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Rep. Katie Porter’s university housing deal draws scrutiny

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Rep. Katie Porter’s university housing deal draws scrutiny

WASHINGTON (AP) — In Orange County, California, where the typical house sells for $1 million, Rep. Katie Porter’s four-bedroom, three-bath residence in a leafy subdivision on the University of California Irvine campus is a bargain.

The progressive Democrat and law professor, who has lamented the cost of housing in her district, purchased it in 2011 for $523,000, a below-market price secured through a program the university uses to lure academics who couldn’t otherwise afford to live in the affluent area. The only eligibility requirement was that she continue working for the school.

For Porter, this version of subsidized housing has outlasted her time in the classroom, extending nearly four years after she took unpaid leave from her $258,000-a-year teaching job to serve in the U.S. House.

But the ties go deeper, with at least one law school administrator, who was also a donor to her campaign, helping secure extensions of her tenure while she remained in Congress, according to university emails obtained by The Associated Press.

That has allowed Porter, a rising Democratic star and fundraising powerhouse whose own net worth is valued at as much as $2 million, to retain her home even as her return to the school remains in doubt.

Porter’s housing situation does not violate U.S. House ethics rules. But it cuts against the profile she has sought to cultivate in Washington as an ardent critic of a political system that allows “the wealthy and well-connected” to “live in one reality while the rest of us live in another,” as she wrote in an online fundraising solicitation in 2020.

It also coincides with a growth in interest in the school’s housing program, which has resulted in a yearslong waitlist of more than 250 school academics and administrators, as a nationwide housing shortage sends prices for homes outside the on-campus development skyrocketing, university figures from 2021 show.

Whether voters care will be tested in November when Porter, who has amassed a $19.8 million campaign fund, seeks a third term to the once reliably Republican district that has become more competitive in recent years.

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“It sounds like the sort of insider deal that really makes people mad at Congress,” said Bradley A. Smith, a professor at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, and a Republican former member of the Federal Election Commission was appointed by Bill Clinton.

In an interview, Porter declined to say whether her housing arrangement was appropriate. But she said she “followed the applicable (University of California) policies, as well as all applicable state and federal law.”

“I am always happy to be transparent with voters,” Porter said. “I take a lot of pride in my record on transparency and good governance and have been asked about this before by voters and have always been happy to give them full and complete information.”

Smith said the arrangement could run afoul of an FEC prohibition on third parties paying the living expenses of federal candidates. He cautioned, however, that the situation was nuanced and unique.

“Let’s suppose they were paying her mortgage? I think that would pretty clearly be a problem,” Smith said. “Here, it is a little different than that. They are just letting her keep a deal that she had previously. But it does seem to subsidize her income. If I were still serving on the commission and that complaint came in, I’d be very interested in seeing her response.”

Porter said Smith’s analysis “is interesting to think about” and his question about whether the prohibition could apply to her situation “is exactly right.” But she added,“ I don’t think he necessarily has all of the facts about how the housing is structured to be able to definitively answer that question,” citing her payment of property taxes, as well as homeownership fees and other expenses.

Smith responded that he is “not sure how the fact that she paid those fees changes anything.”

For decades, the cost of housing in Orange County has soared above the national average. The University of California Irvine’s solution was to build University Hills, their own exclusive academic community, where home values are capped to make them more affordable and favorable mortgage rates are offered to those approved to live there.

The pent-up demand to live in University Hills is understandable in light of Irvine’s $1.3 million median home price. Houses in the school’s subdivision have sold in recent years for about half of their regular market value, according to University of California figures from 2021. The community is a short drive from the Pacific Ocean and Laguna Beach. And the list of amenities includes a network of parks, walking paths, scenic vistas and community pools. It also feeds into some of the most sought-after schools in the area.

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But for academics and administrators, the trade-off is that they are required to work full-time for the university, with an exception built in for retirees. For those no longer employed by the school, however, an enforcement provision kicks in, which in Porter’s case would require her to pay off her mortgage within months.

When Porter was recruited, school officials outlined their expectations in a letter informing her that they would sponsor her application to the housing program.

“Your primary duties, of course, will be to serve as a professor of law,” school officials wrote in the letter, which Porter signed in December 2010. “It is expected that you will teach two classes … you will be expected to hold office hours and be available to mentor students.”

Eight years later, after her 2018 election, Porter ceased to fulfill those obligations.

Initially, administrators signed off on two separate one-year periods of leave that enabled her to keep her house, documents show. But school officials voiced more concern about the arrangement in the run-up to Porter’s 2020 reelection, emails show.

“Is there any fixed limit on the number of years of leave without pay … One of our administrators mentioned that they seemed to recall a two-year limit,” law school Vice Dean Chris Whytock wrote in a April 2020 email. He added: “Some government service may, of course, last for a number of years.”

Whytock, who donated $500 to Porter’s campaign in 2018, wrote a memo outlining the case for extending Porter’s leave, while suggesting that there are no limits on how long such an arrangement could continue. The plan required the approval of the school’s vice provost, which was granted in 2020, according the the emails.

Whytock did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In a statement, UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich said faculty “on approved leaves without pay remain UCI employees, and they can maintain their home in University Hills.”

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Porter said she intends to win her election, but would resume teaching if she lost. She declined to say whether she would look for housing elsewhere if she won.

After the AP interviewed Porter, spokesperson Jordan Wong provided an additional comment, stating the congresswoman “had no knowledge of Vice Dean Chris Whytock’s role in researching her request for leave” and “at no point” was in contact with him about it.

Still, longtime government ethics watchdogs in Washington, including those with favorable opinions of the congresswoman, say it’s difficult squaring Porter’s housing situation with her crusading rhetoric.

“She has a reputation for being highly ethical and requiring others to live up to that standard,” said Craig Holman, a lobbyist for the Washington-based government watchdog group Public Citizen. “Let’s hope she is not running short of her own ethics with the university.”

___

Associated Press writer Collin Binkley contributed to this report.

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

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Muhammad Yunus: Nobel Peace Prize winner sentenced to 6 months in jail

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A labor court in Bangladesh’s capital Monday sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws.

Yunus, who pioneered the use of microcredit to help impoverished people, was present in court and was granted bail. The court gave Yunus 30 days to appeal the verdict and sentence.

Grameen Telecom, which Yunus founded as a non-profit organization, is at the center of the case.

Sheikh Merina Sultana, head of the Third Labor Court of Dhaka, said in her verdict that Yunus’ company violated Bangladeshi labor laws. She said at least 67 Grameen Telecom workers were supposed to be made permanent employees but were not, and a “welfare fund” to support the staff in cases of emergency or special needs was never formed. She also said that, following company policy, 5% of Grameen’s dividends were supposed to be distributed to staff but was not.

Sultana found Yunus, as chairman of the company, and three other company directors guilty, sentencing each to six months in jail. Yunus was also fined 30,000 takas, or $260.

Yunus said he would appeal.

“We are being punished for a crime we did not commit. It was my fate, the nation’s fate. We have accepted this verdict, but will appeal this verdict and continue fighting against this sentence,” the 83-year-old economist told reporters after the verdict was announced.

A defense lawyer criticized the ruling, saying it was unfair and against the law. “We have been deprived of justice,” said attorney Abdullah Al Mamun.

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But the prosecution was happy with what they said was an expected verdict.

“We think business owners will now be more cautious about violating labor laws. No one is above the law,” prosecutor Khurshid Alam Khan told The Associated Press.

Grameen Telecom owns 34.2% of the country’s largest mobile phone company, Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway’s telecom giant Telenor.

As Yunus is known to have close connections with political elites in the West, especially in the United States, many think the verdict could negatively impact Bangladesh’s relationship with the U.S.

But Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen on Monday said relations between Bangladesh and the U.S. would likely not be affected by an issue involving a single individual.

“It is normal not to have an impact on the state-to-state relations for an individual,” the United News of Bangladesh agency quoted Momen as saying.

The Nobel laureate faces an array of other charges involving alleged corruption and embezzlement.

Yunus’ supporters believe he’s being harassed because of frosty relations with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Bangladesh’s government has denied the allegation.

Monday’s verdict came as Bangladesh prepares for its general election on Jan. 7, amid a boycott by the country’s main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Hasina’s arch-enemy. The party said it didn’t have any confidence the premier’s administration would hold a free and fair election.

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In August, more than 170 global leaders and Nobel laureates in an open letter urged Hasina to suspend all legal proceedings against Yunus.

The leaders, including former U.S. President Barack Obama, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and more than 100 Nobel laureates, said in the letter that they were deeply concerned by recent threats to democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.

Hasina responded sharply and said she would welcome international experts and lawyers to come to Bangladesh to assess the legal proceedings and examine documents involving the charges against Yunus.

In 1983, Yunus founded Grameen Bank, which gives small loans to entrepreneurs who would not normally qualify for bank loans. The bank’s success in lifting people out of poverty led to similar microfinancing efforts in other countries.

Hasina’s administration began a series of investigations of Yunus after coming to power in 2008. She became enraged when Yunus announced he would form a political party in 2007 when a military-backed government ran the country and she was in prison, although he did not follow through on the plan.

Yunus had earlier criticized politicians in the country, saying they are only interested in money. Hasina called him a “bloodsucker” and accused him of using force and other means to recover loans from poor rural women as head of Grameen Bank.

In 2011, Hasina’s administration began a review of the bank’s activities. Yunus was fired as managing director for allegedly violating government retirement regulations. He was put on trial in 2013 on charges of receiving money without government permission, including his Nobel Prize award and royalties from a book.

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

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Kim Jung Un says military should ‘annihilate’ US and SKorea if provoked…

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his military should “thoroughly annihilate” the United States and South Korea if provoked, state media reported Monday, after he vowed to boost national defense to cope with what he called an unprecedented U.S.-led confrontation.

North Korea has increased its warlike rhetoric in recent months in response to an expansion of U.S.-South Korean military drills. Experts expect Kim will continue to escalate his rhetoric and weapons tests because he likely believes he can use heightened tensions to wrest U.S. concessions if former President Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election in November.

In a five-day major ruling party meeting last week, Kim said he will launch three more military spy satellites, produce more nuclear materials and develop attack drones this year in what observers say is an attempt to increase his leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S.

In a meeting Sunday with commanding army officers, Kim said it is urgent to sharpen “the treasured sword” to safeguard national security, an apparent reference to his country’s nuclear weapons program. He cited “the U.S. and other hostile forces’ military confrontation moves,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Kim stressed that “our army should deal a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate them by mobilizing all the toughest means and potentialities without moment’s hesitation” if they opt for military confrontation and provocations against North Korea, KCNA said.

In his New Year’s Day address Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said he will strengthen his military’s preemptive strike, missile defense and retaliatory capabilities in response to the North Korean nuclear threat.

“The Republic of Korea is building genuine, lasting peace through strength, not a submissive peace that is dependent on the goodwill of the adversary,” Yoon said, using South Korea’s official name.

At the party meeting, Kim called South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state” whose society is “tainted by Yankee culture.” He said his military must use all available means including nuclear weapons to “suppress the whole territory of South Korea” in the event of a conflict.

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South Korea’s Defense Ministry warned in response Sunday that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, South Korean and U.S. forces will punish it overwhelmingly, resulting in the end of the Kim government.

KCNA said North Korean officials held talks on Monday to implement an order by Kim to disband or reform organizations handling relations with South Korea to fundamentally change the principle and direction of the North’s struggle against the South. There was no immediate explanation of how that might alter inter-Korean relations, which have been stalled for an extended period.

Experts say small-scale military clashes between North and South Korea could happen this year along their heavily armed border. They say North Korea is also expected to test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the mainland U.S. and other major new weapons.

In 2018-19, Kim met Trump in three rounds of talks on North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal. The diplomacy fell apart after the U.S. rejected Kim’s offer to dismantle his main nuclear complex, a limited step, in exchange for extensive reductions in U.S.-led sanctions.

Since 2022, North Korea has conducted more than 100 missile tests, prompting the U.S. and South Korea to expand their joint military exercises. North Korea has also tried to strengthen its relationships with China and Russia, which blocked efforts by the U.S. and its partners in the U.N. Security Council to toughen U.N. sanctions on North Korea over its weapons tests.

KCNA said Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping exchanged New Year’s Day messages on Monday on bolstering bilateral ties. North Korea faces suspicions that it has supplied conventional arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine in return for sophisticated Russian technologies to enhance the North’s military programs.

Estimates of the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal vary, ranging from about 20-30 bombs to more than 100. Many foreign experts say North Korea still has some technological hurdles to overcome to produce functioning nuclear-armed ICBMs, though its shorter-range nuclear-capable missiles can reach South Korea and Japan.

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

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Sen. Fetterman says he thought news about his depression treatment would end his political career

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John Fetterman acknowledges having “dark conversations” about harming himself before he hit “the emergency brake” and sought treatment for depression.

He remembers thinking about his three school-age kids. “I can’t be a blueprint for my children. I can’t let them be left alone or not to understand why he would have done that,” the first-term Pennsylvania Democrat told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in a deeply personal and introspective interview taped before the broadcast that aired Sunday.

So he checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, last Feb. 15. “There was nowhere else to go,” he said, describing how he often felt during his stay that “there wasn’t any hope sometimes and like, ‘What do I have left?’”

He also wondered whether he would survive politically.

“When it got released where I was and where it was going, it was a big story. And so, I had assumed that that would be the end of my career,” he said

When he sought treatment for clinical depression, Fetterman was still coping with the effects of the stroke he had in May 2022, during his campaign for one of the Senate’s most contested seats. “My heart technically stopped, and it was a very touch-and-go situation,” said Fetterman, 54. A pacemaker was implanted with a defibrillator to manage two heart conditions, atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy.

His victory over Republican Mehmet Oz had helped Democrats keep control of the Senate and made him a national figure. It was the height of his political career. But he couldn’t make it out of bed at his home in Braddock, in western Pennsylvania.

“I really scared my kids, and they thought, ’You won, Dad. Why aren’t we enough? Why are you still so sad? Why are you even more sad?’ And it was hard for — to explain why I was. And, of course, a 9-year-old child wouldn’t understand that. And it was awful,” Fetterman said.

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So much so that he said he “pleaded not to go down to D.C.” later that November for orientation sessions in Washington for newly elected lawmakers.

His favorite holiday was nearing, yet he was unable to think about getting Christmas presents for his children and “dreading” his swearing in on Capitol Hill early in the new year.

Within two months, he was at Walter Reed. Aides had described the new senator as being withdrawn and uninterested in eating, discussing work or the usual banter with staff.

“This is a conversation that I’ve had with myself and anybody that knows they’re unable to address their depression, is they start to have dark conversations with themself about self-harm,” Fetterman said. “And things continued to kind of tick off the list. And then I kind of hit the emergency brake.”

He added, “I knew I needed help.”

Before checking into Walter Reed, Fetterman had never publicly discussed his battle with depression. He has since said that he has experienced it on and off throughout his life.

He left Walter Reed at the end of March after six weeks of inpatient treatment with his depression “in remission,” according to a statement from his office.

Doctors describe “remission” as when a patient responds to treatment so that they have returned to normal social function and they are indistinguishable from someone who has never had depression.

Fetterman has since become a visible presence in the Capitol, bantering with reporters, joking with Senate colleagues and speaking up at Senate hearings.

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To others who are now “facing a really dark holiday time,” Fetterman offered this guidance: “I know that last year’s was desolate. And this year’s might be desolate. Next year’s can be the best ever. And that’s what happened for me.”

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