Happy Thursday! What do CBS host Gayle King, beloved actor Tom Hanks, and YouTube star MrBeast have in common? Their likenesses are all being used, without their consent, in AI-generated advertisements—for a weight loss drug, a dental plan, and a free iPhone 15, respectively.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Senior Biden administration officials made a previously-undisclosed visit to Saudi Arabia last week to continue discussions on a deal that could normalize relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, Axios reported Wednesday. The team—consisting of Brett McGurk, the administration’s Middle East adviser, and Amos Hochstein, the energy and infrastructure adviser—also discussed a possible Saudi-U.S. security deal and American support for a Saudi Arabian nuclear energy program.
- Officials from the European Union and U.S. reportedly met secretly with their Russian counterparts in mid-September in an attempt to forestall violence in Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnically Armenian enclave of Azerbaijan. The meeting, which occurred in Turkey, marked a rare bout of diplomacy between Russia and the West, but ultimately failed to resolve the matter that led to Azerbaijan’s assault on the breakaway region. Meanwhile, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signaled Wednesday that he will not attend peace talks with Armenia and the EU scheduled to take place in Spain later this week, due to the exclusion of the Azerbaijan-aligned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
- The United States transferred more than a million rounds of seized Iranian ammunition to Ukraine earlier this week, U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday, amid concern over Ukraine’s supply of western weapons. CENTCOM naval forces seized the munitions in December 2022, as Iran was attempting to transport them to Yemen to arm Houthi rebels—in violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution. Meanwhile, Russia claimed Wednesday it had foiled what may have been Kyiv’s largest cross-border drone assault to date, shooting down 31 drones the night before.
- The average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage surpassed 7.5 percent on Wednesday, the highest such figure since December 2000. The number of mortgage applications also sank to the lowest levels since 1995, as the mortgage application volume fell nearly 3 percent last week, compared to the previous week.
- More than 75,000 unionized healthcare workers employed by Kaiser Permanente went on strike Wednesday, marking the largest work stoppage of healthcare employees in American history. The striking workers—the majority of whom are on the West Coast, with additional stoppages in Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.—have vowed to stop work between one and three days over staffing shortages and wages. Employees participating in the strike included nursing staff, dietary workers, receptionists, optometrists, and pharmacists.
- President Joe Biden announced Wednesday an additional $9 billion in total student loan debt forgiveness for 125,000 borrowers through existing debt-relief programs, including the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. More than 50,000 borrowers who the Biden administration said were entitled to debt forgiveness, but were denied due to administrative errors, will now have their remaining balance canceled. Roughly 20,000 disabled borrowers will have their debt discharged.
- Twenty Republican senators—led by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida—reportedly said in a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday they would block any legislation in the Senate that did not relate to funding the government. As part of a last-minute deal to avoid a government shutdown, Congress passed a continuing resolution this past weekend that would fund the government for an additional 45 days—a move that ultimately cost House Speaker Kevin McCarthy his job. “We urge you to present a plan to the Republican Conference for how you intend to pass the remaining appropriations bills and conference them with the House in a manner that respects an open amendment process and which does not end in a December omnibus spending package,” the senators wrote in the letter.
- Three scientists—Moungi G. Bawendi, Louis E. Brus, and Alexei I. Ekimov—were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work discovering and developing colorful quantum dots, semiconductors only nanometers wide. “Quantum dots now illuminate computer monitors and television screens based on QLED technology,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a press release. “They also add nuance to the light of some LED lamps, and biochemists and doctors use them to map biological tissue. Quantum dots are thus bringing the greatest benefit to humankind.”
- Kari Lake, failed 2022 Arizona gubernatorial candidate and close ally of former President Donald Trump, filed paperwork this week to run for Senate in Arizona with an announcement expected in the coming days. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an independent who is up for reelection, has not said whether she will run again for the job. Rep. Ruben Gallego is currently seeking the Democratic nomination. Republican Blake Masters, who lost a bid to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly last year, has also floated a run for Sinema’s seat.
Trump’s Civil Fraud Trial, Explained
One of former President Donald Trump’s attorneys in his New York civil fraud trial brought her gaming laptop to the courtroom yesterday. The PC’s strobing lights of alternating colors offered quite the contrast to the stone-faced former president and his legal team seated at the table. But can we blame her? In a trial that centers on a decade’s worth of financial statements and accounting, who wouldn’t want to sneak in a game of Fortnite?
The trial kicked off this week with the drama and fanfare we’ve come to expect from a Trump courtroom appearance, with one major difference: One of the central claims of the case has already been decided. The case against the former president relies on the broad powers of a New York civil fraud law and threatens Trump’s control of his premier assets and his ability to do business in his former home state.
In February 2019, Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen delivered dramatic testimony before Congress against his old boss, offering withering criticism of Trump and also of himself: Cohen said he had grown ashamed of what he did at Trump’s bidding. Part of that testimony included claims that Trump inflated the value of his assets and that the Trump Organization engaged in systematic fraud, setting in motion a New York state fraud investigation that culminated in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ current case against the former president.