Happy Monday! The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared the Northern Cardinal the “best holiday season bird” on the grounds that “it just makes sense.”
This is blatant Snowy Owl erasure, and we won’t stand for it. (Particularly just days after the St. Louis Cardinals pried away longtime Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras—a development that makes some of us happier than others.)
Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC News on Sunday that the United States is still negotiating for the release of Paul Whelan—former Marine detained in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges that he and the U.S. dispute—after Whelan wasn’t included in last week’s swap of WNBA star Brittney Griner for arms dealer Viktor Bout. In exchange for Whelan’s freedom, Russia reportedly demanded the release of spy Vadim Krasikov, who is serving a life sentence in Germany for a 2019 assassination of a Georgian citizen. Germany’s government was reportedly opposed to the idea of releasing Krasikov, leading the U.S. to float instead Alexander Vinnik and Roman Seleznev—Russian nationals charged with money laundering, hacking, and cyber-crime.
- Department of Justice and Scottish officials said Sunday the United States has taken custody of the former Libyan intelligence official accused of making a bomb that in 1988 detonated on Pan Am flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. The DOJ charged Abu Agila Mohammad Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi in December 2020 when he was in Libyan custody, and hasn’t yet specified how he came to be in U.S. custody. He would be the first of three Libyan intelligence officers charged in connection with the attack to face prosecution in the United States.
- U.S. Central Command announced yesterday Special Operations troops killed two Islamic State operatives in a helicopter raid in northeastern Syria early Sunday, including an official known as Anas accused of plotting terrorist attacks. CENTCOM officials said commandos tried to capture Anas before killing him and an associate in a firefight.
- Belgian federal police on Friday raided 16 locations and detained five people—including European Parliament Vice President Eva Kaili—accused of criminal organization, corruption, and money laundering as part of an investigation of Qatar’s alleged illicit lobbying. One of Parliament’s 14 vice presidents, Kaili had become a vocal defender of Qatar, calling it a “frontrunner in labor rights” despite evidence of widespread worker abuse in the run-up to the World Cup.
- NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Sunday after traveling more than 268,000 miles from Earth—the farthest a spacecraft designed to carry humans has traveled—and skipping off the earth’s atmosphere before reentry in a successful “skip entry” maneuver. The Orion flight is the first of NASA’s Artemis missions testing technology to send people back to the moon, and Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said yesterday the agency plans to announce the spaceflight crew for the Artemis II mission early next year.
- The Federal Trade Commission has sued to stop Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of video game developer Activision Blizzard, arguing the purchase would allow Microsoft to “suppress competitors” to its Xbox gaming consoles and cloud-gaming business by manipulating prices and making leading games exclusive to its platforms as it has done before. Microsoft has recently announced deals—like pledging to make “Call of Duty” available on Nintendo—aimed at quieting regulators’ fears, which may make the FTC’s suit an uphill battle.
- The Labor Department reported Friday that the producer price index—a measure of what suppliers and wholesalers are charging customers—rose 7.4 percent year-over-year in November, down from October’s 8.1 percent. The lower price growth hints at easing inflationary pressures, but the market had anticipated a greater drop and stocks slumped slightly, with the S&P 500 slipping about 0.7 percent.
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona announced Friday she has changed her party registration from Democrat to independent, reflecting her previous willingness to buck the party on portions of President Joe Biden’s agenda and on procedural grounds like the abolition of the filibuster. The move—which protects the polarizing senator from a Democratic primary challenge in 2024 but could produce a bruising three-way general election—likely won’t affect Democrats’ slim Senate majority much, as Sinema said her “values” and “behavior” will remain unchanged.
Trump 2024’s Terrible Start
The internet has grown littered over the years with thinkpieces incorrectly forecasting Donald Trump’s political demise. Whether they’re in response to his comments about John McCain’s military service, or the Access Hollywood tape, or the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the former president has an uncanny ability to render those political epitaphs obsolete. But the prognostication will definitionally have to come true at some point—and, at the risk of adding to that pile, it may be happening as we speak. (Another person whose career has been prematurely written off for years, Tom Brady, lost 35-7 yesterday to a rookie quarterback selected with the very last pick in the seventh round of the NFL draft.)
The weeks since Trump announced his third presidential campaign have seen the former president buried under a particularly thick blizzard of embarrassing headlines and unforced errors.