Feb. News 2024

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

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

Feb. 1

Top Headlines

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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More On U.S. National Politics, Governance

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

More On U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

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

More On Israel’s War With Hamas

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More On Global Disputes, Disasters, Human Rights 

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

U.S. Election Deniers, Insurrectionists

 

U.S. Supreme Court

GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

 Hunter Biden, a businessman, artist and son of President Biden, left, confers with his attorney Abbe Lowell in the audience of a House Government Oversight Committee hearing on July 10, 2024 in Washington, DC (AP photo by Luis Magana).

Climate Change, Environment, Energy, Disasters, Transportation

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

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

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

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washington post logoWashington Post, Election 2024: Trump spent over $55 million in donor money on legal fees last year, filings show, Maeve Reston, Clara Ence Morse and Hannah Knowles, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Former president Donald Trump is cruising toward the Republican presidential nomination after victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, but he is diverting enormous sums of donor money to his mounting legal fees as he faces multiple lawsuits and 91 felony charges across four criminal cases.

djt maga hatThe new figures for his legal spending were outlined in campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday night. Trump’s advisers have said the money that is being spent on legal expenses is not only for Trump’s defense, but also for the lawyer fees for some of his advisers and associates. Here are a few early takeaways from the new filings:

Trump’s mounting legal bills: Two of Trump’s committees, Save America leadership PAC and the Make America Great Again PAC, spent $55.6 million on legal bills in 2023, including $29.9 million in the second half of the year, according to the new reports released Wednesday.

The Trump campaign had more than $33 million in cash on hand at the end of last year after raising more than $19 million in the fourth quarter. Save America leadership PAC had about $5.1 million in cash on hand at the end of the year. Across all of his committees, Trump had a war chest of over $70 million at the end of the year, a total that includes cash available to his allied super PAC, MAGA Inc.

Trump has raised most of his campaign funds from small-dollar donors. In the fine print of his solicitations, Trump’s joint fundraising committee notes that about 90 cents of each dollar is diverted to his campaign committee and 10 cents is diverted to the Save America leadership PAC.

ap logoAssociated Press, Biden will issue an executive order to sanction Israeli settlers involved in West Bank violence, AP sources say, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller and Aamer Madhani, Feb. 1, 2024. President Biden has spoken out against retaliatory violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks against Israel.

President Joe Biden is expected to issue an executive order targeting Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory, according to four people familiar with the matter.

A senior administration official, who like the others was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the White House was expected to announce the order later Thursday.

Israel FlagBiden has spoken out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks against Israel on Oct. 7. The president has pledged that those those responsible for the violence will be held accountable.

The executive order is expected to set the ground for imposing sanctions on individuals who have engaged in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

washington post logoWashington Post, USAID’s Samantha Power, genocide scholar, confronted by staff on Gaza, John Hudson, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). A prominent adviser to President Biden, Power was challenged publicly over the administration’s policy, with one employee saying it has ‘left us unable to be moral leaders.’

samantha power o“You wrote a book on genocide and you’re still working for the administration: You should resign and speak out,” said Agnieszka Sykes, a global health specialist who told The Washington Post she left her job at USAID late last week.

Sykes interrupted a speech Power, right, was giving in Washington on climate change and natural disasters to invoke Power’s book “A Problem from Hell.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning work examines and condemns U.S. inaction on various atrocities, from Armenia to Rwanda, spanning several presidential administrations.

Like other members of President Biden’s National Security Council, Power oversees an agency deeply divided about Washington’s military support for Israel’s war in Gaza and refusal to demand a cease-fire.

But she is unique in being publicly confronted by her own workforce over the administration’s policy — a reflection of what USAID officials say is her long body of work on this subject and her organization’s responsibility to respond to distressed Gazans’ suffering from a lack of food, water and medicine amid Israel’s devastating military bombardment.

After Sykes’s interruption, Power thanked her for her comments and offered a response later in the program when she acknowledged the situation in Gaza was “devastating,” and stated that “more than 25,000 civilians have been killed,” a figure not always used by the U.S. government because Gaza’s health ministry does not distinguish between Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians. (Some U.S. officials, though, have said the ministry likely undercounts the number of casualties.)

“Not enough resources are getting in,” Power said, underscoring the urgent need to provide assistance to the more than 1.8 million Gazans who have been displaced. She noted that U.S. negotiators were seeking to broker a humanitarian pause that would allow more aid to move into the Palestinian enclave in exchange for Hamas’s release of hostages.

At the same time, Power emphasized the “horror” of the Hamas cross-border attack Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 people in Israel and resulted in more than 240 being taken hostage. “Human life is sacred,” she said.

Power has long said the United States bears a unique responsibility to prevent mass atrocities and has admonished U.S. dithering in the face of large-scale violence, such as the Clinton administration’s handling of the genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority. “Silence in the face of atrocity is not neutrality; silence in the face of atrocity is acquiescence,” she is often quoted as saying.

During the conversation on Tuesday, a USAID employee, Hannah Funk, questioned whether the United States was squandering its moral authority on the world stage by rushing arms and equipment into Israel during its military campaign.

“The U.S.-funded genocide in Gaza has really left us unable to be moral leaders on climate change and all the other pressing development and humanitarian issues those of us who work at USAID care so much about,” Funk told Power during the question-and-answer session. “How are you leading us to reckon with and overcome this hypocrisy in U.S. foreign policy?”

The United States and Israel reject the term genocide to describe the killing of Palestinians in Gaza — a contention that is at the center of proceedings before the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa. The court ordered Israel to do more to prevent the killing of civilians in Gaza but did not call for a cease-fire.

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Precision equipment for Russian arms makers came from U.S.-allied Taiwan, Dalton Bennett, Mary Ilyushina, Lily Kuo and Pei-Lin Wu, Feb. 1, 2024. The Moscow-based firm importing the equipment, I Machine Technology, also sought to supply a secretive Kremlin effort to mass-produce attack drones, a Post examination found.

It had been a busy year for the employees gathered in June for I Machine Technology’s corporate retreat at a resort on Russia’s Black Sea coast. With war raging in Ukraine, the Russian defense industry was hungry for the advanced manufacturing equipment the Moscow-based supplier specialized in importing.

Russian FlagDressed in summer linens, chief executive Aleksey Bredikhin welcomed the crowd seated among plates of local delicacies and flutes of prosecco. He paused to recognize several guests who had traveled thousands of miles to join the festivities in Sochi.

“I especially want to welcome our friends from faraway Taiwan,” he said, video footage of the event posted online shows. “For almost a year now, we have been working very hard.”

Since January 2023, I Machine Technology has imported over $20 million of sophisticated equipment called CNC machine tools made in Taiwan, a U.S. strategic partner, according to trade records and Russian tax documents obtained by The Washington Post. The computer-controlled machines are used for the complex and precise manufacturing that is critical in many industries, including weapons production.

taiwan flagThe Taiwan-made machines accounted for virtually all of the Russian company’s imports in the first seven months of last year, according to the records, and the company’s sales during that period were overwhelmingly to the Russian defense industry. Bredikhin also sought to make the machines available for a secretive Russian effort to mass-produce the attack drones that have unleashed horrors on the U.S.-backed Ukrainian army, according to an invitation sent to one of the project managers overseeing engine construction for the drone program.

Kevin Wolf, a former senior Commerce Department official who once headed the agency that implements U.S. export controls, said shipments identified by The Post probably violated prohibitions Taiwan and the West imposed last January on the sale of technology to Russia, in response to the Ukraine war. He said the shipments should “absolutely” be an enforcement priority for authorities in Taiwan.

“This is why export controls against Russia were imposed,” he said. “You’ve got tools that are very important for making military items. You’ve got a lot of connection to military end uses and users. You have connections to drones. You’ve got a large dollar amount. This is a classic enforcement priority issue.”

ny times logoNew York Times, E.U. Reaches Deal on Fund for Ukraine, Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Monika Pronczuk, Feb. 1, 2024. The Hungarian leader Viktor Orban had been the sole holdout to the 50-billion-euro plan aimed at keeping Ukraine’s economy afloat during the war with Russia.

european union logo rectangleEuropean Union leaders on Thursday reached an agreement to create a 50-billion-euro fund for Ukraine, bringing onboard Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who had been the primary obstacle to a deal.

“All 27 leaders agreed on an additional €50 billion support package for Ukraine within the EU budget,” the president of ukraine flagthe European Council, Charles Michel, said on social media just an hour into Thursday’s meeting. “This locks in steadfast, long-term, predictable funding,” he added. “EU is taking leadership & responsibility in support for Ukraine; we know what is at stake.”

What, if anything, Mr. Orban received in exchange for giving up his veto for the fund, valued at about $54 billion, was not viktor orbánimmediately clear.

He had been demanding an annual chance to veto the disbursement of money to Ukraine, but that was rejected. Instead, E.U. leaders agreed to a regular review of the way the money was being spent, to assuage concerns about diversion or corruption, bloc officials said.

Under the agreement reached on Thursday, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, will draft an annual report on how the Ukraine fund is being used. E.U. leaders will have a chance to debate its performance and raise any concerns about it.

hungary flagTalks had been gridlocked, and the mood toward Mr. Orban, the closest ally in the European Union of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, had been souring since Mr. Orban blocked the first attempt to introduce the fund for Ukraine in December.

Ukraine needs the money desperately as it faces one of its most difficult moments since Russia’s full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, with American aid held up in Congress and virtually no progress on the battlefield.

Kyiv needs fresh cash to keep basic services running. The European aid, to be dispensed in the form of loans and grants over the next four years, would both cover immediate needs and allow Ukraine to plan its long-term budget.

Mr. Orban’s long-term obstruction of the European Union’s support of Ukraine has been riling his bloc partners. He has held up or watered down support for Ukraine, including some sanctions against Russia, since the war began.

The Hungarian leader, who appears to relish his spoiler role, has claimed that his resistance comes down to a fundamental disagreement with the rest of the European bloc: He does not believe Russia poses a security threat to Europe, nor does he think that the European Union should be throwing its weight behind Ukraine.

But Mr. Orban regularly uses his levers within the bloc — often his ability to veto decisions that require unanimity, such as the introduction of the Ukraine fund — to push for funds that he has lost access to over a longstanding dispute with the commission over his domestic policies.

The European Union and Hungary have long clashed over policies on the rule of law, corruption and minority rights.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia’s New Threats to Exiles: Seized Assets and Forced Returns, Anton Troianovski, Feb. 1, 2024. Using new legislation and apparent diplomatic pressure on other countries, the Kremlin is sending a chilling message to Russia’s sprawling antiwar diaspora.

In Bangkok this week, members of an antiwar Russian-language rock group were fighting deportation to Russia, detained in what supporters described as a cramped, hot, 80-person immigration holding cell.

Russian FlagOn Wednesday in Moscow, the lower house of Parliament passed a law that will allow the Russian government to seize the property of Russians living abroad who, in the words of the legislature’s chairman, “besmirch our country.”

The two developments, though thousands of miles apart, reflected the same grim calculus by the Kremlin: Using new legislation and apparent diplomatic pressure on other countries, it is turning the screws on Russia’s sprawling antiwar diaspora.

“Historic Russia has risen up,” President Vladimir V. Putin said at a meeting with backers of his presidential campaign on Wednesday, reprising his contention that the time has come to cleanse Russian society of pro-Western elements. “All this scum that’s always present in any society is being slowly, slowly washed away.”

Under the law, any Russian, even those in exile, found to be engaged in “crimes against national security” — including criticizing the invasion of Ukraine — could have their assets confiscated. Mr. Putin is expected to sign the law, though it is not yet clear how widely or aggressively the Kremlin plans to use it.

But the law’s quick passage — it sailed through the rubber-stamp State Duma unanimously — is another signal that the Kremlin, having stamped out dissent at home, is increasingly turning its attention to criticism from abroad. Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled after the war began, including many celebrities who can still reach their fans through platforms like YouTube, which remains accessible inside Russia.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bind: Compromise in Gaza or Power at Home, Patrick Kingsley, Feb. 1, 2024. To end the war in Gaza, the Israeli prime minister may have to cut a deal with Hamas and Saudi Arabia. Such an agreement, analysts say, could end his career.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is fighting two parallel battles, one in Gaza and another at home — and neither is going according to plan.

In Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu is leading a military campaign to defeat Hamas and free the remaining Israeli hostages captured during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel. At home, he is fighting to secure both his short-term political survival and his long-term legacy.

On both fronts, he is struggling.

Israel FlagIn Gaza, more than 100 hostages remain captive despite months of war and protracted negotiations for their release. Hamas is battered but undefeated, and generals have privately said that the war, despite devastating Gaza and killing more than 26,000 people, according to officials there, is approaching a deadlock. In Israel, polls show the prime minister would easily lose an election if one were held tomorrow. And after Mr. Netanyahu presided over the defense failures on Oct. 7, the deadliest day in Israel’s history, his legacy has been ruined.

His efforts to resolve these crises are at odds with each other, analysts said.

To burnish his legacy, he is pushing for a landmark peace deal with Saudi Arabia, a long-term strategic goal for Israel. Saudi Arabia, however, will not normalize ties without an Israeli commitment to a two-state solution. And without greater cooperation from Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies, it will become harder for Israel to wind down its war in Gaza and plan for the territory’s future.

But to retain power and preserve his right-wing coalition, he must reject the premise of a Palestinian state.detonations, destroying homes, schools and mosques.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Israel’s Controlled Demolitions Are Razing Neighborhoods in Gaza, Leanne Abraham, Bora Erden, Nader Ibrahim, Elena Shao and Haley Willis, Feb. 1, 2024. A resort hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. A multistory courthouse built in 2018. Dozens of homes, obliterated in seconds, with the pull of a trigger.

The damage caused by Israel’s aerial offensive in Gaza has been well documented. But Israeli ground forces have also carried out a wave of controlled explosions that has drastically changed the landscape in recent months.

At least 33 controlled demolitions have destroyed hundreds of buildings — including mosques, schools and entire sections of residential neighborhoods — since November, a New York Times analysis of Israeli military footage, social media videos and satellite imagery shows.

In response to questions about the demolitions, a spokesperson for the Israeli military said that soldiers are “locating and destroying terror infrastructures embedded, among other things, inside buildings” in civilian areas — adding that sometimes entire neighborhoods act as “combat complexes” for Hamas fighters.

Israeli officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said that Israel wanted to demolish Palestinian buildings close to the border as part of an effort to create a security “buffer zone” inside Gaza, making it harder for fighters to carry out cross-border attacks like the ones in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

But most of the demolition locations identified by The Times occurred well outside the so-called buffer zone. And the number of confirmed demolitions — based on the availability of visual evidence — may represent only a portion of the actual number carried out by Israel since the war began.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Iraqi militia blamed for a lethal drone attack on a U.S. base in Jordan said it would stop targeting U.S. forces, Alissa J. Rubin, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). In a surprise move, an Iran-linked militia in Iraq that the Pentagon said was likely responsible for a lethal drone attack on an U.S. base in Jordan over the weekend announced on Tuesday that it was suspending military operations in Iraq under pressure from the Iraqi government and from Iran.

The announcement came shortly after President Biden said that he had decided how to respond to the attack in Jordan on Sunday that left three U.S. soldiers dead, though he did not say what that response would be. His comment raised fears in Iraq about a possibly retaliatory U.S. attack on its territory.

The militia, Kata’ib Hezbollah, or Brigades of the Party of God, is the largest and most established of the Iran-linked groups operating in Iraq. It has spearheaded a majority of the some 160 attacks on U.S. military installations in Iraq and Syria that have occurred since Israel began its ground operations in Gaza, acting in response to the Oct. 7 attack Hamas led from the enclave.

The U.S. military has about 2,500 troops in Iraq advising and training the Iraqi Army and about 900 in Syria, supporting the Kurdish Syrian Defense forces in their fight against the Islamic State.

Kata’ib Hezbollah is part of what is known as the Axis of Resistance, a network of Iran-backed groups operating in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and occasionally farther afield. (Kata’ib Hezbollah is separate from the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.)

The other two Iraqi groups that are believed to have been involved in strikes U.S. targets — Harakat al Nujaba and Sayyid Shuhada — have not announced they will halt attacks.

The leader of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, said in a statement: “We announce the suspension of military and security operations against the occupation forces — in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi government.” It was the first time that the militia had publicly declared a suspension of operations.

The statement made clear that Iran had pressured the group to stop the attacks on U.S. troops and that Kata’ib Hezbollah was not happy about it. The group made a point of suggesting that it chooses its own targets and timing, rather than follows Iran’s orders.

ny times logoNew York Times, ‘Your Product Is Killing People’: Tech Leaders Denounced Over Child Safety, Cecilia Kang and David McCabe, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Senators criticized the chief executives of Meta, TikTok, Snap, X and Discord for not doing enough to prevent child sexual abuse online.

Lawmakers on Wednesday denounced the chief executives of Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord, accusing them of creating “a crisis in America” by willfully ignoring the harmful content against children on their platforms, as concerns over the effect of technology on youths have mushroomed.

In a highly charged 3.5-hour hearing, members of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee raised their voices and repeatedly castigated the five tech leaders — who run online services that are very popular with teenagers and younger children — for prioritizing profits over the well-being of youths. Some said the companies had “blood on their hands” and that users “would die waiting” for them to make changes to protect children. At one point, lawmakers compared the tech companies to cigarette makers.

“Every parent in America is terrified about the garbage that is directed at our kids,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said.

The tech chiefs, some of whom showed up after being forced by subpoena, said they had invested billions to strengthen safety measures on their platforms. Some said they supported a bill that bolsters privacy and parental controls for children, while others pointed to the faults of rivals. All of the executives emphasized that they themselves were parents.

In one blistering exchange with Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, stood up and turned to address dozens of parents of online child sexual exploitation victims.

“I’m sorry for everything you have all been through,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “No one should go through the things that your families have suffered.” He did not address whether Meta’s platforms had played a role in that suffering and said the company was investing in efforts to prevent such experiences.

The bipartisan hearing encapsulated the increasing alarm over tech’s impact on children and teenagers. Last year, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, identified social media as a cause of a youth mental health crisis. More than 105 million online images, videos and materials related to child sexual abuse were flagged in 2023 to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the federally designated clearinghouse for the imagery. Parents have blamed the platforms for fueling cyberbullying and children’s suicides.

  • New York Times, Here are six takeaways from the contentious hearing, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.).

U.S. Immigration / Illegal Alien Crisis

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ny times logoNew York Times, News analysis: One Big Reason Migrants Are Coming in Droves: They Believe They Can Stay, Miriam Jordan, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Seeking asylum has become the surest way for migrants to stay in the U.S. The underfunded immigration system can’t keep up, so cases languish for years.

For decades, single young men, mainly from Mexico and later Central America, did their best to sneak past U.S. border agents to reach Los Angeles, Atlanta and other places hungry for their labor.

Today, people from around the globe are streaming across the southern border, most of them just as eager to work. But rather than trying to elude U.S. authorities, the overwhelming majority of migrants seek out border agents, sometimes waiting hours or days in makeshift encampments, to surrender.

Being hustled into a U.S. Border Patrol vehicle and taken to a processing facility is hardly a setback. In fact, it is a crucial step toward being able to apply for asylum — now the surest way for migrants to stay in the United States, even if few will ultimately win their cases.

We are living in an era of mass migration — fueled by conflict, climate change, poverty and political repression and encouraged by the proliferation of TikTok and YouTube videos chronicling migrants’ journeys to the United States. Some six million Venezuelans have fled their troubled country, the largest population displacement in Latin America’s modern history. Migrants from Africa, Asia and South America are mortgaging their family land, selling their cars or borrowing money from loan sharks to embark on long, often treacherous journeys to reach the United States.

ny times logoNew York Times, How the Border Crisis Shattered Biden’s Immigration Hopes, Michael D. Shear, Hamed Aleaziz and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). An examination of President Biden’s record reveals how he failed to overcome a surge in new arrivals and political obstacles in both parties.

On President Biden’s first day in office, he paused nearly all deportations. He vowed to end the harsh practices of the Trump administration, show compassion toward those wishing to come to the United States and secure the southern border.

For Mr. Biden, it was a matter of principle. He wanted to show the world that the United States was a humane nation, while also demonstrating to his fellow citizens that government could work again.

But those early promises have largely been set aside as chaos engulfs the border and imperils Mr. Biden’s re-election hopes. The number of people crossing into the United States has reached record levels, more than double than in the Trump years. The asylum system is still all but broken.

On Friday, in a dramatic turnaround from those early days, the president implored Congress to grant him the power to shut down the border so he could contain one of the largest surges of uncontrolled immigration in American history.

“If given that authority,” Mr. Biden said in a statement, “I would use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

Some of the circumstances that have created the crisis are out of Mr. Biden’s control, such as the collapse of Venezuela, a surge in migration around the world and the obstinance of Republicans who have tried to thwart his efforts to address the problems. They refused to provide resources, blocked efforts to update laws and openly defied federal officials charged with maintaining security and order along the 2,000-mile border.

But an examination of Mr. Biden’s record over the last three years by The New York Times, based on interviews with more than 35 current and former officials and others, shows that the president has failed to overcome those obstacles. The result is a growing humanitarian crisis at the border and in major cities around the country. Many voters now say immigration is their top concern, and they do not have confidence that Mr. Biden is addressing it.

us senate logoA veteran of the decades-long search for a bipartisan immigration compromise by the late Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, the president sought balance. He created legal pathways for migrants and began rebuilding the refugee system even as he embraced some of former President Donald J. Trump’s more restrictive tactics. But those efforts were quickly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people arriving at the border, and at times Mr. Biden failed to appreciate the growing anger in both parties.

During the 2020 campaign, Mr. Biden said he would be an antidote to his predecessor’s anti-immigrant approach. But he has presided over a fierce struggle inside the White House between advisers who favored more enforcement and those who pushed to be more welcoming. That debate played out as the country also shifted. After years of inflation, economic suffering and political polarization, the public is divided about whether the United States — which is home to more immigrants than any other nation — should absorb more.

Mr. Biden went from a 2020 candidate who vowed to “end Trump’s assault on the dignity of immigrant communities” to a 2024 president who is “willing to make significant compromises on the border.” That shift can be seen through the prism of five key moments that document the administration’s shifting approach on a defining issue of his presidency and of the next election.

ap logoAssociated Press, House GOP takes party-line vote toward Mayorkas impeachment as border becomes 2024 campaign issue, Lisa Mascaro and Rebecca Santana, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2024. House Republicans voted along party lines early Wednesday to move toward impeaching Homeland Alejandro MayorkasSecurity Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, right, for a “willful and systematic” refusal to enforce immigration laws as border security becomes a top 2024 election issue.

U.S. House logoThe Homeland Security Committee debated all day Tuesday and well into the night before recommending two articles of impeachment against Mayorkas to the full House, a rare charge against a Cabinet official unseen in nearly 150 years, as Republicans make GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump’s hard-line deportation approach to immigration their own.

The committee Republicans voted in favor, while the Democrats unified against, 18-15.

“We cannot allow this man to remain in office any longer,” said Chairman Mark Green, R-Tenn.

The impeachment articles charge that Mayorkas “refused to comply with Federal immigration laws” amid a record surge of migrants and that he has “breached the public trust” in his claims to Congress that the U.S.-Mexico border is secure.

The full House could vote on Mayorkas’ impeachment as soon as next week. If approved, the charges would go to the Senate for a trial, though senators may first convene a special committee for consideration.

us dhs big eagle logo4With an unusual personal appeal, Mayorkas — who is deep in Senate talks on a border security package — wrote in a letter to the committee that it should be working with the Biden administration to update the nation’s “broken and outdated” immigration laws for the 21st century, an era of record global migration.

“We need a legislative solution and only Congress can provide it,” Mayorkas wrote in the pointed letter to the panel’s chairman.

Rarely has a Cabinet member faced impeachment’s bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and Democrats on the panel dismissed the proceedings as a stunt and a sham that could set a chilling precedent for other civil servants snared in policy disputes by lawmakers who disagree with the president’s approach.

“This is a terrible day for the committee, the United States, the Constitution and our great country,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Referring to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, Thompson said the “MAGA-led impeachment of Secretary Mayorkas is a baseless sham.”

us senate logoThe House’s proceedings against Mayorkas have created an oddly split-screen Capitol Hill, as the Senate works deliberately with the secretary on a bipartisan border security package that is now on life support.

The package being negotiated by the senators with Mayorkas could emerge as the most consequential bipartisan immigration proposal in a decade. Or it could collapse in political failure as Republicans, and some Democrats, run from the effort.

Trump, on the campaign trail and in private talks, has tried to squelch the deal. “I’d rather have no bill than a bad bill,” Trump said over the weekend in Las Vegas.

President Joe Biden, in his own campaign remarks in South Carolina, said if Congress sends him a bill with emergency authority he’ll “shut down the border right now” to get migration under control.

ny times logoNew York Times, Impeachment Case Against Mayorkas Ignores Government’s Immigration Powers, Karoun Demirjian, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). House Republicans have charged President Biden’s homeland security secretary with breaking the law by failing to enforce border mandates, but statute gives him wide authority to address immigration.

House Republicans’ impeachment case against Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, boils down to a simple allegation: that he has broken the law by refusing to enforce immigration statutes that aim to prevent migrants from entering the United States without authorization.

The Homeland Security Committee approved articles of impeachment against Mr. Mayorkas on a party-line vote early Wednesday morning, setting the stage for a vote of the full House next week. If impeached, he would be only the second cabinet secretary to receive that punishment in American history, the first in 148 years and the only one to be indicted by Congress for nothing more than carrying out the policies of the president he serves.

Republicans have moved forward with the process even though constitutional scholars, past secretaries of homeland security and even some former legal advisers to former President Donald J. Trump have noted that nothing Mr. Mayorkas is accused of rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors, the standard for impeachment laid out in the Constitution.ake an asylum claim in the first place. Some Republicans’ goal to dramatically curtail Biden’s use of his humanitarian parole powers for certain categories of migrants is not in the final deal, they said.

Senators said they hope to release the legislative text of the deal next week.

With crossings passing 10,000 per day during much of last month, both Democrats and Republicans have described that level of migration as unsustainable. Crossings have declined so far in January as Mexico has stepped up its enforcement, but Biden’s pledge to invoke a new “shut down” authority immediately upon signing a bill suggested that the border remained “overwhelmed.”

“For too long, we all know the border’s been broken,” Biden said in his statement. “It’s long past time to fix it.”

In a political atmosphere in which former president Donald Trump and top Republicans have hammered Biden over the influx of millions of migrants into the country, the president’s willingness — and apparent eagerness — to pursue a “shut down” at the border marked a major departure from traditional Democratic rhetoric on migration. It was also a reversal for Biden, who came into office determined to undo much of Trump’s immigration policies and implement what he called “humane and orderly” systems for processing desperate people fleeing troubled homelands.

Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has publicly opposed the bipartisan Senate deal, dismissing it as “meaningless.” He has repeatedly claimed that he would close down the border with Mexico on the first day of his presidency. He has also pledged to launch a massive deportation operation.

Biden has faced accusations from parts of his political base that his approach to the migrant crisis has become too reminiscent of Trump’s restrictive policies. His decision to back a Senate deal that includes a new provision to close down the border threatens to heighten those claims just as he is aiming to rally his party behind his reelection bid.

Nearly 250,000 illegal border crossings were recorded along the U.S.-Mexico border in December, the highest monthly total ever.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden pledge to shut down border points to policy shortfalls, Nick Miroff and Toluse Olorunnipa, Jan. 28, 2024 (print ed.). President Biden’s surprise declaration Friday that he would “shut down” the southern border when illegal crossings surge to overwhelming levels illustrates how his many other efforts to address immigration have fallen short of their goals.

Biden signed more executive orders related to immigration than any other topic on his first day in office. He’s taken more than 500 executive actions since then, already surpassing former president Donald Trump’s four-year total, according to a recent tally by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

But one of Biden’s most active areas of policymaking has become one of his biggest vulnerabilities to reelection. The president’s management of the southern border and immigration is his worst-rated issue in polls, and record numbers of illegal crossings have galvanized Republicans, undermined the president’s push for Ukraine aid and played to the perceived strengths of Trump, the GOP front-runner.

Several of the Biden administration’s signature initiatives intended to make the immigration system fairer and more orderly have stalled out or remained too limited to significantly curb illegal entries and reduce chaos at the border, according to analysts, and current and former administration officials.

“This is the area where the gap between the president and Trump is the widest, and where the country seems to have least confidence in the president,” said Muzaffar Chishti, an MPI senior fellow and one of the report’s authors.

Last month 249,785 illegal crossings were recorded along the U.S.-Mexico border, the highest monthly total ever, and Biden officials acknowledge the majority of the migrants were released into the United States with pending claims for protection. The latest influx has worsened strains on New York, Chicago, Denver and other cities whose Democratic mayors are pleading for more federal aid to shelter and assist the newcomers, including the thousands of migrants sent by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

Frustrated and anxious about legislative negotiations that would deliver aid to Ukraine and Israel in exchange for new border restrictions, Biden stated Friday that he was willing to accept restrictions to the asylum system and other enforcement measures that were almost unthinkable for Democrats at the beginning of the president’s term. Trump and top Republicans have cast doubt in recent days on a potential deal — which include several measures sought by GOP leaders — with some lawmakers suggesting the changes could help drive down illegal crossings and benefit Biden.

Biden said the bipartisan Senate bill “would be the toughest and fairest set of reforms to secure the border we’ve ever had in our country.”
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senate democrats logoMeasures under discussion include an expansion of the government’s deportation powers and an ability to expel border-crossers — denying them access to the asylum system — when daily crossings surpass 5,000. Republicans have also pushed for new limits on the president’s ability to use executive parole authority to waive in migrants without visas.

Biden said the changes would give him an emergency authority to “shut down the border when it becomes overwhelmed” and said he would “use it the day I sign the bill into law.”

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More On Israel’s War With Hamas

ap logoAssociated Press, 150 people are killed in Gaza in 24 hours, Health Ministry says, Staff Report, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Gaza’s Health Ministry says 150 people have been killed in the territory in the last 24 hours and another 313 were wounded as Israeli forces continue to battle militants, even in the northern part of the territory.

palestinian flagThe north, where entire neighborhoods have been flattened, was the initial target of Israel’s ground offensive in late October.

Israel’s military said Wednesday that its forces killed more than 15 Hamas militants in northern Gaza over the past day and targeted militant infrastructure in a school.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected two key demands made by Hamas in indirect cease-fire talks, saying that Israel will not withdraw from the Gaza Strip or release thousands of jailed militants.

israeli forces gaza apIsraeli forces disguised as civilian women and medics stormed a hospital Tuesday in the occupied West Bank, killing three Palestinian militants in a dramatic raid that underscored how deadly violence has spilled into the territory from the war in Gaza.

ny times logoNew York Times, Israel Raids West Bank Hospital as Clashes Erupt With Hamas in Northern Gaza, Aaron Boxerman, Ronen Bergman, Adam Rasgon and Thomas Fuller, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). The raid came as Israel confirmed it was trying to flush militants out of tunnels with seawater and amid renewed fighting in northern Gaza.

Israel FlagOne of the Israeli soldiers wore medical scrubs, another a white coat and surgical mask. Their team swept into the West Bank hospital brandishing rifles, took up positions by the waiting-room chairs, then entered a patient’s room and killed a Hamas commander.

Fifteen minutes later they were gone.

The raid on Tuesday took place as the Israeli military battled Hamas on multiple fronts: with the dramatic operation in the West Bank, renewed clashes in northern Gaza, and beneath the territory’s surface. The Israeli military confirmed for the first time on Tuesday that its engineers had begun pumping seawater into the vast Hamas tunnel network beneath Gaza.

Israel’s latest efforts in the nearly four-month war came amid a renewed push by multiple peace brokers, including the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt, for an agreement to pause the fighting. The political chief of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, said on Tuesday that he was studying a proposal for a temporary cease-fire that had come out of talks between officials from those nations in Paris.

But even as those talks continued behind closed doors, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted anew that Israel would continue fighting until it achieved “complete victory.” And the raid at the Ibn Sina Specialized Hospital in the northern West Bank city of Jenin suggested that Israel would continue chasing down Hamas leaders across the region.

Israeli forces have tried to strike Hamas leaders and their allies both inside Gaza and outside the territory. Earlier this month, Hamas blamed Israel for an explosion in Lebanon that killed its deputy political chief, and Iran accused Israel of an airstrike that killed senior Iranian military figures in Syria.

Israeli forces have escalated efforts against Palestinian militant activity in the West Bank, arresting more than 2,980 Palestinians since the war began in near-daily raids, over 1,350 of them affiliated with Hamas, according to the Israeli military. The raid at the hospital on Tuesday took less than 15 minutes, according to its director, Niji Nazzal.

Surveillance video released by the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry showed several gunmen in civilian garb — including one dressed in a white medical coat and another in blue scrubs — walking through the hospital halls, brandishing weapons.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry released surveillance video that shows armed members of Israeli forces dressed in civilian clothes inside Ibn Sina Specialized Hospital in Jenin.

They went to a room where the Hamas commander, Mohammad Jalamneh, 27, was visiting a friend and shot him and two other men dead, said the city’s top Palestinian health official, Wisam Sbeihat.

“They assassinated these three people, including a patient,” Dr. Sbeihat said in a phone interview.

In a statement, Hamas mourned Mr. Jalamneh, describing him as a leader in the Al-Qassam Brigades, the faction’s armed wing. A local militia affiliated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed that his companions — the patient, Basil Ghazawi, and his brother Mohammad — had been members.

ap logoAssociated Press, Heavy rains bring more hardship for displaced people in Gaza, Staff Report, Jan. 31-Feb.1, 2024. Several days of heavy rain have made conditions for displaced people sheltering in makeshift camps in Gaza City even more desperate.

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More On  U.S. 2024 Presidential Race

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Politico, 2024 Elections: Trump leads Haley in South Carolina by 26 points, poll shows, Kierra Frazier, Feb. 1, 2024. Haley has struggled to gain more support in her home state of South Carolina.

politico CustomDonald Trump holds a 26-point lead in South Carolina over Nikki Haley weeks before the state’s Feb. 24 primary, according to a Washington Post-Monmouth University poll released Thursday.

The former president garnered 58 percent support among potential Republican primary voters while Haley captured 32 percent support in her home state.

The poll comes as Trump seeks to derail the former South Carolina governor’s presidential campaign along with his recent victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. Haley has struggled to gain more support in South Carolina, consistently polling 30 points behind Trump.

Haley has committed to staying in the Republican presidential race through Super Tuesday but hasn’t made it clear whether she’d still be in the race by the time the party’s nominating convention rolls around in July.

President Biden shown at the launch of his re-election campaign on Jan. 5, 2024 (New York Times photo by Pete Marovich).

President Biden shown at the launch of his re-election campaign on Jan. 5, 2024 (New York Times photo by Pete Marovich).

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside Biden’s Anti-Trump Battle Plan (and Where Taylor Swift Fits In), Reid J. Epstein, Lisa Lerer, Katie Glueck and Katie Rogers, Jan. 30 2024 (print ed.). President Biden’s campaign is aiming to make the general election all about Donald Trump. It’s also hoping for some big endorsements.

biden harris 2024 logoAs former President Donald J. Trump speeds toward the Republican nomination, President Biden is moving quickly to pump energy into his re-election bid, kicking off what is likely to be an ugly, dispiriting and historically long slog to November between two unpopular nominees.

After months of languid buildup in which he held only a single public campaign event, Mr. Biden has thrown a series of rallies across battleground states, warning that democracy itself is at stake in 2024.

He sent two of his most trusted White House operatives to take the helm of his re-election campaign in Wilmington, Del., after Mr. Trump seized control of the Republican primary race more rapidly than Mr. Biden’s advisers had initially expected.

And other Biden aides are drafting wish lists of potential surrogates, including elected officials, social media influencers and the endorsement of their wildest dreams: the global superstar Taylor Swift.

“It’s game on, the beginning of the general election,” said Representative Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire, the chair of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 97 centrist House Democrats. “We’ve got to win this.”

In a race without historical parallel — a contest between two presidents, one of them facing 91 criminal charges — Mr. Biden is making an extraordinary gamble, betting that Mr. Trump remains such an animating force in American life that the nation’s current leader can turn the 2024 election into a referendum not on himself but on his predecessor.

Resurrecting a version of the argument that worked for them in 2020, Mr. Biden’s team and his top allies plan to paint Mr. Trump as a mortal threat to American government and civil society, and are banking that fears of another turbulent Trump administration will outweigh worries about Mr. Biden’s age and vitality. Polls have shown Mr. Biden trailing Mr. Trump in a head-to-head contest, with many Democratic voters reluctant to back him again.

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ap logoAssociated Press, What to expect in South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary, Robert Yoon, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2024. For the first time ever, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination officially kicks off this Saturday in South Carolina.

For the first time ever, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination officially kicks off this Saturday in South Carolina, the state that resurrected then-candidate Joe Biden’s foundering presidential campaign in 2020 and put him on a footing to win his party’s nod and, eventually, the White House.

biden harris 2024 logoUnlike four years ago, President Biden now looks to South Carolina voters to cement his campaign as the overwhelming favorite, as opposed to rescuing it from near-oblivion.

At Biden’s urging, the Democratic National Committee rearranged the 2024 primary calendar and slotted South Carolina as the first contest of the campaign season, citing in part the state’s far more racially diverse electorate than the traditional first-in-the-nation states of Iowa and New Hampshire, which are overwhelmingly white. New Hampshire held a leadoff primary anyway in defiance of the DNC, but without the president’s or the national party’s backing and no delegates at stake, the contest amounted to little more than a non-binding beauty contest. Biden won New Hampshire by a sizable margin nonetheless after supporters mounted a write-in campaign on his behalf.

Challenging Biden on the South Carolina ballot are U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and author Marianne Williamson. Phillips received about 20% of the vote in New Hampshire, while Williamson received about 4%. Williamson was part of the crowded 2020 field that included Biden, but she dropped out before the first contests.

The South Carolina primary will be the first opportunity this year for Democratic candidates to begin accumulating the nearly 2,000 delegates needed to clinch the party’s nomination.

South Carolina has an open primary system, which means any registered voter may participate in any party’s primary. Voters may only participate in one party’s presidential primary, so those who vote on Saturday may not vote in the Republican contest on Feb. 24.

In 2020, then-candidate Biden carried all 46 counties in the state. His strongest geographic regions were in the Pee Dee and Waccamaw River valley areas in the state’s eastern region and in central South Carolina, including the state capital of Columbia. He received about 54% of the vote in both areas. He was also the top choice among Democratic primary voters in the state’s Democratic and Republican strongholds, as well as in the more moderate areas in between.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Saturday.

washington post logoWashington Post, Haley presses on against Trump on the trail. Her fight is a lonely one, Dylan Wells, Jan. 26, 2024 (print ed.). Beyond the walls of the ballroom where Nikki Haley, above, won cheers, a very different attitude was evident in the GOP, as many have rallied around Donald Trump.

Nikki Haley returned to the campaign trail in her home state and swiftly unfurled an arsenal of attacks against Donald Trump. She accused him of throwing a “temper tantrum” in his victory speech, attacked his acuity and reprised her challenge to debate him. “Bring it, Donald, show me what you got,” Haley said. The crowd cheered.

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ny times logoNew York Times, ‘A Long Time Coming’: Northern Ireland Deal Receives Broad Welcome, Stephen Castle, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). An agreement by the Democratic Unionist Party to return to power-sharing with Sinn Fein after a two year boycott was greeted by widespread relief.

Britain, Ireland and the United States on Tuesday welcomed a deal to end almost two years of political deadlock in Northern Ireland that will, for the first time, hand the territory’s top leadership role to Sinn Fein, a party that mainly represents Roman Catholic voters committed to a united Ireland.

The breakthrough came in the early hours of Tuesday morning when the Democratic Unionist Party, whose largely Protestant supporters want to remain in the United Kingdom, said it was ready to end a lengthy and crippling boycott of Northern Ireland’s political assembly.

“I believe that all the conditions are now in place for the assembly to return,” said Chris Heaton-Harris, Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

Claire Cronin, the U.S. ambassador to Ireland, said she welcomed the news. “The people of Northern Ireland are best served by a power-sharing government in Stormont as outlined in the Good Friday Agreement,” she wrote on social media, adding that President Biden “has long made clear his support for a secure and prosperous Northern Ireland.”

Ireland’s foreign minister, Micheal Martin, said the imminent restoration of power-sharing was “good news” and that he looked forward to working with the assembly in the future.

The deal between the Democratic Unionist Party, or D.U.P., and the British government opens the door to a seismic change in the politics of modern day Northern Ireland, where the first minister has, up to now, always been drawn from the ranks of the D.U.P.

The unionist party walked out of the Northern Ireland Assembly in February 2022 in protest of post-Brexit trade arrangements laid out in a deal called the Northern Ireland protocol, which imposed checks on goods arriving from mainland Britain.

The restrictions were introduced because Ireland remained in the European Union when the British quit. The system avoided checks at the politically sensitive land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland — a frontier where violence flared during the decades of sectarian strife, known as the Troubles, which largely ended after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

But many unionists saw those controls as an affront and worried that they would drive a wedge between the territory and the rest of the United Kingdom.

rishi sunakIn 2023, Rishi Sunak, above, Britain’s prime minister, struck a new deal with the European Union, known as the Windsor Framework Agreement, which won some concessions from Brussels.

But they were insufficient for the D.U.P., whose continued boycott of Stormont paralyzed decision making even as civil servants maintained the basic functions of government.

Pressure has been steadily rising on the D.U.P. to cut a deal. Northern Ireland’s health service has been in crisis and its dysfunctional politics prevented public sector workers from receiving pay increases offered throughout the rest of the U.K. Earlier this month, tens of thousands took part in the largest strike in Northern Ireland in living memory.

The D.U.P.’s decision to return to government was announced after a fractious internal meeting — part of which was leaked on social media — that lasted more than five hours and dragged into Tuesday morning.

At around 1 a.m., Jeffrey Donaldson, the D.U.P. leader, told a news conference that his party was ready to return to the assembly, promising to “work alongside others to build a thriving Northern Ireland.”

In exchange London has pledged new measures to reduce checks on goods traveling between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, though the detail is not scheduled to be made public until Wednesday. In addition, Mr. Heaton-Harris said that Northern Ireland would gain more than £3 billion in funding.

Mr. Donaldson’s pledge to restore power sharing is conditional on the British government fulfilling its side of the agreement and pushing through legislation swiftly, something Mr. Heaton-Harris promised to do in his statement on Tuesday, saying: “I can confirm that we will stick to this agreement.” The detail of the deal will be watched closely, however.

On Tuesday Mr. Donaldson said that the outcome of negotiations with London was that there would be “zero checks, zero customs paperwork” on goods moving to Northern Ireland from mainland Britain. “That takes away the border within the U.K. between Northern Ireland and Great Britain,” he said.

Those words may have been carefully chosen as, even if there is “zero customs paperwork” required, form filling unrelated to customs may be necessary.

For Mr. Donaldson, cutting a deal is a political risk, and Monday night’s internal meeting exposed divisions within the D.U.P., with some prominent party figures opposed to the agreement.

Some critics fear the party will be outflanked by a more hard-line party called the Traditional Unionist Voice, which is opposed to compromise.

Its leader, Jim Allister, said on Tuesday in a social media post that “in betrayal of their own solemn pledges, the D.U.P. has caved in” over trade rules for the Irish Sea. It seemed that “not one word of the union-dismantling protocol has been removed,” he added.

By contrast there was a mood of optimism from Sinn Fein, whose president, Mary Lou McDonald, said the breakthrough had been “a long time coming, but we’re very pleased that we’re at this juncture.”
She added that she looked forward to her colleague Michelle O’Neill becoming first minister of Northern Ireland.

“That will be a moment of very great significance,” said Ms. McDonald as she stood alongside Ms. O’Neill in the Great Hall of Stormont on Tuesday, “not simply because we haven’t had government for so long but because it will be the first time that we will have a Sinn Fein first minister, a nationalist first minister.”

More on Ireland

  • Housing Crisis: Soaring rents have left many in Dublin struggling to afford homes, with two-thirds of younger adults in the city living with their parents.
  • A Fiscal Headache: The government in Dublin has a big budget surplus, thanks to a boom in tax revenue from multinational companies. What to do with it? Whatever the answer, someone will be unhappy.
  • Free Cash: Thanks to a technical glitch, some customers at one of Ireland’s largest banks, for one feverish summer evening, happened upon what seemed to be a magical loophole: They could spend their cash and apparently save it, too.
  • A ‘Forgotten County’: Breac House is among several establishments in County Donegal to rely on regional talent and resources to create a contemporary take on accommodation, food and design.
  • Barring last minute complications, Sinn Fein, which emerged as the largest party in Northern Ireland’s last elections, will now nominate the first minister. The D.U.P. will have to settle for the deputy first minister post, a big symbolic change even if the powers of the holders of those posts are similar.

ny times logoNew York Times, For Europe and NATO, a Russian Invasion Is No Longer Unthinkable, Lara Jakes and Christina Anderson, Jan. 29, 2024. As U.S. support for Ukraine crumbles and Donald Trump’s candidacy rises, European nations and NATO are making plans to take on Russia by themselves.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia once proclaimed the dissolution of the Soviet empire “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” At the time, back in 2005, few expected him to do anything about it.

Russian FlagBut then came Russia’s occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia in 2008, its backing for Ukrainian separatists and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and, most resoundingly, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Now, with the rise of former President Donald J. Trump, who in the past has vowed to leave NATO and recently threatened never to come to the aid of his alliance allies, concerns are rising among European nations that Mr. Putin could invade a NATO nation over the coming decade and that they might have to face his forces without U.S. support.

That could happen in as few as five years after a conclusion of the war in Ukraine, according to some officials and experts who believe that would be enough time for Moscow to rebuild and rearm its military.

“We have always kind of suspected that this is the only existential threat that we have,” Maj. Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm, the commander of the Estonian Army’s main land combat division, said of a possible Russian invasion.

“The past few years have also made it very, very clear that NATO as a military alliance, a lot of countries, are not ready to conduct large-scale operations — meaning, in simple human language, a lot of NATO militaries are not ready to fight Russia,” General Palm said during an interview in December. “So it’s not very comforting.”
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Anxiety over what experts describe as Mr. Putin’s imperial ambitions has long been a part of the psyche of states that border Russia or are uncomfortably close. “I think for Estonia, it was 1991” when his country’s alarm bells started ringing, General Palm said wryly, referring to the year that Estonia declared independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

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 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden's Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. The Turkish parliament’s foreign affairs committee was poised on Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, to resume deliberations on Sweden’s bid to join NATO, days after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

 Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, shakes hands with Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, right, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg looks on prior to a meeting ahead of a NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, July 10, 2023. Turkey approved Sweden’s bid to join NATO after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan linked the Nordic country’s admission on U.S. approval of Turkey’s request to purchase F-16 fighter jets.(Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP, File)

More On U.S. National Politics, Government

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The GOP’s blunders take their toll, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 1, 2024. House Republicans who have become indifferent jennifer rubin new headshotto the adverse consequences of nihilism and performative politics might want to consider the toll their chaos-producing antics are taking. From vowing to pursue meritless impeachments to nixing a border security measure to please former president Donald Trump, they have given Democrats plenty of ammunition to blast them out of the majority in November.

U.S. House logoRepublicans, by the admission of conservative Rep. Chip Roy (Tex.), have not a single accomplishment on which to run this year. “For the life of me, I do not understand how you can go to the trouble of campaigning, raising money, going to events, talking to people, coming to this town as a member of a party who allegedly stands for something … and then do nothing about it,” he bellowed on the House floor in November. “One thing: I want my Republican colleagues to give me one thing — one — that I can go campaign on and say we did. One!” He got no answer.

Most Republicans voted against the overwhelmingly popular infrastructure bill. Now they routinely claim credit for it. Only occasionally do they get called out for hypocrisy. (Get ready to hear plenty of it as the campaign heats up.) With help from some Republicans in the Senate and very few in the House, Democrats were able to pass the infrastructure bill in 2021. As with infrastructure, Republicans have largely escaped blame for causing economic havoc thanks to Democratic votes for keeping the government open and avoiding a default on the debt.

Now, however, with no one to cover their tracks, Republicans risk making themselves vulnerable to voters disgusted with partisan melodrama. On the impeachment front, Republicans embarrassingly have come up with nothing to justify the impeachments of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or President Biden. As for Mayorkas, Republicans’ favorite lawyer, Jonathan Turley, wrote in the Daily Beast that “being a bad person is not impeachable — or many cabinets would be largely empty,” nor is doing a bad job. He added that if poor performance were grounds for impeachment, Mayorkas “would be only the latest in a long line of cabinet officers frog-marched into Congress for constitutional termination.”

ny times logoNew York Times, In the Race to Replace George Santos, National Issues Reverberate, Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 29, 2024. In the special House election on Feb. 13, Republicans and Democrats are taking voters’ temperatures on issues that could tip the general election.

Democratic-Republican Campaign logosThe war in Israel. Abortion rights. Immigration policy.

National issues have dominated a special House election to replace George Santos in New York, as Republicans and Democrats take voters’ temperatures on issues that could tip November’s general election.

tom suozziThe race pits Tom Suozzi, a former Democratic congressman who represented the Queens and Long Island swing district for three terms, against Mazi Pilip, an Ethiopian-born local legislator. The open seat was created after the House voted to expel Mr. Santos, a Republican facing federal criminal charges.

The Feb. 13 contest carries unusual weight: A Democratic victory would narrow Republicans’ barely governable House majority to just two votes.

Here’s what you need to know about the race.

After decades in office, Mr. Suozzi is one of the most recognizable and well-liked figures on Long Island, but his party is deeply unpopular.

Ms. Pilip has a powerful local Republican machine behind her, but voters know very little about her.

Those inverse challenges are shaping the way both candidates are campaigning.

Mr. Suozzi has spent precious time and advertising money trying to separate himself from the Democratic brand. He has opposed his party’s position on local criminal laws and taxes, called for hardening border security and his television ads (which are running on Fox News) never mention his party affiliation — a gamble in a race where he needs base Democrats to turn out.

Ms. Pilip is running just as hard toward her party. She has not appeared in public without better-known local Republicans, and has been willing to tolerate the criticism that has come from ducking televised debates and other unscripted moments that could trip her up as a first-time candidate.

That strategy could backfire, particularly with voters wary of electing another Santos-like candidate. But unlike Mr. Suozzi, Ms. Pilip has a powerful and effective party apparatus to lean on. Republicans have swept nearly every major election on Long Island since 2021 and their turnout operation could be critical in a midwinter election.

ny times logoNew York Times, As Biden Judicial Confirmations Slow, Senate Gains Ground on Red-State Judges, Carl Hulse, Jan. 29, 2024 (print ed.). The Democrats’ push to remake the federal courts is lagging, but they are making headway in advancing President Biden’s nominees in Republican-led states.

President Biden and Senate Democrats have fallen behind the rapid pace set by Republicans in shaping the federal courts during the Trump era, but they have made fresh headway in advancing judicial nominees in states represented by Republicans.

By negotiating with Republicans over judicial picks, Mr. Biden and majority Democrats have been able to exert some influence over the makeup of trial courts in red states and install people of color on the bench for the first time in some regions.

“It has worked because I think I have convinced the White House that it is better to get a moderate Republican today than a MAGA Republican tomorrow,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

senate democrats logoStill, the Senate would need to confirm at least 63 more judges this year to match or better the record of the Trump years, when Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who was then the majority leader, pushed through 234 conservative-leaning jurists, including three to the Supreme Court.

After a fast start that initially surpassed the pace set under former President Donald J. Trump, the rate of Biden confirmations tapered off last year, leaving the current total for the administration at 171. That likely put the Trump administration threshold out of reach for Mr. Biden and Democrats in an election year when the Senate will be gone from the Capitol for long stretches. Mr. Durbin has said his goal is to confirm at least 200.

republican elephant logoOne development working in Democrats’ favor is that the Senate has begun adding to the bench in red states after earlier Republican resistance. In the past week, the Senate confirmed two district court judges for Indiana and one in South Carolina, while the Judiciary Committee held confirmation hearings for nominees for seats in Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming, and two seats in Texas.

All the nominees had the backing of home-state Republican senators. Four Florida nominees are awaiting Senate votes. The Senate also confirmed G.O.P.-backed judges from Oklahoma and Louisiana late last year, and one from Texas earlier this month.

The confirmations and pending nominations represent a thaw in the stalemate over judicial openings in red states that had stymied Democratic efforts to fill seats there and forced them to focus only on judicial slots in states represented by two members of their own party.

Republicans say the spate of nominees from their states shows they are willing to bless the judicial picks of a Democratic president as long as they don’t find them too extreme.

ny times logoNew York Times, Arizona G.O.P. Picks New Leader After Scandal Creates a Vacancy, Michael Wines, Jan. 28, 2024 (print ed.). Gina Swoboda, a hard-right Trump supporter, was picked to replace Jeff DeWit, who resigned after the release of a recording that appeared to suggest a bribe to Kari Lake.

arizona mapArizona Republicans chose a new party chair on Saturday, a move that tightened the grip on the state party hierarchy by far-right supporters of former President Donald J. Trump and that came days after a scandal that forced the last chairman to resign.

djt maga hatGina Swoboda, who directed election-day integrity operations in Arizona for Mr. Trump in 2020 and runs a nonprofit group that has falsely claimed to have found huge discrepancies in voting records in a number of states, was picked to replace Jeff DeWit, who stepped down as chairman on Wednesday.

Ms. Swoboda, whom Mr. Trump endorsed on Friday, won an overwhelming majority of votes in an election of state party officials held at the party’s required annual meeting in Phoenix. The vote was delayed by a lengthy debate over a motion to ban the use of electronic tabulators — mistrusted by many election deniers in the party — to count the ballots.

Kari Lake, a far-right candidate for U.S. Senate and close ally of Mr. Trump who had a central role in Mr. DeWit’s fall, took to the stage on Saturday to nominate Ms. Swoboda. But she was met with a din of boos and heckling from the crowd, an apparent rebuff to her involvement in the scandal.

Mr. DeWit resigned after a leaked voice recording surfaced on Tuesday in which he told Ms. Lake that “very powerful people” would give her money or a comfortable job if she would sit out the Senate contest. In the recording, Ms. Lake, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2022 and embraced Mr. Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election, was heard telling Mr. DeWit, “That’s immoral — I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror.”

Mr. DeWit claimed on Wednesday that Ms. Lake had released the recording of the conversation, which he said occurred at Ms. Lake’s house more than 10 months ago, and that it had been selectively edited. He added that he was resigning because Ms. Lake had threatened to release a second damaging recording if he did not resign.

In response, Garrett Ventry and Caroline Wren, senior advisers to Ms. Lake, said in a statement that no one from Ms. Lake’s campaign had threatened or blackmailed Mr. DeWit.

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More On Trump Battles, Crimes, Claims, Allies

ny times logoNew York Times, U.K. High Court Throws Out Trump Dossier Privacy Case, Megan Specia, Feb. 1, 2024. A judge ruled that Donald J. Trump had no grounds for claiming compensation over the dossier from Christopher Steele, a former British spy.

The High Court in London decided on Thursday that a lawsuit filed by Donald J. Trump against Christopher Steele, right, a former British spy who christopher steele ex MI6 spy express croppedcompiled a dossier in 2016 detailing unproven claims of links between the former president and Russia, would be thrown out.

The lawsuit was brought by Mr. Trump against Orbis Business Intelligence, Mr. Steele’s firm. Mr. Steele had compiled the dossier and it was leaked to the press shortly before he was sworn in as president.

In the decision, handed down virtually on Thursday morning, the court ruled that Mr. Trump “has no reasonable grounds for bringing a claim for compensation or damages, and no real prospect of successfully obtaining such a remedy.”

The judge, Karen Steyn, said she had “not considered, or made any determination, as to the accuracy or inaccuracy” of the dossier, and noted that Mr. Trump had said the allegations were “wholly untrue.”

The British court case came as Mr. Trump faces a slew of legal troubles closer to home, facing multiple lawsuits and felony charges while running a new campaign for the presidency.

Last week, Mr. Trump was also found to have defamed the writer E. Jean Carroll and ordered to pay her $83.3 million, after she accused him of a rape decades earlier and he attacked her repeatedly with derisive posts and statements.

Mr. Steele was a long-serving officer with MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, and the dossier, prepared by his private research firm after his retirement from the agency, was focused on investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.

In the court filing for the London case, Mr. Trump’s lawyers said he was “compelled to explain to his family, friends, and colleagues that the embarrassing allegations about his private life were untrue. This was extremely distressing.” The former president had asked for unspecified compensation.

The judge dismissed that compensation claim. “In reality, the claimant is seeking court findings to vindicate his reputation in circumstances where has not been able to formulate any viable remedy which he would have a real prospect of obtaining, or which would itself be of any utility,” she wrote.

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 Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump, outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 4, 2023 (Angela Weiss photo via AFP, Getty Imagesand TNS).

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during a press conference to discuss his indictment of former President Donald Trump, outside the Manhattan Federal Court in New York on April 4, 2023 (Angela Weiss photo via AFP, Getty Images and TNS).

Porn star Stormy Daniels and former President Donald J. Trump, who allegedly hid hush payments to her via The National Enquirer newspaper during the 2016 presidential campaign to hide their affair.

Porn star Stormy Daniels and former President Donald J. Trump, who allegedly hid hush payments to her via The National Enquirer newspaper during the 2016 presidential campaign to hide their affair from election finance officials and the public.

Conflict Claim Against Georgia Trump Prosecutors

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage).

Fulton County Prosecutors Fani Willis and Nathan Wade (Reuters file photo by Elijah Nouvelage

washington post logoWashington Post, Fani Willis subpoenaed for hearing on misconduct allegations in Trump Georgia case, Holly Bailey, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). An anticipated hearing over allegations that Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) engaged in an improper personal relationship with the lead prosecutor in the election-interference case against former president Donald Trump is beginning to take shape, with subpoenas issued seeking the sworn testimony of Willis and others in a proceeding that is likely to determine whether the case proceeds.

michael romanAn attorney for Mike Roman, right, the Trump co-defendant who first leveled misconduct allegations against Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade more than three weeks ago, has subpoenaed both to testify under oath at a Feb. 15 evidentiary hearing on his motion to disqualify them from the case and have charges against Roman dismissed.

But a notice shared Wednesday with Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee, who is presiding over the case, shows that Ashleigh Merchant, Roman’s attorney, is seeking to call at least 10 other witnesses, including senior members of Willis’s staff and associates of Wade, to prove her client’s allegations of prosecutorial wrongdoing. She has subpoenaed financial records tied to Wade and his law firm as she seeks to back up her claims, including that Wade used his income as a special prosecutor to pay for vacations for him and Willis.

In addition to Willis and Wade, Merchant has issued subpoenas to several employees of the district attorney’s office — including Daysha Young, an executive district attorney who is also assigned to the Trump case; Tia Green, an executive assistant to Willis; Sonya Allen, an assistant district attorney who previously worked with Wade in Cobb County; Mike Hill, an investigator assigned to the Trump case; Dexter Bond, the office’s chief operating officer; Capers Green, the office’s chief of investigations; and Thomas Ricks, an investigator assigned to Willis’s security team.

It is unclear whether Willis will seek to challenge her subpoena or those issued to her staff members. A spokesman for Willis declined to comment.

Other subpoenas were issued to Wade’s current and former law partners, Christopher Campbell and Terrence Bradley, and to Robin Bryant-Yeartie, a longtime Willis associate who previously worked at the district attorney’s office.

Last week, an attorney for Joycelyn Mayfield Wade, Wade’s estranged wife, filed notice in their divorce case that she had issued a subpoena seeking information on an Atlanta home. The address was previously linked to Bryant-Yeartie, according to public records.

Reached by phone before Merchant gave notice that she planned to call her as a witness, Bryant-Yeartie declined to comment. “If I get subpoenaed, that’s when I’ll talk,” Bryant-Yeartie said before hanging up.

Merchant also subpoenaed two Atlanta-area travel agencies — Vacation Express and H2O, Limited — seeking information on airline tickets, hotels and other travel expenses possibly tied to Wade and Willis dating back to 2020. She also issued summonses to American Express, Capital One and Synovus Bank seeking financial records for Wade and his law firm.

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump prosecutor settles divorce before hearing where he may have been asked about alleged misconduct, Amy Gardner and Holly Bailey, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). The lead prosecutor in the election interference case against the former president and his allies will avoid a hearing that could have included testimony about allegations of an improper relationship between him and Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis.

Nathan Wade was expected to be questioned under oath about his finances — including his income as a special prosecutor in the Trump case and his spending, such as his purchase of airline tickets for himself and Willis in October 2022 and April 2023.

michael romanThe divorce garnered national attention after one of Trump’s co-defendants, former campaign aide Mike Roman, right, accused Willis and Wade of having an “improper, clandestine personal relationship” that has financially benefited them both, prompting calls for their removal from the criminal case in Fulton County, home to Atlanta. Both Trump and a third defendant adopted Roman’s motion to remove Willis and Wade from the case and dismiss the charges.

County records show Wade’s firm has been paid more than $653,000 for his work on the election case over the past two years.

The last-minute agreement, albeit “temporary” for now, allows Wade and Willis to avoid testimony that could have been embarrassing or given Trump and his co-defendants new evidence or ammunition to undermine the criminal case. Attorneys for the defendants had planned to closely follow Wednesday’s hearing as they prepare for a separate Feb. 15 hearing in Fulton County on whether the allegations warrant disqualification or dismissal.

But the settlement does not eliminate scrutiny of alleged actions by the two prosecutors. Nor does it assure that the criminal case against Trump and his allies will continue. Last week, Republicans in the Georgia Senate established an investigatory committee with subpoena power to probe whether Willis (D) was in a romantic relationship with Wade when she appointed him as a special prosecutor. And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) filed a complaint with the State Ethics Commission seeking an investigation.

Attorneys for Joycelyn Mayfield Wade, Wade’s estranged wife, had also sought to question Willis in the case, arguing she has “unique knowledge” about Wade’s finances and his marriage. But Cobb County Superior Court Judge Henry Thompson, who oversaw the divorce case, stayed that subpoena during a hearing last week, saying he first wanted to hear testimony from Wade.

Thompson issued a temporary consent order shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, explaining that the hearing has been removed from the calendar with the consent of both parties, because they have agreed “to all issues presently before the court.”

Their agreement will not be filed in court, Thompson noted — meaning it may not ever be public. Last week, Wade’s divorce lawyer asked the judge to reconsider a motion to seal the divorce case, which would have required a public hearing. It was not immediately clear whether the divorce agreement would stop the disclosure of any other information potentially damaging to Willis or Wade, including discovery material.

Meidas Touch Network, Trump ATTACK on Georgia Prosecutor NOW A MASSIVE FLOP, Michael Popok, Jan. 30, 2024. Champagne corks are popping across America: the nightmare that is the Fulton County special Trump prosecutor Nathan Wade’s divorce is finally over! Michael Popok of Legal AF reports on a settlement reached between Mr Wade which will prevent MAGA from getting to depose his boss Fulton County DA Fani Willis, and will likely lead to the criminal judge quickly denying the efforts by Trump and his co co conspirators to dismiss the Georgia indictment.

Fani Willis, left, is the district attorney for Atlanta-based Fulton County in Georgia. Her office has been probing since 2021 then-President Trump's claiming beginning in 2020 of election fraud in Georgia and elsewhere. Trump and his allies have failed to win support for their claims from Georgia's statewide election officials, who are Republican, or from courts. absence of support from Georgia's Republican election officials supporting his claims. Fani Willis, left, is the district attorney for Atlanta-based Fulton County in Georgia. Her office has been probing since 2021 then-President Trump’s claiming beginning in 2020 of election fraud in Georgia and elsewhere. Trump and his allies have failed to win support for their claims from Georgia’s statewide election officials, who are Republican, or from courts.

Politico, Georgia Prosecutor is Faced With CRITICAL DECISION in Prosecution of Trump, Burgess Everett, Ursula Perano and Jordain Carney,  politico CustomJan. 25, 2024. Should Fulton County Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade resign to permit Fulton County DA Fani Willis to prosecute the case against Trump and 14 others without unnecessary distraction? Michael Popok of Legal AF reporting from Georgia answers the question and explains what it means for the case if the issue of their relationship goes all the way to the criminal court judge.

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More On U.S. Election Deniers, Insurrectionists

The Intellectualist, GOP Operative to Lose Law License Over Voter Intimidation, Staff Report, Merritt Corrigan, Jan. 31, 2024. Jack Burkman, a jack burkman wWashington lawyer and Republican operative, is set to lose his law license following his guilty plea in a case involving voter intimidation through robocalls. According to a Reuters report, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility has recommended Burkman’s disbarment to the D.C. Court of Appeals, which holds the authority to finalize disciplinary actions.

Burkman, founder of the lobbying firm Burkman & Associates, and his associate Jacob Wohl, admitted guilt in October 2022 to telecommunications fraud. The case centered around their use of robocalls to deter people from voting by mail in the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Both were sentenced to two years of probation, a fine of $2,500 each, and required to complete 500 hours of community service.

In addition to the criminal charges, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission imposed a hefty $5.1 million fine on Burkman and Wohl for making over 1,100 unlawful robocalls in August and September 2020. These calls falsely informed recipients that their personal information would be collected and used by police and debt collectors if they voted by mail.

Following his guilty plea, Burkman’s law license was temporarily suspended. His impending disbarment marks a significant professional setback and underscores the legal consequences of his actions during the 2020 election cycle.

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GOP Attacks, Impeachment Inquiry Against Bidens

 Hunter Biden, a businessman, artist and son of President Biden, left, confers with his attorney Abbe Lowell in the audience of a House Government Oversight Committee hearing on July 10, 2024 in Washington, DC (AP photo by Luis Magana).

 Hunter Biden, a businessman, artist and son of President Biden, left, confers with his attorney Abbe Lowell in the audience of a House Government Oversight Committee hearing on July 10, 2024 in Washington, DC (AP photo by Luis Magana).

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Another impeachment witness tells the GOP what it doesn’t want to hear, Philip Bump, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.).While the House Homeland Security Committee was (slowly) marking up articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the (slow) effort to build a case for impeaching President Biden continued apace.

Eric Schwerin, a former business associate of the president’s son, Hunter Biden, appeared Tuesday on Capitol Hill for sworn closed-door testimony before congressional investigators. The appearance triggered the usual response from right-wing media — new evidence emerges of Biden’s culpability!! — but the more important story is a quieter one.

U.S. House logoOnce again, an associate of Hunter Biden’s asserted explicitly and under penalty of perjury that the president was not involved in his son’s business.

If you are just tuning in — and who can blame you? — the Republican effort to impeach the president generally centers on two issues. (They’ve attempted to build more than two allegations, mind you; these two are just the ones on which they seem to think they’ll have the best shot.) One is that Biden, as vice president, acted on behalf of his son’s employer to change policy in Ukraine — an allegation that has been debunked multiple times. The other is that Joe Biden was intertwined with his son’s business partners more widely, benefiting from deals Hunter Biden made with individuals, including from China.

House Republicans have done a good job detailing the scope and timing of deals. They have done a remarkably poor job tying them to the president.

One way they’ve tried to do so is by misrepresenting money that Joe Biden received. The president’s brother, James Biden, and Hunter Biden (through his corporate account) made payments to Biden in the years before Biden became president. But those payments were demonstrably repayments for loans Joe Biden had extended, including so that Hunter could buy a truck.

The other way is by constructing a sweeping, flimsy set of circumstantial evidence. That Hunter Biden would sporadically put incoming calls from his father on speaker phone while around business partners. That Joe Biden had met his business partners or that Hunter Biden had brought partners to dinners that the then-vice president attended. That Hunter Biden told his partners that his last name was their best selling point, which — yeah. That has been understood for a long time.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hunter Biden Agrees to Deposition in Impeachment Inquiry, Karoun Demirjian, Jan. 18, 2024. The chairmen of the Oversight and Judiciary committees set a Feb. 28 deposition date for President Biden’s son, who resisted a previous subpoena for a closed-door interview and asked to testify in public.

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More On Ukraine-Russian War, Russian Leadership

ap logoAssociated Press, Russia says it has swapped 195 POWs with Ukraine, Staff Report, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2024. Defense Ministry says Russia and Ukraine have exchanged 195 prisoners of war each.

Russian FlagThe Russian Defense Ministry said the swap was conducted on Wednesday. The announcement came a week after Russia alleged that Ukrainian forces shot down a military transport plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war who were to be swapped for Russian POWs.

ukraine flagThe Defense Ministry said that missiles fired from across the border brought down the transport plane in Russia’s Belgorod region on Jan. 24. Local authorities in Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, said the crash killed all 74 people onboard, including six crew members and three Russian servicemen.

Ukrainian officials confirmed last week that a prisoner swap was due to happen that day but said it had been called off.

ap logoAssociated Press, The UN’s top court is set to rule on Ukraine’s allegation that Russia bankrolled separatist rebels, Mike Corder, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2024. The United Nations’ top court plans to rule Wednesday on Ukraine’s allegations that Russia bankrolled separatist rebels in the country’s east a decade ago and has discriminated against Crimea’s multiethnic community since its annexation of the peninsula.

Russian FlagThe legally binding final ruling is the first of two expected decisions from the International Court of Justice linked to the decadelong conflict between Russia and Ukraine that exploded into a full-blown war almost two years ago.

The case, filed in 2017, accuses Russia of breaching conventions against discrimination and the financing of terrorism. Ukraine wants the court to order Moscow to pay reparations for attacks and crimes in the country’s east, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Russia-backed rebels shot down the plane on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Russia denies involvement. A Dutch domestic court convicted two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian in November 2022 for their roles in the attack and sentenced them in their absence to life imprisonment. The Netherlands and Ukraine also have sued Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over MH17.

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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, Maine court puts hold on one of Trump’s primary ballot cases, Patrick Marley, Jan. 18, 2024 (print ed.). A judge delayed the decision Wednesday, saying the Supreme Court must rule on a similar Colorado case first. Maine’s secretary of state had ruled last month that Donald Trump was an insurrectionist who is not eligible to hold office again.

A Maine judge on Wednesday put off deciding whether Donald Trump’s name can appear on that state’s primary ballot, saying the Supreme Court needs to rule on the issue first in a similar case out of Colorado.

The ruling sent the case back to Maine’s secretary of state and put the case on hold. It came amid a nationwide push from Trump’s critics to prevent the former president from running for office again.

Section 3 of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution bars from office those who engaged in insurrection after swearing an oath to uphold the Constitution. The amendment was ratified in 1868, and the clause was used initially to keep former Confederates from returning to power after the Civil War.

Trump’s critics have cited the measure in lawsuits arguing Trump is banned from office because of his behavior before and during the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Colorado’s top court last month ruled Trump should be taken off the primary ballot there, and a week later Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) reached the same conclusion.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the Colorado case and will hear arguments in it on Feb. 8. Its ruling on the issue is likely to apply to all states.

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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

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

 yemen map middle east

Politico, Houthi rebels fire missile at US warship, escalating Mideast crisis, Mark Scott, Jan. 27, 2024. Incident in Gulf of Aden is the first time the Iranian-backed group has directly targeted an American military vessel.

politico CustomIn a further escalation of the Middle East crisis, the Houthi rebels early Saturday fired on a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Aden — the first time the Iranian-backed group has directly targeted an American military vessel since it began its assaults on shipping in October.

The group, which has been attacking commercial shipping off the coast of Yemen in response to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, fired an anti-ship missile toward the U.S. destroyer USS Carney, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.

“The missile was successfully shot down,” the U.S. military said. “There were no injuries or damage reported.”

Though unsuccessful, the attack marks an intensification in the battle between the Houthis, which control large parts of Yemen, and a U.S.-led naval operation aimed at protecting commercial shipping in one of the most important global trade routes.

Politico, Lawmakers greenlight F-16s for Turkey after Erdoğan approved Sweden’s NATO bid, Joe Gould, Connor O’Brien and Nahal Toosi, Jan. politico Custom27, 2024. The action advances the sale of the Lockheed Martin-made jets after leaders of House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations Committees gave informal approval.

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

rick scott blue shirt file

Roll Call, Lawmakers back maximum prison sentence in tax record leak case, Michael Macagnone, Jan. 29, 2024 (print ed.). Sen. Rick Scott (above) says he intends to read a victim impact statement during a sentencing hearing Monday.

Members of Congress have backed a tough prison sentence for a man who pleaded guilty to leaking to the media tax records of Donald Trump, Sen. Rick Scott and billionaires Elon Musk, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos.

irs logoA sentencing hearing is set for Monday morning in Washington for Charles Littlejohn, a former contractor for the Internal Revenue Service, on one charge of disclosing tax return information without authorization.

Prosecutors have recommended that Judge Ana C. Reyes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia sentence Littlejohn to five years in prison, arguing that he leaked the returns of over a thousand people, damaging the tax system and the public trust.

Prosecutors said the “unparalleled” disclosure warranted the maximum statutory sentence.

“There simply is no precedent for a case involving the disclosure of tax return and return information associated with ‘over a thousand’ individuals and entities,” prosecutors wrote.

Justice Department log circularScott, R-Fla., announced Thursday that he was one of the people whose tax information was leaked by Littlejohn and said he intended to read a victim impact statement during Monday’s hearing.

Scott also published a letter that asked Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to attend and criticized prosecutors for allowing Littlejohn to plead guilty to a single criminal charge. Scott wrote that Littlejohn’s crimes were “entirely aligned with the agenda of the Biden administration” and that Garland had politicized the Justice Department.

“Since you have steered the Justice Department down this partisan political path, you should be on hand personally to in some way be accountable,” Scott wrote.

Garland issued a statement on the case alongside the announcement of Littlejohn’s guilty plea last year, praising the DOJ’s effort and decrying Littlejohn’s conduct.

“By using his role as a government contractor to gain access to private tax information, steal that information, and disclose it publicly, Charles Littlejohn broke federal law and betrayed the public’s trust,” Garland said at the time.

Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee, in a letter to the judge, criticized the DOJ’s handling of the case, particularly the fact that Littlejohn pleaded guilty to only one criminal count.

The letter, led by committee Chairman Jason Smith, R-Mo., argued Littlejohn took great steps to damage the tax system and evade justice and should receive the maximum five-year prison sentence.

“Mr. Littlejohn’s actions showed disdain for the rule of law and American confidence in our voluntary tax system. He acted with an apparent political motivation and perhaps with an intent to impact a Presidential election,” the letter states.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., had a single word of response to Smith’s letter on X, the site formerly known as Twitter: “Absolutely.”

According to court papers, Littlejohn stole information about “Public Official A” over several months in 2019 and provided them to a news organization which later published them. In September 2020, The New York Times published a lengthy investigation about former President Trump’s finances, which showed he routinely lost money and paid little in taxes.

Littlejohn later stole information on thousands of wealthy taxpayers in 2020, according to court documents. He later provided that information to another news organization, according to court documents, which published them in 2021.

In 2021, ProPublica published a story showing that wealthy individuals, including Warren Buffett, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos regularly paid little in taxes relative to the average American.

In a filing last year in court, the government and Littlejohn stipulated to a sentencing guidelines recommendation for between eight and 14 months in prison, but both sides reserved the right to push for departures from those guidelines.

Littlejohn’s attorneys have argued for leniency, saying that Littlejohn believed he was acting in the public interest after becoming concerned about income inequality and tax dodging.

“He did not disclose the information for personal gain; nor did he intend to harm the taxpayers,” the sentencing memorandum said.

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More On Disasters, Climate Change, Environment, Transportation

climate change photo

ny times logoNew York Times, Since Ohio Train Derailment, Accidents Have Gone Up, Peter Eavis, Jan. 28, 2024. A year after a train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in East Palestine, Congress still hasn’t passed legislation to prevent such disasters.

After a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed a year ago in East Palestine, Ohio, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of residents and upending life in the town for months, the rail industry pledged to work to become safer, and members of Congress vowed to pass legislation to prevent similar disasters.

No bill was passed. And accidents went up.

Derailments rose at the top five freight railroads in 2023, according to regulatory reports for the first 10 months of the year, the most recent period for which data exists for all five companies.

And there was a steep increase in the mechanical problem — an overheated wheel bearing — that regulators think caused the derailment of the 1.75-mile-long train in East Palestine.

Norfolk Southern, the operator of the train and the owner of the track that runs through the town, was the only railroad among the five to report a decline in accidents in the period.

In response to the accident, members of Congress in March introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at making railroads safer. But crucial parts of the legislation — including a requirement that railroads use more detectors to identify overheated wheel bearings — have faced resistance from rail lobbyists, who contend that they would inhibit the ability of railroads to introduce new practices and technologies to reduce accidents. The bill has yet to be put up for a full vote in the Senate.

“These figures show the railroad industry’s safety standards are getting worse,” said Senator J.D. Vance, Republican of Ohio and a co-sponsor of the bill. “We can reverse the trend by passing the Railway Safety Act immediately.”

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

washington post logoWashington Post, Austin’s prostate cancer case spotlights broader silence around disease, Dan Lamothe, Jan. 28, 2024. The moment was a ‘missed opportunity’ for the Pentagon chief to lead and spread awareness, fellow survivors say.

Daniel R. Eagle, a retired Air Force general, is open about his prostate cancer. At least, he is now. Had he been in the military still, he said, he may have handled it differently.

“I certainly would have been a lot more circumspect,” said Eagle, who spent nearly 40 years in uniform, retiring in 2010. “I think I would have had more embarrassment about it, and been more hesitant to share with other folks. Because there is absolutely a stigma.”

The military’s uneasy culture around cancer — and prostate cancer, in particular — spilled into public view earlier this month when the Pentagon disclosed that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general known to be intensely private, had secretly undergone surgery to treat the disease at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Dec. 22. Austin, 70, withheld the information from virtually everyone, including President Biden, and the diagnosis came to light only after he was hospitalized again Jan. 1 with serious complications from the procedure.

The ensuing firestorm — in which the White House, Pentagon and Congress all have promised to scrutinize how the commander in chief and Austin’s own No. 2, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, were left in the dark for so long — has clouded Austin’s tenure and raised questions about his judgment. He has acknowledged that he “could have done a better job” communicating, but in the weeks since has taken no questions about his decision-making, and declined even to recite prepared remarks — intended to glancingly address his condition — at the outset of a Jan. 23 virtual meeting of international leaders involved in Ukraine’s war effort.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Prices must not limit people’s access to Paxlovid, Leana S. Wen, right, Jan. 26, 2024 (print ed.). In response to last week’s column on how the leana wenantiviral pill Paxlovid is dramatically underutilized in treating covid-19, readers shared their challenges with accessing the medication. One of the most frustrating: unexpected financial barriers.

Karen from Virginia, for example, contracted covid last week and was prescribed Paxlovid. But her pharmacy told her she had to pay the list price of $1,400.

Fortunately, she had just read an article from AARP explaining that patients on Medicare should be able to get Paxlovid for free. “You have to fill out information through the Pfizer Patient Support Program,” she told me. “I didn’t know this, and I think many of your readers may not either.”

Indeed, I was not aware of this program, so I spoke with a senior official in the Department of Health and Human Services for clarification. Last November, Paxlovid transitioned to the commercial market. Previously, the federal government purchased the medication and provided it free of charge. Now, it is dispensed like other drugs and billed through insurance.

The Biden administration has been working closely with the drug’s manufacturer, Pfizer, to ensure that patients aren’t being priced out from accessing this lifesaving treatment. The senior official was clear with me that “everyone on Medicare, Medicaid or without insurance should be able to get Paxlovid for free.”

People should go to paxlovid.iassist.com and enroll in the patient assistance program. They can also call 877-219-7225 to sign up. Those on Medicare, Medicaid or who are uninsured should then be able to get Paxlovid free either from pharmacies or through the mail. Those with private insurance might be charged a co-pay, but the patient access program can also help to reduce that amount.

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U.S. Abortion, Family Planning, #MeToo

ny times logoNew York Times, Can San Francisco Solve Its Drug Crisis? Here Are 5 Things to Consider, German Lopez, Graphics by Josh Katz and Alicia Parlapiano, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). A comparison with Portugal’s approach to decriminalization shows why many liberal cities have struggled to match its success.

San Francisco is in the middle of a drug crisis. Overdose deaths reached a record high last year, topping 800. Public drug use is widespread in some neighborhoods.

How did San Francisco get to this point? In part, it follows the national story: The rise of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and a destabilizing pandemic caused a spike in addiction and overdose deaths.

But San Francisco’s drug crisis has outpaced the country’s. In 2014, the city’s overdose death rate was roughly in line with the national average. As of last year, its rate was more than double the national average, and San Francisco was No. 4 for overdose deaths among U.S. counties with more than 500,000 people. The country’s overdose crisis worsened over the past decade as fentanyl spread, but San Francisco’s worsened much more quickly.

Local policy changes are partly to blame, some experts say. In 2014, California voters passed Prop 47, reducing drug possession to a misdemeanor from a felony. Different parts of the state have interpreted the change differently. In San Francisco, law enforcement has responded by scaling back efforts against drugs, de-emphasizing incarceration and effectively allowing public drug use.

Those who support at least partial decriminalization often cite the experience of Portugal, which decriminalized all drugs more than two decades ago and then saw a decline in drug-related problems. In 2019, the San Francisco district attorney at the time, George Gascón, even visited Portugal to learn more. But while San Francisco and other liberal cities have embraced some aspects of Portugal’s decriminalization laws, they have struggled to replicate Portugal’s success.

The comparison with Portugal is not perfect. For one, fentanyl has not taken over Portuguese drug markets, and has a relatively small presence in Europe as a whole. Still, the comparison gives a way to think about the challenges that San Francisco and other cities have faced. Those challenges can be broken down into five parts, each touching on a different aspect of drug policy.

ny times logoNew York Times, San Francisco’s addiction crisis has worsened quickly — and culture is a big factor, German Lopez, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). For some San Franciscans, a drug crisis is just part of city living. They see people shooting up in front of their homes and businesses. They often find someone dozing on a sidewalk, high. Sometimes, they check for a pulse. “That’s how I found my first dead body,” said Adam Mesnick, owner of a local deli.

But the city’s drug crisis is relatively new. In 2018, San Francisco’s overdose death rate roughly matched the national average. Last year, its death rate was more than double the national level.

In San Francisco and other liberal cities, the opposite shift has happened with hard drug use. The culture has become more tolerant of people using drugs. When I asked people living on the streets why they are in San Francisco, the most common response was that they knew they could avoid the legal and social penalties that often follow addiction. Some came from as close as Oakland, believing that San Francisco was more permissive. As Keith Humphreys, a drug policy expert at Stanford University, told me, San Francisco “is on the extreme of a pro-drug culture.”

San Francisco’s change is rooted in a broader effort to destigmatize addiction. Some experts and activists have argued that a less punitive and judgmental approach to drug use would help users get treatment — a “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude.

Over time, though, these efforts in liberal cities have expanded from users to drug use itself. Activists in San Francisco now refer to “body autonomy” — arguing that people have the right to put whatever they choose into their veins and lungs. They no longer want to hate the sin. They say it’s no one’s business but the drug user’s.

One example of this shift: In early 2020, an advocacy group put up a billboard downtown to promote the use of naloxone, an overdose antidote. It showed happy young people seeming to enjoy a high together. “Know overdose,” the billboard said. “Use with people and take turns.” Here, drug use wasn’t dangerous as long as users had someone to check on them while high.New York Times,

Associated Press, 4 NHL players have been charged with sexual assault in a 2018 case in Canada, their lawyers say, Stephen Whyno, Jan. 30, 2024. NHL players Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils and Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames have been charged with sexual assault in connection with an alleged assault by several members of Canada’s 2018 world junior team.

Attorneys representing Hart, McLeod, Foote and Dube said Tuesday that each player has been charged with sexual assault by police in London, Ontario. They denied any wrongdoing on behalf of their clients.

Hart’s lawyers, Megan Savard and Riaz Sayani, said their client is facing one count of sexual assault, adding, “He is innocent and will provide a full response to this false accusation in the proper forum, a court of law.”

Legal teams representing McLeod and Dube said the players would be pleading not guilty.

“(We) will vigorously defend the case,” McLeod’s attorneys, David Humphrey and Seth Weinstein, said in a statement. “We ask that the public respect Mr. McLeod’s privacy, and his family’s privacy. Because the matter is now before the court, we will not comment further at this time.”

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A grand jury declined to indict Brittany Watts, above, who miscarried a nonviable fetus at home, ending a case that drew international scrutiny (Photo via WKBN-TV).

A grand jury declined to indict Brittany Watts, above, who miscarried a nonviable fetus at home, ending a case that drew international scrutiny (Photo via WKBN-TV).

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Can This A.I.-Powered Search Engine Replace Google? It Has for Our Columnist, Kevin Roose, Feb. 1, 2024. A start-up called Perplexity shows what’s possible for a search engine built from scratch with artificial intelligence, Kevin Roose writes. Kevin Roose used the Perplexity search engine for several weeks to report this column.

For my entire adult life, whenever I’ve had a question about the world or needed to track down something online, I’ve gone to Google for answers.

But recently, I’ve been stepping out on Google with a new, A.I.-powered search engine. (No, not Bing, which is dead to me after it tried to break up my marriage last year.)

It’s called Perplexity. The year-old search engine, whose founders previously worked in A.I. research at OpenAI and Meta, has quickly become one of the most buzzed-about products in the tech world. Tech insiders rave about it on social media, and investors like Jeff Bezos — who was also an early investor in Google — have showered it with cash. The company recently announced that it had raised $74 million in a funding round led by Institutional Venture Partners, which valued the company at $520 million.

Many start-ups have tried and failed to challenge Google over the years. (One would-be competitor, Neeva, shut down last year after failing to gain traction.) But Google seems less invincible these days. Many users have complained that their Google search results have gotten clogged with spammy, low-quality websites, and some people have started looking for answers in places like Reddit and TikTok instead.

Intrigued by the hype, I recently spent several weeks using Perplexity as my default search engine on both desktop and mobile. I tested both the free version and the paid product, Perplexity Pro, which costs $20 per month and gives users access to more powerful A.I. models and certain features, such as the ability to upload their own files.

Hundreds of searches later, I can report that even though Perplexity isn’t perfect, it’s very good. And while I’m not ready to break up with Google entirely, I’m now more convinced that A.I.-powered search engines like Perplexity could loosen Google’s grip on the search market, or at least force it to play catch-up.

I’m also scared that A.I. search engines could destroy my job, and that the entire digital media industry could collapse as a result of products like them. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

ny times logoNew York Times, The biggest impact of generative A.I. will be in banking and tech, a new report says, Steve Lohr, Feb. 1, 2024. A new generation of artificial intelligence is poised to turn old assumptions about technology on their head.

For years, people working in warehouses or fast food restaurants worried that automation could eliminate their jobs. But new research suggests that generative A.I. — the kind used in chatbots like OpenAI’s ChatGPT — will have its biggest impact on white-collar workers with high-paying jobs in industries like banking and tech.

A report published Thursday by the Burning Glass Institute, a nonprofit research center, and SHRM, formerly the Society for Human Resource Management, stops short of saying the technology will do away with large numbers of jobs. But it makes clear that workers need to better prepare for a future in which A.I. could play a significant role in many workplaces that until now have been largely untouched by technological disruption.

For people in tech, it means they may be building their A.I. replacements.

“There’s no question the workers who will be impacted most are those with college degrees, and those are the people who always thought they were safe,” said Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute.

For hundreds of corporations, the researchers estimated the share of payroll spending that goes to workers employed in the 200 occupations most likely to be affected by generative A.I. Many of those jobs are held by affluent college graduates, including business analysts, marketing managers, software developers, database administrators, project managers and lawyers.

Companies in finance, including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, have some of the highest percentages of their payrolls likely to be disrupted by generative A.I. Not far behind are tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Meta.

Getting A.I. to do human work could result in big savings for those companies. The research estimates that banks and some tech companies spend 60 to 80 percent of their payrolls, or more, on workers in occupations most likely to be affected by the new technology.

The retail, restaurant and transportation industries are least likely to be affected by generative A.I., the report found. Companies like Walmart, McDonald’s and Delta Air Lines mostly employ workers without college degrees who perform roles like helping customers, stocking shelves, cooking food and handling baggage. They spend less than 20 percent of their payrolls on employees in occupations most likely to be affected by generative A.I.

elon musk sideview

washington post logoWashington Post, Judge orders Tesla to undo pay package that helped make Musk world’s richest person, Faiz Siddiqui, Rachel Lerman and Will Oremus, Jan. 31, 2024 (print ed.). The ruling by a Delaware court stems from a Tesla shareholder lawsuit over the tech billionaire’s 2018 compensation package

tesla logoA Delaware judge on Tuesday ruled that Elon Musk’s generous 2018 compensation package, which helped make the tech entrepreneur the world’s richest person, was unfair and should be undone.

The $56 billion package, advanced by shareholders and Tesla’s board, entitled Musk to stock options in the company as it hit specific performance targets. Shareholders sued Musk, alleging the process that led to the package was improper.

The decision was earlier reported by Chancery Daily, which tracks Delaware Chancery Court matters, on Threads.

Musk issued a stern reaction on X, the social media site he bought in 2022, when it was known as Twitter.

“Never incorporate your company in the state of Delaware,” he said.

The ruling comes at a particularly tense juncture for the Tesla CEO. He has asked for 25 percent control over the company — which went on to become the world’s most valuable automaker after the pay package was implemented — after he sold off billions worth of stock to help fund his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter. Investors, including some who were enthusiastic about the 2018 package, are skeptical of Musk’s request for additional control.

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Universal Music Group Pulls Songs From TikTok, Ben Sisario, Feb. 1, 2024. The music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks if they failed to come to a new agreement.

The music giant, home to stars like Taylor Swift and Drake, had threatened to withdraw licenses for its tracks to the social media juggernaut if they failed to come to a new agreement.

Videos on TikTok began to go silent early Thursday, after combative licensing negotiations broke down this week between the popular social media platform and Universal Music Group, the giant company that releases music by artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, U2 and Ariana Grande.

On Tuesday, a day before its licensing contract with TikTok was set to expire, Universal — the largest of the three major record companies — published a fiery open letter accusing TikTok of offering unsatisfactory payment for music, and of allowing its platform to be “flooded with A.I.-generated recordings” that diluted the royalty pool for real, human musicians.

TikTok confirmed early Thursday that it had removed music from Universal, and videos on the app began to show the effects of the broken partnership. Recordings by Universal artists were deleted from TikTok’s library, and existing videos that used music from Universal’s artists had their audio muted entirely. Universal songs were also unavailable for users to add to new videos.

A video posted by Kylie Jenner in September, for example, using a song by Lana Del Rey, who is signed to a Universal label was silent, with a note saying, “This sound isn’t available.” (Commenters to the video had remarked on the music.) Other videos carried similar statements, including “Sound removed due to copyright restrictions.”

When users went to the official profiles for Universal artists like Swift and Grande — who is scheduled to release a new album next month — the tabs that would normally display dozens of tracks that users could add to their own clips were either entirely bare or reduced to a handful of brief snippets.

ap logoAssociated Press, Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny and others may vanish from TikTok as licensing dispute boils over, Michelle Chapman, Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2024. Universal Music Group, which represents artists including Taylor Swift, right, Drake, Adele, Bad Bunny and Billie Eilish, says that it will no longer allow its music on TikTok now that a licensing deal between the two parties has expired.

taylor swift uncreditedUMG said that it had not agreed to terms of a new deal with TikTok, and plans to stop licensing content from the artists it represents on the social media platform that is owned by ByteDance, as well as TikTok Music services.

The licensing agreement between UMG and TikTok is expired as of Wednesday.

In a Tuesday letter addressed to artists and songwriters, UMG said that it had been pressing TikTok on three issues: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Zelensky to oust Ukraine’s top general amid tension over new mobilization, Isabelle Khurshudyan and John Hudson, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Gen. Valery Zaluzhny remains in his post for now, but a formal presidential decree is expected to confirm his ousting nearly two years into Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told his top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, that he was firing him in a meeting on Monday, according to a senior official familiar with the conversation — a disruptive military shake-up amid Ukraine’s struggles on the battlefield and after months of friction between the president and the popular general.

Zaluzhny remains in his post for now, but a formal presidential decree is expected to confirm his ousting nearly two years into Russia’s invasion and as Moscow’s forces appear to be gaining the strategic initiative on some parts of the front.

On Monday, Zelensky’s spokesman, Serhiy Nykyforov, denied that Zaluzhny had been fired. “There is no subject of conversation,” Nykyforov told reporters. “There is no order. The president did not dismiss the commander in chief.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: Hundreds of NFL players denied payouts under concussion settlement, including many with CTE, Will Hobson, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). A “landmark” settlement promised payouts for suffering players. But loopholes, aggressive reviews and a failed doctors network led to denials for hundreds of players, a Post investigation found. This story is based on hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of medical and legal records.

When Irv Cross applied for money from the NFL concussion settlement in 2018, his dementia was obvious to anyone who spent more than a few minutes with him.

At 78, the former NFL player and trailblazing sports broadcaster struggled to speak coherently, forgot to change his clothes and suffered from urinary incontinence, his wife told doctors. Cross had been diagnosed with dementia by another doctor months before he was evaluated by two NFL settlement doctors, his medical records show.

But the settlement doctors concluded they couldn’t diagnose Cross with anything, their reports state. While Cross’s symptoms met the standard definition for dementia in American medicine, they agreed, his test scores didn’t meet the NFL settlement’s definition.
irv cross card

“He does not appear to qualify for any diagnosable conditions through the NFL program,” a settlement neurologist wrote. Cross died three years later, of what his doctors thought was just Alzheimer’s disease. An autopsy found he also had suffered from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease linked to football.

When Al Bemiller filed his settlement claim in 2019, his children hoped for a quick approval and money to help with his care. He had been diagnosed with dementia four years earlier and needed around-the-clock assistance preparing meals, showering and getting dressed.

But a doctor on the NFL settlement’s review panel responded to Bemiller’s records with skepticism. Perhaps depression was actually causing his dementia symptoms, the review doctor suggested. Claim denied. Bemiller died two years later of dementia.
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And when Don Maynard applied in 2019, his doctor was so alarmed he said he would file the diagnostic paperwork right away, Maynard’s son recalled. But that paperwork went into a bureaucratic black hole for more than two years. The letter informing Maynard that settlement doctors diagnosed him with dementia arrived in January 2022 — three days after he died of dementia.

Finalized in 2015, the NFL concussion settlement resolved the most serious threat America’s most popular and lucrative sports league has faced. While the NFL admitted no wrongdoing, it promised to pay every former player who developed dementia or several brain diseases linked to concussions. Players suffering from CTE, the league pledged, also would get paid once they developed symptoms of dementia. The league even agreed to fund a nationwide network of doctors to evaluate players and provide those showing early signs of dementia with medical care.

In seven years since the settlement opened, the NFL has paid out nearly $1.2 billion to more than 1,600 former players and their families — far more than experts predicted during settlement negotiations. The league points to these figures as evidence of the settlement’s fairness.

But behind the scenes, the settlement routinely fails to deliver money and medical care to former players suffering from dementia and CTE, a Washington Post investigation found, saving the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars, if not more.

The Post reviewed more than 15,000 pages of documents relating to efforts by more than 100 former players to qualify for settlement benefits, including thousands of pages of confidential medical and legal records. The Post also interviewed more than 100 people involved with the settlement — including players, widows, lawyers and doctors — as well as 10 board-certified neurologists and neuropsychologists for their expertise on how dementia is typically diagnosed.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tech Companies Have ‘Blood’ on Their Hands, Senator Graham Says at Hearing, David McCabe, Feb. 1, 2024 (print ed.). Five of the most prominent chief executives in tech are facing questions on Wednesday from a powerful Senate committee about an issue that has drawn rare bipartisan scrutiny: the dangers that children encounter online.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are grilling the leaders of Meta, TikTok, Snap, Discord and X on topics including the online spread of child sexual abuse material and efforts to police it. They were also examining the social media companies’ broader impact on children’s safety and mental health as calls increase for platforms to be held responsible for protecting young people.

Executives from Meta, TikTok, X, Snap and Discord are testifying in a hearing focused on protecting children online. They face lawmakers’ questions about their companies’ efforts to protect users amid a rise in material depicting child sexual abuse.Tech Chiefs From Meta, TikTok and Others to Testify on Child Safety Online, Jan. 31, 2024.  Executives from X, Snap and Discord will also answer questions from senators. Among the lawmakers’ chief concerns: the spread of child sexual abuse material.

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