The Hindu Morning Digest: January 5, 2024

Families of victims of the explosions gather at the courtyard of a hospital in the city of Kerman, about 510 miles (820 kilometres) southeast of the capital Tehran, Iran, on Jan. 3, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

Eight Indian Navy veterans get 60 days to contest Qatar jail terms

Qatar has commuted death sentence for eight Indian Navy veterans and turned that into “varying quantum” of jail terms, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Thursday, putting out the official confirmation about the high-profile case regarding the men who were arrested by the Gulf country in August 2022. Addressing the weekly press briefing, MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said the legal team had been given 60 days to appeal against the jail terms.

Health Ministry seeks data on single women taking the Assisted Reproductive Technology route

The Union Health Ministry has sought data from all States and Union Territories on the total number of single women (divorcees/widows) and unmarried women who have successfully used Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) in order to assess the functioning of the ART Act, 2021. Fertility experts have welcomed the move, along with the inclusion of single women/unmarried women as a category.

INDIA bloc seat-sharing talks delayed as Congress panel presents State units’ wishlist to Kharge

With their INDIA bloc allies breathing down their neck to come up with a seat-sharing formula at the earliest, the Congress’ five-member National Alliance Committee on Thursday briefed Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on the consultations they held with the party’s State units, 12 days after their first meeting on December 23. 

Aadhaar enabled payment comprised 11% of financial frauds: I4C analysis

Aadhar Enabled Payment System (AePS) frauds were 11% of the cyber financial scams that had its origin in India in 2023, an analysis by the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) has said. Most of these were committed in Bihar and Jharkhand. Last year, the central government’s portal ( and 1930 helpline received 13,10,329 complaints regarding cyber enabled financial frauds. The AePS frauds included cloning of biometrics.

Trinamool needs the support of Congress more than the Congress needs them: Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury

West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury on Friday said that the Congress party was not going to beg for seats from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in the forthcoming General Election. The remarks come at a time when Congress MP from Malda Dakshin Abu Hashem Khan Chowdhury has said that a deal had been struck with the Trinamool on giving two seats to the Congress in the State. The Congress MP was referring to the Malda Dakshin and Behrampore Lok Sabha seats.

Congress holds first meeting of manifesto committee 

The first meeting of the Congress Manifesto Committee was held here on Thursday. It was presided over by Chairman P. Chidambaram and attended by other members of the committee, including Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramiah, Jairam Ramesh, T.S. Singh Deo, Anand Sharma, Shashi Tharoor and others. 

Election Commission tweaks rules for allocation of symbols to unrecognised political parties

The Election Commission of India on Thursday brought in new rules for allocation of symbols to Registered Unrecognised Political Parties (RUPPs), making it mandatory for them to furnish audited accounts of last three financial years, expenditure statements of last two elections, and the signature of the authorised office-bearer of the party along with the application form for symbols.

Iowa school shooting | One dead, five wounded at high school in Perry; suspect dead

A 17-year-old opened fire at a small-town Iowa high school on the first day of school after the winter break, killing a sixth-grader and wounding five others as students barricaded in offices and fled in panic. The suspect, a student at the school in Perry, died of what investigators believe is a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and at least one of the victims is a school administrator, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

Islamic State claims responsibility for Iran attack

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and first Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber vowed revenge on Thursday for explosions that killed at least 84 at a ceremony to commemorate top commander Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a U.S. drone in Iraq in 2020. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. Earlier, a senior official in U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said the blasts appeared to represent “a terrorist attack” of the type carried out in the past by Islamic State militants.

Myanmar’s military government pardons nearly 10,000 prisoners to mark Independence Day

Myanmar’s military government on Thursday pardoned nearly 10,000 prisoners to mark the 76th anniversary of gaining independence from Britain, but they apparently included just a small proportion of the thousands of political detainees jailed for opposing army rule.

Centre keen to expand ECGC cover to individual jewellery exporters

Union minister for Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal on Thursday said that the Centre was keen to expand the ECGC (Export Credit Guarantee Corporation) cover, now provided to banks towards the credit limits for exporters, to even individual exporters of gems and jewellery. He was speaking at the India International Jewellery Trade Show (IIJS) organised by the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council at Jio Centre in Mumbai.

India’s heavy digital footprint makes it more attractive to cybercrooks: experts

With a population of over 1.4 billion and a rapidly expanding economy, India’s digital footprint has made it an alluring target for cybercriminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities, warned a group of cyber-security providers. Data breaches would skyrocket in 2024, there would be continued acceleration in ransomware activities in addition to a surge in identity-based attacks resulting from increasing cloud adoption, and deepfakes would also pose a looming threat to the country’s cybersecurity this year, they cautioned.

IND vs SA second Test | Fiery Bumrah helps Team India break a Cape Town hoodoo

The final frontier will remain the final frontier for some more time, but India’s cricketers will head back home, their heads held high. They expectedly wrapped up the second Test with plenty of time to spare on Thursday to square the two-Test series 1-1. Aiden Markram scored a stunning hundred (106, 103b, 17×4, 2×6) on an incredibly challenging track where nobody else touched 50, but that could only delay the inevitable. India’s seven-wicket victory came in the second session on the second day. It was the team’s first-ever Test victory at the Newlands Cricket Ground.

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Morning Digest | Army officer injured in ‘grenade accident’ at a post in J&K’s Rajouri; supply copy of FIR to NewsClick founder, court tells Delhi Police, and more

Army says officer injured in ‘grenade accident’ at a post in J&K’s Rajouri

The Army on October 5 evening said one officer has been injured in a likely grenade accident at a post in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri sector. “The officer was evacuated and stable post initial treatment. Further investigation of the incident in progress,” the Army said in an official statement. 

Sikkim flash floods death toll mounts to 18; searches on for 98 missing people

The toll in the flash flood in Sikkim mounted to 18 on Thursday as Army and NDRF teams worked their way through slushy earth and fast flowing water in the Teesta river basin and downstream north Bengal for the second day in search of those who were swept away and are still missing, officials said. Ninety eight people, including 22 army personnel, remained missing after a cloudburst over Lhonak Lake in North Sikkim in the early hours of Wednesday triggered the flash flood, Chief Secretary V.B. Pathak said.

Supply copy of FIR to NewsClick founder, court tells Delhi Police

The Patiala House Court on Thursday allowed news portal NewsClick founder Prabir Purkayastha and its human resource head Amit Chakraborty to get a copy of the First Information Report (FIR) in the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) case filed against them by the Delhi Police. The police had opposed the application earlier in the day. Additional sessions judge Hardeep Kaur passed the order after hearing the counsel of the accused, Arshdeep Singh, and Additional Public Prosecutor Atul Srivastava.

Amit Shah suggests uniform anti-terrorism structure under NIA for all States 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said on Thursday that along with a ruthless approach, an uniform anti-terrorism structure should be established under the purview of National Investigation Agency (NIA) in all the States. Mr. Shah made the remarks at the inauguration of the two-day anti-terror conference organised by the NIA.

INDIA parties speak up for arrested AAP MP Sanjay Singh; Congress gives qualified support

The Congress has extended qualified support to Aam Aadmi Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, who was arrested on Wednesday by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with its money laundering probe linked to the Delhi excise policy case. Equating Mr. Singh’s arrest with that of Congress MLA Sukhpal Singh Khaira in Punjab, the party’s general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal said, “We cannot become those we oppose”. The remark was also a swipe at the AAP government in Punjab over the arrest of Mr. Khaira. 

IIT-Bombay ‘veg. table’ row | Dean says policy made by elected body, calls protest ‘provocative, insensitive’

As voices against the policy of a hostel canteen of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B), segregating certain tables for vegetarian food begin to grow louder within the campus, the Dean of Student Affairs (SA) on October 5 sent an email to all students and staff on the issue, the first from the administration on the controversy.

India, Canada in conversation on parity of diplomatic staff: MEA

India and Canada are in conversation about attaining “parity” in the diplomatic staff posted in each other’s missions, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday. During his weekly press briefing, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi reiterated India’s charge of Canadian “interference” in India’s internal affairs and indicated that India expects Canada to reduce the total number of its diplomats stationed here. 

India conveys concerns to U.S. over American envoy to Pakistan’s visit to Gilgit-Baltistan

India on Thursday said it raised its concerns with the U.S. over American envoy to Islamabad Donald Blome’s recent visit to Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and called on the world community to respect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi asserted that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.

Reports say dozens have been killed and wounded as drone strikes hit a Syrian military ceremony

A drone attack struck a packed graduation ceremony for military officers in the Syrian city of Homs on Thursday, killing and wounding dozens, including civilians and military personnel, reports said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack and the reports could not be independently confirmed.

EU Parliament decries ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Nagorno-Karabakh

EU lawmakers on Thursday accused Azerbaijan of carrying out “ethnic cleansing” against the Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, and urged the bloc to impose sanctions on Baku. Almost all of the 120,000-strong ethnic Armenia population has fled the breakaway region since Azerbaijan seized it back in a lightning offensive last month.

Chinese firm sold satellites for intelligence to Russia’s Wagner: contract

Russian mercenary group Wagner in 2022 signed a contract with a Chinese firm to acquire two satellites and use their images, aiding its intelligence work as the organisation sought to push Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a document seen by AFP. The contract was signed in November 2022, over half a year into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in which the Wagner group under its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin was playing a key role on the battlefield.

Musk’s X strips headlines from news links

Elon Musk’s social media platform X has stripped headlines from news articles shared by users, in a move likely to further worsen relations with media groups. The tycoon has long railed against the “legacy media” and claims X, formerly Twitter, is a better source of information. However, he said the latest change was for “aesthetic” reasons — news and other links now appear only as pictures with no accompanying text.

Political stability, policy consistency needed to ensure Indian economy’s growth to world’s third-largest: FM

Taking on critics who argue that India will become the world’s third largest economy in a few years with or without government intervention, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that political stability and policy consistency was essential for the prospect to turn into a reality, especially in a world marred by unprecedented volatility. 

Lower prices for tomatoes, chillis and LPG may have pulled food inflation down last month

Retail food inflation may have eased in September, thanks to cooling tomato prices and a reduction in LPG cylinder prices, even as onion prices rose further during the month, a CRISIL study on food plate costs suggested. Retail inflation had eased to 6.83% in August from a 15-month high of 7.44% in July, but food price inflation stood at about 10%.

SEBI to tell court Adani inquiry began 2014, but hit dead end: sources

Markets regulator SEBI will tell the Supreme Court why it paused, then restarted investigations into the Adani Group after a tip in 2014 amid questions around regulatory delays, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. SEBI will say for the first time that India’s customs authority alerted it to an alleged misuse of offshore funds by Adani Group companies in 2014 but that the initial investigation did not yield anything and was paused in 2017, the sources said.

Asian Games | Indian compound archery teams’ domination complete

With the scores tied at 200 each, Indian archers needed to hit three perfect 10s in a row to stay alive in the compound women’s team final at the Fuyang Arena. First, Parneet Kaur hit a 10 before Aditi Swami and Jyothi Surekha followed suit with 10s to put the pressure back on Chinese Taipei. Taipei slipped up with the first arrow which assured India’s gold medal and it won 230-229 Later, the trio of Abhishek Verma, Ojas Pravin Deotale and Prathamaesh Jawkar won the men’s team gold by beating South Korea 235-230 in the final.

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Morning Digest | G-20 nations arrive at consensus on issues of cultural heritage; videos of attack on Muslim child in U.P. taken down on X, and more

Videos of attack on Muslim child in U.P. taken down on X

The Union government moved to block online, the viral video of a Muslim child being attacked by his classmates, in Uttar Pradesh’s Mansurpur village. The Hindu on Friday identified at least three posts on X (formerly Twitter), that have been taken down in India; the posts remain available for X users in other countries. One posting of the video has over 900,000 views, with other posts having tens of thousands of views each. This is the second instance this month of videos showing attack on minorities being blocked on social media just as they were going viral.

G-20 nations arrive at consensus on issues of cultural heritage

The G-20 nations on August 26 arrived at a consensus on cultural issues such as the need to address the destruction of cultural heritage in situations of conflict, the curbing of illicit trafficking of artefacts, the restitution of cultural property and the need to protect living heritage, specially of indigenous people. However, there was no unanimity on “geopolitical issues” like the war in Ukraine. 

IAF banking on indigenous fighter aircraft to prevent numbers going below current level

The Indian Air Force (IAF) which has puts its weight behind the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is hoping for expedited deliveries and gearing up to place additional orders. The move is to arrest the IAF’s fighter strength falling further, from the current 31 squadrons, in the medium term. By 2030, the IAF would have 32 or 33 fighter squadrons and would have 35 or 36 fighter squadrons by 2040 if the indigenous fighters meet the induction timeline, a Defence official said.

Family alleges harassment by teachers after Dalit boy found dead in Rajasthan school

A 15-year-old student, studying in Class X of Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, was found dead in his classroom at Pragpura in Kotputli-Behror district of Rajasthan. Police have registered a case of murder after the Dalit student’s family alleged that two of his schoolteachers were harassing him with casteist slurs.

Gunman kills three, himself in racially motivated shooting – Jacksonville sheriff

A white man fatally shot three people inside a Jacksonville, Florida, Dollar General store on August 26 in a predominately Black neighborhood in an attack that the local sheriff called “racially motivated.” The shooter then killed himself. The shooting happened just before 2 p.m. at a Dollar General near Edward Waters University, a small historically Black university.

Gujarat power utility made ‘excess payment’ of ₹3,900 crore to Adani: Congress

Gujarat Congress president Shaktisinh Gohil accused the Gujarat government of favouring the Adani Group by making an “excess payment” of ₹3,900 crore to Adani Power between 2018 and 2023. A Gujarat government spokesman denied that there was any scam, and said payments were ongoing, and would be adjusted.

Student slap incident throws light on poor quality of schooling in rural Uttar Pradesh

Apart from the alleged communal slant in the video taken at a private school in Khubbapur village of Muzaffarnagar, where a Muslim boy was slapped by his classmates at the instigation of his class teacher, the incident tells a story of the state of primary education in rural Uttar Pradesh. As urban media descended on the village, it became an opportunity for the children to complain about the corporal punishment they face in schools on a daily basis. Irrespective of gender and age, each child had a story.

Waiting for India’s counter proposal on investment court system: EU Trade Commissioner

The European Union is waiting for India’s response to its proposal of an ‘investment court system’ as a forum for trade arbitration, a move which could give an impetus to the negotiations for the India-EU Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). Speaking to a select group of journalists on Saturday, the EU’s Executive Vice President and Commissioner for Trade Valdis Dombrovskis said that the EU remains the single largest trading market in the world despite a growing number of risk factors such as the war in Ukraine.

Madurai train coach fire | Identification of deceased very challenging for officials

Officials from Southern Railways, police and Madurai district administration struggled to identify the nine persons who were charred to death in a fire in the railway coach in Madurai junction. The authorities were confronted by more than one challenge. The foremost was that all the nine bodies were charred beyond recognition. Besides, officials here found it difficult in interacting with the survivors as language remained a big barrier.

India, Asian Development Bank to set up climate change and health hub in Delhi

Having bagged the first WHO Centre for Global Traditional Medicine, to be set up in Gujarat, India is now all set to open a climate change and health hub in the national capital in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The World Health Organisation (WHO) outpost in Jamnagar will aim to provide leadership on global health matters pertaining to traditional medicine; ensure the quality, safety, efficacy, accessibility, and rational use of traditional medicine; develop norms, standards, and guidelines in relevant technical areas; and develop tools and methodologies for data collection and analytics.

CJI stresses on gender equality and social inclusivity in law practice

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud while addressing the graduating students at the 31st convocation of the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru said, “As lawyers, we are keenly aware of society and its injustices. Our duty to practice and uphold constitutional values at every point in our lives is therefore greater than that of a common citizen. Yet, this incident shows some lawyers are violating the law, leave aside upholding constitutional values.” 

DGCA inspection finds lapses in Air India’s internal safety audits

A two-member inspection team of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has found lapses in internal safety audits of Air India and the regulator is probing the matter, according to officials. According to the inspection report submitted to the DGCA, the airline was supposed to carry out regular safety spot checks in various areas of operations such as cabin surveillance, cargo, ramp and load but during a random inspection of 13 safety points, the team found that the airline prepared false reports in all 13 cases.

Restitution of cultural property important: PM Modi

PM Modi flagged the importance of restitution of cultural property observing that everyone has a right to access and enjoy their cultural heritage. Addressing the G 20 Culture Ministers’ meeting, Mr. Modi said since 2014, India has brought back hundreds of such artefacts which showcase the glory of its ancient civilization. He said tangible heritage not only had material value, but is also the history and identity of a nation.

Indian men’s 4x400m relay team breaks Asian record, qualifies for World Championships final for first time

The Indian men’s 4x400m relay team shattered Asian record in a stunning race, clocking 2 minute 59.05 seconds to qualify for its maiden final round of the World Championships in Budapest. The Indian quartet of Muhammed Anas Yahiya, Amoj Jacob, Muhammed Ajmal Variyathodi and Rajesh Ramesh finished second in heat number one behind USA (2:58.47) to make it to the final to be held on Sunday.

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Turns Out ‘Hunter Biden’ Whistleblower Is Chinese Agent! And Arms Trader! Who Sold Iranian Oil! Oh Well!

Have we mentioned that House Intel Chair James Comer is full of shit? Like, more full of shit than a herd of constipated elephants? Oh, we say it a lot? Well, fair, because it’s totally true.

Okay, kids, get your Pepe Silvia stringboards out, because it’s time to play everyone’s favorite game, What The Fuck Are Republicans On About Now? Yeah, again. You know you love it!

Today’s topic: WHO OR WHAT IS GAL LUFT?

Okay, so you know how Comer and his band of dipshits have been hee-hawing for months about their top secret whistleblower? The one who can prove that Hunter Biden and Joe Biden took all the bribes from China? They couldn’t produce him because REASONS, and in May our pal Jamie took his big square head over to Fox to tell that big airhead Maria Bartiromo that his informant was lost.

“Well, unfortunately we can’t track down the informant. We are hopeful that the informant is still there. The whistleblower knows the informant, the whistleblower is very credible,” he told the credulous Fox host, who briefly demonstrated signs of mild skepticism, before reverting to form.

“Who in the White House is intimidating these people? Do you know?” she gasped.

I do know,” Comer assured her. “We’re saving that for a later time.”

Friends, that time is now. Because yesterday that “informant” outed himself, running to that bastion of good journalism, the New York Post, claiming to be on the run from the US government, bent on silencing him.

Gal Luft, a dual American-Israeli citizen, headed a “think tank” called the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in DC. In the video, Luft alleges that in the course of doing very serious thought leader stuff with a Chinese energy conglomerate known as CEFC, he discovered that Hunter Biden was also doing stuff with the company, but of the bad LOCK HER UP variety. He says that he blew the whistle last year to the FBI, after which he was indicted, made bail in Cyprus, and then went on the lam for his own safety.

Naturally Jamie Comer and his chaperone, Jim Jordan, raced to Fox to rehabilitate their guy.

To which the DOJ said “Bet!” and immediately unsealed the indictment against Luft.

Now, before we get into this document, let’s point out perhaps the most salient thing from a political standpoint: It was returned on November 1, 2022, i.e. before there was a Republican Congress. So the idea that the feds arrested this guy to head him off from talking to Congress is reeedonkulous. That investigation was in the works for a good long while, and a gander at the charges lets you know exactly why.

Luft is alleged to have conspired to traffic weapons and Iranian oil, in addition to violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). And while the weapons and oil may be more serious from a criminal perspective, Luft’s FARA scheme is most interesting politically.

Broadly speaking, Luft coordinated with Chinese agents to pay former CIA Director James Woolsey to author pro-China editorials in Chinese news outlets during the 2016 election and its aftermath. Woolsey was then an advisor to the Trump campaign, and when Trump won the election, Luft and his Chinese backers were ecstatic. Woolsey was also palling around with Mike Flynn at the time, and famously attended a meeting where Flynn pitched high-level Turkish government officials on a plan to black helicopter the Muslim cleric Fetullah Gülen (Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s archenemy) out of the US for the low-low price of $15 million. To his credit, Woolsey distanced himself from Flynn after that, but we can’t help but notice that Flynn also accepted money from a foreign government cutout to publish editorials under his own name advocating for warm relations between the US and another nation.

All the cool kids were doing it — at least the cool kids hanging around with Donald Trump.

Sorry for the extended flashback, but we can’t help but note that Trump, whose supporters have been screaming nonsense about Biden’s supposed ties to China, was being advised by a guy who was literally being paid by a Chinese agent to publish articles praising the CCP.

Here’s just a taste from the indictment (CC-1, or “co-conspirator 1,” is presumed to be Patrick Ho, who was sentenced in 2019 to three years in prison for bribing African officials in connection with his position at CEFC):

On or about November 12, 2016, CC-1 emailed GAL LUFT, the defendant, that “[e]ver since the publication of the articles of my ‘dialogue’ with [Woolsey] in Hong Kong and in the mainland, [he] is now a household name among the USA watchers in HK and in China. But I should think that he should hide for now, come to China on a silent trip first, then surface to speak out on Trump’s foreign policies just before his inauguration or thereafter. LUFT responded that “[w]e are debating about his role in the new admin. There are kinds of considerations … We should talk ftf as there can be a supremely unique opportunity for china.”

On or about November 13, 2016, GAL LUFT, the defendant, and CC-1 exchanged emails about the potential role of Individual-1 in the new presidential administration. LUFT reported that “[o]ur friend is now on the shortlist of the following: Sec Def[,] Sec homeland security[, and] Dir nat intel.” CC-1 replied that “[t]his side would like to see him assuming something with a ‘China’ profile. Of the three, S of D [i.e., Secretary of Defense] or DNI [i.e., Director of National Intelligence] would be good, esp the former.” LUFT wrote to CC-1 that “DNI is most likely,” and CC-1 responded later in the email chain that “may be you could reserve his ‘direct’ China link as the weapon of last resort.”

But instead of Woolsey becoming DNI, the job went to Mike Flynn — although Woolsey would presumably have been judicious enough to go away quietly and not come back four years later advocating for martial law and a coup.

Did your eyes glaze over when you read all that? Well, snap out of it, because that’s exactly what the Republicans were hoping would happen. Just check out Rep. Nancy Mace, the supposedly “moderate” one, shoveling horseshit into Maria’s ever open maw.

Luft didn’t get indicted because he tried to blow the whistle on Hunter Biden. He got indicted because he was wildly corrupt and because he made false statements about it to the FBI, including in March of 2019, during the very same interview in which Comer alleges that Luft blew the whistle on Hunter Biden.

And one more thing, since we’re all the way down this weird rabbit hole. From NBC, here’s what Hunter Biden’s lawyer Abbe Lowell has to say about a supposedly incriminating What’sApp message from Hunter Biden regarding his China deal that Luft gave to congressional Republicans:

Lowell writes that the screenshots of the message as tweeted by Smith, “both include a photo of Mr. Biden not from 2017 but from the White House Easter Egg roll in April 2022 (long after the purported message was sent); both images portray the message in a blue bubble, when WhatsApp messages are in green; one image super-imposed the Chinese flag for the contact ID, when surely that was not how a text or contact was kept; and one purports to be a screenshot with the ‘. . .’ of someone composing a text (as in Apple’s iMessage) when that does not happen on WhatsApp.”

He writes, “In short, the images you circulated online are complete fakes.”

In summary and in conclusion, COME THE FUCK ON.

Oh, and PS: You know that IRS whistleblower Comer and the chuckleheads are touting? He’s mad that the IRS didn’t chase this shit down harder.


[Bulwark / Insider / NBC / Indictment]

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Supreme Court Upholds Tribal Adoption Rights, What Horror Is This Leading Up To?

The US Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the law that gives Native American tribes preference in adoption and foster care cases involving Native children, rejecting the argument that it’s racist against white people. In a 7 to 2 decision, the Court let stand the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which Congress wrote to address concerns that Native kids were being taken away from their families, a legacy of the US government’s attempts to wipe out Native American tribes through forced assimilation. The ’70s were a crazy time, with the disco and the occasional congressional efforts to provide at least some justice for past discrimination.


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Under the ICWA, as Vox explainered, if a child is a member of a Native American tribe or even is eligible for membership, then any adoption or foster placement needs to give first preference to the child’s extended family, and then to another Native American family, ideally in their own tribe or if necessary another tribe.

The law aims to keep Native children within Native communities, after over a century of US attempts at genociding Native Americans and, for most of the 20th century, actively attempting to alienate people from their tribal identities — first by taking Native kids from their families to Indian schools that aimed to assimilate them into the dominant Anglo culture, and later by encouraging adoptions of Native kids by white parents.

(A quick note on language here: Federal law and court cases use the term “Indian,” which has very specific meanings in law, so at times we will too, even if in the wider culture it’s no longer the preferred nomenclature, Dude.)

The case, Haaland v. Brackeen, has been making its way through the federal courts for years. It involves a white Texas couple, Jennifer and Chad Brackeen, who in 2016 were appointed as foster parents of a 10-month-old boy whose birth parents were Navajo and Cherokee. God told the Brackeens they needed to adopt the boy, but they found themselves in a legal fight with the Navajo Nation. Eventually they did adopt the boy, but they also wanted to adopt his half-sister, and here we are at the Supreme Court, with the Brackeens and the state of Texas (and a few other plaintiffs) arguing that the 1978 law was unconstitutional because it was an illegal racial preference and discriminated against non-Indian parents, and that by superseding state family law courts, Congress had overreached.

Ultimately, though, the Court, in an opinion written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, rejected that claim, as the New York Times explains:

The tribes have said that they are political entities, not racial groups. Doing away with that distinction, which underpins tribal rights, they argued, could imperil nearly every aspect of Indian law and policy, including measures that govern access to land, water and gambling.

The majority dismissed the equal protection argument, saying that no party in the case had legal standing. Instead, the justices focused on Congress’s longstanding authority to make laws about tribes. […]

“Our cases leave little doubt that Congress’s power in this field is muscular, superseding both tribal and state authority,” Justice Barrett wrote, adding that its authority touched on subjects as varied as criminal defense, domestic violence, property law, employment and trade. She added, “The Constitution does not erect a firewall around family law.”

The two dissenting justices, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, each wrote their own dissents. Alito griped that the law focused too much on the tribes’ rights and not the right of the child to have the best family, which we presume was shorthand for a white family, because we’re just that mean. Thomas was his usual “government overreach, boo, hiss!” self, contending that the law wasn’t fair because some of the Native kids involved in adoptions regulated by the ICWA “may never have even set foot on Indian lands.”

Justice Neil Gorsuch, who’s been consistently friendly to Tribal interests in federal law, wrote a concurring opinion in which he said the majority opinion “safeguards the ability of tribal members to raise their children free from interference by state authorities and other outside parties.” Gorsuch explained that he agrees completely with the majority, but also wanted to provide “some historical context” with an overview of “how our founding document mediates between competing federal, state, and tribal claims of sovereignty.”

Here’s his introduction, which genuinely makes me want to read the rest this weekend.

The Indian Child Welfare Act did not emerge from a vacuum. It came as a direct response to the mass removal of Indian children from their families during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s by state officials and private parties. That practice, in turn, was only the latest iteration of a much older policy of removing Indian children from their families—one initially spearheaded by federal officials with the aid of their state counterparts nearly 150 years ago. In all its many forms, the dissolution of the Indian family has had devastating effects on children and parents alike. It has also presented an existential threat to the continued vitality of Tribes—something many federal and state officials over the years saw as a feature, not as a flaw. This is the story of ICWA.

Well yeah, that’s all impressively true, which led to a very reasonable question from “Southpaw” on Twitter: How the hell is it that Gorsuch is

so attuned to—and frankly eloquent at exposing—structural racism in Indian affairs, but so seemingly indifferent to it in other aspects of American life?

New Republic legal writer Matt Ford suggested that it comes down to Gorsuch’s weird originalism, pointing out that in his concurrence, Gorsuch writes,

Our Constitution reserves for the Tribes a place—an enduring place—in the structure of American life. It promises them sovereignty for as long as they wish to keep it. And it secures that promise by divesting States of authority over Indian affairs and by giving the federal government certain significant (but limited and enumerated) powers aimed at building a lasting peace.

Bummer for anyone else who’s faced systemic discrimination, though. You people should have found a way to get yourselves into the Constitution, and don’t you go saying “the 14th Amendment” because that’s not specific enough. He’s an odd one.

In a statement, President Joe Biden celebrated the Court’s decision, pointing out that he had supported the ICWA when he was in the Senate, he’s so old. Biden also did his own Critical Race Theory, noting that

Our Nation’s painful history looms large over today’s decision. In the not-so-distant past, Native children were stolen from the arms of the people who loved them. They were sent to boarding schools or to be raised by non-Indian families—all with the aim of erasing who they are as Native people and tribal citizens. These were acts of unspeakable cruelty that affected generations of Native children and threatened the very survival of Tribal Nations. The Indian Child Welfare Act was our Nation’s promise: never again.

So now all we have to do is worry what this pretty reasonable decision, combined with one that didn’t strike down the Voting Rights Act in its entirety last week, means for the next bunch of decisions coming from the Court, not that we’re cynical that way. Maybe it’ll decide not only to strike down Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, but also to eliminate student aid going forward because George Washington never got a student loan, now did he?

[AP / NYT / Vox / Haaland v. Brackeen / Photo: Jarek Tuszyński, Creative Commons License 3.0]

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Huzzay! Debt Ceiling Raised, Catastrophe Averted, Republicans And Joe Manchin :(

The Senate passed the debt limit bill last night, raising the ceiling on how much the government can borrow to pay for spending it’s already done, and thereby avoiding a default on the federal debt and the attendant economic disaster that would follow. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden, who will sign it today and is scheduled to address the nation this evening at 7 p.m. Eastern. We expect the speech will say something along the lines of, “Now look, for cryin’ out loud, we need to pay our bills, I mean it! None of this was necessary, and that’s why I’m invoking the 14th Amendment, I’m not joking, to make the Supreme Court rule on whether the debt limit law is even constitutional. What a load of malarkey, goodnight.”

Following the Senate vote last night, Biden actually said in a statement, “No one gets everything they want in a negotiation, but make no mistake: This bipartisan agreement is a big win for our economy and the American people,” which was far nicer.

The bill passed in the Senate on a 63 to 36 vote, enough to avoid a filibuster. Five members of the Democratic caucus — John Fetterman (Pennsylvania), Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Jeff Merkley (Oregon), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) voted nay. (They presumably would have voted for it if necessary.) The majority of Republicans, 31 of ’em, also voted against the bill albeit for very different reasons. Only 17 Republican senators voted for the bill. I’ll note that it was a rare thing for me to see both of Idaho’s senators, Mike Crapo and the other one, voting with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Before the vote, the Senate debated and rejected 11 amendments to the bill, including Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine’s amendment to yeet Joe Manchin’s pet methane pipeline project out of the bill (which Manchin had somehow sneaked into the House version) and into the sun. That was the only amendment offered by a Democrat; the others were Republican attempts to demand deeper cuts to domestic spending programs than in the House bill, to increase military spending even more than the House bill did, to Git Tougher on the border, and the like.

During floor debate, several Republicans fretted that without unlimited Pentagon spending, the Russians, Chinese, or Martians might try something sneaky, or that the US would be unable to support Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion (as far as we can tell, no Republicans rose to shout, “That’s the point!”). Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that the defense hawks needn’t worry, and that the debt ceiling bill

does nothing to limit the Senate’s ability to appropriate emergency supplemental funds to ensure our military capabilities are sufficient to deter China, Russia and our other adversaries, and respond to ongoing and growing national security threats, including Russia’s evil ongoing war of aggression against Ukraine.

Schumer added that the bill wouldn’t limit Congress’s ability to pass emergency funding for disaster relief or other needs, either, although he failed to note that Republicans would certainly whine about such expenditures unless their own states were affected.

All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the spending caps in the bill would reduce federal spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Reuters rather cheekily adds, “That is below the $3 trillion in deficit reduction, mainly through new taxes, that Biden proposed,” and we say good on you, Reuters.

Also, in a coda that gives us at least a satisfied smirk, Fox News reports that in an interview, Joe Manchin (D?-Methane) complained that Republicans were getting too much credit for his personal boondoggle in the bill, the fast-tracking of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The debt limit agreement forces an end to all regulatory and court challenges to Manchin’s pet project, which he has pushed since it was proposed in 2014, and by golly, Joe Manchin isn’t about to have any Republicans take the focus away from him and the ginormous favor he’s doing for the fossil-fuel industries (of which he’s not only the president, he’s also a client).

What’s the problem here? They’re afraid of who gets credit for it?” Manchin told Fox News Digital. “You know, what we said before — success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan. Well, I guarantee you, I was an orphan there for a long time because I was the only one on the front taking all the spears and everything, taking point on this.”

“But I’m happy to — everyone is happy — to share the success. I think everybody knows how this happened,” the West Virginia senator added. “I mean, my God, for the whole year I’ve had the living crap beat out of me, back and forth and everything.”

Now there’s a man who loves sharing the spotlight, as long as nobody else is right in the center. Manchin also whined that it really pissed him off something fierce that Republicans might get any credit (which he’s happy to share, but not) since it was his hard work and stubborn assholishness that won over or exhausted the White House in negotiations, and where were Republicans the other times he tried to ram through a bunch of fossil fuel projects, huh?

“It’s bulls— because they knew there was not going to be a problem on the Democratic Senate side or the Democrat president and his staff because they were the ones who supported it and got us 40 votes in the Senate when we voted,” Manchin said.

“It was the Republicans that killed us when we voted last time — only got seven votes. And the Republicans have always supported permitting. The only reason they wouldn’t support that is because of the Republicans being upset about the [Inflation Reduction Act]. That’s it. So it got caught in the politics.”

Still, you have to be impressed by the bipartisan outreach, calling Joe Biden a “Democrat president” just like the Fox News analyst he’s destined to become following his Senate career.

[CNBC / The Hill / Reuters / Fox News]

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Louisiana Wingnut Rep. Clay Higgins Bulldozes Protester. WHAR ASSAULT CHARGES?

Rightwing Republican congressman Clay Higgins of Louisiana — known around these parts as the ‘WHAR BOXES?’ guy, or simply WHAR BOXES — took it upon himself to play bouncer Wednesday when a young protester got a little too mouthy during a press conference being held by prominent House Wingnut Caucus members including Higgins, Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado), Paul Gosar DDS (R-Arizona) and others. (Higgins later tweeted that the presser was about the very real threat to US sovereignty posed by the World Health Organization, which is part of the UN One-World Communist Plot, which seems like indispensable context.)

The protester, law student and organizer/troublemaker Jake Burdett, 25, told the Daily Beast he’d actually been in DC for a Medicare for All rally led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), but when that was over, he saw the Freedom Caulkers setting up and decided to be a free speech pest, which is his right as an American citizen.

Spotting Gosar and Boebert, he decided to stick around. “I figured I’d ask them some tough questions,” he said. “Bird-dog them, whatever you want to call it.”

And indeed, as Burdett’s videos show, he was definitely heckling the rightwing dipshits, which may happen when politicians hold a “press conference” in public.

In the first video, Burdett shouts questions while Gosar is speaking, asking about his appearance at a confab held by neo-Nazi Nick Fuentes, and about that embarrassing campaign ad made by Gosar’s own siblings, urging people not to vote for him. As Freedom Cockups try to tell Burdett to leave, Higgins steps in to promise he’ll answer all Burdett’s questions later (about Gosar, sure!) if the young man will just stop recording and be quiet. Higgins does get right up in Burdett’s face to deliver that offer of help.

In the first video, Higgins fairly calmly introduces himself and says, “All I’m asking you to do is just peacefully stand by with your camera and I promise you — look at me — I’ll come talk to you straight up and answer all your questions. Fair enough?”

And yes, Burdett wanted to know how on earth Higgins would be in a position to know anything about Gosar’s very public embarrassment.

But Burdett hadda go and persist. While Boebert spoke, he asked her about her divorce, and asked her whether it was at all related to that time in 2017 when her restaurant customers got diarrhea from tainted pork sliders. Sure, it was a rude, nonsensical, pesky question. And goddamn it, it was also perfectly legal because this is America and we can ask rude stupid questions of our elected leaders in public, Crom bless our First Amendment!

And because we are indeed a nation of laws, our elected leaders are not allowed to assault us just for being annoying, although that’s what Higgins did. Here’s video from another angle, showing Higgins grabbing Burdett to eject him (nearly knocking over another person in the audience) and manhandling Burdett away from the speakers all the way to the sidewalk.

Burdett wasn’t harmed or arrested; he told the Daily Beast that he was questioned for about a half hour by Capitol Police and told he could go. But he was certainly none too happy that the Capitol Cops didn’t seem very interested in hearing him tell them he’d been assaulted by a member of Congress.

“It’s one thing for anybody to do that,” he said of Higgins’ behavior. “But for a sitting U.S. congressperson to think that that’s OK—it just shows an extra level of entitlement, that they feel they’re untouchable and the law doesn’t apply to them.”

For his part, Higgins, a former sheriff who loves to act the Tough Guy, later took to Twitter to lie about the encounter, claiming that Burdett was “a 103M” (police code for “disturbance by a mental person,” never mind the bad English usage) and insisting in an attached video that Burdett (an “agitator activist”) was “very disruptive and threatening, in violation of the law.”

Higgins gives himself credit in the video for having “successfully de-escalated the situation,” a phrase with which we’re certain the Inigo Montoya meme would take issue. He also claims that Burdett “aggressively disrupted” Boebert and “approached her in a threatening manner,” which just isn’t the case. He was rude and shouty, not threatening.

Say, is this a good place to mention that in 2007, Higgins, then in law enforcement, was accused of beating up an innocent bystander to an arrest, and then lying to Internal affairs to cover it up? The former cop also busted for helping with that alleged cover-up is now a congressional aide to Higgins. Higgins resigned before he could be punished for that incident.

Burdett told the Daily Beast that he’s now “evaluating my options” and that “if it looks like there is a strong case for assault and [there is] an attorney willing to take on the case, I am absolutely prepared to press charges.” On Twitter, when Burdett asked for any attorneys to tell him if they thought he had a case, civil rights attorney Andrew C. Laufer replied, “Yes, assault, battery, and a potential civil rights violation.”

Former US Attorney and current MSNBC legal commentator Joyce Vance was succinct: “Looks like an assault to me?”

[Daily Beast / Lafayette Daily Advertiser / Salon /]

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Biden’s reelection pitch that he can govern well faces daunting challenges with debt, border, more

A showdown with Congress that has the nation’s creditworthiness at stake; a frenzied scene at the border as pandemic restrictions ease; a pivotal foreign trip meant to sustain support for Ukraine and contain a more assertive China in the Indo-Pacific.

Three weeks since launching his re-election campaign, President Joe Biden is confronting a sweeping set of problems in his day job that defy easy solutions and are not entirely within his control.

If, as his advisers believe, the single best thing Biden can do for his reelection prospects is to govern well, then the coming weeks can pose a near-existential test of his path to a second term.

Economists warn that the country faces a debilitating recession — and worse — if Biden and lawmakers can’t agree on a path to raising the debt limit. Mr. Biden wants Congress to raise it without precondition, equating Republicans’ demands for spending cuts with ransom for the country’s full faith and credit.

The expiration of the COVID-19 public health emergency meant the end of special pandemic restrictions on migrant procedures on an already taxed U.S.-Mexico border.

His administration has responded with new policies to crack down on illegal crossings while opening legal pathways encouraging would-be migrants to stay put and apply online to come to the U.S.

But Mr. Biden himself has predicted a “chaotic” situation as the new procedures take effect.

These tests comes as Biden prepares to depart Washington on Wednesday for an eight-day trip to Japan, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Biden will try to marshal unity among Group of Seven leading democratic economies to maintain support for Ukraine as it prepares to launch a counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion, and to invigorate alliances in the face of China’s forceful regional moves.

Mr. Biden put his ability to solve problems at the core of his pitch to voters in 2020 and it is central to his argument for why, at 80, he’s best prepared for four more years in the White House.

“I’m more experienced than anybody that’s ever run for the office,” Mr. Biden told MSNBC this month. “And I think I’ve proven myself to be honourable as well as also effective.” Yet the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 undercut Mr. Biden’s image as an effective manager, sending his approval ratings sharply down and he’s still working to recover.

An April poll by The Associated Press-NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research found Biden’s job approval rating at 42 per cent, a slight improvement from 38 per cent in March.

The March poll came after a pair of bank failures rattled an already shaky confidence in the nation’s financial systems, and Mr. Biden’s approval rating then was near the lowest point of his presidency.

It also found that 26 per cent of Americans overall want to see Biden run again — a slight recovery from the 22 per cent who said that in January.

Forty-seven percent of Democrats say they want him to run, also up slightly from only 37 per cent who said that in January.

Aides note that Mr. Biden entered the White House when the country faced an array of even greater trials: the COVID-19 pandemic, an associated economic crisis and strained international alliances after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“President Biden continues to leverage his experience and judgment to fight for middle-class families and mainstream values, including by standing against congressional Republicans’ extreme MAGA threat to trigger a downturn” unless they get sweeping spending cuts, said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.

Mr. Biden said on Saturday it’s “hard to tell” how staff-level talks to avert a crisis on the debt limit will shake out. He plans to reconvene with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other congressional leaders before he heads overseas, but the White House has been firm that while Biden is open to considering spending cuts as part of the budget process, he won’t agree to them as a condition for raising the debt limit.

“There’s no deal to be had on the debt ceiling,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Friday. “There’s no negotiation to be had on the debt ceiling. This is something that Congress needs to do.”

U.S. officials are warning that the impasse threatens national security. Pentagon brass has already warned that it could hurt pay and benefits for troops and U.S. standing around the globe, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“It sends a horrible message to nations like Russia and China, who would love nothing more than to be able to point at this and say, See, the United States is not a reliable partner. The United States is not a stable leader of peace and security around the world,’” he said.

Mr. Biden also faces a key test at the southern border, where the transition away from Title 42 has been anything but simple. Migrants along the border were still wading into the Rio Grande to take their chances getting into the country, defying officials shouting for them to turn back.

Lawsuits have threatened measures to release migrants into the U.S. to avoid overcrowding in border patrol facilities as well as efforts to crack down on asylum seekers entering the country.

But the problem can’t be solved by the U.S. on its own.

“It is true that the Americas is, at the moment, going through an unprecedented displacement crisis,” said Olga Sarrado, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency.

The U.S. has increasingly seen migrants arrive at its Southern border who are from China, Ukraine, Haiti, Russia and other nations far from Latin America, and who are increasingly family groups and children travelling alone.

Thirty years ago, by contrast, illegal crossings were almost always single adults from Mexico who were easily returned back over the border.

Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are encountering more nearly 8,000 migrants per day, and the human toll of the challenge was driven home in recent days by the death of a 17-year-old boy in U.S. custody. An investigation continues.

“A decision from one single country is not going to fix the challenges,” Ms. Sarrado said. “And we cannot forget that these are human beings — many of them in need of international protection— and that we need to put them at the centre of any decision that is made.”

With just under 18 months to go until Election Day, it’s not a given that these issues will shape voters’ decisions, said Chapman University presidential historian Luke Nichter.

“There is a long time between now and November 2024,” he said. “I don’t think today’s issues matter a great deal since they won’t likely be the issues on the minds of voters more than a year from now.”

Jonathan Young, a Democratic donor who came to hear Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday in Atlanta, said Mr. Biden must navigate the current gauntlet with something to show the middle of the electorate, especially if Republicans nominate someone other than Trump.

“A rematch might go the same way, because Biden still isn’t Trump,” Young said, arguing that the former president makes any contest turn on personality more than policy.

But Young noted that Mr. Biden’s answer to Mr. Trump’s “big personality” in 2020 was to be almost deliberately boring and stubbornly competent. However Mr. Biden navigates the debt ceiling and immigration, Young said, he has to maintain an ability to credibly sell that image again as an incumbent.

“I think he’s great on the policy, and I think he’s usually great on the politics,” Young said of Biden. “He’s proven he can read the mood of the country really well.”

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Explained | What is the stalemate over the U.S. debt ceiling and what happens if the government defaults?

The story so far: United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress last week that the country could default on its debt as early as June 1, if the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and President Joe Biden’s White House did not reach a consensus to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. A default on its debt, something that has never happened before, could send shockwaves in global financial markets, increase borrowing costs for the U.S. and impact the dollar’s reputation as a reserve currency.

What is the U.S. debt ceiling?

When the federal government spends more than it brings in, in terms of taxes and other revenue, it runs up a budget deficit. Since 2001, this deficit has averaged $1 trillion annually. It then has to borrow money to meet its financial obligations, accruing debt. The government borrows tby creating and selling debt securities like bonds to U.S. investors and companies, banks, pension funds, foreign investors and countries. The largest part of these are owned by the U.S. federal government itself, which keeps the money for social security schemes, medicare, federal pensions and so on.

While the administration and Congress decide on taxation and spending, the collection of taxes and the borrowing of funds is done by U.S. Treasury Department. In 1917, Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act, to allow then-President Woodrow Wilson to take out funds for the First World War without waiting for the approvals of absent Congress lawmakers. However, curtailing the President’s spending capacity,the Congress created a limit on borrowing ($11.5 billion at the time), thus creating a debt ceiling that could only be raised by approval of the Congress (House and Senate).

The debt ceiling started to take its present-day form in 1939, when separate borrowing caps for bonds were consolidated into one debt ceiling, then set at $45 billion. The U.S. government has hit or come close to hitting the debt ceiling multiple times.According to Treasury Department figures, Congress has acted 78 separate times since 1960 either to permanently raise, temporarily extend, or revise the definition of the debt limit – 49 times under Republican presidents and 29 times under Democratic Presidents. The last such change was in 2021.

While the government continues to receive taxation revenue after hitting the debt ceiling, it cannot borrow any more to pay its existing bills. The U.S. hit its current debt limit of $31.4 trillion on January 19 this year, but the Treasury activated the “extraordinary measures” mechanism to allow the government to meetits obligations. These extraordinary measures are accounting adjustments within several government accounts that temporarily reduce the amount of U.S. Treasury securities issued to them. These actions include suspending new investments or redeeming existing investments early.

However, if the debt ceiling is not raised once the government exhausts extraordinary measures and runs out of cash, the U.S. would be unable to pay its debt-holders, resulting in a default.

Why have debt ceiling standoffs become a recurring issue?

For starters, the debt ceiling is not a “forward-looking” budgeting instrument, i.e. it does not reveal what potentially ideal levels of spending look like. First, Congress approves programmes for which it does not have the entire funding, and then there’s a limit on how much the Treasury can borrow to pay for these already approved programmes. Which is why economists have called it a “strange” instrument. Take this analogy, for instance: first Congress approves $100 of spending, $70 comes in from taxes but the cap on what the government can borrow to pay for the rest is fixed at a mere $15.

Only one other country apart from the U.S. has a set ceiling on borrowing— Denmark. However, Denmark’s debt ceiling is set several times higher than the country spends; in 2021, the debt of Denmark’s central government was just 14% of its ceiling, notes the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Another reason why disagreements overthe debt limit happen often, almost annually since 2011, is that it has become a political bargaining chip, as any raise or suspension has to be approved by Congress. As American politics becomes increasingly polarised, the Opposition has often used the debt limit as a way of getting budgetary and other legislative concessions. Sometimes, debt rate hikes have also been tied to the passing of certain bipartisan legislations. Reuters points out that Congress has often imposed conditions on these debt-ceiling hikes, or paired them with other tax and spending activity.

In 1957, Congress delayed a debt-ceiling hike to pressure the Pentagon to operate more efficiently, and in the early 70s, linked increases to expanded Social Security benefits. In 2018 and 2019, debt-ceiling was tied with broader bipartisan spending packages. However, debt ceiling decisions have not always been smooth, with the U.S. coming dangerously close to defaulting on its debt in 2011 when the Republicans and the Barack Obama administration could not reach an agreement t till the last minute. This was the first and the last time that rating firm S&P downgraded America’s prized ‘AAA’ credit ratings. The political gridlock led to a government shutdown, sent financial markets reeling, and caused a huge stock sell-off.

Observers have called the current impasse between House Republicans and the Biden administration even messier than in 2011. The Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy-led House passed a Bill that pairs a $4.8 trillion in spending cuts with an increase in the debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion. However, Mr. Biden said that he wants a clean debt-ceiling height and won’t negotiate any kind of spending cuts, resulting in the current deadlock.

Treasury Secretary Ms. Yellen and other economists suggest doing away with the debt ceiling, which once served a purpose but does not contribute to fiscal discipline anymore and leads to frequent political grandstanding, often at the risk of national and global financial stability.

What will happen if the U.S. defaults?

Analysts say there is no set post-default scenario since the U.S. has never actually defaulted on its debt before. They have warned, however, of a “catastrophic” situation for American and global financial markets. The New York Times notes that after the extraordinary measures get exhausted and cash with the treasury runs out, the government would be unable to pay its bills including military salaries, benefits to retirees, and interest and other payments it owes to bondholders. If the government cannot make interest payments to domestic and foreign investors who own its debt securities, it could plunge the globe into a financial crisis, say Wall Street experts.

The CFR points out that the “unthinkable” event of a U.S. default could lead to another downgrade of U.S. creditworthiness by agencies, large-scale job losses, weakening of the dollar, stock sell-offs, and a rise in the cost of borrowing for the U.S. government. It would also increase the national debt, in turn causing widespread interest rate hikes for business owners, mortgages, and other sectors. A drop in U.S. consumer confidence would translate to shocks in the financial market, tipping the economy into recession.

The creditworthiness or the confidence in the repayment ability of U.S. treasury securities has long strengthened demand for U.S. dollars and made it the world’s reserve currency, with more than half of the world’s foreign currency reserves held in U.S. dollars. A loss of confidence in the U.S. economy, resulting from default or even the uncertainty around it, could force investors to sell U.S. Treasury bonds, thus weakening the dollar. A sudden decrease in the currency’s value could domino across treasury markets as the value of these reserves drops.

What are the Republicans demanding in their package in exchange for a debt ceiling hike?

The legislation passed by the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives would suspend the U.S. debt limit till March 31, 2024, or until it increases by another $1.5 trillion, whichever comes first. The Bill would cut a wide range of government spending back to last year’s levels, amounting to a decrease of $4.8 trillion or about 9%. As per the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the plan could save roughly $3.2 trillion over the coming years and reduce the U.S. government’s borrowing costs by $547 billion over a period of 10 years. However, Mr. Biden is not willing to negotiate spending cuts affecting his plans to cancel student debt, or those reducing healthcare for the poor, tax revenue, or green initiatives, among other things.

While it is not certain how this would impact government operations, the Department of Transportation said that it would shut down 375 air-traffic control towers (affecting jobs) and the Department of Agriculture indicated that it could make it tougher for almost a million Americans to access federal food aid.

The legislation plans to cancel healthcare, infrastructure, rental aid and other funds remaining unspent from the $5.2 trillion approved by Congress in the last three years for COVID-19 relief. It would reverse President Biden’s effort to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt for some borrowers and hamper another plan to peg debt repayment to borrower income levels. It also aims to reverse legislation increasing the budget for the Internal Revenue Service, which was to be used for hiring more employees and technological advancements to augment tax revenue.

The Republican Bill would also tighten work requirements for participants in some government poverty alleviation programmes. For example, adults up to age 56 not having children receive health insurance through the Medicaid program covering low-income individuals. They would have to work at least 80 hours a month to take part in job training or community service.

While Mr. Biden has not met with Republican leaders including Mr. McCarthy since February, with the Treasury Secretary’s June 1 warning, the White House has called a meeting with top Congress leaders of both parties on May 9, to discuss the debt-ceiling issue.


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