Sen. Kyrsten Sinema announced she’s leaving the Democratic Party and registering as an independent.

The reactions were mixed, with many questioning her motivations and wondering how her defection would impact the Democrats newly won 51-49 majority, and others criticized her as self-serving — but no one was especially surprised.

“Feels more like Sinema is announcing her Senate retirement early than a real change in party affiliation,” tweeted Bulwark columnist Amanda Carptenter. “We shall see.”

“Kyrsten Sinema, translated: Well this won’t be any fun at all now so I need to find some other thing that will make Me Me Me seem important,” wrote Kentucky-based columnist Teri Carter.

“Rather than risking a primary defeat, she’s created a scenario where if Democrats run a candidate in the 2024 general they risk throwing the race to the likes of Kari Lake,” said Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow for Media Matters for America.

“Lots of ifs with Sinema, a big one: if she runs for re-election, that will make it a three-way race next year with a Democrat & a Republican on the ticket who very well could be Kari Lake,” agreed NBC News correspondent Marc Caputo.

“Dems win a clear majority in the Senate and Sinema’s reaction is to leaves the party to continue taking hostages for big pharma,” said communications specialist Michael Starr Hopkins. “Sinema isn’t just a fraud, she’s what stupid people think an ‘independent looks like.’ I stand by everything I’ve ever said about her.”

“Don’t overthink Sen. Kyrsten Sinema switching from Democrat to Independent,” said former New York congressional candidate Melanie D’Arrigo. “She’s not driven by ideology. She’s driven by which corporations and lobbyists are giving her the most money — which makes her an elected mercenary, not an elected representative of the people.”

“Congratulations to Sen. Sinema, who can finally pursue her policy passions of and represent the vital interests she cares about, like [herself],” tweeted Ohio-based attorney Jesse Taylor.

“Sinema is blatantly power-hungry,” said radio executive Chris Lavoie. “When I lived in Tempe, she ran as a Green. Now she wants to convince Arizonans and the rest of the country that she’s a quirky maverick. She is none of that. Her vacillation shows that @SenatorSinema has no core values.”

“We knew @SenatorSinema wasn’t a Democrat a long time ago,” said New York business executive Mark Elliott. “Especially with this thumbs down move on raising the minimum wage. She’s up for election in 2024 (if she even runs).”

“Kyrsten Sinema is a predictable self-absorbed a-hole,” said activist John Hunigan. “No one is surprised she’s no longer a Dem. This has always been about self-promotion and $ for her.”

Reacting to breaking news that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is changing her party registration from Democrat to Independent, two CNN analysts suggested it was a ploy to main some of the power she had previously before the Democrats picked up a seat in the recent midterm elections.

Sitting down with “CNN This Morning”: hosts Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow, congressional correspondent Lauren Fox was asked about the bombshell announcement made by the Arizona sentaor who has been a thorn in the side of the Democrats in her first term.

After pointing out, “She has really acted independently, time after time,” Fox remarked, “I think the key question of course is where is she going to spend her time? Is she still going to caucus with Democrats?”

“Jake [Tapper] asked that question and it’s a key one, she skirted around it and it matters because of the balance of power in the U.S. Senate,” she added. “Is she going to continue to serve on her committees and Democrats are going to have the 51 vote advantage, that matters for subpoena power, for how the committees are made up.”

Analyst Audie Cornish interjected, “She’s being honest in nothing is going to change in the fact she was able to use her status as someone who is inclined to bring Republicans on board to elevate herself in any given discussion.”

“She, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, they’re able to have a transactional relationship with their own party and extract concessions that benefit them and their constituencies in their state,” she continued. “It’s not an accident she said Arizona voters half a dozen times and we know in Arizona there were a lot of ticket-splitters in the election. Whether or not she’s running in the future, it’s fair to say she’s trying to maintain the power that she has gained by making this move.”

Watch the entire discussion below:




CNN 12 09 2022 06 11 11

youtu.be

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa revealed on Friday that K-pop star TOP and DJ Steve Aoki will be among the eight crew members he plans to take on a trip around the moon as soon as next year, hitching a ride on one of Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets.

Maezawa bought every seat on the maiden lunar voyage, which has been in the works since 2018 and would follow his trip on a Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) for a 12-day stint last year.

The picks were announced by Maezawa on Twitter and at a website for what he dubbed the #dearMoon Project.

The fashion tycoon and his crew would become the first passengers on the SpaceX flyby of the moon as commercial firms, including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, usher in a new age of space travel for wealthy clients.

The mission aboard SpaceX’s Starship vehicle is scheduled to take eight days from launch to return to earth, including three days circling the moon, coming within 200 kilometres from the lunar surface. Though the flight was scheduled for 2023, it is facing delays due to ongoing tests of the spacecraft and its rockets.

Like fellow billionaire Musk, Maezawa has a flare for promotion and an infatuation with Twitter — he has boasted to holding the Guinness world record for the most retweeted post, when he offered a cash prize of 1 million yen ($7300) to 100 winners for retweeting it.

Maezawa used the micro-blogging site to recruit eight crew members from around the world to join him on the moon trip, saying 1 million people had applied.

TOP, the stage name of Choi Seung Hyun who broke out with the K-pop group Big Bang, is among the higher profile members selected, along with Aoki, a Japanese-American musician and DJ whose father founded the Benihana restaurant chain.

“I feel great pride and responsibility in becoming the first Korean civilian going to the moon,” TOP said in a video posted after the announcement.

Indian actor Dev Joshi was also among the picks for the group, comprised largely of artists and photographers. US Olympic snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington and Japanese dancer Miyu were named as backup crew members.

Maezawa, 47, flagged an update to the lunar expedition on Monday, tweeting he’d held an online meeting with Musk and was readying a “big announcement about space.”

Maezawa made his fortune founding the online fashion retailer Zozo Inc 3092.T, in which Softbank Group Corp’s 9984.T internet business is now the top shareholder.

(REUTERS)

In a dark auditorium in Reykjavik, bubbling orange lava flows down a slide to within inches of awe-struck visitors.

The flow, contained on both sides by black sand, lights up the room like a sunrise.

This is the Lava Show, Iceland’s latest tourist attraction, that uses reheated lava from a real eruption of the island’s Katla volcano more than 100 years ago.

The heat emanating from the molten rock is tangible, so much so that some of the spectators shuffle in their seats to remove their coats.

“This is the show where you get to experience real molten lava flowing inside of a building, intentionally,” the Lava Show’s Scottish host Iain MacKinnon joked.

The molten liquid sizzled as it hit blocks of ice, crackling like the sound of breaking glass as it cooled.

“It was really beautiful,” Jasmine Luong, a 28-year-old Australian tourist from Melbourne told AFP.

“I can see why a lot of people would be drawn to (an eruption), but obviously you wouldn’t be able to go near it in a normal natural setting,” she added.

“This is a lot safer.”

‘Wow effect’

There is the same “wow effect” that people get at an eruption site, MacKinnon said.

Hundreds of thousands of curious onlookers have flocked to watch the hypnotizing jets of lava at Iceland’s Mount Fagradalsfjall after two eruptions over the last year just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Reykjavik.

But not all Icelandic eruptions are safe.

While the lava used in the show retains a hint of sulphur, the dangerous toxic gases that normally emanate from an eruption have dissipated, since the rock has been reheated and melted down so many times.

More than 600 kilos (1,320 pounds) of tephra — the rocks ejected from Katla, one of Iceland’s most dangerous volcanoes, when it last erupted in 1918 — are used in the Lava Show.

“We heat that up to its melting point, which is around 1,100 degrees Celsius (2,000 Fahrenheit) and then we pour it into the room,” said the show’s founder Julius Jonsson.

In an adjoining room, a large furnace has been modified to suit the show’s needs.

Jonsson’s company has run a version of the production in the seafront village of Vik in south Iceland since 2018, but the Reykjavik show only opened last month.

He came up with the idea of a lava show when he was standing atop a glacier watching lava flow from Fimmvorduhals, a small eruption that preceded the massive Eyjafjallajokull one in 2010, whose ash cloud disrupted air traffic and stranded more than 10 million travelers.

Known as the land of fire and ice, Iceland has 33 volcanic systems currently considered active, the highest number in Europe. It has an eruption every five years on average.

“We thought it would be wonderful for Iceland if lava would always be flowing,” Jonsson said.

© 2022 AFP

The US dollar will bear two women’s signatures for the first time, belonging to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Treasurer Lynn Malerba, officials said Thursday as they unveiled the banknotes.

The notes are set for delivery to the Federal Reserve this month and will be in circulation starting 2023, according to the Treasury Department.

“This is the first time the signature of a woman Treasury Secretary will be on a US banknote. And the first time the signatures of two women will be on our currency,” said Yellen in a speech at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

“Today is not about me or a new signature on our currency. It’s about our collective work to create a stronger and more inclusive economy,” she added.

Currently, women represent about 62 percent of the Treasury workforce and hold positions of power, she said.

But much more needs to be done, Yellen added.

“I hope that today is a reminder of the road we’ve traveled on equity and inclusion. And I hope it motivates us to continue to move forward,” she said.

Malerba’s signature also marks the first time US currency will feature the signature of a Native American woman.

“This moment is history,” said Malerba.

The first such notes coming into circulation will be $1 and $5 bills.

“I’ll admit: I spent some quality time practicing my signature before submitting it,” Yellen said.

Former president Barack Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner “famously had to change his signature in order to make it legible,” she added.

Apart from the site in Texas, the only other greenback printing facility is in US capital Washington.

The Metropolitan Opera said Thursday that a cyberattack had prevented its website, box office and call center in NY from functioning.

The prestigious institution said its “network issues” had begun on Tuesday.

All performances are taking place as scheduled, the Met said, but new ticket orders, exchanges and refunds were not immediately possible.

The organization provided no explanation or details about the attack, and a spokesperson for the Manhattan-based company did not immediately respond to an AFP query.

The specialist outlet OperaWire, citing a letter to company members from General Manager Peter Gelb, said an investigation into the attack was ongoing.

“Unfortunately, we’ve experienced a cyberattack that has temporarily impacted our network systems,” the letter read.

“We launched an immediate investigation into the nature and scope of the incident. While web experts work to resolve the situation, our systems are down.”

Gelb said the Met was also temporarily unable to process paychecks.

Cyberattacks have plagued companies and governmental offices in the US and elsewhere for years.

The US House of Representatives on Thursday passed a mammoth national defense spending bill that includes tens of millions of dollars to help bolster cybersecurity efforts. The measure still requires Senate approval.

© Agence France-Presse

A former activist from the US religious right told Congress Thursday how he took advantage of the US Supreme Court’s lack of a code of ethics to conduct an intense lobbying campaign aimed at its conservative judges.

Pastor Robert Schenck, 64, detailed his efforts — which included prayers, dinners and trips — during a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee focused on the ethics rules, or lack thereof, for Supreme Court justices.

Unlike their colleagues in federal courts, or elected members of Congress, the nine Supreme Court justices do not have to disclose gifts given to them nor any meetings with lobbyists, and are not legally required to recuse themselves in the event of a conflict of interest.

Pastor Schenck said he took advantage of this vacuum to run a 20-year influence campaign called “Operation Higher Court.”

The stealth campaign “involved my recruitment of wealthy donors, as stealth missionaries, who befriended justices that shared our conservative social and religious sensibilities,” Schenk said, mentioning conservative Justices Samuel Alito and the late Antonin Scalia by name.

The aim was “to shore up their resolve to render solid, unapologetic opinions, particularly against abortion.”

Some of his “stealth missionaries” prayed with the judges, others invited them to dinner with their wives, even to their homes, and were invited back in turn by the justices, he said.

Unlike Congress, where the dollar value of gifts are limited, “we knew that there was a great deal of liberty and latitude there…it made our operation…much easier,” Schenck said.

He alleged that in 2014, during one of these dinners, Alito “leaked” to a couple the content of an upcoming decision on contraception.

Schenck had written over the summer to the court’s chief justice about the Alito incident, but the letter was not reported by US media until late November.

Alito and the dinner attendees have all denied the charge. During the hearing, Republican lawmakers accused Schenck of lying.

He insisted that he discovered late in life that politics corrupts religion, and now wanted to tell “the truth.”

Alito was the author of the June ruling that overturned the US nationwide right to abortion.

In a highly uncommon occurrence, that decision was leaked before its publication, causing shockwaves across the country.

A bill has passed a House committee that would increase the transparency requirements for US Supreme Court justices, but it is not expected to advance before Republicans take over control of the House in January, when it will likely be thrown out.

© Agence France-Presse

Britain’s media, the main focus of criticism so far in Netflix docuseries “Harry and Meghan”, on Friday hit back at the estranged prince and his wife, accusing them of lying and insulting Queen Elizabeth II.

The royal family was largely spared during the first three episodes of the show, which aired on Thursday, with the focus more on Harry’s early life and his resentment towards the media, which he blames for the death of his mother Diana.

But the prince did accuse the family of unconscious racial bias, and the royals will be braced for next week’s installment, which threatens more revelations.

The saga dominated Friday’s newspaper front pages, which were largely critical of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Harry and Meghan’s formal titles.

“Harry the Nasty” said the headline of popular tabloid the Sun, which added the couple had “trashed the Queen’s legacy”, left Harry’s father King Charles III and his brother Prince William in a “state of sadness” and unfairly tarnished the whole country as racist.

The paper, along with many others, picked up on one scene in which Meghan performed a melodramatic curtsey as she recalled meeting Queen Elizabeth II for the first time.

“How low can you go?” asked the tabloid, adding that “mocking Meghan exaggerated a curtsey to poke fun at the royals — and compared their traditions to a tacky US medieval chain”.

‘Lies’

The Daily Mail, the right-wing newspaper that has clashed most often with the couple, led with the headline “palace anger at ‘assault on the Queen’s legacy’,” and carried almost 20 pages of coverage on the show.

Inside, one commentator took issue with their claim that Brexit had fueled racism in the UK and contributed to their eventual split from the family, calling it “the most insulting distortion”.

Conservative MP Bob Seely said late Thursday that he plans to bring forward legislation to strip the couple of their royal titles.

“There is a political issue,” he said. “As well as trashing his family and monetizing his misery for public consumption, he is also attacking some important institutions in this country.”

The Mail also dedicated four pages to rebutting what it called the couple’s “fantasies and lies”, including their claims of an unrelentingly hostile media and stories about their first date and engagement.

It also claimed that the show had “cynically doctored” previous media interviews with the couple.

The broadsheets also dedicated their front pages to the show, with the centre-right Daily Telegraph also leading with the “‘direct hit’ on the queen’s legacy”.

The Times ran with the less polemic headline “Palace and Netflix clash over Sussexes soap opera”, although one commentator implored: “Please make it stop Netflix, I can’t take any more of this self-centered nonsense.”

The left-wing Guardian newspaper was more supportive of the couple, and focused on Prince Harry’s criticism that the royal family did not protect Meghan against racially charged reporting.

The centre-left Daily Mirror, which is generally less critical of the couple than its right-wing counterparts, slammed the show, calling on its front-page to “stop this royal circus”.

“Just two months after our Queen died, Prince Harry is bemoaning his treatment again… Prince William is venting his fury again… Meanwhile, thousands of ordinary Brits are choosing between eating and heating.”

© Agence France-Presse

For months, Russian forces have attacked the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut with frontal assaults, artillery barrages and air strikes in a stubborn battle for a settlement deemed strategically irrelevant by many observers.

Nonetheless, they have pushed forward.

As Russia continues to hurl what is left of its offensive power at entrenched Ukrainian positions in and around the city, experts have wondered whether the losses in manpower and equipment will match the potential prize.

“We are scratching our heads,” a Western official told AFP this week when asked about Russia’s focus on Bakhmut. “We don’t know the answer.”

With Ukrainian forces pressing forward with counteroffensives, Russian troops have largely dug in along the meandering front in an effort to hold the line as winter weather sets in.

Bakhmut, however, remains one of the few areas where the Kremlin’s forces have fought to advance.

To gain control of the city, Russia is believed to have relied on mercenaries, prison conscripts, and newly mobilized soldiers to send waves of attacks against Ukrainian positions, resulting in brutal trench warfare and artillery battles that have flattened large portions of the city and its surroundings.

The assault follows a well-worn pattern eked out by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine, where cities are pummeled under withering assaults at great cost until the Ukrainian military retreats.

“Russian efforts around Bakhmut indicate that Russian forces have fundamentally failed to learn from previous high-casualty campaigns concentrated on objectives of limited operational or strategic significance,” wrote the Institute for the Study of War, a US-based think tank.

“The costs associated with six months of brutal, grinding, and attrition-based combat around Bakhmut far outweigh any operational advantage that the Russians can obtain from taking Bakhmut.”

– ‘Every metre counts’ –

The think tank went on to suggest that the continued fixation with Bakhmut along with the resources needed to capture it has effectively given Ukraine the ability to conduct counteroffensives elsewhere.

“Russian efforts to advance on Bakhmut have resulted in the continued attrition of Russian manpower and equipment, pinning troops on relatively insignificant settlements for weeks and months at a time,” the institute concluded.

In the past week, Russian forces have made incremental gains in the outskirts of the city, as freezing temperatures across Ukraine have hardened the once muddy ground and paved the way for harder fighting in the east.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged the difficult inch-by-inch battle and other “hot spots” along the frontline in Donetsk.

“There is a very tough confrontation, every meter counts,” the president said in his nightly address to the nation.

“I thank all our guys who destroy the enemy there every day, every night, every hour.”

As seen by AFP reporters during a recent trip to Donetsk, Ukrainian forces continue to move large amounts of artillery around the area, while groups of reserve fighters are often visible along the roads leading to Bakhmut and the surrounding front.

‘Meat grinder’

For some, the Kremlin appears desperate for a tangible victory on the battlefield following months of setbacks.

Russia’s last major victory in Ukraine came with the capture of the eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk over the summer.

Since then they have steadily lost large swaths of ground.

A lightning offensive in Kharkiv in early September shattered Russia’s northeastern flank followed by a retreat from Kherson in November, robbing Moscow of the only provincial capital they managed to capture during the course of the war.

“Russians continue their offensive to shift the focus in the media from a series of Russian defeats this autumn,” said Mykola Bielieskov, a research fellow at National Institute for Strategic Studies in Kyiv, echoing similar assessments made by the Ukrainian high command.

Bakhmut also represents a small piece of a much larger political goal repeatedly stressed by the Kremlin — the capture of the entire Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

“The Russian leadership wants control over Donetsk, and Bakhmut is the main gateway to Slovyansk/Kramatorsk,” Michael Kofman, the director of Russia studies at CNA, a US-based research institute, told AFP.

Other voices in Russia have stressed that the fight for Bakhmut has little to do with the actual city.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group that is helping lead the fight for Bakhmut, said his troops have primarily centered their efforts on demolishing the Ukrainian army there.

“Bakhmut is a large, well-fortified area with roads, suburbs, and water barriers,” said Prigozhin in a statement released last month by his company, Concord.

“Our task is not Bakhmut itself, but the destruction of the Ukrainian army and the reduction of its combat potential, which has an extremely positive effect on other areas, which is why this operation was dubbed the ‘Bakhmut meat grinder.'”

© 2022 AFP

Beer bottles and broken plastic chairs litter the fairways of a derelict golf course on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, where laid-off workers lament the unfulfilled promises of a Donald Trump “dream project”.

Nearly a decade ago, the real estate mogul and future US president signed a deal to license his name to a six-star holiday destination intended to displace the Nirwana Golf Resort, one of the world’s best.

But today, the once-thriving golf course is filled with weeds — another failed project for Trump, whose six casino and hotel bankruptcies spanning two decades have run up billions of dollars in debt and impacted thousands of lives.

“There was no clarity about our future. We heard that we would be re-recruited but it has never happened,” said Ditta Dwi, a 26-year-old former caddy who was forced to take a waitressing job while awaiting a reopening that never came.

The Trump Organization and Indonesian developer MNC Group shut the resort in 2017 and laid off hundreds of workers after partnering to rebrand the Nirwana, which boasts idyllic views of the Indian Ocean.

The planned redevelopment — Trump’s first venture into Southeast Asia’s biggest economy — was dubbed a “dream project” by his son Donald Trump Jr on a 2019 visit to Jakarta.

But Trump’s deal to license his name to the new resort and help operate it — first struck in 2015 — has turned out to be a pipe dream for Indonesian workers.

Five years after sending staff home, the hotel sits demolished and its course defunct, its forlorn fairways the domain of a solitary security guard who wheels around on a cart, warding off tourists.

The derelict, overgrown and empty site is a far cry from the luxury image Trump long maintained for his real estate interests before setting his sights on the White House.

But the property magnate, who recently announced he will seek the presidency again in 2024, is no stranger to colossal flops.

Six times between 1991 and 2009, his casino and hotel projects fell into bankruptcy.

The first to fail, the Trump Taj Mahal in the beachside gambling mecca of Atlantic City, New Jersey, threatened Trump’s personal fortune. To cover some of the casino’s debts, he had to sell off his yacht, private jet and half his shares.

‘Postponed’

MNC chief and Trump ally Hary Tanoesoedibjo — who bought the Nirwana in 2013 — has previously cited lower consumer spending during the Covid-19 pandemic in explaining delays, but the project’s troubles predate the outbreak.

Edwin Darmasetiawan, director of MNC’s property arm, refused to confirm how many Indonesians were sacked when the development was abruptly sidelined.

He said “financial matters” had caused the years-long delays and said he hoped it would still be developed within two years, even though no work has begun.

“I don’t see this project as a failure, but as postponed,” he told AFP.

“We have another project in Lido, now we are focusing on that,” he said, referring to a planned mega resort city of the same name south of Jakarta.

The project in West Java, which will include a Trump golf course and resort, has courted controversy over builders allegedly exhuming Islamic ancestral graves without locals’ permission.

The Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment about the Bali resort.

Many Balinese workers have lost opportunities due to the billionaires’ decision to let the plot stagnate.

While hotel workers were compensated after losing their jobs, about 150 caddies on temporary contracts received no money when they were suddenly released.

“It was hard. The time I lost my job as a caddy was difficult. Many people were angry,” said Dwi.

She earned a 1.3 million rupiah ($86) monthly salary, but tips from wealthy golfers meant she could earn as much as 15 million rupiah in a good month. Now she makes the same salary, but no tips.

‘Moving on’

Yet the hotel and golf workers whose livelihoods were sliced into the rough are trying to forgive and forget.

Dwi, the former caddy, told AFP that getting her old job back now seemed “impossible”.

“I have just let it go. I’m moving on,” she said.

Pita Dewi, who worked at the hotel’s spa for 18 years and now runs her parents’ cafe, said Trump’s shutdown of the resort had left her fearing for her future.

“I got stressed thinking about how I would earn money, because I have children,” she said.

“I was 48 years old, how could I get another job?”

But in typical Balinese fashion, optimistic locals who believe staunchly in forgiveness are quick to throw away any negative feelings towards the larger-than-life tycoon.

“We have to continue our life,” Dewi said.

“If we hated him, would that make him give us money?”

© 2022 AFP