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Striking writers, Hollywood studios to meet on Sunday as talks stretch on


The iconic Hollywood sign is shown in early morning light in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 13, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Negotiators for the striking Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Hollywood studios will meet again on Sunday after a fourth day of talks failed to reach a deal.

The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios like Walt Disney (DIS.N), Netflix (NFLX.O) and other media companies, held talks on Saturday as the strike reached its 145th day.

Writers walked off the job in early May after negotiations failed to agree on compensation, minimum staffing of writers’ rooms, the use of artificial intelligence and residuals that reward writers for popular streaming shows.

The SAG-AFTRA union, comprising 160,000 members from actors to stunt performers, joined the writers in July, calling for a work stoppage and putting Hollywood into two simultaneous strikes for the first time in 63 years.

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Biden says Republicans should live up to budget deal


U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Phoenix Awards Dinner at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, U.S., September 23, 2023. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday rebuked what he called “extreme Republicans”, saying the party’s lawmakers needed to take immediate steps to prevent a government shutdown ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline.

The deal reached between congressional Republican leadership and his administration in May would have funded essential domestic and national security priorities and still cut the budget deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years, Biden said at a congressional awards dinner on Saturday.

“Now a small group of extreme Republicans don’t want to live up to the deal,” he said.

A shutdown would harm food safety, cancer research and children’s programs, Biden said, adding that ensuring that the government is funded is one of the core functions of congress.

“It’s time for Republicans to start doing the job America elected them to do. Let’s get this done,” he said.

Biden also cast his 2024 campaign against likely Republican challenger former President Donald Trump as a battle against political extremism.

“I wish I could say our threat to democracy ended with our victory in 2020 but it didn’t,” Biden said. “Our democracy is still at stake, don’t kid yourself.”

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El Paso, Texas “at a breaking point“ amid jump in migration, mayor says


The dramatic increase in migrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico has pushed the city of El Paso, Texas, to “a breaking point,” with more than 2,000 people per day seeking asylum, exceeding shelter capacity and straining resources, its mayor said on Saturday.

“The city of El Paso only has so many resources and we have come to … a breaking point right now,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said at a news conference.

The arrival of largely Venezuelan asylum seekers is part of a larger swell of immigrants who traveled dangerous routes on buses and cargo trains to Mexican border towns near San Diego, California, and the Texas cities of El Paso and Eagle Pass.

Migrant numbers had plummeted in recent months, and the recent rise has generated a new wave of political attacks on U.S. President Joe Biden heading into the 2024 election.

Lesser said El Paso plans to open a new shelter, and on Saturday chartered five buses to take migrants to New York, Chicago and Denver.

Republican governors in Texas and Florida have been criticized for sending migrants to cities perceived as liberal such as New York and Sacramento. But Leeser, a Democrat, said all of the migrants on the El Paso buses were going voluntarily to the cities of their choice.

Leeser said the Biden had been a good partner. But he said the overall U.S. immigration system was broken.

Many migrants from Venezuela, he said, lacked transportation to their desired destinations, while El Paso’s current shelter houses only 400 people, and must also be available to help the homeless.

As recently as six weeks ago, about 350 to 400 people were crossing into El Paso per day, but the past few days have brought 2,000 or more.

Over the past 10 days, the city has worked with the U.S. Border Patrol to provide shelter for 6,500 people, Leeser said.

About two-thirds of those crossing into El Paso currently are single men, he said. About 32% are families and just 2% are unaccompanied children.

“I think it’s really important to note that we have a broken immigration system,” he said. “It’s the same thing over and over again.”

Related Galleries:

Migrants sleep on the street after being released from U.S. Border Patrol custody in downtown El Paso, Texas, U.S., September 12, 2023. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks Mayor of El Paso Oscar Leeser as he walks along the border fence during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border to assess border enforcement operations, in El Paso, Texas, U.S., January 8, 2023. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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NASA Readies for Dramatic Landing of Asteroid Sample to Earth

The climactic end of a seven-year voyage comes Sunday when a NASA capsule is to land in the Utah desert, carrying to Earth the largest asteroid samples ever collected.

Scientists have high hopes for the sample, saying it will provide a better understanding of the formation of our solar system and how Earth became habitable.

The Osiris-Rex probe’s final, fiery descent through Earth’s atmosphere will be perilous, but the U.S. space agency is hoping for a soft landing, around 9 a.m. local (15H00 GMT), in a military test range in northwestern Utah.

Four years after its 2016 launch, the probe landed on the asteroid Bennu and collected roughly nine ounces (250 grams) of dust from its rocky surface.

Even that small amount, NASA says, should “help us better understand the types of asteroids that could threaten Earth” and cast light “on the earliest history of our solar system,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.

“This sample return is really historic,” NASA scientist Amy Simon told AFP. “This is going to be the biggest sample we’ve brought back since the Apollo moon rocks” were returned to Earth.

But the capsule’s return will require “a dangerous maneuver,” she acknowledged.

Osiris-Rex is set to release the capsule — from an altitude of more than 108,000 kilometers — about four hours before it lands.

The fiery passage through the atmosphere will come in the last 13 minutes, as the capsule hurtles downward at a speed of more than 43,453 kph, with temperatures of up to 2,760 Celsius.

Its rapid descent, monitored by army sensors, will be slowed by two successive parachutes. Should they fail to deploy correctly, a “hard landing” would follow.

If it appears that the target zone 60 by 15 kilometers might be missed, NASA controllers could decide at the last moment not to release the capsule.

The probe would then keep its cargo and make another orbit of the sun. Scientists would have to wait until 2025 before trying a new landing.

If it succeeds, however, Osiris-Rex would head toward a date with another asteroid.

Once the tire-sized capsule touches down in Utah, a team in protective masks and gloves will place it in a net to be airlifted by helicopter to a temporary “clean room” nearby.

NASA wants this done as quickly and carefully as possible to avoid any contamination of the sample with desert sands, skewing test results.

On Monday, assuming all goes well, the sample will be flown by plane to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. There, the box will be opened in another “clean room,” the beginning of a days-long process.

NASA plans to announce its first results at a news conference on Oct. 11.

Most of the sample will be conserved for study by future generations. Roughly one-fourth of it will be immediately used in experiments, and a small amount will be sent to Japan and Canada, partners in the mission.

Japan had earlier given NASA a few grains from the asteroid Ryugu, after bringing 5.6 grams of dust to Earth in 2020 during the Hayabusa-2 mission. Ten years before, it had brought back a microscopic quantity from another asteroid.

But the sample from Bennu is much larger, allowing for significantly more testing, Simon said.

Asteroids are composed of the original materials of the solar system, dating to some 4.5 billion years ago, and have remained relatively intact.

They “can give us clues about how the solar system formed and evolved,” said Osiris-Rex program executive Melissa Morris.

“It’s our own origin story,” she said.

By striking Earth’s surface, “we do believe asteroids and comets delivered organic material, potentially water, that helped life flourish here on Earth,” Simon said.

Scientists believe Bennu, which is 500 meters in diameter, is rich in carbon — a building block of life on Earth — and contains water molecules locked in minerals.

Bennu had surprised scientists in 2020 when the probe, during the few seconds of contact with the asteroid’s surface, had sunk into the soil, revealing an unexpectedly low density, sort of like a children’s pool filled with plastic balls.

Understanding its composition could come in handy in the distant future.

There is a slight, but non-zero, chance (one in 2,700) that Bennu could collide catastrophically with Earth, though not until 2182.

But NASA last year succeeded in deviating the course of an asteroid by crashing a probe into it in a test, and it might at some point need to repeat that exercise, but with much higher stakes. 

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Murdoch most foul


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I’m thinking of someone without loyalty, an elderly man who uses people and then discards them when their usefulness runs out. A man who changes wives faster than some people change their minds. I’m thinking of a man who, more than anyone else, is responsible for the most recent and reprehensible upsurge of fascism in the United States. I’m thinking of a climate change denier, a spreader of lies, a terrorist, a friend of money and an enemy of the poor, and I’m not, for once, thinking of Donald Trump.

I’m thinking of Rupert Murdoch, the father of the crypto-fascist, terrorist organisation disingenuously known as Fox “News.” Murdoch, the news media multi-billionaire and one man extinction level event. We possibly owe more to the mogul Murdoch for our current woes on this planet than to any one person alive. In the hands of Murdoch, the pen is more destructive than the atomic bomb.

Were it not for Murdoch there could never have been a Donald Trump. Murdoch is responsible for at least half the surplus human stupidity and ignorance extant today. Murdoch, through his massive, sprawling media organisation, is a universal purveyor of destructive lies.

And, according to a new book, “The Fall” by Michael Wolff, Rupert Murdoch wants Donald Trump dead. Now that he’s created him and used him to destroy America, Murdoch has no further use for Trump. He is frequently overheard to say of Trump, “How could he still be alive, how could he?”

I have often wondered the same thing about Murdoch myself, but then, I’ve also wondered the same thing about Trump. The difference is, I didn’t create Trump. I would have never assisted in the creation of Trump had I had the chance. Murdoch had no scruple about it.

What I want to know is, at 92 years old, what keeps the ancient arachnid Murdoch still alive and still meddling in the affairs of a world that he’s so thoroughly screwed up? Like Henry Kissinger, who is also still alive and functioning at 100, evil sometimes seems to live on and on and on. Maybe Billy Joel was right. Only the good die young.

According to Michael Wolff, Murdoch has become “a frothing-at-the-mouth” enemy of the 77-year-old former US president, often voicing thoughts including “This would all be solved if … ” It never seems to occur to him that Donald Trump is mostly his fault. Unlike Dr Frankenstein, Murdoch seems to have no comprehension of the role he played in the creation of his monster.

Disloyalty is a prominent feature of today’s Republican fascism, and in that way the rest of the Republican Party has followed Murdoch’s and Trump’s example. No sooner does an ally cease being useful than that ally becomes an enemy. Think of the current feud between Marjorie Taylor Greene and Loren Boebert, and the feud between the so-called Freedom Caucus and Greene.

In the final analysis, the Republican, crypto-fascist unquenchable greed for power is all about individual ambition. Can there be any doubt that Ted Cruz, Matt Gaetz and even Marjorie Taylor Greene each have the Big Prize, the Oval Office itself, as their ultimate goal?

There is no room for permanent loyalty with such blind ambition. Such is the world that Rupert Murdoch created, an anarchy of platformless lust for power, without a goal, without principles, and fuelled by performative outrage and counterfeit culture wars promulgated by empty slogans. Such slogans make easy headlines for Murdoch’s propaganda press.

To date Michael Wolff has written three tell-all books about Trump, “Fire and Fury,” “Siege and Landslide,” and one other book about Murdoch “The Man Who Owns the News. In this most recent Murdoch book, Wolff says he may be “the [one] journalist not in his employ who knows [Murdoch] best.”

“The Fall” is destined for a reading public only, which means whatever wisdom it may contain is lost on the MAGA crowd. For what it’s worth, and I hope it’s worth something, it comes out this Tuesday. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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Donald Trump gets sandboxed

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We all know about “Morning in America.” That was at a time when the GOP’s candidate, Ronald Reagan, was surging in the polls. He wound up winning the Presidency in a landslide.

And through the years, Reagan was often held up by many a Republican as almost — some type of God. Time and again, the GOP would invoke Reagan’s name as an example of what a true Republican looked like.

In today’s republican iteration, Reagan would likely be considered too liberal for the GOP. It’s true. Maga would likely mock him. This is how far down the rabbit hole the GOP has fallen.

Now, I was never a Reagan fan, as I am not a fan of almost any Republican. But one cannot deny Reagan was extremely popular back in the day. You do not win like that in a landslide if you’re unpopular.

But the Reagan Presidential Library remains. It is one of the most visited Presidential libraries. However one person will not be likely to receive an invite. That person is Donald John Trump.

“Spoiled brat in a sandbox.” Those are the words from a member of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. This person also reportedly told Politico that Trump would not be receiving an invitation to speak there because many of his views are anathema to what Reagan stood for.

Yet another advisor likened Trump to Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, saying Trump wants to “burn everything to the ground” and “attack people.” And he said that for some people involved with the library, Trump “drives them nuts.”

In the past, the Reagan Library has invited many Republicans to speak, such as Liz Cheney. But that invite does not seem to be open to Trump, who, to this day, has not received an invite and, judging by the negative reaction to him, will never be invited to speak there.

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At UN, African Leaders Say They Must Be Partnered With, Not Sidelined

If you listen to the African leaders addressing the United Nations General Assembly this year, the message is emphatic and unanimous: The continent is done being a victim of a post-World War II order. It is a global power and must be partnered with — not sidelined. 

Most of Africa has logged a lifetime of independence — roughly 60 years — and the continent of more than 1.3 billion people is more conscious of the challenges stifling its development. There’s also a new boldness that comes with the African Union’s G20 seat. 

“We as Africa have come to the world, not to ask for alms, charity or handouts, but to work with the rest of the global community and give every human being in this world a decent chance of security and prosperity,” Kenyan President William Ruto said. 

In recent years, Africa has been clear about its capacity to become a global power, from efforts to tackle climate change at home — such as the existential threat of climate change upending lives and livelihoods in the region, despite Africa contributing by far the least to global warming — to helping to foster peace elsewhere, like in Russia and Ukraine. 

In his address, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo blamed Africa’s present-day challenges on “historical injustices” and called for reparations for the slave trade. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa said the continent is poised to “regain its position as a site of human progress” despite dealing with a “legacy of exploitation and subjugation.” Nigeria’s leader, Bola Tinubu, urged his peers to see the region not as “a problem to be avoided” but as “true friends and partners.” 

“Africa is nothing less than the key to the world’s future,” said Tinubu, who leads a country that, by 2050, is forecast to become the third most populous in the world. 

With the largest bloc of countries at the United Nations, it is understandable that African leaders increasingly demand a bigger voice in multilateral institutions, said Murithi Mutiga, program director for Africa at the Crisis Group. “Those calls will grow especially at a time when the continent is being courted by big powers amid growing geopolitical competition.” 

A paradox, yet unstoppable 

On the U.N.’s sidelines, the African Development Bank mobilized some political and business leaders at an event tagged “Unstoppable Africa,” a phrase seen as reflective of the continent’s aspirations just days after the first-ever Africa Climate Summit called richer countries to keep their climate promises — and invest. 

But with a young population set to double by 2050, Africa is the only rapidly growing region where its people are getting poorer and where some are celebrating the rampant takeover of their democratically elected governments by militaries. 

“Africa is a paradox,” said Rashid Abdi, Horn of Africa/Gulf chief analyst at the Nairobi-based Sahan Research think tank. “It is not just a continent of dwindling hope, there are parts of Africa where we are seeing innovation, progressive thinking and very smart solutions.” 

Abdi said the world is becoming more interested in Africa and how it contributes to current global challenges. 

“There is definitely potential for Africa to be more assertive and to drive progressive and fairer change in the global system,” he said. 

For Ghana’s Akufo-Addo, correcting an “unfair” world order must begin with the payment of reparations from the era during which an approximated 12.5 million people were enslaved, according to the often-referenced Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database. 

“It is time to acknowledge openly that much of Europe and the United States have been built from the vast wealth harvested from the sweat, tears, blood and horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the centuries of colonial exploitation,” Akufo-Addo said. 

A seat at the table 

The continent relies heavily on foreign aid for its development needs, receiving the largest share of total global aid, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Still, it continues to suffer from a global financial system that forces its countries to pay eight times more than the wealthiest European nations, resulting in surging debt that eats up what is left of dwindling government revenues. 

In 2022, Africa’s total public debt reached $1.8 trillion, 40 times more than the 2022 budget of the continent’s largest country Nigeria, according to the U.N.’s agency for trade and development. 

“Africa has no need for partnerships based on official development aid that is politically oriented and tantamount to organized charity,” President Felix-Antoine Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said. “Trickling subsidies filtered by the selfish interests of donors will certainly not allow for a real and effective rise of our continent.” 

Tshisekedi’s country has the world’s largest reserves of cobalt and is also one of the largest producers of copper, both critical for clean energy transition. 

What Africa needs instead, according to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, is a more inclusive global financial system. In such a system, Nyusi said, Africans can participate as “a partner that has (a) lot to offer to the world and not only a warehouse that supplies cheap commodities to countries or international multinational corporations.” 

Challenges lie ahead 

Africa’s capacity is not only in its population but also its rich natural resources. However, speaking with a collective voice is stymied by national-focused, rather than regional, policies, said Ibrahim Mayaki, the African Union’s special envoy for food systems. 

“The main obstacle to Africa’s development is its fragmentation in 50-plus countries,” said Mayaki at a New York event organized by the Africa Center think tank. 

In the richly endowed continent, at least half of its 54 countries are among the 30 least developed in the world, according to the latest U.N. Human Development Index. 

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