court

'Face justice': New Yorkers ready for Trump criminal trial

BY GREGORY WALTON

  • "He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
  • Donald Trump made his name and fortune in New York, but supporters of the former president are thin on the ground in the city that never sleeps ahead of his historic trial that opens Monday. 
  • "He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
Donald Trump made his name and fortune in New York, but supporters of the former president are thin on the ground in the city that never sleeps ahead of his historic trial that opens Monday. 
"He has to face justice, right?" said Valmir Do Carmo, 30, a babysitter, as he walked his dogs on Court Street in the city's Brooklyn borough.
"He hasn't a lot of supporters in New York City though, but I'm confident, New York City... is very upfront, and I'm pretty sure justice is going to be made."
Trump has repeatedly claimed that he will be unable to get a fair trial in New York which leans Democratic in local and national elections, and because of the intense media scrutiny his cases have attracted.
Comic Stephen Colbert, who shoots his late night TV show in the city, joked this week that Trump was seeking "an impartial jury who knew nothing about the events in America over the last nine years." 
"I don't know if he'll get a fair trial, but whatever happens, he caused it on himself. Because everything he does, he likes to put it on the news or TV," said carer Alberto Vasquez, 45.
"Whether it's good or bad, he likes to get a lot of attention. So he did it to himself. Whatever the outcome is, he did it to himself."
Trump's past judicial appearances in New York have sparked spirited protests.
Demonstrators brandishing placards emblazoned with the words "lock him up!" have faced off against pro-Trump supporters, separated by large numbers of armed police.
New York's police department has promised a major deployment to ensure the trial passes off safely, with the force's head of intelligence John Hart calling it a "major challenge."
"New Yorkers are tough and we are not scared," said dog trainer Lee Cahill-Trebing, 36, on the prospect of Trump backers seeking to intimidate those opposed to the former president. 
"We will not be bullied out of taking him out of power or upholding the law. So yeah, bring it."
If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in jail on each of the 34 counts of falsifying business records.
He is accused over an alleged scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels so as not to doom his 2016 election.
The judge in the case, Juan Merchan, will begin to assemble a jury of 12 New Yorkers, with both the prosecution and defense able to challenge the panelists on impartiality grounds.
But not all New Yorkers are excited about the prospect of the former president, who made his name as a property developer and reality TV star in the city, potentially being jailed.
"I don't really think he should go to prison," said retiree Porter Bell, 83. "I think right now this country is just too divided."
Trump is no stranger to courtrooms in the city after his civil fraud trial which saw him handed a $355 million penalty -- which he is appealing -- and during his sex assault defamation case that saw a jury order him to pay $83 million.
gw/bjt

court

Trump hush money trial: the key players

BY GREGORY WALTON

  • Here are the key characters linked to the trial: - Donald Trump - Former president Trump's successful 2016 run for the White House is at the heart of the case.
  • Donald Trump will become the first former US president to face criminal trial Monday, a watershed moment for the country as November's presidential election approaches.
  • Here are the key characters linked to the trial: - Donald Trump - Former president Trump's successful 2016 run for the White House is at the heart of the case.
Donald Trump will become the first former US president to face criminal trial Monday, a watershed moment for the country as November's presidential election approaches.
The process to select the jury which will decide the case gets underway first, with a cast of key players expected in court as the case develops.
Here are the key characters linked to the trial:

Donald Trump

Former president Trump's successful 2016 run for the White House is at the heart of the case.
Prosecutors allege that as he closed in on victory in 2016, he paid $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to cover up an illicit sexual affair Trump had with her in 2006.
That in itself may not have been a crime.
But prosecutors allege that Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen then conspired to cover up the payments, illicitly concealing the transactions as legal payments in the Trump Organization's accounts.

Stormy Daniels

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claimed in an interview on 60 Minutes that they met at a celebrity golf tournament in Utah in 2006.
She says that they went to Trump's hotel room where they had sex, and the businessman suggested she appear on his hit TV show, "The Apprentice."
Trump denies this ever happened, setting up a possible clash between her and his attorneys as she is expected to testify.

Michael Cohen: a spurned insider

Donald Trump's former personal lawyer, who never denied his "pitbull" moniker, has become a sworn enemy of the former president and will be the prosecution's star witness. 
Michael Cohen paid the $130,000 to Stormy Daniels -- at Donald Trump's request, he insists -- and he has a federal conviction for the payment. 
He is expected to lay out the former president's alleged involvement to the jury, but the defense will portray him as unreliable as he was convicted of making false statements to the US Congress. 

The prosecutor: Alvin Bragg

A self-described "child of Harlem" who fell victim to heavy-handed NYPD tactics as a teen, Bragg went on to study at Harvard and in January 2022 became the first African-American Manhattan prosecutor. 
Elected on the Democratic ticket, he inherited the Trump case and was initially criticized for allegedly seeking to bury it -- before indicting the former president. 
Bragg led the prosecution at the Trump Organization tax fraud trial, which resulted in the group's first criminal conviction in 2022.

Judge Juan Merchan

Merchan is a respected magistrate in his 60s, the child of Colombian parents who relocated with him to the United States.
He has a reputation among other lawyers for being fair but firm, especially about the efficient conduct of proceedings in his court.
The case will not be heard on Wednesdays as Merchan will attend to his duties on Manhattan's Mental Health courts, modeled after the city's drug courts.
He has already drawn Trump's ire with the former president attacking the veteran judge for alleged bias.
Trump went on to accuse Merchan of being unable to assure a fair trial because his daughter worked for a campaign organization linked to the Democrats.
That prompted Merchan to expand a gag order, in place to prevent Trump attacking jurors and court staff, to include his own family.

Trump's lawyers

Donald Trump's attorneys, Susan Necheles and Todd Blanche, are a pair of seasoned lawyers, experienced in white-collar crime. 
Trained at Yale Law School and head of her own legal firm, Necheles is known to be particularly tough in cross-examination. 
Todd Blanche spent ten years as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan before launching his career as a lawyer. He left a prestigious New York law firm to devote himself to defending Trump. 
gw/tjj

politics

Market correction: Trump stock tumbles after buoyant debut

BY THOMAS URBAIN

  • Since entering  public markets on March 26, Trump Media and Technology Group has seen its market value plummet from around $11 billion to under $4.5 billion.
  • After a winning debut on Wall Street last month, Donald Trump's media group has suffered a bruising retreat, denting the Republican candidate's wealth as he faces legal challenges.
  • Since entering  public markets on March 26, Trump Media and Technology Group has seen its market value plummet from around $11 billion to under $4.5 billion.
After a winning debut on Wall Street last month, Donald Trump's media group has suffered a bruising retreat, denting the Republican candidate's wealth as he faces legal challenges.
Since entering  public markets on March 26, Trump Media and Technology Group has seen its market value plummet from around $11 billion to under $4.5 billion.
That's an unhappy reversal for the former White House inhabitant and current presidential candidate, who faces around a half billion dollars in civil court judgments if his appeals are unsuccessful.
Trump holds 57.3 percent of the company, which was successfully merged into a shell company known as Digital World Acquisition last month; equity owners in such transactions are typically required to hold the stock for six months before cashing out. 
TMTG's ticker is "DJT," Trump's initials. The company's principal asset is "Truth Social," the social media platform launched for the ex-president after he was kicked off Twitter and Facebook in 2021 in the wake of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Market watchers aren't quite sure what to make of the stock's trajectory.
"Nothing would surprise me about this stock's trading," said Matthew Kennedy, senior IPO Market strategist at Renaissance Capital. "It could jump to $100 or drop to $1 and I would be unfazed."
Though far below its peak valuation, TMTG's stock price is an anomaly in the sense that the company generated just $4 million in revenues in 2023 and lost $58 million, according to a securities filing.
"I can't think of any companies that currently have such a wide gap between revenue and market cap," Kennedy said.
To justify such a valuation, a company would normally be expected to produce significant growth and profitability in the near-future -- scenarios that are considered highly unlikely, if not impossible.
"It's very hard to tell any story that could justify a valuation, at today's price," said Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida.
"There's just no plausible story where that's going to be happening," Ritter said. "The media business has been on the decline. And with this company being so closely aligned with Donald Trump, he's not going to live forever."

True believers

Even so, TMTG maintains a valuation above a group of established companies that includes Goodyear and Shake Shack, a phenomenon market watchers struggle to explain.
"I'd say this is a meme stock," said Kennedy, alluding to GameStop and a handful of other equities that caught fire in early 2021 after being embraced by users of the Reddit platform.
"It's a combination of some short-term speculators, but ... there's also a committed number of retail investors who wanted to believe in the company, believe in the stock and weren't paying attention to valuations," Ritter said of the meme stock group, which also included movie theater chain AMC.
With speculators, the play is to benefit from a short-term positive move before selling and cashing out the gains.
Expecting "lots of volatility," one anonymous investor who bought low said on Reddit he "took those profits and rolled them into put options, because of how overvalued the stock was."
Some investors likely sold out after TMTG's securities filing revealed the paltry revenues. Others may fear a sudden sale by Trump of a huge number of shares to raise money.
But some holders are "buying with an ideological motivation where they wanted to show support," Ritter said.

Bet on 2nd term?

Most of the commentators on Reddit have come out swinging against TMTG.
"My dad says he wanted to buy into this for the long-term stability of his grandchildren, and I just had to laugh," said one person on Reddit
Kennedy calls TMTG a "unique stock" and sees one scenario where the investment could take off.
"While voters may have concerns over conflicts of interest, shareholders of DJT would no doubt benefit from a second Trump term, especially if he continues to use it as his official platform," Kennedy said.
"In fact, in a recent client note we called this stock a multi-billion dollar bet on a second Trump term."
tu-jmb/tjj

abortion

Trump 'wants to take America back to 1800s' on abortion: VP Harris

BY PAULA RAMON

  • Trump is on the back foot over the issue, stuck between crowing about his role in removing the nationwide right to abortion and urging states not to implement the kind of bans that are the obvious natural result.
  • Democrats came out swinging at Donald Trump on the divisive issue of abortion on Friday, blaming him for unpopular restrictions they said are turning back the clock on women's rights ahead of November's presidential election.
  • Trump is on the back foot over the issue, stuck between crowing about his role in removing the nationwide right to abortion and urging states not to implement the kind of bans that are the obvious natural result.
Democrats came out swinging at Donald Trump on the divisive issue of abortion on Friday, blaming him for unpopular restrictions they said are turning back the clock on women's rights ahead of November's presidential election.
Days after Arizona became the latest state to declare almost all abortions illegal, Vice President Kamala Harris told a rally the populist former president was the architect of the ban, and warned worse was to come if he wins the White House.
"Here's what a second Trump term looks like:  More bans, more suffering and less freedom," Harris told supporters in Tucson.
"Just like he did in Arizona, he basically wants to take America back to the 1800s.
"But we are not going to let that happen because here's the deal: This is 2024, not the 1800s. And we're not going back."
Harris was in the battleground southwestern state just days after its conservative supreme court rolled back reproductive rights to the Civil War era, saying an 1864 ban on abortion was valid.
The ruling, which rendered almost all pregnancy terminations illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest, made Arizona the latest state to severely limit the procedure.
It came after the US Supreme Court -- with a conservative majority thanks to three Trump appointments -- in 2022 overturned Roe v Wade, the decades-old federal guarantee of abortion rights.
While state-level bans are popular with the evangelical wing of the Republican Party and with some of their elected representatives, a majority of the electorate disapproves and has voted to enshrine rights even in conservative states like Kansas.
Harris's speech was part of a Democrat strategy to pin the bans on Trump, as they seek to drive support for his November opponent Joe Biden.
In the wake of the Arizona court ruling this week, the party is splashing a huge sum of money on an advertising campaign in the must-win state -- aimed at key Democratic target groups: young people, women and Latino voters.
They hope that this will help drive turnout and support for Biden, even as many polls show the 81-year-old trailing his populist predecessor.
"Overturning Roe was just the opening act of a larger strategy to take women's rights and freedoms," said Harris.
"Donald Trump hand-picked three members of the United States Supreme Court because he intended for them to overturn Roe, and as he intended they did.
"And now because of Donald Trump, more than 20 states in our nation have bans.
"Donald Trump is the architect of this health care crisis."
Trump is on the back foot over the issue, stuck between crowing about his role in removing the nationwide right to abortion and urging states not to implement the kind of bans that are the obvious natural result.
On Friday he again proudly boasted of his achievement, and insisted state-level laws were working.
"We don't need it any longer because we broke Roe v Wade," he told reporters when asked if he would sign a national ban on abortion.
"We gave it back to the states and...(it's) working the way it’s supposed to." 
But writing on his website earlier in the day, he urged Arizona to change its 160-year-old law.
"The Governor and the Arizona Legislature must use HEART, COMMON SENSE, and ACT IMMEDIATELY, to remedy what has happened," he wrote.
"Remember, it is now up to the States and the Good Will of those that represent THE PEOPLE. We must ideally have the three Exceptions for Rape, Incest, and Life of the Mother."
The message, which gave no indication of his preferred time limit on abortion, repeated untrue claims that his Democratic opponents support the execution of babies after birth.
hg/tjj

politics

Trump offers support to beleaguered House speaker

  • But despite Republicans and Democrats coming together in the Senate, Johnson has so far refused even to set a vote in the House.
  • Donald Trump on Friday threw a lifeline to embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, saying the Republican congressional leader is doing "a very good job."
  • But despite Republicans and Democrats coming together in the Senate, Johnson has so far refused even to set a vote in the House.
Donald Trump on Friday threw a lifeline to embattled House Speaker Mike Johnson, saying the Republican congressional leader is doing "a very good job."
Trump defended Johnson against a move by firebrand Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom Trump labeled as a friend, to call a vote for his ouster.
"It's not an easy situation for any speaker," Trump said, with Johnson standing near him at the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate. 
Johnson traveled to Florida on Friday to huddle with Trump in the latest sign of the hard-right presidential candidate's informal, yet undisputed leadership of the party.
After their meeting, the two declared concern about potential fraud in the November presidential election and touched on aid to Ukraine, an issue that has sent fissures through the Republican Party. 
On another issue dividing the party, Trump soft-pedaled his past support for abortion rights decades ago, saying he remolded the US Supreme Court as president, leading to the court's June 2022 overturning of the constitutional right to an abortion.
"We did something that everyone said couldn't be done," Trump said of the high court ruling overturning abortion protections.   
Trump was ejected from the White House in 2020 by Democrat Joe Biden and was shunned by most senior Republicans for his attempts to overturn the election result, culminating with a riot by his supporters through the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
But Trump has regained his political momentum on the right as he seeks a shock return to the presidency this November and he exercises a powerful grip in Congress -- notably steering the Republican blockage of US war aid to Ukraine.
Trump inched back on Ukraine Friday, saying he favored loans to Ukraine for its military defense rather than direct assistance. 
For Johnson, the trek from Washington to see Trump comes as he tries to save himself from a rebellion on the far-right of his party, which threatens to eject him from the speakership.
Johnson, a longtime Trump loyalist, is walking a tightrope as he tries to balance the demands from his party's relative moderates and the Democrats to pass bills, including the aid to embattled Ukraine.
The result so far has largely been paralysis in the House.
For Ukraine, the results have been dire, with ammunition-strapped forces increasingly unable to fend off Russian bombardments of the frontlines and civilian targets.
Biden has implored Congress to approve a bill worth $60 billion in war aid. But despite Republicans and Democrats coming together in the Senate, Johnson has so far refused even to set a vote in the House.
Johnson said he would soon put forth a bill stiffening requirements that potential voters prove their citizenship status before casting ballots.
"We cannot wait for widespread fraud to occur, especially when the threat of fraud is growing with every single illegal immigrant that crosses the border," he said.
cjc/bbk/sms/tjj/dw

court

Landmark Trump hush money criminal trial starts in New York Monday

BY GREGORY WALTON

  • - 'Very high' stakes - Trump's other three criminal cases -- centered on his alleged hoarding of top-secret documents in Florida after he left the White House and his involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election -- all face multiple delays.
  • Donald Trump becomes the first US ex-president to go on criminal trial Monday -- pushing the nation's legal and electoral systems to the limit less than seven months before Americans decide whether to return the scandal-plagued Republican to the White House.
  • - 'Very high' stakes - Trump's other three criminal cases -- centered on his alleged hoarding of top-secret documents in Florida after he left the White House and his involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election -- all face multiple delays.
Donald Trump becomes the first US ex-president to go on criminal trial Monday -- pushing the nation's legal and electoral systems to the limit less than seven months before Americans decide whether to return the scandal-plagued Republican to the White House.
Trump is accused of falsifying business records in a scheme to cover up an alleged sexual encounter with porn star Stormy Daniels so as not to doom his 2016 election campaign.
The so-called hush money affair is only one of four criminal cases hanging over Trump and it is arguably the least serious.
But the real prospect of Trump becoming a convicted felon -- and potentially facing jail time -- throws an astonishing wild card into an already unprecedented election in which the right-wing populist is running on dark vows of "vengeance" against Democratic President Joe Biden, who beat him in 2020.
Trump said Friday he would take the stand -- an unusual and often risky move for defendants.
"I'm testifying. I tell the truth. I mean, all I can do is tell the truth and the truth is there's no case," he told reporters.
But long before that's confirmed, the trial will start Monday with a likely lengthy and contentious process to select 12 jurors and their alternates.
The pool of more than 100 ordinary citizens convened by Judge Juan Merchan must answer a questionnaire including checks on whether they have been members of far-right groups, like the Proud Boys, which led a mob of Trump supporters in the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol to stop certification of Biden's election.
The actual charges, however, revolve around the nitty gritty of finance laws.
Trump is accused of illegally covering up remittances to his longtime attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who was using the funds to pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about the alleged sexual encounter in the final weeks of the 2016 election campaign.
A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March 2023 over the payments made to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, with the ex-president charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. 
He denies the charges and could use the trial, scheduled for up to two months, as a prominent platform to decry what he alleges is "lawfare" and election interference by his political opponents. Trump also claims that he will not get a fair trial in heavily Democratic New York.
However, the real estate magnate and longtime reality TV show star is using the limelight as an unlikely campaign boost -- touting himself as a victim and using  outrage among his supporters to fundraise.
Even if convicted, he would be able to appeal and would not be barred from continuing to run or even being elected president on November 5.

'Very high' stakes

Trump's other three criminal cases -- centered on his alleged hoarding of top-secret documents in Florida after he left the White House and his involvement in attempts to overturn the 2020 election -- all face multiple delays.
In the New York case, Trump has repeatedly failed to secure meaningful delays and Merchan has signaled he will run the trial with a firm hand.
Last week the judge extended an existing gag order, in place to prevent Trump from attacking those involved in the trial, widening it to cover family members of the judge and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, the lead prosecutor.
The expansion of the order came after Trump lashed out at Merchan and his daughter in a series of posts on Truth Social.
"The stakes are very high. Because Trump and his counsel have succeeded so far in kicking down the road the federal documents and election interference cases," said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias. "The hush money case may be the only case that is tried prior to the November federal elections."
In New York, where Trump has been a fixture for decades as an entrepreneur, celebrity playboy, politician and now criminal defendant, there is little sympathy.
"I don't know if he'll get a fair trial, but whatever happens... he did it to himself," said city resident Alberto Vasquez, 45.
gw/sms/dw

Biden

It's inflation, stupid: Biden faces renewed election threat

BY DANNY KEMP

  • "How inflation evolves between now and the presidential election could factor heavily in the outcome," said Ryan Sweet, chief US economist at Oxford Economics.
  • He wanted the US presidential election to be about "Bidenomics."
  • "How inflation evolves between now and the presidential election could factor heavily in the outcome," said Ryan Sweet, chief US economist at Oxford Economics.
He wanted the US presidential election to be about "Bidenomics." Instead, it risks being about "Bidenflation."
Joe Biden faces one of the biggest threats to his hopes of beating Donald Trump from rising prices that are hitting Americans in the wallet.
The cost of living is rising more quickly again, just when the 81-year-old Democrat thought he had put the issue behind him to get a clear run at November's vote.
Figures this week showed US consumer inflation accelerating to 3.5 percent in the year to March, the second straight month it has risen. Gas prices and rent contributed to half the rise. 
Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign famously said that "it's the economy, stupid", and 32 years later it appears that it inflation may be a deciding issue.
The Wall Street Journal called it Biden's "most stubborn political problem" while the Financial Times wondered if it could "sink Biden."
"How inflation evolves between now and the presidential election could factor heavily in the outcome," said Ryan Sweet, chief US economist at Oxford Economics.
The timing couldn’t be worse for Biden, coming just as his campaign seemed to be turning things around.
Recent polls showed him pulling back even with Trump, while the United States not only avoided a recession after the Covid pandemic but now shows the strongest growth of any major global economy.
Most importantly inflation -- which has dogged his administration since peaking at 9 percent in 2022 -- had been falling for months.

'Raging'

Biden's problem is that voters just aren't always feeling what the figures show to be a booming economy.
Big economic numbers don’t matter to Americans when they are hurting every time they fill up their cars with gas, struggle to feed their families when they go to the supermarket or wonder how they will pay the rent. 
Polls repeatedly show that despite concerns on democracy after Trump’s divisive presidency, voters still rate the real estate tycoon more highly on economic matters than Biden.
The latest inflation figures are hitting consumer confidence, according to a survey out Friday by the University of Michigan.
"There are some concerns that the inflation slowdown may have stalled," Joanne Hsu, who led the study, told AFP.
Biden sought to defend his record this week.
"We're better situated than we were when we took office, where inflation was skyrocketing," he said during a press conference with the visiting Japanese prime minister on Wednesday.
But Republicans have used it to attack, branding it "Bidenflation" in a riff on the "Bidenomics" tag that Biden has used to sell his policies.
"INFLATION is BACK—and RAGING!" Trump posted to his social media site, Truth Social.
Even allies are worried. 
Biden's former chief of staff, Ron Klain, criticized him for being "out there too much talking about bridges" and infrastructure instead of the fact that "eggs and milk are expensive," Politico reported.

Blame Trump?

The White House says Biden has done all he can to rein in inflation, pointing to a raft of plans to lower prices of drugs, health care and tackle so-called "shrinkflation" -- where, for example, candy bars shrink but cost the same.
"He talks about lowering costs almost every event," Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.
But inflation poses another problem as it delays a cut in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve, something homeowners with mortgages want to see.
Interest rates are currently at a 23-year high as the US central bank hopes that the high cost of borrowing will encourage consumers to save instead of spend, thereby reducing demand and bringing prices down.
Politically, Biden's best hope could be to use the same tactic that he has employed on other key issues -- attack Trump.
He blamed Trump on Wednesday for bequeathing high inflation -- even though figures actually rose during Biden's first year and a half in the wake of the Covid pandemic -- and said the Republican would make things worse if reelected.
"We have a plan to deal with it. Whereas the opposition, my opposition, talks about two things : they just want to cut taxes for the wealthy and raise taxes on other people," he said.
dk-aue/sms

abortion

Abortion in America: Democrats take gloves off as Harris hits Arizona

BY SéBASTIEN VUAGNAT

  • "Donald Trump is the architect of this health-care crisis. 
  • Democrats were set to hammer Donald Trump on the divisive issue of abortion Friday, calling him the "architect" of a US healthcare crisis, as the party sees an opening with voters ahead of the November presidential election.
  • "Donald Trump is the architect of this health-care crisis. 
Democrats were set to hammer Donald Trump on the divisive issue of abortion Friday, calling him the "architect" of a US healthcare crisis, as the party sees an opening with voters ahead of the November presidential election.
Vice President Kamala Harris was due to campaign in the battleground of Arizona just days after that southwestern state's conservative supreme court rolled back reproductive rights to the Civil War era, saying an 1864 ban on abortion was valid.
The ruling, which rendered almost all pregnancy terminations illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest, made Arizona the latest state to severely limit the procedure.
It came after the US Supreme Court -- with a conservative majority thanks to three Trump appointments -- in 2022 overturned Roe v Wade, the decades-old federal guarantee of abortion rights.
"We all must understand who is to blame," Harris was expected to say at a campaign event in Tucson.
"It is Donald Trump who, during his campaign in 2016, said women should be punished for seeking an abortion," she was to say.
"Donald Trump is the architect of this health-care crisis. And that’s not a fact he hides. In fact, he brags about it."

Election battleground

While a clear majority of Americans support abortion rights, many Republicans -- particularly religious conservatives -- see banning it across the United States as a top priority.
Since the US Supreme Court ruling in 2022, bans or tough restrictions have come into force in a number of conservative states.
But when the issue has been on the ballot, voters have sided with the right to choose -- even in typically "red" states like Kansas.
Democrats see the issue as a vote winner and are seeking to tie Trump, the de facto Republican Party presidential nominee, to the bans.
In the wake of the Arizona court ruling this week, the party is splashing a huge sum of money on an advertising campaign in the must-win state -- aimed at key Democratic target groups: young people, women and Latino voters.
They hope that this will help drive turnout and support for President Joe Biden in the November 5 election, even as many polls show the 81-year-old trailing his populist predecessor.
"If Donald Trump gets the chance, he will sign a national abortion ban," Harris will say in Tucson on Friday, according to Politico.
"How do we know? Look at his record. Congress tried to pass a national abortion ban before, in 2017, and then-President Trump endorsed it."
Meanwhile, Trump has sought to thread the needle, boasting to evangelicals of his role in overturning Roe v Wade, while lamenting that Arizona's ruling has gone "too far."
He took to capital letters on Friday to urge a law change in the state.
"The Governor and the Arizona Legislature must use HEART, COMMON SENSE, and ACT IMMEDIATELY, to remedy what has happened," he wrote on his social network Truth Social. 
"Remember, it is now up to the States and the Good Will of those that represent THE PEOPLE. We must ideally have the three Exceptions for Rape, Incest, and Life of the Mother."
The message, which gave no indication of his preferred time limit on abortion, repeated untrue claims that his Democrat opponents encourage the execution of babies.
hg/bjt

justice

US House okays renewal of controversial surveillance program

  • The Republican-controlled House voted to reauthorize a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, widely known as FISA, by a bipartisan vote of 273-147.
  • The US House of Representatives voted Friday to reauthorize an electronic urveillance program targeting foreigners, a practice officials say is critical to national security but criticized by opponents over concerns for American citizens' privacy.
  • The Republican-controlled House voted to reauthorize a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, widely known as FISA, by a bipartisan vote of 273-147.
The US House of Representatives voted Friday to reauthorize an electronic urveillance program targeting foreigners, a practice officials say is critical to national security but criticized by opponents over concerns for American citizens' privacy.
The Republican-controlled House voted to reauthorize a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, widely known as FISA, by a bipartisan vote of 273-147.
A part of the program known as Section 702 allows US intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of foreigners outside the United States. 
While it is meant to be used solely to spy on foreign citizens -- by monitoring email traffic and other communications -- Americans' messages can get pulled in if they are in conversation with the foreigners being surveilled.
Concerns over possible abuses had drawn strong opposition from some privacy-minded Republicans and progressive Democrats.
Renewal still requires approval by the Senate, where its prospects are not clear. If it fails there, it could lapse next Friday.
The vote in the House came over the vigorous opposition of former president Donald Trump, who hopes to defeat Democrat Joe Biden in the November election and return to the White House. 
In a post on his Truth Social platform this week he had urged lawmakers: "Kill FISA, it was illegally used against me, and many others. They spied on my campaign!!!" 
He apparently was referring to wiretap orders against a former Trump campaign aide obtained by the FBI in 2016 -- under a different section of FISA -- during its investigation of Russian influence on US elections. The FBI later said it had mishandled that matter.
In any case, Trump's online message this week appeared to have its desired effect, as a vote for renewal fell short on Wednesday.
But House Speaker Mike Johnson changed the terms of the program extension from five years to two, gaining needed support from some far-right Republicans.
Supporters say the program is absolutely vital to national security, and that safeguards are in place to ensure it is used only as intended.
A senior White House official in December urged Congress to renew the program, saying that with wars continuing in Gaza and Ukraine, and amid high tensions with China and a persistent threat of cyberattacks, it would be a dangerous time for "unilateral" disarmament.
cjc/bbk/des

Russia

US says China helping Moscow in biggest defense expansion since Soviet era

BY AURéLIA END

  • "Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
  • China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, US officials said Friday, stepping up public pressure as concerns rise over Ukraine.
  • "Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
China is helping Russia undertake its biggest military expansion since Soviet times, US officials said Friday, stepping up public pressure as concerns rise over Ukraine.
US officials are hoping the release of the intelligence will encourage European allies to press China, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz heads to Beijing this weekend and Group of Seven foreign ministers meet next week in Italy.
Unveiling US findings, officials said China was helping Russia on a range of areas including the joint production of drones, space-based capabilities and machine-tool exports vital for producing ballistic missiles.
China has been the key factor in revitalizing Russia's defense industrial base "which had otherwise suffered significant setbacks" since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"Russia is undertaking its most ambitious defense expansion since the Soviet era and on a faster timeline than we believed possible early on in this conflict," the official said.
"Our view is that one of the most game-changing moves available to us at this time to support Ukraine is to persuade the PRC to stop helping Russia reconstitute its military industrial base," the official said, referring to the People's Republic of China. 
"Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC inputs," he said.
US officials said that China provided more than 70 percent of the $900 million in machine tools -- likely used to build ballistic missiles -- imported in the last quarter of 2023 by Russia.
US officials also said that 90 percent of Russia's microelectronics imports -- used to produce missiles, tanks and aircraft -- came from China last year.

China walks fine line

The United States has repeatedly warned China against supporting Russia and both Chinese and US officials say Beijing has stopped short of directly providing weapons to Russia, which has turned to heavily sanctioned North Korea and Iran to replenish arms supply.
US officials believe that China, anxious after its Russian allies' early setbacks on the battlefield, has instead focused on sending material that ostensibly has non-military uses.
President Joe Biden's administration is hoping that European powers can make the difference in persuading China, which is facing economic headwinds and is sensitive about trade pressure.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to make the case on China's ties with Russia as he meets top diplomats of other industrial democracies at the G7 talks in Capri, Italy.
Blinken is also planning a visit in the coming weeks to China, on the heels of a trip by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
The administration hopes that such dialogue, including a recent telephone call between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, can help contain tensions between the world's two largest economies but US officials have stressed they will still press on concerns.
Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said this week that Europe's stability was the top interest historically of the United States and that it would hold China accountable if Russia makes gains.
Ukraine has suffered its first battlefield setbacks in months as its forces ration ammunition, with the United States failing to authorize new support due to a deadlock in the Republican-led House of Representatives.
aue-sct/dw

environment

Biden rule hikes fees for oil projects on public lands

  • "Let's be real: We need to get these oil companies off our public lands," said Evergreen Action's Mattea Mrkusic. 
  • Oil companies drilling on public lands must post larger bonds and pay higher royalties under a rule finalized Friday by the Biden administration.
  • "Let's be real: We need to get these oil companies off our public lands," said Evergreen Action's Mattea Mrkusic. 
Oil companies drilling on public lands must post larger bonds and pay higher royalties under a rule finalized Friday by the Biden administration.
The bonding requirements for development increased to $150,000 from $10,000, a level set in 1960 that no longer covers potential cleanup costs, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in a press release.
In another shift, the Department of the Interior lifted royalty rates for leases to 16.67 percent from the previous level of 12.5 percent.
The changes were described by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland as the most significant reform to the leasing program "in decades" but were criticized by petroleum interests.
They come as President Biden emphasizes the environment in his reelection campaign against former president Donald Trump, who has mocked climate change as an issue.
Friday's action finalizes the department's preliminary step taken in July 2023 that the Biden administration described as part of a "transition to a clean energy economy."
"Our public lands are owned by all Americans, and the Bureau of Land Management remains committed to managing them in a balanced, responsible way," said BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning.
"This rule will help protect critical wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and recreational values, and it will ensure a fair return for American taxpayers."
Petroleum industry officials are reviewing the rule "to ensure the Biden administration is upholding its responsibilities to the American taxpayers and promoting fair and consistent access to federal resources," said Holly Hopkins, vice president of upstream policy at the American Petroleum Institute.
API, which had raised objections to the proposal during a public comment period, released figures on the economic contribution of petroleum development on federal lands, citing some 170,000 jobs in five states.
"As energy demand continues to grow, oil and natural gas development on federal lands will be foundational for maintaining energy security, powering our economy and supporting state and local conservation efforts," Hopkins said. 
"Overly burdensome land management regulations will put this critical energy supply at risk," Hopkins added.
The environmental group Evergreen Action characterized the change as a "long overdue" step to boost biodiversity and the climate.
"Let's be real: We need to get these oil companies off our public lands," said Evergreen Action's Mattea Mrkusic. "But for now, we're glad they won't get to stiff the public while they keep using public resources."
But Gladys Delgadillo, a climate campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity, called on the Biden administration to go further.
"Updating oil and gas rules for federal lands without setting a timeline for phaseout is climate denial, pure and simple," said Delgadillo, who called for a complete shutdown of drilling on federal lands. 
"Public lands should be places for people to enjoy nature and wildlife to roam free, not hotspots for toxic pollution," Delgadillo said.
jmb/bjt

court

Five things to know about Donald Trump's first criminal trial

BY ANDREA BAMBINO

  • Prosecutors will show that the Trump camp has form covering up embarrassing affairs with money, based on two other similar payments.
  • Donald Trump goes on trial Monday for allegedly covering up hush money payments to hide affairs ahead of the 2016 presidential election which propelled him into the White House.
  • Prosecutors will show that the Trump camp has form covering up embarrassing affairs with money, based on two other similar payments.
Donald Trump goes on trial Monday for allegedly covering up hush money payments to hide affairs ahead of the 2016 presidential election which propelled him into the White House.
He will become the first former US president to go on criminal trial when jury selection begins next week.
Here are the key questions ahead of the landmark trial:

What is Trump accused of? 

As Trump closed in on victory in the 2016 presidential election, adult film star Stormy Daniels was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about an alleged 2006 sexual tryst with Trump.
The payments, made by Trump's lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, were revealed by The Wall Street Journal in January 2018.
Prosecutors have seized on the concealment of the payments as "legal fees" in the Trump Organization's accounts when Cohen was reimbursed as the heart of their case.
Prosecutors say Trump "concealed the reason for these payments... which clearly were paid in order to influence voters," former prosecutor Bennett Gershman, now a lecturer at Pace University, told AFP.
A New York grand jury indicted Trump in March 2023 over the payments made to Daniels -- whose real name is Stephanie Clifford -- with the ex-president charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records. The case is being heard in a state-level court.

What is the case for the defense?

When the scandal broke, then-president Trump denied any relationship with Daniels, insisting he knew nothing about the payment, eventually claiming it was to thwart attempted extortion. 
He pleaded not guilty and attacked the trial as a political witch hunt. 
Trump's lawyers will question the reliability of ally-turned-enemy Cohen's recall, and insist the case has no merit. 
Prosecutors will show that the Trump camp has form covering up embarrassing affairs with money, based on two other similar payments.
- Who will decide the case? -  
Trump's fate will be decided by twelve jurors, backed by six alternates, selected from a randomly chosen pool of Manhattan residents.
Each will be questioned about their view of Trump and their ability to remain impartial, with the defense, prosecution and the judge all able to bring challenges. The process could last up to two weeks.
Jurors, who must return a unanimous verdict, will remain anonymous for their protection.

Could Trump go to prison? 

Trump could theoretically be jailed if he is found guilty, with a prison sentence of up to four years for each of the 34 felony counts.
However, the judge has the discretion to impose just a fine, or alternative sentences including probation, acknowledging 77-year-old Trump's age and clean criminal history. 
Lack of remorse could go against him, but legal challenges to any sentence would likely delay sentencing. Conviction would not stop Trump's presidential run.

How long will the case last? 

The court says around six to eight weeks, with hearings scheduled every weekday except Wednesday meaning that, if guilty, sentencing could happen before the November polls.
A variety of legal challenges and maneuvers could delay that timeline, with Trump's lawyers stepping up their appeals and challenges in recent weeks, already securing a delay of the trial from March 25 to April 15.
Unlike other major trials like that of O.J. Simpson, who died on Thursday, Trump's will not be televised, according to New York State law.
arb-gw/sms

Philippines

Biden vows 'ironclad' defense of Philippines, Japan as China tensions mount

BY DANNY KEMP

  • After their meeting, the three leaders released a "Joint Vision Statement" late Thursday outlining a series of economic and defense cooperation initiatives, while slamming China's "dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea."
  • President Joe Biden made "ironclad" defense pledges to Japan and the Philippines on Thursday as he hosted his counterparts amid growing tensions with Beijing, whose actions the three leaders described as "dangerous and aggressive."
  • After their meeting, the three leaders released a "Joint Vision Statement" late Thursday outlining a series of economic and defense cooperation initiatives, while slamming China's "dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea."
President Joe Biden made "ironclad" defense pledges to Japan and the Philippines on Thursday as he hosted his counterparts amid growing tensions with Beijing, whose actions the three leaders described as "dangerous and aggressive."
Biden cemented the United States' security commitments in the South China Sea, as repeated confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels have stoked fears of wider conflict.
"Any attack on Philippine aircraft, vessels or armed forces in the South China Sea would invoke our mutual defense treaty," Biden said as he met Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House.
An increasingly assertive China claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines.
The tensions, combined with saber rattling over China's claims to the self-governing island of Taiwan, have prompted Biden to boost alliances in the region.

'Dangerous and aggressive'

As they met around a horseshoe-shaped wooden table in the grand East Room of the US presidential residence, the US, Japanese and Philippine leaders hailed the meeting as "historic."
Without mentioning China by name, they painted their alliance as a bedrock of peace and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region in contrast to authoritarian Beijing.
Marcos, seen as closer to Washington than his more China-leaning predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, said they shared an "unwavering commitment to the rules-based international order."
Kishida said that "multi-layered cooperation is essential" and that "today's meeting will make history."
After their meeting, the three leaders released a "Joint Vision Statement" late Thursday outlining a series of economic and defense cooperation initiatives, while slamming China's "dangerous and aggressive behavior in the South China Sea."
The statement said the three nations would conduct joint naval training and exercises along with partners such as Australia.
The United States has a mutual defense pact with Manila but there are fears it could be put to the test, with tensions becoming particularly acute around the Second Thomas Shoal, a remote reef in the Spratly Islands.
The joint statement said the three leaders expressed "serious concern" over China's "repeated obstruction of Philippine vessels' exercise of high seas freedom of navigation and the disruption of supply lines to Second Thomas Shoal, which constitute dangerous and destabilizing conduct."

'Self-doubt'

The joint summit came a day after Biden hosted a lavish state visit for Japan's Kishida during which he unveiled a historic upgrade in defense ties aimed at countering a resurgent China.
Kishida gave a joint address to Congress earlier Thursday in which he urged Americans to overcome "self-doubt" about their role as a global power.
This time directly warning of risks from the rise of China, Kishida said that Japan -- stripped of its right to a military after World War II -- was determined to do more to share responsibility with its ally the United States.
China hit back, saying the United States and Japan had "smeared" its reputation during Kishida's state visit.
Beijing foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Washington and Tokyo had "attacked China on Taiwan and maritime issues, grossly interfered in China's internal affairs, and seriously violated the basic norms governing international relations."
Japan and the Philippines are the latest Asia-Pacific allies to be hosted by Biden, who was joined by Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol at Camp David in August.
But Biden has also moved to manage tensions with China, holding a two-hour phone call with President Xi Jinping last week following a face-to-face meeting in San Francisco in November.
On Wednesday, Biden said the major upgrade in defense ties with Japan was "purely defensive" and "not aimed at any one nation or a threat to the region."
dk/des/bjt/caw

politics

Biden campaign pounces on Republican abortion controversy

BY BEN TURNER

  • "Your bodies and your decisions belong to you, not the government, not Donald Trump," Biden says in the ad, which will be aired in Arizona during popular shows including American Idol and Saturday Night Live this month.
  • President Joe Biden vowed to "fight like hell" for women's reproductive rights in a reelection ad Thursday, as his team pounced on the backlash to a Republican-backed decision all but outlawing abortion in the swing state of Arizona.
  • "Your bodies and your decisions belong to you, not the government, not Donald Trump," Biden says in the ad, which will be aired in Arizona during popular shows including American Idol and Saturday Night Live this month.
President Joe Biden vowed to "fight like hell" for women's reproductive rights in a reelection ad Thursday, as his team pounced on the backlash to a Republican-backed decision all but outlawing abortion in the swing state of Arizona.
"Your bodies and your decisions belong to you, not the government, not Donald Trump," Biden says in the ad, which will be aired in Arizona during popular shows including American Idol and Saturday Night Live this month.
Part of what the campaign said was a seven-figure media blitz, the ad is aimed at key Democratic target groups -- young people, women, and Latino voters.
Both sides consider abortion to be a key issue in November's election, with Democrats in particular hoping it will drive more voters to the polls as Trump's Republicans embrace sweeping restrictions on abortion across the nation.
"Because of Donald Trump, millions of women lost the fundamental freedom to control their own bodies, and now women's lives are in danger because of that," Biden says in the 30-second advert.
It was released two days after Arizona's Supreme Court ruled that a Civil War-era ban on nearly all abortions was enforceable.
The 1864 legislation outlaws the procedure unless it is done to save the life of the woman, with doctors successfully prosecuted under the law facing five years in prison.
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said she would not enforce the "unconscionable" ruling, which has a 14-day stay on enforcement to allow for legal challenges.
But Republican lawmakers in Arizona later blocked an attempt by state Democrats to overturn the ban.

Trump's ambiguity

With polls showing a majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, Biden's team has rallied around the issue to draw in key voters ahead of this year's tightly contested election.
The president has promised to reinstate Roe vs Wade, the half-century-old framework that established a national right to reproductive freedom, but which was overturned in a 2022 Supreme Court ruling.
The ruling was delivered after the court tilted sharply to the right thanks to three conservative justices nominated during Trump's 2017-2021 presidency.
Trump -- whose key voter base includes hard-right Evangelical Christians -- has frequently boasted of his role in delivering the end to Roe vs Wade. The ruling means that individual states can set their own laws on abortion, including imposing severe restrictions.
Amid signs that many voters are turned off by the right-wing anti-abortion movement, Trump has sent mixed signals. This week he angered some allies by saying Arizona's ruling went "too far."
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden's running mate and the campaign's most prominent voice on the abortion issue, is set to visit Arizona on Friday. 
bjt/sms

diplomacy

Japan PM asks US to overcome 'self-doubt'

BY SHAUN TANDON

  • The prime minister, who spent part of his childhood in New York City, read his address in fluent English, after speaking in Japanese at his news conference with Biden. 
  • Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday called on Americans to overcome their "self-doubt" as he offered a paean to US global leadership before a bitterly divided Congress.
  • The prime minister, who spent part of his childhood in New York City, read his address in fluent English, after speaking in Japanese at his news conference with Biden. 
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday called on Americans to overcome their "self-doubt" as he offered a paean to US global leadership before a bitterly divided Congress.
Warning of risks from the rise of China, Kishida said that Japan -- stripped of its right to a military after World War II -- was determined to do more to share responsibility with its ally, the United States.
"As we meet here today, I detect an undercurrent of self-doubt among some Americans about what your role in the world should be," Kishida told a joint session of the House of Representatives and Senate during a state visit to Washington.
"The international order that the US worked for generations to build is facing new challenges, challenges from those with values and principles very different from ours," Kishida said.
Kishida said he understood "the exhaustion of being the country that has upheld the international order almost single-handedly" but added: "The leadership of the United States is indispensable."
"Without US support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught from Moscow?" he asked.
"Without the presence of the United States, how long before the Indo-Pacific would face even harsher realities?"
In a veiled reference to China's pressure on Taiwan and elsewhere, Kishida said, "Ukraine of today may be the East Asia of tomorrow."
While he was careful not to touch on US domestic politics, Kishida's address comes amid a deadlock in Congress on approving billions of dollars in additional military aid to Ukraine, due to pressure from hard-right Republicans aligned with presidential contender Donald Trump.

China 'greatest challenge'

Kishida met Wednesday with President Joe Biden where they pledged to step up cooperation, including with new three-way air defenses involving the United States, Japan and Australia.
Sending a clear signal toward China, Kishida met again with Biden on Thursday for a three-way summit with President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, which has been on the receiving end of increasingly assertive Chinese moves in dispute-rife waters.
Kishida said that China's military moves "present an unprecedented, and the greatest, security challenge."
China's actions pose challenges "not only to the peace and security of Japan but to the peace and stability of the international community at large," he said.
Kishida's speech, from the dais where Biden delivered a raucous State of the Union address a month ago, marked a rare moment of bipartisan unity in Congress.
Lawmakers across party lines offered repeated standing ovations as Kishida reaffirmed support for Ukraine, warned of Chinese influence and highlighted Japanese investment in the United States. 
Kishida also welcomed in the gallery two astronauts -- one Japanese and one Japanese-American -- after Biden announced that a Japanese national would become the first non-American to set foot on the Moon.
The prime minister, who spent part of his childhood in New York City, read his address in fluent English, after speaking in Japanese at his news conference with Biden. 
In a feat that can elude foreign leaders visiting Washington, he successfully delivered several jokes, including mentioning how he watched the classic cartoon "The Flintstones" as a child in the Big Apple.
"I still miss that show, although I could never translate, 'Yabba Dabba Doo,'" he said, quoting Fred Flintstone's signature phrase.
Toasting Kishida afterwards at a luncheon at the State Department, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the speech may be "the first time that anyone speaking before a joint session has managed to reference 'The Flintstones.'"
sct/sst

Fed

US Fed's Barkin says recent inflation data 'not supportive' of case for rate cuts

BY JULIE CHABANAS

  • "But you've got to start with when does inflation start to make that case?"
  • The recent uptick in US inflation has weakened the case for the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates, a senior Fed policymaker told AFP on Thursday.
  • "But you've got to start with when does inflation start to make that case?"
The recent uptick in US inflation has weakened the case for the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates, a senior Fed policymaker told AFP on Thursday.
The Fed has lifted its benchmark lending rate to a 23-year high of between 5.25 percent and 5.50 percent as it looks to bring inflation back down to its long-term target of two percent with as little damage to the labor market as possible. 
While US consumer inflation has slowed significantly since peaking in 2022, it has crept higher in recent months, keeping markets guessing about when the Fed will implement its first rate cut, even as other indicators of US economic strength have remained resilient. 
"When we gain greater confidence that inflation is headed toward our target, then it'll be appropriate to ask whether it's not time to recalibrate the setting of monetary policy," Richmond Fed president Tom Barkin said in an interview.
"But you've got to start with when does inflation start to make that case?" he added. "And unfortunately, the last three months have not been supportive of that case. But we'll see."

'Coming under control'

Barkin is one of the 12 members of the Fed's rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) with a vote on setting US interest rates this year, and his words are closely scrutinized by traders looking to predict the direction of travel of US monetary policy. 
"I think, on the inflation side, we spent the last seven months of last year celebrating two percent inflation -- and we were right to do that," he said. 
"And what's happened over the last three months is we've seen elevated inflation, not nearly at the levels that it was at a year or two ago, but higher than our target," he added.
At its most recent meeting in March, FOMC policy makers penciled in three rate cuts in 2024. 
But since then, fresh data has fueled concerns that inflation is accelerating, causing traders to dial back and delay their rate cut forecasts.
"The markets, for reasons that I can understand, are very focused on 'Is it zero or one or two or three?' or whatever the number is," he said. 
"I'm more focused on, is inflation coming under control? And are rates having the impact you would hope that they would have on the economy in a way that brings inflation under control?" he added. 
At the March meeting, FOMC members also predicted that inflation wouldn't return to the Fed's two percent target before 2026, and that the interest rate would settle slightly higher over the long run than previously thought. 
"It wouldn't surprise me if it took a while," Barkin said when asked how quickly he thought inflation would settle at two percent. 

'We value our independence'

Futures traders currently see a high probability that the Fed will make its first interest rate cut in September this year,  according to data from the financial services firm CME Group.
Such a move would place the first cut just before November's presidential election, thrusting the independent US central bank into the middle of a fractious fight between President Joe Biden and his likely opponent, former president Donald Trump. 
The former president has repeatedly criticized the Fed, most recently on Wednesday, when he suggested on social media that it "will never be able to credibly lower interest rates, because they want to protect the worst President in the history of the United States!" 
Barkin would not be drawn on the timing of the first interest rate cut, and said he wanted the Fed to remain independent and focused on its dual mandate. 
"We value our independence very much," he said. 
"History has shown, and academic studies confirm, that the best thing for an economy is an independent central bank," he continued. 
"The number one way to keep your independence is to do a good job at your job," he added. "And our job is stable prices and maximum employment."
da/ia

justice

Trump's legal woes and his risky bet they will help his campaign

BY CAMILLE CAMDESSUS

  • The victim strategy has long borne fruit for Trump.
  • Donald Trump has turned being a victim into a central plank of his campaign, an electoral strategy that will be put to the test Monday in Manhattan during the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.
  • The victim strategy has long borne fruit for Trump.
Donald Trump has turned being a victim into a central plank of his campaign, an electoral strategy that will be put to the test Monday in Manhattan during the first ever criminal trial of a former US president.
The 77-year-old Republican candidate has repeatedly denounced the numerous legal actions against him as political witch hunts brought by Democrats to derail his chances of recapturing the White House in November.
Every day for months his campaign has sent supporters nearly a dozen emails and texts written in the billionaire's name, placing foremost emphasis on the criminal charges against him above all else.
The messages come with a simple ask -- donations of $24, $47, $500 or even $1,000 for his campaign.
The victim strategy has long borne fruit for Trump.
And it's one he no doubt hopes to employ Monday when he faces 34 counts for covering up pre-election hush money payments to hide an alleged sex scandal with adult film star Stormy Daniels.
For months Trump has raised millions of dollars relentlessly accusing Democrats, including President Joe Biden, of unfairly hounding him in court in what he calls a dishonest pursuit to "eliminate their leading opponent."
He's even hawked T-shirts, mugs and posters with his now famous mugshot on them, which sold like hotcakes.
But the financial windfall does not necessarily help his campaign.
"The problem is that the money he is raising is not going to buy campaign ads, help state parties organize registration or get out the vote efforts, or pay the costs of staging a rally," political scientist Lara Brown told AFP.
The money is "going to his attorneys to help him continue delaying his trials."
With every legal twist, Trump is spending astronomical sums on legal fees: In February alone, he drained $5.6 million from the coffers of his Save America political action committee to cover such expenses.

'Victim ploy'

There is little doubt Trump will use his New York court appearances as part of his campaign, but will his diatribes have the same effect when interspersed with prosecutors' accusations?
Apart from his most loyal supporters, "the majority of Americans don't believe Trump's victim ploy," Brown told AFP. 
The biggest risk for Trump's campaign remains a guilty verdict rendered before the November election.
Polls show that Trump's support would crumble if he were convicted, particularly among moderate Republicans and independent voters, whose support he will need if he is to beat Biden.
In addition to the New York hush money case, Trump also faces charges in Washington of conspiring to overturn the 2020 election won by Biden. 
He is additionally up against racketeering charges in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the election in the southern state.
Finally, the former president also faces federal charges in Florida for allegedly refusing to give up top secret documents after leaving the White House.
With so many legal proceedings on the horizon it stands to reason there will be a verdict before the election -- but in which case, and favoring whom?
cjc/bfm/sco

conflict

Hamas leader says no change in truce position after sons killed

BY BELAL ALSABBAGH WITH FIACHRA GIBBONS IN JERUSALEM

  • Despite calls for a ceasefire, Israel carried out strikes early Thursday in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the south of the territory, witnesses said.
  • Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh insisted that the death of three of his sons in an Israeli air strike would not influence truce talks in Gaza, as bombardments on Thursday rocked the Palestinian territory.
  • Despite calls for a ceasefire, Israel carried out strikes early Thursday in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the south of the territory, witnesses said.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh insisted that the death of three of his sons in an Israeli air strike would not influence truce talks in Gaza, as bombardments on Thursday rocked the Palestinian territory.
Israel confirmed the killings, which came as talks in Cairo for a temporary ceasefire and hostage release deal drag on without signs of a breakthrough.
Speaking to Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera, Haniyeh suggested that the strike, which also killed four of his grandchildren, was an attempt to shift Hamas's negotiating stance.
"If they think that this will force Hamas to change its positions, they are delusional," he said.
US President Joe Biden said Hamas "needs to move" on the latest truce proposal, which the militant group has said it is studying.
Israel's main international ally the United States has also been ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a truce, increase the amount of aid flowing into the besieged Gaza Strip and abandon plans to invade the southern city of Rafah.
Biden labelled Netanyahu's handling of the war a "mistake" in an interview broadcast on Tuesday, before warning on Wednesday that Israel has not allowed enough aid into the territory.
Despite calls for a ceasefire, Israel carried out strikes early Thursday in the Gaza Strip, particularly in the south of the territory, witnesses said.
The war broke out with Hamas's October 7 attack against Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.
Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,482 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Hamas 'studying' truce

Talks mediated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar have been ongoing since Sunday.
Hamas spokesman in Doha Hossam Badran told AFP: "Hamas is studying the offer presented... It has not responded yet."
A framework being circulated would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.
Biden, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, said: "It's now up to Hamas, they need to move on the proposal that's been made". 
There has been a growing chorus of international criticism aimed at Israel's handling of the war and the paucity of aid entering the territory. 
On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warned that what he called Israel's "disproportionate response" in Gaza risked "destabilising the Middle East, and as a consequence, the entire world".
Spain is among several Western nations, including Ireland and Australia, to have suggested they would recognise a Palestinian state in the near future as a starting point for wider peace talks.

'Mistake'

Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz said that militarily "Hamas is defeated" but pledged to continue fighting "what remains of it", including in the years to come. 
He also echoed Netanyahu's vows to enter the southern city Rafah, despite growing international concern for the civilians there. "We will enter Rafah. We will return to Khan Yunis," he said.
More than 1.5 million civilians are sheltering from the war in Rafah, the last Gazan city yet to face an Israeli ground incursion.
The United States has repeatedly warned against an attack on Rafah.
Evidencing his growing frustration with the hawkish Netanyahu, Biden has issued some of his sternest criticism yet of the war.
"I think what he's doing is a mistake," Biden told the US network Univision in an interview that aired on Tuesday night.
He urged Netanyahu to "just call for a ceasefire, allow for the next six, eight weeks, total access to all food and medicine going into" Gaza.
Washington's tougher line on aid has brought some results, the US Agency for International Development said.
Recent days had seen a "sea change" in aid deliveries, said USAID administrator Samantha Power, although she insisted Israel needs to do more.
On Wednesday, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would "flood Gaza with aid", using a new crossing point on its northern border, streamlined checks and two new routes organised with Jordan. 
He said they expected to hit 500 aid trucks entering Gaza a day, which would match the average level of aid and commercial trucks reaching the territory before the war.

Iran threatens Israel

The war in Gaza has raised fears that conflict could engulf the wider region.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Israel on Wednesday that it "must be punished and will be punished" for a strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus last week that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz replied with a Persian-language post saying: "If Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack Iran".
In response to Iran's threats, Biden on Wednesday promised "ironclad" support to Israel.
"As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel's security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad," Biden said.
German airline Lufthansa on Wednesday announced it had suspended flights to and from Tehran, probably until Thursday, saying it was "due to the current situation in the Middle East".
burs-mca/lb

diplomacy

Spaceland: Biden woos Japan PM with Paul Simon and moonshots

BY DANNY KEMP

  • US-Japan "ties stretch up to the Moon where two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said during a press conference with Kishida.
  • When you want to impress guests, it helps to have Moon rockets and superstar singer-songwriters on call -- and US President Joe Biden has both.
  • US-Japan "ties stretch up to the Moon where two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said during a press conference with Kishida.
When you want to impress guests, it helps to have Moon rockets and superstar singer-songwriters on call -- and US President Joe Biden has both.
Biden pulled out all the stops as he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida for a gala state visit at the White House on Wednesday focused on countering a rising China.
As he sought to build a bridge over the troubled waters of Asia-Pacific geopolitics, Biden made a series of highly symbolic gestures for key ally Kishida.

Paul Simon

Legendary folk-rocker Paul Simon performed for the Kishidas after the state dinner, the latest in a series of iconic musicians to play for foreign leaders at the White House.
Wearing a black suit and tie but with his top button undone, the 82-year-old icon strummed his way through a series of hits, starting with his 1986 classic "Graceland."
The audience applauded Simon at the end of the song -- while movie star Robert De Niro could be seen trying to find a seat just before the gig in the State Dining Room.
The White House said First Lady Jill Biden chose Simon as a tribute because the Japanese premier shared her appreciation for the artist, who's also known for songs such as "Sound of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as part of a duo with Art Garfunkel.

 Lavish dinner

The Bidens treated Kishida, his wife Yuko and 200 other guests to a lavish state dinner in the gilt-trimmed East Room of the White House, featuring modern American cuisine with Japanese flavors.
For starters, there was house-cured salmon, avocados, red grapefruit, watermelon radish, cucumber and shiso leaf fritters -- all done in the style of a California roll sushi.
The main course was dry-aged rib eye steak with blistered shishito pepper butter and for dessert there's salted caramel pistachio cake with matcha ganache, cherry ice cream, raspberry drizzle -- with a garnish of cherry blossom petals.

  Fly me to the Moon

The two leaders were keen to show US-Japan relations soaring to new heights -- and nowhere was that clearer than Biden's announcement that a Japanese person will be the first non-American to walk on the Moon.
Under NASA's Artemis program, the United States has set a goal of returning humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972.
US-Japan "ties stretch up to the Moon where two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said during a press conference with Kishida.
Only 12 people have walked on the Moon, all of them Americans and all white men.

Star Trek

Kishida stuck to the theme in his toast for the state dinner, quoting the cult 1960s US television show Star Trek. 
"Let me conclude with a line from Star Trek, which you all know -- to boldly go where no one has gone before," he said, quoting the main title sequence to the show.
"I would like to propose a toast to our voyage to the frontier of the US-Japan relationship with these words -- boldly go!"
He also noted the Japanese heritage of star George Takei, who played crew member Hikaru Sulu.

Cherry blossom

Both Biden and Kishida went heavy on the symbolism of cherry blossoms, the evanescent springtime flowers beloved both by the Japanese and Washingtonians.
Japan sent over 3,000 cherry blossom trees to the United States just over a century ago and they still line the US capital's scenic Tidal Basin.
Tokyo will now send another 250 to replace some that are being chopped down in Washington as part of an embankment rehabilitation project.
"I am confident that the cherry blossom-like bond of the Japan-US alliance will continue to grow even bigger and stronger," Kishida said.
The tables for the state dinner also featured cherry blossom branches, among other flowers.
dk/caw

diplomacy

Japanese astronaut to be first non-American to set foot on Moon

BY LUCIE AUBOURG

  • "Two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said in a press conference with Kishida.
  • A lucky Japanese astronaut will become the first non-American to set foot on the Moon during one of NASA's upcoming Artemis missions, US President Joe Biden announced Wednesday.
  • "Two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said in a press conference with Kishida.
A lucky Japanese astronaut will become the first non-American to set foot on the Moon during one of NASA's upcoming Artemis missions, US President Joe Biden announced Wednesday.
The offer to Japan -- an opportunity many nations have long dreamed of -- came as part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's state visit, and as Washington seeks to strengthen ties with its key Asian ally.
"Two Japanese astronauts will join future American missions, and one will become the first non-American ever to land on the Moon," Biden said in a press conference with Kishida.
Kishida hailed the announcement as a "huge achievement" and announced that Japan would in return supply a rover for the program.
NASA's Artemis program seeks to return humans to the Moon for the first time in over 50 years, and to build a sustained lunar presence ahead of potential missions to Mars.
Between 1969 and 1972, the US Apollo program saw 12 Americans -- all white men -- walk on the Moon.
NASA previously announced that the Artemis program would see the first woman and the first person of color land on the Moon.
"America will no longer walk on the Moon alone," NASA chief Bill Nelson said in a video published on social media.
"Diplomacy is good for discovery. And discovery is good for diplomacy," he added.
The first mission to take astronauts to the lunar surface, Artemis 3, is planned for 2026. China meanwhile has said it seeks to put humans on the Moon by 2030.
Japan's space agency JAXA is "extremely happy" about the announcement, a spokesman told AFP.
"We will do our best to implement the agreement," including developing the rover for the program, he said.

Japan-US cooperation

Tokyo and Washington have worked together in the space sector for years, notably collaborating on operations at the International Space Station (ISS).
And this year, Japan became the fifth country to succeed in landing a spacecraft on the Moon, with its SLIM craft touching down in January.
In a joint media release, the United States and Japan clarified that a Japanese national would land on the Moon "assuming important benchmarks are achieved," without clarifying further.
The lunar rover provided by Japan in return will be pressurized, meaning astronauts can travel farther and work for longer periods on the lunar surface, according to the statement. 
It added that the pressurized rover will accommodate two astronauts in the "mobile habitat and laboratory" for up to 30 days as they explore the area near the lunar South Pole.
NASA currently plans to use the rover on the future Artemis 7 mission, followed by subsequent missions over a 10-year lifespan.

European contribution

The European Space Agency (ESA) has three seats reserved for future Artemis missions in exchange for technological contributions to the program.
However, it is still unclear whether European astronauts will have the chance to step foot on the Moon or just fly around it. 
Daniel Neuenschwander, director of human and robotic exploration at the ESA, said these details of the agreement with NASA were still "subject to further discussions."
Neuenschwander added in a phone interview with AFP on Wednesday that he could "perfectly understand" the cooperation between the United States and Japan, acknowledging "geostrategic" motives for the agreement.
The Artemis space program was inaugurated in 2022 with Artemis 1, which successfully flew an uncrewed vessel around the Moon.
Artemis 2 is planned for 2025 and will send four astronauts around the Moon without landing. The crew will consist of three Americans and a Canadian, who are currently in training.
The first crewed landing on the Moon will be Artemis 3, currently scheduled for 2026. NASA has not yet announced who will take part in the mission.
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