Niece of Iranian leader asks world to cut ties with Iran

“I ask the conscientious people of the world to stand by us and ask their governments not to react with empty words and slogans but with real action and stop any dealings with this regime,” she said in her video statement.

The protests, now in their third month, have faced a brutal crackdown by Iranian security forces using live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to suppress demonstrations. At least 451 people have been killed, including 63 minors, according to HRANA. Another 18,173 have been detained, the rights monitor reports.

Despite the crackdown, demonstrations are ongoing and scattered across cities.

The unrest was sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody in Tehran for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. It has quickly morphed into the most serious challenge to Iran’s establishment since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran also said it would not cooperate with any U.N. fact-finding missions to investigate the deadly crackdown on protests, Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Monday. The U.N. Human Rights Council voted to set up the mission last week.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not engage in any cooperation, whatsoever, with the political committee called the ‘fact-finding committee’” Kanaani said.

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Biden administration critical of ‘zero Covid’ amid Chinese protests

The “zero Covid” strategy aims to isolate every infected individual in China and has confined millions of people to their home for weeks — some of whom have complained about a lack of reliable access to food and medical supplies. The NSC spokesperson on Monday made it clear that these excessive Covid restrictions would not be pursued in the United States, which will instead rely on public health tools such as vaccines and testing.

“For us, we are focused on what works and that means using the public health tools like: continuing to enhance vaccination rates, including boosters and making testing and treatment easily accessible,” the spokesperson said.

While the spokesperson lightly criticized China for implementing the policy and emphasized citizens’ right to protest, the Biden administration has so far held back on issuing a larger condemnation of Xi amid the unrest. The White House’s apparent restraint in more forcefully supporting the protesters in China comes amid President Joe Biden’s broader effort to mend fences with Xi — whom he met with during the G-20 meeting earlier in November — and stabilize the currently rocky U.S.-China relationship.

“We’ve long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, here in the United States and around the world,” the spokesperson said. “This includes in the PRC.”

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Ireland fines Meta €265M for ‘data scraping’ leak – POLITICO

Ireland’s privacy authority Monday announced it was imposing a €265 million fine and other corrective measures on Meta for failing to properly protect its data. 

The fine is for a data breach discovered in 2021. Personal data of EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel and dozens of EU officials were included in a leak of the 533 million records including phone numbers, Facebook IDs, full names and birthdates that surfaced on a public forum and circulating widely on the web.

The Irish Data Protection Commission — which oversees Meta because its European headquarters is there — argued the U.S. tech giant failed to comply with the General Data Protection’s obligation to ensure privacy “by design and default,” meaning it had engineered its products in a way that personal data could leak.

In addition to the fine, the authority imposed a reprimand and an order “to bring [Meta’s] processing into compliance by taking a range of specified remedial actions within a particular timeframe,” the DPC said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Meta said the company had “made changes to our systems during the time in question, including removing the ability to scrape our features in this way using phone numbers. Unauthorized data scraping is unacceptable and against our rules and we will continue working with our peers on this industry challenge.” 

Facebook can still appeal the decision before Irish courts. It said it was “reviewing this decision carefully.”

The Irish Data Protection Commission is expected to announce three other decisions against Meta companies soon too, it told POLITICO this month.

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House Dems on GOP’s thin majority: Welcome to hell

“I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the bad legislation they are going to pass. Because I don’t think they’re going to pass it,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

Awaiting the outcome of just one true toss-up race, Republicans will have a majority of either four or five — giving McCarthy the sparest of margins of any other Congress at the start of its term since 1931. Not to mention that he’s already vowed to do away with Pelosi-era proxy voting, making every potential absence a new challenge.

That means governing will be a 24/7 obstacle course for House Republicans who are already facing big questions about their agenda next year, from abortion policy to Ukraine aid to impeaching President Joe Biden and some Cabinet members. As Democrats prepare their retreat into the minority, many are less-than-fondly recalling their own two years of vote-wrangling and floor delays while wishing their GOP colleagues luck.

“It was wonderful,” quipped Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a member of Pelosi’s whip team who remembered countless after-midnight phone calls this Congress to lock down votes for many of his party’s huge bills. “That was a regular routine, as a matter of fact.”

Democrats say if there’s anything they learned over the past two years, when they, too, navigated a historically minuscule majority, it’s just how fragile those numbers can be. While Pelosi and her caucus started out with a 10-seat margin in January 2021, it was whittled down to as few as three votes during those two years.

Some Democrats said they’re unconvinced the GOP conference can exhibit the same exacting discipline that it took their party to pass everything from a policing package to Pentagon funding to even their own Democratic budget. Thanks to Pelosi, her party ultimately passed several huge bills, including President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar health, tax and climate package, with less than a handful of votes to spare.

“They’re going to be fraught with fractures and friction and challenges and apostates. I wish them well in trying to manage that crowd,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

And Connolly, who served in the minority under previous GOP leadership struggles, cautioned that McCarthy could have even more problems managing the conference over the next two years than his most recent predecessors, both of whom struggled with Freedom Caucus rebellions: “Paul Ryan and John Boehner both had a bigger majority, and they couldn’t exercise control.”

Both of those previous speakers struggled at times to even pass bills through their chamber. Then-Speaker John Boehner, for instance, watched his own party’s 2013 farm bill fail spectacularly on the floor, and often had to rely on Democrats to pass spending bills. Years later, former Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to withdraw the GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act after a revolt from the center. And Ryan oversaw three government shutdowns during his relatively brief four-year tenure in the speakership.

McCarthy’s margin is smaller than either of those two faced. Further complicating his math problem, Republicans have pledged to do away with the cushion of pandemic-related proxy voting, which gave Pelosi critical breathing room when Democrats weren’t able to vote in person for any number of reasons.

Sometimes it was a coronavirus infection, a natural disaster in the district or a family emergency back home. Other times it was an out-of-state fundraiser or a family vacation. Regardless, Pelosi and her whip team could ensure those members would still vote — guaranteeing they had the numbers to pass their priorities despite any individual crises.

While Republicans say McCarthy will undoubtedly stick to his vow to ban proxy voting — which they’ve used to accuse Democrats of not showing up to work — privately some GOP lawmakers acknowledge they’re worried about their small margins, given that there’s bound to be at least a few absences from each floor vote.

And there’s always the possibility that the Republican majority could grow even slimmer. Democrats, for instance, had six members resign during the current Congress for jobs elsewhere, including the White House. Republicans had four members resign — including one who was convicted of campaign-related felonies. In all, six members died: five Republicans and one Democrat.

The timing of a House member’s replacement can vary dramatically from one state to the next, which at times has complicated Democrats’ legislative plans in the current Congress.

Special elections can occur within as little as a few months or take closer to a year. For example, the successor to Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who died in office in April 2021, wasn’t sworn in until January 2022.

McCarthy, meanwhile, appears likely to start the coming year with a majority margin roughly half the size of what Democrats started with two years ago.

It’s not clear exactly when the final two House races will be decided — one in California’s Central Valley and one in western Colorado. GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert’s opponent has already called her to concede the Colorado race.

The other uncalled seat remains a true toss-up, though GOP candidate John Duarte retains a lead of about 600 votes over his Democratic opponent, Adam Gray.

But whether it’s a four- or five-seat majority, House Rules Chair Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said Republicans would need to make plans to compromise either way — maybe even with Democrats.

And while Democrats’ reluctant members were willing to come to the bargaining table, he insisted GOP members wouldn’t take the same approach: “They just say no to everything and they’re more interested in getting more Twitter followers than they are in legislating.”

Ally Mutnick and Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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Fed’s Powell spurs backlash from Warren, labor advocates over job losses

“That’s a return to the bad old days,” said Benjamin Dulchin, head of the Fed Up Campaign, a coalition of community groups and labor unions. “Overreacting and sticking it to working people because that’s the only thing they know they can do, it’s the same old bias.”

Fed Up was among the progressive groups that praised the Republican Powell when he declared in 2020 that the Fed would focus more on workers by holding off on raising interest rates for as long as possible — defying decades of central bank policy in adopting a new, labor-centered framework in the wake of the civil unrest after George Floyd’s murder.

But Powell — who will address the labor market situation at a Brookings Institution event on Nov. 30 — is now battling persistent and raging inflation, a post-pandemic trend that the Fed didn’t see coming. That has prompted policymakers to return to their traditional focus on fighting inflation by cranking up borrowing costs even if it leads to a surge in joblessness and triggers a recession.

The criticism is the first sign of an erosion in political support for Powell, who sailed to confirmation to a second term with 80 votes in the Senate in May. Though he still enjoys backing from the White House and bipartisan deference, his quest to slow hiring will probably lead to more broadsides from the new Congress in the form of legislative proposals, oversight hearings and angry letters.

Powell’s critics say much of inflation is driven by factors outside of the Fed’s control, such as supply chain problems, and cite signs that inflation is already beginning to cool, borne out by the latest Consumer Price Index report. Progressives like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) also blame corporations for taking advantage of the situation and jacking up prices excessively.

Warren recently led 10 other lawmakers in calling the Fed rate hikes “alarming” and demanding a further explanation for them. Other Democrats like Brown, an Ohio Democrat who oversees the Fed as chair of the Senate Banking Committee, and Sen. John Hickenlooper of Colorado have also weighed in.

Powell isn’t backing down. While he and other Fed policymakers have signaled that future increases to borrowing costs will be more gradual as they gauge the impact on the economy, they also say rates still have much further to rise.

Senior central bank policymakers say they’re open to signs that inflation can cool without much of a hit to employment; for example, a key measure of employer compensation costs, given particular weight by the Fed, shows that private sector wages are decelerating. But they’re not convinced yet. Powell underscored in his press conference in early November that he still thinks the labor market is “out of balance.”

For now, the market is still so robust that demand for workers far exceeds the number of people available to fill jobs. Powell says it will need to soften — which can mean anything from fewer job openings to mass layoffs — a message echoed by other Fed officials in the last week. More broadly, he argues that while job losses are agonizing for many families, inflation hurts everyone, especially lower-income people.

“I don’t think the Fed’s goal is to have a weaker labor market; its goal is to have lower inflation,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard professor who served as chief economist to President Barack Obama. “They’re saying, if unemployment starts to go up, we’re still going to stick with it.”

Traditional economic models suggest that lower unemployment and rapid wage growth are tied to inflation, a framework that has led former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to suggest the jobless rate will have to rise to 6 percent, from 3.7 percent in October, to properly tackle inflation.

For their part, Fed officials in September said they expect their rate moves to drive unemployment to 4.4 percent by next year — which could translate to more than a million job losses. But they’re not targeting a certain level of employment.

“We’re never going to say that there are too many people working, but the real point is this: Inflation — what we hear from people when we meet with them is that they really are suffering from inflation,” Powell told reporters at that time. “And if we want to set ourselves up, really light the way to another period of a very strong labor market, we have got to get inflation behind us. I wish there were a painless way to do that. There isn’t.”

Therein lies the dilemma: What’s the best way to bring down inflation, if not through the cudgel of higher interest rates? The existing playbook isn’t extensive.

Lindsay Owens, executive director of progressive think tank Groundwork Collaborative, argued that it should be opportunistic companies, not workers, that pay the cost of bringing down inflation, through a tax on so-called excessive profits.

“We have seen increasing examples of companies talking about the fact that either they are seeing their input costs coming down, or they see a future in which their input costs come down,” she said, citing corporate earnings calls with shareholders. “And then pivoting to saying, ‘this is really good news, because we’re going to keep the same pricing,’ or in some cases, saying, ‘we’re going to be doing more pricing increases.’”

Skanda Amarnath, executive director of worker advocacy group Employ America, said the Fed could also slow economic activity without aiming to push up unemployment. He said the purpose of aggressive government spending in the wake of the pandemic was to return the economy to pre-pandemic employment levels. Now that the labor market has largely recovered, “we don’t need that much growth right now to keep employment at a high level.”

“That’s the middle ground,” he said. “They’ve kind of just said that doesn’t exist, which is wrong and problematic.”

But many economists say it’s an open question whether the labor market itself will need to be a casualty in the fight against inflation, or if it might merely be collateral damage.

“Can inflation come back to the [Fed’s] 2 percent target, given wage growth?” said Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn. “A lot of mainstream economists and the Fed probably think no, because wage growth by itself and by increasing costs will put upward pressure on inflation.”

Furman said the problem is the economy cannot produce enough to meet demand for goods and services, and inflation is the result.

“Demand remains high, and that’s why workers are emboldened to ask for bigger raises, and that’s why companies are emboldened to ask for bigger price increases,” he said, which higher rates help quell. “This is the only way we know to get rid of inflation.”

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NATO’s looming fault line: China – POLITICO

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NATO allies finally agreed earlier this year that China is a “challenge.” What that means is anyone’s guess. 

That’s the task now facing officials from NATO’s 30-member sprawl since they settled on the label in June: Turning an endlessly malleable term into an actual plan. 

Progress, thus far, has been modest — at best. 

At one end, China hawks like the U.S. are trying to converge NATO’s goals with their own desire to constrain Beijing. At the other are China softliners like Hungary who want to engage Beijing. Then there’s a vast and shifting middle: hawks that don’t want to overly antagonize Beijing; softliners that still fret about economic reliance on China. 

U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith insisted the American and NATO strategies can be compatible.

“I see tremendous alignment between the two,” she told POLITICO. But, she acknowledged, translating the alliance’s words into action is “a long and complicated story.” 

Indeed, looming over the entire debate is the question of whether China even merits so much attention right now. War is raging in NATO’s backyard. Russia is not giving up its revanchist ambitions.

“NATO was not conceived for operations in the Pacific Ocean — it’s a North Atlantic alliance,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, in a recent interview with POLITICO.

“Certainly one can consider other threats and challenges,” he added. “But [for] the time being, don’t you think that we have enough threats and challenges on the traditional scenario of NATO?”

The issue will be on the table this week in Bucharest, where foreign ministers from across the alliance will sign off on a new report about responding to China. While officials have agreed on several baseline issues, the talks will still offer a preview of the tough debates expected to torment NATO for years, especially given China’s anticipated move to throttle Taiwan — the semi-autonomous island the U.S. has pledged to defend.

“Now,” said one senior European diplomat, “the ‘so what’ is not easy.” 

30 allies, 30 opinions

NATO’s “challenge” label for China — which came at an annual summit in Madrid — is a seemingly innocuous word that still represented an unprecedented show of Western unity against Beijing’s rise. 

In a key section of the alliance’s new strategic blueprint, leaders wrote that “we will work together responsibly, as Allies, to address the systemic challenges” that China poses to the military alliance.

It was, in many ways, a historic moment, hinting at NATO’s future and reflecting deft coordination among 30 members that have long enjoyed vastly different relationships with Beijing. 

The U.S. has driven much of the effort to draw NATO’s attention to China, arguing the alliance must curtail Beijing’s influence, reduce dependencies on the Asian power and invest in its own capabilities. Numerous allies have backed this quest, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. 

China is “the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” the U.S. wrote in its own national security strategy released last month. 

NATO is a wide-ranging alliance | Denis Doyle/Getty Images

But NATO is a wide-ranging alliance. Numerous eastern European countries lean toward these hawks but want to keep the alliance squarely focused on the Russian threat. Some are wary of angering China, and the possibility of pushing Beijing further into Moscow’s arms. Meanwhile, a number of western European powers fret over China’s role in sensitive parts of the Western economy but still want to maintain economic links. 

Now the work is on to turn these disparate sentiments into something usable.

“There is a risk that we endlessly debate the adjectives that we apply here,” said David Quarrey, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to NATO. 

“We are very focused on practical implementation,” he told POLITICO in an interview. “I think that’s where the debate needs to go here — and I think we are making progress with that.” 

For Quarrey and Smith, the U.S. ambassador, that means getting NATO to consider several components: building more protections in cyberspace, a domain China is seeking to dominate; preparing to thwart attacks on the infrastructure powering society, a Western vulnerability Russia has exposed; and ensuring key supply chains don’t run through China. 

Additionally, Quarrey said, NATO must also deepen “even further” its partnerships with regional allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. 

While NATO allies can likely broadly agree on goals like boosting cyber defenses, there’s some grumbling about the ramifications of pivoting to Asia.

The U.S. “wants as much China as possible to make NATO relevant to China-minded Washingtonians,” the senior European diplomat said. But, this person added, it is “not clear where NATO really adds value.” 

And the U.K., the diplomat argued, is pressing NATO on China because it is “in need of some multilateral framework after Brexit.” 

Perhaps most importantly, a turn to China raises existential questions about Europe’s own security. Currently, Europe is heavily reliant on U.S. security guarantees, U.S. troops stationed locally and U.S. arms suppliers. 

“An unspoken truth is that to reinforce Taiwan,” the European diplomat said, the U.S. would not be “in a position to reinforce permanently in Europe.”

Europeans, this person said, “have to face the music and do more.”

Compromise central  

Smith, the U.S. ambassador, realizes different perspectives on China persist within NATO. 

The upcoming report on China therefore hits the safer themes, like defending critical infrastructure. While some diplomats had hoped for a more ambitious report, Smith insisted she was satisfied. The U.S. priority, she said, is to formally get the work started. 

“We could argue,” she said, about “the adjectives and the way in which some of those challenges are described. But what was most important for the United States was that we were able to get all of those workstreams in the report.”

But even that is a baby step on the long highway ahead for NATO. Agreeing to descriptions and areas of work is one thing, actually doing that work is another. 

“We’re still not doing much,” said a second senior European diplomat. “It’s still a report describing what areas we need to work on — there’s a lot in front of us.”

Among the big questions that remain unanswered: How could China be integrated into NATO’s defense planning? How would NATO backfill the U.S. support that currently goes to Europe if some of it is redirected to Asia? Will European allies offer Taiwan support in a crisis scenario? 

Western capitals’ unyielding support for Kyiv — and the complications the war has created — is also being closely watched as countries game plan for a potential military showdown in the Asia-Pacific. 

Asked last month whether the alliance would respond to an escalation over Taiwan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told POLITICO that “the main ambition is, of course, to prevent that from happening,” partly by working more closely with partners in the area.

Smith similarly demurred when asked about the NATO role if a full-fledged confrontation breaks out over Taiwan — a distinct possibility given Beijing’s stated desire to reunify the island with the mainland. 

Instead, Smith pointed to how Pacific countries had backed Ukraine half a world away during the current war, saying “European allies have taken note.”

She added: “I think it’s triggered some questions about, should other scenarios unfold in the future, how would those Atlantic and Pacific allies come together again, to defend the core principles of the [United Nations] Charter.” 

Stuart Lau contributed reporting. 

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Stop the killer robots! Musk-backed lobbyists fight to save Europe from bad AI – POLITICO

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A lobby group backed by Elon Musk and associated with a controversial ideology popular among tech billionaires is fighting to prevent killer robots from terminating humanity, and it’s taken hold of Europe’s Artificial Intelligence Act to do so.

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) has over the past year made itself a force of influence on some of the AI Act’s most contentious elements. Despite the group’s links to Silicon Valley, Big Tech giants like Google and Microsoft have found themselves on the losing side of FLI’s arguments.

In the EU bubble, the arrival of a group whose actions are colored by fear of AI-triggered catastrophe rather than run-of-the-mill consumer protection concerns was received like a spaceship alighting in the Schuman roundabout. Some worry that the institute embodies a techbro-ish anxiety about low-probability threats that could divert attention from more immediate problems. But most agree that during its time in Brussels, the FLI has been effective. 

“They’re rather pragmatic and they have legal and technical expertise,” said Kai Zenner, a digital policy adviser to center-right MEP Axel Voss, who works on the AI Act. “They’re sometimes a bit too worried about technology, but they raise a lot of good points.” 

Launched in 2014 by MIT academic Max Tegmark and backed by tech grandees including Musk, Skype’s Jaan Tallinn, and crypto wunderkind Vitalik Buterin, FLI is a nonprofit devoted to grappling with “existential risks” — events able to wipe out or doom humankind. It counts other hot shots like actors Morgan Freeman and Alan Alda and renowned scientists Martin (Lord) Rees and Nick Bostrom among its external advisers.

Chief among those menaces — and FLI’s priorities — is artificial intelligence running amok.

“We’ve seen plane crashes because an autopilot couldn’t be overruled. We’ve seen a storming of the U.S. Capitol because an algorithm was trained to maximize engagement. These are AI safety failures today — as these systems become more powerful, harms might become worse,” Mark Brakel, FLI director of European policy, said in an interview.

But the lobby group faces two PR problems. First, Musk, its most famous backer, is at the center of a storm since he started mass firings at Twitter as its new owner, catching the eye of regulators, too. Musk’s controversies could cause lawmakers to get skittish about talking to FLI. Second, the group’s connections to a set of beliefs known as effective altruism are raising eyebrows: The ideology faces a reckoning and is most recently being blamed as a driving force behind the scandal around cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has unleashed financial carnage. 

How FLI pierced the bubble

The arrival of a lobby group fighting off extinction, misaligned artificial intelligence and killer robots was bound to be refreshing to otherwise snoozy Brussels policymaking.

FLI’s Brussels office opened in mid-2021, as discussions about the European Commission’s AI Act proposal were kicking off.

“We would prefer AI to be developed in Europe, where there will be regulations in place,” Brakel said. “The hope is that people take inspiration from the EU.”

A former diplomat, the Dutch-born Brakel joined the institute in May 2021. He chose to work in AI policy as a field that was both impactful and underserved. Policy researcher Risto Uuk joined him two months later. A skilled digital operator — he publishes his analyses and newsletter from the domain — Uuk had previously done AI research for the Commission and the World Economic Forum. He joined FLI out of philosophical affinity: like Tegmark, Uuk subscribes to the tenets of effective altruism, a value system prescribing the use of hard evidence to decide how to benefit the largest number of people.

Since starting in Brussels, the institute’s three-person team (with help from Tegmark and others, including law firm Dentons) has deftly spearheaded lobbying efforts on little-known AI issues.

Elon Musk is one of the Future of Life Institute’s most prominent backers | Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images

Exhibit A: general-purpose AI — software like speech-recognition or image-generating tools used in a vast array of contexts and sometimes affected by biases and dangerous inaccuracies (for instance, in medical settings). General-purpose AI was not mentioned in the Commission’s proposal, but wended its way into the EU Council’s final text and is guaranteed to feature in Parliament’s position.

“We came out and said, ‘There’s this new class of AI — general-purpose AI systems — and the AI Act doesn’t consider them whatsoever. You should worry about this,'” Brakel said. “This was not on anyone’s radar. Now it is.”

The group is also playing on European fears of technological domination by the U.S. and China. “General-purpose AI systems are built mainly in the U.S. and China, and that could harm innovation in Europe, if you don’t ensure they abide by some requirements,” Brakel said, adding this argument resonated with center-right lawmakers with whom he recently met. 

Another of FLI’s hobbyhorses is outlawing AI able to manipulate people’s behavior. The original proposal bans manipulative AI, but that is limited to “subliminal” techniques — which Brakel thinks would create loopholes. 

But the AI Act’s co-rapporteur, Romanian Renew lawmaker Dragoș Tudorache, is now pushing to make the ban more comprehensive. “If that amendment goes through, we would be a lot happier than we are with the current text,” Brakel said.

So smart it made crypto crash

While the group’s input on key provisions in the AI bill was welcomed, many in Brussels’ establishment look askance at its worldview.

Tegmark and other FLI backers adhere to what’s referred to as effective altruism (or EA). A strand of utilitarianism codified by philosopher William MacAskill — whose work Musk called “a close match for my philosophy” — EA dictates that one should better the lives of as many people as possible, using a rationalist fact-based approach. At a basic level, that means donating big chunks of one’s income to competent charities. A more radical, long-termist strand of effective altruism demands that one strive to minimize risks able to kill off a lot of people — and especially future people, who will greatly outnumber existing ones. That means that preventing the potential rise of an AI whose values clash with humankind’s well-being should be at the top of one’s list of concerns.

A critical take on FLI is that it is furthering this interpretation of the so-called effective altruism agenda, one supposedly uninterested in the world’s current ills — such as racism, sexism and hunger — and focused on sci-fi threats to yet-to-be-born folks. Timnit Gebru, an AI researcher whose acrimonious exit from Google made headlines in 2020, has lambasted FLI on Twitter, voicing “huge concerns” about it.

“They are backed by billionaires including Elon Musk — that already should make people suspicious,” Gebru said in an interview. “The entire field around AI safety is made up of so many ‘institutes’ and companies billionaires pump money into. But their concept of AI safety has nothing to do with current harms towards marginalized groups — they want to reorient the entire conversation into preventing this AI apocalypse.”

Effective altruism’s reputation has taken a hit in recent weeks after the fall of FTX, a bankrupt exchange that lost at least $1 billion in customers’ cryptocurrency assets. Its disgraced CEO Sam Bankman-Fried used to be one of EA’s darlings, talking in interviews about his plan to make bazillions and give them to charity. As FTX crumbled, commentators argued that Effective Altruism ideology led Bankman-Fried to cut corners and rationalize his recklessness. 

Both MacAskill and FLI donor Buterin defended EA on Twitter, saying that Bankman-Fried’s actions contrasted with the philosophy’s tenets. “Automatically downgrading every single thing SBF believed in is an error,” wrote Buterin, who invented the Ethereum blockchain, and bankrolls FLI’s scholarship for AI existential risk research.

Brakel said that the FLI and EA were two distinct things, and FLI’s advocacy was focused on present problems, from biased software to autonomous weapons, e.g. at the United Nations level. “Do we spend a lot of time thinking about what the world would look like in 400 years? No,” he said. (Neither Brakel nor the FLI’s EU representative, Claudia Prettner, call themselves effective altruists.)

Californian ideology

Another critique of FLI’s efforts to stave off evil AI argues that they obscure a techno-utopian drive to develop benevolent human-level AI. At a 2017 conference, FLI advisers — including Musk, Tegmark and Skype’s Tallinn — debated the likelihood and the desirability of smarter-than-human AI. Most panelists deemed “superintelligence” bound to happen; half of them deemed it desirable. The conference’s output was a series of (fairly moderate) guidelines on developing beneficial AI, which Brakel cited as one of FLI’s foundational documents.

That techno-optimism led Emile P. Torres, a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy who used to collaborate with FLI, to ultimately turn against the organization. “None of them seem to consider that maybe we should explore some kind of moratorium,” Torres said. Raising such points with an FLI staffer, Torres said, led to a sort of excommunication. (Torres’s articles have been taken down from FLI’s website.)

Within Brussels, the worry is that going ahead, FLI might change course from its current down-to-earth incarnation and steer the AI debate toward far-flung scenarios. “When discussing AI at the EU level, we wanted to draw a clear distinction between boring and concrete AI systems and sci-fi questions,” said Daniel Leufer, a lobbyist with digital rights NGO Access Now. “When earlier EU discussions on AI regulation happened, there were no organizations in Brussels placing focus on topics like superintelligence — it’s good that the debate didn’t go in that direction.”

Those who regard the FLI as the spawn of Californian futurism point to its board and its wallet. Besides Musk, Tallinn and Tegmark, donors and advisers include researchers from Google and OpenAI, Meta co-founder Dustin Moskovitz’s Open Philanthropy, the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (which in turn has received funding from FTX) and actor Morgan Freeman. 

In 2020 most of FLI’s global funding ($276,000 out of $482,479) came from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a charity favored by tech bigwigs like Mark Zuckerberg; 2021 accounts haven’t been released yet. 

Brakel denied that the FLI is cozy with Silicon Valley, saying that the organization’s work on general-purpose AI made life harder for tech companies. Brakel said he had never spoken to Musk. Tegmark, meanwhile, is in regular touch with the members of the scientific advisory board, which includes Musk. 

In Brakel’s opinion, what the FLI is doing is akin to early-day climate activism. “We currently see the warmest October ever. We worry about it today, but we also worry about the impact in 80 years’ time,” he said last month. “[There] are AI safety failures today — and as these systems become more powerful, the harms might become worse.”

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Mexico’s president leads massive march in support of his government

“Effective suffrage, effective democracy, and no to re-election,” he said in a speech after the march in which he repeated his slogans of favoring the poor and fighting the oligarchy.

The opposition insisted that many participants were forced to join the march, but López Obrador said he had not put “a penny” of the federal budget into the march. Demonstrators questioned said they had come voluntarily.

But in many cases the transportation was provided by local governments or politicians who wanted to be well thought of inside the ruling party.

Gaby Contreras, a former Morena mayor, brought a group from Teoloyucan, north of the capital, and was the only one of her group authorized to speak. “We are here to support the president.”

Pedro Sánchez, a bricklayer who came with his wife from the Tehuantepec isthmus in southern Mexico, said his municipality organized everything. Hundreds of buses that had brought participants lined nearby streets.

“I come from Sonora by plane and I paid for my ticket,” said lawyer and López Obrador supporter América Verdugo.

Nelly Muñoz, an administrator from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said “it’s called ‘organization’ and and believe it or not, it’s what we’ve been doing since 2006.”

That date was a reference to the year López Obrador came within 0.56% of the vote of winning the presidency and denounced his loss as fraudulent. Many supported him, launching a mass protest movement.

López Obrador was elected to the presidency 12 years later and his Morena party won four of six races for governor in last year’s midterm elections, giving the ruling party control of 22 of Mexico’s 32 states, an important advantage heading into the 2024 presidential elections.

But the government has been criticized for its increased use of the military, laws whose constitutionality has been questioned in the courts, and its support for controversial mega-projects, Some people who support the president are now are his critics.

Clara Jusidman, founder of INCIDE Social, an NGO specialized in democracy, development and human rights, said that what is important isn’t the number of participants in the march, but “why they participated.”

She said many Mexicans feel compelled to participate because they receive money transfers from the government, which is its main way of supporting those in need. Others want to be in the good graces of the party ahead of the 2024 local, state and presidential elections. The leading contenders to replace López Obrador as Morena’s presidential candidate in 2024 appeared in the march.

But there was no shortage of fans of Mexico’s president, who maintains a high approval rating.

Alberto Cervantes, who traveled from Los Angeles to join the march, had the president’s face and “AMLO 4T” tattooed on his arm. AMLO is the popular acronym for López Obrador’s name, and 4T refers to the “4th Transformation,” which López Obrador says he is carrying out in Mexico.

Mexico’s opposition had called a massive march because they feared López Obrador planned to use his proposed reforms to compromise the electoral institute’s independence and make it more beholden to his party.

López Obrador repeatedly criticized the march and days later said he would call his own march.

“You can’t make a change overnight and Andrés Manuel is not infallible,” Pedroche said. “But we have worked hard and what we don’t want is for this to be reversed.”

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The GOP’s great Trump reckoning begins at the state party level

Barletta may have personal reasons for ditching Trump. The former president endorsed his opponent in the GOP primary for governor in May. But his sentiments reflect a broader reckoning happening after Republicans underperformed expectations across the country in November.

Having lost high-stakes, expensive races for the Senate, House and governor, there has been a wave of finger-pointing and second-guessing across the party.

In Pennsylvania, several potential candidates are rumored to be thinking about challenging the current state GOP chair, Lawrence Tabas, whose term is up in 2025. And Republicans there are questioning everything from their disdainful approach to mail voting; to whether the state party should have endorsed candidates in the primary; to, yes, Trump himself.

Even the party’s GOP leader concedes things need to change.

“As a party, we will need to take a critical look at the way we approach endorsements and mail-in ballots going forward and, as always, I’ll look for input from elected party leaders,” Tabas said. “I am not a top-down, backroom-deal leader, and I’m never going to be.”

Not everyone in the party is ready to declare that a course correction is upon it. David Kochel, a top strategist on Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and a longtime Trump skeptic, said the party features “too many people dug into their position” that Trump is still the only way forward for the GOP.

“You mean some sort of a reckoning that actually resolves things?” Kochel asked. “We’re not talking about rationality here. We’re talking about people’s feelings.”

But underwhelming midterm performances across the board have already ignited a wave of intraparty conflagrations. And as a post-midterm power vacuum in Michigan, New Hampshire and other pivotal states threatens to weaken Trump’s vise grip on state party apparatuses, Republican insiders are jostling for what they believe will be a great resorting.

Some of the first shots fired came via a Michigan GOP memo leaked on Twitter by none other than the state’s defeated gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon. The Nov. 10 memo, authored by state party chief of staff Paul Cordes, blamed “the Trump effect” for the party’s historic losses in the midterms. Two days later, Dixon tweeted that she was weighing her own bid for party chair — possibly challenging the defeated Trump-backed attorney general nominee, Matthew DePerno.

Some Republicans told POLITICO the memo didn’t go far enough in criticizing and identifying the direction of the party, which they said ceded too much power to co-chair Meshawn Maddock to broker Trump endorsements up and down the ballot.

“For the GOP to have any chance in [Michigan] in [2024] the leadership has to be changed in full to someone focused on winning and who is totally dedicated to making sure that the people who are encouraged to win primaries are those who will appeal to the median general election voter,” a Republican operative familiar with the state told POLITICO. “A ton hangs on the decisions that will be made on this in the coming weeks and months.”

Jeff Timmer, the former state party executive director and a senior adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, put it more bluntly. The memo, he said, “was a ‘fuck you’ to the Meshawn Maddocks and the MAGAS.”

In New Hampshire, it’s a similar tale. GOP Chair Steve Stepanek, one of Trump’s 2016 campaign state co-chairs, is likely to face a leadership challenge after Democrats trampled the party’s congressional candidates and brought themselves within a few recounts of taking the state House.

“There’s an unhappiness, a restlessness among the troops,” state Rep. Norm Silber, the Belknap County Republicans’ chair who lost his reelection bid this fall, said in an interview.

And in the home of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, there are signs some Republicans are trying to buy themselves some space before deciding whether to recommit to Trump.

State lawmaker Al Baldasaro was the only one of Trump’s three 2020 New Hampshire co-chairs to attend his Mar-a-Lago campaign launch earlier this month. Fred Doucette, also a state representative, said he was busy with the ongoing recounts but is “waiting patiently to hear from [Trump’s] people” on rebuilding his campaign apparatus in New Hampshire. Lou Gargiulo, the third 2020 co-chair whose state Senate race this fall went to a recount, said that while he’ll “most likely” be with Trump, it’s “premature” to pick sides. “I’d like to see the landscape first,” he said.

But, like Kochel, former New Hampshire GOP Chair Fergus Cullen warned recent Trump skeptics not to underestimate the former president’s staying power.

“I was an original ‘never-Trumper.’ There are a lot more ‘not-again Trumpers,’” Cullen said in an interview. “But the party apparatus is still completely taken over by Trump — your state party chairs, your county committee leaders, your rank-and-file members. … That’s not going to just evaporate overnight.”

In Arizona, for one, it’s unclear that the GOP is eager to move away from Trump even after the party saw Republicans lose Senate and gubernatorial races.

Kelli Ward, a Trump diehard who showed preference to election-denying candidates while rushing to censure both sitting and former GOP elected officials she deemed RINOs, has said she won’t seek another term. Her announcement followed recent calls to resign by establishment-minded Republicans, including Karrin Taylor Robson who was defeated by Kari Lake in the party’s gubernatorial primary.

But there’s no sign the fabric of the Arizona GOP is changing, or that a large-tent Republican will be at the helm anytime soon. Insiders suspect someone in the image of Ward is most likely to succeed her, citing a top-down MAGA-minded party apparatus that was built up around her.

“This is trench warfare,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican-turned-unaffiliated voter who remains a political consultant in the state. “There’s nothing that would tell me they’re willing to give up those positions of authority and sing kumbaya, or even have legitimate conversations about what that would look like.”

In deep-blue Massachusetts, where voters have backed fiscally conservative but socially more moderate Republican governors for the better part of 30 years, a similar dynamic is playing out. Republicans deviated from their battle-tested method for electoral success — nominating candidates who can appeal across party lines in a state where the majority of voters are independents — by putting forward Trump-endorsed Geoff Diehl for governor and a slate of mostly hard-right candidates down the ballot.

After Republicans lost every statewide and congressional race and saw their already slim minority in the state legislature shrink even further, Jay Fleitman, the vice chair of the state party, announced his candidacy for chair. Several other state committee members are also considering bids.

But Jim Lyons, the embattled two-term state party chair, has shown no signs of dumping Trump. Lyons, who still hasn’t said whether he’s running for a third two-year term as state party leader, was posting on social media from the ballroom of Mar-a-Lago the night of Trump’s announcement thanking the former president for the invite.

Rising frustration with Trump hasn’t just produced fissures across numerous GOP state parties. It’s created larger uncertainty about the 2024 presidential cycle. Republicans in key battleground states said they now believe there was an opening for DeSantis and other potential Republican challengers.

David Urban, a Pennsylvania native who served as a senior adviser for Trump’s 2016 campaign, said, “I think most people in Pennsylvania are open to somebody else” in 2024.

Urban said that even his longtime friends in Beaver County, who are “Trump until they die,” told him “we like DeSantis a lot,” though they haven’t yet walked away from the former president.

Still, the GOP civil war, if one ever is launched, is unlikely to resolve itself for months ahead of 2024.

On his way out of La Jolla last week, Kochel, the longtime Iowa GOP consultant, tweeted a video of sea lions by the water, heads raised as they barked into the air. “Intraparty squabbles after weak election performance,” Kochel wrote.

“Everybody’s just barking at each other, and nobody’s saying anything,” Kochel said in an interview, elaborating on his sea lions-as-Republicans analogy.

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