Jan. 2024 News

 JIPLogo

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

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

 

Jan. 2

Top Headlines

 

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

 

Israeli army troops are seen near the GazaStrip board in southern Israelon Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The army is battling Palestinian militaynts across Gaza in the war ignited by HaHmas' Oct. 7 attack in to Israel (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

 

Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

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

 

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

 

lev parnas ivanka jared kushner

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

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

Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).990

 

Climate Change, Environment, Energy, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

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

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

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

 
Top Stories

 

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

ny times logoNew York Times, Half of Gazans Are at Risk of Starving, U.N. Warns, Liam Stack, Gaya Gupta and Abu Bakr Bashir, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). More than 90 percent of Palestinians in the territory say they have regularly gone without food for a whole day, according to the United Nations. Walaa Zaiter’s four children have been hungry for weeks, but she can barely find them food.

palestinian flagThey ask for sandwiches, fruit juice and homemade Palestinian dishes like she used to cook before the war began. In a fleeting moment of internet access, she said, she once caught the children huddled around her phone to watch a YouTube video of someone eating French fries.

The most they can hope for these days, she said in a recent telephone interview, is a can of peas, some cheese and an energy bar distributed as a family’s rations by the United Nations once a week in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where they fled to in early December to escape Israeli bombardment farther north. It is not nearly enough to feed her family of seven.

“It’s a daily struggle,” said Ms. Zaiter, 37, whose children range in age from 9 months to 13 years. “You feel you are under pressure and hopeless, and you cannot provide anything.”

Israel’s war in Gaza has created a humanitarian catastrophe, with half of the population of about 2.2 million at risk of starvation and 90 percent saying that they regularly go without food for a whole day, the United Nations said in a recent report.

Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, said the humanitarian disaster in Gaza was among the worst he had ever seen. The territory appears to meet at least the first criteria of a famine, with 20 percent of the population facing an extreme lack of food, he said.
Image

“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” Mr. Husain said. “I’ve been to pretty much any conflict, whether Yemen, whether it was South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, Ethiopia, you name it. And I have never seen anything like this, both in terms of its scale, its magnitude, but also at the pace that this has unfolded.”

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, contended that Israel did not stand in the way of humanitarian assistance and blamed Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, for any shortages. He accused Hamas of seizing some of the aid for its own uses. He did not provide evidence, but Western and Arab officials have said that Hamas is known to have a large stockpile of supplies, including food, fuel and medicine.

The war began on Oct. 7 after Hamas attacked Israel and killed an estimated 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. To retaliate, Israel launched a devastating air bombardment of the small, impoverished enclave, followed by a ground invasion that has displaced roughly 85 percent of the population.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and it has destroyed much of the territory’s civilian infrastructure and economy. Israel has also imposed a siege on Gaza for months now, cutting off most water, food, fuel and medicine.

benjamin netanyahu frown screenshot

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli Justices Reject Netanyahu-Led Move to Limit Court, Isabel Kershner, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). 8-7 Ruling Could Spark Constitutional Crisis. The law, passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, sparked mass protests. Monday’s ruling could rekindle domestic discord.

Israel FlagIn a momentous ruling that could ignite a constitutional crisis, Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government that was meant to limit the court’s own powers, by a majority of eight judges to seven.

The decision is likely to rekindle the grave domestic situation that began a year ago over the right-wing government’s judicial overhaul plan — which sparked mass protests that brought the country to a near standstill at times — even as Israel is at war in Gaza.

The law, passed by the Israeli Parliament in July, had sharply divided Israelis and sparked mass protests. Monday’s ruling raised the prospect of renewed discord as Israel wages war in Gaza.

The court, sitting with a full panel of all 15 of its justices for the first time in its history, rejected a law passed by Parliament in July. The law barred judges from using a particular legal standard to overrule decisions made by government ministers.

The court’s decision heralds a potential showdown between the top judicial authority and the ruling coalition, and could fundamentally reshape Israeli democracy, pitting the power of the government against that of the court.

In a country that has one house of Parliament, no formal written constitution and a largely ceremonial president, many defenders of Israel’s liberal democracy view the Supreme Court as the only bulwark against government power, and the standard of reasonableness to be one of the primary tools at the judges’ disposal.

Here is what else to know:

  • Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history, has argued that the Supreme Court has overreached its authority and subverted the will of the voters and the function of the elected government. They argue that the legal concept of “reasonableness” — which the court used a year ago to strike down Mr. Netanyahu’s appointment as finance minister of a political ally who had been convicted of tax fraud — is ill defined and subjective.
  • Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party called the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday “in opposition to the nation’s desire for unity, especially in a time of war.” They slammed the court for ruling on the issue when Israeli soldiers are “fighting and endangering themselves in battle.”
  • Kaplan Force, one of the activist groups that organized protests against the judicial reform, praised the Supreme Court’s decision and called on all parties to obey the ruling. “Today, one chapter ended in the battle to protect democracy — in a victory for the citizens of Israel,” the group said in a statement.
  • Washington Post, Israel’s high court strikes down Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul law, Miriam Berger and Ruby Mellen, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.).

 

President Joe Biden, right, greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Bidens arrival in Israel following the Oct. 7 massacre of an estimated 1,200 Israelis by Hamas invaders from Gaza (New York Times photo by Kenny Holston on Oct. 18, 2023).

U..S. President Joe Biden, right, greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Bidens arrival in Israel following the Oct. 7 massacre of an estimated 1,200 Israelis by Hamas invaders from Gaza (New York Times photo by Kenny Holston on Oct. 18, 2023).

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: The U.S. and Israel: An Embrace Shows Signs of Strain After Oct. 7, Peter Baker, Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Isabel Kershner, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). No other episode in the past half-century has tested the relationship in such an intense and consequential way as the Israel-Hamas war.

President Biden was getting ready to leave the White House for an audacious flight to Israel to demonstrate solidarity after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack when suddenly the trip seemed to be falling apart before it even began.

Israel FlagAn explosion at a Gaza hospital had reportedly killed or wounded hundreds, the Palestinians were blaming Israel, and Arab leaders were refusing to meet with Mr. Biden when he arrived in the region. The president summoned advisers to the Treaty Room on the second floor of the White House family quarters to answer the question: Should he still go?

A robust debate broke out between his national security and political advisers. Some in the room urged Mr. Biden to scrap the trip. It was not clear what could be accomplished. It might not even be safe. What if Hamas launched rockets at Ben-Gurion International Airport when Air Force One approached? Where would the president land then?

Others argued that he needed to go anyway. He had already announced the visit. They should not lurch from one decision to another. And preliminary U.S. intelligence indicated that Israel was not responsible for the hospital explosion.

Finally, Mr. Biden weighed in. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “I’ve got to see these guys face to face.”

That decision, perhaps more than any other, would come to define Mr. Biden’s approach to what has become the most divisive foreign policy crisis of his presidency. He had to go. He had to see them face to face. With that, he effectively took ownership of the war that would follow in all its overpowering brutality, managing it personally at great political risk to himself at home and abroad.

No other episode in the past half-century has tested the ties between the United States and Israel in such an intense and consequential way. The complicated diplomacy between Washington and Jerusalem since Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages has played out across both governments, in direct interactions between the leaders and intense back and forth between military and intelligence agencies.

The resolve of that dramatic presidential trip to Israel has given way to frustrating phone calls, sharp public comments and exhausting marathon meetings. The relationship has grown increasingly fraught as Mr. Biden has involved himself more intensely in the conflict than almost any other issue in three years in office. The president and his team have intervened time and again to steer Israel away from what they consider the excesses of its retaliation only to have the Israelis defy them at critical moments.

Mr. Biden has seen growing internal resistance to his backing of Israel, including multiple dissent cables from State Department diplomats. In November, more than 500 political appointees and staff members representing some 40 government agencies sent a letter to Mr. Biden protesting his support of Israel’s war in Gaza. Congressional Democrats have been pressing him to curb Israel’s assault, and the United States has found itself at odds with other countries at the United Nations.

climate change photo

washington post logoWashington Post, 2023 will be remembered as the year climate change arrived, Chico Harlan, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The year will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of “global boiling,” as the U.N. secretary general called it.

Then came the hottest year humanity had ever seen.

It had been a year that had started with merely very hot temperatures and then intensified midway. What made the subsequent months stand out wasn’t so much any single record but rather the heat’s all-consuming relentlessness. It went day by day, continent by continent, until people all over the map, whether in the Amazon or the Pacific islands or rural Greece, had glimpsed a climate future for which they are not prepared.

“It felt like the earth was about to explode,” Dinas said.

Even if its extremes are ultimately eclipsed, as seems inevitable, 2023 will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of “global boiling,” as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it. The year included the hottest single day on record (July 6) and the hottest ever month (July), not to mention the hottest June, the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and probably the hottest December. It included a day, Nov. 17, when global temperatures, for the first time ever, reached 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial levels.

Discomfort, destruction, and death are the legacy of those records.

In Phoenix, a heat wave went on for so long, with 31 consecutive days above 110 Fahrenheit, that one NASA atmospheric scientist called it “mind-boggling.” The surrounding county recorded a record number of heat deaths, nearly 600.

 

ron desantis mouth open uncredited


washington post logoWashington Post, DeSantis, Haley pledge to pardon Trump if he’s convicted, Reis Thebault, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Donald Trump’s leading Republican primary challengers said in recent days that if they are elected, they would pardon the former president should he be convicted of any of the 91 felony charges he’s currently facing.

nikki haley oFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis, above, and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, right, argued in separate campaign stops last week that extending clemency to Trump would be in the country’s best interest. Both had previously signaled they were leaning toward issuing a pardon, but their recent statements were the most definitive yet and left little room for doubt just weeks before the first nominating contests in January.

djt maga hat“I would pardon Trump if he is found guilty,” Haley told a crowd in Plymouth, N.H., on Thursday.

Ron DeSantis says Trump’s indictments ‘distorted’ GOP presidential race

DeSantis, who has blamed Trump’s dominance in the polls in part on the string of criminal indictments, said Friday that he would pardon a convicted Trump because “we got to move on as a country.” Speaking with reporters after a campaign stop in Elkader, Iowa, DeSantis echoed Haley’s commitment, invoking the only previous time a U.S. president has received a pardon.

“It’s like Ford did to Nixon,” DeSantis said, referencing Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon. “Because you just, you know, the divisions are just not in the country’s interest.”

DeSantis and Haley, who are leading a winnowed field of GOP candidates opposing Trump, have for months walked a political tightrope, seeking to distinguish themselves from the former president while continuing to court his substantial bloc of supporters, whose votes will be key in deciding the Republican primary.

Aside from Trump, who has remained the clear leader in polling and campaign fundraising, three of the GOP’s top four candidates have now said unequivocally that they would pardon him, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy committing to the move in July.

Ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, meanwhile, has railed against these pledges, calling Trump’s actions a threat to democracy. A pardon for Trump, Christie said on Friday, would signal “two systems of justice: One for all of us and one for the most powerful.”

  • The Young Turks, WATCH Commentary: 4th-Grader CALLS OUT Nikki Haley For Flip-Flopping On Trump, Jan. 1, 2024. A 9-year-old boy called Nikki Haley a flip-flopper during a town hall in North Conway, New Hampshire. John Iadarola, Rayyvana, and Maz Jobrani discuss on The Young Turks. “Nikki Haley faced down a surprising critic on Thursday while taking questions during a campaign stop in North Conway, New Hampshire – a very well-spoken 9-year-old boy.

ny times logoNew York Times, New State Laws on Hot-Button Issues Take Effect Today, Adeel Hassan, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Many state laws take effect on the first day of 2024, including new rules on gun safety, a ban on diversity programs and a curb on telemarketing calls.A spate of new state laws, including on guns, minimum wage and gender transition care, went into effect as the calendar flipped to 2024. Perhaps the most significant change bans programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at publicly funded colleges and universities in Texas.

Conservative politicians have targeted these diversity initiatives, known as D.E.I., because they have said that the programs have used taxpayer money to stoke racial division and push a liberal agenda on campuses. The new Texas law follows a similar one that Florida enacted in May to prohibit public colleges and universities from spending funds on D.E.I. initiatives.

In other states, Americans will follow new rules on guns and marijuana, as well as have additional health care and workplace protections. About three dozen states enacted new laws on voting in 2023, but most of the practical effects won’t be felt until primary and general elections in 2024.

Many of these changes will have an immediate impact on everyday life starting Monday. Here are some other new and noteworthy state laws.

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

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

The official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Roberts sidesteps Supreme Court’s ethics controversies in yearly report, Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme Court will be tested in the coming weeks to untangle politically consequential legal questions with the potential to reshape the 2024 presidential election. The court’s reputation remains marred by ethics controversies involving lavish travel and gifts, and public approval ratings remain low following high court rulings to overturn long-standing precedent.

john roberts oBut Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., right, did not address any of those contemporary issues Sunday in his annual “Year-end Report on the Federal Judiciary.” Instead, he looked back on technological advancements in the nation’s court system, detailing developments from the quill pens used by justices in the 19th century to electronic databases of the 1980s to online trial proceedings prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roberts, a history buff, also expounded on the potential for artificial intelligence to both enhance and detract from the work of judges, lawyers and litigants. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, he noted, AI could increase access to justice.

“AI obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. But just as it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law,” Roberts wrote, adding that “machines cannot fully replace key actors in court.”

Public approval of the Supreme Court remains at historically low levels, reflecting a dip that followed its 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the nationwide right to abortion. The court has also faced immense public pressure and criticism following news reports that some justices accepted, but did not disclose, luxury travel funded by billionaire friends.

Roberts also did not mention in his 13-page report the court’s adoption for the first time of a formal code of conduct, announced in November, specific to the nine justices and intended to promote “integrity and impartiality.” For years, the justices said they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges and resisted efforts by Congress to impose a policy on the high court.

But the lack of a code became a persistent complaint from Capitol Hill that the justices were forced to address in 2023. In the weeks before the court’s announcement, several justices said publicly it would be a good idea for the court to embrace its own plan rather than giving Congress an opening to pass a law.

The policy was praised by some as a positive initial step, but criticized by legal ethics experts for giving the justices too much discretion over recusal decisions and for not including a process for holding the justices accountable if they violate their own rules.

ny times logoNew York Times, Chief Justice Roberts Sees Promise and Danger of A.I. in the Courts, Adam Liptak, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). In his year-end report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. focused on the new technology while steering clear of Supreme Court ethics and Donald J. Trump’s criminal cases.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. devoted his annual year-end report on the state of the federal judiciary, issued on Sunday, to the positive role that artificial intelligence can play in the legal system — and the threats it poses.

His report did not address the Supreme Court’s rocky year, including its adoption of an ethics code that many said was toothless. Nor did he discuss the looming cases arising from former President Donald J. Trump’s criminal prosecutions and questions about his eligibility to hold office.

The chief justice’s report was nevertheless timely, coming days after revelations that Michael D. Cohen, the onetime fixer for Mr. Trump, had supplied his lawyer with bogus legal citations created by Google Bard, an artificial intelligence program.

Referring to an earlier similar episode, Chief Justice Roberts said that “any use of A.I. requires caution and humility.”

“One of A.I.’s prominent applications made headlines this year for a shortcoming known as ‘hallucination,’” he wrote, “which caused the lawyers using the application to submit briefs with citations to nonexistent cases. (Always a bad idea.)”.

Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the promise of the new technology while noting its dangers.

“Law professors report with both awe and angst that A.I. apparently can earn B’s on law school assignments and even pass the bar exam,” he wrote. “Legal research may soon be unimaginable without it. A.I. obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and nonlawyers alike. But just as obviously it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law.”

The chief justice, mentioning bankruptcy forms, said some applications could streamline legal filings and save money. “These tools have the welcome potential to smooth out any mismatch between available resources and urgent needs in our court system,” he wrote.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dueling Primary Ballot Rulings on Trump Put Pressure on Supreme Court, Jenna Russell, Ernesto Londoño and Shawn Hubler, Updated Dec. 29, 2023. Maine found Donald Trump ineligible to hold office because of his actions after the 2020 election. California said his name would remain on the ballot there.

maine mapMaine on Thursday became the second state to bar Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot after its top election official ruled that the former president’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election rendered him ineligible to hold office again.

Hours later, her counterpart in California announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the shenna bellowsnation’s most populous state, where election officials have limited power to remove candidates.

The official in Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, left, wrote in her decision that Mr. Trump did not qualify for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A handful of citizens had challenged his eligibility by claiming that he had incited an insurrection and was thus barred from seeking the presidency again under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection,” Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, wrote.

Ms. Bellows’s decision follows a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week to keep Mr. Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot.

The decisions in Maine and Colorado underscore national tensions over democracy, ballot access and the rule of law. They also add urgency to calls for the United States Supreme Court to insert itself into the politically explosive dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said Thursday night that both the Maine and Colorado rulings were “partisan election interference efforts” that were “a hostile assault on American democracy.”

 

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

djt hands open amazon safe

washington post logoWashington Post, Doom dominates 2024 messaging as Trump and Biden trade dire warnings, Toluse Olorunnipa, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  Experts and pollsters say the depictions are reflective of the country’s broadly pessimistic and apprehensive mood.

In President Biden’s increasingly stark telling, an America led by former president Donald Trump in 2025 would be a dystopian dictatorship with American values constantly on the brink of collapse.

“The greatest threat Trump poses is to our democracy,” Biden said earlier this month at a fundraiser in Bethesda. “Because if we lose, we lose everything.”

Trump, who has used terms like “vermin” to describe his enemies and called 2024 “the final battle,” has said if Biden wins a second term, Americans would “no longer have a country” and the globe would quickly descend into a third world war.

“As long as Joe Biden is in the White House, the American Dream is dead,” Trump said during a rally in Durham, N.H., where he also accused migrants of “poisoning the blood” of the nation.

Trump calls adversaries “vermin,” echoing Hitler and Mussolini

As the two leading candidates trade depictions of doom, the 2024 race for president is increasingly dominated by dark sentiments and appeals to fear — a phenomenon experts and pollsters say is reflective of the country’s broadly pessimistic and apprehensive mood.

washington post logoWashington Post, American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why, Dan Balz and Clara Ence Morse, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Many Americans believe the political system is broken. A Post analysis examined the forces fueling the sense that government fails to represent the people.

Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach compromise.

 

djt maga hat speech uncredited Custom

Politico, The 14th Amendment is the ‘most democratic’ disqualifier, Jamie Raskin says, Kelly Garrity, Dec 31, 2023. The Maryland Democrat said it is the only disqualifier over which the person has control.

politico CustomThe constitutional amendment that election officials in Colorado and Maine are relying on to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot is clear — and isn’t undemocratic, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued Sunday.

jamin raskin american university Custom 2“Is it undemocratic that [former California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger and [Energy Secretary] Jennifer Granholm can’t run for president because they weren’t born in the country? If you think about it, of all of the forms of disqualification that we have, the one that disqualifies people for engaging in insurrection is the most democratic because it’s the one where people choose themselves to be disqualified,” Raskin, right, a former constitutional law professor, said Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” (Schwarzenegger was born in Austria, Granholm in Canada.)

“Donald Trump is in that tiny, tiny number of people who have essentially disqualified themselves,” he added.

Officials in Colorado and Maine have blocked Trump from the ballot in their states, on the grounds that he engaged in insurrection via his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and, thereby, is disqualified based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

The backlash from Republicans — and some Democrats — has been swift and fierce, and the heated legal debate is expected to soon come before the Supreme Court.

“We have a number of disqualifications in the Constitution for serving as president,” Raskin pointed out Sunday. “For example, age. I mean, I’ve got a colleague who’s a great young politician, Maxwell Frost, he’s 26. He can’t run for president. Now would we say that that’s undemocratic? Well, that’s the rules of the Constitution. If you don’t like the rules of the Constitution, change the Constitution.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The nose knows Trump: he stinks to high heaven, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec 31, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2023-Jan. 1, 2024. Here at WMR we’ve seen and heard enough. Donald Trump’s campaign will soon sink under the heavy weight of his adult diaper.

wayne madesen report logoConfirmation Trump often reeks of feces, urine, cheap cologne, and an oft-putting hair chemical mixture has come from various sources who include former Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, one-time The Apprentice production assistant Noel Casler, comedian and Celebrity Apprentice cast member Kathy Griffin, and a host of others who have encountered Trump during his lifetime.

President Donald Trump officialKinzinger commented on Trump’s smelly aura on a podcast, saying, “I’m genuinely surprised how people close to Trump haven’t talked about the odor. It’s truly something to behold. Wear a mask if you can.” Casler said, “He [Trump] would often soil himself on The Apprentice set. He’s incontinent from all the speed, all the Adderall he does, all the cocaine that he’s done for decades . . . His [bowels] are uncontrollable.”

Accounts that Trump smelled to high heaven are buoyed by various social media posts, mainly from those who claimed they caught Trump’s staggering whiff while doing business with him in the 1980s and 90s.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Lies Low in St. Croix During Holiday Week, Lisa Friedman, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  President Biden is enjoying a working vacation, a White House official said. Residents hope to bring attention to the Virgin Islands’ economic troubles.

joe biden jill biden wh new year 2024Here on tropical St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Mr. Biden; the first lady, Jill Biden; and their granddaughter Natalie are spending New Year’s week in a secluded oceanfront villa overlooking the turquoise Caribbean, the president is staying mostly out of the spotlight.

On Saturday, Mr. Biden made his first public appearance, venturing out to attend mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted, the largest town in St. Croix. He and Dr. Biden later taped an interview with Ryan Seacrest, due to air on New Year’s Eve as part of ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” In the evening, the president and first lady (shown in a New Year’s message released to the public by the White House) dined at Too Chez, one of the island’s top restaurants, and he afterward revealed his New Year’s resolution.

“To come back next year,” Mr. Biden said.

Republicans have roundly criticized Mr. Biden’s island getaway, which began just a day after he returned to the White House from spending Christmas with family at Camp David.

Several lawmakers accused the president of failing to address the migrant surge along the southern U.S. border by taking time away. And on Thursday, when the White House announced in the morning that there would be no public events for Mr. Biden that day as temperatures hovered in the 80s on St. Croix, an arm of the Republican National Committee pounced.

“Illegal immigrants are pouring across the open southern border by the tens of thousands every day,” the group RNC Research wrote on the social media site X, adding that Mr. Biden, “on his second vacation in a week — called it a day before noon.”

Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University, said that presidential vacations are virtually always denounced by the opposing party.

But even a commander in chief needs to unwind sometimes, Mr. Zelizer noted, and, in this day and age, no president is ever truly unplugged.

“It’s not as if the president takes a vacation like many of us and just sits around on the beach or something,” he said. “They go with their full presidential apparatus and they’re surrounded by their advisers.”

A White House official described Mr. Biden’s trip as a working vacation. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, accompanied the president to St. Croix and has briefed him multiple times since arriving, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s schedule.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mutiny Erupts in a Michigan G.O.P. Overtaken by Chaos, Nick Corasaniti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans are pushing for the removal of Kristina Karamo, an election-denying activist who rose to lead the state party this year, amid mounting financial problems and persistent infighting.

michigan mapThe mutiny took hold on Mackinac Island. The Michigan Republican Party’s revered two-day policy and politics gathering, the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, was an utter mess.

Attendance had plummeted. Top-tier presidential candidates skipped the September event, and some speakers didn’t show. Guests were baffled by a scoring system that rated their ideology on a scale, from a true conservative to a so-called RINO, or Republican in name only.

And the state party, already deeply in debt, had taken out a $110,000 loan to pay the keynote speaker, Jim Caviezel, an actor who has built an ardent following among the far right after starring in a hit movie this summer about child sex trafficking. The loan came from a trust tied to the wife of the party’s executive director, according to party records.

For some Michigan Republicans, it was the final straw for a chaotic state party leadership that has been plagued by mounting kristina karamofinancial problems, lackluster fund-raising, secretive meetings and persistent infighting. Blame has centered on the fiery chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, left, who skyrocketed to the top of the state party through a combative brand of election denialism but has failed to make good on her promises for new fund-raising sources and armies of activists.

This month, the internal dissension has erupted into an attempt to oust Ms. Karamo, which, if successful, would be the first removal of a leader of the Michigan Republican Party in decades. Nearly 40 members of the Michigan Republican Party’s state committee called for a meeting in late December to explore forcing out Ms. Karamo. But that meeting has now been delayed, with no definite date on the calendar. Ms. Karamo has vowed to fight back, railing against the effort as illegitimate.

The pitched battle for control of the state party in a pre-eminent presidential battleground is the most extreme example of conflicts brewing in state Republican parties across the country. Once dominated largely by moneyed establishment donors and their allies, many state parties have been taken over by grass-roots Republican activists energized by former President Donald J. Trump and his broadsides against the legitimacy of elections.

These activists, now holding positions of state and local power, have elevated others who share their views, prioritizing election denialism over experience and credentials.

Relevant Recent Headlines

herb kohl

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Most Ambitious Argument in His Bid for ‘Absolute Immunity,’ Adam Liptak, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Donald Trump says his acquittal by the Senate in his second impeachment trial, for inciting insurrection, bars any prosecution on similar grounds.

ICE logoThere is almost nothing in the words of the Constitution that even begins to support former President Donald J. Trump’s boldest defense against charges that he plotted to overturn the 2020 election: that he is absolutely immune from prosecution for actions he took while in office.

A federal appeals court will hear arguments on the question next week, and the panel will consider factors including history, precedent and the separation of powers. But, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged, the Constitution itself does not explicitly address the existence or scope of presidential immunity.

In his appellate brief, Mr. Trump said there was one constitutional provision that figured in the analysis, though his argument is a legal long shot. The provision, the impeachment judgment clause, says that officials impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate are still subject to criminal prosecution.

The provision says: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: But the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.”

All the clause says in so many words, then, is that “the party convicted” in the Senate can still face criminal prosecution. But Mr. Trump said the clause implied something more.

The clause “presupposes that a president who is not convicted may not be subject to criminal prosecution,” Mr. Trump’s brief said.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary:Trump Faces TOTAL MELTDOWN in New Year, LEGAL HELL is HERE, Michael Popok, Jan. 1, 2024.
January is TRUMPOCALYPSE.

Michael Popok of Legal AF explains how outmatched Trump’s 4 PERSON legal team is up against the NY ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE, THE DOJ; & ELITE HIGH STAKES LAW FIRMS, as THEY try to flail and just hold on through a JANUARY filled with a likely $500 million dollar civil fraud JUDGMENT; a likely $100 million defamation TRIAL; and DC Court of Appeals and US Supreme COURT oral arguments and rulings about whether Trump can dismiss his criminal indictment, as they are forced to SIMULTANEOUSLY prepare for Trump’s MARCH DC criminal trial.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two States Ruled Trump Off the Ballot. Will It Help or Hurt Him? Jack Healy, Anna Betts, Mike Baker and Jill Cowan, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Some critics say the battles over Donald Trump’s ballot status are turning him into a martyr and eroding faith in U.S. elections.

steve hobbsAs the top elections official in Washington State, Steve Hobbs, right, says he is troubled by the threat former President Donald J. Trump poses to democracy and fears the prospect of his return to power. But he also worries that recent decisions in Maine and Colorado to bar Mr. Trump from presidential primary ballots there could backfire, further eroding Americans’ fraying faith in U.S. elections.

“Removing him from the ballot would, on its face value, seem very anti-democratic,” said Mr. Hobbs, a Democrat who is in his first term as secretary of state. Then he added a critical caveat: “But so is trying to overthrow your country.”

Mr. Hobbs’s misgivings reflect deep divisions and unease among elected officials, democracy experts and voters over how to handle Mr. Trump’s campaign to reclaim the presidency four years after he went to extraordinary lengths in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. While some, like Mr. Hobbs, think it best that voters settle the matter, others say that Mr. Trump’s efforts require accountability and should be legally disqualifying.

Challenges to Mr. Trump’s candidacy have been filed in at least 32 states, though many of those challenges have gained little or no traction, and some have languished on court dockets for months.

The decisions happening right now come amid a collapse of faith in the American electoral system, said Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law and democracy.

“We are walking in new constitutional snow here to try and figure out how to deal with these unprecedented developments,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are the laws that New Yorkers should know about, Erin Nolan, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Legislation touching on nearly every aspect of life in the state, including wages, health care and education, is going into effect in the coming months.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed roughly 900 bills in 2023. Those laws — many of which are scheduled to take effect in the new year — touch nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives. There are measures recognizing additional school holidays (the Lunar New Year and Diwali), and others that establish broader protections for freelance workers and create new requirements for licensed cosmetologists.

What else will change in 2024? Here’s a look at some of the most consequential laws taking effect this year.
The minimum wage will increase

New York’s minimum wage will rise to $16 per hour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County and to $15 an hour everywhere else in the state. Both rates will increase by an additional 50 cents in 2025 and 2026, with future increases statewide pegged to inflation.

The decision to add $2 to the city’s $15 minimum wage by 2026 — a plan included in last year’s state budget agreement — was not universally supported. Some Republican lawmakers warned the move could lead to job losses, while progressive Democrats pushed for a rate of over $21.

The state’s wage will remain more than twice that of the increasingly meaningless federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prosecutors Ask Appeals Court to Reject Donald Trump’s Immunity Claims, Alan Feuer, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The filing by the special counsel, Jack Smith, was the latest move in an ongoing battle over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did while in office.

Federal prosecutors asked an appeals court on Saturday to reject former President Donald J. Trump’s claims that he is immune from criminal charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election and said the indictment should remain in place even though it arose from actions he took while in the White House.

The government’s filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was part of an ongoing struggle between Mr. Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did in office.

The fight over immunity is arguably the most important aspect of the election interference case, involving both new questions of law and consequential issues of timing. The case is set to go to trial in Federal District Court in Washington in early March but has been put on hold until Mr. Trump’s attempts to dismiss the charges on grounds of immunity are resolved.

The appeal is legally significant because it centers on a question that has never before been asked or fully answered. That is because Mr. Trump is the first former president to have been charged with crimes and because he has chosen to defend himself in this case with a novel claim: that the office he held at the time should shield him entirely from prosecution.

But the fight has revolved around more than the technical issue of whether the indictment should survive and Mr. Trump should eventually stand trial. The defense and prosecution have been waging a separate, but no less critical, battle about when the trial will happen — specifically about whether it will take place before or after the 2024 election. If the trial is held after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he would have the power to order the charges he is facing to be dropped.

In their 82-page filing to the appeals court, prosecutors focused on legal arguments and said that nothing in the Constitution or the country’s other founding documents supported the idea that a former president should not be subject to federal criminal law.

“The presidency plays a vital role in our constitutional system, but so does the principle of accountability for criminal acts — particularly those that strike at the heart of the democratic process,” wrote James I. Pearce, one of Mr. Smith’s deputies. “Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license presidents to commit crimes to remain in office. The founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”
New York Times,

Politico, Special counsel: Trump immunity claim threatens democracy, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Dec. 30, 2023. Special counsel Jack Smith rejected Donald Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him is constitutionally invalid.

politico CustomDonald Trump’s bold claims that he’s immune from criminal prosecution over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “threaten to undermine democracy,” special counsel Jack Smith warned a federal appeals court Saturday.

Justice Department log circularIn a brief filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith rejected Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him for trying to reverse his loss at the polls three years ago is constitutionally invalid because he was serving as president at the time and also because he was acquitted by the Senate after he was impeached for those actions.

“Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license Presidents to commit crimes to remain in office,” Smith and his team wrote in an 82-page filing. “The Founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”

While Trump has argued that allowing a prosecution such as the one he faces in Washington would chill future presidents from carrying out their duties due to the prospect of future criminal indictment, Smith contends that fear is overblown.

“Multiple safeguards — ultimately enforced by the Article III courts — protect against any potential burdens on the Presidency that the defendant claims to fear,” prosecutors wrote. “Any burdens of post-Presidency criminal liability have minimal impact on the functions of an incumbent and are outweighed by the paramount public interest in upholding the rule of law through federal prosecution.”

Smith’s argument sets the framework for the most crucial test of his prosecution of Trump for seeking to subvert the 2020 election, the beginning of a must-win legal battle that is likely headed for the Supreme Court as soon as next month.

Smith used his brief to pick apart Trump’s assertion that he’s immune from criminal prosecution for his efforts to seize a second term despite losing the election. On Dec. 1, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan turned down Trump’s motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, prompting the former president’s appeal.

Smith argues that while presidents deserve protection from civil lawsuits, there is no blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, particularly for a former president charged with making grave threats to the transfer of power. Even if presidents did enjoy immunity for their official duties, he argues, Trump’s actions would not qualify for such protection because he was acting well outside the bounds of his proper duties.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Maine Law ‘Required That I Act’ to Disqualify Trump, Secretary of State Says, Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Barring former President Donald J. Trump from the primary ballot was a hard but necessary call, Shenna Bellows said in an interview.

shenna bellowsBefore she decided to bar former President Donald J. Trump from Maine’s primary ballot, Shenna Bellows, left, the secretary of state, was not known for courting controversy.

She began her career in public office as a state senator in 2016, winning in a politically mixed district. She prided herself on finding common ground with Republicans, an approach she said was shaped by growing up in a politically diverse family.

maine mapAs the former head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Bellows did not shy away from divisive issues. But her ballot decision on Thursday was perhaps the weightiest and most politically fraught that she had faced — and it sparked loud rebukes from Republicans in Maine and beyond.

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Bellows defended her decision, arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol made it necessary to exclude him from the ballot next year.

“This is not a decision I made lightly,” Ms. Bellows, 48, said. “The United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Maine election law required that I act in response.”

Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, is among many election officials around the country who have considered legal challenges to Mr. Trump’s latest bid for the White House based on an obscure clause of the 14th Amendment that bars government officials who have engaged in “insurrection” from serving in the U.S. government.

After holding a hearing this month in which she considered arguments from both Mr. Trump’s lawyers and his critics, Ms. Bellows explained her decision in a 34-page order issued on Thursday night.

World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic News Summary and Pro-Democracy Reform Agenda: In 2024, Americans have a rendez-vous webster tarpley 2007with destiny, with the future of human civilization at stake! Webster G. Tarpley, (right, historian and commentator), Dec. 30, 2023 (130:12 mins). Coming year must see the decisive electoral defeat, conviction, and incarceration of Trump, with the breakup of the moribund Republican Party, and three branches of the federal government entirely controlled by Biden Democrats elected on a strong reform agenda!

Insurrection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment is the sacred embodiment of Lincoln’s new birth of freedom and reflects the sacrifices of the Union dead; As part of Constitution, the Insurrection Clause is an integral part of the supreme Abraham Lincoln (Alexander Gardner via Library of Congress and Getty Images)law of the land and is binding and compulsory for all officials at all levels of government, whatever their preferences;

Alleged aversion to ”patchwork” of election rules and demand for lockstep among states are no argument in a variegated federal system in which election practices have long diverged; Trump is unquestionably guilty of aggravated insurrection; Only an imbecile could suggest that a president is not an officer of United States; Some say they prefer to defeat Trump at polls, but the advanced fascist emergency does not permit this luxury;

Defeatist spirit of McClellan 1864 grips milquetoast Democrats who propose to ignore a clear Constitutional imperative in favor of their own fears and preferences for appeasement of MAGA fascists; Standard fascist seizure of power involves cynical gaming of democratic systems and guarantees to impose totalitarian dictatorship;

”Let the voters decide” is a catchy slogan but collapses utterly when it becomes a direct attack on the Constitution, where some critical points are deliberately placed beyond the reach of majority votes;

gavin newsom headshotGov. Newsom, right, and Dems must understand their only chance to prevail against Trump subversion is to run strong candidates pledged to defend constitution, not populist demagogues pandering to masses by tampering with it;

Corrupt, discredited, bribed, and hated Supremes should contemplate not just the threats of the shrinking MAGA hooligan minority, but also the pro-constitution supermajority who reject a return to the MAGA fascist yoke; Given their claims to represent originalism, textualism, and state’s rights, the only valid choice for Supremes is full implementation of Insurrection Clause against Trump;

scott perryRep. Scott Perry’s phone messages now scrutinized by Jack Smith could implicate other MAGA Hill bigwigs as January 6 co-conspirators, with potential to break legislative logjam and flip chamber as they are brought to justice;

House GOP sabotage of Ukraine military aid facilitates deadly Russian attacks and makes these MAGA bosses accessories to war crimes eligible for prosecution in The Hague, starting with MAGA Mike;

djt maga hatMAGA dirty tricks against Ukraine feed Putin’s hope for new orgy of appeasement on model of 1938 Munich sellout, with himself cast as Hitler, Ukraine cast as Czechoslovakia, and Biden-led NATO cast as appeasers Chamberlain and Daladier!

As their hour of reckoning approaches, Netanyahu, Gallant & Co. are trying harder than ever to embroil US in war with Hezbollah and Iran; These schemers must receive a decisive rebuff;

In US, fratricidal ultra-lefts and assorted squadristi are eager to blame Biden for war crimes committed by Netanyahu, but stubbornly refuse to condemn Putin for the war crimes Putin has unquestionably committed! Reviewing Toni Negri, in whose career postmodern anarcho-syndicalism turned into the ideology of terrorism.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

Politico, What is victory for Joe Biden in New Hampshire? Elena Schneider and Holly Otterbein, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The Granite State is difficult to game out this year. But insiders see a few possible outcomes.

politico CustomNew Hampshire’s unsanctioned Democratic primary on Jan. 23 will provide the first real test of President Joe Biden’s strength within his party in 2024. No one is quite clear on how to actually measure the results.

biden harris 2024 logo oBiden could win the contest and still look like a loser. His challenger, Dean Phillips, could lose and claim victory.

What’s certain is that political insiders will place heavy scrutiny on the outcome — and that there will be endless efforts to try and spin it.

new hampshireAs the sitting president, Biden has a high bar to meet. At the same time, his name won’t appear on the ballot thanks to his push to make South Carolina the first primary — forcing voters to pencil him in. Ultimately, officials say the winner will not collect any delegates because New Hampshire is holding its Democratic primary before any other in defiance of the national party, which stripped the state of its century-old first-in-the-nation status last year.

Even though they’re rarely successful, primary challenges have a way of sometimes upending assumptions about incumbent presidents — particularly ones whose electoral chances seem wobbly. Phillips, a longshot, is hoping to recreate Eugene McCarthy’s better-than-expected showing against then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

Given the unusual state of affairs, POLITICO quizzed more than a dozen Democratic strategists and party officials to see what they think would qualify as a victory for Biden or Phillips.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2024 U.S. Elections: Trump Team, Burned in 2016, Looks to Close Out Iowa, Michael Gold and Kellen Browning, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Former President Trump is leading by impressive margins in the state, but his campaign wants to make sure his supporters turn out.

As former President Donald J. Trump campaigned in Iowa in the fall, he projected the utmost confidence. He told his supporters during speeches that his advisers had constantly warned him not to take the state for granted. Buoyed by his dominance in state polls, Mr. Trump insisted he had no reason to worry.

republican elephant logo“We’re going to win the Iowa caucuses in a historic landslide,” Mr. Trump predicted in speeches in September and October.

But as he returned to Iowa last month, with the state’s caucuses on Jan. 15 fast approaching, Mr. Trump injected a note of concern. Though he retained his confidence, he warned his supporters of a rising threat: complacency.

iowa map“The poll numbers are scary, because we’re leading by so much,” Mr. Trump said on Dec. 19 in Waterloo during his final trip to Iowa of 2023. “The key is, you have to get out and vote.”

“Don’t sit home and say, ‘I think we’ll take it easy, darling. It’s a wonderful day, beautiful. Let’s just take it easy, watch television and watch the results,’” Mr. Trump later added. “No, because crazy things can happen.”

With just two weeks until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest, Mr. Trump’s campaign is dedicated to meeting high expectations and avoiding a repeat of 2016, when Mr. Trump narrowly came in second in Iowa despite being ahead in polls.

But while his Republican rivals are more focused on knocking on doors and swaying minds, Mr. Trump and his campaign have directed their efforts toward teaching supporters how to caucus and recruiting a grass-roots network to help guarantee they show up.

ny times logoNew York Times, Governor Chris Sununu said Chris Christie should drop out ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Anjali Huynh, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Mr. Sununu, the state’s governor, expressed concern that Mr. Christie would pull support from his preferred candidate, Nikki Haley.

Just weeks before New Hampshire holds its Republican presidential primary, the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, said on Sunday that Chris Christie’s presidential bid was “at an absolute dead end” and suggested that he drop out to pave way for Mr. Sununu’s preferred candidate, Nikki Haley.

new hampshireMr. Sununu, who this month endorsed Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador, told CNN that “the only person that wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.”

He framed the race as a “two-person contest” between Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump, whom she now trails in New Hampshire by an average of 20 percentage points.

“There’s no doubt that if Christie stays in the race, the risk is that he takes her margin of the win,” Mr. Sununu said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a campaign ad last week, Mr. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, explicitly addressed calls from some in the party for him to drop out to consolidate support around a non-Trump candidate. “Some people say I should drop out of this race,” he said. “Really? I’m the only one saying Donald Trump is a liar.”

In response to Mr. Sununu’s remarks, a spokesman for Mr. Christie’s campaign doubled down on that message: “The events of the last few days fully solidifies the point that Christie has been making for six months: that the truth matters, and if you can’t answer the easy questions, you can’t fix the big problems.”

Mr. Sununu’s comments were in response to questions from Dana Bash, the CNN anchor, about Ms. Haley’s recent gaffe involving the Civil War, for which she has faced significant criticism from Mr. Christie and others.

On Wednesday, when she received a question at a New Hampshire town hall about the cause of the Civil War, Ms. Haley’s answer did not mention slavery. The next day, she walked back her remarks, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.” She suggested that the question came from a “Democrat plant.”

Mr. Sununu acknowledged that Ms. Haley had made a mistake in her remarks, but dismissed them as a “nonissue,” saying she had “cleared it right up and everyone’s moving on.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

 

gaza war 7 18 2014

The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel said it destroyed a hideout used by a Hamas leader it believed to be a mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks, Staff Reports, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Israeli airstrikes and artillery pounded central and southern Gaza again on Saturday as the military pushed its ground offensive deeper into the enclave, striking areas where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have congregated in an effort to seek safety from the onslaught across the territory, according to Palestinian media.

Israel FlagUnverified video footage from local journalists in the southern city of Rafah, where large numbers of displaced people have fled, showed the immediate aftermath of strikes on residential homes. In chaotic scenes in narrow crowded streets, people carried the injured out from the rubble, wrapped in blankets. Other wounded were ferried by hand, as several men struggled to quickly carry a man’s limp body.

Yahya Sinwar reutersThe Israeli army says it has destroyed a Gaza City apartment used as a hide-out by its most wanted man in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader (shown above in a Reuters file photo) it considers the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks that the Israeli authorities say killed an estimated 1,200 people.

The army said in a statement late Friday that it had also destroyed a tunnel shaft discovered by its troops in the apartment’s basement floor and an underground headquarters that served as a meeting place and nerve center for senior officials from Hamas’s military and political wings.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed “absolute victory” over Hamas, Staff Reports, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.

Rebuffing growing international pressure to stop the fighting in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed on Saturday to continue until “absolute victory.”

Israel FlagThe goal requires more time, he said at a televised prime-time news conference. Echoing the words of his military chief of staff, he added, “The war will last for many more months.”

Here’s what we know:

  • Rebuffing pressure to stop the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to keep fighting “for many more months.”
  • Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.
  • U.S. helicopters repel a Houthi attack in the Red Sea, killing the gunmen, the Pentagon says.
  • Israel names a new foreign minister, part of a prewar political agreement.
  • An Israeli hostage describes her time in captivity in searing detail.

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Was the Israeli Military on Oct. 7? Adam Goldman, Ronen Bergman, Mark Mazzetti, Natan Odenheimer, Alexander Cardia, Ainara Tiefenthäler and Sheera Frenkel, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A Times investigation found that troops were disorganized, relied on social media to choose targets, and had no battle plan for a massive Hamas invasion.

Israel FlagThe full reasons behind the military’s slow response may take months to understand. The government has promised an inquiry. But a New York Times investigation found that Israel’s military was undermanned, out of position and so poorly organized that soldiers communicated in impromptu WhatsApp groups and relied on social media posts for targeting information. Commandos rushed into battle armed only for brief combat. Helicopter pilots were ordered to look to news reports and Telegram channels to choose targets.

idf logoAnd perhaps most damning: The Israel Defense Forces did not even have a plan to respond to a large-scale Hamas attack on Israeli soil, according to current and former soldiers and officers. If such a plan existed on a shelf somewhere, the soldiers said, no one had trained on it and nobody followed it. The soldiers that day made it up as they went along.

“In practice, there wasn’t the right defensive preparation, no practice, and no equipping and building strength for such an operation,” said Yom Tov Samia, a major general in the Israeli reserves and former head of the military’s Southern Command.

“There was no defense plan for a surprise attack such as the kind we have seen on Oct. 7,” said Amir Avivi, a brigadier general in the reserves and a former deputy commander of the Gaza Division, which is responsible for protecting the region.

That lack of preparation is at odds with a founding principle of Israeli military doctrine. From the days of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister, the goal was to always be on the offensive — to anticipate attacks and fight battles in enemy territory.

In response to a series of questions from The Times, including why soldiers and officers alike said there had been no plan, the Israel Defense Forces replied: “The I.D.F. is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas. Questions of this kind will be looked into at a later stage.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli-Gaza War: A Gaza hospital said at least 18 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in an area where many had sought refuge, Anushka Patil, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). An airstrike on Thursday hit a house in southern Gaza where people had sought shelter from Israel’s military offensive, according to a nearby hospital, which said that at least 18 people were killed and dozens of others injured.

The hospital, the Kuwait Specialty Hospital, said the strike had occurred in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost area, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following Israeli military orders to move south.

Here’s what we know:

  • A hospital in Rafah said that a house where displaced Palestinians were staying was hit with an airstrike, killing at least 18 people.
  • A strike hits near a hospital in Gaza’s southernmost area.
  • Gazans face an endless trek for safety as the evacuation orders keep coming.
  • Israeli military admits fault in two Dec. 24 strikes.
  • An Israeli American thought to be taken hostage was killed during the Oct. 7 attacks, her family says.
  • A report on a leaked Supreme Court judicial draft has Israeli politicians on edge.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What Is Happening to Our World? Thomas L. Friedman, right, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). As The Times’s foreign affairs tom friedman twittercolumnist since 1995, one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that there are good seasons and bad seasons in this business, which are defined by the big choices made by the biggest players.

Among the most ignorant and vile things that have been said about this Gaza war is that Hamas had no choice — that its wars with Israel culminating on Oct. 7 with a murderous rampage, the kidnappings of Israelis as young as 10 months and as old as 86 and the rape of Israeli women could somehow be excused as a justifiable jailbreak by pent-up males.

No.

The reason I insist on talking about these choices now is because Israel is being surrounded by what I call Iran’s landcraft carriers (as opposed to our aircraft carriers): Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran is squeezing Israel into a multi-front war with its proxies. I truly worry for Israel.

But Israel will have neither the sympathy of the world that it needs nor the multiple allies it needs to confront this Iranian octopus, nor the Palestinian partners it needs to govern any post-Hamas Gaza, nor the lasting support of its best friend in the world, Joe Biden, unless it is ready to choose a long-term pathway for separating from the Palestinians with an improved, legitimate Palestinian partner.

Biden has been shouting that in Netanyahu’s ears in their private calls.

For all these reasons, if Netanyahu keeps refusing because, once again, politically, the time is not right for him, Biden will have to choose, too — between America’s interests and Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest.

In sum, this war is so ugly, deadly and painful, it is no wonder that so many Palestinians and Israelis want to just focus on survival and not on any of the choices that got them here. The Haaretz writer Dahlia Scheindlin put it beautifully in a recent essay:

The situation today is so terrible that people run from reality as they run from rockets — and hide in the shelter of their blind spots. It’s pointless to wag fingers. The only thing left to do is try and change that reality.

For me, choosing that path will always be in season.

Relevant Recent Headlines

gaza destruction

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

Politico, The global elections Washington should be watching in 2024, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Countries representing half the world population will head to the polls in what’s been dubbed the biggest election year in history.

politico Custom2024 is set to put democracy through its most sweeping test yet.

Dubbed the biggest election year in history, more than 60 countries representing half the world population — some 4 billion people — will hold regional, legislative and presidential elections that look set to shake up political institutions and ramp up geopolitical tensions.

As the United States looks inward, bracing for a likely showdown between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, other countries are also preparing for possible incumbent oustings, raucous public protests and populist movements with the potential to destabilize larger regions.

“We will know whether democracy lives or dies by the end of 2024,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, founder of the investigative news site Rappler in the Philippines and author of “How to Stand Up to a Dictator.”

In Europe, establishment parties are bracing for a potential surge from the far right within the European Parliament, including Euroskeptic groups that aim to undermine the EU institutions meant to maintain peace across the continent’s 27-member bloc.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iran showcases its reach with militia attacks across Middle East, Liz Sly, Mustafa Salim and Suzan Haidamous, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The attacks can seem random, but they are the fruit of a carefully calibrated strategy forged in the wake of the 2020 killing of the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force to bring cohesion to the loosely formed alliance of militias.

iran flag mapThe Gaza war has given Iran the opportunity to showcase the capacity of its newly restructured network of allied militias, demonstrating Tehran’s strategic reach while allowing it to keep a distance from the fight, according to members of the groups and military analysts.

On any given day since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel, one or other of these militias has carried out an attack somewhere in the Middle East — and on some days several in different places. The Houthis in Yemen are targeting ships in the Red Sea; Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi groups are hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria; and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is engaged in daily exchanges of fire with Israeli forces across the Israel-Lebanon border.

The attacks can seem random, but they are the fruit of a carefully calibrated strategy forged in the wake of the 2020 killing of Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, to bring cohesion to the loosely formed alliance of militias — designated by Tehran as the “axis of resistance.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Young Love Meets Russian Repression. They Said ‘I Do’ in a Moscow Prison, Valerie Hopkins, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). She’s 18. He’s 23. He sent her a one-sentence letter through his prison’s electronic mail system: “Will you marry me?”

Russian FlagNadezhda Shtovba did not wear a white dress to her wedding. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. She and her husband, Yegor, did not exchange wedding bands either — rings are banned in Butyrka prison.

That is where Yegor Shtovba has spent the past 15 months in pretrial detention. In September 2022, he had read a love poem written for Nadezhda at a public gathering, his first time sharing his work in front of a crowd. He was detained that night as the police raided the event, and was eventually charged with “public calls for activities directed against state security.” The police accused him of cheering an antiwar poem read by another poet, an act that he denies.

His marriage to Nadezhda, in a short ceremony last month in a prison in downtown Moscow, was the first time the couple had any physical contact since his arrest.

“For 10 minutes, we just stood and hugged,” said the newly minted Ms. Shtovba, who recently turned 18 and sews plush toys for income.

The wedding, in the presence of a registrant and prison officials, was a testament to their young love, which can be glorious but also complicated, confusing and hard to navigate even in good circumstances. In Russia, an authoritarian state in the midst of severe crackdown on freedom of expression, it can turn the joyous moment of marriage into a trying struggle.

“Of course, I didn’t expect to get married this young,” said Ms. Shtovba, excited about using the last name of her new husband, who turned 23 last month. “But as his girlfriend, I don’t have any legal relationship with him, and it would be impossible to see him.”

There are hundreds of political prisoners in Russia, according to Memorial, a human rights group that is itself banned by the authorities. Some are well-known opposition politicians, like Aleksei A. Navalny and Ilya Yashin, whose 8.5-year sentence for criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was upheld last month.

But hundreds are lesser known, and most have loved ones who are fighting to maintain a connection with them while they are “in the zone,” a slang term for high-security prisons in Russia.

ny times logoNew York Times, Burundi’s President Says Gay People Should Be Stoned, Abdi Latif Dahir, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). President Evariste Ndayishimiye also railed against Western governments that he said had conditioned providing aid on accepting gay rights. His remarks do not carry the force of law.

burundi flagBurundi’s president said that gay people in his country should be stoned, amid a widening crackdown against L.G.B.T.Q. people in the East African nation that is adding to the anti-gay sentiments sweeping across the region and the wider African continent.

While President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s remarks do not have the force of law, they are an escalation of provocative statements directed at L.G.B.T.Q. people elsewhere by African government officials.

Mr. Ndayishimiye said that gay people should not be accepted in Burundi, a conservative nation where consensual same-sex intimacy among adults can already be penalized with up to two years in prison.

“I think that if we find these kinds of people in Burundi, it is better to take them to a stadium and stone them,” Mr. Ndayishimiye said on Friday during an event in the country’s eastern Cankuzo Province, where he answered questions from journalists and members of the public. “That’s what they deserve.”

In his remarks, the president also railed against Western countries that, he suggested, had conditioned aid on accepting gay rights.

“Let them keep it,” he said of their assistance.

On Sunday, a gay human rights activist in Burundi who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, expressed concern that the president’s statement sets the stage for extrajudicial killings and “worsens an already unsafe environment.”

Small, densely populated and landlocked, Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and receives aid and loans from the European Union, the United States and the International Monetary Fund.

ny times logoNew York Times, Congo’s President Declared Victor in Election Marred by Delays and Protests, Declan Walsh and Abdi Latif Dahir, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The Central African nation’s vote drew accusations of fraud, but the elections commissioner declared that the incumbent, Felix Tshisekedi, had won.

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, was declared the winner on Sunday of the December presidential vote in an election marred by severe logistical problems, protests and calls for its annulment from several opposition candidates.

Mr. Tshisekedi won more than 13 million votes, or 73 percent of the total ballots cast, said Denis Kadima, the head of the country’s electoral commission. Just over 18 million people, out of the 44 million registered to vote, cast ballots, Mr. Kadima said. The provisional results will now be sent to the nation’s Constitutional Court for confirmation.

The announcement was a critical moment in an election dogged by acute problems, some because of Congo’s vast size, and many fear the outcome could plunge the Central African nation into a new round of political turmoil and even violent unrest that has followed other electoral contests in recent years.

Democratic Republic of the CongoThe results of the election matter not only to Congo’s 100 million people, who are suffering after decades of conflict and poor governance, but also to Western countries that consider Congo a critical part of their efforts to stem climate change and make a transition to green energy.

Congo produces 70 percent of the world’s cobalt, a key element in the electric vehicle industry, and has the second-largest rainforest, which absorbs vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide. But for many in Congo, a decades-old, corruption-ridden system of political patronage is seen as the best way to distribute the spoils of that natural wealth — which may explain why the presidential race was so hotly contested.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tsunami Warnings Issued in Japan After Powerful Earthquake, Motoko Rich, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). A powerful earthquake hit western Japan on Monday, triggering tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in several prefectures, trapping people under collapsed buildings and disrupting electricity and mobile phone services in Ishikawa Prefecture, the epicenter of the quake, officials and Japan’s public broadcaster said.

The quake struck the Noto peninsula at around 4:10 p.m. and had a magnitude of 7.6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake measured 7.5 magnitude.

It was much weaker than the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan in 2011, caused a tsunami that killed thousands and triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant.

JapanThe police were responding to calls from residents reporting collapsed buildings and people trapped beneath them. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said that there were at least six cases of people trapped under rubble in Ishikawa, but he could not say how many people were involved or give details about their injuries.

Here is what else to know:

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake on Monday had a very shallow depth, which tends to make earthquakes more dangerous, but initial reports from the authorities in Ishikawa Prefecture suggested that there had been no major damage to “important facilities.”

The meteorological agency initially issued a major tsunami warning and said waves could reach as high as five meters, or 16 feet, in the Noto Peninsula facing the Japan Sea, ordering residents to leave for higher ground immediately. Japan’s government downgraded the warning several hours later across several prefectures on the western coast and said the greatest expected height of the waves was three meters, or about 10 feet.

An official from Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency said that there were no signs of abnormalities at any radioactivity monitoring stations at the Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa, on Japan’s western coast. Mr. Hayashi said that a fire had broken out at a transformer at the plant, but was extinguished.

The meteorological agency warned that aftershocks and tsunamis could continue for up to a week and advised residents to be on guard for at least two or three days.

Japan’s government downgraded its major tsunami warning across several prefectures on the western coast to a simple warning. It said the greatest expected height of the waves was now three meters (about 10 feet), down from the five meters it had initially warned of.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia is working to subvert French support for Ukraine, documents show, Catherine Belton, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). From the top floor of the house he shares here with a senior Russian diplomat — to whom he rents the apartment below — the man who helped bankroll the French presidential bid of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has been working on plans to propel pro-Moscow politicians to power.

“We have to change all the governments … All the governments in Western Europe will be changed,” Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a former member of the European Parliament for Le Pen’s party, said in an interview. “We have to control this. Take the leadership of this.”

For Schaffhauser, such ambitions are part of a decades-long effort to forge an alliance between Russia and Europe, the prospects of which, however distant, were shattered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But now, as Kyiv’s counteroffensive — and Western funding for it — falters and as governments in Europe battle rising living costs, plunging approval ratings and the rise of far-right populists, Schaffhauser and his Russian associates see fresh opportunity.

Russia has been increasing its efforts to undermine French support for Kyiv — a hidden propaganda front in Western Europe that is part of the war against Ukraine, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with European security officials and far-right political figures.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Portrait of a year in migration turmoil, with more uncertainty ahead, Maria Sacchetti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Deportations of migrants rise to more than 142,000 under Biden, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2023, nearly double the number from the year before, as the Biden administration ramped up enforcement to stem illegal border crossings, according to the agency’s annual report, published Friday.

Just 2,500 of the 72,000 non-criminals deported from the United States in fiscal 2023 were in the interior of the country, where dozens of sanctuary cities and towns have passed ordinances seeking to limit ICE from detaining migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in 2021 that being undocumented should not be the sole basis for removing someone from the country.

President Biden took office promising to create a more humane immigration system, and he attempted to pause deportations temporarily in the hope that Congress would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Nearly 18,000 of those deported were parents and children traveling as family units, surpassing the 14,400 removed under the Trump administration in fiscal 2020.

Federal officials said the removals adhered to the Biden administration’s enforcement strategy, which the Supreme Court upheld in June. Migrants who cross the border illegally and those who commit violent crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat are priorities for removal. The ICE report covered the period from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30.

The increase in deportations is more a reflection of the high numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border than interior enforcement, which Biden has discouraged in most cases.

Relevant Recent Headlines 

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Asian American Officials Cite Unfair Scrutiny in China Spy Tensions, Edward Wong and Amy Qin, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed). National security employees with ties to Asia say U.S. counterintelligence officers wrongly regard them as potential spies and bar them from jobs.

This story is based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials from multiple national security agencies and a review of dozens of Defense Department documents on security clearance cases.

The concerns, most loudly voiced by Asian American diplomats, are urgent enough that U.S. lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation in December to try constraining some practices at the State Department. The military spending bill of Dec. 14 includes language pushed by Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, intended to make the department more transparent in its assignment restriction and review processes.

“We should be asking ourselves how to deal with the risk, not cutting off the people who have the best skills from serving altogether,” Mr. Wong said. “That’s a self-inflicted wound.”

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Helicopters Sink 3 Houthi Boats in Red Sea, Pentagon Says, Vivek Shankar, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Iranian-backed Houthi gunmen from Yemen had fired on the helicopters, which were responding to an attack on a commercial ship, the U.S. military said.

American military helicopters came under fire from Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in the Red Sea on Sunday morning and shot back, sinking three Houthi boats and killing those aboard, U.S. Central Command said.

The episode occurred after a commercial container ship was attacked by Houthi fighters in small boats and issued a distress call, prompting U.S. Navy helicopters to respond, the military said.

“In the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew-served weapons and small arms,” Central Command said in a statement on social media. “The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews.”

It was the latest and perhaps deadliest such incident involving the Houthis, who control a large swath of northern Yemen, since Israel went to war with Hamas on Oct. 7.

In solidarity with Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks against commercial ships and seized an Israeli-linked vessel. The attacks have prompted the United States and allies to deploy warships to the Red Sea, which is crucial for global shipping.

Newsweek, Mike Flynn’s Hall of Fame Induction Halted After Board Resignations, Dec 30, 2023. Following a flurry of resignations and public outcry, the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame announced it will defer its 2024 induction of Michael Flynn.

newsweek logoIn a guest column to the Providence Journal, Patrick Conley, the Hall of Fame’s past president, stated Flynn’s induction would be deferred “to a more peaceful and rational time and a more secure place.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” said Conley, who currently serves as the board’s volunteer general counsel.

In the guest column, Conley defended the board’s December 14 vote to induct Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser. However, he said “the Hall of Fame exhibited ‘poor timing’ by choosing to honor General Flynn in this turbulent and politically charged environment.”

According to The Journal, at least eight board members have resigned as a result of the vote to induct Flynn. Conley’s column said the Hall of Fame received 100 letters in protest of Flynn’s pending induction.

Flynn, a retired three-star general who grew up in Rhode Island, was let go as Trump’s national security advisor after three weeks in office when it was revealed that he was not truthful about a conversation he had with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak while speaking with former Vice President Mike Pence.

In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the conversation with Kislyak. Trump pardoned him in November 2020.

Since then, Flynn has been associated with members of the QAnon conspiracy movement who have made baseless claims that a globalist cabal, made up of Democrats and wealthy businessmen, is involved in a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring.

He also falsely claimed COVID was invented in order to steal the 2020 election from Trump. Last year, Flynn suggested a Myanmar-like military coup “should happen” in the U.S.

“A majority of the board that voted to induct Flynn relied upon his 30-year record of public service and high attainments,” Conley wrote in his guest column. “It accepted as true the grant of clemency from the president of the United States asserting that no crime was actually committed and the fact that charges against Flynn were dropped by a weaponized Department of Justice.”

John Parrillo, a history professor, was among the recent board resignations.

In a resignation letter obtained by the Journal, Parrillo said he was “saddened to the core” by the vote to induct a man with Flynn’s “politics and far-right militaristic vision for America” and by the board’s unwillingness to reconsider his Hall of Fame merits.

“For the last seven years, it has been my [privilege] to nominate at least seven Rhode Islanders into our RI Hall of Fame. A fresco painter. A Naval historian. A Hollywood filmmaker. Two creators of a music festival. An early father of the American Industrial Revolution and the creator of at least 14 Black colleges,” Parrillo wrote in his letter.

“With a most heavy heart,” he said he must resign.

In another letter obtained by the Journal, former Rhode Island state Senator Bea Lanzi and lawyer John Tarantino wrote: “There is an overall right and wrong in the universe, and what has happened here, in our view, and according to our moral compasses, and consciences, compels us to resign.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

Emptywheel, Analysis: What Joseph Ziegler Didn’t Find When He Looked for Hunter Biden’s Sex Workers, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Jan. 1, 2024. In the week that Hunter Biden paid a sex worker a Venmo payment that IRS Agent Joseph Ziegler turned into a felony tax case, Hunter’s identity had been potentially compromised no less than six times.

joseph ziegler cspanJoseph Ziegler (shown at right in a hearing screenshot via CSPAN), the disgruntled IRS agent who built a tax case on the digital payments Hunter Biden made during the depth of his addiction, is quite proud that he found one of the sex workers who slept with Joe Biden’s son. He brought it up twice in his testimony.

First, he boasted that he sought out women he called prostitutes and impressed the prosecutors.’

Yeah. So standard practice is — for any transaction, you want to go out — and a lot of our job is hitting the pavement, going out and talking to people. There was a lot of different investigative steps that we took, that even going and talking to the prostitutes, we found multiple people that he called his employees that were also prostitutes, and that he would have them clean his hotel room or — there were a lot of these interviews that we ended up going and doing and talking to people that were so worth it, even though someone might — we were always being told by the prosecutors, you guys are wasting your time going and doing that. It’s not worth it. And literally, I would surprise them every time and find everyone.

Though maybe Ziegler was speaking loosely when he called these women prostitutes. Later in his testimony, he admitted that he had been calling Lunden Roberts, a former stripper and the mother of Hunter’s fourth child, a prostitute.

lev parnas ivanka jared kushnerPalm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn’t testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment? Antonio Fins, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Lev Parnas, shown at center between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, was a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Trump and is at the heart of the current inquiry of President Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas is telling his side of the story whether a congressional panel wants to listen or not.

lev parnas coverThe man who was a central figure in the 2019 Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump is now revealing insights into and details of the diplomatic impropriety that is, today, at the heart of the current inquiry into President Joe Biden. But it’s a message that House Republicans intent on exposing the so-called “Biden crime family” may not be eager to broadcast to the U.S. electorate.

“The whole motive and the whole Biden stuff was never about getting justice, and getting to the bottom of Biden criminality or doing an investigation in Ukraine,” Parnas said. “It was all about announcing an investigation and using that in the media to be able to destroy the Biden campaign and have Trump win.”

That much itself is not a novel revelation. The argument was adjudicated in Trump’s impeachment probe and trial in the U.S. Senate in early 2020, which ended with the president’s acquittal.

But Parnas, a 51-year-old Boca Raton resident, is laying out what he calls a complete story with added pieces of information at a critical juncture as the attempt to impeach Biden rolls into the high-stakes 2024 election year. It all amounts to, Parnas admits, a costly “escapade” which ultimately helped land embattled Ukraine in the crosshairs of U.S. politics.

Whether the House Oversight Committee and its Republican chair, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, will mind what Parnas has to say seems a highly unlikely proposition. But Parnas is taking his case to the American public.

In December, he will release a book, Shadow Diplomacy, and a podcast, “Lev Remembers,” will follow. He also is cooperating on a documentary. The common denominator among all the productions is a singular narrative, he said, aimed at “getting the truth out” about what happened with Trump and Ukraine.

“It’s all because of one individual that wanted to stay in power, that didn’t want to relinquish power,” he said.
Genesis of Ukraine scandal was a phone call, but not the one you have heard about

Among the twists disclosed in a pre-publication, limited version of Shadow Diplomacy was a phone call that kicked off five years of alleged Ukraine political “witch hunts.”

 Igor Fruman, top left, and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney at bottom of a Wall Street Journal graphic above by Laura Kammermann, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal.

In the fall of 2018, Parnas, above right, and an associate, Igor Fruman, above left, were busy networking global and Trump administration connections to get their energy trading and exploration company on sure financial footing. Parnas writes that he was working one of his key administration contacts, Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani, above center.

The pair frequented a Manhattan locale, The Grand Havana Room, where Parnas wrote that one evening that November the two “were talking about ways to get my business off the ground.” That’s when Giuliani, Parnas writes, excused himself to answer a phone call from a former associate with a tip about the former vice president and his son, Hunter.

The associate told Giuliani in that call, according to Parnas, that the Bidens “had been involved in something perhaps a bit shadier than mere conflict of interest in Ukraine.” And, Parnas relates, there were receipts — purportedly “a couple of letters, whistleblower complaints.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

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

Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).990 Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was One of the Central Park Five. Now He’s Councilman Yusef Salaam, Katherine Rosman, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). Mr. Salaam will take office 34 years after a wrongful prosecution for rape led to his spending nearly seven years in prison.

Yusef Salaam stood at the front of the City Council Chamber in Lower Manhattan with his right hand raised and his left hand on the Quran held by his wife. It was the one that his mother gave him when he was 15 years old and standing trial for a crime he did not commit. Its pages, filled with notes and bookmarks, were kept intact by a cloth cover that Mr. Salaam made during nearly seven years in prison.

Surrounded by relatives including his mother, sister and some of his children, Mr. Salaam was asked by Michael McSweeney, the city clerk, to repeat an oath.

With each passage that Mr. McSweeney recited and Mr. Salaam repeated, their voices took on volume and urgency: “I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York,” Mr. Salaam said. “I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of council member of the ninth district, in the borough and county of New York, in the City of New York, according to the best of my ability.”

“Council Member Salaam,” Mr. McSweeney said, “Congratulations.”

Mr. Salaam’s family broke into cheers. He placed his hand over his heart.

It was one day and 21 years after his exoneration from a first-degree rape conviction in a case so brutal that it had stunned a crime-weary city and aligned New York’s political, law enforcement and media establishment squarely against him and his co-defendants.

In 1990, Mr. Salaam was sent to prison as one of the “Central Park Five.” This summer, he beat two incumbent State Assembly members in a Democratic primary and officially won the Council seat in an uncontested election in November. He will take office on New Year’s Day.

Mr. Salaam is a political neophyte whose skill as an operator within the byzantine universe of the city’s municipal government is completely untested. “I’m not a part of that world,” he acknowledged. “It takes time.”

His value to his constituents in Harlem is not measured, at least not yet, by a talent for weighing policy matters or solving neighborhood problems.

He brings to his community the power and the symbolism of his own life story. “Everything — every single thing — that I experienced has prepared me for this,” Mr. Salaam said before being sworn in on Dec. 20. “I needed to be in the belly of the beast, because now I can see that those who are closest to the pain need to have a seat at the table.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Oregon Newspaper Stops Printing After Embezzlement Leaves It in ‘Shambles,’ Amanda Holpuch, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Eugene Weekly had to lay off its entire 10-person staff after it uncovered years of theft by an employee, the editor said.

A weekly newspaper in Oregon abruptly stopped publishing and laid off all of its workers after an employee embezzled tens of thousands of dollars and left months of bills unpaid, its editor said.

The newspaper, The Eugene Weekly, announced on Thursday that it would stop printing after it discovered financial problems, including money not being paid into employee retirement accounts and $70,000 of unpaid bills to the newspaper’s printer, Camilla Mortensen, the newspaper’s editor, said on Sunday.

The entire 10-person newspaper staff was laid off three days before Christmas, though some workers, including Ms. Mortensen, were still volunteering to publish articles online.

The Eugene Weekly, a free newspaper, was founded in 1982 and each week prints 30,000 copies, which can be found in bright red boxes in and around Eugene, one of the most populous cities in Oregon.

Recent articles described a New Year’s Day hike led by guides at a state park, the efforts of a nearby unincorporated community, Blue River, to recover from a 2020 wildfire, and a memorial to people who had died homeless in 2023.

Leaders of The Eugene Weekly said in a letter to readers that the newspaper’s finances had been left in “shambles,” but they planned to fight to keep the publication alive.

ny times logoNew York Times, Powerful Realtors Group Loses Its Grip on the Industry, Debra Kamin, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The National Association of Realtors is facing antitrust lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations, and real estate agents are now looking for alternatives.

ny times logoNew York Times, After a Rise in Murders During the Pandemic, a Sharp Decline in 2023, Tim Arango and Campbell Robertson, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The U.S. is on track for a record drop in homicides, and many other categories of crime are also in decline, according to the F.B.I.

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial : Face it: A smart ban on ski masks can help fight crime and protect rights, Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Tucked into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Addressing Crime Trends Now Act, a bill intended to help police fight crime in D.C., is an under-discussed proposal: a prohibition on ski masks and face coverings.

The mayor’s proposal would revive the anti-mask section of a 1982 law, the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Act. That statute prohibited those 16 and older from covering their faces while in public, intending to commit a crime, intimidate, threaten, or harass others or in cases in which masking would recklessly “cause another person to fear for his or her personal safety.”

The provision, which carried a one-year maximum sentence, was rarely enforced even when it was on the books. And D.C. repealed it in 2020 to encourage the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That reasonable public health policy had an unintended consequence: normalizing masking for all sorts of purposes, legal and otherwise. Now, identity-obscuring ski masks have become a de facto uniform for those who commit retail thefts, carjackings and robberies. The disguises make crimes scarier and perpetrators more difficult to identify — which of course is the point. One of the more remarkable aspects of last week’s CityCenter Chanel store robbery was that a video camera recorded one of the suspects without a face covering.

Other cities are debating anti-mask measures or have already adopted them: Philadelphia in November banned ski masks in public places — parks, schools, day-care centers, city-owned buildings and public transit — and at least 11 states have some kind of anti-mask ordinance on their books, most decades old. The goal is to prevent citizens from feeling “under siege,” as one Philadelphia council member put it, and to promote a sense of public safety.

Safety, actual and perceived, is a valid goal, especially urgent in the District. Still, the case for mask bans is more complicated than it might seem. There is a tension between the security mask bans seek to protect and the First Amendment liberties some mask wearers can legitimately claim in certain contexts.

At the same time, anonymity has a long association with criminality or deviance, and social science research shows that it can enable untoward behavior and make crimes more terrorizing.

Probably the biggest potential problem with anti-mask decrees is a practical one: enforcement. D.C. police are not eager to enforce such a ban; some officers have told us that it is a distraction from more important tasks and could heighten the risk of discrimination claims. The fact that ski masks are particularly popular among youths of color all but guarantees that enforcement will appear targeted.

Fortunately, relatively minor tweaks could address the concerns. A mask ban could be limited to particular and clearly delineated spaces — public transit, for instance, or city property and places of commerce, where mask-wearing is commonly understood to induce anxiety and serve little public good. Reasonable exceptions for religious practice or political expression should be spelled out in the statute. An anti-mask provision could be used to enhance penalties for other crimes of which the masked perpetrator is accused, rather than a stand-alone offense. A law that clearly provides that wearing a mask itself is not criminal, but committing a crime with one is, would be harder to use as a pretext for selective enforcement or harassment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rikers Island Has Become New York’s Largest Mental Institution, Jan Ransom and Amy Julia Harris, Photographs by José A. Alvarado Jr., Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A seemingly endless rotation between forensic hospitals and jails means that some mentally ill detainees stay in the system for years without standing trial.

One night in fall 2015, an 18-year-old woman was standing on a subway platform in the Bronx when a homeless man named James Dolo came up from behind and used both hands to push her onto the tracks, the police said, injuring her.

Jailed on an attempted murder charge, Mr. Dolo, then 38, soon was seated in front of a court evaluator for a review of his competency to stand trial. Mr. Dolo smelled of urine, the evaluator noted, had described a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of doing.

The evaluator marked him down as unfit, citing schizophrenia, and a judge ordered Mr. Dolo committed to a state forensic psychiatric hospital — a secure facility for incarcerated people — to be restored to mental competency. He spent nearly two years there before he was shuttled to a public hospital in Manhattan, and then to the city jails on Rikers Island, and then to the forensic hospital again.

Now, eight years later, having never been convicted of a crime in the subway shoving, he is back on Rikers Island, where guards once found him sitting in his own excrement and refusing to eat or leave his cell.

Mr. Dolo’s case, which has not been previously reported, illustrates one reason Rikers Island has become a warehouse for thousands of people with psychiatric problems: Many detainees with severe mental illness have moved back and forth between the jails and state forensic psychiatric facilities for months or even years before standing trial. Some have spent more time in this cycle than they might have served in prison had they been convicted.

Records show that more than half the people in city custody — some 3,000 men and women — have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and, on any given day, hundreds of them are awaiting evaluations or in line for beds at state forensic psychiatric hospitals, with scores more being treated at those facilities.

Relevant Recent Headlines

tennessee map

 

More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Many on Gulf Coast say time is running out for EPA to act on toxic air, Anna Phillips, Amudalat Ajasa and Timothy Puko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration vowed to protect Gulf Coast communities from dangerous pollution. But refineries continue to exceed safe levels.

As a girl growing up near refineries and chemical factories in this part of the Gulf Coast, 77-year-old Lois Malvo thought nothing of the way her eyes burned when she played outside. Now she sees dangers all around her.

The smell of rotten eggs and gasoline frequently fills her low-slung home, which lacks running water and leans to one side. Most days, she wakes up in the grips of a coughing fit. Cancer, which she blames on the toxic chemicals in the air, killed her sister and afflicted both of her brothers as well as herself.

“Our health lets us know that something isn’t right,” she said. “We’re being attacked by the industry because we’re vulnerable people and really, nobody cares about us.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tried to change perceptions of those like Malvo when he toured pollution-choked communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas two years ago, assuring residents that the Biden administration was committed to reversing years of inaction.

washington post logoWashington Post, Massive waves hammer West Coast, with more storms expected, Nicolás Rivero and Diana Leonard, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Ventura and Santa Cruz counties could see more damage amid stormy conditions this weekendWaves as high as 25 feet continue to pummel the West Coast after a damaging barrage flooded beaches as far south as Los Angeles on Thursday and left logs scattered across roads as far north as southern Oregon.

Powerful cyclones over the North Pacific are combining with higher-than-normal tides to create dangerous waves and flooding.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, Stalled on the Front, Ukraine Steps Up Sabotage and Targets Trains, Marc Santora, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). As conventional forces struggle to break through defensive lines, Russia and Ukraine are increasingly turning to guerrilla tactics. The saboteurs managed to place four explosives on a Russian freight train carrying diesel and jet fuel, roughly 3,000 miles from the Ukrainian border. But more important than the destruction of the train, Ukrainian intelligence officials said, was the timing of the blast.

ukraine flagThey needed it to blow up as the 50 rail cars were traveling through the nine-mile-long tunnel through the Severomuysky mountains, the longest train tunnel in Russia.

The Ukrainians were hoping to compromise a vital conduit for weapons being shipped to Russia from North Korea, at a moment when Ukrainian forces on the front are struggling to stave off relentless Russian assaults. Trains can be replaced and tracks quickly repaired. But serious damage to this tunnel, which took decades to build, might not be so easy to fix.

Russia and Ukraine continue to battle on a large scale, both on the ground and with aerial strikes. Russian officials accused Ukraine of attacking a Russian city, Belgorod, on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others, in apparent response to a huge Russian missile barrage on several Ukrainian cities the day before.

But guerrilla tactics — including sabotage, commando raids, targeted assassinations and attempts to blow up ammunition depots, oil pipelines and railways — have taken on added importance as the two sides fail to make substantial advances at the front.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia pounded the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv ahead of the New Year, Constant Méheut, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Moscow said that it had struck Kharkiv with missiles in retaliation for what it said was a deadly Ukrainian air assault on the Russian city of Belgorod.

Residents of the Ukrainian city, Kharkiv, which is just 60 miles across the border from Belgorod, were jolted by multiple air raid sirens overnight, as several waves of ballistic missiles and attack drones rained on the city center, injuring nearly 30 people and damaging private homes, hospitals and a hotel, according to Ukrainian officials.

“These are not military facilities, but cafes, residential buildings and offices,” Ihor Terekhov, Kharkiv’s mayor, said in a post on social media that included a video of firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze amid a pile of rubble.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Attack on a Russian City Kills at Least 18, Constant Méheut and Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The bombardment of Belgorod, apparently in response to an air assault on Friday, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the war began.

Russian FlagThe bombardment of Belgorod on Saturday, apparently in response to an enormous air assault by Moscow a day earlier, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the start of the war.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Chill in the Housing Market Seeps Into Other Industries, Martha C. White, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). The slowdown in the residential real estate market, a crucial cog in the American economy, is threatening sectors like home improvement and storage.

Sales of existing homes, which make up most of the nation’s housing stock, were down roughly 7 percent in November from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Federal Reserve policymakers held interest rates steady at their meeting in December and signaled that the central bank would begin cutting interest rates in 2024, offering hope to the residential market, which is more sensitive to interest-rate changes.

The factors that kept people from buying a home in 2023 were myriad, including soaring prices. The median price of an existing single-family home was $392,100 in November, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, making home buying unaffordable for a large swath of the population, even as mortgage rates have dipped below 7 percent.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will the Economy Help or Hurt Biden ’24? Krugman and Coy Dig Into Data, Paul Krugman and Peter Coy,Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed).

Peter Coy: Paul, I think the economy is going to be a huge problem for President Biden in 2024. Voters are unhappy about the state of the economy, even though, by most measures, it’s doing great. Imagine how much unhappier they’ll be if things get worse heading into the election — which I, for one, think is quite likely to be the case.

paul krugmanPaul Krugman, right: I’m not sure about the politics. We can get into that later. But first, can we acknowledge just how good the current state of the economy is?

Peter: Absolutely. Unemployment is close to its lowest point since the 1960s, and inflation has come way down. That’s the big story of 2023. But 2024 is a whole ’nother thing. I think there will be two big stories in 2024. One, whether the good news continues and, two, how voters will react to whatever the economy looks like around election time.

ny times logoNew York Times, Your Car Is Tracking You. Abusive Partners May Be, Too, Kashmir Hill, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  Apps that remotely track and control cars are being weaponized by abusive partners. Car companies have been slow to respond, according to victims and experts.

A car, to its driver, can feel like a sanctuary. A place to sing favorite songs off key, to cry, to vent or to drive somewhere no one knows you’re going.

But in truth, there are few places in our lives less private.

Modern cars have been called “smartphones with wheels” because they are internet-connected and have myriad methods of data collection, from cameras and seat weight sensors to records of how hard you brake and corner. Most drivers don’t realize how much information their cars are collecting and who has access to it, said Jen Caltrider, a privacy researcher at Mozilla who reviewed the privacy policies of more than 25 car brands and found surprising disclosures, such as Nissan saying it might collect information about “sexual activity.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

joe biden fist in air

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, When Being a Spokeswoman Attracts Leering Internet Trolls, Caity Weaver, Dec. 28, 2023. When you lend your likeness to a nationwide ad campaign, things don’t always go perfectly. Just ask Milana Vayntrub.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Are you fit for your age? Try our New Year’s tuneup to find out, Gretchen Reynolds, Chelsea Conrad and Carson TerBush, Jan. 2, 2024 (print ed.). We asked exercise experts for easy ways to test fitness for balance, mobility, grip strength, stamina and more.

These elements are noteworthy because each has been linked to longevity, meaning our balance, mobility, grip strength, stamina and overall fitness could influence just how long and well we live.

Try these five simple tests now and see how you measure up against a benchmark of what’s healthy for your age group. Don’t fret if your results fall a bit short. We’ll also give you easy exercises to help you fine-tune every aspect of your fitness and make 2024 your fittest year yet.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the anti-vaccine movement is gaining power in statehouses, Lauren Weber, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Louisiana is a harbinger of the growing power of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses, as more candidates supporting once-fringe policies win and sign onto laws gutting vaccine requirements.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The victories come as part of a political backlash to pandemic restrictions and the proliferation of misinformation about the safety of vaccines introduced to fight the coronavirus.

In Louisiana, 29 candidates endorsed by Stand for Health Freedom, a national group that works to defeat mandatory vaccinations, won in the state’s off-year elections this fall.

Fred Mills, the retiring Republican chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s health and welfare committee, said he fears that once-fringe anti-vaccine policies that endanger people’s lives will have a greater chance of passing come January when newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in and more than a dozen Republican moderates like himself leave office.

Louisiana’s shift is a sign of the growing clout of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses as bills that once died in committee make it onto the legislative floor for a vote.

Since spring, Tennessee lawmakers dropped all vaccine requirements for home-schooled children. Iowa Republicans passed a bill eliminating the requirement that schools educate students about the HPV vaccine. And the Florida legislature passed a law preemptively barring school districts from requiring coronavirus vaccines, a move health advocates fear opens the door to further vaccine limitations.

“Politics is going to win over medicine,” said Mills, a pharmacist who has weakened or defeated bills that would have limited vaccine access and promoted vaccine exemptions in schools and workplaces. But after 13 years in the Senate, Mills has hit the state’s three-term limit.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Media, Religion, High Tech, Sports, Education, Free Speech, Culture

claudine gay steven senne ap

wsj logoWall Street Journal, U.S. Education News: Plagiarism allegations surfaced about a year ago by critics who have circled Gay for years, Douglas Belkin and Arian Campo-Flores, Dec. 29, 2023. Behind the Campaign to Take Down Harvard’s Claudine Gay (shown above in an AP photo).

From the time she began carving her path through the most elite private schools in the nation to the presidency of Harvard University, Claudine Gay earned plaudits and promotions.

She also amassed detractors who were skeptical of her work and qualifications and outraged by what they saw as the political decisions she made as an increasingly powerful administrator.

Those two forces collided in spectacular fashion this month after plagiarism allegations that began circulating online about a year ago spilled into public view due to the efforts of conservative activists including Christopher Rufo, who has said he wants Gay removed from her job as Harvard president. The allegations have sparked criticism of Harvard over the process that led to Gay’s selection as president, the first Black person to hold the post, and the university’s transparency around how it responded to the plagiarism claims.

Harvard said it first learned about allegations of plagiarism against Gay in October and that the Harvard Corporation, the school’s 12-member governing board, engaged three political scientists from outside the university to carry out their own investigation. The school has declined to identify them or release their review.

In December, Harvard said the review revealed no evidence of intentional deception or recklessness in Gay’s work as a political scientist but did find instances of inadequate citation which “while regrettable, did not constitute research misconduct.” Gay requested corrections, and the board reaffirmed its support for her and has said additional charges of plagiarism were without merit.
Harvard President Claudine Gay’s early December House testimony about antisemitism on campus was widely criticized. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg News

What the school didn’t initially disclose is that after the allegations were brought to the governing board in October by the New York Post, the board hired a law firm that specializes in defamation law. That firm, Clare Locke, sent a 15-page letter to the Post saying the alleged instances of plagiarism were “both cited and properly credited,” according to excerpts of the letter published by the paper. The school threatened to sue the paper if it published allegations against Gay.

“Our letter responded only to specific passages identified by the Post on October 24,” the law firm said in a statement, adding that the paper “made its own decision” on whether to publish the allegations. The Post published stories this month.

ny times logoNew York Times, PGA Tour and Saudi-Backed LIV Extend Deadline to Finalize Deal, Lauren Hirsch, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed). The tentative deal for the men’s golf circuits to join forces had a Dec. 31 deadline, but significant questions remained.

pga tour logoWhen the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf league, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, announced their groundbreaking deal in June for the men’s golf circuits to join forces, they left most details unanswered and set a Dec. 31 deadline to figure them out.

liv golf logoNow, it is clear that the two sides will need more time.

The PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, said in a memo to players Sunday evening that the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, were “working to extend” the negotiations into the new year.

The sides had been discussing signing a formal one-month extension, which could be further prolonged, said three people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to discuss them. But while both sides remain focused on completing a deal, they have yet to set any new formal deadline.

saudi arabia flagThose negotiations continue as the PGA Tour progresses on simultaneous talks to raise additional money from Strategic Sports Group, an investment group led by Fenway Sports Group — the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the English soccer club Liverpool.

Mr. Monahan said on Sunday that the tour and Strategic Sports Group “have made meaningful progress” in their talks and that the tour had “provided S.S.G. with the due diligence information they requested.” The parties are focused on finalizing terms of the deal and documents, he said.

The PGA Tour, the Saudi wealth fund and the Strategic Sports Group enter 2024 with significant uncertainty about the deal. Since the June announcement, questions that had initially accompanied the agreement’s frenzied rollout appear to have compounded: How will potential U.S. investment sit alongside Saudi money? How will the golf circuits work together even as the Saudis still actively seek to poach PGA Tour players?

The planned partnership was announced on June 6 with scant contours of an actual agreement. The PGA Tour and the Saudi wealth fund had planned to work out the details, including governance, the valuation of assets and how the money would be put to work, by the end of 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C.’s poorest ward aims anger at Leonsis as Mystics eye move downtown, Paul Schwartzman, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).   Soon after taking over the MLK Deli in Southeast Washington, Tyrone White found himself with an inviting opportunity: opening a concession stand at the new neighborhood arena where the Washington Mystics play home games.

In the past five years, White has sold enough crab cakes and chicken sandwiches at Mystics games to employ a couple of dozen workers at Entertainment and Sports Arena, located on the campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in one of Washington’s poorest Zip codes.

Now White fears he could lose the revenue generated by the concession stand — enough to help him open a second deli in another struggling area — if Ted Leonsis relocates the Washington Wizards and Capitals to Virginia and moves Mystics home games downtown to the Capital One Arena.

“I’d have to cut back on jobs and opportunity for the community,” White said the other day at his deli on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where his menu includes “Marion Barry Salmon Cakes,” a toast to the neighborhood’s favorite former mayor. “It would be devastating.”

muriel bowser CustomAs Leonsis and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), right, touted the deal for the $65 million arena nearly a decade ago, the Mystics’ billionaire owner talked with passion about creating a new horizon for the neighborhood of Congress Heights in Ward 8, a corner of the city long defined by poverty and violent crime.

But with his announcement that he would shift Mystics games downtown to the Capital One Arena if the Wizards and Capitals relocate to Alexandria, Leonsis is seeking to remove a key attraction that D.C. officials are counting on to help fuel investment and propel the neighborhood’s renaissance.

When it agreed to the deal with the city, Leonsis’s company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, signed a 19-year lease at the Ward 8 arena, a commitment that included not only Mystics home games but also Wizards practices.

“Our expectation was what it still is — the presence of the Mystics and Monumental was going to be the excitement we were going to build around,” said Monica Ray, president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corp., a nonprofit that has advocated for the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths.

“I’m angry that they think they can get up and leave the promise and potential there,” Ray said. “It feels like Ted has forgotten his commitment to Ward 8. We should not be an afterthought.”

Her disappointment is not isolated. After Leonsis’s announcement, a Ward 8 council candidate, Markus Batchelor, described the Mystics potential move as “a blow” to spurring economic growth “where it’s needed most.” Ron Moten, a veteran Anacostia-based activist, threatened to organize a boycott of Monumental sports franchises and brands unless Leonsis reversed course.

Bowser’s administration, in a statement, said that the city’s contract with Monumental “requires” that the “Mystics play their home games and the Wizards hold their practices at the Entertainment and Sports arena until 2037. “The District honors its contracts, and we trust and expect our partners to do the same.”

ny times logoNew York Times, In Times Square, Hundreds of Thousands Ring In 2024, Andy Newman, Camille Baker and Sean Piccoli, Updated Jan. 1, 2024. New Year’s celebrations took place against the backdrop of demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war in Midtown Manhattan.

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into Times Square on Sunday night to ring in the New Year, amid heightened security and scattered demonstrations in Midtown Manhattan over the Israel-Hamas war.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 

Jan. 1

Top Headlines

 

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

 

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

 

Israeli army troops are seen near the GazaStrip board in southern Israelon Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. The army is battling Palestinian militaynts across Gaza in the war ignited by HaHmas' Oct. 7 attack in to Israel (AP photo by Ariel Schalit).

 

Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

 

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

 

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

 

lev parnas ivanka jared kushner

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

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

Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).990

 

Climate Change, Environment, Energy, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 

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

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

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

 
Top Stories

 

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

Destruction in Gaza (Hannibal Hanschke photo via EPA and Shutterstock, Oct. 29, 2023).

ny times logoNew York Times, Half of Gazans Are at Risk of Starving, U.N. Warns, Liam Stack, Gaya Gupta and Abu Bakr Bashir, Jan. 1, 2024. More than 90 percent of Palestinians in the territory say they have regularly gone without food for a whole day, according to the United Nations. Walaa Zaiter’s four children have been hungry for weeks, but she can barely find them food.

palestinian flagThey ask for sandwiches, fruit juice and homemade Palestinian dishes like she used to cook before the war began. In a fleeting moment of internet access, she said, she once caught the children huddled around her phone to watch a YouTube video of someone eating French fries.

The most they can hope for these days, she said in a recent telephone interview, is a can of peas, some cheese and an energy bar distributed as a family’s rations by the United Nations once a week in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where they fled to in early December to escape Israeli bombardment farther north. It is not nearly enough to feed her family of seven.

“It’s a daily struggle,” said Ms. Zaiter, 37, whose children range in age from 9 months to 13 years. “You feel you are under pressure and hopeless, and you cannot provide anything.”

Israel’s war in Gaza has created a humanitarian catastrophe, with half of the population of about 2.2 million at risk of starvation and 90 percent saying that they regularly go without food for a whole day, the United Nations said in a recent report.

Arif Husain, chief economist at the World Food Program, said the humanitarian disaster in Gaza was among the worst he had ever seen. The territory appears to meet at least the first criteria of a famine, with 20 percent of the population facing an extreme lack of food, he said.
Image

“I’ve been doing this for about 20 years,” Mr. Husain said. “I’ve been to pretty much any conflict, whether Yemen, whether it was South Sudan, northeast Nigeria, Ethiopia, you name it. And I have never seen anything like this, both in terms of its scale, its magnitude, but also at the pace that this has unfolded.”

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, contended that Israel did not stand in the way of humanitarian assistance and blamed Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, for any shortages. He accused Hamas of seizing some of the aid for its own uses. He did not provide evidence, but Western and Arab officials have said that Hamas is known to have a large stockpile of supplies, including food, fuel and medicine.

The war began on Oct. 7 after Hamas attacked Israel and killed an estimated 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. To retaliate, Israel launched a devastating air bombardment of the small, impoverished enclave, followed by a ground invasion that has displaced roughly 85 percent of the population.

More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and it has destroyed much of the territory’s civilian infrastructure and economy. Israel has also imposed a siege on Gaza for months now, cutting off most water, food, fuel and medicine.

benjamin netanyahu frown screenshot

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli Justices Reject Netanyahu-Led Move to Limit Court, Isabel Kershner, Jan. 1, 2024. 8-7 Ruling Could Spark Constitutional Crisis. The law, passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, sparked mass protests. Monday’s ruling could rekindle domestic discord.

Israel FlagIn a momentous ruling that could ignite a constitutional crisis, Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government that was meant to limit the court’s own powers, by a majority of eight judges to seven.

The decision is likely to rekindle the grave domestic situation that began a year ago over the right-wing government’s judicial overhaul plan — which sparked mass protests that brought the country to a near standstill at times — even as Israel is at war in Gaza.

The law, passed by the Israeli Parliament in July, had sharply divided Israelis and sparked mass protests. Monday’s ruling raised the prospect of renewed discord as Israel wages war in Gaza.

The court, sitting with a full panel of all 15 of its justices for the first time in its history, rejected a law passed by Parliament in July. The law barred judges from using a particular legal standard to overrule decisions made by government ministers.

The court’s decision heralds a potential showdown between the top judicial authority and the ruling coalition, and could fundamentally reshape Israeli democracy, pitting the power of the government against that of the court.

In a country that has one house of Parliament, no formal written constitution and a largely ceremonial president, many defenders of Israel’s liberal democracy view the Supreme Court as the only bulwark against government power, and the standard of reasonableness to be one of the primary tools at the judges’ disposal.

Here is what else to know:

  • Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition, the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history, has argued that the Supreme Court has overreached its authority and subverted the will of the voters and the function of the elected government. They argue that the legal concept of “reasonableness” — which the court used a year ago to strike down Mr. Netanyahu’s appointment as finance minister of a political ally who had been convicted of tax fraud — is ill defined and subjective.
  • Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party called the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday “in opposition to the nation’s desire for unity, especially in a time of war.” They slammed the court for ruling on the issue when Israeli soldiers are “fighting and endangering themselves in battle.”
  • Kaplan Force, one of the activist groups that organized protests against the judicial reform, praised the Supreme Court’s decision and called on all parties to obey the ruling. “Today, one chapter ended in the battle to protect democracy — in a victory for the citizens of Israel,” the group said in a statement.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israel’s high court strikes down Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul law, Miriam Berger and Ruby Mellen, Jan. 1, 2024. Israel’s Israel Flaghigh court on Monday struck down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial law that aimed to limit the court’s power over government decisions and sparked mass anti-government protests and international condemnation.

Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judiciary upended Israel in the months leading up to the Israel-Gaza war and now threaten to cause a leadership crisis.

President Joe Biden, right, greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Bidens arrival in Israel following the Oct. 7 massacre of an estimated 1,200 Israelis by Hamas invaders from Gaza (New York Times photo by Kenny Holston on Oct. 18, 2023).

U..S. President Joe Biden, right, greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon Bidens arrival in Israel following the Oct. 7 massacre of an estimated 1,200 Israelis by Hamas invaders from Gaza (New York Times photo by Kenny Holston on Oct. 18, 2023).

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel-Hamas War: The U.S. and Israel: An Embrace Shows Signs of Strain After Oct. 7, Peter Baker, Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes and Isabel Kershner, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). No other episode in the past half-century has tested the relationship in such an intense and consequential way as the Israel-Hamas war.

President Biden was getting ready to leave the White House for an audacious flight to Israel to demonstrate solidarity after the Oct. 7 terrorist attack when suddenly the trip seemed to be falling apart before it even began.

Israel FlagAn explosion at a Gaza hospital had reportedly killed or wounded hundreds, the Palestinians were blaming Israel, and Arab leaders were refusing to meet with Mr. Biden when he arrived in the region. The president summoned advisers to the Treaty Room on the second floor of the White House family quarters to answer the question: Should he still go?

A robust debate broke out between his national security and political advisers. Some in the room urged Mr. Biden to scrap the trip. It was not clear what could be accomplished. It might not even be safe. What if Hamas launched rockets at Ben-Gurion International Airport when Air Force One approached? Where would the president land then?

Others argued that he needed to go anyway. He had already announced the visit. They should not lurch from one decision to another. And preliminary U.S. intelligence indicated that Israel was not responsible for the hospital explosion.

Finally, Mr. Biden weighed in. “I’ve got to go,” he said. “I’ve got to see these guys face to face.”

That decision, perhaps more than any other, would come to define Mr. Biden’s approach to what has become the most divisive foreign policy crisis of his presidency. He had to go. He had to see them face to face. With that, he effectively took ownership of the war that would follow in all its overpowering brutality, managing it personally at great political risk to himself at home and abroad.

No other episode in the past half-century has tested the ties between the United States and Israel in such an intense and consequential way. The complicated diplomacy between Washington and Jerusalem since Hamas terrorists killed 1,200 people and seized 240 hostages has played out across both governments, in direct interactions between the leaders and intense back and forth between military and intelligence agencies.

The resolve of that dramatic presidential trip to Israel has given way to frustrating phone calls, sharp public comments and exhausting marathon meetings. The relationship has grown increasingly fraught as Mr. Biden has involved himself more intensely in the conflict than almost any other issue in three years in office. The president and his team have intervened time and again to steer Israel away from what they consider the excesses of its retaliation only to have the Israelis defy them at critical moments.

Mr. Biden has seen growing internal resistance to his backing of Israel, including multiple dissent cables from State Department diplomats. In November, more than 500 political appointees and staff members representing some 40 government agencies sent a letter to Mr. Biden protesting his support of Israel’s war in Gaza. Congressional Democrats have been pressing him to curb Israel’s assault, and the United States has found itself at odds with other countries at the United Nations.

climate change photo

washington post logoWashington Post, 2023 will be remembered as the year climate change arrived, Chico Harlan, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The year will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of “global boiling,” as the U.N. secretary general called it.

Then came the hottest year humanity had ever seen.

It had been a year that had started with merely very hot temperatures and then intensified midway. What made the subsequent months stand out wasn’t so much any single record but rather the heat’s all-consuming relentlessness. It went day by day, continent by continent, until people all over the map, whether in the Amazon or the Pacific islands or rural Greece, had glimpsed a climate future for which they are not prepared.

“It felt like the earth was about to explode,” Dinas said.

Even if its extremes are ultimately eclipsed, as seems inevitable, 2023 will mark a point when humanity crossed into a new climate era — an age of “global boiling,” as United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called it. The year included the hottest single day on record (July 6) and the hottest ever month (July), not to mention the hottest June, the hottest August, the hottest September, the hottest October, the hottest November, and probably the hottest December. It included a day, Nov. 17, when global temperatures, for the first time ever, reached 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial levels.

Discomfort, destruction, and death are the legacy of those records.

In Phoenix, a heat wave went on for so long, with 31 consecutive days above 110 Fahrenheit, that one NASA atmospheric scientist called it “mind-boggling.” The surrounding county recorded a record number of heat deaths, nearly 600.

 

ron desantis mouth open uncredited


washington post logoWashington Post, DeSantis, Haley pledge to pardon Trump if he’s convicted, Reis Thebault, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Donald Trump’s leading Republican primary challengers said in recent days that if they are elected, they would pardon the former president should he be convicted of any of the 91 felony charges he’s currently facing.

nikki haley oFlorida Gov. Ron DeSantis, above, and former governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley, right, argued in separate campaign stops last week that extending clemency to Trump would be in the country’s best interest. Both had previously signaled they were leaning toward issuing a pardon, but their recent statements were the most definitive yet and left little room for doubt just weeks before the first nominating contests in January.

djt maga hat“I would pardon Trump if he is found guilty,” Haley told a crowd in Plymouth, N.H., on Thursday.

Ron DeSantis says Trump’s indictments ‘distorted’ GOP presidential race

DeSantis, who has blamed Trump’s dominance in the polls in part on the string of criminal indictments, said Friday that he would pardon a convicted Trump because “we got to move on as a country.” Speaking with reporters after a campaign stop in Elkader, Iowa, DeSantis echoed Haley’s commitment, invoking the only previous time a U.S. president has received a pardon.

“It’s like Ford did to Nixon,” DeSantis said, referencing Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of disgraced former president Richard M. Nixon. “Because you just, you know, the divisions are just not in the country’s interest.”

DeSantis and Haley, who are leading a winnowed field of GOP candidates opposing Trump, have for months walked a political tightrope, seeking to distinguish themselves from the former president while continuing to court his substantial bloc of supporters, whose votes will be key in deciding the Republican primary.

Aside from Trump, who has remained the clear leader in polling and campaign fundraising, three of the GOP’s top four candidates have now said unequivocally that they would pardon him, with entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy committing to the move in July.

Ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, meanwhile, has railed against these pledges, calling Trump’s actions a threat to democracy. A pardon for Trump, Christie said on Friday, would signal “two systems of justice: One for all of us and one for the most powerful.”

The Young Turks, WATCH Commentary: 4th-Grader CALLS OUT Nikki Haley For Flip-Flopping On Trump, Jan. 1, 2024. A 9-year-old boy called Nikki Haley a flip-flopper during a town hall in North Conway, New Hampshire. John Iadarola, Rayyvana, and Maz Jobrani discuss on The Young Turks.

“Nikki Haley faced down a surprising critic on Thursday while taking questions during a campaign stop in North Conway, New Hampshire – a very well-spoken 9-year-old boy.

ny times logoNew York Times, New State Laws on Hot-Button Issues Take Effect Today, Adeel Hassan, Jan. 1, 2024. Many state laws take effect on the first day of 2024, including new rules on gun safety, a ban on diversity programs and a curb on telemarketing calls.A spate of new state laws, including on guns, minimum wage and gender transition care, went into effect as the calendar flipped to 2024. Perhaps the most significant change bans programs that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at publicly funded colleges and universities in Texas.

Conservative politicians have targeted these diversity initiatives, known as D.E.I., because they have said that the programs have used taxpayer money to stoke racial division and push a liberal agenda on campuses. The new Texas law follows a similar one that Florida enacted in May to prohibit public colleges and universities from spending funds on D.E.I. initiatives.

In other states, Americans will follow new rules on guns and marijuana, as well as have additional health care and workplace protections. About three dozen states enacted new laws on voting in 2023, but most of the practical effects won’t be felt until primary and general elections in 2024.

Many of these changes will have an immediate impact on everyday life starting Monday. Here are some other new and noteworthy state laws.

 

U.S. Supreme Court

 

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

The official portrait of the U.S. Supreme Court

washington post logoWashington Post, Roberts sidesteps Supreme Court’s ethics controversies in yearly report, Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Supreme Court will be tested in the coming weeks to untangle politically consequential legal questions with the potential to reshape the 2024 presidential election. The court’s reputation remains marred by ethics controversies involving lavish travel and gifts, and public approval ratings remain low following high court rulings to overturn long-standing precedent.

john roberts oBut Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., right, did not address any of those contemporary issues Sunday in his annual “Year-end Report on the Federal Judiciary.” Instead, he looked back on technological advancements in the nation’s court system, detailing developments from the quill pens used by justices in the 19th century to electronic databases of the 1980s to online trial proceedings prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Roberts, a history buff, also expounded on the potential for artificial intelligence to both enhance and detract from the work of judges, lawyers and litigants. For those who cannot afford a lawyer, he noted, AI could increase access to justice.

“AI obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. But just as it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law,” Roberts wrote, adding that “machines cannot fully replace key actors in court.”

Public approval of the Supreme Court remains at historically low levels, reflecting a dip that followed its 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate the nationwide right to abortion. The court has also faced immense public pressure and criticism following news reports that some justices accepted, but did not disclose, luxury travel funded by billionaire friends.

Roberts also did not mention in his 13-page report the court’s adoption for the first time of a formal code of conduct, announced in November, specific to the nine justices and intended to promote “integrity and impartiality.” For years, the justices said they voluntarily comply with the same ethical guidelines that apply to other federal judges and resisted efforts by Congress to impose a policy on the high court.

But the lack of a code became a persistent complaint from Capitol Hill that the justices were forced to address in 2023. In the weeks before the court’s announcement, several justices said publicly it would be a good idea for the court to embrace its own plan rather than giving Congress an opening to pass a law.

The policy was praised by some as a positive initial step, but criticized by legal ethics experts for giving the justices too much discretion over recusal decisions and for not including a process for holding the justices accountable if they violate their own rules.

ny times logoNew York Times, Chief Justice Roberts Sees Promise and Danger of A.I. in the Courts, Adam Liptak, (print ed). In his year-end report, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. focused on the new technology while steering clear of Supreme Court ethics and Donald J. Trump’s criminal cases.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. devoted his annual year-end report on the state of the federal judiciary, issued on Sunday, to the positive role that artificial intelligence can play in the legal system — and the threats it poses.

His report did not address the Supreme Court’s rocky year, including its adoption of an ethics code that many said was toothless. Nor did he discuss the looming cases arising from former President Donald J. Trump’s criminal prosecutions and questions about his eligibility to hold office.

The chief justice’s report was nevertheless timely, coming days after revelations that Michael D. Cohen, the onetime fixer for Mr. Trump, had supplied his lawyer with bogus legal citations created by Google Bard, an artificial intelligence program.

Referring to an earlier similar episode, Chief Justice Roberts said that “any use of A.I. requires caution and humility.”

“One of A.I.’s prominent applications made headlines this year for a shortcoming known as ‘hallucination,’” he wrote, “which caused the lawyers using the application to submit briefs with citations to nonexistent cases. (Always a bad idea.)”.

Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged the promise of the new technology while noting its dangers.

“Law professors report with both awe and angst that A.I. apparently can earn B’s on law school assignments and even pass the bar exam,” he wrote. “Legal research may soon be unimaginable without it. A.I. obviously has great potential to dramatically increase access to key information for lawyers and nonlawyers alike. But just as obviously it risks invading privacy interests and dehumanizing the law.”

The chief justice, mentioning bankruptcy forms, said some applications could streamline legal filings and save money. “These tools have the welcome potential to smooth out any mismatch between available resources and urgent needs in our court system,” he wrote.

ny times logoNew York Times, Dueling Primary Ballot Rulings on Trump Put Pressure on Supreme Court, Jenna Russell, Ernesto Londoño and Shawn Hubler, Updated Dec. 29, 2023. Maine found Donald Trump ineligible to hold office because of his actions after the 2020 election. California said his name would remain on the ballot there.

maine mapMaine on Thursday became the second state to bar Donald J. Trump from its primary election ballot after its top election official ruled that the former president’s efforts to remain in power after the 2020 election rendered him ineligible to hold office again.

Hours later, her counterpart in California announced that Mr. Trump would remain on the ballot in the shenna bellowsnation’s most populous state, where election officials have limited power to remove candidates.

The official in Maine, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, left, wrote in her decision that Mr. Trump did not qualify for the ballot because of his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. A handful of citizens had challenged his eligibility by claiming that he had incited an insurrection and was thus barred from seeking the presidency again under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

“I am mindful that no secretary of state has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection,” Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, wrote.

Ms. Bellows’s decision follows a Colorado Supreme Court ruling last week to keep Mr. Trump off the state’s Republican primary ballot.

The decisions in Maine and Colorado underscore national tensions over democracy, ballot access and the rule of law. They also add urgency to calls for the United States Supreme Court to insert itself into the politically explosive dispute over Mr. Trump’s eligibility.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, said Thursday night that both the Maine and Colorado rulings were “partisan election interference efforts” that were “a hostile assault on American democracy.”

 

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, left, and his billionaire friend and benefactor Harlan Crow (file photos).

ny times logoNew York Times, Clarence Thomas’s Clerks: An ‘Extended Family’ With Reach and Power, Abbie VanSickle and Steve Eder, Dec. 25, 2023 (print ed.). The Supreme Court justice has built a network of former clerks who wield influence at universities, law firms and the highest rungs of government.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Then-President Trump speaking to supporters on Jan. 6, 2021 outside the White House in advance of a mob moving east to overrun the U.S. Capitol, thereby threatening the election certification djt jan 6 speech

 

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

djt hands open amazon safe

washington post logoWashington Post, Doom dominates 2024 messaging as Trump and Biden trade dire warnings, Toluse Olorunnipa, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  Experts and pollsters say the depictions are reflective of the country’s broadly pessimistic and apprehensive mood.

In President Biden’s increasingly stark telling, an America led by former president Donald Trump in 2025 would be a dystopian dictatorship with American values constantly on the brink of collapse.

“The greatest threat Trump poses is to our democracy,” Biden said earlier this month at a fundraiser in Bethesda. “Because if we lose, we lose everything.”

Trump, who has used terms like “vermin” to describe his enemies and called 2024 “the final battle,” has said if Biden wins a second term, Americans would “no longer have a country” and the globe would quickly descend into a third world war.

“As long as Joe Biden is in the White House, the American Dream is dead,” Trump said during a rally in Durham, N.H., where he also accused migrants of “poisoning the blood” of the nation.

Trump calls adversaries “vermin,” echoing Hitler and Mussolini

As the two leading candidates trade depictions of doom, the 2024 race for president is increasingly dominated by dark sentiments and appeals to fear — a phenomenon experts and pollsters say is reflective of the country’s broadly pessimistic and apprehensive mood.

washington post logoWashington Post, American democracy is cracking. These forces help explain why, Dan Balz and Clara Ence Morse, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Many Americans believe the political system is broken. A Post analysis examined the forces fueling the sense that government fails to represent the people.

Faced with big and challenging problems — climate, immigration, inequality, guns, debt and deficits — government and politicians seem incapable of achieving consensus. On each of those issues, the public is split, often bitterly. But on each, there are also areas of agreement. What’s broken is the will of those in power to see past the divisions enough to reach compromise.

 

djt maga hat speech uncredited Custom

Politico, The 14th Amendment is the ‘most democratic’ disqualifier, Jamie Raskin says, Kelly Garrity, Dec 31, 2023. The Maryland Democrat said it is the only disqualifier over which the person has control.

politico CustomThe constitutional amendment that election officials in Colorado and Maine are relying on to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot is clear — and isn’t undemocratic, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) argued Sunday.

jamin raskin american university Custom 2“Is it undemocratic that [former California Gov.] Arnold Schwarzenegger and [Energy Secretary] Jennifer Granholm can’t run for president because they weren’t born in the country? If you think about it, of all of the forms of disqualification that we have, the one that disqualifies people for engaging in insurrection is the most democratic because it’s the one where people choose themselves to be disqualified,” Raskin, right, a former constitutional law professor, said Sunday during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” (Schwarzenegger was born in Austria, Granholm in Canada.)

“Donald Trump is in that tiny, tiny number of people who have essentially disqualified themselves,” he added.

Officials in Colorado and Maine have blocked Trump from the ballot in their states, on the grounds that he engaged in insurrection via his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and, thereby, is disqualified based on Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

The backlash from Republicans — and some Democrats — has been swift and fierce, and the heated legal debate is expected to soon come before the Supreme Court.

“We have a number of disqualifications in the Constitution for serving as president,” Raskin pointed out Sunday. “For example, age. I mean, I’ve got a colleague who’s a great young politician, Maxwell Frost, he’s 26. He can’t run for president. Now would we say that that’s undemocratic? Well, that’s the rules of the Constitution. If you don’t like the rules of the Constitution, change the Constitution.”

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: The nose knows Trump: he stinks to high heaven, Wayne Madsen, left, Dec 31, wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped Small2023-Jan. 1, 2024. Here at WMR we’ve seen and heard enough. Donald Trump’s campaign will soon sink under the heavy weight of his adult diaper.

wayne madesen report logoConfirmation Trump often reeks of feces, urine, cheap cologne, and an oft-putting hair chemical mixture has come from various sources who include former Illinois Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger, one-time The Apprentice production assistant Noel Casler, comedian and Celebrity Apprentice cast member Kathy Griffin, and a host of others who have encountered Trump during his lifetime.

President Donald Trump officialKinzinger commented on Trump’s smelly aura on a podcast, saying, “I’m genuinely surprised how people close to Trump haven’t talked about the odor. It’s truly something to behold. Wear a mask if you can.” Casler said, “He [Trump] would often soil himself on The Apprentice set. He’s incontinent from all the speed, all the Adderall he does, all the cocaine that he’s done for decades . . . His [bowels] are uncontrollable.”

Accounts that Trump smelled to high heaven are buoyed by various social media posts, mainly from those who claimed they caught Trump’s staggering whiff while doing business with him in the 1980s and 90s.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Lies Low in St. Croix During Holiday Week, Lisa Friedman, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  President Biden is enjoying a working vacation, a White House official said. Residents hope to bring attention to the Virgin Islands’ economic troubles.

joe biden jill biden wh new year 2024Here on tropical St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, where Mr. Biden; the first lady, Jill Biden; and their granddaughter Natalie are spending New Year’s week in a secluded oceanfront villa overlooking the turquoise Caribbean, the president is staying mostly out of the spotlight.

On Saturday, Mr. Biden made his first public appearance, venturing out to attend mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Christiansted, the largest town in St. Croix. He and Dr. Biden later taped an interview with Ryan Seacrest, due to air on New Year’s Eve as part of ABC’s “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.” In the evening, the president and first lady (shown in a New Year’s message released to the public by the White House) dined at Too Chez, one of the island’s top restaurants, and he afterward revealed his New Year’s resolution.

“To come back next year,” Mr. Biden said.

Republicans have roundly criticized Mr. Biden’s island getaway, which began just a day after he returned to the White House from spending Christmas with family at Camp David.

Several lawmakers accused the president of failing to address the migrant surge along the southern U.S. border by taking time away. And on Thursday, when the White House announced in the morning that there would be no public events for Mr. Biden that day as temperatures hovered in the 80s on St. Croix, an arm of the Republican National Committee pounced.

“Illegal immigrants are pouring across the open southern border by the tens of thousands every day,” the group RNC Research wrote on the social media site X, adding that Mr. Biden, “on his second vacation in a week — called it a day before noon.”

Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University, said that presidential vacations are virtually always denounced by the opposing party.

But even a commander in chief needs to unwind sometimes, Mr. Zelizer noted, and, in this day and age, no president is ever truly unplugged.

“It’s not as if the president takes a vacation like many of us and just sits around on the beach or something,” he said. “They go with their full presidential apparatus and they’re surrounded by their advisers.”

A White House official described Mr. Biden’s trip as a working vacation. Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, accompanied the president to St. Croix and has briefed him multiple times since arriving, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s schedule.

ny times logoNew York Times, Mutiny Erupts in a Michigan G.O.P. Overtaken by Chaos, Nick Corasaniti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Republicans are pushing for the removal of Kristina Karamo, an election-denying activist who rose to lead the state party this year, amid mounting financial problems and persistent infighting.

michigan mapThe mutiny took hold on Mackinac Island. The Michigan Republican Party’s revered two-day policy and politics gathering, the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, was an utter mess.

Attendance had plummeted. Top-tier presidential candidates skipped the September event, and some speakers didn’t show. Guests were baffled by a scoring system that rated their ideology on a scale, from a true conservative to a so-called RINO, or Republican in name only.

And the state party, already deeply in debt, had taken out a $110,000 loan to pay the keynote speaker, Jim Caviezel, an actor who has built an ardent following among the far right after starring in a hit movie this summer about child sex trafficking. The loan came from a trust tied to the wife of the party’s executive director, according to party records.

For some Michigan Republicans, it was the final straw for a chaotic state party leadership that has been plagued by mounting kristina karamofinancial problems, lackluster fund-raising, secretive meetings and persistent infighting. Blame has centered on the fiery chairwoman, Kristina Karamo, left, who skyrocketed to the top of the state party through a combative brand of election denialism but has failed to make good on her promises for new fund-raising sources and armies of activists.

This month, the internal dissension has erupted into an attempt to oust Ms. Karamo, which, if successful, would be the first removal of a leader of the Michigan Republican Party in decades. Nearly 40 members of the Michigan Republican Party’s state committee called for a meeting in late December to explore forcing out Ms. Karamo. But that meeting has now been delayed, with no definite date on the calendar. Ms. Karamo has vowed to fight back, railing against the effort as illegitimate.

The pitched battle for control of the state party in a pre-eminent presidential battleground is the most extreme example of conflicts brewing in state Republican parties across the country. Once dominated largely by moneyed establishment donors and their allies, many state parties have been taken over by grass-roots Republican activists energized by former President Donald J. Trump and his broadsides against the legitimacy of elections.

These activists, now holding positions of state and local power, have elevated others who share their views, prioritizing election denialism over experience and credentials.

Relevant Recent Headlines

herb kohl

 

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

ICE logo

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Most Ambitious Argument in His Bid for ‘Absolute Immunity,’ Adam Liptak, Jan. 1, 2024. Donald Trump says his acquittal by the Senate in his second impeachment trial, for inciting insurrection, bars any prosecution on similar grounds.

ICE logoThere is almost nothing in the words of the Constitution that even begins to support former President Donald J. Trump’s boldest defense against charges that he plotted to overturn the 2020 election: that he is absolutely immune from prosecution for actions he took while in office.

A federal appeals court will hear arguments on the question next week, and the panel will consider factors including history, precedent and the separation of powers. But, as the Supreme Court has acknowledged, the Constitution itself does not explicitly address the existence or scope of presidential immunity.

In his appellate brief, Mr. Trump said there was one constitutional provision that figured in the analysis, though his argument is a legal long shot. The provision, the impeachment judgment clause, says that officials impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate are still subject to criminal prosecution.

The provision says: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: But the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.”

All the clause says in so many words, then, is that “the party convicted” in the Senate can still face criminal prosecution. But Mr. Trump said the clause implied something more.

The clause “presupposes that a president who is not convicted may not be subject to criminal prosecution,” Mr. Trump’s brief said.

Meidas Touch Network, Commentary:Trump Faces TOTAL MELTDOWN in New Year, LEGAL HELL is HERE, Michael Popok, Jan. 1, 2024.
January is TRUMPOCALYPSE.

Michael Popok of Legal AF explains how outmatched Trump’s 4 PERSON legal team is up against the NY ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE, THE DOJ; & ELITE HIGH STAKES LAW FIRMS, as THEY try to flail and just hold on through a JANUARY filled with a likely $500 million dollar civil fraud JUDGMENT; a likely $100 million defamation TRIAL; and DC Court of Appeals and US Supreme COURT oral arguments and rulings about whether Trump can dismiss his criminal indictment, as they are forced to SIMULTANEOUSLY prepare for Trump’s MARCH DC criminal trial.

ny times logoNew York Times, Two States Ruled Trump Off the Ballot. Will It Help or Hurt Him? Jack Healy, Anna Betts, Mike Baker and Jill Cowan, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Some critics say the battles over Donald Trump’s ballot status are turning him into a martyr and eroding faith in U.S. elections.

steve hobbsAs the top elections official in Washington State, Steve Hobbs, right, says he is troubled by the threat former President Donald J. Trump poses to democracy and fears the prospect of his return to power. But he also worries that recent decisions in Maine and Colorado to bar Mr. Trump from presidential primary ballots there could backfire, further eroding Americans’ fraying faith in U.S. elections.

“Removing him from the ballot would, on its face value, seem very anti-democratic,” said Mr. Hobbs, a Democrat who is in his first term as secretary of state. Then he added a critical caveat: “But so is trying to overthrow your country.”

Mr. Hobbs’s misgivings reflect deep divisions and unease among elected officials, democracy experts and voters over how to handle Mr. Trump’s campaign to reclaim the presidency four years after he went to extraordinary lengths in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election. While some, like Mr. Hobbs, think it best that voters settle the matter, others say that Mr. Trump’s efforts require accountability and should be legally disqualifying.

Challenges to Mr. Trump’s candidacy have been filed in at least 32 states, though many of those challenges have gained little or no traction, and some have languished on court dockets for months.

The decisions happening right now come amid a collapse of faith in the American electoral system, said Nate Persily, a Stanford Law School professor who specializes in election law and democracy.

“We are walking in new constitutional snow here to try and figure out how to deal with these unprecedented developments,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Here are the laws that New Yorkers should know about, Erin Nolan, Jan. 1, 2024. Legislation touching on nearly every aspect of life in the state, including wages, health care and education, is going into effect in the coming months.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed roughly 900 bills in 2023. Those laws — many of which are scheduled to take effect in the new year — touch nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives. There are measures recognizing additional school holidays (the Lunar New Year and Diwali), and others that establish broader protections for freelance workers and create new requirements for licensed cosmetologists.

What else will change in 2024? Here’s a look at some of the most consequential laws taking effect this year.
The minimum wage will increase

New York’s minimum wage will rise to $16 per hour in New York City, Long Island and Westchester County and to $15 an hour everywhere else in the state. Both rates will increase by an additional 50 cents in 2025 and 2026, with future increases statewide pegged to inflation.

The decision to add $2 to the city’s $15 minimum wage by 2026 — a plan included in last year’s state budget agreement — was not universally supported. Some Republican lawmakers warned the move could lead to job losses, while progressive Democrats pushed for a rate of over $21.

The state’s wage will remain more than twice that of the increasingly meaningless federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prosecutors Ask Appeals Court to Reject Donald Trump’s Immunity Claims, Alan Feuer, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The filing by the special counsel, Jack Smith, was the latest move in an ongoing battle over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did while in office.

Federal prosecutors asked an appeals court on Saturday to reject former President Donald J. Trump’s claims that he is immune from criminal charges of plotting to overturn the 2020 election and said the indictment should remain in place even though it arose from actions he took while in the White House.

The government’s filing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was part of an ongoing struggle between Mr. Trump’s lawyers and prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, over whether former presidents can be criminally liable for things they did in office.

The fight over immunity is arguably the most important aspect of the election interference case, involving both new questions of law and consequential issues of timing. The case is set to go to trial in Federal District Court in Washington in early March but has been put on hold until Mr. Trump’s attempts to dismiss the charges on grounds of immunity are resolved.

The appeal is legally significant because it centers on a question that has never before been asked or fully answered. That is because Mr. Trump is the first former president to have been charged with crimes and because he has chosen to defend himself in this case with a novel claim: that the office he held at the time should shield him entirely from prosecution.

But the fight has revolved around more than the technical issue of whether the indictment should survive and Mr. Trump should eventually stand trial. The defense and prosecution have been waging a separate, but no less critical, battle about when the trial will happen — specifically about whether it will take place before or after the 2024 election. If the trial is held after the election and Mr. Trump wins, he would have the power to order the charges he is facing to be dropped.

In their 82-page filing to the appeals court, prosecutors focused on legal arguments and said that nothing in the Constitution or the country’s other founding documents supported the idea that a former president should not be subject to federal criminal law.

“The presidency plays a vital role in our constitutional system, but so does the principle of accountability for criminal acts — particularly those that strike at the heart of the democratic process,” wrote James I. Pearce, one of Mr. Smith’s deputies. “Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license presidents to commit crimes to remain in office. The founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”
New York Times,

Politico, Special counsel: Trump immunity claim threatens democracy, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney, Dec. 30, 2023. Special counsel Jack Smith rejected Donald Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him is constitutionally invalid.

politico CustomDonald Trump’s bold claims that he’s immune from criminal prosecution over his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election “threaten to undermine democracy,” special counsel Jack Smith warned a federal appeals court Saturday.

Justice Department log circularIn a brief filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Smith rejected Trump’s contention that the criminal indictment of him for trying to reverse his loss at the polls three years ago is constitutionally invalid because he was serving as president at the time and also because he was acquitted by the Senate after he was impeached for those actions.

“Rather than vindicating our constitutional framework, the defendant’s sweeping immunity claim threatens to license Presidents to commit crimes to remain in office,” Smith and his team wrote in an 82-page filing. “The Founders did not intend and would never have countenanced such a result.”

While Trump has argued that allowing a prosecution such as the one he faces in Washington would chill future presidents from carrying out their duties due to the prospect of future criminal indictment, Smith contends that fear is overblown.

“Multiple safeguards — ultimately enforced by the Article III courts — protect against any potential burdens on the Presidency that the defendant claims to fear,” prosecutors wrote. “Any burdens of post-Presidency criminal liability have minimal impact on the functions of an incumbent and are outweighed by the paramount public interest in upholding the rule of law through federal prosecution.”

Smith’s argument sets the framework for the most crucial test of his prosecution of Trump for seeking to subvert the 2020 election, the beginning of a must-win legal battle that is likely headed for the Supreme Court as soon as next month.

Smith used his brief to pick apart Trump’s assertion that he’s immune from criminal prosecution for his efforts to seize a second term despite losing the election. On Dec. 1, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan turned down Trump’s motion to dismiss the case on those grounds, prompting the former president’s appeal.

Smith argues that while presidents deserve protection from civil lawsuits, there is no blanket immunity from criminal prosecution, particularly for a former president charged with making grave threats to the transfer of power. Even if presidents did enjoy immunity for their official duties, he argues, Trump’s actions would not qualify for such protection because he was acting well outside the bounds of his proper duties.

 ny times logoNew York Times, Maine Law ‘Required That I Act’ to Disqualify Trump, Secretary of State Says, Ernesto Londoño, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Barring former President Donald J. Trump from the primary ballot was a hard but necessary call, Shenna Bellows said in an interview.

shenna bellowsBefore she decided to bar former President Donald J. Trump from Maine’s primary ballot, Shenna Bellows, left, the secretary of state, was not known for courting controversy.

She began her career in public office as a state senator in 2016, winning in a politically mixed district. She prided herself on finding common ground with Republicans, an approach she said was shaped by growing up in a politically diverse family.

maine mapAs the former head of the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, Ms. Bellows did not shy away from divisive issues. But her ballot decision on Thursday was perhaps the weightiest and most politically fraught that she had faced — and it sparked loud rebukes from Republicans in Maine and beyond.

In an interview on Friday, Ms. Bellows defended her decision, arguing that Mr. Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol made it necessary to exclude him from the ballot next year.

“This is not a decision I made lightly,” Ms. Bellows, 48, said. “The United States Constitution does not tolerate an assault on the foundations of our government, and Maine election law required that I act in response.”

Ms. Bellows, a Democrat, is among many election officials around the country who have considered legal challenges to Mr. Trump’s latest bid for the White House based on an obscure clause of the 14th Amendment that bars government officials who have engaged in “insurrection” from serving in the U.S. government.

After holding a hearing this month in which she considered arguments from both Mr. Trump’s lawyers and his critics, Ms. Bellows explained her decision in a 34-page order issued on Thursday night.

World Crisis Radio, Weekly Strategic News Summary and Pro-Democracy Reform Agenda: In 2024, Americans have a rendez-vous webster tarpley 2007with destiny, with the future of human civilization at stake! Webster G. Tarpley, (right, historian and commentator), Dec. 30, 2023 (130:12 mins). Coming year must see the decisive electoral defeat, conviction, and incarceration of Trump, with the breakup of the moribund Republican Party, and three branches of the federal government entirely controlled by Biden Democrats elected on a strong reform agenda!

Insurrection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment is the sacred embodiment of Lincoln’s new birth of freedom and reflects the sacrifices of the Union dead; As part of Constitution, the Insurrection Clause is an integral part of the supreme Abraham Lincoln (Alexander Gardner via Library of Congress and Getty Images)law of the land and is binding and compulsory for all officials at all levels of government, whatever their preferences;

Alleged aversion to ”patchwork” of election rules and demand for lockstep among states are no argument in a variegated federal system in which election practices have long diverged; Trump is unquestionably guilty of aggravated insurrection; Only an imbecile could suggest that a president is not an officer of United States; Some say they prefer to defeat Trump at polls, but the advanced fascist emergency does not permit this luxury;

Defeatist spirit of McClellan 1864 grips milquetoast Democrats who propose to ignore a clear Constitutional imperative in favor of their own fears and preferences for appeasement of MAGA fascists; Standard fascist seizure of power involves cynical gaming of democratic systems and guarantees to impose totalitarian dictatorship;

”Let the voters decide” is a catchy slogan but collapses utterly when it becomes a direct attack on the Constitution, where some critical points are deliberately placed beyond the reach of majority votes;

gavin newsom headshotGov. Newsom, right, and Dems must understand their only chance to prevail against Trump subversion is to run strong candidates pledged to defend constitution, not populist demagogues pandering to masses by tampering with it;

Corrupt, discredited, bribed, and hated Supremes should contemplate not just the threats of the shrinking MAGA hooligan minority, but also the pro-constitution supermajority who reject a return to the MAGA fascist yoke; Given their claims to represent originalism, textualism, and state’s rights, the only valid choice for Supremes is full implementation of Insurrection Clause against Trump;

scott perryRep. Scott Perry’s phone messages now scrutinized by Jack Smith could implicate other MAGA Hill bigwigs as January 6 co-conspirators, with potential to break legislative logjam and flip chamber as they are brought to justice;

House GOP sabotage of Ukraine military aid facilitates deadly Russian attacks and makes these MAGA bosses accessories to war crimes eligible for prosecution in The Hague, starting with MAGA Mike;

djt maga hatMAGA dirty tricks against Ukraine feed Putin’s hope for new orgy of appeasement on model of 1938 Munich sellout, with himself cast as Hitler, Ukraine cast as Czechoslovakia, and Biden-led NATO cast as appeasers Chamberlain and Daladier!

As their hour of reckoning approaches, Netanyahu, Gallant & Co. are trying harder than ever to embroil US in war with Hezbollah and Iran; These schemers must receive a decisive rebuff;

In US, fratricidal ultra-lefts and assorted squadristi are eager to blame Biden for war crimes committed by Netanyahu, but stubbornly refuse to condemn Putin for the war crimes Putin has unquestionably committed! Reviewing Toni Negri, in whose career postmodern anarcho-syndicalism turned into the ideology of terrorism.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

Politico, What is victory for Joe Biden in New Hampshire? Elena Schneider and Holly Otterbein, Jan. 1, 2024. The Granite State is difficult to game out this year. But insiders see a few possible outcomes.

politico CustomNew Hampshire’s unsanctioned Democratic primary on Jan. 23 will provide the first real test of President Joe Biden’s strength within his party in 2024. No one is quite clear on how to actually measure the results.

biden harris 2024 logo oBiden could win the contest and still look like a loser. His challenger, Dean Phillips, could lose and claim victory.

What’s certain is that political insiders will place heavy scrutiny on the outcome — and that there will be endless efforts to try and spin it.

new hampshireAs the sitting president, Biden has a high bar to meet. At the same time, his name won’t appear on the ballot thanks to his push to make South Carolina the first primary — forcing voters to pencil him in. Ultimately, officials say the winner will not collect any delegates because New Hampshire is holding its Democratic primary before any other in defiance of the national party, which stripped the state of its century-old first-in-the-nation status last year.

Even though they’re rarely successful, primary challenges have a way of sometimes upending assumptions about incumbent presidents — particularly ones whose electoral chances seem wobbly. Phillips, a longshot, is hoping to recreate Eugene McCarthy’s better-than-expected showing against then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968.

Given the unusual state of affairs, POLITICO quizzed more than a dozen Democratic strategists and party officials to see what they think would qualify as a victory for Biden or Phillips.

ny times logoNew York Times, 2024 U.S. Elections: Trump Team, Burned in 2016, Looks to Close Out Iowa, Michael Gold and Kellen Browning Jan. 1, 2024. Former President Trump is leading by impressive margins in the state, but his campaign wants to make sure his supporters turn out.

As former President Donald J. Trump campaigned in Iowa in the fall, he projected the utmost confidence. He told his supporters during speeches that his advisers had constantly warned him not to take the state for granted. Buoyed by his dominance in state polls, Mr. Trump insisted he had no reason to worry.

republican elephant logo“We’re going to win the Iowa caucuses in a historic landslide,” Mr. Trump predicted in speeches in September and October.

But as he returned to Iowa last month, with the state’s caucuses on Jan. 15 fast approaching, Mr. Trump injected a note of concern. Though he retained his confidence, he warned his supporters of a rising threat: complacency.

iowa map“The poll numbers are scary, because we’re leading by so much,” Mr. Trump said on Dec. 19 in Waterloo during his final trip to Iowa of 2023. “The key is, you have to get out and vote.”

“Don’t sit home and say, ‘I think we’ll take it easy, darling. It’s a wonderful day, beautiful. Let’s just take it easy, watch television and watch the results,’” Mr. Trump later added. “No, because crazy things can happen.”

With just two weeks until Iowa’s first-in-the-nation nominating contest, Mr. Trump’s campaign is dedicated to meeting high expectations and avoiding a repeat of 2016, when Mr. Trump narrowly came in second in Iowa despite being ahead in polls.

But while his Republican rivals are more focused on knocking on doors and swaying minds, Mr. Trump and his campaign have directed their efforts toward teaching supporters how to caucus and recruiting a grass-roots network to help guarantee they show up.

ny times logoNew York Times, Governor Chris Sununu said Chris Christie should drop out ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Anjali Huynh, (print ed).  Mr. Sununu, the state’s governor, expressed concern that Mr. Christie would pull support from his preferred candidate, Nikki Haley.

Just weeks before New Hampshire holds its Republican presidential primary, the state’s governor, Chris Sununu, said on Sunday that Chris Christie’s presidential bid was “at an absolute dead end” and suggested that he drop out to pave way for Mr. Sununu’s preferred candidate, Nikki Haley.

new hampshireMr. Sununu, who this month endorsed Ms. Haley, the former governor of South Carolina and United Nations ambassador, told CNN that “the only person that wants Chris Christie to stay in the race is Donald Trump.”

He framed the race as a “two-person contest” between Ms. Haley and Mr. Trump, whom she now trails in New Hampshire by an average of 20 percentage points.

“There’s no doubt that if Christie stays in the race, the risk is that he takes her margin of the win,” Mr. Sununu said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

In a campaign ad last week, Mr. Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, explicitly addressed calls from some in the party for him to drop out to consolidate support around a non-Trump candidate. “Some people say I should drop out of this race,” he said. “Really? I’m the only one saying Donald Trump is a liar.”

In response to Mr. Sununu’s remarks, a spokesman for Mr. Christie’s campaign doubled down on that message: “The events of the last few days fully solidifies the point that Christie has been making for six months: that the truth matters, and if you can’t answer the easy questions, you can’t fix the big problems.”

Mr. Sununu’s comments were in response to questions from Dana Bash, the CNN anchor, about Ms. Haley’s recent gaffe involving the Civil War, for which she has faced significant criticism from Mr. Christie and others.

On Wednesday, when she received a question at a New Hampshire town hall about the cause of the Civil War, Ms. Haley’s answer did not mention slavery. The next day, she walked back her remarks, telling a New Hampshire interviewer, “Of course the Civil War was about slavery.” She suggested that the question came from a “Democrat plant.”

Mr. Sununu acknowledged that Ms. Haley had made a mistake in her remarks, but dismissed them as a “nonissue,” saying she had “cleared it right up and everyone’s moving on.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

 

gaza war 7 18 2014

The skies over Gaza, Oct. 14, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel said it destroyed a hideout used by a Hamas leader it believed to be a mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks, Staff Reports, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Israeli airstrikes and artillery pounded central and southern Gaza again on Saturday as the military pushed its ground offensive deeper into the enclave, striking areas where hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have congregated in an effort to seek safety from the onslaught across the territory, according to Palestinian media.

Israel FlagUnverified video footage from local journalists in the southern city of Rafah, where large numbers of displaced people have fled, showed the immediate aftermath of strikes on residential homes. In chaotic scenes in narrow crowded streets, people carried the injured out from the rubble, wrapped in blankets. Other wounded were ferried by hand, as several men struggled to quickly carry a man’s limp body.

Yahya Sinwar reutersThe Israeli army says it has destroyed a Gaza City apartment used as a hide-out by its most wanted man in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader (shown above in a Reuters file photo) it considers the mastermind of the Oct. 7 attacks that the Israeli authorities say killed an estimated 1,200 people.

The army said in a statement late Friday that it had also destroyed a tunnel shaft discovered by its troops in the apartment’s basement floor and an underground headquarters that served as a meeting place and nerve center for senior officials from Hamas’s military and political wings.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed “absolute victory” over Hamas, Staff Reports, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.

Rebuffing growing international pressure to stop the fighting in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed on Saturday to continue until “absolute victory.”

Israel FlagThe goal requires more time, he said at a televised prime-time news conference. Echoing the words of his military chief of staff, he added, “The war will last for many more months.”

Here’s what we know:

  • Rebuffing pressure to stop the war in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to keep fighting “for many more months.”
  • Netanyahu says Israel’s war effort needs more time.
  • U.S. helicopters repel a Houthi attack in the Red Sea, killing the gunmen, the Pentagon says.
  • Israel names a new foreign minister, part of a prewar political agreement.
  • An Israeli hostage describes her time in captivity in searing detail.

ny times logoNew York Times, Where Was the Israeli Military on Oct. 7? Adam Goldman, Ronen Bergman, Mark Mazzetti, Natan Odenheimer, Alexander Cardia, Ainara Tiefenthäler and Sheera Frenkel, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A Times investigation found that troops were disorganized, relied on social media to choose targets, and had no battle plan for a massive Hamas invasion.

Israel FlagThe full reasons behind the military’s slow response may take months to understand. The government has promised an inquiry. But a New York Times investigation found that Israel’s military was undermanned, out of position and so poorly organized that soldiers communicated in impromptu WhatsApp groups and relied on social media posts for targeting information. Commandos rushed into battle armed only for brief combat. Helicopter pilots were ordered to look to news reports and Telegram channels to choose targets.

idf logoAnd perhaps most damning: The Israel Defense Forces did not even have a plan to respond to a large-scale Hamas attack on Israeli soil, according to current and former soldiers and officers. If such a plan existed on a shelf somewhere, the soldiers said, no one had trained on it and nobody followed it. The soldiers that day made it up as they went along.

“In practice, there wasn’t the right defensive preparation, no practice, and no equipping and building strength for such an operation,” said Yom Tov Samia, a major general in the Israeli reserves and former head of the military’s Southern Command.

“There was no defense plan for a surprise attack such as the kind we have seen on Oct. 7,” said Amir Avivi, a brigadier general in the reserves and a former deputy commander of the Gaza Division, which is responsible for protecting the region.

That lack of preparation is at odds with a founding principle of Israeli military doctrine. From the days of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and defense minister, the goal was to always be on the offensive — to anticipate attacks and fight battles in enemy territory.

In response to a series of questions from The Times, including why soldiers and officers alike said there had been no plan, the Israel Defense Forces replied: “The I.D.F. is currently focused on eliminating the threat from the terrorist organization Hamas. Questions of this kind will be looked into at a later stage.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Israeli-Gaza War: A Gaza hospital said at least 18 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike in an area where many had sought refuge, Anushka Patil, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). An airstrike on Thursday hit a house in southern Gaza where people had sought shelter from Israel’s military offensive, according to a nearby hospital, which said that at least 18 people were killed and dozens of others injured.

The hospital, the Kuwait Specialty Hospital, said the strike had occurred in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost area, where hundreds of thousands of people have fled following Israeli military orders to move south.

Here’s what we know:

  • A hospital in Rafah said that a house where displaced Palestinians were staying was hit with an airstrike, killing at least 18 people.
  • A strike hits near a hospital in Gaza’s southernmost area.
  • Gazans face an endless trek for safety as the evacuation orders keep coming.
  • Israeli military admits fault in two Dec. 24 strikes.
  • An Israeli American thought to be taken hostage was killed during the Oct. 7 attacks, her family says.
  • A report on a leaked Supreme Court judicial draft has Israeli politicians on edge.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: What Is Happening to Our World? Thomas L. Friedman, right, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). As The Times’s foreign affairs tom friedman twittercolumnist since 1995, one of the most enduring lessons I’ve learned is that there are good seasons and bad seasons in this business, which are defined by the big choices made by the biggest players.

Among the most ignorant and vile things that have been said about this Gaza war is that Hamas had no choice — that its wars with Israel culminating on Oct. 7 with a murderous rampage, the kidnappings of Israelis as young as 10 months and as old as 86 and the rape of Israeli women could somehow be excused as a justifiable jailbreak by pent-up males.

No.

The reason I insist on talking about these choices now is because Israel is being surrounded by what I call Iran’s landcraft carriers (as opposed to our aircraft carriers): Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran is squeezing Israel into a multi-front war with its proxies. I truly worry for Israel.

But Israel will have neither the sympathy of the world that it needs nor the multiple allies it needs to confront this Iranian octopus, nor the Palestinian partners it needs to govern any post-Hamas Gaza, nor the lasting support of its best friend in the world, Joe Biden, unless it is ready to choose a long-term pathway for separating from the Palestinians with an improved, legitimate Palestinian partner.

Biden has been shouting that in Netanyahu’s ears in their private calls.

For all these reasons, if Netanyahu keeps refusing because, once again, politically, the time is not right for him, Biden will have to choose, too — between America’s interests and Netanyahu’s.

Netanyahu has been out to undermine the cornerstone of U.S. Middle East policy for the last three decades — the Oslo framework of two states for two people that guarantees Palestinian statehood and Israeli security, which neither side ever gave its best shot. Destroying the Oslo framework is not in America’s interest.

In sum, this war is so ugly, deadly and painful, it is no wonder that so many Palestinians and Israelis want to just focus on survival and not on any of the choices that got them here. The Haaretz writer Dahlia Scheindlin put it beautifully in a recent essay:

The situation today is so terrible that people run from reality as they run from rockets — and hide in the shelter of their blind spots. It’s pointless to wag fingers. The only thing left to do is try and change that reality.

For me, choosing that path will always be in season.

Relevant Recent Headlines

gaza destruction

 

More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights

Politico, The global elections Washington should be watching in 2024, Eric Bazail-Eimil, Jan. 1, 2024. Countries representing half the world population will head to the polls in what’s been dubbed the biggest election year in history.

politico Custom2024 is set to put democracy through its most sweeping test yet.

Dubbed the biggest election year in history, more than 60 countries representing half the world population — some 4 billion people — will hold regional, legislative and presidential elections that look set to shake up political institutions and ramp up geopolitical tensions.

As the United States looks inward, bracing for a likely showdown between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, other countries are also preparing for possible incumbent oustings, raucous public protests and populist movements with the potential to destabilize larger regions.

“We will know whether democracy lives or dies by the end of 2024,” said Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, founder of the investigative news site Rappler in the Philippines and author of “How to Stand Up to a Dictator.”

In Europe, establishment parties are bracing for a potential surge from the far right within the European Parliament, including Euroskeptic groups that aim to undermine the EU institutions meant to maintain peace across the continent’s 27-member bloc.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iran showcases its reach with militia attacks across Middle East, Liz Sly, Mustafa Salim and Suzan Haidamous, Jan. 1, 2024. The attacks can seem random, but they are the fruit of a carefully calibrated strategy forged in the wake of the 2020 killing of the leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force to bring cohesion to the loosely formed alliance of militias.

iran flag mapThe Gaza war has given Iran the opportunity to showcase the capacity of its newly restructured network of allied militias, demonstrating Tehran’s strategic reach while allowing it to keep a distance from the fight, according to members of the groups and military analysts.

On any given day since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on Israel, one or other of these militias has carried out an attack somewhere in the Middle East — and on some days several in different places. The Houthis in Yemen are targeting ships in the Red Sea; Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi groups are hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria; and Lebanon’s Hezbollah is engaged in daily exchanges of fire with Israeli forces across the Israel-Lebanon border.

The attacks can seem random, but they are the fruit of a carefully calibrated strategy forged in the wake of the 2020 killing of Qasem Soleimani, leader of Iran’s elite Quds Force, to bring cohesion to the loosely formed alliance of militias — designated by Tehran as the “axis of resistance.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Young Love Meets Russian Repression. They Said ‘I Do’ in a Moscow Prison, Valerie Hopkins, Jan. 1, 2024. She’s 18. He’s 23. He sent her a one-sentence letter through his prison’s electronic mail system: “Will you marry me?”

Russian FlagNadezhda Shtovba did not wear a white dress to her wedding. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. She and her husband, Yegor, did not exchange wedding bands either — rings are banned in Butyrka prison.

That is where Yegor Shtovba has spent the past 15 months in pretrial detention. In September 2022, he had read a love poem written for Nadezhda at a public gathering, his first time sharing his work in front of a crowd. He was detained that night as the police raided the event, and was eventually charged with “public calls for activities directed against state security.” The police accused him of cheering an antiwar poem read by another poet, an act that he denies.

His marriage to Nadezhda, in a short ceremony last month in a prison in downtown Moscow, was the first time the couple had any physical contact since his arrest.

“For 10 minutes, we just stood and hugged,” said the newly minted Ms. Shtovba, who recently turned 18 and sews plush toys for income.

The wedding, in the presence of a registrant and prison officials, was a testament to their young love, which can be glorious but also complicated, confusing and hard to navigate even in good circumstances. In Russia, an authoritarian state in the midst of severe crackdown on freedom of expression, it can turn the joyous moment of marriage into a trying struggle.

“Of course, I didn’t expect to get married this young,” said Ms. Shtovba, excited about using the last name of her new husband, who turned 23 last month. “But as his girlfriend, I don’t have any legal relationship with him, and it would be impossible to see him.”

There are hundreds of political prisoners in Russia, according to Memorial, a human rights group that is itself banned by the authorities. Some are well-known opposition politicians, like Aleksei A. Navalny and Ilya Yashin, whose 8.5-year sentence for criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was upheld last month.

But hundreds are lesser known, and most have loved ones who are fighting to maintain a connection with them while they are “in the zone,” a slang term for high-security prisons in Russia.

ny times logoNew York Times, Burundi’s President Says Gay People Should Be Stoned, Abdi Latif Dahir, (print ed). President Evariste Ndayishimiye also railed against Western governments that he said had conditioned providing aid on accepting gay rights. His remarks do not carry the force of law.

burundi flagBurundi’s president said that gay people in his country should be stoned, amid a widening crackdown against L.G.B.T.Q. people in the East African nation that is adding to the anti-gay sentiments sweeping across the region and the wider African continent.

While President Evariste Ndayishimiye’s remarks do not have the force of law, they are an escalation of provocative statements directed at L.G.B.T.Q. people elsewhere by African government officials.

Mr. Ndayishimiye said that gay people should not be accepted in Burundi, a conservative nation where consensual same-sex intimacy among adults can already be penalized with up to two years in prison.

“I think that if we find these kinds of people in Burundi, it is better to take them to a stadium and stone them,” Mr. Ndayishimiye said on Friday during an event in the country’s eastern Cankuzo Province, where he answered questions from journalists and members of the public. “That’s what they deserve.”

In his remarks, the president also railed against Western countries that, he suggested, had conditioned aid on accepting gay rights.

“Let them keep it,” he said of their assistance.

On Sunday, a gay human rights activist in Burundi who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, expressed concern that the president’s statement sets the stage for extrajudicial killings and “worsens an already unsafe environment.”

Small, densely populated and landlocked, Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world and receives aid and loans from the European Union, the United States and the International Monetary Fund.

ny times logoNew York Times, Congo’s President Declared Victor in Election Marred by Delays and Protests, Declan Walsh and Abdi Latif Dahir, (print ed). The Central African nation’s vote drew accusations of fraud, but the elections commissioner declared that the incumbent, Felix Tshisekedi, had won.

The president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, was declared the winner on Sunday of the December presidential vote in an election marred by severe logistical problems, protests and calls for its annulment from several opposition candidates.

Mr. Tshisekedi won more than 13 million votes, or 73 percent of the total ballots cast, said Denis Kadima, the head of the country’s electoral commission. Just over 18 million people, out of the 44 million registered to vote, cast ballots, Mr. Kadima said. The provisional results will now be sent to the nation’s Constitutional Court for confirmation.

The announcement was a critical moment in an election dogged by acute problems, some because of Congo’s vast size, and many fear the outcome could plunge the Central African nation into a new round of political turmoil and even violent unrest that has followed other electoral contests in recent years.

Democratic Republic of the CongoThe results of the election matter not only to Congo’s 100 million people, who are suffering after decades of conflict and poor governance, but also to Western countries that consider Congo a critical part of their efforts to stem climate change and make a transition to green energy.

Congo produces 70 percent of the world’s cobalt, a key element in the electric vehicle industry, and has the second-largest rainforest, which absorbs vast amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide. But for many in Congo, a decades-old, corruption-ridden system of political patronage is seen as the best way to distribute the spoils of that natural wealth — which may explain why the presidential race was so hotly contested.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tsunami Warnings Issued in Japan After Powerful Earthquake, Motoko Rich, Jan. 1, 2024. A powerful earthquake hit western Japan on Monday, triggering tsunami warnings and evacuation orders in several prefectures, trapping people under collapsed buildings and disrupting electricity and mobile phone services in Ishikawa Prefecture, the epicenter of the quake, officials and Japan’s public broadcaster said.

The quake struck the Noto peninsula at around 4:10 p.m. and had a magnitude of 7.6 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale, the Japan Meteorological Agency said. According to the United States Geological Survey, the earthquake measured 7.5 magnitude.

It was much weaker than the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan in 2011, caused a tsunami that killed thousands and triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima power plant.

JapanThe police were responding to calls from residents reporting collapsed buildings and people trapped beneath them. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said that there were at least six cases of people trapped under rubble in Ishikawa, but he could not say how many people were involved or give details about their injuries.

Here is what else to know:

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake on Monday had a very shallow depth, which tends to make earthquakes more dangerous, but initial reports from the authorities in Ishikawa Prefecture suggested that there had been no major damage to “important facilities.”

The meteorological agency initially issued a major tsunami warning and said waves could reach as high as five meters, or 16 feet, in the Noto Peninsula facing the Japan Sea, ordering residents to leave for higher ground immediately. Japan’s government downgraded the warning several hours later across several prefectures on the western coast and said the greatest expected height of the waves was three meters, or about 10 feet.

An official from Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency said that there were no signs of abnormalities at any radioactivity monitoring stations at the Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa, on Japan’s western coast. Mr. Hayashi said that a fire had broken out at a transformer at the plant, but was extinguished.

The meteorological agency warned that aftershocks and tsunamis could continue for up to a week and advised residents to be on guard for at least two or three days.

Japan’s government downgraded its major tsunami warning across several prefectures on the western coast to a simple warning. It said the greatest expected height of the waves was now three meters (about 10 feet), down from the five meters it had initially warned of.

washington post logoWashington Post, Russia is working to subvert French support for Ukraine, documents show, Catherine Belton, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). From the top floor of the house he shares here with a senior Russian diplomat — to whom he rents the apartment below — the man who helped bankroll the French presidential bid of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has been working on plans to propel pro-Moscow politicians to power.

“We have to change all the governments … All the governments in Western Europe will be changed,” Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, a former member of the European Parliament for Le Pen’s party, said in an interview. “We have to control this. Take the leadership of this.”

For Schaffhauser, such ambitions are part of a decades-long effort to forge an alliance between Russia and Europe, the prospects of which, however distant, were shattered by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. But now, as Kyiv’s counteroffensive — and Western funding for it — falters and as governments in Europe battle rising living costs, plunging approval ratings and the rise of far-right populists, Schaffhauser and his Russian associates see fresh opportunity.

Russia has been increasing its efforts to undermine French support for Kyiv — a hidden propaganda front in Western Europe that is part of the war against Ukraine, according to Kremlin documents and interviews with European security officials and far-right political figures.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

ICE logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Portrait of a year in migration turmoil, with more uncertainty ahead, Maria Sacchetti, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Deportations of migrants rise to more than 142,000 under Biden, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported more than 142,000 immigrants in fiscal year 2023, nearly double the number from the year before, as the Biden administration ramped up enforcement to stem illegal border crossings, according to the agency’s annual report, published Friday.

Just 2,500 of the 72,000 non-criminals deported from the United States in fiscal 2023 were in the interior of the country, where dozens of sanctuary cities and towns have passed ordinances seeking to limit ICE from detaining migrants. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in 2021 that being undocumented should not be the sole basis for removing someone from the country.

President Biden took office promising to create a more humane immigration system, and he attempted to pause deportations temporarily in the hope that Congress would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Nearly 18,000 of those deported were parents and children traveling as family units, surpassing the 14,400 removed under the Trump administration in fiscal 2020.

Federal officials said the removals adhered to the Biden administration’s enforcement strategy, which the Supreme Court upheld in June. Migrants who cross the border illegally and those who commit violent crimes or otherwise pose a safety threat are priorities for removal. The ICE report covered the period from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30.

The increase in deportations is more a reflection of the high numbers of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border than interior enforcement, which Biden has discouraged in most cases.

ny times logoNew York Times, He Killed His Molester as a Teenager. Should He Be Spared Deportation? Maria Cramer and Jenna Russell, Dec. 31, 2023. After 13 years in prison in Massachusetts, Marco Flores is fighting his deportation to El Salvador, which he left when he was 6.

Marco Flores was months away from finishing his prison sentence when an immigration agent showed up last spring at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, west of Boston, and handed him a sheaf of papers.

The documents confirmed what he had long feared: Upon his release, the U.S. government planned to deport him to his native El Salvador — a place he had not seen since he was 6 years old.

He has been incarcerated since he was 17. Now 30, he had hoped to start a new life when his sentence ended — as an electrical engineer, a husband and a father. But on that day in May, he was forced to acknowledge that his dreams had next to no chance of becoming reality.

His crime was violent: He killed his former neighbor and babysitter, Jaime Galdamez, 31, who was accused of raping Mr. Flores for years beginning when he was 9.

Mr. Flores pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in 2013, not understanding what it would mean for his immigration status. Federal law prioritizes deporting people convicted of crimes, especially those found guilty of killing someone.

Still, he hoped that given the circumstances that led him to to kill Mr. Galdamez, a judge might allow him to stay. His mother and brother both have legal residence in the United States. His sister is a citizen and so is his wife, Diana Flores, a childhood friend who had begun writing to him after his conviction, eventually leading to a wedding in the prison visiting room.

But at a time when the country has hardened its stance on immigration as record numbers of people cross the border illegally, convicted felons like Mr. Flores stand little chance — no matter how much growth and remorse they demonstrate.

Immigration courts routinely deport people who have worked in the United States for years and have committed no offense worse than a traffic infraction. Among them are parents forced to leave their families behind and beloved community members with successful businesses. Even the several million young immigrants known as “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as small children and often have stellar records of achievement, still have no certain path to permanent residency.

And as record numbers of migrants cross the Southern border, a major political vulnerability for President Biden going into next year’s election, lawmakers in Washington are discussing proposals to increase deportations and make it harder to win asylum.

Relevant Recent Headlines 

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Asian American Officials Cite Unfair Scrutiny in China Spy Tensions, Edward Wong and Amy Qin, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed). National security employees with ties to Asia say U.S. counterintelligence officers wrongly regard them as potential spies and bar them from jobs.

This story is based on interviews with more than two dozen current and former officials from multiple national security agencies and a review of dozens of Defense Department documents on security clearance cases.

The concerns, most loudly voiced by Asian American diplomats, are urgent enough that U.S. lawmakers passed bipartisan legislation in December to try constraining some practices at the State Department. The military spending bill of Dec. 14 includes language pushed by Representative Ted Lieu, Democrat of California, intended to make the department more transparent in its assignment restriction and review processes.

“We should be asking ourselves how to deal with the risk, not cutting off the people who have the best skills from serving altogether,” Mr. Wong said. “That’s a self-inflicted wound.”

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Helicopters Sink 3 Houthi Boats in Red Sea, Pentagon Says, Vivek Shankar, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Iranian-backed Houthi gunmen from Yemen had fired on the helicopters, which were responding to an attack on a commercial ship, the U.S. military said.

American military helicopters came under fire from Iranian-backed Houthi fighters in the Red Sea on Sunday morning and shot back, sinking three Houthi boats and killing those aboard, U.S. Central Command said.

The episode occurred after a commercial container ship was attacked by Houthi fighters in small boats and issued a distress call, prompting U.S. Navy helicopters to respond, the military said.

“In the process of issuing verbal calls to the small boats, the small boats fired upon the U.S. helicopters with crew-served weapons and small arms,” Central Command said in a statement on social media. “The U.S. Navy helicopters returned fire in self-defense, sinking three of the four small boats, and killing the crews.”

It was the latest and perhaps deadliest such incident involving the Houthis, who control a large swath of northern Yemen, since Israel went to war with Hamas on Oct. 7.

In solidarity with Hamas, which is also backed by Iran, the Houthis have launched dozens of missile and drone attacks against commercial ships and seized an Israeli-linked vessel. The attacks have prompted the United States and allies to deploy warships to the Red Sea, which is crucial for global shipping.

Newsweek, Mike Flynn’s Hall of Fame Induction Halted After Board Resignations, Dec 30, 2023. Following a flurry of resignations and public outcry, the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame announced it will defer its 2024 induction of Michael Flynn.

newsweek logoIn a guest column to the Providence Journal, Patrick Conley, the Hall of Fame’s past president, stated Flynn’s induction would be deferred “to a more peaceful and rational time and a more secure place.”

“Discretion is the better part of valor,” said Conley, who currently serves as the board’s volunteer general counsel.

In the guest column, Conley defended the board’s December 14 vote to induct Flynn, former President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser. However, he said “the Hall of Fame exhibited ‘poor timing’ by choosing to honor General Flynn in this turbulent and politically charged environment.”

According to The Journal, at least eight board members have resigned as a result of the vote to induct Flynn. Conley’s column said the Hall of Fame received 100 letters in protest of Flynn’s pending induction.

Flynn, a retired three-star general who grew up in Rhode Island, was let go as Trump’s national security advisor after three weeks in office when it was revealed that he was not truthful about a conversation he had with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak while speaking with former Vice President Mike Pence.

In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about the conversation with Kislyak. Trump pardoned him in November 2020.

Since then, Flynn has been associated with members of the QAnon conspiracy movement who have made baseless claims that a globalist cabal, made up of Democrats and wealthy businessmen, is involved in a worldwide child sex-trafficking ring.

He also falsely claimed COVID was invented in order to steal the 2020 election from Trump. Last year, Flynn suggested a Myanmar-like military coup “should happen” in the U.S.

“A majority of the board that voted to induct Flynn relied upon his 30-year record of public service and high attainments,” Conley wrote in his guest column. “It accepted as true the grant of clemency from the president of the United States asserting that no crime was actually committed and the fact that charges against Flynn were dropped by a weaponized Department of Justice.”

John Parrillo, a history professor, was among the recent board resignations.

In a resignation letter obtained by the Journal, Parrillo said he was “saddened to the core” by the vote to induct a man with Flynn’s “politics and far-right militaristic vision for America” and by the board’s unwillingness to reconsider his Hall of Fame merits.

“For the last seven years, it has been my [privilege] to nominate at least seven Rhode Islanders into our RI Hall of Fame. A fresco painter. A Naval historian. A Hollywood filmmaker. Two creators of a music festival. An early father of the American Industrial Revolution and the creator of at least 14 Black colleges,” Parrillo wrote in his letter.

“With a most heavy heart,” he said he must resign.

In another letter obtained by the Journal, former Rhode Island state Senator Bea Lanzi and lawyer John Tarantino wrote: “There is an overall right and wrong in the universe, and what has happened here, in our view, and according to our moral compasses, and consciences, compels us to resign.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Chinese Spy Agency Is Rising to Challenge the C.I.A., Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, Muyi Xiao and Chris Buckley, Dec. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The ambitious Ministry of State Security is deploying A.I. and other advanced technology, even as China and the U.S. try to pilfer each other’s technological secrets.

China FlagThe Chinese spies wanted more. In meetings during the pandemic with Chinese technology contractors, they complained that surveillance cameras tracking foreign diplomats, military officers and intelligence operatives in Beijing’s embassy district fell short of their needs.

The spies asked for an artificial intelligence program that would create instant dossiers on every person of interest in the area and analyze their behavior patterns. They proposed feeding the A.I. program information from databases and scores of cameras that would include car license plates, cellphone data, contacts and more.

The A.I.-generated profiles would allow the Chinese spies to select targets and pinpoint their networks and vulnerabilities, according to internal meeting memos obtained by The New York Times.

The spies’ interest in the technology, disclosed here for the first time, reveals some of the vast ambitions of the Ministry of State Security, China’s main intelligence agency. In recent years, it has built itself up through wider recruitment, including of American citizens. The agency has also sharpened itself through better training, a bigger budget and the use of advanced technologies to try to fulfill the goal of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, for the nation to rival the United States as the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power.

The Chinese agency, known as the M.S.S., once rife with agents whose main source of information was gossip at embassy dinner parties, is now going toe-to-toe with the Central Intelligence Agency in collection and subterfuge around the world.

Today the Chinese agents in Beijing have what they asked for: an A.I. system that tracks American spies and others, said U.S. officials and a person with knowledge of the transaction, who shared the information on the condition that The Times not disclose the names of the contracting firms involved. At the same time, as spending on China at the C.I.A. has doubled since the start of the Biden administration, the United States has sharply stepped up its spying on Chinese companies and their technological advances.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

Emptywheel, Analysis: What Joseph Ziegler Didn’t Find When He Looked for Hunter Biden’s Sex Workers, Emptywheel (Marcy Wheeler), Jan. 1, 2024. In the week that Hunter Biden paid a sex worker a Venmo payment that IRS Agent Joseph Ziegler turned into a felony tax case, Hunter’s identity had been potentially compromised no less than six times.

joseph ziegler cspanJoseph Ziegler (shown at right in a hearing screenshot via CSPAN), the disgruntled IRS agent who built a tax case on the digital payments Hunter Biden made during the depth of his addiction, is quite proud that he found one of the sex workers who slept with Joe Biden’s son. He brought it up twice in his testimony.

First, he boasted that he sought out women he called prostitutes and impressed the prosecutors.’

Yeah. So standard practice is — for any transaction, you want to go out — and a lot of our job is hitting the pavement, going out and talking to people. There was a lot of different investigative steps that we took, that even going and talking to the prostitutes, we found multiple people that he called his employees that were also prostitutes, and that he would have them clean his hotel room or — there were a lot of these interviews that we ended up going and doing and talking to people that were so worth it, even though someone might — we were always being told by the prosecutors, you guys are wasting your time going and doing that. It’s not worth it. And literally, I would surprise them every time and find everyone.

Though maybe Ziegler was speaking loosely when he called these women prostitutes. Later in his testimony, he admitted that he had been calling Lunden Roberts, a former stripper and the mother of Hunter’s fourth child, a prostitute.

lev parnas ivanka jared kushnerPalm Beach Post, Lev Parnas didn’t testify in Trump Ukraine scandal. Will he appear in Biden impeachment? Antonio Fins, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Lev Parnas, shown at center between Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, was a central figure in the Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Trump and is at the heart of the current inquiry of President Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas is telling his side of the story whether a congressional panel wants to listen or not.

lev parnas coverThe man who was a central figure in the 2019 Ukraine scandal that led to the first impeachment of then-President Donald Trump is now revealing insights into and details of the diplomatic impropriety that is, today, at the heart of the current inquiry into President Joe Biden. But it’s a message that House Republicans intent on exposing the so-called “Biden crime family” may not be eager to broadcast to the U.S. electorate.

“The whole motive and the whole Biden stuff was never about getting justice, and getting to the bottom of Biden criminality or doing an investigation in Ukraine,” Parnas said. “It was all about announcing an investigation and using that in the media to be able to destroy the Biden campaign and have Trump win.”

That much itself is not a novel revelation. The argument was adjudicated in Trump’s impeachment probe and trial in the U.S. Senate in early 2020, which ended with the president’s acquittal.

But Parnas, a 51-year-old Boca Raton resident, is laying out what he calls a complete story with added pieces of information at a critical juncture as the attempt to impeach Biden rolls into the high-stakes 2024 election year. It all amounts to, Parnas admits, a costly “escapade” which ultimately helped land embattled Ukraine in the crosshairs of U.S. politics.

Whether the House Oversight Committee and its Republican chair, U.S. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, will mind what Parnas has to say seems a highly unlikely proposition. But Parnas is taking his case to the American public.

In December, he will release a book, Shadow Diplomacy, and a podcast, “Lev Remembers,” will follow. He also is cooperating on a documentary. The common denominator among all the productions is a singular narrative, he said, aimed at “getting the truth out” about what happened with Trump and Ukraine.

“It’s all because of one individual that wanted to stay in power, that didn’t want to relinquish power,” he said.
Genesis of Ukraine scandal was a phone call, but not the one you have heard about

Among the twists disclosed in a pre-publication, limited version of Shadow Diplomacy was a phone call that kicked off five years of alleged Ukraine political “witch hunts.”

 Igor Fruman, top left, and Lev Parnas, two Soviet-born associates of Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney at bottom of a Wall Street Journal graphic above by Laura Kammermann, appear to be deeply involved in the Ukraine scandal.

In the fall of 2018, Parnas, above right, and an associate, Igor Fruman, above left, were busy networking global and Trump administration connections to get their energy trading and exploration company on sure financial footing. Parnas writes that he was working one of his key administration contacts, Trump confidante Rudy Giuliani, above center.

The pair frequented a Manhattan locale, The Grand Havana Room, where Parnas wrote that one evening that November the two “were talking about ways to get my business off the ground.” That’s when Giuliani, Parnas writes, excused himself to answer a phone call from a former associate with a tip about the former vice president and his son, Hunter.

The associate told Giuliani in that call, according to Parnas, that the Bidens “had been involved in something perhaps a bit shadier than mere conflict of interest in Ukraine.” And, Parnas relates, there were receipts — purportedly “a couple of letters, whistleblower complaints.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

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

Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).990 Newly seated New York Councilman Yusef Salaam, sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2024, is shown under arresst in a 1990 New York Times photo by James Estrin).

ny times logoNew York Times, He Was One of the Central Park Five. Now He’s Councilman Yusef Salaam, Katherine Rosman, Jan. 1, 2024. Mr. Salaam will take office 34 years after a wrongful prosecution for rape led to his spending nearly seven years in prison.

Yusef Salaam stood at the front of the City Council Chamber in Lower Manhattan with his right hand raised and his left hand on the Quran held by his wife. It was the one that his mother gave him when he was 15 years old and standing trial for a crime he did not commit. Its pages, filled with notes and bookmarks, were kept intact by a cloth cover that Mr. Salaam made during nearly seven years in prison.

Surrounded by relatives including his mother, sister and some of his children, Mr. Salaam was asked by Michael McSweeney, the city clerk, to repeat an oath.

With each passage that Mr. McSweeney recited and Mr. Salaam repeated, their voices took on volume and urgency: “I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York,” Mr. Salaam said. “I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of council member of the ninth district, in the borough and county of New York, in the City of New York, according to the best of my ability.”

“Council Member Salaam,” Mr. McSweeney said, “Congratulations.”

Mr. Salaam’s family broke into cheers. He placed his hand over his heart.

It was one day and 21 years after his exoneration from a first-degree rape conviction in a case so brutal that it had stunned a crime-weary city and aligned New York’s political, law enforcement and media establishment squarely against him and his co-defendants.

In 1990, Mr. Salaam was sent to prison as one of the “Central Park Five.” This summer, he beat two incumbent State Assembly members in a Democratic primary and officially won the Council seat in an uncontested election in November. He will take office on New Year’s Day.

Mr. Salaam is a political neophyte whose skill as an operator within the byzantine universe of the city’s municipal government is completely untested. “I’m not a part of that world,” he acknowledged. “It takes time.”

His value to his constituents in Harlem is not measured, at least not yet, by a talent for weighing policy matters or solving neighborhood problems.

He brings to his community the power and the symbolism of his own life story. “Everything — every single thing — that I experienced has prepared me for this,” Mr. Salaam said before being sworn in on Dec. 20. “I needed to be in the belly of the beast, because now I can see that those who are closest to the pain need to have a seat at the table.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Oregon Newspaper Stops Printing After Embezzlement Leaves It in ‘Shambles,’ Amanda Holpuch, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). The Eugene Weekly had to lay off its entire 10-person staff after it uncovered years of theft by an employee, the editor said.

A weekly newspaper in Oregon abruptly stopped publishing and laid off all of its workers after an employee embezzled tens of thousands of dollars and left months of bills unpaid, its editor said.

The newspaper, The Eugene Weekly, announced on Thursday that it would stop printing after it discovered financial problems, including money not being paid into employee retirement accounts and $70,000 of unpaid bills to the newspaper’s printer, Camilla Mortensen, the newspaper’s editor, said on Sunday.

The entire 10-person newspaper staff was laid off three days before Christmas, though some workers, including Ms. Mortensen, were still volunteering to publish articles online.

The Eugene Weekly, a free newspaper, was founded in 1982 and each week prints 30,000 copies, which can be found in bright red boxes in and around Eugene, one of the most populous cities in Oregon.

Recent articles described a New Year’s Day hike led by guides at a state park, the efforts of a nearby unincorporated community, Blue River, to recover from a 2020 wildfire, and a memorial to people who had died homeless in 2023.

Leaders of The Eugene Weekly said in a letter to readers that the newspaper’s finances had been left in “shambles,” but they planned to fight to keep the publication alive.

ny times logoNew York Times, Powerful Realtors Group Loses Its Grip on the Industry, Debra Kamin, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The National Association of Realtors is facing antitrust lawsuits and sexual harassment allegations, and real estate agents are now looking for alternatives.

ny times logoNew York Times, After a Rise in Murders During the Pandemic, a Sharp Decline in 2023, Tim Arango and Campbell Robertson, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The U.S. is on track for a record drop in homicides, and many other categories of crime are also in decline, according to the F.B.I.

Detroit is on track to record the fewest murders since the 1960s. In Philadelphia, where there were more murders in 2021 than in any year on record, the number of homicides this year has fallen more than 20 percent from last year. And in Los Angeles, the number of shooting victims this year is down more than 200 from two years ago.

The decrease in gun violence in 2023 has been a welcome trend for communities around the country, though even as the number of homicides and the number of shootings have fallen nationwide, they remain higher than on the eve of the pandemic.

In 2020, as the pandemic took hold and protests convulsed the nation after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States saw the largest increase in murders ever recorded. Now, as 2023 comes to a close, the country is likely to see one of the largest — if not the largest — yearly declines in homicides, according to recent F.B.I. data and statistics collected by independent criminologists and researchers.

The rapid decline in homicides isn’t the only story. Among nine violent and property crime categories tracked by the F.B.I., the only figure that is up over the first three quarters of this year is motor vehicle theft. The data, which covers about 80 percent of the U.S. population, is the first quarterly report in three years from the F.B.I., which typically takes many months to release crime data.

The decline in crime contrasts with perceptions, driven in part by social media videos of flash-mob-style shoplifting incidents, that urban downtowns are out of control. While figures in some categories of crime are still higher than they were before the pandemic, crime overall is falling nationwide, including in cities often singled out by politicians as plagued by danger and violence. Homicides are down by 13 percent in Chicago and by 11 percent in New York, where shootings are down by 25 percent — two cities that former President Donald J. Trump called “crime dens” in a campaign speech this year.

Just as criminologists attributed the surge in murders in 2020 and 2021 to the disruptions of the pandemic and protests — including the isolation, the closing of schools and social programs and the deepening distrust of the police — they attribute the recent drop in crime to the pandemic’s sliding into the rearview mirror.

“Murder didn’t go up because of things that happened in individual neighborhoods or individual streets,” said Jeff Asher, a crime analyst based in New Orleans who tracks homicides in nearly 180 American cities. “It went up because of these big national factors, and I think the big national factors are probably driving it down. The biggest of which is probably Covid going to the background.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial : Face it: A smart ban on ski masks can help fight crime and protect rights, Editorial Board, Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Tucked into Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s Addressing Crime Trends Now Act, a bill intended to help police fight crime in D.C., is an under-discussed proposal: a prohibition on ski masks and face coverings.

The mayor’s proposal would revive the anti-mask section of a 1982 law, the Anti-Intimidation and Defacing of Public or Private Property Criminal Act. That statute prohibited those 16 and older from covering their faces while in public, intending to commit a crime, intimidate, threaten, or harass others or in cases in which masking would recklessly “cause another person to fear for his or her personal safety.”

The provision, which carried a one-year maximum sentence, was rarely enforced even when it was on the books. And D.C. repealed it in 2020 to encourage the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

That reasonable public health policy had an unintended consequence: normalizing masking for all sorts of purposes, legal and otherwise. Now, identity-obscuring ski masks have become a de facto uniform for those who commit retail thefts, carjackings and robberies. The disguises make crimes scarier and perpetrators more difficult to identify — which of course is the point. One of the more remarkable aspects of last week’s CityCenter Chanel store robbery was that a video camera recorded one of the suspects without a face covering.

Other cities are debating anti-mask measures or have already adopted them: Philadelphia in November banned ski masks in public places — parks, schools, day-care centers, city-owned buildings and public transit — and at least 11 states have some kind of anti-mask ordinance on their books, most decades old. The goal is to prevent citizens from feeling “under siege,” as one Philadelphia council member put it, and to promote a sense of public safety.

Safety, actual and perceived, is a valid goal, especially urgent in the District. Still, the case for mask bans is more complicated than it might seem. There is a tension between the security mask bans seek to protect and the First Amendment liberties some mask wearers can legitimately claim in certain contexts.

At the same time, anonymity has a long association with criminality or deviance, and social science research shows that it can enable untoward behavior and make crimes more terrorizing.

Probably the biggest potential problem with anti-mask decrees is a practical one: enforcement. D.C. police are not eager to enforce such a ban; some officers have told us that it is a distraction from more important tasks and could heighten the risk of discrimination claims. The fact that ski masks are particularly popular among youths of color all but guarantees that enforcement will appear targeted.

Fortunately, relatively minor tweaks could address the concerns. A mask ban could be limited to particular and clearly delineated spaces — public transit, for instance, or city property and places of commerce, where mask-wearing is commonly understood to induce anxiety and serve little public good. Reasonable exceptions for religious practice or political expression should be spelled out in the statute. An anti-mask provision could be used to enhance penalties for other crimes of which the masked perpetrator is accused, rather than a stand-alone offense. A law that clearly provides that wearing a mask itself is not criminal, but committing a crime with one is, would be harder to use as a pretext for selective enforcement or harassment.

ny times logoNew York Times, Rikers Island Has Become New York’s Largest Mental Institution, Jan Ransom and Amy Julia Harris, Photographs by José A. Alvarado Jr., Dec. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A seemingly endless rotation between forensic hospitals and jails means that some mentally ill detainees stay in the system for years without standing trial.

One night in fall 2015, an 18-year-old woman was standing on a subway platform in the Bronx when a homeless man named James Dolo came up from behind and used both hands to push her onto the tracks, the police said, injuring her.

Jailed on an attempted murder charge, Mr. Dolo, then 38, soon was seated in front of a court evaluator for a review of his competency to stand trial. Mr. Dolo smelled of urine, the evaluator noted, had described a history of psychiatric hospitalizations and did not seem to understand the gravity of what he was accused of doing.

The evaluator marked him down as unfit, citing schizophrenia, and a judge ordered Mr. Dolo committed to a state forensic psychiatric hospital — a secure facility for incarcerated people — to be restored to mental competency. He spent nearly two years there before he was shuttled to a public hospital in Manhattan, and then to the city jails on Rikers Island, and then to the forensic hospital again.

Now, eight years later, having never been convicted of a crime in the subway shoving, he is back on Rikers Island, where guards once found him sitting in his own excrement and refusing to eat or leave his cell.

Mr. Dolo’s case, which has not been previously reported, illustrates one reason Rikers Island has become a warehouse for thousands of people with psychiatric problems: Many detainees with severe mental illness have moved back and forth between the jails and state forensic psychiatric facilities for months or even years before standing trial. Some have spent more time in this cycle than they might have served in prison had they been convicted.

Records show that more than half the people in city custody — some 3,000 men and women — have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and, on any given day, hundreds of them are awaiting evaluations or in line for beds at state forensic psychiatric hospitals, with scores more being treated at those facilities.

Relevant Recent Headlines

tennessee map

 

More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

 

climate change photo

 washington post logoWashington Post, Many on Gulf Coast say time is running out for EPA to act on toxic air, Anna Phillips, Amudalat Ajasa and Timothy Puko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden administration vowed to protect Gulf Coast communities from dangerous pollution. But refineries continue to exceed safe levels.

As a girl growing up near refineries and chemical factories in this part of the Gulf Coast, 77-year-old Lois Malvo thought nothing of the way her eyes burned when she played outside. Now she sees dangers all around her.

The smell of rotten eggs and gasoline frequently fills her low-slung home, which lacks running water and leans to one side. Most days, she wakes up in the grips of a coughing fit. Cancer, which she blames on the toxic chemicals in the air, killed her sister and afflicted both of her brothers as well as herself.

“Our health lets us know that something isn’t right,” she said. “We’re being attacked by the industry because we’re vulnerable people and really, nobody cares about us.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan tried to change perceptions of those like Malvo when he toured pollution-choked communities in Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas two years ago, assuring residents that the Biden administration was committed to reversing years of inaction.

washington post logoWashington Post, Massive waves hammer West Coast, with more storms expected, Nicolás Rivero and Diana Leonard, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Ventura and Santa Cruz counties could see more damage amid stormy conditions this weekendWaves as high as 25 feet continue to pummel the West Coast after a damaging barrage flooded beaches as far south as Los Angeles on Thursday and left logs scattered across roads as far north as southern Oregon.

Powerful cyclones over the North Pacific are combining with higher-than-normal tides to create dangerous waves and flooding.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ny times logoNew York Times, Stalled on the Front, Ukraine Steps Up Sabotage and Targets Trains, Marc Santora, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). As conventional forces struggle to break through defensive lines, Russia and Ukraine are increasingly turning to guerrilla tactics. The saboteurs managed to place four explosives on a Russian freight train carrying diesel and jet fuel, roughly 3,000 miles from the Ukrainian border. But more important than the destruction of the train, Ukrainian intelligence officials said, was the timing of the blast.

ukraine flagThey needed it to blow up as the 50 rail cars were traveling through the nine-mile-long tunnel through the Severomuysky mountains, the longest train tunnel in Russia.

The Ukrainians were hoping to compromise a vital conduit for weapons being shipped to Russia from North Korea, at a moment when Ukrainian forces on the front are struggling to stave off relentless Russian assaults. Trains can be replaced and tracks quickly repaired. But serious damage to this tunnel, which took decades to build, might not be so easy to fix.

Russia and Ukraine continue to battle on a large scale, both on the ground and with aerial strikes. Russian officials accused Ukraine of attacking a Russian city, Belgorod, on Saturday, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 100 others, in apparent response to a huge Russian missile barrage on several Ukrainian cities the day before.

But guerrilla tactics — including sabotage, commando raids, targeted assassinations and attempts to blow up ammunition depots, oil pipelines and railways — have taken on added importance as the two sides fail to make substantial advances at the front.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia pounded the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv ahead of the New Year, Constant Méheut, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Moscow said that it had struck Kharkiv with missiles in retaliation for what it said was a deadly Ukrainian air assault on the Russian city of Belgorod.

Residents of the Ukrainian city, Kharkiv, which is just 60 miles across the border from Belgorod, were jolted by multiple air raid sirens overnight, as several waves of ballistic missiles and attack drones rained on the city center, injuring nearly 30 people and damaging private homes, hospitals and a hotel, according to Ukrainian officials.

“These are not military facilities, but cafes, residential buildings and offices,” Ihor Terekhov, Kharkiv’s mayor, said in a post on social media that included a video of firefighters trying to extinguish a blaze amid a pile of rubble.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukrainian Missile Attack on a Russian City Kills at Least 18, Constant Méheut and Ivan Nechepurenko, Dec. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The bombardment of Belgorod, apparently in response to an air assault on Friday, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the war began.

Russian FlagThe bombardment of Belgorod on Saturday, apparently in response to an enormous air assault by Moscow a day earlier, appeared to be the deadliest on Russian soil since the start of the war.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Chill in the Housing Market Seeps Into Other Industries, Martha C. White, Jan. 1, 2024. The slowdown in the residential real estate market, a crucial cog in the American economy, is threatening sectors like home improvement and storage.

Sales of existing homes, which make up most of the nation’s housing stock, were down roughly 7 percent in November from a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Federal Reserve policymakers held interest rates steady at their meeting in December and signaled that the central bank would begin cutting interest rates in 2024, offering hope to the residential market, which is more sensitive to interest-rate changes.

The factors that kept people from buying a home in 2023 were myriad, including soaring prices. The median price of an existing single-family home was $392,100 in November, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, making home buying unaffordable for a large swath of the population, even as mortgage rates have dipped below 7 percent.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will the Economy Help or Hurt Biden ’24? Krugman and Coy Dig Into Data, Paul Krugman and Peter Coy,Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed).

Peter Coy: Paul, I think the economy is going to be a huge problem for President Biden in 2024. Voters are unhappy about the state of the economy, even though, by most measures, it’s doing great. Imagine how much unhappier they’ll be if things get worse heading into the election — which I, for one, think is quite likely to be the case.

paul krugmanPaul Krugman, right: I’m not sure about the politics. We can get into that later. But first, can we acknowledge just how good the current state of the economy is?

Peter: Absolutely. Unemployment is close to its lowest point since the 1960s, and inflation has come way down. That’s the big story of 2023. But 2024 is a whole ’nother thing. I think there will be two big stories in 2024. One, whether the good news continues and, two, how voters will react to whatever the economy looks like around election time.

ny times logoNew York Times, Your Car Is Tracking You. Abusive Partners May Be, Too, Kashmir Hill, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.).  Apps that remotely track and control cars are being weaponized by abusive partners. Car companies have been slow to respond, according to victims and experts.

A car, to its driver, can feel like a sanctuary. A place to sing favorite songs off key, to cry, to vent or to drive somewhere no one knows you’re going.

But in truth, there are few places in our lives less private.

Modern cars have been called “smartphones with wheels” because they are internet-connected and have myriad methods of data collection, from cameras and seat weight sensors to records of how hard you brake and corner. Most drivers don’t realize how much information their cars are collecting and who has access to it, said Jen Caltrider, a privacy researcher at Mozilla who reviewed the privacy policies of more than 25 car brands and found surprising disclosures, such as Nissan saying it might collect information about “sexual activity.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

joe biden fist in air

 

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, When Being a Spokeswoman Attracts Leering Internet Trolls, Caity Weaver, Dec. 28, 2023. When you lend your likeness to a nationwide ad campaign, things don’t always go perfectly. Just ask Milana Vayntrub.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Are you fit for your age? Try our New Year’s tuneup to find out, Gretchen Reynolds, Chelsea Conrad and Carson TerBush, Jan. 1, 2024. We asked exercise experts for easy ways to test fitness for balance, mobility, grip strength, stamina and more.

These elements are noteworthy because each has been linked to longevity, meaning our balance, mobility, grip strength, stamina and overall fitness could influence just how long and well we live.

Try these five simple tests now and see how you measure up against a benchmark of what’s healthy for your age group. Don’t fret if your results fall a bit short. We’ll also give you easy exercises to help you fine-tune every aspect of your fitness and make 2024 your fittest year yet.

washington post logoWashington Post, How the anti-vaccine movement is gaining power in statehouses, Lauren Weber, Dec. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Louisiana is a harbinger of the growing power of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses, as more candidates supporting once-fringe policies win and sign onto laws gutting vaccine requirements.

covad 19 photo.jpg Custom 2The victories come as part of a political backlash to pandemic restrictions and the proliferation of misinformation about the safety of vaccines introduced to fight the coronavirus.

In Louisiana, 29 candidates endorsed by Stand for Health Freedom, a national group that works to defeat mandatory vaccinations, won in the state’s off-year elections this fall.

Fred Mills, the retiring Republican chairman of the Louisiana Senate’s health and welfare committee, said he fears that once-fringe anti-vaccine policies that endanger people’s lives will have a greater chance of passing come January when newly-elected lawmakers are sworn in and more than a dozen Republican moderates like himself leave office.

Louisiana’s shift is a sign of the growing clout of the anti-vaccine movement in the nation’s statehouses as bills that once died in committee make it onto the legislative floor for a vote.

Since spring, Tennessee lawmakers dropped all vaccine requirements for home-schooled children. Iowa Republicans passed a bill eliminating the requirement that schools educate students about the HPV vaccine. And the Florida legislature passed a law preemptively barring school districts from requiring coronavirus vaccines, a move health advocates fear opens the door to further vaccine limitations.

“Politics is going to win over medicine,” said Mills, a pharmacist who has weakened or defeated bills that would have limited vaccine access and promoted vaccine exemptions in schools and workplaces. But after 13 years in the Senate, Mills has hit the state’s three-term limit.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Media, Religion, High Tech, Sports, Education, Free Speech, Culture

claudine gay steven senne ap

wsj logoWall Street Journal, U.S. Education News: Plagiarism allegations surfaced about a year ago by critics who have circled Gay for years, Douglas Belkin and Arian Campo-Flores, Dec. 29, 2023. Behind the Campaign to Take Down Harvard’s Claudine Gay (shown above in an AP photo).

From the time she began carving her path through the most elite private schools in the nation to the presidency of Harvard University, Claudine Gay earned plaudits and promotions.

She also amassed detractors who were skeptical of her work and qualifications and outraged by what they saw as the political decisions she made as an increasingly powerful administrator.

Those two forces collided in spectacular fashion this month after plagiarism allegations that began circulating online about a year ago spilled into public view due to the efforts of conservative activists including Christopher Rufo, who has said he wants Gay removed from her job as Harvard president. The allegations have sparked criticism of Harvard over the process that led to Gay’s selection as president, the first Black person to hold the post, and the university’s transparency around how it responded to the plagiarism claims.

Harvard said it first learned about allegations of plagiarism against Gay in October and that the Harvard Corporation, the school’s 12-member governing board, engaged three political scientists from outside the university to carry out their own investigation. The school has declined to identify them or release their review.

In December, Harvard said the review revealed no evidence of intentional deception or recklessness in Gay’s work as a political scientist but did find instances of inadequate citation which “while regrettable, did not constitute research misconduct.” Gay requested corrections, and the board reaffirmed its support for her and has said additional charges of plagiarism were without merit.
Harvard President Claudine Gay’s early December House testimony about antisemitism on campus was widely criticized. Photo: Haiyun Jiang/Bloomberg News

What the school didn’t initially disclose is that after the allegations were brought to the governing board in October by the New York Post, the board hired a law firm that specializes in defamation law. That firm, Clare Locke, sent a 15-page letter to the Post saying the alleged instances of plagiarism were “both cited and properly credited,” according to excerpts of the letter published by the paper. The school threatened to sue the paper if it published allegations against Gay.

“Our letter responded only to specific passages identified by the Post on October 24,” the law firm said in a statement, adding that the paper “made its own decision” on whether to publish the allegations. The Post published stories this month.

ny times logoNew York Times, PGA Tour and Saudi-Backed LIV Extend Deadline to Finalize Deal, Lauren Hirsch, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed). The tentative deal for the men’s golf circuits to join forces had a Dec. 31 deadline, but significant questions remained.

pga tour logoWhen the PGA Tour and the upstart LIV Golf league, which is bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, announced their groundbreaking deal in June for the men’s golf circuits to join forces, they left most details unanswered and set a Dec. 31 deadline to figure them out.

liv golf logoNow, it is clear that the two sides will need more time.

The PGA Tour commissioner, Jay Monahan, said in a memo to players Sunday evening that the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, were “working to extend” the negotiations into the new year.

The sides had been discussing signing a formal one-month extension, which could be further prolonged, said three people familiar with the negotiations who were not authorized to discuss them. But while both sides remain focused on completing a deal, they have yet to set any new formal deadline.

saudi arabia flagThose negotiations continue as the PGA Tour progresses on simultaneous talks to raise additional money from Strategic Sports Group, an investment group led by Fenway Sports Group — the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the English soccer club Liverpool.

Mr. Monahan said on Sunday that the tour and Strategic Sports Group “have made meaningful progress” in their talks and that the tour had “provided S.S.G. with the due diligence information they requested.” The parties are focused on finalizing terms of the deal and documents, he said.

The PGA Tour, the Saudi wealth fund and the Strategic Sports Group enter 2024 with significant uncertainty about the deal. Since the June announcement, questions that had initially accompanied the agreement’s frenzied rollout appear to have compounded: How will potential U.S. investment sit alongside Saudi money? How will the golf circuits work together even as the Saudis still actively seek to poach PGA Tour players?

The planned partnership was announced on June 6 with scant contours of an actual agreement. The PGA Tour and the Saudi wealth fund had planned to work out the details, including governance, the valuation of assets and how the money would be put to work, by the end of 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, D.C.’s poorest ward aims anger at Leonsis as Mystics eye move downtown, Paul Schwartzman, Jan. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Jan. 1, 2024. Soon after taking over the MLK Deli in Southeast Washington, Tyrone White found himself with an inviting opportunity: opening a concession stand at the new neighborhood arena where the Washington Mystics play home games.

In the past five years, White has sold enough crab cakes and chicken sandwiches at Mystics games to employ a couple of dozen workers at Entertainment and Sports Arena, located on the campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in one of Washington’s poorest Zip codes.

Now White fears he could lose the revenue generated by the concession stand — enough to help him open a second deli in another struggling area — if Ted Leonsis relocates the Washington Wizards and Capitals to Virginia and moves Mystics home games downtown to the Capital One Arena.

“I’d have to cut back on jobs and opportunity for the community,” White said the other day at his deli on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where his menu includes “Marion Barry Salmon Cakes,” a toast to the neighborhood’s favorite former mayor. “It would be devastating.”

muriel bowser CustomAs Leonsis and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), right, touted the deal for the $65 million arena nearly a decade ago, the Mystics’ billionaire owner talked with passion about creating a new horizon for the neighborhood of Congress Heights in Ward 8, a corner of the city long defined by poverty and violent crime.

But with his announcement that he would shift Mystics games downtown to the Capital One Arena if the Wizards and Capitals relocate to Alexandria, Leonsis is seeking to remove a key attraction that D.C. officials are counting on to help fuel investment and propel the neighborhood’s renaissance.

When it agreed to the deal with the city, Leonsis’s company, Monumental Sports & Entertainment, signed a 19-year lease at the Ward 8 arena, a commitment that included not only Mystics home games but also Wizards practices.

“Our expectation was what it still is — the presence of the Mystics and Monumental was going to be the excitement we were going to build around,” said Monica Ray, president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corp., a nonprofit that has advocated for the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths.

“I’m angry that they think they can get up and leave the promise and potential there,” Ray said. “It feels like Ted has forgotten his commitment to Ward 8. We should not be an afterthought.”

Her disappointment is not isolated. After Leonsis’s announcement, a Ward 8 council candidate, Markus Batchelor, described the Mystics potential move as “a blow” to spurring economic growth “where it’s needed most.” Ron Moten, a veteran Anacostia-based activist, threatened to organize a boycott of Monumental sports franchises and brands unless Leonsis reversed course.

Bowser’s administration, in a statement, said that the city’s contract with Monumental “requires” that the “Mystics play their home games and the Wizards hold their practices at the Entertainment and Sports arena until 2037. “The District honors its contracts, and we trust and expect our partners to do the same.”

ny times logoNew York Times, In Times Square, Hundreds of Thousands Ring In 2024, Andy Newman, Camille Baker and Sean Piccoli, Updated Jan. 1, 2024. New Year’s celebrations took place against the backdrop of demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war in Midtown Manhattan.

Hundreds of thousands of people crowded into Times Square on Sunday night to ring in the New Year, amid heightened security and scattered demonstrations in Midtown Manhattan over the Israel-Hamas war.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Michael Christopher Brown, a photojournalist, has experimented with A.I. in a documentary mode, with controversial results, as with this A.I. image of refugees. ”Photographers know how to create imagery that people respond to,” he said. But these images are “a collaborative effort with a machine (Image Credit: Michael Christopher Brown). Artificial Intelligence (AI) composit image by Michael Christopher Brown).

 

 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top