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Sarah Huckabee Sanders picked for GOP State of the Union response

Politico -

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will deliver the Republican response to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address next week, GOP leaders from both houses of Congress announced Thursday.

Sanders, the youngest governor in the U.S., was elected to the governor's mansion in Little Rock last November and sworn in early last month. She is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and spent nearly two years as White House press secretary during the Trump administration.

“I am grateful for this opportunity to address the nation and contrast the GOP’s optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats,” Sanders said in a statement.

The press secretary-turned-governor was a polarizing figure during her tenure behind the White House briefing room podium, from which she sparred often with the Washington press corps as she defended then-President Donald Trump amid his administration's controversy and scandal.

Sanders herself was eventually caught up in controversy in 2019, when a report released by special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that the press secretary admitted to misleading the reporters during a 2017 briefing where she discussed Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. Sanders said at that briefing that "the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director" and that the Trump White House had heard from "countless members of the FBI" that they had lost confidence in Comey. In its report, Mueller's team said Sanders conceded that those "comments were not founded on anything."

Sanders will deliver her address from Little Rock next Tuesday after Biden wraps his speech before a joint session of Congress. In a statement, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said everyone should listen to the address, “including President Biden.”

"She is a servant-leader of true determination and conviction," McCarthy said. "I’m thrilled Sarah will share her extraordinary story and bold vision for a better America on Tuesday."

Opinion | The Real Reason Santos Won’t Resign

Politico -

The congressman representing the “Great Gatsby” district of Long Island and Queens, N.Y. faked it till he made it. Much like the self-mythologizing Jay Gatsby, Rep. George Santos lied about his education and work history but still achieved a version of the American Dream — getting elected to federal office.

Exposed as a fabulist, Santos is now being called on to resign, and even 78 percent of his constituents want him out. While the overt lying may subside, though, it’s unlikely Santos will willingly stop his rousing performance of “congressman.” Why not? Because Santos is getting exactly what he wants: attention. Like many of those in his generation, the 34-year-old millennial lawmaker has watched national recognition lead to power and influence. In an “attention economy” like the ones created by social media platforms, attention is the most valuable currency, over truth or morality — even money. Santos is simply a product of his environment.

Santos’s Gatsby-esque victory did not come entirely as a surprise to me. He is part of a certain flavor of bombastic New York red wave politician, those who seek power with performative methods. New York is the home of the Enquirer, birthplace of Donald Trump and originator of Madison Avenue advertising. If anything, its Republicans and their tabloid-style tales follow a peculiar local strain of political and cultural style that has inspired others.

My doctoral research on conservative media influencers features interviews with people like Santos’ new staffer Vish Burra, a Staten Island native who once worked with Steve Bannon on his podcastWar Room to break the Hunter Biden laptop story","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/hunter-biden-laptop-investigation.html","_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709ef0006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709ef0007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}"> War Room to break the Hunter Biden laptop story. Later, Burra staffed Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz as he was being investigated for sex trafficking (though prosecutors have recommended not making any charges).

In interviews, Burra told me about the far-right media’s strategy of penetrating mainstream media and delivering lib-owning, attention-seeking performances. Burra himself has claimed "illegal immigrants" were bringing Covid-19 across the border on The Daily Show. He clashed with Asian-American progressives on a VICE panel","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://twitter.com/VishBurra/status/1603491621806432258","_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709f00006","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709f00007","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">clashed with Asian-American progressives on a VICE panel discussing upticks in hate crimes against Asians. On local news, he lauded his maskless New York Young Republican Club gala during the 2020 pandemic. He is one of many characters in the Trumpian carnival, the self-described “clout Diablo,” who seeks social capital at all costs. All of this performance is in the name of attention.

Burra and Santos are both just playing to the incentives of the attention economy, which exploded in the past decade. Those trying to shame Santos will find their words falling on deaf ears: For the congressman, it is more important to be noticed than liked.

Origins of the Attention Economy  

After the global financial crisis in 2008, so many in my millennial generation faced the cold reality that a stable job, home and retirement were not givens. Not only that, it was the corrupt big banks that were getting bailed out by the government, not average Americans. With the additional backdrop of a failing War on Terror, cynicism about power, institutions and truth set into my generation. Creating a “personal brand” became a way to rely on the one thing that would never go out of business: ourselves.

A “fake it till you make it” attitude pervaded this personal branding environment. If powerful people lied for money or power and got away with it — be it in the 2008 financial crisis or the pretense of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — why could you not embellish the truth a little?

Luckily, anyone could make a business out of themselves using new social media platforms that could quickly turn a regular person into an internet celebrity. Venture capitalists placed bets on “unicorns” with inspiring stories that could reap fame — while attracting users and investors. Online news, like Breitbart or The Huffington Post (which employed a young Andrew Breitbart before he founded his own site), discovered personality-driven news drove more traffic. Forbes launched its 30 Under 30 list in 2011, jumping on the influencer-driven media bandwagon and creating the heroes-cum-villains of my generation.

As media scholar Alice Marwick points out in her book Status Update, new Web 2.0 technologies encouraged a fixation on status, attention and getting followers in a world of influential leaders. And the increasing demand for content left little time or incentive to look behind or dig deeper into a click-generating story.

Politicians have simply adapted to this moment, according to Gaetz, who interviewed Santos while Bannon’s podcast","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://twitter.com/NikkiMcR/status/1613589234845204480?s=20&t=NdRO41NeZczNqv5HfxW96Q","_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709f0000c","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-13f6-d2c9-afb6-bbf709f0000d","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">guest hosting on Bannon’s podcast. “If we didn’t seat people on committees who embellished their résumé running for Congress, we probably wouldn’t be able to make quorum,” Gaetz said.

Santos likely thought he was doing what everyone else was doing in the age of the influencer.

Although he denies any criminal activity, the congressman has admitted to a number of biographical fabrications. And with that, Santos joins other too-good-to-be-true alleged scammers in the news cycle, albeit in different fields, who doctored their personal stories (and businesses) for influence, power or money. The most recent examples include fallen crypto giant and effective altruism-acolyte, Sam Bankman-Fried of FTX, or student aid entrepreneur currently being sued by JP Morgan for $175 million, Charlie Javice of Frank. (Full disclosure: I once made a small attempt to start a company with Javice, but opted to follow a different life-path as a doctoral student.)

Be it in politics or start-ups, all of these figures played to the incentives of a media and tech landscape that rewards individuals who can sell a niche-story, regardless of its veracity. Such tall tales get clicks, funding, donations and attention from people who want an outsider to do the impossible. In Silicon Valley, it is a story of young people who “do well by doing good” and could growth hack their way to market dominance. In Republican politics, that story may be one of a gay, Brazilian immigrant businessman with “Jew-ish” roots and a questionable animal charity, who also backs Trump’s “Stop the Steal” election denialism.

It’s a risky game to play, but these attention seekers think their fame — and the influence, money or power they assume will come with it — will insulate them from consequences. And for now, it seems to be true for Santos, who has so far successfully dodged calls for resignation.

A MAGA Anti-Hero or Villain?

With Santos joining the orbit of people like Burra and Gaetz, I am even more sure that the performance will not stop. Like a World Wrestling Entertainment fighter, Santos has joined a political promotion where he must fashion a new role for himself. Playing the well-meaning MAGA-dunce may just be it.

As much as other Republicans, such as Speaker Kevin McCarthy, may express doubts about Santos to the press, Santos and his daily tabloid exposés are now the perfect diversion. Republican-run legislatures around the country are introducing bills banning drag, while Twitter can’t stop talking about Santos’ time as a Brazilian drag queen. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene got a seat on the House Homeland Security Committee, even after saying “we would have won” if she had organized the Jan. 6 riot. Yet, this news is not as salacious as Santos receiving money from a cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch. The GOP has little reason to kick out such a welcome distraction.

Our technology, politics and media have created structural incentives for a scam — and our culture seems to love it. We live in a love-hate relationship with billionaire unicorns and untouchable CEOs. Forty-four percent of Americans believe they can become billionaires, while 40 percent simultaneously hate billionaires. We rue a Gatsby. We live to gossip about a scammer. We may even find it badass (and Netflix-binge worthy) when faux-heiress Anna Delvey, born Russian-German immigrant Anna Sorokin, nearly scammed the world’s biggest banks into investing in her startup.

In a similar vein, far-right influencer Jack Posobiec wrote in one of his books that “Donald Trump is an anti-hero.” From Tony Soprano to Frank Underwood, Americans love an anti-hero who will do bad things for noble reasons and has a complex moral character.

Yet lying one’s way into a congressional seat is different from scamming powerful people like venture capitalists, big banks or (in Trump’s case) the Deep State. Santos has reportedly lied about his mom dying in 9/11 to New Yorkers who have experienced the horror of terrorism. Faking to voters about such things is punching down, not up. That, it seems, may have been Santos’ true transgression, and one we might see more often as more members of our generation seek office.

Washington launches a new Google battle — with an old playbook

Politico -

The Biden administration’s recent move to break up Google","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-sues-monopolist-google-violating-antitrust-laws","_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0000","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0001","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">recent move to break up Google is drawing global attention — but also highlights an awkward reality: Washington is a step behind other parts of the world that have updated their own antitrust rules to keep pace with the digital age.

Across the Atlantic and in Australia, regulators are writing cutting-edge new laws and regulations to keep the powerful tech platforms in check. The Department of Justice, on the other hand, is using the Sherman Antitrust Act — legislation passed more than a hundred years ago and more associated with dismantling Big Oil than taking on Big Tech — to try to rein in Silicon Valley’s alleged overreach.

In the European Union, the Digital Markets Act comes into force next year with clear limits — and potentially hefty fines — in how the likes of Alphabet, Meta and Apple can expand their online empires. In the United Kingdom, new legislation is expected to be published later this month that will also give the country’s antitrust enforcer greater powers to hobble tech giants’ ambitions before they harm smaller rivals.

And Australia — where regulators already followed their European counterparts","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://www.politico.eu/article/australia-copyright-google-facebook-reruns-europe-battle/","_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0002","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0003","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">already followed their European counterparts in forcing social media companies to pay publishers whenever their content appeared on these platforms — officials are also mulling similar changes to create bespoke rules for tech giants after the country’s competition regulator admitted its current powers hadn’t kept pace with industry.

“Google has leveraged its data and acquisitions to dominate the adtech market,” Rod Rims, the former head of Australia’s competition and consumer protection agency, told POLITICO. “The huge number of acquisitions that companies like Google and Facebook have made raises the question: Do you need any extra hurdles if you’re so dominant?”

The tech giants simply grew too fast over the past two decades for antitrust law to keep up. And while the U.S. is now trying retroactively to keep them in check, regulators elsewhere can now do so in advance.

For the world of antitrust officials, this shift — known as ex ante rulemaking, or efforts to stop potentially anticompetitive behavior before it gets out of hand — is a recognition the current enforcement system is too slow, too complex and too cumbersome to stop companies from scooping up smaller rivals or crowding out new markets before policymakers can respond in time.

In Europe, for instance, the European Commission has already fined Google roughly 10 billion euros for three separate charges of antitrust abuse dating back a decade. Yet those investigations linked to the company’s respective Android mobile software, search products and online advertising services took years to complete, giving the company time to build up an overwhelming dominance.

Alphabet — Google’s parent company that denies any wrongdoing in its stable of antitrust cases worldwide, including the most recent charges from Washington — also appealed Brussels’ decisions, dragging out those rulings for years.

That’s why European policymakers shifted gears to create a new competition rulebook aimed at clamping down on problems before they even arise.

The goal: to create rules more akin to ongoing oversight within the financial services industry that can pinpoint potential abuse before it requires lengthy investigations. For international authorities, it’s less about dawn raids and glitzy press conferences, and more about everyday regulatory supervision to take the sting out of Big Tech’s dominance.

Here’s how it will work. Within the EU, a small number of (almost exclusively American) companies will be defined as so-called gatekeepers, or firms that hold a disproportionately dominant position within markets like search, online advertising or mobile app stores. These tech giants will then have to abide by a tougher set of rules than smaller rivals, including bans on so-called self-preferencing, or treating their own products and services more favorably compared with those of others.

That means Apple will likely have to allow people to download apps from rival online stores. Alphabet will almost certainly be forced to open up its online advertising — and the lucrative data that underpins it — to outsiders. And Meta must allow other messaging services to connect, directly, to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

“Large gatekeeper platforms have prevented businesses and consumers from the benefits of competitive digital markets,” Margrethe Vestager, Europe’s competition czar, said when announcing the changes","link":{"target":"NEW","attributes":[],"url":"https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_1978","_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0004","_type":"33ac701a-72c1-316a-a3a5-13918cf384df"},"_id":"00000186-1337-d581-a9f6-7ff7636e0005","_type":"02ec1f82-5e56-3b8c-af6e-6fc7c8772266"}">said when announcing the changes last year. “What we want is simple: fair markets also in digital.”

U.S. policymakers are well aware they are behind their international counterparts.

Stalled bipartisan legislation, known as the American Innovation and Choice Online Act supported by the likes of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), would similarly outlaw much of Big Tech’s alleged anticompetitive behavior. That would include stopping these companies from preferencing their own services over those of rivals, as well as banning current limits on how smaller competitors use the dominant services to target potential customers.

Yet even before Republicans regained control over the House last month, the new U.S. antitrust proposals had run into industry-led efforts that claimed they would harm innovation, restrict consumer choice and undermine national security. Now, expectations are that U.S. enforcers like Jonathan Kanter, head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust unit, will have to work with the powers they already have — and not bank on upgraded rules fit for the digital world.

“We’re going to have to work with the rules we have,” a Capitol Hill staffer told POLITICO on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Still, the new antitrust powers dreamed up in Brussels, London and Canberra aren’t the slam dunk that many of those countries’ officials are hoping for. And while some in the U.S. would welcome such bespoke enforcement regimes, U.S. judges would almost certainly throw them out because existing domestic law makes it illegal to treat some companies differently from others.

In the U.K., for instance, regulators plan to create bespoke competition rules for specific tech giants — with so-called strategic market importance, according to the upcoming British legislation that may be published as soon as the week of Feb. 13.

That follows repeated evidence from British authorities that the likes of Apple, Alphabet and Meta hold disproportionate power in the local market in everything from advertising to app stores to social media. The companies deny any accusations they have abused their dominance positions.

U.K. officials believe regulating Amazon and its e-commerce empire will require a different set of rules to overseeing Apple and its increasingly digital empire. That requires individual antitrust guardrails for each firm, or a customized playbook to keep a close tab on how each company expands.

For Brussels, whose enforcers still have a series of legacy antitrust cases into Silicon Valley’s biggest names (the likes of Meta, Apple and Alphabet deny any wrongdoing,) the shift from lengthy investigations to more hands-on daily supervision is also still a work in progress.

European officials are currently deciding which tech giants will be designated as so-called gatekeepers. EU lawyers and their counterparts at the companies are haggling over whether a firm’s entire operations or only specific services like an app store or social network should be included in the new rules, according to four people with direct knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

“It’s going to take time to stop people thinking that’s just about investigations,” said one of the EU officials who spoke to POLITICO on the condition of anonymity. “We’re in a new era. We have to get our heads around that.”

U.S. resettles former al-Qaida courier from Guantanamo to Belize

Politico -

U.S. officials have finally found a country — Belize — to take in a Guantanamo detainee and former al-Qaida courier who finished serving his sentence nearly a year ago.

Majid Khan has already left the prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and is now in Belize, a senior State Department official said. The official did not say when the transfer took place.

The 42-year-old Pakistani citizen pleaded guilty in 2012 to delivering $50,000 to an al-Qaida affiliate that financed a deadly hotel bombing in Indonesia in 2003, and was sentenced to 26 years in prison. Khan’s sentence was later reduced after he cooperated with the government and testified about his torture by the CIA at black sites oversees, making him eligible for release last March.

But finding Khan a new home proved difficult. Since the end of his sentence, U.S. officials have struggled to find a place that was willing to take in Khan and his family. The Biden administration said in August that the State Department had approached 11 countries, though it did not name any of them.

The U.S. finally found a solution in Belize.

“The government of Belize has been super helpful to us,” the State Department official said. “We asked them to do something that is admittedly difficult from a political perspective. It's hard for any country.” The official was granted anonymity to speak freely about the details of the diplomatic negotiations.

The Biden administration sought out several different agencies to certify that Khan poses no danger to the U.S. or its allies, the official said.

“They will accept him on [that] premise,” the official said of Belize. “We don't do the transfers just to do transfers. I want to be clear about that. It's an interagency process. We all do agree that not only is the individual ready for transfer, but that [Belize] is capable and willing.” The embassy of Belize in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nineteen other detainees are eligible for transfer from Guantanamo Bay, according to the U.S. Before Khan, the U.S. transferred Saifullah Paracha to Pakistan. A total of 34 people are still being held at Guantanamo.

Khan, who was first taken into custody in Pakistan in 2003, detailed historture by the CIA at a hearing in October 2021. Military officers on the jury condemned the torture in a clemency letter published by the New York Times, calling it a “stain on the moral fiber of America.” He was granted that clemency in March of 2022, when Col. Jeffrey Wood, the convening authority for military commissions, reduced Khan’s official sentence to 10 years, time he had already served.

“The tribunal had actually written a letter on his behalf to say that they thought that he was the guy who could really find a new home and a new lease on life and acknowledged that yes, he was a good candidate for transfer,” the senior State Department official said.

Khan, who went to school in Maryland, sued the Biden administration last summer for continuing to hold him even after he finished his sentence. His legal team suggested Khan be transferred to the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay until a country agreed to resettle him.

Khan “continues to be imprisoned at Guantanamo, beyond the expiration of his sentence, and without foreseeable end,” the complaint filed by Khan and his lawyer read. “Petitioner's conditions of confinement at Guantanamo also have not improved since his sentence ended; in certain respects, they have become more punitive.”

In a statement provided by his lawyers, Khan said he has "been given a second chance in life."

“I intend to make the most of it,” he said. “I deeply regret the things that I did many years ago, and I have taken responsibility and tried to make up for them. I promise all of you, especially the people of Belize that I will be a productive, law-abiding member of society."

Wells Dixon, Khan's lawyer at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said his client's transfer "is the culmination of decades-long litigation and advocacy ... to challenge the worst abuses of the ‘war on terror’ and close the Guantanamo Bay prison."

Buttigieg, two years into Biden’s Cabinet, ‘not planning on going anywhere’

Politico -

Pete Buttigieg said Thursday that he’s planning on staying in his job as Transportation secretary, which he called “the best job in the federal government.”

“I don't have any plans to do any job besides the one I've got,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Punchbowl News on the two-year anniversary of his confirmation. He swatted aside questions about any plans to run for president in 2024 or a bid for an open Senate seat in Michigan.

Buttigieg, who rose from the mayor of South Bend, Ind., to make an unsuccessful bid for president in 2020, is a rising star in the Democratic Party and widely expected to eventually make a run for higher office.

He noted that the decision on how long he’ll head up the Transportation Department is ultimately “above his pay grade” and that he serves “at the pleasure of the president for the time being,” as it says on the certificate on his wall. “Every political appointee accepts that,” he said.

Still, he said, he has no current plans to leave.

“I love this job and I feel like we're right in the middle of the action,” he said. “I'm not planning on going anywhere because we're smack in the middle of historic work.”

He said his job leading DOT is “taking 110 percent of my attention and energy” and that he thinks it’s “the best job in the federal government — even if it's pretty demanding some days.”

“It's a privilege to be doing the work,” he said. “That's what I'm going to be doing.”

Pelosi endorses Schiff in California Senate race — if Feinstein doesn't run

Politico -

Rep. Nancy Peolsi on Thursday endorsed Rep. Adam Schiff in California's high-profile Senate primary, backing the former House Intelligence Committee chair but only on the condition that Sen. Dianne Feinstein opts not to run again.

“If Senator Feinstein decides to seek re-election, she has my whole-hearted support. If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy,” Pelosi (D-Calif.), a two-time speaker of the House who stepped down from leadership earlier this year, said in an email. “In his service in the House, he has focused on strengthening our Democracy with justice and on building an economy that works for all.”

A spokesperson for Feinstein did not immediately return an email seeking comment on Pelosi's announcement.

Though Feinstein, who is 89 years old and the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, has yet to announce whether she'll retire or seek another six-year term in office, potential successors have already jumped into the primary race to replace her.

Pelosi’s conditional endorsement comes one week after Schiff (D-Calif.) officially launched his campaign. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) was the first to jump into the race, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has privately told her colleagues that she intends to run. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) has also expressed interest, saying that will consider a bid “over the next few months.”

Taiwanese Leader Denounces Beijing's 'Assault on Religion'

Real Clear Politics -

Just days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to China in an attempt to improve relations, Taiwan's top legislative leader was in Washington thanking the U.S. for its support and denouncing Beijing's "all-out assault on religion" amid a broader effort to block the Chinese people from enjoying fundamental freedoms and human rights.


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