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Biden’s 2024 dilemma: US economy looks solid, but voters still not feeling it

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden goes into next year’s election with a vexing challenge: Just as the U.S. economy is getting stronger, people are still feeling horrible about it.

Pollsters and economists say there has never been as wide a gap between the underlying health of the economy and public perception. The divergence could be a decisive factor in whether the Democrat secures a second term next year. Republicans are seizing on the dissatisfaction to skewer Biden, while the White House is finding less success as it tries to highlight economic progress.

“Things are getting better and people think things are going to get worse — and that’s the most dangerous piece of this,” said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has worked with Biden. Lake said voters no longer want to just see inflation rates fall — rather, they want an outright decline in prices, something that last happened on a large scale during the Great Depression.

“Honestly, I’m kind of mystified by it,” she said.

By many measures, the U.S. economy is rock solid. Friday’s employment report showed that employers added 199,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%. Inflation has plummeted in little over a year from a troubling 9.1% to 3.2% without causing a recession — a phenomenon that some once skeptical economists have dubbed “immaculate.”

Yet people remain dejected about the economy, according to the University of Michigan’s Index of Consumer Sentiment. The preliminary December figures issued Friday showed a jump in sentiment as people seem to recognize that inflation is cooling. But the index is still slightly below its July level.

In a possible warning sign for Biden, people surveyed for the index brought up the 2024 election. Sentiment rose dramatically more among Republicans than Democrats, potentially suggesting that GOP voters became more optimistic about winning back the White House.

“Consumers have been feeling broadly uneasy about the economy since the pandemic, and they are still coming to grips with the notion that we are not returning to the pre-pandemic ‘normal,’” Joanne Hsu, director and chief economist of the survey, said of the overall trend in recent months.

Jared Bernstein, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, stressed that a strong underlying economy is “absolutely necessary” to eventually lifting consumer sentiment. His argument is that as the economy continues to improve, more people will recognize the benefits and sentiment will improve.

“We’ve got to keep fighting to lower costs and build on the progress that we’ve made,” Bernstein said. “We just need more time to get these gains to working Americans — that’s our plan.”

The White House has made three major shifts in its messaging in hopes of building up confidence in Biden’s economic leadership. The president this summer began to pepper his speeches with the term “Bidenomics” to describe his policies, only to have Republicans latch onto the word as a point of attack.

White House officials have pointed out specific items for which prices have fallen outright. They noted lower prices for turkeys during Thanksgiving as well as for eggs. Biden repeatedly emphasizes that he lowered insulin costs for Medicare participants, while other officials discuss how gasoline prices have dropped from their peak.

Second, Biden recently started to blame inflation on corporations that hiked prices when they saw an opportunity to improve their profits, bringing more prominence to an argument first used when gasoline prices spiked. The president’s argument is suspicious to many economists, yet the intended message to voters is that Biden is fighting for them against those he blames for fueling inflation.

“Let me be clear: Any corporation that is not passing these savings on to the consumers needs to stop their price gouging,” Biden said recently in Pueblo, Colorado. “The American people are tired of being played for suckers.”

And Biden is now going after the track record of former President Donald Trump, the current GOP front-runner. Biden’s campaign sent out a statement after Friday’s employment report that said, “ Despite his claims of being a jobs president, Donald Trump had the worst jobs record since the Great Depression, losing nearly three million jobs.”

The Republican counter to Biden has been to dismiss the positive economic data and focus on how voters are feeling. As the annual inflation rate has fallen, GOP messaging has focused instead on multi-year increases in consumer prices without necessarily factoring in wage gains. And Republican lawmakers have argued that people should trust their gut on the economy instead of the statistics cited by Biden.

“Joe Biden’s message to them is just this: He says don’t believe your lying eyes,” Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said in a recent floor speech.

Biden’s speeches over the past two years has done little to improve his anemic polling on the economy. Administration officials had once assumed that better economic numbers would overcome any doubts among voters, only to find that the negativity stayed even as the U.S. economy became likely to avoid a recession once forecasted by economists.

Claudia Sahm, a former Federal Reserve economist, has been surprised by the anger generated online when she has noted the signs of a strong economy.

A typical U.S. household is better off than it was in 2020. Inequality has lessened somewhat in recent years as wage growth has favored poorer workers. Yet people still seem rattled and disconnected by the shock of the pandemic, the arrival of government aid and the inflation that followed as hiring improved.

“People have really been jerked around,” Sahm said. “Things have been turned on and off. Everything has moved fast. It’s been disruptive and confusing. We’re just tired.”

There is no solitary cause for this gap between the major data and public feeling. But the experts trying to make sense of things have multiple theories about what’s going on. Besides the pandemic’s impact, it’s possible that social media has distorted how people feel about the economy as they watch the posh lifestyles of influencers. Many people also judge the economy based on their own political beliefs, rather than the underlying numbers.

It could simply be that people need time to adjust after a period of rising inflation. As a result, there’s a lag before a slowing rate of inflation boosts how consumers feel, according to a recent analysis by the economists Ryan Cummings and Neale Mahoney.

“Sentiment is still being weighed down by the high inflation we had last year,” Cummings said. “As that recedes further into the rearview mirror, its effects are likely to diminish.”

Another possibility is that the loss of pandemic aid from the government left people materially poorer. Millions of households got checks from the government and an expanded child tax credit deposited directly into their accounts. Republicans blamed this funding for feeding inflation, but the money also initially helped to shelter people from the pain of rising prices.

Adjusting for government transfers and taxes, the average annual income for someone in the lower half of earners was $34,800 when Biden took office, according to an analysis provided by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

That average fell to $26,100 by March 2023 in a sign that wage growth could not make up for the loss of government aid.

Samuel Rines, an investment strategist at Corbu, found that companies including Pepsi, Kraft-Heinz, Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark latched onto the higher food and energy prices after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine to boost their own products’ prices and increase profits.

Earnings reports suggest that consumers started to tire of some companies’ double-digit price increases this summer, prompting those companies to indicate that future prices increases will be closer to the historic average of 2%.

Biden can reasonably argue that companies took advantage of the war in Ukraine and the pandemic to raise their prices, Rines said. But the increases happened 12 to 18 months ago and Biden’s current argument doesn’t apply to what businesses are doing now.

Rines said of the president’s message on price gouging: “It’s pretty much 18 months too late.”

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Teachers have been outed for moonlighting in adult content. Do they have legal recourse?

At a small rural Missouri high school, two English teachers shared a secret: Both were posting adult content on OnlyFans, the subscription-based website known for sexually explicit content.

The site and others like it provide an opportunity for those willing to dabble in pornography to earn extra money — sometimes lots of it. The money is handy, especially in relatively low-paying fields like teaching, and many post the content anonymously while trying to maintain their day jobs.

But some outed teachers, as well as people in other prominent fields such as law, have lost their jobs, raising questions about personal freedoms and how far employers can go to avoid stigma related to their employees’ after-hour activities.

At St. Clair High School southwest of St. Louis, it all came crashing down this fall for 28-year-old Brianna Coppage and 31-year-old Megan Gaither.

“You’re tainted and seen as a liability,” Gaither lamented on Facebook after she was suspended. Coppage resigned.

The industry has seen a boom since the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is now believed 2 million to 3 million people produce content for subscriptions sites such as OnlyFans, Just for Fans and Clips4Sale, said Mike Stabile, spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry.

“I think that there was a time prior to the pandemic where the idea that someone might become a porn star was akin to saying that someone might be abducted by aliens,” Stabile said. “I think that what the pandemic and the sort of explosion of fan content showed was that a lot of people were open to doing it.”

It frequently proves risky, though. A recent report from the trade association found 3 in 5 adult entertainment performers have experienced employment discrimination. The report, based on a survey of more than 600 people in the industry, said 64% of adult creators have no other significant source of income, while there were no details on the occupations of those who did.

In St. Clair, Coppage was the first to be outed after someone posted a link to her OnlyFans account on a community Facebook group. Superintendent Kyle Kruse said Coppage was not asked to resign, but she did anyway.

“I do not regret joining OnlyFans,” Coppage told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in September. “I know it can be taboo, or some people may believe that it is shameful, but I don’t think sex work has to be shameful. I do just wish things just happened in a different way.”

Gaither, who also coached cheerleading, said she used her account to pay off student loans. She also was outed, although she wrote that she had an alias and did not show her face.

Neither teacher responded to phone or email messages from The Associated Press seeking comment. But both women told other news outlets that their OnlyFans earnings soared from the publicity.

The district said little, but parents and even some students voiced concerns.

“As a society, if we’ve come to it to think that it’s OK for children to be seeing their teacher having sex, that’s outrageous,” said Kurt Moritz, the father of a 7-year-old boy in the district. “We shouldn’t be giving children an extra reason to fantasize over their teachers.”

Moritz and a former student said they were particularly alarmed when Coppage did a YouTube interview with an adult content creator and said she would be willing to film with former students. Moritz said the remark went too far, and 17-year-old Claire Howard, who moved out of the district midway through last school-year, agreed.

“That’s something that shouldn’t be sexualized,” Howard said.

Whether fired adult content creators have a legal recourse is unclear. Employers have wide latitude to terminate employees. The question is whether firing people moonlighting in the adult entertainment industry has a disproportionate effect on women and LGBTQ+ people, said attorney Derek Demeri, an employment law expert in New Jersey.

Both groups are protected, and data from the Free Speech Coalition shows they are the ones who overwhelming produce adult content, he noted.

“If you have a policy that on its face is not about discrimination but ends up having a disparate impact on a protected community, now you’re crossing into territory that may be unlawful,” Demeri said, adding that this applies even in cases where the day job involves working with children.

Attorney Gregory Locke, who was fired in March as a New York City administrative law judge after city officials learned about his OnlyFans account, was contacted by a handful of adult content creators who were terminated from their day jobs. He hasn’t yet sued but said he agrees with Demeri’s legal reasoning.

Locke’s termination followed an online spat over drag queen story hours in which he used a profane remark in response to a councilmember who opposed the events. Locke, who is gay, said people need to stop treating sex work like such a big problem.

“We’re a gig economy now and millennials have more student debt than we know what to do with,” he said. “There’s all sorts of reasons why people would reach out for outside income like sex work, like OnlyFans.”

At least one lawsuit has been filed in a similar situation. Victoria Triece sued Orange County Public Schools in January, alleging she was banned from volunteering at her son’s Florida elementary school because she posts on OnlyFans.

“When you start getting the moral police involved in it, where does it stop? At what point does the school have the right to intervene in one’s private life?” asked her attorney, Mark NeJame.

In South Bend, Indiana, 42-year-old Sarah Seales said she was fired last year from her job teaching science to elementary school children through a Department of Defense youth program called STARBASE after she began posting on OnlyFans to make more money to support her twins.

A Department of Defense spokesperson said it was inappropriate to comment on matters of pending litigation.

Attorney Mark Nicholson, who specializes in revenge porn cases, interviewed Seales and hired her to work on his firm’s podcast. They ultimately decided against suing the blogger who drew attention to Seales’ side gig, he said.

“If we pay our teachers as much as we pay athletes,” Nicholson said, “maybe she wouldn’t have had to open up an OnlyFans.”


Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas. Associated Press writer Jim Salter contributed from O’Fallon, Missouri.

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Embattled wolves gain a new frontier in Democratic Colorado. The move is stoking political tensions

DENVER, Colo. (AP) — Wildlife officials plan to release gray wolves in Colorado in coming weeks, at the behest of urban voters and to the dismay of rural residents who don’t want the predators but have waning influence in the Democratic-led state.

The most ambitious wolf reintroduction effort in the U.S. in almost three decades marks a sharp departure from aggressive efforts by Republican-led states to cull wolf packs. More releases planned for Colorado over the next several years will start to fill in one of the last remaining major gaps in the western U.S. for a species that historically ranged from northern Canada to the desert southwest.

The reintroduction, starting with the release of up to 10 wolves, emerged as a political wedge issue when GOP-dominated Wyoming, Idaho and Montana refused to share their wolves for the effort. Colorado officials ultimately turned to another Democratic state — Oregon — to secure wolves.

As anticipation grows among wildlife advocates, who’ve already started a wolf-naming contest, ranchers in the Rocky Mountains where the releases will occur are anxious. They’ve already seen glimpses of what the future could hold as a handful of wolves that wandered down from Wyoming over the past two years killed livestock.

The fear is such attacks will worsen, adding to a spate of perceived assaults on western Colorado’s rural communities as the state’s liberal leaders embrace clean energy and tourism, eclipsing economic mainstays such as fossil fuel extraction and agriculture.

Especially grating for rancher Don Gittleson is that his fellow Colorado residents invited the reintroduction through their narrow approval of a 2020 ballot measure. Suburbs and cities along Colorado’s Front Range, which includes Denver, carried the vote despite strong opposition across less-densely populated counties where the wolves will be released — the home district of conservative Republican firebrand Rep. Lauren Boebert.

“It was the cities that voted for it, and most of them can’t tell the difference between a wolf or a coyote or a dog,” said Gittleson, who lost at least six cows and calves to wolves from his Sherman Creek Ranch in northern Colorado over the past couple years — among the first documented wolf attacks in the state in more than 70 years.

In 2022, gray wolves attacked domesticated animals hundreds of times across 10 states in the contiguous U.S. including Colorado, according to an Associated Press review of depredation data from state and federal agencies. Attacks killed or injured at least 425 cattle and calves, 313 sheep and lambs, 40 dogs, 10 chickens, five horses and four goats, according to the data. Other times livestock simply goes missing, such as two calves that Gittleson said disappeared after wolves had passed through.

Such losses can be devastating to individual ranchers or pet owners. However, their industry-wide impact is negligible: The number of cattle killed or injured in the documented cases equals 0.002% of herds in the affected states, according to a comparison of depredation data with state livestock inventories.

“95% of ranchers in Colorado will never have a problem,” said Ed Bangs, a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who led the reintroduction of wolves in the mid-1990s to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. “4.5% will have the occasional problem every couple of years maybe, and maybe one or two guys will have a problem like every other year. I don’t think it’s enough to put them out of business.”

“But if it was my cattle and my business, I’d be pissed,” he added.

Opposition to wolves is being used as a political bludgeon by elected officials such as Boebert, who sponsored legislation to lift remaining federal protections for wolves. That may not significantly sway an election but it’s a boon “for candidates like Boebert to rally behind, I think for want of another issue, to gin up cultural resentments.” said Seth Masket, director of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver.

Colorado wildlife officials anticipate releasing 30 to 50 wolves within the next five years.

To allay livestock industry fears, ranchers who lose livestock or herding and guard animals to wolf attacks will be paid fair market value, up to $15,000 per animal. Meanwhile, Colorado residents who backed the reintroduction are going to have to get used to wildlife agents killing wolves that prey on livestock.

Already some wolves have been killed when they crossed from Colorado into Wyoming, which has a “predatory” zone for wolves covering most of the state where they can be shot on sight.

The roiling political debates over the predator have been divorced from the details on the ground, said Matt Barnes, a range scientist focusing on preventing conflict between carnivores and ranchers. The former rancher argued that there’s a “middle ground” where agriculture and wildlife can inhabit the same landscape.

“People are really arguing not so much about the animals themselves, or even the land, but underlying worldviews about how humans fit into a more than human world,” said Barnes.

Colorado officials have a detailed strategy to deter wolves from livestock, including blinking lights that hang along fence lines and propane cannons that make frightening sonic blasts. Another method is tying fabric streamers to fences to make wolves wary of crossing onto ranches. The predators eventually get used to such deterrents, so they are used for relatively short periods of time.

Gray wolves were exterminated across most of the U.S. by the 1930s under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. They received endangered species protections in 1975, when there were about 1,000 left, in northern Minnesota.

There’s been no turning back for other states where gray wolves have become reestablished. An estimated 7,500 wolves in about 1,400 packs now roam parts of the contiguous U.S. Populations are expanding most rapidly in Oregon and Washington — Democratic states that wolves are naturally recolonizing after being reintroduced to neighboring states.

In Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, where wolf hunting is legal, Republican-dominated legislatures have sought to drive down wolf numbers by loosening rules for killing the predators and increasing the number that can be taken by individual hunters. That led to more Yellowstone wolves being shot but had a minor impact on overall wolf numbers. State officials say it’s helped reduce attacks on livestock as wolves become more wary of humans.

The stepped up killing also drew attention from President Joseph Biden’s administration, which is considering restoring federal wolf protections in the states in response to laws that made it much easier to kill the predators. It’s the only region of the U.S. where wolves are not currently federally protected.

Interior officials have sought for a decade — beginning under former President Barack Obama — to remove protections for wolves across the remainder of the contiguous U.S. That finally happened under former President Donald Trump, until a federal court struck down the action.

A new proposal is due by early February. If wolves lose their protected status, it would open the door to future hunts for the predators in Colorado and elsewhere, with each state to decide.

Near Gittleson’s Sherman Creek Ranch, Brain Anderson found three of his lambs dead last month on his family’s ranch. One was partially eaten, the other two seemingly untouched save for blood stains in their wool.

Anderson will be reimbursed, likely for the market rate of about $300 per animal, he said, but “the monetary value isn’t what’s important to me. … I have three customers now this year that aren’t going to get a lamb.”

Still, he’s less concerned about the long-term impacts on ranching assuming people get paid when livestock get killed.

“Is it going to affect people over the next four years? You betcha. Is agriculture and ranching still going to happen? Oh yeah,” he said.


Brown reported from Billings, Mont. Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyo. contributed to this story.


Follow Brown on X, formerly Twitter: @MatthewBrownAP

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Biden to host Hanukkah ceremony at the White House amid fears about rising antisemitism

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is hosting a White House reception Monday to mark Hanukkah, celebrating the holiday as he has continued to denounce rising antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The president, first lady Jill Biden and second gentleman Doug Emhoff will attend the reception. Hanukkah continues through Friday.

The Biden administration in May announced what it called the first-ever national strategy to counter antisemitism. That laid out more than 100 actions, including a series of steps to raise awareness and understanding of antisemitism and the threat it poses around the U.S.

Still, antisemitism has only intensified in some quarters since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants sparked Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza and urged its members to demand an immediate humanitarian cease-fire.

The Biden administration supported a since-expired, temporary pause in the fighting as Hamas released some of the hostages it held in Gaza, and is pushing for another truce — but the fighting continues in the meantime.

The husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, Emhoff is the first Jewish person to be the spouse of one of the country’s nationally elected leaders. Last week, he presided over the lighting ceremony of a massive menorah in front of the White House to mark Hanukkah’s first night, saying then that American Jews are “feeling alone” and “in pain.”

On Saturday, Liz Magill, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, resigned amid pressure from donors and criticism over testimony at a congressional hearing where she was unable to say under repeated questioning that calls on campus for the genocide of Jews would violate the school’s conduct policy.

Universities across the U.S. have been accused of failing to protect Jewish students amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from the war in Gaza.

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Biden heads to Philadelphia for firefighters and fundraising

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will join Philadelphia firefighters on Monday to announce federal funding that will reopen three fire companies, according to the White House.

The companies — Engine 6, Ladder 1 and Ladder 11 — were decommissioned during the Great Recession. Union leaders have said the cutbacks hampered the city’s response to a deadly rowhouse fire in the Fairmount neighborhood last year. Three adults and nine children were killed in the blaze.

The White House said Philadelphia would receive $22.4 million to pay for 72 firefighters’ salaries and benefits for three years. The money comes from the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) program, which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and was made available through last year’s budget.

Also scheduled to attend Monday’s event are Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and U.S. Fire Administrator Lori Moore-Merrell.

Ed Kelly, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and Mike Bresnan, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 22, are expected to be there as well.

Biden has political reasons to be in Philadelphia as well. He’s scheduled to hold a campaign fundraiser in the city.

The Democratic president is ramping up his fundraising as he prepares for a potential rematch with Republican former President Donald Trump next year.

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Jury trial will decide how much Giuliani must pay election workers over false election fraud claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — A trial set to get underway in Washington on Monday will determine how much Rudy Giuliani will have to pay two Georgia election workers who he falsely accused of fraud while pushing Donald Trump’s baseless claims after he lost the 2020 election.

The former New York City mayor has already been found liable in the defamation lawsuit brought by Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea “Shaye” Moss, who endured threats and harassment after they became the target of a conspiracy theory spread by Trump and his allies. The only issue to be determined at the trial — which will begin with jury selection in Washington’s federal court — is the amount of damages, if any, Giuliani must pay.

The case is among many legal and financial woes mounting for Giuliani, who was celebrated as “America’s mayor” in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack and became one of the most ardent promoters of Trump’s election lies after he lost to President Joe Biden.

Giuliani is also criminally charged alongside Trump and others in the Georgia case accusing them of trying to illegally overturn the results of the election in the state. He has pleaded not guilty and maintains he had every right to raise questions about what he believed to be election fraud.

He was sued in September by a former lawyer who alleged Giuliani only paid a fraction of roughly $1.6 million in legal fees stemming from investigations into his efforts to keep Trump in the White House. And the judge overseeing the election workers’ lawsuit has already ordered Giuliani and his business entities to pay tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

Moss had worked for the Fulton County elections department since 2012 and supervised the absentee ballot operation during the 2020 election. Freeman was a temporary election worker, verifying signatures on absentee ballots and preparing them to be counted and processed.

Giuliani and other Trump allies seized on surveillance footage to push a conspiracy theory that the election workers pulled fraudulent ballots out of suitcases. The claims were quickly debunked by Georgia election officials, who found no improper counting of ballots.

The women have said the false claims led to an barrage of violent threats and harassment that at one point forced Freeman to flee her home for more than two months. In emotional testimony before the U.S. House Committee that investigated the U.S. Capitol attack, Moss recounted receiving an onslaught of threatening and racist messages.

In her August decision holding Giuliani liable in the case, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said he gave “only lip service” to complying with his legal obligations and had failed to turn over information requested by the mother and daughter. The judge in October said that Giuliani had flagrantly disregarded an order to provide documents concerning his personal and business assets. She said that jurors deciding the amount of damages will be told they must “infer” that Giuliani was intentionally trying to hide financial documents in the hopes of “artificially deflating his net worth.”

Giuliani conceded in July that he made public comments falsely claiming Freeman and Moss committed fraud to try to alter the outcome of the race while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta. But Giuliani argued that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.


Richer reported from Boston.

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Harvard faculty rally around beleaguered university president Claudine Gay

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Several hundred faculty members at Harvard University on Sunday signed a petition asking school administrators to not bend to political pressure to fire the school’s president over her Congressional testimony about antisemitism on campus.

A concisely worded petition was signed by at least 570 professors and was delivered Sunday evening to the 13-member Harvard Corporation, which has the power to fire university president Claudine Gay. More professors indicated they also wanted to sign, according to a co-author of the petition.

Pressure has hiked on Gay over the weekend, after University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned on Saturday.

Gay, Magill and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Sally Kornbluth testified before a U.S. House of Representatives committee last week about a rise in antisemitism on college campuses following the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

The trio declined to give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to Republican Representative Elise Stefanik’s question of whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ codes of conduct regarding bullying and harassment, saying they had to balance it against free speech protections.

More than 70 U.S. lawmakers signed onto a letter demanding that the governing boards of the three universities remove the presidents, citing dissatisfaction with their testimony.

But Alison Frank Johnson, a Harvard professor of history and a co-author of the petition delivered to the school’s corporation, rejected the politicized calls for Gay’s removal.

“I get the impression that many people don’t know how much support she has, as a scholar, colleague, and administrator, within the university – including from people who sometimes disagree with her,” Frank Johnson wrote in an email. “We don’t want to lose her because of a political stunt.” 

Frank Johnson would not provide the language of the petition, but confirmed that it asks the Harvard Corporation “not to bend to political pressure, including pressure to remove the president.”

Jewish students, families and alumni have accused the schools of tolerating antisemitism, especially in statements by pro-Palestinian demonstrators since the Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and killed around 1,200. That attack prompted a massive counterattack by Israel that has left over 17,700 Palestinians dead, according to the Gaza health ministry.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Former President Donald Trump says he will not testify in New York fraud trial

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump said Sunday that he would not testify in a New York courtroom this week, where he had been expected to appear for a second time to make the case that his company did not misrepresent the value of its properties to win favorable financing.

The civil fraud trial, which began in October, is one of several legal challenges the former president faces as he mounts a comeback bid for the White House.

Trump said on social media on Sunday that “I will not be testifying on Monday.” The former president and Republican frontrunner said that he had already testified and had “nothing more to say other than that this is a complete and total election interference.”

In his first appearance in November, Trump often avoided direct answers and spent much of his time complaining of unfair treatment.

The judge overseeing the trial, Arthur Engoron, has already ruled that Trump and his adult sons manipulated financial statements to dupe banks and insurers into providing better loan and insurance terms.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking $250 million in damages and a permanent ban on Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric running businesses in New York.

Trump faces four unrelated federal and state criminal indictments, including two stemming from his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.

Still, none of these cases have dented his commanding lead for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next November’s election.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz and Luc Cohen; editing by Diane Craft)

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Trump says he won’t testify again at his New York fraud trial. He says he has nothing more to say

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump said Sunday he has decided against testifying for a second time at his New York civil fraud trial, posting on social media a day before his scheduled appearance that he “very successfully & conclusively” testified last month and saw no need to do so again.

The former president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, had been expected to return to the witness stand Monday as a coda to his defense against New York Attorney General Letitia James ‘ lawsuit.

James, a Democrat, alleges Trump inflated his wealth on financial statements used in securing loans and making deals. The case threatens Trump’s real estate empire and cuts to the heart of his image as a successful businessman.

“I will not be testifying on Monday,” Trump wrote in an all-capital-letters, multipart statement on his Truth Social platform less than 20 hours before he was to take the witness stand.

“I have already testified to everything & have nothing more to say,” Trump added, leaving the final word among defense witnesses to an accounting expert hired by his legal team who testified last week that he found “no evidence, whatsoever, for any accounting fraud” in Trump’s financial statements.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about his decision.

The decision was an abrupt change from Trump’s posture in recent days, when his lawyers said he was insistent on testifying again despite their concerns about a gag order that has cost him $15,000 in fines for disparaging the judge’s law clerk.

“President Trump has already testified. There is really nothing more to say to a judge who has imposed an unconstitutional gag order and thus far appears to have ignored President Trump’s testimony and that of everyone else involved in the complex financial transactions at issue in the case,” Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said Sunday.

Trump’s decision came days after his son, Eric Trump, ditched his return appearance on the witness stand. Trump said on social media that he’d told Eric to cancel.

It also follows Trump’s first trip back to court since he testified in the case on Nov. 6. Last Thursday, he watched from the defense table as the accounting professor, New York University professor Eli Bartov, blasted the state’s case and said Trump’s financial statements “were not materially misstated.”

Trump’s cancellation caught court officials by surprise. Without Trump on the witness stand, the trial will be on hold until Tuesday, when Bartov will finish his testimony. State lawyers say they’ll then call at least one rebuttal witness.

In a statement, James said whether Trump testified again or not, “we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from reality, the facts don’t lie.”

Trump was often defiant and combative when he testified Nov. 6. Along with defending his wealth and denying wrongdoing, he repeatedly sparred with the judge, whom he criticized as “extremely hostile,” and slammed James as “a political hack.”

Trump answered questions from state lawyers for about 3½ hours, often responding with lengthy diatribes. His verbose answers irked the judge, Arthur Engoron, who admonished, “This is not a political rally.”

Had Trump returned to the stand Monday, it would’ve been his defense lawyers leading the questioning, but lawyers from James’ office could have cross-examined him, too.

Engoron ruled before the trial that Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud. He ordered that a receiver take control of some Trump properties, but an appeals court has paused that decision.

Engoron is now considering six other claims, including allegations of conspiracy and insurance fraud. James seeks penalties of more than $300 million and wants Trump banned from doing business in New York. The judge is deciding, rather than a jury, because juries aren’t allowed in this type of case.

Though testimony is nearly over, the trial that started Oct. 2 will bleed into next year. Closing arguments are scheduled for Jan. 11, just four days before the Iowa caucuses start the presidential primary season. Engoron said he hopes to have a decision by the end of January.

Trump has had a prime role in the trial. Along with his testimony, he has voluntarily gone to court eight days to watch witnesses, turning his appearances into de facto campaign stops. During breaks, he has taken full advantage of the cameras parked in the courthouse hallway, spinning what’s happening inside the courtroom, where cameras aren’t allowed, in the most favorable light.

Trump’s frequent presence in court — as a witness, observer and aggrieved defendant — has underscored the unique personal stakes for a billionaire who’s also juggling four criminal cases and a campaign.

Where other politicians have shied from legal peril, Trump has leaned in as his court and political calendars increasingly overlap, with primaries a few weeks away and the first of his criminal trials slated for March.

But Trump’s interest in vindicating his company and his wealth has also run up against the limitations of the gag order, which was reinstated at the end of November by a state appellate court after a two-week interlude. The same gag order was also in effect when he testified in November.

Despite the gag order, Trump was adamant in recent days that he’d testify again — even as one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, said she discouraged him from taking the stand.

“He still wants to take the stand, even though my advice is, at this point, you should never take the stand with a gag order,” Habba told reporters last week, before Trump changed his mind.

Trump spent Saturday evening with Habba at the New York Young Republican Club’s black-tie gala. At the event, about a mile from the courthouse, he went on at length highlighting his objections, saying, “I have proven my innocence literally every single day.”


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Iowa man arrested in the death of a Nebraska priest

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A man has been arrested in the stabbing death of a Catholic priest who was attacked over the weekend in a church rectory in a small Nebraska community, authorities said.

The Rev. Stephen Gutgsell was assaulted Sunday “during an invasion” of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, the Archdiocese of Omaha said in a statement.

Gutgsell was taken to an Omaha hospital, where he died from his injuries, church officials said. Fort Calhoun, with a population of about 1,000 people, is roughly 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Omaha.

Police received a 911 call about an attempted break-in at the church just after 5 a.m. When officers arrived, they found Gutgsell injured and a suspected attacker inside. Kierre L. Williams, 43, was arrested on charges of homicide and using a weapon to commit a felony, Washington County Sheriff Mike Robinson said in a statement.

It is not clear if Williams, who is from Sioux City, Iowa, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) north of Fort Calhoun, has a lawyer. A message left at the county jail was not immediately returned.

In 2007, Gutgsell pleaded guilty to theft by deception for embezzling $127,000 from an area church. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution. He was later reassigned to another church. At the time, church leaders said Gutgsell learned his lesson, admitted wrongdoing and sought forgiveness.

Earlier this year, his brother, the Rev. Michael Gutgsell, also pled guilty to theft charges. He served as chancellor of the Omaha archdiocese from 1994 until 2003.

Robinson told WOWT-TV that authorities did not believe Stephen Gutgsell’s death was related to his criminal history. Robinson did not respond Sunday to questions on the topic from The Associated Press.

Archdiocese of Omaha spokesperson Riley Johnson declined to comment beyond confirming that Stephen and Michael Gutgsell were brothers.

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