12.18.2023

Facts, without motives
 

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Good morning. It's Monday, Dec. 18, and we're covering the race to pass an end-of-year aid package, the Vatican's "trial of the century," and much more. First time reading? Sign up here.

 

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Need To Know
 

Border Negotiations

Senate negotiators reportedly made progress over the weekend on a suite of border security measures, working under a self-imposed Sunday deadline to reach an agreement. Lawmakers have tied the package to a larger $110B deal that includes support for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. 

 

The list of proposed policy changes has not been released; however, the White House signaled it would consider a new authority for expulsions at the border. The power would be similar to Title 42, which ended in May and allowed deportation of certain migrants (mostly single adults) without going through the formal asylum process during the COVID-19 pandemic (see previous write-up). 

 

More than 2 million border encounters were registered in FY2023, down slightly from the previous year but more than double FY2019 (the last full year before the pandemic). Under Title 42, more than 1 million migrants were expelled in FY2022—though more than 25% of encounters came from expelled migrants trying to cross the border again. See data here.

 

Vatican Verdict

Roman Catholic Cardinal Angelo Becciu was found guilty of three counts of embezzlement and sentenced to five and a half years in prison Saturday, the result of a two-year trial into his and nine others' financial crimes within the Vatican City state. The 75-year-old Italian is the first cardinal to be tried criminally by Vatican courts since the Vatican became an independent state in 1929. 

 

An initial investigation into a 2013 Vatican investment in an upscale London property, which did not target Becciu, revealed the Vatican lost millions by extortion and blackmail in the deal. The investigation surfaced separate revelations that Becciu, in his role atop the Vatican bureaucracy, embezzled six-figure sums to his brother's charity in Sardinia as well as to a Slovenian woman for her intelligence services. 

 

While Pope Francis announced the trial as an act of transparency within a traditionally opaque bureaucracy, critics claim his role as absolute monarch possibly favored the prosecution. Becciu and others are expected to appeal. 

 

Israel Eyes Hostage Talks

The head of Israel's Mossad spy agency reportedly met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani over the weekend, looking to renew a cease-fire deal that would see hostages held by Hamas in Gaza released. The talks came a day after the Israeli military killed three hostages after misidentifying them as Hamas militants. 

 

A previous cease-fire in late November—also mediated by Qatar—lasted seven days and saw 50 Israeli hostages and roughly 150 Palestinian prisoners released. Qatar has become a broker for talks due to its unique position as both a close US ally and a financial backer of Hamas. Around 115 remaining hostages are believed to be held by Hamas.

 

In related news, Israel revealed the presence of the largest tunnel found in Gaza to date. Reportedly wide enough to drive a car through, the passageway is said to surface near an Israeli military installation.

 

Separately, Israel allowed aid trucks to begin entering southern Gaza over the weekend while continuing its advance through the city of Khan Younis. See updates on the war here (w/maps).

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In The Know
 

Sports, Entertainment, & Culture

In partnership with The Ascent

> "Friends" actor Matthew Perry's cause of death determined to be accidental and due to the acute effects of ketamine (More)

> Texas tops Nebraska to win back-to-back NCAA women's volleyball national championships (More) | South Dakota State set to take on Montana for NCAA football championship series national title (More)

> "General Hospital" and "The Kelly Clarkson Show" are top winners at the 50th annual Daytime Emmy Awards; see complete winners list (More)

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Science & Technology

> NASA's Cassini spacecraft detects the presence of hydrogen cyanide on Saturn's moon Enceladus; the molecule, lethal to humans, is thought to be a key chemical in the origin of organic life (More)

> Study suggests North America's first humans may have arrived 23,000 years ago via sea ice floating across the Bering Strait; timeframe is roughly 10,000 years earlier than current estimates (More)

> Symptoms of "long flu" identified by researchers; condition can persist following severe cases of influenza, similar to long COVID-19 (More) | What researchers know about the cause of long COVID-19 (More)

 

Business & Markets

> Dow Jones, Nasdaq end up Friday (S&P 500 -0.01%, Dow +0.2%, Nasdaq +0.4%); Nasdaq closes at highest level since November 2021, all three indexes extend weekly winning streak to seven (More)

> Biotech giant Illumina to divest cancer diagnostics startup Grail after two-year antitrust battle with federal regulators (More)

> Nissan to begin exporting China-developed electric vehicles to global markets; China accounted for about 20% of the Japanese carmaker's total worldwide sales in 2023 (More)

 

Politics & World Affairs

> At least 61 migrants, including women and children, drown after their ship sank off the coast of Libya reportedly en route to Europe (More) | See numbers of missing and dead in the region (More) | Kuwaiti leader Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah dies at 86 (More)

> Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley narrows gap with frontrunner former President Donald Trump in New Hampshire presidential primary polls, trails by 15%; GOP state primary to be held Jan. 23 (More) | See nationwide polls (More)

> Arlington National Cemetery to remove 1914 bronze statue commemorating Confederacy within the week; 40 Republican congressmen recently called for monument to remain in place (More)

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Etcetera
 

Mapping where Christmas trees grow in the US.

 

Yesterday was Wright Brothers Day: revisit the first flight.  

 

The best state park to see stars in each US state.

 

Marvel at this quadruple rainbow

 

Notre Dame Cathedral gets an upgraded golden rooster.

 

The magic of making Christmas ales.

 

Shopper discovers a $100K vase at a Virginia Goodwill.

 

Rare half-male, half-female bird discovered in Colombia

 

Clickbait: How the past smelled

 

Historybook: Mayflower arrives at Plymouth Harbor (1620); 13th Amendment formally adopted in Constitution, abolishing slavery (1865); Steven Spielberg born  (1946); Brad Pitt born (1963); Actress Zsa Zsa Gabor dies (2016).

"All good ideas start out as bad ideas; that’s why it takes so long."

- Steven Spielberg

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