Donor Threatens To Withdraw $100 million From University After Congressional Hearing

A University of Pennsylvania donor has threatened to withdraw a $100 million donation from The Wharton School, the university’s business school, following the appearance of the university’s president before Congress.

University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill appeared before Congress Tuesday along with leaders of two other Ivy League schools – Harvard President Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth of MIT.

During a hearing, none of the presidents answered “yes” or “no” to the question: “Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university’s] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment?”

All three presidents told the panel that they did not condone antisemitism and were taking steps to prevent it on campus, but on the specific question they cited free speech rights and said any discipline would depend on the specific circumstances.

Hate speech and acts — both antisemitic and Islamophobic — have erupted on U.S. college campuses since the Hamas-Israel war began in October.

All the presidents have received criticism because of their refusal to give a definitive answer to the question.

Stone Ridge Asset Management CEO Ross Stevens says he will withdraw his donation, now worth $100 million, to the Wharton School’s Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance if Magill is not removed from office. 

Republicans Split on Whether Trump Would Be ‘Dictator’ if Reelected

As part of his campaign for a second term as U.S. president, Donald Trump and his allies say the former president — if he wins — would use federal law enforcement to punish his political enemies and restructure the federal government to streamline implementation of his policies.

While Democrats have been virtually unanimous in their concerns about a second Trump presidency, warning that it would be tantamount to a “dictatorship,” the reaction among Republicans has been sharply divergent. Some in the Republican Party are raising an alarm, while others downplay Trump’s rhetoric, suggesting that concerns about it are overblown.

A key distinction, though, is that most of the Republicans expressing concerns about Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are either no longer in office or have announced their retirement, which suggests that resistance to the former president’s expressed preferences may not be a tenable position in the modern-day Republican Party.

Revenge and retribution

In recent weeks, Trump has promised his supporters that he will be their “retribution” if he retakes the White House, and has used language reminiscent of the worst of European fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, calling his political opponents “vermin” and warning that immigrants are “poisoning the blood” of the United States.

Trump has also expressed interest in reclassifying broad swaths of the federal workforce — tens of thousands of career civil servants — as “Schedule F” employees whom he could fire at will. A coalition of conservative think tanks, spearheaded by the Heritage Foundation, is currently “vetting” thousands of Trump supporters who are interested in serving in a second Trump administration and who could be expected to faithfully carry out his wishes.

Trump has also promised to take specific steps, including “going after” President Joe Biden and his family with a “special prosecutor,” and has suggested that news outlets critical of him should be silenced.

Trump’s closest supporters have echoed his threats. In an interview with former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon this week, Kash Patel, a former Defense Department official during the Trump administration, said that in a second Trump term, “We will go out and find the conspirators, not just in government but in the media …

“Yes, we’re going to come after the people in the media who lied about American citizens, who helped Joe Biden rig presidential elections — we’re going to come after you. Whether it’s criminally or civilly, we’ll figure that out.”

“This is just not rhetoric,” Bannon added. “We’re absolutely dead serious.”

A one-day dictator?

As recently as Tuesday in a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, Trump was given the opportunity to allay concerns that he would behave like a dictator if reelected.

“To be clear, do you in any way have any plans whatsoever if reelected president, to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?” Hannity asked.

“You mean like they’re using right now?” Trump replied, and did not answer the question.

A few minutes later, Hannity tried again, “Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?”

“We love this guy,” Trump replied. “He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?’ I said, ‘No, no, no. Other than Day One. We’re closing the border, and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I’m not a dictator. OK?”

The Trump campaign did not respond to an emailed request asking for clarification of his remarks.

Republicans issue warnings

In the Republican presidential primary debate on Wednesday, former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie painted a dire picture of what he thinks another Trump presidency would look like.

“This is an angry, bitter man who now wants to be back as president because he wants to exact retribution on anyone who has disagreed with him, anyone who has tried to hold him to account for his own conduct, and every one of these policies that he’s talking about are about pursuing a plan of retribution,” Christie said.

“Do I think he was kidding when he said he was a dictator?” Christie continued. “All you have to do is look at the history, and that’s why failing to speak out against him, making excuses for him, pretending that somehow he’s a victim empowers him. …

“Let me make it clear: His conduct is unacceptable. He’s unfit. And be careful of what you’re going to get if you ever got another Donald Trump term. He’s letting you know, ‘I am your retribution.'”

Trump was not on the stage, having declined to participate in any of the primary debates. The other three Republicans on the debate stage, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, avoided any sharp criticism of the former president, who retains a commanding lead in polls of likely primary voters.

‘Sleepwalking into a dictatorship’

Christie’s concerns have been echoed by other Republicans such as Utah Senator and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who told The Washington Post this week that Trump’s base seems to want him to behave like an authoritarian.

“His base loves the authoritarian streak,” Romney said. “I think they love the idea that he may use the military in domestic matters, and that he will seek revenge and retribution. That’s why he’s saying it and has the lock, nearly, on the Republican nomination.” In September, Romney announced that he will not be running for reelection next year.

Former Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of Trump and served on the House panel that investigated the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, told CBS News last weekend that she has no doubts about what a second Trump presidency would look like.

“One of the things that we see happening today is sort of sleepwalking into a dictatorship in the United States,” she said.

Not a serious threat

Current Republican officeholders who are supportive of the former president often downplay his suggestion that he will use the levers of governmental power to punish his critics.

During Wednesday’s debate, for example, DeSantis dismissed concerns about Trump behaving as an authoritarian during a second term.

“Look, the media’s making a big deal about what he said about some of these comments,” he said. “I would just remind people that is not how he governed.”

Senator Lindsey Graham has said publicly he believes Trump’s comments to Hannity were meant to be “funny.” In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Graham disputed Cheney’s assertions about how Trump will behave in office, saying they stem from her personal animosity toward the former president.

“I think a continuation of the Biden presidency would be a disaster for peace and prosperity at home and abroad,” Graham said. “Our border is broken. The only person who is really going to fix a broken border is Donald Trump. When he was president, none of this stuff was going on in Ukraine. Hamas and all these other terrorist groups were afraid of Trump.”

Asked to comment on Trump’s statement that he would be a one-day dictator, Republican Senator Thom Tillis said, “He said he would do two things: He would close the border and drill. Everybody could say that’s abusing power. I think that’s a righteous use of power, and President Biden’s failed on it.”

‘Autocrats always tell you who they are’

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor at New York University and author of “Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present,” warned against the danger of dismissing Trump’s rhetoric as unserious or flippant.

“Everything Donald Trump says should be taken seriously,” she wrote in an email exchange with VOA. “Autocrats always tell you who they are and what they are going to do. In this case, Trump is saying clearly he has aspirations to be a dictator, which is unsurprising given his incitement of a coup to stay in office illegally and given his open adulation of others of his tribe such as [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping].”

Kurt Braddock, an assistant professor of Communications at American University who studies the connection between political language and violence, said that downplaying Trump’s rhetoric allows much of what the former president says to become “normalized” with the general public.

“They’ve been saying he’s ‘just joking’ for seven years now,” Braddock told VOA. “And whether he’s just joking or not is immaterial as far as I’m concerned. People interpret it, or some segment of the population interprets it, as being truthful.”

“When there’s a population that admires somebody as much as some individuals admire Trump, the normalization of this kind of language promotes positive attitudes about the kinds of things it implies,” Braddock said.

“So if he jokes about being a dictator, or jokes about implied violence against political enemies, the more he does that the more it kind of becomes part of our normal vocabulary.”

US Deals with Allies Signal Concerns Over China’s Disinformation Campaign

Western foreign policy experts are welcoming recent U.S. agreements to jointly tackle foreign disinformation with Seoul and Tokyo, saying they are needed to counter Chinese efforts to undermine liberal democracies through the spread of fake news.

The U.S. signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Japan in Tokyo on Wednesday “to identify and counter foreign information manipulation,” according to a State Department statement.

The agreement follows a Memorandum of Understanding signed with South Korea in Seoul on Friday to cooperate in their efforts to tackle foreign disinformation. The agreements, the first designed to fight disinformation, were made during an Asia trip by Liz Allen, the U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

They are designed to “demonstrate the seriousness with which the United States is working with its partners to defend the information space,” according to the State Department’s Wednesday statement, which did not specify any nations as threats.

In response, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, told VOA on Tuesday that he wants to stress that “China always opposes the creation and spread of disinformation.”

He said, “What I have seen is that there is a lot of disinformation about China on social media in the U.S. Some U.S. officials, lawmakers, media and organizations have produced and spread a large amount of false information against China without any evidence, ignoring basic facts.”

The agreements the U.S. made with its allies are “a deliberate acknowledgment of the threats posed by China,” said David Maxwell, vice president of the Center for Asia Pacific Strategy.

“Disinformation is part of a deliberate long-term political warfare campaign by China to subvert the democracies of the U.S., the ROK and Japan as well as to undermine the alliance relationships to prevent unified action against China,” Maxwell said, using the acronym for South Korea’s official name, Republic of Korea.

China is seemingly accelerating its social media operation aimed at influencing the U.S. election in 2024.

Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on Nov. 30 that it took down 4,789 Facebook accounts based in China that were impersonating Americans, including politicians, and posting messages about U.S. politics and U.S.-China relations.

In the report on adversarial threats, Meta said China is the third-most-common source of foreign disinformation after Russia and Iran.

Dennis Wilder, a senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, said, “The Chinese, Russians, and others seek to disrupt the normal give and take of our political discourse.”

Wilder, formerly National Security Council director for China in 2004-05 during the George W. Bush administration, continued to say the agreements Washington made with Seoul and Tokyo are “a significant step forward” as “democracies must work together” to offset “disinformation designed to influence electorate and sow overall dissent within our open political systems.”

Beijing appears to be spreading anti-U.S. and pro-China messages in South Korea as well.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) announced Nov. 13 it had identified and taken down 38 fake Korean-language news sites operated by two Chinese public relations firms, Haimai and Haixun.

South Korea’s National Cyber Security Center, which is overseen by NIS, released a report on the same day describing the kind of propaganda that the firms disseminated through the fake news sites by posing as members of the Korean Digital News Association. The organization oversees the copyrights of news articles posted by its members.

Using news site names such as Seoul Press with the corresponding domain name as and Busan Online with, Haimai has been disseminating disinformation and operating the sites from China, according to the report. Busan is South Korea’s second-largest city.

An article on Daegu Journal, another illicit site Haimai was running, stated in June that nuclear wastewater released from Japan would affect the South Korean food supply chain.

The National Cyber Security Center report also noted that U.S.-based cybersecurity firm Mandiant, owned by Google, released a report in July accusing Haimai of operating 72 fraudulent websites to spread anti-U.S. messages.

Cho Han-Bum, a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told VOA’s Korean Service on Tuesday that “China and North Korea have been attempting in various ways to influence South Korea’s public opinion.”

He said the influence campaign could affect South Korean politics and therefore Seoul’s relations with Beijing or its stance on Pyongyang.

Kim Hyungjin in Seoul contributed to this report.

Cherokee Nation Chief Speaks to VOA on US Promises, Progress

President Joe Biden convened a two-day summit Wednesday with the heads of more than 300 tribal groups, saying his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for the more than 570 Native American communities in the United States by making it easier for them to access federal funding.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation, one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the United States, spoke to VOA about those efforts and also some of the themes of Native history that are in the forefront today.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

VOA: What are your goals for your half-million citizens at this summit?

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr.: It’s to press the administration on meeting America’s commitment but also learn more about what their plans are. … The most important thing for the Cherokee Nation, I think — and all tribes — is the efficient deployment of resources, and then allowing tribes to decide how to use those resources. So, a more efficient, streamlined process in terms of getting funding out.

VOA: The Biden administration says it will release at this summit a report card of sorts. What’s your assessment of how the administration has succeeded and where it could do better?

Hoskin: I think overall, it’s been very, very positive. … The bipartisan infrastructure deal has been important for the Cherokee Nation. The American Rescue Plan has enabled us to do things that may seem small to the rest of the world, like putting a cell tower in a community that didn’t have cellphone access, by improving water systems.

VOA: Any criticism?

Hoskin: To the extent that it’s criticism: The federal government’s a big ship, it’s tough to steer. What I have seen over the years is, you get a new administration in, it takes a while for the relationships to be built up, for executive orders on consultation to translate down to agencies.

VOA: President Biden has not made — publicly, at least — any sort of land acknowledgment statement. Is that something you seek?

Hoskin: Reminding the country that there were aboriginal people here before anyone ever heard of the United States, I think that’s important. But I think in terms of what tribal citizens want to see, and what tribal leaders want to see is access to land, control of resources, more land placed into trust for the benefit of Native Americans.

VOA: The current war between Israel and Hamas is also about land. Do you have any advice for President Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during this very tense moment?

Hoskin: I do think there are some parallels. You’re talking about people who say that they’ve been on the land from time immemorial. That’s what we Cherokees say, and we have a history of being dispossessed from our land. I would just remind people that there’s a way to balance rights. I think we’re trying to do that in the United States in terms of Indian Country versus the rest of the country. We haven’t perfected it, but I think we’re making some progress. So, all I would say is the respect and dignity that every human being deserves ought to be on display anytime you’re having these sorts of situations. That’s a difficult sentiment to express in the midst of some real difficulties.

VOA: Adversaries of the U.S. have weaponized the well-documented suffering of Native Americans, saying the U.S. doesn’t have the moral high ground on the world stage.

Hoskin: Certainly it would be accurate to say the United States has an appalling record towards Indigenous peoples. Is it perfect now? No, it’s not. But we’re making progress. I mean, think about what’s happened on the world stage. In Australia, that country just rejected the recognition of aboriginal people. In the United States, we have federal recognition. … We do have a foundation upon which we built a great deal. And so, to those critics of the United States, I would say, come to the Cherokee Nation and look at what we’re doing, leading in things like health care and lifting up people economically. It’s not perhaps the picture that has been painted by some of these regimes.

VOA: I believe you knew [former Cherokee chief] Wilma Mankiller very well. Talk a bit about her.

Hoskin: Anybody in the world who cares about human rights, the dignity of everybody, civil rights, they should get to know her. … She reminded us of who we are and what we always had in us, which was the ability to govern ourselves, to protect ourselves, to understand we have this common history and destiny. She reminded us that we were Cherokee after generations of being suppressed and a bit beaten down. So, she lifted us up. The fact that there’s a Barbie doll that depicts her, that there’s a quarter from the United States Mint — that shows what a powerful person she was.

VOA: How do you feel about not being consulted on the Barbie doll?

Hoskin: Well, I think it’s disrespect on the part of Mattel, but I will also tell you that they very quickly understood that, and we’re engaging. So, I think that overall, I appreciate Mattel depicting Wilma Mankiller, the great Cherokee chief. On balance, this is a good thing.

VOA: What does it mean to you to be an American?

Hoskin: I think a lot about this. I can go back a few generations to my ancestors who signed up to fight for this country in World War I and World War II — while within their living memory, there was a great deal of oppression and atrocities by this country to their own people. But in terms of the principles of what we want for this country, like freedom and opportunity for everyone, if we aspire to that, that’s something we all share. And so for me, that’s what it means to be an American.

VOA: How do you feel about public holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?

Hoskin: Columbus Day is abhorrent. [Christopher Columbus is] demonstrably somebody who engaged in great atrocities towards Native peoples. … There’s plenty to celebrate in American history without celebrating and misstating what he did. In terms of Thanksgiving, I think it’s become for the Cherokee people something that we just celebrate in terms of what unites humanity, which is giving thanks for what we have and trying to do better.

VOA: Anything else you’d like to tell our audience? We broadcast in 48 languages. Would you like to say something in your language?

Hoskin: Sure. I’d say “osiyo,” which is “hello” in Cherokee. And “donadagohvi,” which is ”we will see each other again.” We don’t say goodbye. We just look forward to seeing people again. I look forward to seeing you again.

VOA: And I look forward to seeing you again.

Senate Approves USAGM Board

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved six people to serve on the board of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, the government agency that oversees six congressionally funded international broadcasting and tech entities, including Voice of America.

The bipartisan International Broadcasting Advisory Board (IBAB) was approved by the Senate en bloc, meaning the nominees were approved without a recorded vote.

In an email Thursday to staff, USAGM CEO Amanda Bennett said the newly approved board “brings a wealth of talent, expertise and passion to our mission, which remains critical in the wake of the ongoing global information war.”

“As hundreds of millions of people rely on our fact-based news to triumph over information manipulation and censorship, the IBAB adds a layer of oversight and strategic guidance that will undergird our commitment to freedom and democracy into the future,” she added.

The board members include Jamie Fly, the former head of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Kathleen Cunningham Matthews, a former journalist and communications executive; Jeffrey Gedmin, a journalist, author and former head of RFE/RL; Kenneth M. Jarin, a partner at national law firm Ballard Spahr; Luis Manuel Botello, a former investigative journalist and consultant for the International Center for Journalists; and Michelle Mai Selesky Giuda, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and acting undersecretary of state.

USAGM has a seven-person board, six of whom are presidentially appointed and one who is the secretary of state. No more than three can be affiliated with the same political party.

This is the first USAGM board approved since legislation passed in late 2020 empowered the board to approve appointments or dismissals of any network heads.

Under those changes, the board is required to advise the chief executive on ways to improve the effectiveness of programming, report to congressional committees and act as a safeguard to ensure the chief executive “fully respects the professional integrity and editorial independence” of the networks she oversees.

Those provisions were created after the previous USAGM chief, Michael Pack, drew widespread criticism for his interpretation of the powers granted to the presidentially appointed chief executive.

An independent investigation into whistleblower complaints about Pack and his team’s governance found he abused his authority, allowed gross mismanagement of funds and breached the editorial firewall designed to protect USAGM journalists from political interference.

Under the amended provisions approved in late 2020, the USAGM chief executive now needs majority board approval to hire or remove network heads.

Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and investigative journalist and former VOA director, was approved as USAGM chief executive in a September 2022 vote for a three-year term. She oversees an agency that for fiscal 2024 submitted a budget request of $944 million and that has a mission to provide independent international news coverage and circumvention tools to a weekly audience of 410 million.

USAGM oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. It also oversees the Open Technology Fund, which provides tools to help audiences overcome internet restrictions and surveillance.

US House Votes to Censure Democratic Member for Pulling Fire Alarm in Capitol Office Building

House members voted again Thursday to punish one of their own, targeting Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman for triggering a fire alarm in a U.S. Capitol office building when the chamber was in session.

The Republican censure resolution passed with a few Democratic votes, but most of the party stood by Bowman in opposition of an effort they said lacked credibility and integrity. The prominent progressive now becomes the third Democratic House member to be admonished this year through the censure process, which is a punishment one step below expulsion from the House.

“It’s painfully obvious to myself, my colleagues and the American people that the Republican Party is deeply unserious and unable to legislate,” Bowman said Wednesday as he defended himself during floor debate. “Their censure resolution against me today continues to demonstrate their inability to govern and serve the American people.”

The 214-191 vote to censure Bowman caps nearly a year of chaos and retribution in the House of Representatives. Since January, the chamber has seen the removal of a member from a committee assignment, the first ouster of a speaker in history and, just last week, the expulsion of a lawmaker for only the third time since the Civil War.

Rep. Lisa McClain, a Republican from Michigan, who introduced the censure resolution, defended it, claiming Bowman pulled the alarm in September to “cause chaos and the stop the House from doing its business” as lawmakers scrambled to pass a bill to fund the government before a shutdown deadline.

“It is reprehensible that a Member of Congress would go to such lengths to prevent House Republicans from bringing forth a vote to keep the government operating and Americans receiving their paychecks,” McClain said in a statement.

Bowman pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count for the incident, which took place in the Cannon House Office Building. He agreed to pay a $1,000 fine and serve three months of probation, after which the false fire alarm charge is expected to be dismissed from his record under an agreement with prosecutors.

The fire alarm prompted a buildingwide evacuation when the House was in session and staffers were working in the building. The building was reopened an hour later after Capitol police determined there was no threat.

Bowman apologized and said that at the time he was trying to get through a door that was usually open but was closed that day because it was the weekend.

Many progressive Democrats, who spoke in his defense, called the Republican effort to censure him “unserious,” and the accused those across the aisle of weaponizing the censure process against Democrats over and over again for political gain.

“Censure me next. That’s how worthless your effort is,” Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said on the floor late Wednesday. “It has no credibility. No integrity. No legitimacy. Censure me next, and I’ll take that censure and I’ll wear it next week, next month, next year like a badge of honor.”

The vote is the latest example of how the chamber has begun to deploy punishments like censure, long viewed as a punishment of last resort, routinely and often in strikingly partisan ways.

“Under Republican control, this chamber has become a place where trivial issues get debated passionately and important ones not at all,” Rep. Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said during floor debate. “Republicans have focused more on censuring people in this Congress than passing bills that help people we represent or improving this country in any way.”

While the censure of a lawmaker carries no practical effect, it amounts to severe reproach from colleagues, as lawmakers who are censured are usually asked to stand in the well of the House as the censure resolution against them is read aloud.

Bowman is now the 27th person to be censured by the chamber — and the third just this year. Last month, Republicans voted to censure Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan in an extraordinary rebuke of her rhetoric about the Israel-Hamas war.

In June, Democrat Adam Schiff of California was censured for comments he made several years ago about investigations into then-President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

US Sanctions Money Lending Network to Houthi Rebels in Yemen

Responding to increased attacks on ships in the southern Red Sea by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, the U.S. announced sanctions against 13 people and firms alleged to be providing tens of millions of dollars from the sale and shipment of Iranian commodities to the Houthis in Yemen. 

Treasury says that previously sanctioned Houthi and Iranian financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal uses a network of exchange houses and firms to help Iranian money reach the country’s militant partners in Yemen. 

The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans. 

Money lenders in Lebanon, Turkey and Dubai are listed for assisting al-Jamal, along with shipping firms from Russia to St. Kitts and Nevis, which allegedly move al-Jamal’s Iranian commodity shipments. All people and firms were hit with sanctions Thursday. 

Brian Nelson, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the Houthis “continue to receive funding and support from Iran, and the result is unsurprising: unprovoked attacks on civilian infrastructure and commercial shipping, disrupting maritime security and threatening international commercial trade.” 

“Treasury will continue to disrupt the financial facilitation and procurement networks that enable these destabilizing activities.” 

Since October, the Houthis have launched missile and drone attacks over commercial shipping operations in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. 

The Houthis have sporadically targeted ships in the region over time, but the attacks have increased since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, spiking after an October 17 explosion at a hospital in Gaza killed and injured many. Houthi leaders have insisted Israel is their target. 

Texas Judge Grants Pregnant Woman Permission To Get An Abortion Despite State’s Ban

A Texas judge on Thursday granted a pregnant woman permission to obtain an abortion in an unprecedented challenge to the state’s ban that took effect after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.

It was unclear how quickly or whether Kate Cox, a 31-year-old mother of two from the Dallas area, will be able to obtain an abortion. State District Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, an elected Democrat, said she would grant a temporary restraining order that would allow Cox to have an abortion under what are narrow exceptions to the state’s ban. That decision is likely to be appealed by the state.

Cox is 20 weeks pregnant and doctors say her fetus has a fatal diagnosis. In a brief emergency hearing Thursday, her attorneys told Gamble that Cox went to an emergency room this week for a fourth time since her pregnancy.

Cox and her husband both attended the hearing via Zoom but did not address the court. Doctors have told Cox that if the baby’s heartbeat were to stop, inducing labor would carry a risk of a uterine rupture because of her prior cesarean sections, and that another C-section at full term would endanger her ability to carry another child.

“This law might actually cause her to lose that ability is shocking and would be a genuine miscarriage of justice,” Gamble said.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing Cox.

Since that landmark ruling, Texas and 12 other states rushed to ban abortion at nearly all stages of pregnancy. Opponents have sought to weaken those bans — including an ongoing Texas challenge over whether the state’s law is too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications — but until now, a woman has not gone to court seeking approval for an immediate abortion.

“I do not want to continue the pain and suffering that has plagued this pregnancy or continue to put my body or my mental health through the risks of continuing this pregnancy,” Cox wrote in an editorial published in The Dallas Morning News. “I do not want my baby to arrive in this world only to watch her suffer.”

Although Texas allows exceptions under the ban, doctors and women have argued that the requirements are so vaguely worded that physicians still won’t risk providing abortions, lest they face potential criminal charges or lawsuits.

State officials had asked Gamble to deny the request, alleging that Cox does not meet the requirements for an exception to the ban.

“There are no facts pled which demonstrate that Ms. Cox is at any more of a risk, let alone life-threatening, than the countless women who give birth every day with similar medical histories,” the state wrote.

Cox has been told by doctors that her baby will likely be stillborn or live for a week at most, according to the lawsuit filed in Austin. The suit says doctors told her their “hands are tied” under Texas’ abortion ban.

The lawsuit was filed a week after the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the ban is too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications. That case is among the biggest ongoing challenges to abortion bans in the U.S., although a ruling from the all-Republican court may not come for months.

Cox had cesarean sections with her previous pregnancies. She learned she was pregnant for a third time in August and was told weeks later that her baby was at a high risk for a condition known as trisomy 18, which has a very high likelihood of miscarriage or stillbirth and low survival rates, according to the lawsuit.

In July, several Texas women gave emotional testimony about carrying babies they knew would not survive and doctors unable to offer abortions despite their spiraling conditions. A judge later ruled that Texas’ ban was too restrictive for women with pregnancy complications, but that decision was swiftly put on hold after the state appealed.

More than 40 woman have received abortions in Texas since the ban took effect, according to state health figures, none of which have resulted in criminal charges. There were more than 16,000 abortions in Texas in the five months prior to the ban taking effect last year.

Australian Laser Technology to Help Future NASA Missions to Mars

A new optical ground station has been built by the Australian National University to help the U.S. space agency, NASA, and others explore space and safely reach Mars.

The Australian team has developed a new type of space communication using lasers.

Researchers say the system will allow them to connect with satellites and NASA-crewed missions beyond low-Earth orbit.

The project is supported by the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative.

The Australian National University Quantum Optical Ground Station is based at the Mount Stromlo Observatory, near Canberra.

It is a powerful telescope that will support high-speed advanced communications with satellites orbiting at distances from low-Earth orbit to the moon.

Kate Ferguson, associate director for strategic projects at the Australian National University Institute for Space, told VOA current communication systems relying on radio frequencies can be slow and cumbersome.

“I am sure some of us remember the grainy pictures that we got of the moon landing that came from the Apollo era,” Ferguson said. “So, again the current radio frequency systems, they have these much slower data rates and especially over really long distances.  For space exploration those become very slow but with optical communications we will be able to increase the rate of that communication.”

She said the new system, based on powerful lasers that are invisible to the naked eye, will transform communications in space.

“What we are aiming to do is to be able to receive high-definition video from future crewed missions. Not only will that be great for us here on Earth, seeing what is happening with the astronauts on these types of missions, but it will improve the connectivity between those missions,” she said. “And what we are doing here is optical communication, which uses laser beams to communicate and these offer much higher speeds and increased security over the current systems and this is really important for us to be getting that data down and being able to use it here on Earth.”

Scientists say the Australian-developed systems will be compatible with NASA missions.

They say the laser-based technology will improve astronauts’ ability to connect with Earth from the moon and also allow high-definition video to be sent from the moon and Mars.

NASA has said previously that astronauts could be sent on a mission to the red planet by the mid-to-late 2030s.


Generative AI May Need News Organizations, Journalism to Succeed

In the year since Open AI introduced ChatGPT to the world, almost 600 media organizations have blocked the technology from scraping their content. 

Two other AI chat bots — Google AI’s Bard and Common Crawl’s CCBot — are also blocked by some or most of those same news organizations.

The list grows longer each day, according to Ben Welsh, a news applications editor for Reuters, who compiled a survey of news organizations for his media blog. 

“What we are seeing here is that news publishers, at least half of them in my survey, want to put the brakes on this a little bit and not just allow themselves to be included in this without some sort of conversation or negotiation with the Open AI company,” Welsh said. 

Open AI, the creator of ChatGPT, offered 1,153 news organizations the option to block its chat bot in August 2023. As of Wednesday, nearly half have taken up that offer.   

While most are U.S. organizations, including The New York Times and CNN, the list also includes international media groups, including Australia’s ABC News, The Times of India, and The South African.   

Welsh’s survey didn’t dig deeply into the reasons for blocking ChatGPT, but he said that commercial media tend to be among the groups that stop ChatGPT whereas nonprofits are more likely to share content.  

VOA’s attempts to contact ChatGPT via LinkedIn, email and at its offices in San Francisco were unsuccessful.

Seen as threat  

Many media analysts and press freedom groups see AI as a threat to publishers and broadcasters, as well as a threat to ethical journalism. 

Among the chief concerns are the use of artificial intelligence to create false narratives and fake visuals and to amplify misinformation and disinformation. 

“It is clearly possible that some groups or organizations use and fine-tune models to create tailored disinformation that suits their projects or their purpose,” said Vincent Berthier, who manages the technology desk at Reporters Without Borders, or RSF. “But right now, today, the higher risk of disinformation comes from generative AI from pictures and deep fakes.” 

RSF organized a commission made up of 32 journalism and AI experts, led by Nobel laureate and disinformation expert Maria Ressa, to regulate how media use the technology.  

The resulting Paris Charter on AI and Journalism, released in November, sets parameters for the use of AI for news organizations and makes clear that journalists must take a leading role.   

RSF’s Berthier believes that many of the organizations opting out are sending a clear message to AI developers. 

“What media companies are saying is AI won’t be built without us and it is exactly RSF’s position on this topic,” Berthier said. “It is the spirit of the charter we released this month saying that media and journalism should be part of AI governance.”   

Media freedom is already at risk from Big Tech and social media algorithms, Berthier said. 

“That’s why we fight every day to protect press freedom and just make sure that journalists can still do their jobs to give the most accurate information to the public,” he said. 

The Associated Press became partners with OpenAI in a news content and information sharing agreement in July.  

Pamela Samuelson, a MacArthur Fellow, University of California-Berkeley law professor and information technology expert, said the deal might be just the beginning of many licensing agreements and partnerships between AI and journalism.  

But she also predicted that companies would work to develop their own AI. 

“So The New York Times might be doing it, CNN might be doing it, we just don’t know,” Samuelson said. “They will announce either their own generative stuff or they will just keep it in house.” 

Ethical concerns

As the debate over the use of AI in journalism unfolds, many news organizations and journalists cite ethical concerns and reservations about its use.   

Others cite economic factors, such as the use of their copyrighted materials and unique intellectual property without payment or provenance.   

But, said Samuelson, “The predictions of doom, doom, doom are probably overblown.” 

“Predictions that everything is going to be perfect, that is probably wrong, too,” she added. “We will have to find some new equilibrium.” 

Generative AI can write computer code, create art, produce research and even write news articles. But makers widely admit in disclaimers that there are problems with its reliability and accuracy.  

There is also growing fear among researchers that a dependence on generative AI to both produce and access news and information is spreading and that too often the information being dispensed isn’t reliable or accurate. 

“There is one thing that journalism puts right up at the top of the list and that’s accuracy and that is a weakness of these tools,” Welsh said. “While they are incredibly great at being creative and generating all sorts of interesting outputs, one thing they struggle with is getting the facts right.” 

Some AI analysts and watchers say the growing list of news organizations blocking AI bots could further affect that quality.

Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for more than 570 native communities in the U.S. by — among other things — making it easier for them to access federal funding. A leader of one of the largest communities speaks to VOA about those efforts and how some of the themes of native history continue to play out halfway across the planet. VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell reports from the Department of the Interior.

Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds

U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday that his administration is committed to writing “a new and better chapter of history” for its more than 570 native communities by, among other things, making it easier for them to access federal funding.

“It’s hard work to heal the wrongs of the past and change the course and move forward,” Biden said. “But the actions we’re taking today are key steps into that new era of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. A new era grounded in dignity and respect, that recognizes your fundamental rights to govern and grow on your own terms. That’s what this summit is all about.”

Biden, speaking at the U.S. Department of the Interior, which sits on the ancestral land of the Nacotchtank people, announced more than 190 agreements during a two-day summit of some 300 tribal leaders.

They include an executive order that will make it easier to access federal funding, plus efforts to clean up nuclear sites, support clean energy transitions and work toward the repatriation of native remains and sacred objects.

The administration will also release a progress report on its efforts to date.

Hope for more

The leader of one of the largest groups told VOA that the government’s efforts have been “very, very positive” and said he hoped to see more.

“The most important thing for the Cherokee Nation, I think — and all tribes — is the efficient deployment of resources, and then allowing tribes to decide how to use those resources,” said Chuck Hoskin Jr., principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.

But, he said, as his people know too well, land dispossession and conflict is not ancient history. Here’s his advice to Biden and Middle Eastern leaders as war rages in Gaza after the October 7 attack by Hamas militants:

“We have a history of being dispossessed from our land,” he said. “And so, I would just say, remind people that there’s a way to balance rights. I think we’re trying to do that in the United States in terms of Indian Country versus the rest of the country.

“We haven’t perfected it, but I think we’re making some progress,” Hoskin said. “So, all I would say is the respect and dignity that every human being deserves ought to be on display.”

Youth see potential

Younger tribal citizens say they have high expectations. Sareya Taylor, the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Phoenix, is a member of the White Mountain Apache and Navajo communities.

“I voted for Biden in 2020,” said Taylor, 21. “And I believe there’s so much more that can be done, especially in terms of climate and how we look at food sovereignty.”

But if she could ask the president for anything, she said, it would be for a cease-fire in Gaza.

“As an Indigenous person, I see my history, like, being like, livestreamed right now,” she said. “If that were happening to us, I’d like to believe that it would be stopped immediately. But you know, considering President Biden won’t even call for a cease-fire, I don’t know about that.”

Hoskin, who is nearly three decades older than Taylor, took a more measured view.

“Obviously, if these were easy issues, somebody would have solved them a long time ago,” he said.

But, he said, step by step, the U.S. government is working to right past wrongs on its own soil.

“Certainly, it would be accurate to say the United States has an appalling record towards Indigenous peoples,” he said. “Is it perfect now? No, it’s not. But we’re making progress.”

US Charges Russian-Affiliated Soldiers With War Crimes

The United States is charging four Russian-affiliated soldiers with war crimes for what American prosecutors describe as the heinous abuse of a U.S. citizen following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year. 

The charges – the first ever filed by the U.S. under its nearly 30-year-old war crimes statute – include conspiracy to commit war crimes, unlawful confinement, torture, and inhumane treatment, following the takeover of the village of Mylove, in the Kherson oblast of southern Ukraine in April 2022. 

“As the world has witnessed the horrors of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, so has the United States Department of Justice,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday.  

“The Justice Department and the American people have a long memory,” he added. “We will not forget the atrocities in Ukraine, and we will never stop working to bring those responsible to justice.” 

According to the nine-page indictment, the perpetrators include Suren Seiranovich Mkrtchyan and Dmitry Budnik, described as commanding officers with either the Russian Armed Forces or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. 

Two other soldiers named in the indictment – Valerii and Nazar – are identified only by their first names. 

Garland and other U.S. officials said Wednesday the victim was a non-combatant living with his Ukrainian wife in Mylove when the four Russians kidnapped him from his home. 

They allegedly then stripped him naked, tied his hands behind his back, put a gun to his head, and beat him, before taking him to an improvised Russian military compound. 

The indictment states the victim was then taken to an improvised jail where he was subject to multiple interrogations and “acts specifically intended to inflict severe and serious physical and mental pain and suffering.” 

Additionally, the indictment alleges at least one of the Russian soldiers sexually assaulted the victim, and that the Russians carried out a mock execution.

“They moved the gun just before pulling the trigger, and the bullet went just past his head,” Garland said. “After the mock execution, the victim was beaten and interrogated again.” 

The victim was also forced to perform manual labor, such as digging trenches for Russian forces, until he was finally released after a little over a week in detention.

U.S. officials said the charges against the four Russian-affiliated soldiers stem from an investigation that started in August 2022, when investigators with the Department of Justice, the FBI and the Department of Homeland security traveled to meet with the victim after he had been evacuated from Ukraine.

They said evidence was also collected in collaboration with Ukrainian officials.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Wednesday investigators also met with members of the victim’s family and with multiple witnesses who were able to confirm Russian forces occupied the village of Mylove and the surrounding areas during the time the alleged war crimes took place.

“We cannot allow such horrific crimes to be ignored. To do so would only increase the risk they will be repeated,” Mayorkas said.

“As today’s announcement makes clear, when an American citizen’s human rights are violated, their government will spare no effort and spare no resources to bring the perpetrators to justice,” he added. 

VOA contacted the Russian Embassy in Washington for comment about the charges. Embassy officials have yet to respond.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, indicated that while the war crimes charges announced on Wednesday are the first, they likely will not be the last.

“You should expect more,” Garland told reporters. “I can’t get into too many details.” 

Former US House Speaker McCarthy Announces Resignation

Two months after his historic ouster as leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California announced Wednesday that he will resign from his congressional seat by the end of the year.

His announcement capped a stunning end for the one-time deli owner from Bakersfield, who ascended through state and national politics to become second in line to the presidency before a contingent of hard-right conservatives engineered his removal in October.

McCarthy is the only House speaker in history to be voted out of the job.

“No matter the odds, or personal cost, we did the right thing,” McCarthy wrote in The Wall Street Journal, announcing his decision.

“It is in this spirit that I have decided to depart the House at the end of this year to serve America in new ways,” he wrote.

An announcement on McCarthy’s future had been expected, with the filing deadline to seek reelection only days away. But his decision ricocheted across Capitol Hill, where his departure will leave the already paper-thin House GOP majority even tighter, with just a few seats to spare.

It comes during a wave of retirements in the House, which has been riven by Republican infighting and the rare expulsion last week of indicted Republican Representative George Santos of New York, dashing hopes for major accomplishments and leaving the majority straining to conduct the basic business of governing.

McCarthy had brought the Republicans into the majority but found it was much more difficult to lead the GOP’s hard-edged factions.

His toppling from the chamber’s top post was fueled by grievances from his party’s hard-right flank, including over his decision to work with Democrats to keep the federal government open rather than risk a shutdown.

McCarthy, 58, arrived in the House in January 2007 after a stint in the California Assembly, where he served as minority leader. In Congress, he maneuvered through his party’s hierarchy — serving as majority whip and Republican leader along the way — before being elected speaker in January 2023.

The dayslong floor fight that preceded his elevation to the House’s top job foreshadowed a stormy tenure, at a time when former President Donald Trump remained the de facto leader of the party and deep divisions within the GOP raised serious questions about the party’s ability to govern.

It took a record 15 votes over four days for McCarthy to line up the support he needed to win the post he had long coveted, finally prevailing on a 216-212 vote with Democrats backing leader Hakeem Jeffries and six Republican holdouts voting present. Not since the Civil War era has a speaker’s vote dragged through so many rounds of counting.

McCarthy emerged from the fight weakened, especially considering Republicans held only a fragile margin in the chamber after a predicted “red wave” failed to materialize in the 2022 elections.

Once installed as speaker, his well-known savvy for fundraising and political glad-handing appeared ill-suited for corralling his party’s disputatious hard-right faction. And deals he cut to become speaker — including a rules change that allowed any single lawmaker to file a motion to remove him — left him vulnerable.

When he became speaker, “he faced new challenges that required a different skill set,” said Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney, a one-time domestic policy analyst for House Republicans. “The deals he made to become speaker made it almost impossible for him to succeed as speaker.”

McCarthy, the son of a firefighter and a homemaker, has long depicted himself as an unflagging battler. He is fond of quoting his father, who told him, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

Atmospheric River Soaks Pacific Northwest With Record-Breaking Rain, Unusually Warm Temperatures

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued five people from flooded areas on Tuesday as an atmospheric river brought heavy rain, flooding and unseasonably warm temperatures to the Pacific Northwest.

The conditions also closed rail links, schools and roads in some areas and shattered daily rainfall and temperature records in Washington state.

In southwest Washington, a Coast Guard helicopter plucked a man from the roof of his truck in floodwaters near the hamlet of Rosburg and also rescued four people who were trapped in a house surrounded by 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water, a Coast Guard statement said.

Amtrak said that no passenger trains will be running between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, until Thursday because of a landslide. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings in parts of western Washington, including in areas north and east of Seattle and across a large swath of the Olympic Peninsula.

The wet conditions also brought warm temperatures to the region. At 64 degrees Fahrenheit (17.8 Celsius) in Walla Walla in southwestern Washington, it was as warm as parts of Florida and Mexico, according to the NWS. Seattle reported 59 F (15 C) at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, breaking its previous daily record high, the weather service said.

Atmospheric rivers, sometimes known as a “Pineapple Express” because the long and narrow bands of water vapor convey warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, delivered enormous amounts of rain and snow to California last winter.

On the Olympic Peninsula, the small town of Forks — whose claim to fame is being the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S. — saw its rainfall record for Dec. 4 more than double after it received about 3.8 inches (9.65 centimeters) of rain, the NWS said. By early Tuesday morning, it had recorded 4.7 inches (11.94 centimeters) of rain over 24 hours — more rainfall than Las Vegas has received in all of 2023, according to the agency.

About 100 miles (160 kilometers) farther south, the daily rainfall record for Dec. 4 was broken in Hoquiam, which received about 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) of rain on Monday, the NWS said. Seattle also set a new rainfall record for that date with 1.5 inches (3.81 centimeters), said Kirby Cook, science and operations officer at the NWS office in Seattle.

“We’ll continue to see significant impacts, especially with river crests and rises on area rivers” through Wednesday morning, he said.

A section of Washington State Route 106 was closed as rising water levels in the Skokomish River overflowed onto the roadway, state transportation officials said.

In Granite Falls, Washington, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Seattle, video posted on social media by Kira Mascorella showed water surrounding homes and flooding driveways and yards. Mascorella, who lives in nearby Arlington, said it was “pouring down rain” when she woke up Tuesday and was still raining hard late in the afternoon. She said she called out of work because of water on the roadways and wasn’t sure if they would be passable Wednesday.

In Monroe, Washington, fire and rescue crews reported bringing to safety four people and a dog who had been trapped in a park by swollen waters.

A landslide closed parts of a Seattle trail popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists, the city’s parks department said. Crews were assessing the damage to the Burke-Gilman Trail and working on setting up detour routes.

Heavy rains also battered Oregon. Parts of coastal U.S. Highway 101 were closed because of flooding, including in areas around Seaside and at the junctions with U.S. Route 26 and Oregon Route 6, the state’s transportation department said.

At least three school districts along the Oregon coast shuttered for the day because of flooding and road closures.

Officials have urged drivers to use caution, avoid deep water on roadways and expect delays.

Biden Kicks Off Fundraising Blitz Amid Lack of Enthusiasm Among Key Voter Groups

President Joe Biden is in Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday kicking off a series of three fundraising events, including a concert by singer-songwriter James Taylor. Biden will be appearing at several more fundraisers over the next week, raising money for his reelection bid in November 2024.

With less than a year before his potential matchup with Republican front-runner Donald Trump, Biden launched sharp attacks against the former president. He argued that the fate of American democracy is at stake, warning that Trump has made clear what he plans to do if he wins.

“Trump’s not even hiding the ball anymore. He’s telling us what he’s going to do. He’s making no bones about it,” Biden said at one of the events.

Biden cited Trump’s pledge to provide “retribution” for his supporters and to root out the “vermin” in the country. He warned of increased restrictions on abortion if Trump is reelected and reminded donors of the former president’s recent call to again repeal the Affordable Care Act, the increasingly popular expansion of public health insurance also known as Obamacare.

To win, said Democratic Party strategist Julie Roginsky, the president must again motivate the coalition that brought him to the White House in 2020, including youth and minority groups — voters that traditionally are a key part of the Democratic base.

That may be a bigger challenge in 2024. A New York Times/Siena Poll released in November found that 22% of Black voters and 42% of Hispanic voters in six key battleground states would choose Trump over Biden in 2024. Fifty-one percent of voters from other nonwhite racial backgrounds also favor Trump, compared with 39% for Biden.

Enthusiasm is also waning among young voters. According to a poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School, only 49% of those ages 18-29 say they “definitely” plan on voting in the presidential election in 2024, down from 57% who said so in response to the question in 2019. The sharpest decline was among younger Black and Hispanic Americans.

Biden campaign confident

The Biden campaign has been investing in media outreach to make their case to Black and Latino voters, and they say they are confident.

“President Biden and Vice President [Kamala] Harris are proud to have received historically early and united support from across the diverse coalition that sent them to the White House in record numbers in 2020,” campaign spokesperson Seth Schuster said in a statement to VOA.

“We’re meeting voters where they are, engaging on key issues — lowering costs, protecting reproductive rights, combating climate change, and making schools safer from gun violence — and highlighting the enormous stakes of this election,” he said.

The administration has launched new initiatives to fund businesses and entrepreneurs in communities of color, and this week released its new student loan forgiveness plan — a popular initiative among young voters.

It’s Biden’s second attempt at mass loan forgiveness after the Supreme Court in June overturned his original plan, which would have relieved up to $20,000 for tens of millions of Americans.

The president has work to do to repair ties with American Muslims and Arab Americans. Angry over the president’s policies to support Israel in its war against Hamas and the toll on civilian lives in Gaza, the group has launched an “Abandon Biden” campaign in key swing states such as Michigan.

For voters overall, the economy remains a key concern.

Despite solid macroeconomic indicators including positive economic growth, a declining rate of inflation and continued low unemployment, only 32% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the economy, according to a Gallup poll released last week.

Roginsky said reality is a “lagging indicator” and hoped that voter sentiment will catch up with the economy next year. But it’s also a messaging issue. Bidenomics is “a cute catchphrase,” she told VOA, but Democrats “need to do a much better job of explaining tangibly to voters what that means.”

Bidenomics is often used as a catchall phrase to describe the administration’s economic policies. Biden describes it as “growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up,” his counter to Republican “trickle-down economics” — the theory that tax breaks and benefits for corporations and the wealthy will eventually benefit everyone.


Biden, Trump tied

Biden and Trump are tied at 43% according to an early December poll by Morning Consult. This, despite the former president facing 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions. Trump maintains he is innocent, and so far, his legal troubles have not significantly hurt him among voters in battleground states.

One possible explanation on the head-to-head is that positive news on Biden is being drowned out by the negative news on Trump.

“Most of the A-level headlines in our politics now are coming from the Republican Party,” said William Howell, professor in American politics at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. “It’s about the primaries. It’s about what’s been going on in Congress. It’s about Trump.”

This is in part a strategic choice by Democrats, Howell told VOA. Democrats hope to bank electoral points by allowing the news to be driven by the tumult in the Republican-led House of Representatives or Trump’s courtroom antics. 

Allan Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University who correctly predicted all U.S. presidential election results since 1984, has not made a final prediction on the 2024 winner. However, he said that despite anxiety among Democrats about the president’s performance and concerns about his age, their only chance of victory is in keeping Biden as their nominee.

Lichtman told VOA that Democrats must support the incumbent to “avoid a disastrous internal battle.” He is waiting until next year to see which candidate gets points on the economy and foreign policy before making his prediction.

In the meantime, Biden will need to stop operating at the margins and communicate his achievements on a more prominent platform, Howell said. “He’s the president. He shouldn’t be in a position where he is elbowing for room.”

The president appears poised to do just that, starting with his donors. He will continue his fundraising blitz with a campaign event in Washington on Wednesday and another in Philadelphia on Monday.

On Friday, he heads to Los Angeles for a fundraiser featuring movie director Steven Spielberg, television producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes and other celebrities.


Remains of 5 More Crew Members Found After US Osprey Aircraft Crashes off Japan

U.S. and Japanese dive teams found the remains of five more crew members from a V-22 Osprey aircraft that crashed off western Japan last week, the Pentagon said on Monday. 

Eight crew were aboard the tilt-rotor aircraft when it crashed during a routine training mission on Wednesday off the shores of Yakushima Island, about 1,040 km (650 miles) southwest of the capital Tokyo. 

Prior to this week’s discovery, one body had been recovered. Two crew members remain unaccounted for. 

“There is an ongoing combined effort to recover the remaining crew members from the wreckage,” said Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh. 

“As efforts persist for the location and recovery of the entire crew, the privacy of the families and loved ones impacted by this tragic incident remains a great concern.” 

Following the crash, the U.S. military unit that the V-22 Osprey aircraft belonged to suspended flight operations. But the U.S. military has said other aircraft will continue to fly after undergoing safety checks. 

Tokyo has voiced concern about continued Osprey flights. The deployment of the aircraft in Japan has been controversial, with critics of the U.S. military presence in the southwest islands saying it is prone to accidents. 

Pacifist Japan hosts the biggest overseas concentration of U.S. military power, with the country home to the only forward-deployed American carrier strike group, its Asian airlift hub, fighter squadrons and a U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary force. 

Juanita Castro, Fidel’s Sister and Outspoken Critic, Dies in Miami

Juanita Castro, the younger sister of Fidel and Raul Castro who was so opposed to their policies that she became a CIA double agent, died of natural causes in a Miami, Florida, hospital on Monday, Univision confirmed. She was 90. 

Since the 1959 Cuban revolution, she was a tireless detractor of her brothers’ Communist regime and fled the Caribbean country in 1964 for Miami, Florida, hoping to find a sense of community among her peers living in exile. 

Instead, she found herself ostracized. 

“For those in Cuba, I am a deserter because I left and denounced the regime in place. For many in Miami I amn ‘persona non grata’ because I am the sister of Fidel and Raul,” she wrote in her memoir, “My Brothers Fidel and Raul, the Secret History.” 

Fidel Castro’s alliance with the Soviet Union led to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a nearly two-week confrontation with the U.S. that took the world to the brink of nuclear catastrophe. Fidel Castro went on to lead Cuba until he transferred power to his brother Raul in 2006 because of health concerns.  

In 2016, Fidel Castro died at 90, the same age his sister would live to.  

Miguel Díaz-Canel succeeded Raul Castro in 2018, drawing to a close the brothers’ near 60-year reign. 

Those who knew Juanita Castro remember her work ethic. For decades, the fourth of seven children kept shop at the South Florida drugstore she owned. All the while, she remained an outspoken critic of her brothers. She had even collaborated with the CIA in an attempt to bring them down at the height of their rule, under the codename “Donna.” 

Journalist María Antonieta Collins, who co-authored Juanita Castro’s memoir, was the first to break the news of her death. 

“Today, at 90 years of age, Juanita Castro went ahead of us on the path of life and death, an exceptional woman, a tireless fighter for the cause of her Cuba,” reads the Monday afternoon Instagram announcement, translated from Spanish.  

The cause of her death has not yet been made public. Collins said the funeral would be private, as Juanita Castro had requested. 

Huge Blast Razes Home Outside Washington After Hourslong Standoff

In the hourslong run-up to a massive home explosion caught on amateur video Monday night, a suburban Washington, D.C., man discharged a flare gun into his neighborhood dozens of times, police said.

By the time the blast occurred during a standoff around 8:30 p.m., reportedly scattering debris throughout the area, police had been on the scene for hours, having received reports of shots fired around 4:45 p.m. Arlington County, Virginia, police had obtained a search warrant and were attempting to talk to the resident using a loudspeaker and phone.

When authorities tried to enter the home, the man reportedly fired several shots their way.

Then the duplex suddenly exploded in fire, spewing smoke and leaving rubble. It is unclear if the suspect died in the blast or if others were present inside the duplex, said Ashley Savage, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Police Department.

Three officers left the scene with minor injuries, but no one was hospitalized.

The duplex was in the Bluemont neighborhood in a northern Virginia suburb across the Potomac River from Washington.

More than 3 kilometers (nearly 2 miles) away, Carla Rodriguez said she heard the explosion and came to the scene, but law enforcement kept spectators blocks away.

“I actually thought a plane exploded,” Rodriguez said.

Bob Maynes, who lives in the area, said he thought the loud boom was the crash of a tree falling on his house.

“I was sitting in my living room watching television, and the whole house shook,” Maynes said. “It wasn’t an earthquake kind of tremor, but the whole house shook.”

Local firefighters were able to control the fire around 10:30 p.m. but continued to manage smaller spot fires into the night, police said early Tuesday.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said its investigators were at the scene assisting local police.

Some information for this report was provided by The Associated Press.

More Than $950,000 Raised for Palestinian Student Paralyzed After Being Shot in Vermont

More than $950,000 has been raised for the recovery of one of the three college students of Palestinian descent who was shot in Vermont and is currently paralyzed from the chest down, according to a GoFundMe page set up by his family.

One of the bullets that hit Hisham Awartani on Nov. 25 is lodged in his spine, his family said.

“Hisham’s first thoughts were for his friends, then for his parents who were thousands of miles away. He has demonstrated remarkable courage, resilience and fortitude – even a sense of humor – even as the reality of his paralysis sets in,” the fundraising page, which was set up on Saturday, states.

Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad are childhood friends who graduated from a private Quaker school in the West Bank and now attend colleges in the eastern U.S. The 20-year-olds were visiting Awartani’s relatives in Burlington for the Thanksgiving break. They were walking to the house of Hisham’s grandmother for dinner when they were shot in an unprovoked attack, the family said.

The young men were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Burlington Police Chief Jon Murad said. Authorities are investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.

“In a cruelly ironic twist, Hisham’s parents had recommended he not return home over winter break, suggesting he would be safer in the US with his grandmother,” the fundraising page states. “Burlington is a second home to Hisham, who has spent summers and happy holidays with his family there. It breaks our hearts that these young men did not find safety in his home away from home.”

All three were seriously injured. Abdalhamid was released from the hospital last week.

The suspected gunman, Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested the following day at his Burlington apartment, where he answered the door with his hands raised and told federal agents he had been waiting for them. Eaton has pleaded not guilty to three counts of attempted murder and is currently being held without bail.

The shooting came as threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the U.S. in the weeks since the the Israel-Hamas war erupted in early October.

Awartani, who speaks seven languages, is pursuing a dual degree in math and archaeology at Brown University, where he is also a teaching assistant, the fundraising page said. He told his college professors that he is determined to start the next semester on time, according to the fundraiser.

“We, his family, believe that Hisham will change the world,” the fundraising page states. “He’ll change the world through his spirit, his mind and his compassion for those much more vulnerable than himself, especially the thousands of dead in Gaza and many more struggling to survive the devastating humanitarian crisis unfolding there.”

Senior US Official Visits India, Discusses Alleged Plot to Kill Sikh Separatist

White House deputy national security adviser Jon Finer led a U.S. delegation to New Delhi on Monday where he noted the formation of an investigative panel by India to probe an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on U.S. soil.

“Mr. Finer acknowledged India’s establishment of a Committee of Enquiry to investigate lethal plotting in the United States and the importance of holding accountable anyone found responsible,” the White House said in a statement Monday.

Last week, the U.S. Justice Department alleged that an Indian government official directed an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on U.S. soil, while it announced charges against a man accused of orchestrating the attempted murder.

U.S. officials have named the target of the attempted murder as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist and dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

In response, India expressed concern about one of its government officials being linked to the plot, from which it dissociated itself, as being against government policy.

India said last week it would formally investigate the concerns aired by the U.S. and take “necessary follow-up action” on the findings of a panel set up on Nov. 18.

News of the incident came two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb, a contention India has rejected.

U.S. President Joe Biden, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, CIA director Bill Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have discussed this issue with their Indian counterparts in recent weeks.

The issue is highly delicate for both India and the Biden administration as they try to build closer ties in the face of an ascendant China perceived as a threat for both democracies.

The Indian government has long complained about the presence of Sikh separatist groups outside India. New Delhi views them as security threats. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, or the demand for an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.

Finer met Indian foreign minister S. Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. They also discussed developments in the Middle East, including the Israel-Hamas war, plans for a post-war Gaza and recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, the White House said Monday.

Yellen Heads to Mexico to Boost Work on Fentanyl, Supply Chains 

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will travel to Mexico City this week to boost cooperation with Mexican counterparts on combating illicit finance and the trafficking of fentanyl, and work to strengthen Mexico’s role in U.S. supply chains, Treasury officials said Monday. 

Yellen’s Tuesday-to-Thursday trip will include meetings with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the country’s central bank governor and finance minister, among others, Treasury said in a statement. 

The trip follows Treasury’s announcement Monday of a counter-fentanyl “strike force” that will bring together the department’s resources, including the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence and the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation unit to disrupt illicit drug trafficking. 

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month agreed to deepen cooperation to stem the flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China, which are often mixed by Mexican drug gangs before distribution in the U.S. 

Illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids cause tens of thousands of overdose deaths every year. The formation of the task force comes as the Treasury in recent months has intensified its sanctions efforts targeting fentanyl logistics in Mexico. 

“Treasury will use every tool at its disposal to disrupt the ability of drug traffickers to peddle this poison in our country,” Yellen said in a statement. 


The Treasury for years has imposed sanctions on Mexican cartels and their money-laundering entities. While these have disrupted individual cartels, the efforts have done little to stem the overall cross-border drug trade, estimated at $20 billion to $30 billion a year, said Earl Anthony Wayne, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico from 2011 to 2015. 

“Somehow that money gets back to cartels,” said Wayne, now a lecturer at American University’s School of International Service. “Neither the U.S. nor Mexico has been very good at finding that money.” 

A senior U.S. Treasury official said Yellen will discuss with Mexican counterparts and financial institution executives ways to step up efforts to fight illicit drug finance, including better coordination of investigations, as narcotics traffickers “continue to innovate.” 

The goal is to be more effective at exposing drug supply chains that are disguised as legitimate commercial trade and cut off their access to financing, the Treasury official said. The department has imposed sanctions on over 250 entities related to drug trafficking in the past two years. 

Friend-shoring, national security 

During her trip, Yellen also will promote Mexico’s role as a premier destination for the “friend-shoring” of U.S. supply chains to make them more resilient and promote U.S. national security interests, Treasury officials said. 

Mexico this year has overtaken China as the largest U.S. trading partner, and investment continues to grow. 

Among issues she plans to discuss are U.S. tax credits for electric vehicles produced in North America and new Treasury rules limiting the amount of Chinese-controlled content that can be allowed, which could impact Chinese investment in Mexico.

Spotify to Lay Off 1,500 Employees

Spotify says it is planning to lay off 17% of its global workforce, amounting to around 1,500 employees, following layoffs earlier this year of 600 people in January and an additional 200 in June.

The music streaming giant is continuing its effort to cut costs and work toward becoming profitable, said Spotify CEO Daniel Ek in a prepared statement.

“By most metrics, we were more productive but less efficient,” he said. “We need to be both.”

The layoffs come following a rare quarterly net profit of about $70.3 million in October. The company has never seen a full year net profit.

“I realize that for many, a reduction of this size will feel surprisingly large given the recent positive earnings report and our performance,” Ek said. “We debated making smaller reductions throughout 2024 and 2025. Yet, considering the gap between our financial goal … and our current operational costs, I decided that a substantial action to right size our costs was the best option to accomplish our objectives.”

With the new layoffs, the company now expects to see a fourth quarter loss between $100 million to $117 million after previously anticipating a $40 million profit.

A majority of the charges will go toward severance for laid off employees, who will get about five months’ pay, vacation pay and health care coverage for the severance period.

Spotify did not clearly state when the layoffs would become financially beneficial but said that they would “generate meaningful operating efficiencies going forward.”

Spotify is following many companies in the tech industry trying to cut costs after growth in the industry slowed following a surge during the COVID pandemic.

Tech giants including Meta, Microsoft, Amazon and Google parent company, Alphabet, all have plans to cut 10,000 or more people this year.

Spotify began informing affected employees on Monday.

Some information in this report came from Reuters, The Associated Press and Agence France-Presse.