the government lapses at the end of September.

kevin mccarthyFacing the prospect of a politically damaging government shutdown within weeks, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, right, is offering a new argument to conservatives reluctant to vote to keep funding flowing: A shutdown would make it more difficult for Republicans to pursue an impeachment inquiry against President Biden, or to push forward with investigations of him and his family that could yield evidence for one.

Mr. McCarthy first made the case on Sunday during an interview on Fox News in which he warned that a shutdown would stall the House’s ongoing inquiries into the president and his family. His argument reflected the speaker’s growing desperation to find a way to persuade right-wing Republicans to drop their opposition to a stopgap measure that is needed to keep federal money flowing beyond the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.

By tying the issue to the prospect of impeaching Mr. Biden, Mr. McCarthy appears to be hoping that the conservative desire to investigate and possibly charge him with high crimes and misdemeanors — particularly amid the multiple criminal cases against former President Donald J. Trump — might outweigh their resistance to voting in favor of federal spending.

“If we shut down, all the government shuts it down — investigation and everything else,” Mr. McCarthy said about the prospect of funding running out Sept. 30. “It hurts the American public.”

 

mitch mcconnel grim faced

washington post logoWashington Post, McConnell tries to tamp down health concerns after second incident, Paul Kane, Amy B Wang and Carolyn Y. Johnson, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Senate minority leader, shown above in a file photo, is “medically clear” to work, attending physician to Congress says.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to tamp down concerns about his health on Thursday, a day after freezing while speaking in public for the second time in five weeks and again sparking questions about his physical condition and age.

Publicly, Republican senators remained supportive of McConnell and none has questioned whether the 81-year-old Senate stalwart should set a timeline for resigning his leadership post. But the public nature of Wednesday’s incident proved jarring again for senators, raising concerns about how their GOP leader was faring and prompting calls among some Republicans outside the Senate for McConnell to step down.

kentucky map

If Republicans grow dissatisfied with McConnell’s continued practice of keeping matters of his health private, they could request a special meeting of the Senate GOP conference to discuss it, needing just a handful of signatures to prompt such a conversation. So far no Republican has made that request, and privately senior aides think senators will want to see McConnell — and each other — in person next week before deciding whether such action is necessary.

Politico, GOP senators weigh ‘special’ meeting on their leadership after McConnell’s freeze, Burgess Everett, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). It takes just five Republicans to force such a sitdown, the most direct way to specifically discuss their future amid revived questions about the leader’s health.

politico CustomA handful of GOP senators is weighing whether to force a fraught internal debate about their leadership’s future after Mitch McConnell’s second public freeze-up in a month.

Some rank-and-file Republicans have discussed the possibility of a broader conversation once senators return to Washington next week, according to a person directly involved in the conversations who confirmed them on condition of anonymity. Party leadership is not currently involved in those discussions, and nothing has been decided yet, this person added.

It takes just five Republican senators to force a special conference meeting, which is the most direct way to have a specific discussion about the minority leader after his public pause on Wednesday revived questions about his condition. But the Senate GOP also holds private lunches two or three times a week, giving members another forum for hashing out the direction of the party’s leadership — one that could forestall the need for a special confab.

washington post logoWashington Post, Interviews and records shed light on George Santos’s long-obscured life in Brazil, Terrence McCoy and Marina Dias, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). In the United States, as an openly gay member of a party now targeting the type of show he once performed, Santos has backed hard-line policies that many in the LGBTQ community find discriminatory. He has supported a Florida law that bars educators from discussing sexual orientation in early elementary education. He has co-sponsored a bill that separates the sexes based on “immutable biological differences.” He has criticized same-sex parents, calling them the “flavor of the decade.”

But in his mother’s native Niterói, Santos actively participated in the budding gay rights movement, according to photos and people who knew him, and performed in drag more often than he has acknowledged. He attended the city’s first Pride parades, handed out pamphlets at events, befriended some of the city’s leading activists, and climbed nightclub stages to dance and lip sync in his drag persona, Kitara Ravache, promising to one day compete himself in Miss Brasil Gay.

Santos declined to be interviewed for this report. In a response to written questions, he issued a blanket denial. “None of what you are asking is true and I would advise that you have your facts straight and proof of what you write,” he said. He added, “My political opinion has always been consistent.”

Santos, who previously denied performing in drag in Brazil, told The Washington Post that he did so only on that 2007 day, when he was 19, at the behest of family friend Manoel Antiqueira, one of the city’s most renowned drag queens. (Antiqueira disputed Santos’s account.)

Santos has rarely discussed his life in Brazil, where he spent significant time during his formative early-adult years. But a close examination of that past, including a review of court records and interviews with 25 Brazilian family members, former friends and acquaintances, helps bring into focus what amounts to the unpublished first chapter of the George Santos story.

Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico, identified by a Washington Post analysis, appear in an April 30, 2020 photo taken at the Michigan Capitol. (Seth Herald/Reuters)

Joseph Morrison, Paul Bellar and Pete Musico, identified by a Washington Post analysis, appear in an April 30 photo taken at the Michigan Capitol. (Seth Herald/Reuters) 

ny times logoNew York Times, How Trump’s Election Lies Left the Michigan G.O.P. Broken and Battered, Nick Corasaniti, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Infighting between former President Trump acolytes and traditionalists has driven away donors and voters in Michigan. Can the party rebuild?

The Michigan Republican Party is starving for cash. A group of prominent activists — including a former statewide candidate — was hit this month with felony charges connected to a bizarre plot to hijack election machines. And in the face of these troubles, suspicion and infighting have been running high. A recent state committee meeting led to a fistfight, a spinal injury and a pair of shattered dentures.

republican elephant logoThis turmoil is one measure of the way Donald J. Trump’s lies about the 2020 election have rippled through his party. While Mr. Trump has michigan mapjust begun to wrestle with the consequences of his fictions — including two indictments related to his attempt to overturn the 2020 results — the vast machine of activists, donors and volunteers that power his party has been reckoning with the fallout for years.

As the party looks toward the presidential election next year, the strains are glaring.

Mr. Trump’s election lies spread like wildfire in Michigan, breaking the state party into ardent believers and pragmatists wanting to move on. Bitter disputes, power struggles and contentious primaries followed, leaving the Michigan Republican Party a husk of itself.

The battleground has steadily grown safer for Democrats. No Republican has won a statewide election there since Mr. Trump won the state in 2016. (Republicans have won nonpartisan seats on the State Supreme Court.) G.O.P. officials in the state are growing concerned that they do not have a top-tier candidate to run for the open Senate seat.

Politico, McConnell freezes again during Kentucky press conference, office says he was ‘lightheaded,’ Kierra Frazier and Burgess Everett, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Senate minority leader froze for nearly 30 seconds during a press conference in Kentucky on Wednesday, the second time in as many months that he’s frozen in public.

politico CustomSenate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze for nearly 30 seconds during a press conference Wednesday, an episode his office attributed to him being “momentarily lightheaded.”

The Senate minority leader, speaking in Kentucky, froze while answering questions from reporters. Aides stepped in to help McConnell out and repeat questions. Before McConnell froze, he was asked about whether he planned to run for reelection in 2026.

Wednesday’s episode was McConnell’s second freeze while talking to reporters in public. In July, McConnell abruptly stopped his opening remarks at an afternoon press conference at the Capitol, causing alarm when he left for a few minutes and then returned to answer questions.

Politico, Blake Masters plans another Arizona Senate bid — this time for Sinema’s seat, Burgess Everett and Holly Otterbein, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Masters lost to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly last year — a critical blow to Republicans’ bid to take back the upper chamber.

politico CustomBlake Masters is making plans to launch another Arizona Senate bid, potentially as soon as next week, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Masters did not reply to a request for comment. Masters won the GOP nomination last year but lost to Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in a critical swing state.

Former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s advisers say she is expected to announce a Senate campaign in early fall, though some Republicans are skeptical Lake and Masters would run for the same seat. Pinal County sheriff Mark Lamb is another GOP candidate.

Barrett Marson, an Arizona-based GOP strategist, said he talked to Masters a few months ago and he “was pretty decisively in.” However, he said, Masters had been waiting for Lake to decide whether to run.

“I think he is now under the impression that maybe Kari Lake isn’t going to run, because I’ll tell you if Lake and Blake are both in, he is wasting his time,” he said. “They occupy the same lane. They have nearly the same name. And she has much better positive name ID among Republicans than Blake does.”

“If Kari Lake runs, there is no lane for Blake Masters,” he added.

This year’s Senate race could be much weirder than last year, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema potentially running as an independent — though she hasn’t yet indicated her plans — and Rep. Ruben Gallego running for the Democratic nomination.

And Republicans could face a tough primary between Masters, Lake and Lamb; GOP leaders have shown no preference among those candidates. Last year, Washington Republicans eventually soured on Masters’ candidacy as conservatives pushed for more funding in his race, a sign the party is divided on the kind of nominee that can win in Arizona. And traditional GOP candidates like former Gov. Doug Ducey have passed on the race.

washington post logoWashington Post, Tennessee lawmakers end special session without significant gun measures, Annie Gowen, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). As protesters in the gallery chanted “Vote them out,” Tennessee legislators concluded a special session on public safety Tuesday without approving significant gun-control measures, despite outcry following a deadly March shooting at a local Christian school.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee had ordered legislators back to Nashville for the special summer session after a tumultuous spring that began with the tragedy at the nearby Covenant School, where three staffers and three 9-year-olds were killed, and concluded with the high-profile expulsion of two young Black legislators who protested for gun-control proposals on the House floor. After the expulsions brought national condemnation, the two men eventually regained their seats.

But when legislators made their way back to the sun-baked Capitol — through sign-waving demonstrators, masked and armed members of the extremist Proud Boys, and dozens of Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers brought in for the occasion — little was accomplished, legislators on both sides of the aisle said.

Politico, GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin scheme to remove elections chief, Zach Montellaro, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The nonpartisan official says she has been put in an “impossible, untenable spot.” Wisconsin Republicans are moving to fire the state’s nonpartisan elections director ahead of the upcoming presidential primary in the state, casting a shadow of uncertainty over 2024 elections.

politico CustomThe state Senate is set to hold a hearing Tuesday on Meagan Wolfe, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, the first step in what is likely an attempt to remove her from her position. Democrats say Republicans want to drive Wolfe out of office as retribution for decisions the commission made in 2020.

The brawl over Wolfe illustrates how, nearly three years after then-President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election in 2020, election misinformation still has a grip on arguably the most important swing state on the map — with Trump potentially on the ticket again.

“I think that it’s largely out of a desire to find an explanation for Donald Trump’s loss other than fewer people voted for him than Joe Biden,” Ann S. Jacobs, one of the Democratic commissioners on the WEC, said of the machinations to remove Wolfe. “She is the chief elections officer, she offers a face to the conspiracy theories.”

The margin between Biden and Trump in Wisconsin in 2020 was extremely narrow, and Republicans have fixated on a handful of decisions the bipartisan, six-member WEC board of commissioners approved, including how absentee voting was handled in nursing homes during the pandemic.

Heightening the discord is state House leaders tapping former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman as a “special counsel” to review the election in the summer of 2021. Gableman embraced fringe conspiracy theories and targeted state and local election officials. He lambasted grants from a nonprofit funded by Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg that went to election offices across the state. Beyond that, he mocked Wolfe on personal terms by deriding her physical appearance.

washington post logoWashington Post, Wisconsin Supreme Court flips liberal, creating a ‘seismic shift,’ Aug. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Standing in the marble-lined rotunda of the state capitol this month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s incoming justice raised her right hand, swore to carry out her job “faithfully and impartially” and launched a new, liberal era on a powerful court long dominated by conservatives.

The fallout was immediate.

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matt schlapp cpac

 

U.S. Economy, Jobs, Budgets, Crypto Currency

ny times logoNew York Times, The Fed’s Preferred Inflation Gauge Ticked Up in July, Jeanna Smialek, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Overall inflation climbed to 3.3 percent, from 3 percent previously, underscoring the Fed’s long road back to 2 percent price increases.

federal reserve system CustomThe Federal Reserve has warned for months that wrestling rapid inflation back to a normal pace was likely to be a bumpy process, a reality underscored by fresh data on Thursday that showed a closely watched inflation gauge picking back up in July.

The Personal Consumption Expenditures index climbed 3.3 percent in the year through July, up from 3 percent in the previous reading. While that is down from a peak last summer of 7 percent, it is still well above the 2 percent growth rate that the Fed targets.

Central bankers tend to more closely monitor a measure of core inflation that strips out volatile food and fuel prices to give a clearer sense of the underlying price trend. That measure also climbed, touching 4.2 percent after 4.1 percent the previous month.

ny times logoNew York Times, The inflation rate in the Eurozone held steady at 5.3 percent, Eshe Nelson, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Consumer prices in the eurozone rose 5.3 percent in August compared with a year earlier, sticking at the same pace as the previous month and defying economists’ expectations for a slowdown, according to an initial estimate by the statistics agency of the European Union.

While inflation has slowed materially from its peak of above 10 percent in October last year, there are signs that some inflationary pressures are persistent, even as bloc’s economy weakens. Food inflation was again the largest contributor to the headline rate, rising 9.8 percent from a year earlier on average across the 20 countries that use the euro currency.

 

joe biden afghan speech aug 16 2021

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden’s course for U.S. on trade breaks with Clinton and Obama, David J. Lynch, Aug. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The labor-friendly president, shown above in a file photo, has kept Trump tariffs while embracing active industrial policy, parting from decades of trade policy.

President Biden is making it clear that the United States’ rejection of full-throttle globalization during the Trump administration was no aberration, as he continues a remarkable break with decades of trade policy that spanned both Republican and Democratic administrations.
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Blending a tough-on-China stance with lavish federal subsidies for favored industries, the president is reshaping the U.S. approach to cross-border commerce to focus on the needs of Americans as workers rather than consumers.

Left out of the president’s strategy, to the irritation of many business groups, have been traditional trade deals, which gave American companies greater access to foreign markets in return for allowing producers in those countries to sell more goods in the United States. The White House says the old approach cost many American factory workers their jobs.

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

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Elon Musk’s control over satellite internet demands a reckoning, Editorial Board, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). When Elon Musk reportedly spoke of a “great conversation” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, minutes after declaring he could see “the entire war unfolding” through a map of activity on the small satellite constellation he owns, a senior defense official had the following reaction: “Oh dear, this is not good.”

The statement, featured in a recent New Yorker article, aptly captures the situation in which the United States government finds itself. A single man exerts considerable control over the satellite internet industry that operates in “low Earth orbit” — generally about 300 miles above Earth — even as that industry is crucial to the war effort in Ukraine. Worse still, that man is the erratic Mr. Musk. There are just shy of 8,000 satellites in the skies today; more than 4,500 of those are Starlink satellites, launched by SpaceX. The company hopes to multiply this number almost tenfold in the coming years.

Starlink is far from the first constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit and far from the first to sell to militaries. But what distinguishes the network is the amount of data it can move, as well as how quickly it can increase that capacity: SpaceX can launch satellites unprecedentedly fast and at unprecedentedly low cost thanks to the reusable rockets it has pioneered. The bigger the satellite fleet, the more versatile and effective: As a satellite flies above a terminal located on the ground, it transfers the signal to a satellite behind it, and so on, forming a chain that ensures users maintain constant access to the internet.

Working together, these satellites can provide this kind of service even in remote locations. And, of course, they can provide it in locations where traditional methods of connection, for whatever reason, are unavailable — such as war zones.

ny times logoNew York Times, Artificial Intelligence Brings the Robot Wingman to Aerial Combat, Eric Lipton, Aug. 28, 2023 (print ed.). An Air Force program shows how the Pentagon is starting to embrace the potential of a rapidly emerging technology, with far-reaching implications.

It is powered into flight by a rocket engine. It can fly a distance equal to the width of China. It has a stealthy design and is capable of carrying missiles that can hit enemy targets far beyond its visual range.

But what really distinguishes the Air Force’s pilotless XQ-58A Valkyrie experimental aircraft is that it is run by artificial intelligence, putting it at the forefront of efforts by the U.S. military to harness the capacities of an emerging technology whose vast potential benefits are tempered by deep concerns about how much autonomy to grant to a lethal weapon.

Essentially a next-generation drone, the Valkyrie is a prototype for what the Air Force hopes can become a potent supplement to its fleet of traditional fighter jets, giving human pilots a swarm of highly capable robot wingmen to deploy in battle. Its mission is to marry artificial intelligence and its sensors to identify and evaluate enemy threats and then, after getting human sign-off, to move in for the kill.

On a recent day at Eglin Air Force Base on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Maj. Ross Elder, 34, a test pilot from West Virginia, was preparing for an exercise in which he would fly his F-15 fighter alongside the Valkyrie.

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More On U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

washington post logoWashington Post, Highways are the next antiabortion target. One Texas town is resisting, Caroline Kitchener, Sept. 1, 2023. A new ordinance, passed in several jurisdictions and under consideration elsewhere, aims to stop people from using local roads to drive someone out of state for an abortion.

No one could remember the last time so many people packed into City Hall.

As the meeting began on a late August evening, residents spilled out into the hallway, the brim of one cowboy hat kissing the next, each person jostling for a look at the five city council members who would decide whether to make Llano the third city in Texas to outlaw what some antiabortion activists call “abortion trafficking.”

For well over an hour, the people of Llano — a town of about 3,400 deep in Texas Hill Country — approached the podium to speak out against abortion. While the procedure was now illegal across Texas, people were still driving women on Llano roads to reach abortion clinics in other states, the residents had been told. They said their city had a responsibility to “fight the murders.”

The cheers after each speech grew louder as the crowd readied for the vote. Then one woman on the council spoke up.

“I feel like there’s a lot more to discuss about this,” said Laura Almond, a staunch conservative who owns a consignment shop in the middle of town. “I have a ton of questions.”

More than a year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, many conservatives have grown frustrated by the number of people able to circumvent antiabortion laws — with some advocates grasping for even stricter measures they hope will fully eradicate abortion nationwide.

That frustration is driving a new strategy in heavily conservative cities and counties across Texas. Designed by the architects of the state’s “heartbeat” ban that took effect months before Roe fell, ordinances like the one proposed in Llano — where some 80 percent of voters in the county backed President Donald Trump in 2020 — make it illegal to transport anyone to get an abortion on roads within the city or county limits. The laws allow any private citizen to sue a person or organization they suspect of violating the ordinance.

Antiabortion advocates behind the measure are targeting regions along interstates and in areas with airports, with the goal of blocking off the main arteries out of Texas and keeping pregnant women hemmed within the confines of their antiabortion state. These provisions have already passed in two counties and two cities, creating legal risk for those traveling on major highways including Interstate 20 and Route 84, which head toward New Mexico, where abortion remains legal and new clinics have opened to accommodate Texas women. Several more jurisdictions are expected to vote on the measure in the coming weeks.

“This really is building a wall to stop abortion trafficking,” said Mark Lee Dickson, the antiabortion activist behind the effort.

ny times logoNew York Times, Republican Women, Fearing Backlash on Abortion, Pivot to Birth Control, Annie Karni, Aug. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A group of vulnerable G.O.P. women has backed legislation that purports to expand birth control access but would have little effect. Critics say it is a distraction.

She had barely opened her town hall to questions when Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican from a competitive district in Iowa, was pressed to defend her opposition to abortion rights.

“One of the main functions of the federal government is to protect life,” Ms. Miller-Meeks, who won election in 2020 by just six votes, told a sparse crowd this month in Iowa City, a younger, more progressive part of her district where she rarely campaigns.

Ms. Miller-Meeks then quickly pivoted to politically safer terrain, telling her constituents about how she had also sponsored legislation aimed at expanding access to contraception.

“The best way to prevent abortion is to prevent pregnancy,” she said.

It is an increasingly common strategy among vulnerable House Republicans — especially those in politically competitive districts — who are trying to reconcile their party’s hard-line anti-abortion policies with the views of voters in their districts, particularly independents and women.

While many of these G.O.P. lawmakers have cast votes in the House this year to limit abortion access — maintaining a stance that some Republicans concede hurt their party in last year’s midterm elections — Ms. Miller-Meeks and others spent part of the summer congressional recess talking up their support for birth control access, which is broadly popular across the country and across party lines.

Appearing to embrace access to contraception has become an imperative for Republican candidates at all levels who are concerned that their party’s opposition to abortion rights has alienated women, particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade and the extreme abortion bans in G.O.P.-led states that have followed.

“Can’t we all agree contraception should be available,” Nikki Haley, the only Republican woman in the presidential primary, said last week at the first primary debate, seeking to blunt attacks from Democrats on the issue of reproductive health care.

Just ahead of lawmakers’ long summer break, Ms. Miller-Meeks was part of a group of House Republican women who introduced the Orally Taken Contraception Act of 2023, a bill that they pitched as a way to expand access to contraception and that she called “a significant step forward for health care.”

Abortion rights advocates argue that the legislation is essentially meaningless and merely an effort by Republican lawmakers to mislead voters about their positions on women’s health. But for the G.O.P. women who are backing it, the bill offers an elegant way to shift the conversation away from the divisive issue of abortion.

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Public Health, Pandemics, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Announces First Drugs Picked for Medicare Price NegotiationsSheryl Gay Stolberg and Rebecca Robbins, Aug. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration’s announcement was an important moment for Democrats, who have campaigned on a promise to lower the cost of prescription drugs.

joe biden twitterThe Biden administration on Tuesday announced the first 10 medicines that will be subject to price negotiations with Medicare, kicking off a landmark program that is expected to reduce the government’s drug spending but is being fought by the pharmaceutical industry in court.

HHS The medications on the list are taken by millions of older Americans and cost Medicare billions of dollars annually. The drugs were selected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services through a process that prioritized medications that account for the highest Medicare spending, have been on the market for years and do not yet face competition from rivals.

Drugs Selected for Price Negotiations

  1. Eliquis, for preventing strokes and blood clots, from Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer
  2. Jardiance, for Type 2 diabetes and heart failure, from Boehringer Ingelheim and Eli Lilly
  3. Xarelto, for preventing strokes and blood clots, from Johnson & Johnson
  4. Januvia, for Type 2 diabetes, from Merck
  5. Farxiga, for chronic kidney disease, from AstraZeneca
  6. Entresto, for heart failure, from Novartis
  7. Enbrel, for arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, from Amgen
  8. Imbruvica, for blood cancers, from AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson
  9. Stelara, for Crohn’s disease, from Johnson & Johnson
  10. Fiasp and NovoLog insulin products, for diabetes, from Novo Nordisk

The final list had some overlap with what experts had anticipated. Its release was an important moment for Democrats, who have campaigned on a promise to lower the cost of prescription drugs. President Biden will mark the occasion with remarks at the White House on Tuesday afternoon — another sign that he intends to make lowering health care costs a theme of his 2024 re-election campaign.

Medicare gained the authority to negotiate the price of some prescription medicines when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act last year, a signature legislative achievement for the president. Tuesday’s announcement is a key step toward those negotiations, which will unfold over the coming months, with the new prices taking effect in 2026. Additional drugs will be selected for price negotiations in coming years.

The negotiation program is projected to save the government an estimated $98.5 billion over a decade. It is also expected to eventually reduce insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs for many older Americans, though the magnitude of those savings remains to be seen.

Medicare already pays reduced prices for drugs on the list, reflecting rebates that are passed down by pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen that negotiate discounts with manufacturers. But before passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Medicare was explicitly barred from negotiating prices directly with manufacturers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Covid is back. A fruitless national freakout shouldn’t come with it, Ramesh Ponnuru, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). The coronavirus is spreading nationally again. It has hit my family over the past couple of weeks, although my own case was mild. I’m hoping that if there’s another flare-up of the covid-19 wars in our politics, it will be mild, too.

Here and there you can see people saying that all of us need to retrieve our masks, and others vowing that they will never submit to mandates and lockdowns. But this debate seems useful only for inflaming our social and political divisions. We’re not going to return to social distancing or shut down schools.

That’s partly because the current coronavirus numbers are still much lower than previous peaks. Yet even if the numbers rise considerably, the public is not going to accept restrictive coronavirus mitigation measures again, regardless of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or other public health authorities say.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why the new covid variant is not cause for concern — yet, Leana S. Wen, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Scientists have raised alarms in recent weeks about a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant that might evade the protection of existing immune defenses. The variant, an offshoot of omicron named BA.2.86, requires careful attention by public health experts. But just like the summer uptick in coronavirus cases, it is not yet cause for concern for most Americans.

It’s not at all surprising that new variants are constantly emerging. As we have seen throughout the pandemic, when viruses replicate, they acquire mutations.

Whether a new set of mutations has public health consequences hinges on three key questions: Does it cause more severe disease? Will immunity through prior infection and vaccination protect against it? And is it more transmissible than currently dominant variants?

ny times logoNew York Times, Not Over Yet: Late-Summer Covid Wave Brings Warning of More to Come, Julie Bosman, Aug. 28, 2023. Hospitalizations are still low but are on the rise in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A late-summer wave of coronavirus infections has touched schools, workplaces and local government, as experts warn the public to brace for even more Covid-19 spread this fall and winter.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2Hospitalizations have increased 24 percent in a two-week period ending Aug. 12, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Wastewater monitoring suggests a recent rise in Covid infections in the West and Northeast. In communities across the United States, outbreaks have occurred in recent weeks at preschools, summer camps and office buildings.

Public health officials said that the latest increase in Covid hospitalizations is still relatively small and that the vast majority of the sick are experiencing mild symptoms comparable to a cold or the flu. And most Americans, more than three months after the Biden administration allowed the 2020 declaration calling the coronavirus a public health emergency to expire, have shown little willingness to return to the days of frequent testing, mask wearing and isolation.

But for Americans who have become accustomed to feeling that the nation has moved beyond Covid, the current wave could be a rude reminder that the emerging New Normal is not a world without the virus.

washington post logoWashington Post, A deadly tick-borne epidemic is raging. Dogs are key to ending it, Lena Sun, Photos by Michael Robinson Chávez, Aug. 30, 2023. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is on the rise in parts of Mexico and the United States. Climate change and dogs could be crucial to the fight against the tick-borne scourge.

The disease, spread through the bite of an infected tick that lives primarily on dogs, is rare, but its incidence is rising. It has reemerged at epidemic levels in northern Mexico, where more than 2,000 cases, resulting in hundreds of deaths, have been reported in the past five years. Young children have been hit the hardest. In the Mexican state of Baja California, where Ejido Padre Kino is located, there were 92 cases in 2022, more than double the previous year, according to state data.

The outbreak prompted a team of Mexican and U.S. scientists to descend upon this small town more than four hours south of San Diego to pluck ticks off dogs, scour the crevices around homes for larvae, and warn residents to keep their dogs from roaming the dusty streets.

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U.S. Media, Education, Sports, High Tech

washington post logoWashington Post, Gannett halts AI-written sports recaps after readers mocked the stories, Daniel Wu, Sept. 1, 2023 (print ed.). Readers  visiting the Columbus Dispatch’s high school sports section to catch up on their teams might have encountered a new sportswriter with a prolific byline — and an odd way with words.

The writer dubbed a football game between central Ohio’s Westerville North and Westerville Central a “close encounter of the athletic kind.”

Another story about a game between the Wyoming Cowboys and Ross Rams described a scoreboard that “was in hibernation in the fourth quarter.” When Ayersville High School staged a late comeback in another game, a write-up of their win read: “The Pilots avoided the brakes and shifted into victory gear.”

The articles weren’t written by a reporter, but by Lede AI, an artificial intelligence company that uses game scores to generate automated sports recaps for newsrooms. Lede AI’s stories in the Dispatch, which generally provided the outcomes of high school games and the scoring after every period of play, were blasted on social media as having a stilted tone and using bizarre turns of phrase.

The mockery appeared to have an impact. Gannett halted the use of Lede AI to write sports stories, Axios reported Monday. Lede AI-generated articles in the Dispatch and other Gannett-owned papers were appended with a notice that they’d been updated “to correct errors in coding, programming or style.”

In a statement, Gannett called the deployment of Lede AI an “experiment” in automation to aid its journalists and add content for readers.

 

mark thompson headshot

washington post logoWashington Post, CNN hires Mark Thompson as new chief executive, replacing Chris Licht, Aug. 30, 2023. Mark Thompson, above, the former chief executive of the New York Times, has been selected as the next leader of CNN, parent company Warner Bros. Discovery announced Wednesday.

CNNHe will replace Chris Licht, below left, who was ousted in June after a short and tumultuous run as the network’s leader.

chris licht w“I couldn’t be more excited about the chance to join CNN after years of watching it and competing against it with a mixture of admiration and envy,” Thompson said in a statement. “I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and get down to work with my new colleagues to build a successful future for CNN.”

Thompson, who begins in the role on Oct. 9, comes to CNN after a lengthy career in media. He spent eight years as chief executive of the New York Times Company, where he oversaw significant growth in digital subscription revenue, helping to offset losses in print circulation and advertising. He stepped down from that role in 2020, after he said that he “achieved everything I set out to do.”

Thompson had come to the Times after spending nearly his entire career at the BBC, where he served as director general.

In addition to overseeing CNN’s strategy, operations and business units, he will serve as the network’s editor in chief, the company announced on Wednesday.

“There isn’t a more experienced, respected or capable executive in the news business today than Mark, and we are thrilled to have him join our team and lead CNN Worldwide into the future,” Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav said.

Zaslav called Thompson “a true innovator who has transformed for the digital age two of the world’s most respected news organizations” and said that “his strategic vision, track record in transformational leadership and sheer passion for news make him a formidable force for CNN and journalism at this pivotal time.”

Readers of new Winsted Citizen newspaper in Connecticut (Associated Press photo by Jessica Hill).

Readers of new Winsted Citizen newspaper in Connecticut (Associated Press photo by Jessica Hill).

Next Avenue:Extra! Extra! Man Starts Newspaper, Alix Boyle, Aug. 29, 2023. Meeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media: A retired editor, with the help of a famous neighbor, aims to fill the void of local news in his hometown.

andy thibault new mug SmallLike many people turning 70, veteran journalist Andy Thibault, right, was still working, but on his own terms, teaching college journalism classes at the University of New Haven and freelancing. Then came a call from a colleague who knew someone interested in the newspaper business.

Consumer activist and four-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader was looking for someone to start a local newspaper in his hometown, Winsted, Connecticut. Did Andy know of anyone who might be interested?

“I liked that it was a ludicrous if not impossible challenge.”

Thibault said he did know of one guy who would be interested in starting a newspaper when so many publications were writing their own obituaries. That guy was Thibault himself. “I liked that it was a ludicrous if not impossible challenge,” he recalls.

Why would someone entering his eighth decade choose to roll the dice on a shrinking business with an uncertain future, at best?

“I like the work and I can’t sing or dance,” he said with a shrug.

So, the Winsted Citizen debuted in February 2023 and is growing and expanding. After six months as a print-only publication, it recently went online and the September issue will be published soon.

The Ralph Nader Angle

Ralph Nader Huffington PostThe paper was created as a nonprofit enterprise with Nader, left, aged 89, giving $15,000 as the founding donor. He later contributed another $16,000 in grants for a total stake of $31,000, He also provided free logistical support in establishing the newspaper’s nonprofit status.

In a radio interview, Nader that he wanted to found a print publication because he is convinced that his neighbors in Winsted, where he lives part time, miss feeling newsprint in their hands and are sick of electronics.

The Citizen covers news in Winsted, 25 miles northwest of the state capital, Hartford, and surrounding towns. It has spiced up its pages by also publishing items like a quirky poem titled “I Wish I Was My Wife So I Could Be Married to Me” and a story about taking psychedelic mushrooms for depression (it had a front-page teaser reading “Don’t Shroom and Drive”).

The paper strives to live up to its reader-focused motto: “If it’s important to you, it’s important to us.”

Thibault is something of a legend in Connecticut journalism. Highlights of his long career include working as a research consultant to the HBO series “Allen V. Farrow” and covering the Boston Marathon bombing trial for the NBC News Investigative Unit.

He is also a licensed private investigator and the author of books such as “You Thought It Was More,” about Louis “the Coin” Colavecchio, a notorious Rhode Island counterfeiter.

A Life of Reporting on Crime

But Thibault is proudest of writing stories that led the authorities to release Bonnie Foreshaw, a woman sentenced to 45 years in prison for committing a murder that many legal experts argued was the lesser crime of manslaughter.

He unearthed a 24-year-old document from a public defender, Jon C. Blue. In the memo, Blue, who later became a judge, criticized the lawyers who represented Foreshaw for “shocking malpractice.” Based on Thibault’s reporting, Foreshaw was granted a clemency hearing and released. She is shown below at an event with Thibault and one of his books following her release.

andy thibault gateway

“Andy played a pivotal role in that case,” said newspaper columnist Susan Campbell, who writes for Hearst Newspapers and CTNewsjunkie.com and also works with Thibault at the University of New Haven. “Unlike the rest of us, he kept on that story like a dog with a bone, like a yard dog on a short chain. Without him, I don’t think there would have been the same outcome.”

At the Winsted Citizen, Thibault sells ads, commissions stories, edits, works with the art director and even picks up copies from the printer to deliver them around town. Thibault tapped his Rolodex to put together a team that’s as eclectic as the newspaper.

“I’m very excited about the people I work with,” Thibault said. “We have a 16-year-old whiz kid reporter and an office manager who’s a retired executive from Adobe who is training me to be an organized person.”

Paying those contributors is a struggle.

“Pay has been erratic because we were grossly undercapitalized,” Thibault said. “We are steadily building up revenue and have been operating since the July edition under an austerity budget.”

Disclosure: Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig, a longtime reporter in Connecticut for the Hartford Courant, is a founding member of the Winsted Citizen’s board of advisors.

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