Month: December 2023

US Chief Justice Urges ‘Caution’ as AI Reshapes Legal Field

Washington — Artificial intelligence represents a mixed blessing for the legal field, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a year-end report published Sunday, urging “caution and humility” as the evolving technology transforms how judges and lawyers go about their work.

Roberts struck an ambivalent tone in his 13-page report. He said AI had potential to increase access to justice for indigent litigants, revolutionize legal research and assist courts in resolving cases more quickly and cheaply while also pointing to privacy concerns and the current technology’s inability to replicate human discretion.

“I predict that human judges will be around for a while,” Roberts wrote. “But with equal confidence I predict that judicial work – particularly at the trial level – will be significantly affected by AI.”

The chief justice’s commentary is his most significant discussion to date of the influence of AI on the law — and coincides with several lower courts contending with how best to adapt to a new technology capable of passing the bar exam but also prone to generating fictitious content, known as “hallucinations.”

Roberts emphasized that “any use of AI requires caution and humility.” He mentioned an instance where AI hallucinations had led lawyers to cite nonexistent cases in court papers, which the chief justice said is “always a bad idea.” Roberts did not elaborate beyond saying the phenomenon “made headlines this year.”  

For instance, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, said in court papers unsealed last week that he mistakenly gave his attorney fake case citations generated by an AI program that made their way into an official court filing. Other instances of lawyers including AI-hallucinated cases in legal briefs have also been documented.  

A federal appeals court in New Orleans last month drew headlines by unveiling what appeared to be the first proposed rule by any of the 13 U.S. appeals courts aimed at regulating the use of generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT by lawyers appearing before it.

The proposed rule by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would require lawyers to certify that they either did not rely on artificial intelligence programs to draft briefs or that humans reviewed the accuracy of any text generated by AI in their court filings.


‘Wonka’ Back Atop North America Box Office in Weak Film Year

Los Angeles — Fantasy musical “Wonka” bounced back to the top of the North American box office this New Year’s weekend as an otherwise pallid film year came to an end, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday.

The Warner Bros. film took in an estimated $24 million for the three-day weekend in the U.S. and Canada, and $31.8 million when New Year’s Day is included. It has passed the $140 million mark domestically and taken in $244 million globally.

That strong showing came at the end of an off year for Hollywood, with numbers roughly 20 percent below the three-year pre-pandemic average, said analyst David A. Gross. Audience tastes are starting to change, he said, from universe-saving action films to stories closer to home.

Close to home — at least if you live near a chocolate factory — was family-friendly “Wonka,” with Timothee Chalamet as a younger version of Roald Dahl’s famous chocolatier. Hugh Grant has an unforgettable turn as a grouchy, green-haired, gnome-like Oompa Loompa.

Last weekend’s leader, Warner Bros.’ “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” took on a bit of water, slipping to second at $19.5 million for three days ($26.3 million for four). Jason Momoa again plays the sea-dwelling superhero, this time joining with his half-brother and former foe to fight turmoil and climate change.

In third was Illumination and Universal’s animated comedy “Migration” about the adventures of a family of mallard ducks as they fly from New England to Jamaica. It earned $17.2 million for three days ($23 million for four).

Completing a strong weekend for Warner Bros. was the new musical version of “The Color Purple,” in fourth spot at $13 million ($17.7 million). Based on the Alice Walker novel that became a beloved movie, “Purple” follows the struggles and triumphs of Celie, a young Black woman in rural Georgia in the early 20th century.

One-time “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino-Taylor plays Celie — a role played by Whoopi Goldberg in the 1985 film — with backing from Danielle Brooks, H.E.R. and Colman Domingo.

And in fifth was Sony rom-com “Anyone But You,” at $9 million ($11.5 million). Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell star in the tale, oh-so-loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” that takes the two from instant connection to crossed signals to the scheming of friends to a lot of splashing in Sydney Harbour before ultimately … but nay, the rest is silence.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

  1. “Wonka,” $24 million.

  2. “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” $19.5 million.

  3. “Migration,” $17.2 million.

  4. “The Color Purple,” $13 million.

  5. “Anyone But You,” $9 million.

  6. “The Boys in the Boat,” $8.3 million.

  7. “The Iron Claw,” $5 million.

  8. “Ferrari,” $4.1 million.

  9. “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes,” $2.9 million.

  10. “The Boy and the Heron,” $2.5 million.


Oscar-Nominated Actor Tom Wilkinson Dies at 75

london — Two-time Oscar-nominated actor Tom Wilkinson, who starred in “The Full Monty” — a movie about a group of unemployed steel workers who launched new careers as strippers — died suddenly on Saturday. 

The British actor’s death was confirmed in a statement released by his agent on behalf of his family. He was 75. 

“It is with great sadness that the family of Tom Wilkinson announce that he died suddenly at home on December 30. His wife and family were with him.” 

Wilkinson was nominated for Academy Awards for actor in a leading role for “In The Bedroom” in 2001, and for a supporting role in “Michael Clayton” in 2007. 

He most recently reunited with his “Full Monty” co-stars, Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy, in a Disney+ series of the same name. 

The original 1997 smash hit about an unlikely group of men stripping won an Oscar for best original musical or comedy score and was nominated for three others, including best picture and best director. 

Wilkinson played ex-foreman Gerald Cooper who was recruited to help the unemployed men dance. 

The actor also took home the best supporting actor Bafta for the role. 

Wilkinson won a 2009 Golden Globe and 2008 Emmy for his role as American political figure Benjamin Franklin in the HBO series “John Adams,” opposite Paul Giamatti. 

He was also known for his roles in a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens novel “Martin Chuzzlewit,” the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” the 2014 Wes Anderson comedy drama “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2011 ensemble comedy “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” 


US Seizes Illegal E-Cigarettes, as Thousands of New Ones Are Launching

WASHINGTON — Federal officials are seizing more shipments of unauthorized electronic cigarettes at U.S. ports, but thousands of new flavored products continue pouring into the country from China, according to government and industry data reviewed by The Associated Press.

The figures underscore the chaotic state of the nation’s $7 billion vaping market and raise questions about how the U.S. government can stop the flow of fruit-flavored disposable e-cigarettes used by 1 in 10 American teens and adolescents. 

More than 11,500 unique vaping products are being sold in U.S. stores, up 27% from 9,000 products in June, according to tightly held industry data from analytics firm Circana.

“FDA whacks one product and then the manufacturers get around it and the kids get around it,” said Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a Stanford University psychologist who develops anti-vaping educational materials. “It’s too easy to change your product a little bit and just relaunch it.”

Halpern-Felsher says she is “constantly” updating her curriculum to keep pace with new vaping brands and trends.

Nearly all the new products are disposable e-cigarettes, according to the sales data gathered from gas stations, convenience stores and other shops. The products generated $3.2 billion in the first 11 months of this year.

The FDA has authorized a handful of e-cigarettes for adult smokers and is still reviewing products from several major companies, including Juul. Regulators consider nearly all other e-cigarettes to be illegal.

“Those committing illegal acts don’t advertise their crimes, and those trying to import illegal tobacco products into the United States are no different,” said FDA’s tobacco director, Brian King, in a written response to AP questions. “The FDA and our federal partners are using tools, like import alerts, to stop these illegal tobacco products at the border and to deter countless others.”

The rise in e-cigarettes sold continues despite a record number of products detained.

An FDA database shows officials “refused” entry to 148 containers or pallets of “tobacco” goods last month, consisting almost entirely of vaping products from China. Refused imports are typically destroyed.

Through the end of November, U.S. officials had refused 374 such shipments this year, more than double the 118 refused in 2022.

This year’s items included $400,000 worth of Esco Bars, a disposable brand placed on a list of banned imports in May. The agency’s posted data is often preliminary because it takes time to finalize refusals.

But recent history shows how easily companies can maneuver around import bans.

In July 2022, the FDA barred dozens of e-cigarettes from Chinese manufacturer Fume, including flavors Pineapple Ice and Blue Razz.

Fume sales dipped after the ban, but the company launched a slew of new products, posting $42 million in U.S. sales in the third quarter of 2023, the data shows. Roughly 98% of sales came from products not on the FDA’s “red list” of products that can be detained.

Industry shipping tactics are also challenging the usefulness of import restrictions.

In July, FDA and customs officials intercepted $18 million worth of illegal vapes, including leading brand Elf Bar. But the shipments were mislabeled as shoes, toys and other items — not e-cigarettes — requiring officials to individually open and verify the contents of more than two dozen containers.

Circana, formerly IRI, restricts access to its data, which it sells to companies and researchers. A person not authorized to share it gave the AP access on the condition of anonymity.

The FDA has no schedule for updating its import lists but said it is “closely monitoring” instances where companies try to avoid detection.

“The FDA has a variety of tools at our disposal to take action against these tactics,” FDA’s King said.

The agency has limited powers to penalize foreign companies. Instead, regulators have sent hundreds of warning letters to U.S. stores selling their products, but those are not legally binding.

Even as the FDA attempts to work with customs officials, it is struggling to complete a yearslong review of applications submitted by manufacturers hoping to market their products to adults.

The few tobacco-flavored products currently authorized by FDA are deeply unpopular. Their combined sales were just $174 million, or 2.4% of the vaping marketplace this year, according to Circana.

“Nobody wants them,” says Marc Silas, owner of 906 Vapor shop in Michigan. “If people wanted them, they’d be on the shelves and they’re not.”

Deeply frustrated with the pace of FDA’s review, public health groups have successfully sued the agency to speed up the process. The agency aimed to complete all major outstanding applications this year, but it recently said the process would stretch into next year.

The delays have raised questions about the viability of the current regulatory framework for e-cigarettes.

“FDA is trying to operate with an old model when the whole environment has changed,” said Scott Ballin, a health policy consultant who previously worked for the American Heart Association. “They have this long line of products that have to be reviewed one by one and now they’re in a giant hole.” 


New Year’s Tradition of Watch Night Services Dates to Civil War


‘Extinction Rebellion’ Climate Activists Block Part of Amsterdam Highway

AMSTERDAM — Climate activists blocked part of the main highway around Amsterdam near the former headquarters of ING bank Saturday to protest its financing of fossil fuels.

Amsterdam Municipality said in a message on X, formerly Twitter, that traffic authorities closed part of the road and diverted traffic “to prevent a life-threatening situation.”

Hundreds of activists walked onto the road in the latest road blockade organized by the Dutch branch of Extinction Rebellion. Earlier this year, the activist organization repeatedly blocked a highway leading into The Hague.

Some of Saturday’s protesters walked along the closed A10 highway carrying a banner emblazoned with the words “Change or die” as two police vans drove slowly behind them.

Another person carried a handwritten banner that said: “ING get out of oil and gas now!” Others glued their hands to the road surface.

Police criticized the protesters for blocking the road close to the VU medical center, one of Amsterdam’s main hospitals.

“The blockade is very undesirable given its impact on the traffic in the city and, for example, employees at the nearby VU medical center and people visiting patients,” Amsterdam police said in a statement.

The protest took place despite ING announcing earlier this month that it is accelerating its moves to phase out loans for fossil fuel exploration.

ING made its announcement a week after nearly 200 countries at the COP28 climate meeting in Dubai agreed to move away from planet-warming fossil fuels in a document that critics said contained significant loopholes.

Extinction Rebellion spokesperson Let de Jong said the phase-out plan was not fast enough.

“We demand that ING immediately stops all fossil fuel financing,” De Jong said in a statement ahead of the protest. “Every day, people are dying around the world because of the climate and ecological crisis. That has to stop.”

At past protests in The Hague, police used a water cannon to force activists off the road and arrested hundreds of people.


Venice Limits Tourist Groups to 25 People to Protect Canal City

MILAN — The Italian city of Venice announced new limits Saturday on the size of tourist groups, the latest move to reduce the pressure of mass tourism on the famed canal city.

Starting in June, groups will be limited to 25 people, or roughly half the capacity of a tourist bus, and the use of loudspeakers, “which can generate confusion and disturbances,” will be banned, the city said in a statement.

The city official charged with security, Elisabetta Pesce, said the policies were aimed at improving the movement of groups through Venice’s historic center as well as the heavily visited islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello.

The city previously announced plans to test a new day-tripper fee this year. The 5 euros ($5.45) per-person fee will be applied on 29 peak days between April and mid-July, including most weekends. It is intended to regulate crowds, encourage longer visits and improve the quality of life for Venice residents.

The U.N. cultural agency cited tourism’s impact on the fragile lagoon city as a major factor in it twice considering placing Venice on UNESCO’s list of heritage sites in danger.

The city escaped the first time by limiting the arrival of large cruise ships through the Giudecca Canal and again in September when it announced the roll-out of the day-tripper charge, which had been delayed when tourism declined during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Legendary Restaurant Reopens, Overlooking Paris 2024 Olympics, Reborn Notre Dame

PARIS — The Tour d’Argent already boasts a 320,000-bottle wine cellar, a world-famous duck recipe and a storied 441-year history. Now, the legendary Paris restaurant is about to serve up its “plat de résistance”: a front-row view of two of the biggest events of 2024 — the renaissance of Notre Dame Cathedral and the 2024 Summer Olympics.

A city landmark unto itself — and an inspiration for the restaurant in the movie Ratatouille — the Tour d’Argent recently reopened after its own renovation, which preserved revered traditions while adapting to the 21st century.

”It’s very reassuring for many customers to see that such establishments are still present in our history, and in French gastronomic history,” owner and CEO André Terrail told The Associated Press.

The restaurant claims to be the oldest in Paris, its 1582 opening date embossed on the doors. It says King Henri IV ate heron pâté here; ”Sun King” Louis XIV hosted a meal here involving an entire cow; and presidents, artists like Salvador Dalí, and celebrities including Marilyn Monroe have graced its tables in the generations since.

Today the Michelin-starred restaurant remains one of the most exclusive places to dine in the French capital, out of reach for most. The simplest fixed-price lunch menu runs to 150 euros ($167), and the most affordable fixed-price dinner is 360 euros – and that’s without even peeking at the 8-kilogram book dubbed the ”bible” of its wine cellar.

But the reborn Tour d’Argent offers options for those who want to breathe in its rarefied atmosphere without investing in a full meal: A ground-floor lounge serving croissants in the morning, an adjacent bar serving fireside cocktails in the evening, and a rooftop bar open in the warmer months, where the restaurant’s breathtaking views are on full display.

Notre Dame Cathedral takes center stage in this Paris panorama, a construction site like no other. Artisans are mounting a new spire and roof on the monument, replacing those that collapsed in a 2019 fire that threatened to destroy the entire medieval cathedral.

Piece by piece, the scaffolding that enshrouds the site will come down over the course of 2024, in time for its planned December 8 reopening to the public.

For its neighbors at the Tour d’Argent, the restoration of Notre Dame is welcome news.

“Notre Dame is a landmark and probably had lost a little bit of attention to the Eiffel Tower,” Terrail said. After the fire, Notre Dame enjoyed an injection of funding, notably from the U.S. ”Lots of love coming from abroad, making sure that the cathedral was renovated,” he said.

Terrail had been mulling a makeover for the Tour d’Argent too, and finally made it happen after an 18-month closure prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID in a sense accelerated things, and also the Olympic Games, which are kind of an accelerator for everything in Paris,” he says.

“We have a front-row seat on the opening ceremony of the Olympics. It’s a great privilege. It starts just there,” he says, pointing at the spot where the unprecedented opening-day extravaganza will unfold along the River Seine on July 26.

The restaurant reopened to generally positive reviews, after years in which it had been seen as resting on its laurels. Michelin says the cuisine and service were rejuvenated ”without taking away from its nature.”

The Tour d’Argent – which translates as ”Silver Tower” — has a redesigned dining room with an open kitchen, and a top-floor one-bedroom apartment that rents for nearly 9,000 euros a night.

Its signature dish remains pressed duck, cooked in its own blood and specially carved by servers in the air instead of on a board. Since 1890, the restaurant has been giving customers certificates with the number of each duck served. They’re now well past the 1 million mark.

The bustling kitchen staff use locally grown products and closely held recipes, like a seductive “mystery egg” starter in truffle sauce.

“You have to cook the egg white, but not the yolk,” explains executive chef Yannick Franques.

“People, when they come to eat, are quite surprised when they don’t know the mystery and often come to me asking how I manage to keep the yolk raw inside and the white part cooked. Unfortunately, I can’t say, I just can’t say,” he says, smiling.

”The secret’s the secret. Voilà.”


Most US Endangered Species Money Goes to Handful of Species

BILLINGS, Mont. — Since passage of the Endangered Species Act 50 years ago, more than 1,700 plants, mammals, fish, insects and other species in the U.S. have been listed as threatened or endangered with extinction. Yet federal government data reveals striking disparities in how much money is allocated to save various biological kingdoms.

Of the roughly $1.2 billion a year spent on endangered and threatened species, about half goes toward recovery of just two types of fish: salmon and steelhead trout along the West Coast. Tens of millions of dollars go to other widely known animals including manatees, right whales, grizzly bears and spotted owls.

But the large sums directed toward a handful of species means others have gone neglected, in some cases for decades, as they teeter on potential extinction.

At the bottom of the spending list is the tiny Virginia fringed mountain snail, which had $100 spent on its behalf in 2020, according to the most recent data available. The underground-dwelling snail has been seen only once in the past 35 years, according to government records, yet it remains a step ahead of more than 200 imperiled plants, animals, fish and other creatures that had nothing spent on their behalf.

With climate change increasing threats to organisms around the planet and adding to the number that qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, government officials are struggling in many cases to execute recovery actions required under the law.

Some scientists even argue for spending less on costly efforts that may not work and putting the money toward species with less expensive recovery plans that have languished.

“For a tiny fraction of the budget going to spotted owls, we could save whole species of cacti that are less charismatic but have an order of magnitude smaller budget,” said Leah Gerber, a professor of conservation science at Arizona State University.

An Associated Press analysis of 2020 data found fish got 67% of the spending, the majority for several dozen salmon and steelhead populations in California, Oregon and Washington. Mammals were a distant second with 7% of spending and birds had about 5%. Insects received just 0.5% of the money and plants about 2%. Not included in those percentages is money divided among multiple species.

Species drawing no spending at all included stoneflies threatened by climate change in Montana’s Glacier National Park, the stocky California tiger salamander that has lost ground to development and flowering plants such as the scrub lupine around Orlando, Florida, where native habitat has been converted for theme parks.

Such spending inequities are longstanding and reflect a combination of biological realities and political pressures. Restoring salmon and steelhead populations is expensive because they are widespread and hemmed in by massive hydroelectric dams. They also have a broad political constituency with Native American tribes and commercial fishing interests that want fisheries restored.

Congress over decades has sent massive sums of money to agencies such as the Bonneville Power Administration that operate dams along rivers the fish once traveled up to spawn. The money pays for fish ladders around dams, habitat restoration projects, monitoring by scientists and other needs.

More than half the species protected under the Endangered Species Act are plants, but the entire plant kingdom was almost excluded from the landmark conservation law when it was adopted in 1973, according to the Congressional Record and Faith Campbell, who interviewed people involved in the bill’s passage for a 1988 study published in the Pace Environmental Law Review.

Plants initially were left out when the measure passed the Senate, with opposition led by influential Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska. They were added back at the 11th hour following a push by botanists from the Smithsonian Institution and Lee Talbot, a senior scientist at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, according to Campbell.

Botanists at the time proposed more than 2,500 plants as threatened with future extinction. However, most failed to get protections because federal officials failed to act prior to a Congressional deadline.

Today more than 900 trees, ferns, flowers and other flora are protected. Combined, they received about $26 million in 2020.

“In terms of numbers they’re catching up, but as far as money and attention they’re still not getting their share,” said Campbell, a longtime environmental advocate who now works at the Center for Invasive Species Prevention. “The threats are serious, they’re the same as the threats to animals. Yet they don’t have the political clout of, say, a couple dozen of the big animal species that attract favorable attention or get in people’s way.”

Most plants receive less money than recommended under their recovery plans, according to Gerber and others. Researchers say that has direct consequences: species tend to decline when allocated less funding than needed, while they have a higher chance of recovery when receiving enough money.

Gerber has suggested redirecting some money from species getting more than their recovery plans seek — the bull trout, the gopher tortoise and the Northern spotted owl among them — to those receiving little or none. Her ideas have stirred pushback from some conservationists.

Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Jamie Rappaport Clark said debating how to allocate scarce resources for rescuing endangered species is a distraction.

“The issue is not where the money is spent,” said Clark, now president of Defenders of Wildlife. “The issue is that there isn’t nearly enough of it.”

Gerber said she doesn’t want to let anything go extinct but that a strategic approach is needed with the shortage of resources.

“Unfortunately, the clock is ticking,” she added. “We need to take action.”

Wildlife officials say they are trying to do just that with money for endangered species in the climate law signed last year by President Joe Biden.

It included $62.5 million officials said will allow them to hire biologists to craft recovery plans to guide future conservation work, initially for 32 species and for as many as 300 over coming years.

Among them are a colorful fish known as the candy darter that lives in rivers in the southeastern U.S., a flowering shrub from the Virgin Islands called marron bacora, the Panama City crayfish of Florida and the pocket-sized Stephens’ kangaroo rat in southern California.

The extra money is intended to provide some relief after the agency’s environmental review staff fell 20% over the past two decades, even while new species were listed, according to officials. Increased funding is especially important because more than half the agency’s existing recovery plans are more than two decades old, according to Lindsay Rosa, vice president for conservation research at Defenders of Wildlife.

Also in the law was $5.1 million for recovery projects that could benefit hundreds of species from four groups that officials said have historically been underfunded: Hawaii and Pacific island plants, butterflies and moths, freshwater mussels and desert fish in the southwestern U.S.

“Each of these species are part of this larger web of life,” Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams said in an interview. “They’re all important.”


Brazil Pays Tributes to Pelé 1 Year After His Death

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilians paid several tributes to soccer legend Pelé on Friday, one year after the three-time World Cup winner’s death at age 82 due to a colon cancer.

A ceremony held at Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the redeemer, one of the South American nation’s most famous postcard locations, featured a projection of a Brazil shirt with Pelé’s name and number 10 on the statue and a message from Pope Francis. Pelé was a devout Catholic throughout his life.

“Pelé, as Mr. Edson Arantes do Nascimento became globally known, was undoubtedly an athlete who showed in his life all positive traits of a sportsman. The memory of ‘the King of Soccer’ remains indelible in the minds of many, and it stimulates new generations to seek in sport a means to strengthen the bonds of unity among us,” the pontiff said in a letter as a local orchestra played.

Other religious ceremonies were held at the Museu Pelé in Santos, the port city he put on the map with his goals and success for Santos FC, and in the small city of Tres Corações, where do Nascimento was born in 1940.

Santos FC also held a tribute at its Vila Belmiro Stadium, where Edson Cholbi do Nascimento, one of Pelé’s sons, released 10 white ballons from the center circle. Pelé’s funeral was held at the stadium.

Soccer’s governing body FIFA also paid its respects with a video of highlights of the Brazilian great with a message: “Pelé’s legacy will always live on.”

Earlier this year, a Brazilian dictionary chose to pay a tribute to Pelé by adding his name as an adjective to use when describing someone who is “exceptional, incomparable, unique.”

The announcement by the Michaelis dictionary on Wednesday is part of a campaign that gathered more than 125,000 signatures to honor the late soccer great’s impact beyond his sport.

Pelé spent nearly two decades enchanting fans and dazzling opponents as the game’s most prolific scorer with Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national team. In the conversation about soccer’s greatest, only the late Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are mentioned alongside.


California Expanding Health Care for Low-Income Immigrants in 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than 700,000 immigrants living illegally in California will gain access to free health care starting Monday under one of the state’s most ambitious coverage expansions in a decade.

It’s an effort that will eventually cost the state about $3.1 billion per year and inches California closer to Democrats’ goal of providing universal health care to its roughly 39 million residents.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers agreed in 2022 to provide health care access to all low-income adults regardless of their immigration status through the state’s Medicaid program, known as Medi-Cal.

California is the most populous state to guarantee such coverage, though Oregon began doing so in July.

Newsom called the expansion “a transformative step towards strengthening the health care system for all Californians” when he proposed the changes two years ago.

Newsom made the commitment when the state had the largest budget surplus in its history. But as the program kicks off next week, California faces a record $68 billion budget deficit, raising questions and concerns about the economic ramifications of the expansion.

“Regardless of what your position is on this, it doesn’t make sense for us to be adding to our deficit,” said Republican Sen. Roger Niello, the vice-chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee.

Immigration and health care advocates, who spent more than a decade fighting for the changes, have said the expanded coverage will close a gap in health care access and save the state money in the long run. Those who live in the state illegally often delay or avoid care because they aren’t eligible for most coverage, making it more expensive to treat them when they end up in emergency rooms.

“It’s a win-win, because it allows us to provide comprehensive care and we believe this will help keep our communities healthier,” said Dr. Efrain Talamantes, chief operating officer at AltaMed in Los Angeles, the largest federally qualified health center in California.

The update will be California’s largest health care expansion since the 2014 implementation of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which allowed states to include adults who fall below 138% of the federal poverty level in their Medicaid programs. California’s uninsured rate dropped from about 17% to 7%.

But a large chunk of the population was left out: adults living in the United States without legal permission. They are not eligible for most public benefit programs, even though many have jobs and pay taxes.

Some states have used their tax dollars to cover a portion of health care expenses for some low-income immigrants. California first extended health care benefits to low-income children without legal status in 2015 and later added the benefits for young adults and people over the age of 50.

Now the last remaining group, adults ages 26-49, will be eligible for the state’s Medicaid program.

The state doesn’t know exactly how many people will enroll through the expansion, but state officials said more than 700,000 people will gain full health coverage allowing them to access preventative care and other treatment. That’s larger than the entire Medicaid population of several states.

“We’ve had this asterisk based on immigration status,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group. “Just from the numbers point of view, this is a big deal.”

Republicans and other conservative groups worry the new expansion will further strain the overloaded health care system and blasted the cost of the expansion.

State officials estimated the expansion will cost $1.2 billion the first six months and $3.1 billion annually thereafter from the budget. Spending for the Medi-Cal program, which is now about $37 billion annually, is the second-largest expense in the California budget, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Earlier this month, the state Department of Finance sent a letter urging state agencies to cut costs in light of the deficit. It has not given specific directions about the Medicaid expansion, state officials told The Associated Press in December.

California’s expansion of Medicaid will face other challenges. The state is chugging through a review of Medicaid enrollees’ eligibility for the first time in more than three years that was prompted by the end of some federal pandemic policies. Many immigrants who had their coverage protected during the COVID-19 pandemic now find themselves ineligible because they no longer financially qualify.

John Baackes, CEO of L.A. Care Health Plan, the state’s largest Medi-Cal plan with nearly 2.6 million members, said roughly 20,000 members have lost their Medicaid coverage during the review process this past year and are looking to secure new insurance plans. His organization is juggling to help people navigate through both processes.

“People are being bombarded with information,” Baackes said. “I can’t imagine if somebody were having to maneuver through all this, why they wouldn’t be terribly confused.”

“The phones are ringing off the walls,” he said.

Fear and distrust are also barriers for the expansion, said Sarah Dar, policy director for the California Immigrant Policy Center. 

Many immigrants avoid accepting any public programs or benefits out of fear it will eventually prevent them from gaining legal status under the “public charge” rule. The federal law requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S., or a “public charge.” The rule no longer considers Medicaid as a factor under President Joe Biden’s administration, but the fear remains, she said.

More resources and effort are required to reach this population “because of the history of just being completely excluded and not interfacing with the health care system or with government programs at all for so long,” Dar said. 

California has more work to do to see the state’s uninsured rate hit zero, known as “universal coverage,” Dar said.

For one thing, immigrants living in the U.S. without legal permission are still not eligible to purchase insurance from Covered California, the state-run exchange offering steep discounts for people who meet certain income requirements. A bill pending in the state Legislature, supported by the California Immigrant Policy Center, would change that.

“It’s going to be another really big undertaking,” Dar said. “And we know that revenues are down … but it’s our job to make the case that, in times of economic downturn and whatnot, these are the communities that need the support the most.”


Many American Jews Celebrate Christmas With Chinese Food

new orleans, louisiana — The sweet sensation of fried shrimp egg rolls dipped in duck sauce. Steam rising from dumplings stuffed with chicken, ginger and cabbage. Smells wafting from a plate of General Tso’s chicken on a bed of beef fried rice. 

These are just some of the dishes coming from the kitchen of Miss Shirley’s Chinese Restaurant on a packed Christmas Day in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

On a holiday when most restaurants are closed so customers and employees can celebrate with their families, many Chinese restaurants in America are gathering places for the country’s estimated 7.6 million Jews. 

“Outside of these walls, maybe people are relaxing with their families, but inside these walls, it’s a celebratory madhouse!” said Carling Lee, whose family owns Miss Shirley’s and has owned and operated Chinese restaurants in and around New Orleans for more than four decades. 

On Christmas and Christmas Eve, “we’re slammed from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. with people ordering takeout or dining in with groups of five, 10, 15 or even more,” Lee continued. “It’s friends and family, and we’ve even sometimes gotten three rabbis in here at once! Everyone’s just looking for a way to enjoy the day off in their own special way.” 

The Chinese American Restaurant Association estimates there are more than 45,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States. For most that are open during the holidays, Christmas Day is the busiest of the year.  

And although most American Jews don’t know how this specific cuisine became so popular on Christmas, few doubt its ubiquity.  


“Whatever the reason, you can ask pretty much any American Jew what they did on Christmas and their answer will be some version of, ‘Ate Chinese food and went to the movies,'” said Sarah Wexler. “Even if they didn’t, they’ll still probably say it. It’s that ingrained in our culture!” 

The birth of a tradition 

Food writer Jennifer 8. Lee explored the question in her book “The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food.” 

“Between 1880 and 1924, you had an estimated 3 million Jews coming from Eastern Europe, and an amazing 75% of them resided in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan,” Lee told VOA. “It was a neighborhood that Chinese people already lived near and Chinese restaurants existed in, so you have these two massive immigrant groups living right beside each other.” 

Part of the Americanization process for those Jewish immigrants was going out to dinner. In the early 1900s, Lee said, Chinese restaurants were the place to go. 

“Chinese restaurants were being portrayed in paintings and movies in the 1920s and ’30s, and they were seen as sophisticated and cosmopolitan,” she told VOA. “So if you were trying to impress a girl, for example, you’d bring her to a neighborhood Chinese spot, and you would appear worldly.”  

Convenient, ‘easier to justify’

Rabbi Joshua Plaut is head of the Metropolitan Synagogue of New York and author of “A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to be Jewish.” In addition to proximity and popularity, he says there are other reasons specific to Jewish immigrants that explain the popularity of Chinese food. 

“For one, Jews coming from Eastern Europe had fairly strict dietary restrictions and as they acclimated to eating out in America, many had to come to terms with leaving at least some of those restrictions behind,” Plaut said. 

“Chinese food felt a little easier to justify because it didn’t combine meat and dairy the way other common ethnic foods like Italian and Mexican do, and treif — which are non-kosher foods, like from pigs and shellfish — are more hidden in Chinese food,” he continued. “Those ingredients are chopped up or obscured in a dumpling so if you don’t see it, you can claim naivety. We call it ‘safe treif.'” 

Chinese restaurants were also open on Sundays. 

“Historically, a lot of businesses were closed on Sundays because of the Christian calendar,” Plaut told VOA, “but Jews were eager to enjoy the day. Chinese restaurants also had no reason to close, so Jewish families would go and enjoy dim sum. Similarly, when Jewish families were looking for someplace to eat on Christmas, Chinese restaurants were there for them again.” 

Hot food, warm welcome 

Another reason some Jews say they feel connected to Chinese eateries is because they lack much of the religious iconography present at other restaurants. 


“My family was always kind of uncomfortable around all the saints, crosses and crucifixions you find at Italian restaurants,” said Laurie Sklar, a music teacher in Mansfield, Massachusetts. “But Chinese restaurants have always felt so welcoming.” 

Sklar said she’s eaten Chinese food on Christmas Day for as long as she can remember, and that her parents did the same with their parents. 

“We were on a first-name basis with the owner of our local Chinese place,” she said. “He’d give us extra ice cream when we went. It felt like it was our special place, and to this day Chinese food feels as Jewish to me as matzo ball soup.” 

It’s a tradition that, after more than a century, continues to grow. 

“My 5-year-old son thinks Chinese food on Christmas is what we ‘do’ on Christmas, no different than fasting on Yom Kippur,” explained Joel Tietolman, who runs Mile End Delicatessen in New York City, which has been celebrating December 24 and 25 with a special Chinese menu for 13 years. “It’s truly become part of Jewish identity in North America.” 

Kung Pao on Christmas

Across the country in San Francisco, California, Lisa Geduldig has hosted the Kung Pao Kosher Comedy show during the Christmas holiday season since 1993. 

Thousands of guests attend the show over several nights at the Imperial Palace Restaurant, featuring a Chinese food banquet and Jewish comedians. 

“It’s a place for those who might feel ‘other’ during the Christmas season to gather together as a community and celebrate in a secular way,” Geduldig told VOA. “We’ve had Jewish guests who have been coming for decades, but we also have non-Jews who are looking for something fun to do and don’t want to be alone on Christmas.” 

That otherness is something both American Jews and Chinese Americans can relate to during the country’s biggest religious holiday. Hillary Saunders, an environmental scientist in Albany, California, admitted it was a familiar feeling for her as a child. 

“Growing up I felt very lonely on Christmas. I remember the constant Christmas music made me feel so isolated,” she said. “But knowing that Jews have this tradition, too, that you can go into a Chinese restaurant and find others doing the same thing — it’s comforting.” 

“For Jewish people, every holiday has a food associated with it,” Saunders said. “For me, Christmas tastes like Chinese food.” 


Бригада Нацгвардії Київської області безпідставно нараховувала собі бойові премії

СБУ викрила «тилових» командирів Нацгвардії, які незаконно присвоїли собі майже 14 млн «бойових» премій.

Військова контррозвідка Служби безпеки спільно з ДБР та за сприяння нового керівництва Національної гвардії викрила у лавах Нацгвардії ще одну «схему» безпідставного нарахування премій за нібито участь у боях на передовій.

Цього разу на оборудках з державними грошима викрито командування однієї з бригад військового формування, яка дислокується на Київщині.

З першого дня повномасштабного вторгнення рф і до серпня 2022 року фігуранти незаконно «преміювали» себе на загальну суму майже 14 млн бюджетних гривень.

Посадовці безпідставно нараховували собі та своїм підлеглим щомісячну доплату у розмірі 100 тис. грн, яка передбачена за безпосередню участь у бойових діях проти російських окупантів.

При цьому учасники злочинної схеми не перебували в районах боєзіткнень і не виконували жодних завдань на передній лінії фронту.

За даними слідства, до організації оборудки причетний заступник командира – начальник штабу військової частини.

Він безпідставно підписував рапорти щодо нарахування «бойових» премій своїм підлеглим, насамперед керівному складу.

Їх особи також встановлено – це командир дивізіону, командир 3-го батальйону, начальник відділення обліку особового складу, заступник командира 1-го батальйону та командир роти.

На підставі зібраних доказів заступнику командира – начальнику штабу військової частини і п’ятьом його підлеглим повідомлено про підозру за ч. 4 ст. 425 Кримінального кодексу України (недбале ставлення до військової служби).

Наразі вирішується питання щодо обрання їм запобіжного заходу.

Триває розслідування для встановлення всіх обставин злочину і притягнення винних до відповідальності. Зловмисникам загрожує до 8 років тюрми.

Нагадаємо, на початку серпня цього року СБУ викрила керівників одного з навчальних центрів Нацгвардії, які незаконно нарахували собі майже 1 млн «бойових» премій.

Комплексні заходи проводили спільно з ДБР за процесуального керівництва Дарницької спеціалізованої прокуратури у сфері оборони Центрального регіону у сфері оборони.



НАБУ викрило п’ятьох дегенератів із заволодіння 1200 га державних земель під Києвом

НАБУ викрило розкрадання земель під Києвом вартістю майже 2 млрд грн.

15 серпня 2023 року НАБУ і САП викрили 5 осіб – учасників організованої групи, яка заволоділа земельними ділянками під Києвом площею понад 1200 га. Їх дії призвели до заподіяння понад 1,8 млрд грн збитків державі.

Серед підозрюваних:
– колишній заступник керівника ДП «Головний науково-дослідний та проектний інститут Землеустрою» — організатор схеми;
– двоє колишніх посадовців ГУ Держгеокадастру в Київській області – виконавці злочину (один із них – наразі керівник одного з ЦОВВ);
– двоє фізичних осіб, пов’язаних із екскерівництвом Держгеокадастру – пособники злочину.

Дії осіб кваліфіковані за ч. 5 ст. 191, ч. 3 ст. 209 КК України.

За даними слідства, у 2018-2019 роках організатор злочину, маючи вплив на службових осіб Головного управління Держгеокадастру у Київській області, а також зв’язки з високопосадовцями у різних сферах, розробив схему заволодіння сільськогосподарськими землями які перебували у постійному користуванні державних підприємств на території Київської області. Для цього він залучив інших співучасників, які, серед іншого, підшукували учасників АТО, які мають право на безоплатне отримання земельної ділянки*. Детективи і прокурори встановили два епізоди злочинної діяльності – заволодіння майже 920 га державної землі у Фастові та близько 284 га ДП «Пуща-Водиця» поблизу міста Києва.

Учасники злочину, забезпечили проведення інвентаризації земельних ділянок на території міста Фастова, що перебували у постійному користуванні ДП «ДГ «Дмитрівка», яке знаходиться у віданні Національної академії аграрних наук. Зловмисники внесли неправдиві відомості до документації, складеної за результатами інвентаризації, де вказали, що право користування земельними ділянками відсутнє, нібито, у зв’язку з ліквідацією державного підприємства та відсутністю правонаступника, а тому ділянки були віднесені до земель запасу.

Надалі учасники злочину без відома учасників АТО, скористались відповідним законодавчим механізмом та виділили на їхні імена у приватну власність земельні ділянки, які перебували у постійному користуванні ДП «ДГ «Дмитрівка».

Згодом, після приватизації землі, її перепродали третім особам офіційно за ціною в 10 разів нижче ринкової вартості. За даними експертизи, земельні ділянки вартували майже 715 млн грн, у той час як приватним підприємцям були передані за суму близько 85 млн грн.

Йдеться про виділення ділянок на території Софіївсько-Борщагівської та Петропавлівсько-Борщагівської сільських рад колишнього Києво-Святошинського району Київської області, загальною площею 284,32 га та ринковою вартістю майже 1,2 млрд грн.

Особливістю цієї схеми було те, що ДП «Пуща Водиця» за результатами інвентаризації зареєструвало за собою право користування земельними ділянками у 2016 році. У 2019 році ДП «Пуща Водиця» розробило відповідну документацію на поділ частини ділянок, яка була затверджена ГУ Держгеокадастру у Київській області.

Однак, підозрювані, намагаючись заволодіти вказаним ділянками, підготували від імені Головного управління Держгеокадастру у Київській області скаргу до Міністерства юстиції щодо скасування реєстрації права користування земельними ділянками ДП «Пуща Водиця», оскільки їх поділ був здійснений, нібито без погодження Держгеокадастру як представника держави – власника земельних ділянок.

Після того, як Комісії з питань розгляду скарг у сфері державної реєстрації Мінюсту ухвалила рішення про скасування рішення державного реєстратора, яким зареєстровано право постійного користування землями за ДП «Пуща Водиця», саме право користування не було скасовано.

Однак, зловмисники надалі забезпечили надання службовими Головного управління Держгеокаластру у Київській області вказаних ділянок у приватну власність на ім’я учасників АТО, більшість з яких навіть не знали про реалізацію свого права.

Тут також планувалась зміна цільового призначення і подальший продаж приватним компаніям.
Проте, завдяки НАБУ і САП у 2020-2021 рр. на усі землі накладено арешт і видано заборону щодо їх забудови, змінення цільового призначення тощо, що дозволило їх зберегти для громади Київщини.

Детективи і прокурори встановлюють інших можливих учасників злочину. Також НАБУ і САП розслідують факти підроблення документів щодо представництва інтересів учасників АТО.

*Особи зі статусом учасника бойових дій мають пільгове право на безоплатну приватизацію земельної ділянки у порядку ст. ст. 116, 118, 121 ЗК України відповідно до розпорядження Кабінету Міністрів України від 19 серпня 2015 року № 898 «Питання забезпечення учасників антитерористичної операції та сімей загиблих учасників антитерористичної операції земельними ділянками».



Очільник Нацполіції України Іван Вигівський проти надання зброї українцям

У Нацполіції вважають, що українці готові до легалізації зброї. Водночас службовець проти носіння “короткостволів” на вулицях.

Наразі суспільство більше готове до легалізації зброї, ніж раніше. Про це заявив очільник Національної поліції України Іван Вигівський.

Водночас, очільник Нацполіції виступає проти носіння “короткостволів” посеред вулиці.

За його словами, у людей має бути культура поводження зі зброєю. До прикладу, її можна надавати тим, хто вже має певний досвід володіння зброєю.

Під час напрацювання законопроєкту, в якому розглядається питання володіння короткоствольною вогнепальною зброєю для всіх категорій громадян, неодноразово збирались з правоохоронним комітетом Верховної Ради, обговорювали це питання в робочих групах, зазначив очільник Нацполіції.

Є низка запобіжників, низка застережень. Є бачення, що ця зброя повинна зберігатись тільки вдома для самозахисту, а якщо особа хоче тренуватись, подає заявку в тир і тоді везе її з собою. Але ж ви розумієте, що якщо людина хоче постійно носити із собою зброю, вона щодня буде кидати заявку в тир і перевозити. Знову ж, перевозити треба в розібраному стані, а не так, як хочеться, — зазначив Іван Вигівський.

Однак, за словами глави Нацполіції, поки що залишається під питанням чи може бути зброя у всіх громадян.



Актор гліб михайличенко, який раніше виступав для ЗСУ, втік до кацапів

Актор, який грав у київському Театрі юного глядача на Липках, тепер працює на російську компанію, що спеціалізується на створенні інтерв’ю та інших комерційних відеороликів і навіть знімається в рекламі цієї компанії. При цьому на початку повномасштабного російського вторгнення Гліб Михайличенко виступав для бійців ЗСУ.

«А коли актор в 2022 їздить з концертами до наших військових, а в 2023 опиняється в росіі. Це як? Мені хтось може пояснити що там в голові? Яка ж мудра казочка Фарбований Лис, і скільки ще чарівних перевтілень до і після Перемоги очікує нас», — прокоментувала Римма Зюбіна.

Керівництво театру також висловилося про Михайличенка, який зрадив Україну.

«Наразі в театральній спільноті поширюється інформація про актора, який переїхав до країни-агресора. Хочемо наголосити, що цей актор переїхав до Росії після того, як завершив роботу в нашому театрі», — йдеться в заяві театру.

Михайличенко народився в Києві та закінчив університет імені Карпенка-Карого у 2019 році.

Від сьогодні: гліб михайличенко, а також усі його нащадки визнаються дегенератами і звертатися до них потрібно із згадуванням даного статусу (пан дегенерат гліб михайличенко).



ВОЇНИ ДОБРА: наша мета – справедливість

Доки перед безхвостими мавпами, якими насправді є наші чиновники, український народ не поставить умову: обкрадання Держави це шибениця, – проблема корупції не буде подолана ніколи!


Google Agrees to Settle Lawsuit Over ‘Incognito’ Mode

san francisco, california — Google has agreed to settle a consumer privacy lawsuit seeking at least $5 billion in damages over allegations it tracked the data of users who thought they were browsing the internet privately. 

The object of the lawsuit was the “incognito mode” on Google’s Chrome browser that the plaintiffs said gave users a false sense that what they were surfing online was not being tracked by the Silicon Valley tech firm. 

But internal Google emails brought forward in the lawsuit demonstrated that users using incognito mode were being followed by the search and advertising behemoth for measuring web traffic and selling ads. 

In a court filing, the judge confirmed that lawyers for Google reached a preliminary agreement to settle the class action lawsuit, originally filed in 2020, which claimed that “millions of individuals” had likely been affected.  

Lawyers for the plaintiffs were seeking at least $5,000 for each user it said had been tracked by the firm’s Google Analytics or Ad Manager services even when in the private browsing mode and not logged into their Google account. 

This would have amounted to at least $5 billion, though the settlement amount will likely not reach that figure, and no amount was given for the preliminary settlement between the parties.  

Google and lawyers for the consumers did not respond to an AFP request for comment. 

The settlement came just weeks after Google was denied a request that the case be decided by a judge. A jury trial was set to begin next year. 

The lawsuit, filed in a California court, claimed Google’s practices had infringed on users’ privacy by intentionally deceiving them with the incognito option.  

The original complaint alleged that Google and its employees had been given the “power to learn intimate details about individuals’ lives, interests, and internet usage.” 

“Google has made itself an unaccountable trove of information so detailed and expansive that George Orwell could never have dreamed it,” it added.  

A formal settlement is expected for court approval by February 24, 2024. 

Class action lawsuits have become the main venue to challenge big tech companies on data privacy matters in the United States, which lacks a comprehensive law on the handling of personal data. 

In August, Google paid $23 million to settle a long-running case over giving third-parties access to user search data. 

In 2022, Facebook parent company Meta settled a similar case, agreeing to pay $725 million over the handling of user data.