Happy Friday! For those who think they saw it all in 2023, your friendly Morning Dispatchers have one last oddity to close out the year: a house located in Washougal, Washington, that the owner turned into a Jurassic Park-themed abode—complete with five life-size animatronic dinosaurs. Top that, 2024.
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted “widespread” strikes against Hezbollah military infrastructure in southern Lebanon on Thursday in response to the Iranian-backed terrorist group’s continued rocket attacks on the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona. The IDF also shot down multiple drones that attempted to cross into Israel from the north. Also on Thursday, Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel confirmed that a second American taken hostage by Hamas, 70-year-old Judith Weinstein, had died. Weinstein was fatally wounded during the October 7 attack, when she and her husband, Gad Haggai, were kidnapped and brought to Gaza. Haggai was also killed on October 7, and both of their bodies are still held by Hamas. “No family should have to endure such an ordeal,” President Joe Biden said in a statement released Thursday. “And I reaffirm the pledge we have made to all the families of those still held hostage: we will not stop working to bring them home.”
- The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Thursday placed sanctions on an individual and three money exchanges believed to have transferred millions of dollars from Iran to the Houthis, a Yemen-based militant group attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea. The sanctions targeted the head of the Currency Exchangers Association in Sana’a, Yemen, and three exchange houses based in Yemen and Turkey. Hapag-Lloyd, a German shipping company, said Wednesday their vessels would not yet return to the Red Sea despite the deployment of a U.S.-led naval task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to protect international shipping in the waterway.
- A federal judge on Thursday greenlit Georgia’s new congressional and legislative maps, which mark the Republican-led state legislature’s second attempt at redistricting. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that the first set of maps violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of black voters. The new maps included additional majority black districts, including one congressional district, two state Senate districts, and five state House districts. “The court finds that the General Assembly fully complied with this court’s order requiring the creation of a majority-Black congressional district in the region of the state where vote dilution was found,” Jones wrote in his three–part ruling released Thursday. Democrats criticized the new maps for also redrawing non-black majority districts to advantage Republicans and to threaten Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath’s seat.
- Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows announced Thursday that former President Donald Trump is ineligible to appear on the state’s GOP presidential primary ballot, following Colorado as the second state to do so. Voters in Maine filed objections to Trump being on the ballot through a process under state law that allows individuals to raise challenges to the secretary of state. In a 34-page decision, Bellows concluded that Trump is ineligible under Section Three—the insurrection clause—of the Constitution’s 14 Amendment. “I am mindful that no Secretary of State has ever deprived a presidential candidate of ballot access based on Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment,” she wrote in her ruling. “I am also mindful, however, that no presidential candidate has ever before engaged in insurrection.” Bellows suspended her decision from going into effect until after the state Superior Court reviews any appeal.
- The Colorado Republican Party officially requested the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling that would keep Trump off the state’s GOP presidential primary ballot. The Colorado GOP argued in its petition that the president is not one of the officials to whom the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment applies; that the insurrection clause has to be enforced by Congress, not states; and that keeping Trump off the primary ballot violates the party’s First Amendment right of association. The Supreme Court has not indicated whether it will take up the appeal, but the petitioners filed a motion for expedited review.
Our 2023 Content Countdown
James Scimecca, editor of the Morning Dispatch
- The Super Mario Bros. Movie
In a year dominated by movies about existential threats, historic Great Men, and generalized depression, the Mario movie was a bright spot of 8-bit nostalgia. Pointing out classic Nintendo easter eggs and watching the world’s most famous plumber take down his Koopa nemesis on the big screen provided some much-needed arcade-inspired silliness to an otherwise serious 2023.