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New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern throws in the towel
Gabrielle Debinski

New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern throws in the towel

In a shock announcement on Thursday, New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern said she no longer has “enough in the tank” to continue in the top job and will step down on Feb. 7. Ardern, a darling of the center-left who in 2017 became the world’s youngest female head of government, led the nation of 5 million through a host of challenges in recent years, including the horrific massacre at two Christchurch mosques, the pandemic, and a volcanic eruption on Whakaari/White Island that killed 22 people. Like much of the developed world, New Zealand is currently in the throes of an inflationary crisis that’s forced the central bank to aggressively raise interest rates. What’s more, as the cost of living crunch hurts ordinary New Zealanders, Ardern’s Labour Party is falling behind the center-right National Party in the polls ahead of the next general election in Oct. 2023. It’s unclear who will replace her, but Ardern’s deputy, Grant Robertson, already said he does not want the gig. In a rare act of political civility – and yet another reason why we should all move to New Zealand – Ardern’s rival, Christopher Luxon, head of the National Party, thanked Ardern for her service and for giving her all to a "demanding job."
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European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen delivers a speech at the 2023 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

BENOIT DOPPAGNE/Belga/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

To push back against IRA, EU plans its own green subsidies

It’s no secret the European Union has been unhappy with what it sees as unfair trade practices coming from Washington and Beijing. US President Joe Biden’s passage of the $369 billion Inflation Reduction Act, for example, offers consumer tax credits as well as incentives to US producers of green tech products that Europeans fear will put the continent’s manufacturers at an unfair advantage — perhaps even pushing them to relocate stateside. No wonder, then, that speculation has been rife over the possibility of the EU introducing its own subsidies in response. On Tuesday, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen told a Davos audience that the 27-member bloc will propose a Net-Zero Industry Act to mobilize EU support for green industries. Details will be hammered out at a summit in early February, but with the US investment so high, the EU’s commitment is expected to be big. The bigger questions are whether all these subsidies will be sustainable in the long term and if they will translate into lower prices that encourage EU consumers to buy more electric vehicles made in the bloc.

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US President Joe Biden during a campaign stop ahead of the midterm elections in Hallandale Beach, Florida.

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Check your closets for classified docs

It’s been a rollercoaster kind of week for US President Joe Biden.

On the downside, it seems he just plumb forgot to return not one but two batches of classified documents from his days as VP. The first cache was reportedly found on Nov. 2 – yes, you read that right, just days before the midterms – but not reported publicly until Monday. Then, on Wednesday, reports emerged of a second tranche of unreturned docs discovered at another location. Biden, keen to distinguish himself from the way former President Donald Trump handled his own classified documents scandal, said his lawyers followed protocol and immediately contacted the National Archives about returning the documents. A Justice Department review is underway.

The good news this week for Biden is that for the first time since the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, his approval rating (46%) is now higher than his disapproval (45%), according to an Economist/YouGov survey. Why the uptick? Biden has signed major pieces of legislation like CHIPS and the Inflation Reduction Act in recent months. Meanwhile, Republicans blew their chance for a “red wave” in the midterms, and the GOP's chaotic election of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy shows just how deep divisions in the party are. Still, House GOP members are hellbent on investigating Biden over a range of issues including, perhaps, the newfound classified files. Biden has had a good nine months — could the GOP-controlled house change his fortunes?

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Annie Gugliotta

171.9: The European Union’s recent $60 price cap for Russian oil is costing the Kremlin $171.9 million a day. That sounds like a lot, but Moscow is still raking in more than half a billion dollars daily from fossil fuels. Critics of the cap say it’s too close to the actual price that Russia gets for its oil on the open market anyway.

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Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, waves from a balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican after being elected by the conclave of cardinals, April 19, 2005.

Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to retire in six centuries, died early Saturday at the age of 95. Benedict surprised the world in 2013 by announcing he was stepping down from the papacy due to his advanced age. The first German pope in 1,000 years, Benedict took up the mantle of his close friend and predecessor, Pope John Paul II, and is credited with starting to reform Vatican finances and disciplining priests in Latin America who promoted Marxist ideology. Along the way, his strict adherence to church doctrine earned him the nickname “God’s Rottweiler.” Benedict’s papacy was plagued by global clerical sexual misconduct charges, and he charted a course for stricter discipline and defrocking of priests. But he’s also remembered for the 2012 “Vatileaks” controversy in which his brother leaked secret files revealing corruption and infighting at the Vatican. His reputation was further damaged by this year’s Munich diocese report, which alleged he mishandled sexual abuse allegations when he was an archbishop decades ago, prompting him to publicly apologize. Pope Benedict wasn’t always great at interfaith work. He managed to upset Muslims by suggesting Islam was inherently violent, and Jews by lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. While leaving a mixed legacy, Benedict will perhaps be remembered most for making a daring choice to resign when he felt he could no longer fully serve the papacy.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump at a rally in Conroe, Texas.

Reuters

Trump's tax returns set to be released

The House Ways and Means Committee voted yesterday to release Donald Trump's tax returns from 2015-2020 — a move the former president’s team has characterized as a politically motivated attack by Democrats in the House, who are set to lose their majority when the new Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. It may be days before all the filings go public, but committee members revealed late Tuesday that the IRS failed to audit Trump during his first two years as president. A report issued late Tuesday also highlighted some information from the filings, including that Trump had positive taxable income in 2018 — for the first time in more than 10 years — and paid nearly $1 million in federal income taxes that year. But as of 2020? Trump had reverted to reporting negative income … and paid no federal income tax as a result. Democrats on the committee explained that they carefully followed the law with this vote, invoking a century-old statute, but some Republicans say this could lead to increased use of exposing private tax info for political means.

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The House select committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol holds their final meeting to vote on criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump.

Reuters

Jan. 6 panel recommends criminal charges for Trump

Donald Trump’s week got off to a rocky start on Monday, when the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol referred the former president to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. The referral is based on four alleged crimes related to the insurrection, including inciting or assisting an insurrection, obstruction of an official congressional proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and conspiracy to make a false statement. It remains unclear whether the Justice Department – which is conducting its own investigation into the events of Jan. 6 – will take up the committee’s referral, which holds no legal weight. The panel also notably referred four Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to become the next House speaker, to the House Ethics Committee for having ignored subpoenas to testify. But this is likely to have little effect because the committee, which is split evenly along party lines, rules by majority vote. Today, meanwhile, the House Ways and Means Committee will discuss whether to release Trump’s tax returns, which it finally has in its possession following years of legal wrangling. With the clock ticking on the Democrat’s House majority, the committee is expected to release the returns before Republicans take control next month. Attorney General Merrick Garland must now decide whether to charge Trump based on the historic recommendation by Congress.

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