Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ousted his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, on Sunday, announcing he’d be replaced by Rustem Umerov, the chief of Ukraine’s State Property Fund. The most significant shakeup of Zelensky’s cabinet since the beginning of Russia’s invasion comes as the defense ministry battles high-profile allegations of graft in military procurement—though Reznikov has not been explicitly accused of wrongdoing. Umerov—a Muslim of the Crimean Tatar ethnic group—served as chair of a committee monitoring international aid during the war, and his appointment must now be approved by Ukraine’s parliament. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s security service on Monday notified Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch, that he is being investigated for fraud and embezzlement.
- Without providing many details, Zelensky said Thursday that the Ukrainian military had developed a weapon with a 400-mile range, capable of striking deep in Russian territory. The comment may have been a reference to a Ukrainian drone strike on an airport in Western Russia approximately 400 miles from Ukraine’s northern border, though the head of Ukrainian intelligence said that attack was conducted from Russian territory. Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials claimed that a Russian drone crashed in Romania—a NATO member—amid an attack on Ukrainian port facilities near the border of the two countries, but Romanian defense officials rejected the Ukrainian account.
- A record number of families reportedly crossed the southern border in August, with the U.S. Border Patrol arresting more than 91,000 individuals who crossed the border as part of a family unit during the month. The previous such record was set at approximately 84,500 in May 2019. All told, Border Patrol officials made more than 177,000 arrests in August, up from about 132,700 in July and 99,500 in June. Meanwhile, New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said his state would not accept any of the migrants currently in New York City—despite once touting New Jersey as a “sanctuary state”—after the Biden administration floated the idea last week of relocating some migrants to New Jersey.
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that U.S. employers added 187,000 jobs in August, slightly above economists’ expectations but in line with the Federal Reserve’s hope for a cooling labor market. The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.5 percent in July to 3.8 percent—the highest rate since February 2022—while the labor force participation rate rose to 62.8 percent after holding steady at 62.6 percent for months. Average hourly earnings—a figure watched closely by the Fed to help gauge inflation—rose 0.2 percent month-over-month in August, and 4.3 percent year-over-year.
- The U.S. federal budget deficit is expected to double to $2 trillion this fiscal year, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. In addition to larger interest payments on debt already accrued, the government is also bringing in less revenue this fiscal year—which ends September 30—in part due to a slumping stock market that reduced revenue from capital gains taxes.
- President Joe Biden requested $4 billion from Congress on Friday, seeking to secure additional disaster relief funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency as several states—including Hawaii and Florida—recover from deadly natural disasters in August. The White House had already asked Congress for $12 billion in supplemental disaster relief money last month, and this latest move brings the total request to $16 billion.
- Gen. Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema was sworn in on Monday as the interim president of Gabon after he led the effort to overthrow his recently re-elected cousin, President Ali Bongo Ondimba, last week. Nguema said a new government would be formed within a few days, and that the country would hold elections following an interim period of unspecified length.
- At least 76 people died and dozens more were injured in Johannesburg, South Africa, last week when a derelict apartment building in the city’s central business district caught fire. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the remains of the fire’s victims—many of whom were homeless or foreign migrant workers—and called for an investigation into the housing conditions that precipitated the tragedy.
- A federal judge struck down a Texas bill last week that would have required online porn websites to verify the age of the viewer and display health warnings before allowing access to the site. U.S. District Judge David Ezra held that the bill—which is similar to several others either in force or in various stages of litigation across the country, including in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah—unconstitutionally compels speech by requiring the websites to display the health warnings stating the detrimental effects of viewing pornography and restricts adults’ access to legal material “far beyond the interest of protecting minors.” The Texas attorney general’s office immediately appealed the decision to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
- A Florida judge ruled over the weekend that congressional districts redrawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the state’s constitution, ordering the Florida legislature to come up with a new map. Last year, DeSantis vetoed new boundaries drawn up by the legislature, putting forward his own district map. “Plaintiffs have shown that the enacted plan results in the diminishment of black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” Judge J. Lee Marsh wrote in his decision.
- Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson died over the weekend at 75. Richardson, a Democrat, also served as a congressman from New Mexico for more than a decade and as both the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and the Secretary of Energy in the Clinton administration. During and after his political career, he became known as a tireless fighter for U.S. citizens held overseas, helping to negotiate the release of Americans held hostage and imprisoned across the globe—including, most recently, WNBA player Brittney Griner after her detention in Russia.
- Jimmy Buffett, the singer and Margaritaville mogul, died on Friday at the age of 76. Buffett—known for hits like “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” “He Went to Paris,” and “Come Monday”—had been dealing with an aggressive form of skin cancer for several years. On Monday, Steve Harwell—co-founder of the rock band Smash Mouth—died at 56 from acute liver failure. Harwell’s vocals on hits like “All Star,” “Walkin’ On the Sun,” and a cover of “I’m a Believer” helped drive Smash Mouth to stardom in the late ‘90s.
- First lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 Monday, her spokesperson said. President Biden—who is scheduled to travel to India for the Group of 20 meeting on Thursday—tested negative for the virus Monday evening, according to the White House.
Pick Your Poison
In January 2016, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham had harsh words for Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz when asked by a reporter which of the two frontrunners in the GOP presidential primary he preferred. “It’s like being shot or poisoned,” he said dryly. “What does it really matter?”
Graham is singing a markedly different tune these days, of course, but the sentiment he expressed—despondence with the choices produced by our political process—has only grown more widespread over the past eight years. We’d need two hands and a foot to count the number of times this year we’ve heard some variation of, “There are 330 million people in the country, and these people are the best we can do?”