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

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

Trump Back at New York Fraud Trial As Testimony Nears an End

Former President Donald Trump returned to his civil business fraud trial as a spectator Thursday, after a month of assailing the proceedings from afar.  With testimony winding down after more than two months, the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner showed up to watch an accounting professor testify about financial topics important to the case.  Trump himself is scheduled to take the stand Monday, for a second time.  Even while campaigning to reclaim the presidency and fighting four criminal cases, Trump is devoting a lot of attention to the New York lawsuit. He’s been a frustrated onlooker, a confrontational witness and a heated commentator outside the courtroom door.  “This is a witch hunt, and it’s a very corrupt trial,” Trump said on his way into court Thursday.  The case is putting his net worth on trial, scrutinizing the real estate empire that first built his reputation, and threatening to block him from doing business in his native state.  New York Attorney General Letitia James’ suit accuses Trump, his company and some executives of misleading banks and insurers by giving them financial statements full of inflated values for such signature assets as his Trump Tower penthouse and Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club where he now lives. The statements were provided to help secure deals — including loans at attractive interest rates available to hyperwealthy people — and some loans required updated statements each year.  Trump denies any wrongdoing, and he posits that the statements’ numbers actually fell short of his wealth. He also has downplayed the documents’ importance in getting deals, saying it was clear that lenders and others should do their own analyses. And he claims the case is a partisan abuse of power by James and Judge Arthur Engoron, both Democrats.  The former president has regularly railed about the case on his Truth Social platform.  Going to court in person affords him a microphone — in fact, many of them, on the news cameras positioned in the hallway. He often stops on his way into and out of the proceedings, which cameras can’t record, to expostulate and to cast various developments as victories.  His out-of-court remarks got him fined $10,000 Oct. 26, when Engoron decided Trump had violated a gag order that prohibits participants in the trial from commenting publicly on court staffers. Trump’s lawyers are appealing the gag order.  James hasn’t let Trump go unanswered, often — but not Thursday — … “Trump Back at New York Fraud Trial As Testimony Nears an End”

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 … “Generative AI May Need News Organizations, Journalism to Succeed”

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.   …

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 … “Biden Clears Path for Tribal Nations to Access Federal Funds”

Debate Stage Condensed to Four Presidential Candidates

Four Republican candidates sparred for two hours Wednesday — at times attacking and yelling over each other — in the final presidential debate of the year. Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was absent, as he has been for the three previous debates.   That did not stop former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from criticizing the former President and accusing the others of being too afraid to criticize him. Trump, despite facing 91 felony counts and a civil lawsuit, remains substantially ahead of his rivals. Israel/Hamas Two months after Hamas terrorists attacked Israel, the Republican candidates agreed Israel should be allowed to conduct its own war without interference from the United States.   Florida Governor Ron DeSantis asserted “This administration is trying to hobble Israel from being able to defend itself,” calling out Hamas for wanting “a second holocaust.”   The governor also suggested cutting off oil revenue to Iran, saying they “send it to Hamas… to Hezbollah, and they ferment Jihad throughout the Middle East.”   Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says Russian President Vladimir Putin is thrilled that America has redirected its attention from Ukraine to Israel, saying “There is a reason that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins, China won’t invade Taiwan.” She made the same comparison with Ukrainians who want to help the Israelis, “because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins…but what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that’s what Joe Biden has given us.”  Christie, asked in the NewsNation debate if he would send in U.S. troops to free the American hostages held by Hamas and other militants, said, “You’re damn right I would send the American army in there to get them out safely.” Southern border and fentanyl On fentanyl entering the US through the southern border, Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy says he would have had a different conversation with China’s leader than President Biden and would “tell Xi Jinping you will not only not buy land in this country or donate to universities,” but also say, “U.S. businesses won’t expand into the Chinese market” until China stops manufacturing fentanyl for the Mexican cartels. Governor DeSantis wants cartels categorized as “foreign terrorist organizations” and says he will build a wall at the border to discourage entry, but unlike former President Trump, would get Mexico to pay for it.  Haley would “end all … “Debate Stage Condensed to Four Presidential Candidates”

Meta Sued for Allegedly Failing to Shield Children From Predators

Facebook and Instagram fail to protect underage users from exposure to child sexual abuse material and let adults solicit pornographic imagery from them, New Mexico’s attorney general alleges in a lawsuit that follows an undercover online investigation. “Our investigation into Meta’s social media platforms demonstrates that they are not safe spaces for children but rather prime locations for predators to trade child pornography and solicit minors for sex,” Attorney General Raul Torrez said in a statement Wednesday. The civil lawsuit filed late Tuesday against Meta Platforms Inc. in state court also names its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as a defendant. In addition, the suit claims Meta “harms children and teenagers through the addictive design of its platform, degrading users’ mental health, their sense of self-worth and their physical safety,” Torrez’s office said in a statement. Those claims echo others in a lawsuit filed in late October by the attorneys general of 33 states, including California and New York, against Meta that alleges Instagram and Facebook include features deliberately designed to hook children, contributing to the youth mental health crisis and leading to depression, anxiety and eating disorders. New Mexico was not a party to that lawsuit. Investigators in New Mexico created decoy accounts of children 14 years and younger that Torrez’s office said were served sexually explicit images even when the child expressed no interest in them. State prosecutors claim that Meta let dozens of adults find, contact and encourage children to provide sexually explicit and pornographic images. The accounts also received recommendations to join unmoderated Facebook groups devoted to facilitating commercial sex, investigators said, adding that Meta also let its users find, share and sell “an enormous volume of child pornography.” “Mr. Zuckerberg and other Meta executives are aware of the serious harm their products can pose to young users, and yet they have failed to make sufficient changes to their platforms that would prevent the sexual exploitation of children,” Torrez said, accusing Meta’s executives of prioritizing “engagement and ad revenue over the safety of the most vulnerable members of our society.” Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, did not directly respond to the New Mexico lawsuit’s allegations, but said it works hard to protect young users with a serious commitment of resources. “We use sophisticated technology, hire child safety experts, report content to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and share information and tools with other companies … “Meta Sued for Allegedly Failing to Shield Children From Predators”

US Military Grounds Entire Osprey Fleet Following Deadly Crash off Coast of Japan

The military announced late Wednesday that it was grounding all of its Osprey V-22 helicopters, one week after eight Air Force Special Operations Command service members died in a crash off the coast of Japan. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps took the extraordinary step of grounding hundreds of aircraft after a preliminary investigation of last week’s crash indicated that a material failure — something went wrong with the aircraft — and not a mistake by the crew led to the deaths. The crash raised new questions about the safety of the Osprey, which has been involved in multiple fatal accidents over its relatively short time in service. Japan grounded its fleet of 14 Ospreys after the crash. Lieutenant General Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, directed the stand-down “to mitigate risk while the investigation continues,” the command said in a statement. “Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time.” In a separate notice, Naval Air Systems Command said it was grounding all Ospreys. The command is responsible for the Marine Corps and Navy variants of the aircraft. The Air Force said it was unknown how long the aircraft would be grounded. It said the stand-down was expected to remain in place until the investigation has determined the cause of the Japan crash and made recommendations to allow the fleet to return to operations. The U.S.-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster, like an airplane, during flight. Air Force Special Operations Command has 51 Ospreys, the U.S. Marine Corps flies more than 400, and the U.S. Navy operates 27. The Osprey is still a relatively young plane in the military’s fleet — the first Ospreys became operational in 2007 after decades of testing. But more than 50 troops have died either in testing the Osprey or conducting training flights in the aircraft, including 20 deaths in four crashes over the past 20 months. An Osprey accident in August in Australia killed three Marines. That accident also is still under investigation. …

Fake Trump Electors Settle Lawsuit in Wisconsin, Agree Biden Won

Ten Republicans who posed as fake electors for former U.S. President Donald Trump in Wisconsin and filed paperwork falsely saying he had won the battleground state have settled a civil lawsuit and admitted their actions were part of an effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory, attorneys who filed the case announced Wednesday.  Under the agreement, the fake electors acknowledged that Biden won the state, withdrew their filings, and agreed not to serve as presidential electors in 2024 or any other election where Trump is on the ballot.  The 10 fake electors agreed to send a statement to the government offices that received the Electoral College votes saying that their actions were “part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results.”  The settlement marks the first time that any Trump electors have revoked their filings sent to Congress purporting that Trump had won in seven battleground states. Nevada on Wednesday became the third state to criminally charge fake electors, following Georgia and Michigan. Trump faces charges in Georgia and in a federal investigation of his conduct related to the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.  The settlement was announced by Law Forward, Georgetown University Law Center’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection and the Madison-based Stafford Rosenbaum law firm.  “Americans believe in democracy and the idea that the people choose their leaders through elections,” said Jeff Mandell, one of the attorneys who brought the case on behalf of Democratic voters, including two who served as Biden electors. “The defendants’ actions violated those bedrock principles. We brought this case to ensure that they are held accountable.”  There is no known criminal investigation ongoing in Wisconsin. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has signaled he is relying on federal investigators to look into what happened in Wisconsin, while also not ruling out a state probe.  Lawsuit sought $2.4 million Democrats brought the lawsuit last year seeking $2.4 million in damages from 10 Republicans who submitted a document to Congress falsely declaring Trump as the 2020 election winner in Wisconsin. They also sued two of Trump’s attorneys, including one who has already pleaded guilty to other charges stemming from the 2020 election in Georgia.  The case was scheduled to go to a trial by jury in September 2024, two months before the presidential election.  Under the deal, the fake electors don’t pay any damages or attorneys’ fees, and there is no admission … “Fake Trump Electors Settle Lawsuit in Wisconsin, Agree Biden Won”

Police Report of Multiple Victims in Shooting at University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Police officers were responding Wednesday to a “confirmed active shooter” in a building at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the university announced in a post on the social media platform X.  “This is not a test,” the university wrote. “RUN-HIDE-FIGHT.”  Las Vegas police said in a separate post on X that there appeared to be multiple victims.  The university said the shooter was at the Beam Hall, Frank and Estella Building, home of UNLV’s Lee Business School, which sits near the student union.  …

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 … “Former US House Speaker McCarthy Announces Resignation”

Taylor Swift Named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

Is the year of Taylor Swift over now? Not yet. Time magazine named Swift its person of the year on Wednesday, a week after Spotify announced she was the most-played artist on the streaming platform. Swift was picked from a group of nine finalists that included Barbie, King Charles III and OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman. “While her popularity has grown across the decades, this is the year that Swift, 33, achieved a kind of nuclear fusion: shooting art and commerce together to release an energy of historic force,” Time said about her selection. Her year included the wildly popular Eras Tour and concert movie, the release of her reimagined “1989” album, and her closely watched relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. She’s even the subject of college courses. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was Time’s 2022 person of the year. …

US Navy Shoots Down Drone from Houthi Territory in Yemen

The United States Navy shot down a drone originating from a Houthi-controlled part of Yemen on Wednesday morning, U.S. officials said. The downing of the drone comes amid an escalation in attacks in Middle East waters linked to the Israel-Hamas war and marks the sixth time the U.S. has fired on drones in the Red Sea since the war broke out. There was no reported damage to U.S. ships and no U.S. personnel suffered injuries, according to a U.S. official. Earlier Wednesday, Britain’s Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) warned vessels transiting the area to be cautious following a report of a drone over the Red Sea west of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. The U.S. shot down three drones Sunday that were targeting commercial ships and a U.S. warship in an hours-long attack that saw several vessels hit by missiles.  The Iran-backed Houthi rebel group claimed responsibility for the attacks. The U.S. condemned Iran for their alleged involvement in the assaults. “These attacks represent a direct threat to international commerce and maritime security,” the U.S. military’s Central Command said in a statement. “They have jeopardized the lives of international crews representing multiple countries around the world. We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran.” Some information in this report came from Reuters and The Associated Press …

Russian Artist Explores Migration Caused by War

The plight of fugitives and refugees has been part of the artist Dima Alekseevs’ work since he left Russia in 2016. He now lives in the U.S. Nina Vishneva visited the artist and has this report narrated by Anna Rice. (Camera: Vladimir Badikov, Elena Matusovsky; Produced by Elena Matusovsky, Anna Rice)   …

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. … “Atmospheric River Soaks Pacific Northwest With Record-Breaking Rain, Unusually Warm Temperatures”

House Grills Three University Presidents Over On-Campus Antisemitism

The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were questioned by House lawmakers on Tuesday over whether their administrations are doing enough to combat the wave of antisemitism that has swept their campuses as the Israel-Hamas war rages. Republican Representative Virginia Foxx said the three presidents were called to testify because “we heard in particular that the most egregious situations have occurred on these campuses.” Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, faced particularly difficult lines of questioning from congressional Republicans, including one fraught exchange with Representative Elise Stefanik, who demanded that Gay resign.  Stefanik, a Harvard alumnus herself, grilled Gay over whether the university would rescind admission offers to students who support Hamas’ murderous beliefs. Gay pushed back, saying she would not commit to punishing students simply for expressing their views, even if she finds them “personally abhorrent,” apparently reversing university policy. In 2017, Harvard reneged on admission offers for 10 would-be students after it came out that they circulated racist memes in a group chat. The theme of Gay’s testimony was her dual commitment to “combating hate while preserving free expression.” Gay said her administration would only punish “hateful, reckless, offensive speech” when it crosses the line into physical violence or targeted harassment. Foxx, the panel’s chair, railed against Gay and the other university leaders, claiming that “institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poisoned fruits of your institutions’ cultures.” Republican lawmakers repeatedly criticized progressivism and tied it to antisemitism in higher education. All three university presidents outlined their strategies for ensuring student safety and open discourse on the Israel-Hamas war. “As an American, as a Jew, and as a human being, I abhor antisemitism. And my administration is combating it actively,” Sally Kornbluth, president of MIT said, adding that “problematic speech needs to be countered with other speech and education.” Kornbluth said free speech that promotes harassment or incites violence is not protected by the university, but those who try to shut down campus protests are essentially advocating for unworkable “speech codes.” Harvard and UPenn have struggled. Both schools found themselves under investigation by the Department of Education over complaints of antisemitism on campus. “This is difficult work, and I know I have not always gotten it right,” Gay said of her efforts to promote free speech and inclusion. She noted the difficulty of balancing the concerns of different groups, including Harvard’s … “House Grills Three University Presidents Over On-Campus Antisemitism”

FBI Director Warns Against Weakening US Surveillance Capabilities 

A top U.S. law enforcement official is warning lawmakers that a failure to renew key surveillance authorities would amount to “unilateral disarmament” in the face of growing threats from terrorism as well as countries like China and Iran.  FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, urging the panel to renew the bureau’s ability to gather electronic data under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, before the law expires at the end of the year.  Section 702, as it is commonly known, allows agencies such as the FBI and the National Security Agency to gather electronic data of non-Americans without first obtaining a warrant. But its use has stirred controversy because of repeated incidents in which officials have collected information on U.S. citizens.  ‘Reckless at best…irresponsible at worst’ Wray assured lawmakers that reforms have been put in place to protect U.S. citizens, cautioning that a failure to renew the authority, or to renew the authority with additional restrictions, would put the country in danger.  “Blinding ourselves through either allowing 702 to lapse or amending it in a way that guts its effectiveness would be reckless at best and dangerous and irresponsible at worst,” he said.   “The whole reason we have 702 focused on foreign threats from overseas is to protect America from those threats,” he said. “It’s not to admire foreign threats from afar and study them and think about them. It’s to know what they are and to make sure they don’t hurt Americans here.”  Other U.S. officials have spent the past year briefing lawmakers about the much talked-about surveillance authority.  In May, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told lawmakers information gathered through Section 702 “is utterly fundamental,” generating almost 60% of the information presented in the U.S. president’s daily intelligence briefing.   Just months later, in July, the deputy director of the CIA, the top U.S. spy agency, told a conference outside of Washington that Section 702 has been instrumental in helping to identify Russian atrocities in Ukraine and in tracking precursor chemicals — often from China — that help fuel the production of fentanyl.  But some lawmakers have been cautious, calling for additional reforms to prevent the FBI, in particular, from obtaining information on U.S. citizens without first receiving authorization from a court in the form of a warrant. Wray told committee members on Thursday that using Section … “FBI Director Warns Against Weakening US Surveillance Capabilities “

Gaza War Divides American Opinion

With the resumption of fighting in Gaza, Americans are increasingly divided over who to blame and what they want the United States to do in a war that has claimed the lives of more than 1,300 Israelis and 16,000 Palestinians. “Polling shows Americans feel slightly more sympathy toward Israel than Palestine,” explained Robert Collins, professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard University in New Orleans. “But it’s not an overwhelming difference, and there are a lot of undecideds and people who are unsure.” A poll conducted from November 25-27 by The Economist/YouGov shows 38% of Americans sympathizing with Israelis while 11% of respondents sided with Palestinians. Twenty-eight percent said they were equally sympathetic to both sides, while 23% said they weren’t sure.  That indecision, Collins said, is rooted in the conflict’s complexity. “Foreign wars are far more complicated to wrap one’s head around than domestic policy,” he told VOA. “Because of the fog of war, we’re limited in what information we can get, and even much of that turns out to be false a day or two later.” Though more than half of survey respondents didn’t choose a side, many who did have strong feelings. “Of course I’m on Israel’s side,” said Indiana lawyer Jeff Williams. “They’ve allowed the Palestinians and Hamas to live peacefully next door until being invaded and attacked, and having their residents raped and murdered. Israel has the right to respond in defense.” Displaced in their own homeland That same sureness is present in many of those who sympathize with Palestinians. Brooklyn Birdie is a Louisiana graduate student.  “As the mother of a son who is part Palestinian, I feel morally obligated to speak up for those in Gaza who are being wrongfully murdered, beaten, kidnapped and arrested by Israel for simply existing,” she said. “How so many Americans support those perpetrating these horrors is beyond me.” Rachel Lacombe manages a Pennsylvania affordable housing nonprofit. She says she grieves for the Israeli citizens killed in the October 7 attack by Hamas. “But in my heart, my sympathy is for the Palestinian people who have had their homes stolen for seven decades, displaced and forced into refugee camps on their own land since 1948 when Israel was founded,” she told VOA.  Lacombe says that is a difficult view to voice in America today.  “It’s been terrifying,” she said, “watching hundreds accused of antisemitism, losing their … “Gaza War Divides American Opinion”

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.  …

Pretrial Hearing Set for Former US Diplomat Accused of Spying for Cuba

A pretrial hearing for former U.S. diplomat Manuel Rocha is set for Wednesday. Rocha, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia, is accused of spying for Cuba since 1981. He was arrested Friday in Miami and charged with federal crimes, including acting as an illegal foreign agent and using a fraudulently obtained passport. The U.S. government said it will bring additional charges this week. Rocha on Monday had his initial court appearance, where he was represented by Jacqueline Arango, the co-chair of white-collar crimes and government investigations at Akerman law firm.  Rocha will remain in custody until Wednesday when he has a bond hearing in a Miami federal courtroom. Prosecutors have urged Chief Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres to keep Rocha detained.  The government is “still assessing the damage,” around Rocha’s spying, according to U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller. “We will in the coming days, weeks, months work with our partners in the intelligence community to assess any long-term national security implications for this matter,” Miller said. Authorities say Rocha’s activity was exposed after a series of undercover operations, which included meetings between the former U.S. State Department employee and an FBI agent, pretending to be a Cuban intelligence agent, in which Rocha revealed information about his status with the Cuban government. “This action exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said following the arrest. …