Congress votes to avert rail strike amid dire warnings
WASHINGTON (AP) — Legislation to avert what could have been an economically ruinous freight rail strike won final approval in Congress on Thursday as lawmakers responded quickly to President Joe Biden’s call for federal intervention in a long-running labor dispute.
The Senate passed a bill to bind rail companies and workers to a proposed settlement that was reached between the rail companies and union leaders in September. That settlement had been rejected by four of the 12 unions involved, creating the possibility of a strike beginning Dec. 9.
The Senate vote was 80-15. It came one day after the House voted to impose the agreement. The measure now goes to Biden’s desk for his signature.
“Congress’ decisive action ensures that we will avoid the impending, devastating economic consequences for workers, families, and communities across the country,” Biden said in a statement after the vote.
“Communities will maintain access to clean drinking water. Farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to bring food to market and feed their livestock. And hundreds of thousands of Americans in a number of industries will keep their jobs,” Biden said. “I will sign the bill into law as soon as Congress sends it to my desk.”
Trump probe: Court halts Mar-a-Lago special master review
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday ended an independent review of documents seized from former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate, removing a hurdle the Justice Department said had delayed its criminal investigation into the retention of top-secret government information.
The decision by the three-judge panel represents a significant win for federal prosecutors, clearing the way for them to use as part of their investigation the entire tranche of documents seized during an Aug. 8 FBI search of Mar-a-Lag o. It also amounts to a sharp repudiation of arguments by Trump’s lawyers, who for months had said that the former president was entitled to have a so-called “special master” conduct a neutral review of the thousands of documents taken from the property.
The ruling from the Atlanta-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit had been expected given the skeptical questions the judges directed at a Trump lawyer during arguments last week, and because two of the three judges on the panel had already ruled in favor of the Justice Department in an earlier dispute over the special master.
The special master litigation has played out alongside an ongoing investigation examining the potential criminal mishandling of national defense information as well as efforts to possibly obstruct that probe. Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed Jack Smith, a veteran public corruption prosecutor, to serve as special counsel overseeing that investigation.
It remains unclear how much longer the investigation will last, or who, if anyone, might be charged. But the probe has shown signs of intensifying, with investigators questioning multiple Trump associates about the documents and granting one key ally immunity to ensure his testimony before a federal grand jury. And the appeals court decision is likely to speed the investigation along by cutting short the outside review of the records.
Biden, Macron vow unity against Russia, discuss trade row
WASHINGTON (AP) — Presidents Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron vowed to maintain a united front against Russia on Thursday amid growing worries about waning support for Ukraine’s war effort in the U.S. and Europe. Biden also signaled he might be willing to tweak aspects of his signature climate legislation that have raised concerns with France and other European allies.
Biden was honoring Macron with a grand state dinner Thursday evening — the first of the U.S. president’s COVID-19 shadowed presidency for a foreign leader. But following up on Biden’s upbeat comments might not go as smoothly as that fancy affair. Republicans who are about to take control of the House have shown less willingness than Biden to spend billions on Ukraine, and Democratic lawmakers said Thursday they were not about to jump back into the climate legislation.
In fact, for all the positive statements, Macron’s visit to Washington has been tempered by his criticism of Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and the challenges both leaders face amid the mounting costs of keeping military and economic aid flowing to Kyiv with no end in sight for the Russian invasion.
Despite the differences, Biden and Macron sought to underscore that the U.S.-France alliance remains solid and that the West must hold steadfast against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
“Today, we reaffirm that, as I said, we’re going to stand together against this brutality,” Biden said. “Putin thinks that he can crush the will of all those who oppose his imperial ambitions by attacking civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, choking off energy to Europe to drive up prices, exacerbating the food crisis. That’s hurting very vulnerable people not just in Ukraine but around the world and he’s not going to succeed.”
Chinese users play cat-and-mouse with censors amid protests
HONG KONG (AP) — Videos of hundreds protesting in Shanghai started to appear on WeChat on Saturday night. Showing chants about removing COVID-19 restrictions and demanding freedom, they would stay up only a few minutes before being censored.
Elliot Wang, a 26-year-old in Beijing, was amazed.
“I started refreshing constantly, and saving videos, and taking screenshots of what I could before it got censored,” said Wang, who only agreed to be quoted using his English name, in fear of government retaliation. “A lot of my friends were sharing the videos of the protests in Shanghai. I shared them too, but they would get taken down quickly.”
That Wang was able to glimpse the extraordinary outpouring of grievances highlights the cat-and-mouse game that goes on between millions of Chinese internet users and the country’s gargantuan censorship machine.
Chinese authorities maintain a tight grip on the country’s internet via a complex, multi-layered censorship operation that blocks access to almost all foreign news and social media, and blocks topics and keywords considered politically sensitive or detrimental to the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. Videos of or calls to protest are usually deleted immediately.
EU edges closer to $60-per-barrel Russian oil price cap
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union was edging closer to setting a $60-per-barrel price cap on Russian oil — a highly anticipated and complex political and economic maneuver designed to keep Russia’s supplies flowing into global markets while clamping down on President Vladimir Putin’s ability to fund his war in Ukraine.
EU nations sought to push the cap across the finish line after Poland held out to get as low a figure as possible, diplomats said Thursday. “Still waiting for white smoke from Warsaw,” said an EU diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were still ongoing.
The latest offer, confirmed by 3 EU diplomats, comes ahead of a deadline to set the price for discounted oil by Monday, when a European embargo on seaborne Russian crude and a ban on shipping insurance for those supplies take effect. The diplomats also spoke on condition of anonymity because the legal process was still not completed.
The $60 figure would mean a cap near the current price of Russia’s crude, which fell this week below $60 per barrel, and is meant to prevent a sudden loss of Russian oil to the world following the new Western sanctions. It is a big discount to international benchmark Brent, which traded at about $87 per barrel Thursday, but could be high enough for Moscow to keep selling even while rejecting the idea of a cap.
When the final number is in place, a new buyer’s cartel — which is expected to be made up of formal and informal members — will be born. Western allies in the Group of Seven industrial powers led the price cap effort and still need to approve the figure.
AP’s top 2022 photos capture a planet bursting at the seams
Taken together, they can convey the feeling of a world convulsing — 150 Associated Press images from across 2022, showing the fragments that make up our lives and freezing in time the moments that somehow, these days, seem to pass faster than ever.
Here: a man recovering items from a burning shop in Ukraine after a Russia attack. Here: people thronging the residence of the Sri Lankan president after protesters stormed it demanding his resignation. Here: medical workers trying to identify victims of a bridge collapse in India. And here: flames engulfing a chair inside a burning home as wildfires sweep across Mariposa County, Calif.
As history in 2022 unfolded and the world lurched forward — or, it seemed sometimes, in other directions — Associated Press photographers were there to bring back unforgettable images. Through their lenses, across the moments and months, the presence of chaos can seem more encircling than ever.
A year’s worth of news images can also be clarifying. To see these photographs is to channel — at least a bit — the jumbled nature of the events that come at us, whether we are participating in them or, more likely, observing them from afar. Thus do 150 individual front-row seats to history and life translate into a message: While the world may surge with disorder, the thrum of daily life in all its beauty continues to unfold in the planet’s every corner.
There is grief: Three heart-shaped balloons fly at a memorial site outside the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed by a gunman.
High court to rule on Biden student loan cancellation plan
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide whether the Biden administration can broadly cancel student loans, keeping the program blocked for now but signaling a final answer by early summer.
That’s about two months before the newly extended pause on loan repayments is set to expire.
The administration had wanted a court order that would have allowed the program to take effect even as court challenges proceed. The justices didn’t do that, but agreed to the administration’s fallback, setting arguments for late February or early March over whether the program is legal.
President Joe Biden’s plan promises $10,000 in federal student debt forgiveness to those with incomes of less than $125,000, or households earning less than $250,000. Pell Grant recipients, who typically demonstrate more financial need, are eligible for an additional $10,000 in relief.
The Congressional Budget Office has said the program will cost about $400 billion over the next three decades.
Trump Organization tax case wraps up with closing arguments
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s company “cultivated a culture of fraud and deception” by lavishing luxe perks on executives and falsifying records to hide the compensation, a prosecutor told jurors Thursday during closing arguments at the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud trial.
Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Joshua Steinglass’ fiery summation followed defense arguments that sought to focus blame for the fraud on longtime company finance chief Allen Weisselberg, who has admitted scheming to avoid paying personal income taxes on a company-paid apartment, luxury cars and other goodies.
“Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg,” Trump Organization lawyer Michael Van der Veen said, punctuating his closing argument with the defense team’s mantra during the monthlong trial.
Steinglass pushed back when it was his turn, telling jurors: “Both halves of that sentence are wrong. It wasn’t just Weisselberg doing it and it wasn’t just Weisselberg who benefited.”
The Trump Organization, the entity through which the former president manages his real estate holdings and other ventures, is accused of helping Weisselberg and other executives avoid paying income taxes on company-paid perks.
Germany out of World Cup despite 4-2 win over Costa Rica
AL KHOR, Qatar (AP) — Germany was eliminated from the group stage of the World Cup for the second tournament in a row.
The four-time champions beat Costa Rica 4-2 Thursday but it wasn’t enough to reach the round of 16. Japan’s 2-1 victory over Spain in the other group game allowed both of those teams to advance instead, with the Japanese team finishing at the top of Group E.
“I was just in the changing room and as you can imagine, the disappointment is huge,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said.
Playing as defending champions at the last World Cup, Germany also was knocked out in the group stage.
Germany, which lost to Japan in its opening match in Qatar, needed help from the other match in order to advance with a victory at Al Bayt Stadium, but things didn’t go its way. If Spain had beaten Japan, the Germans would have finished second in the group.
Prayers? Bombs? Hawaii history shows stopping lava not easy
HONOLULU (AP) — Prayer. Bombs. Walls. Over the decades, people have tried all of them to stanch the flow of lava from Hawaii’s volcanoes as it lumbered toward roads, homes and infrastructure.
Now Mauna Loa — the world’s largest active volcano — is erupting again, and lava is slowly approaching a major thoroughfare connecting the Big Island’s east and west sides. And once more, people are asking if anything can be done to stop or divert the flow.
“It comes up every time there’s an eruption and there’s lava heading towards habited areas or highways. Some people say ‘Build a wall’ or ‘Board up’ and other people say, ‘No don’t!,’” said Scott Rowland, a geologist at the University of Hawaii.
Humans have rarely had much success stopping lava and, despite the world’s technological advances, doing so is still difficult and dependent on the force of the flow and the terrain. But many in Hawaii also question the wisdom of interfering with nature and Pele, the Hawaiian deity of volcanoes and fire.
Attempts to divert lava have a long history in Hawaii.