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Prince Philip Is Moved to 2nd Hospital, Raising Concerns About His Health


LONDON — Thirteen days after he was first hospitalized, Prince Philip was on Monday transferred to a second London hospital, increasing concerns over the health of the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement that doctors would continue to treat him for an infection but would also “undertake testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition.”

“The Duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week,” the brief statement said, adding that he had been transferred to St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London.

Prince Philip was originally taken to King Edward VII’s Hospital on Feb. 16 as a precaution after feeling unwell. According to British media reports, he was transferred by ambulance at around 11 a.m. on Monday to St Bartholomew’s, an internationally renowned hospital with special expertise in cardiac care.

In December 2011, Prince Philip received treatment for a blocked coronary artery. At the time, Buckingham Palace said he had successfully undergone a “minimally invasive procedure of coronary stenting” after suffering chest pains.

During his recent stay in hospital Prince Philip has been visited by his son Prince Charles, who is heir to the throne.

Prince Philip was vaccinated against Covid-19 in January as was Queen Elizabeth, who is aged 94, and who has urged others to take up offers of the vaccine.

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‘Your Personality Deforms.’ Navalny Sent to Notoriously Harsh Prison


But the colony is known for strict enforcement of rules and for making extensive use of a separate, harsher, punishment facility within its walls where inmates are not allowed to mingle or even talk among themselves, according to former inmates and lawyers.

The site is typical for Russia’s colony-type prisons that evolved, with a few improvements, from the gulag camps established in the 1930s. Inmates live collectively in groups of several dozen called brigades in low slung, two-story buildings surrounded by walls and barbed wire.

While guards oversee the prison, fellow prisoners maintain discipline within the brigades, either in cooperation with guards, a group known as “activists,” or as criminal gang leaders, known as “thieves in law.”

Penal Colony No. 2 is controlled by “activists” in cahoots with the warden, according to former inmates, an arrangement that will allow the prison administration to strictly control Mr. Navalny’s life at all times. Activist-controlled prisons are called “red zone” facilities, in Russian prison parlance.

Penal Colony No. 2 is, “the reddest of red” prisons, a lawyer, Maria Eismont, who represented a former convict at the site, told Open Media, an opposition news site.

“Everything is done so a person feels his total dependence” on the warden, she said. Inmates are even denied prompt visits from lawyers, which is technically illegal, she said. “Everything is done to isolate political prisoners.”

Dmitri Dyomushkin, a nationalist politician who served time in the colony, described conditions in the separate punishment brigade, where Mr. Navalny could wind up for infractions as minor as failing to button his jacket, as psychologically harrowing.

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Ex-President of France, Found Guilty of Corruption


PARIS — The former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was found guilty on Monday by a court in Paris on charges of corruption and influence peddling.

The verdict was the culmination of just one of several long-running legal entanglements that are coming to a head for Mr. Sarkozy, 66, who led France from 2007 to 2012 and is still widely popular among conservatives.

Mr. Sarkozy’s conviction was only the second time in modern history that a former French president has been convicted of a crime.

He was found guilty of trying to illegally obtain information on another legal case against him from a judge in return for promises to use his influence to secure a prestigious job for the judge.

He received a three-year prison sentence, with two of those years suspended. However, it was widely expected that Mr. Sarkozy would appeal, a process that would place the sentence on hold.

Until Monday, only one president in recent French history had been found guilty by a court of law: Jacques Chirac, who was convicted in 2011 of embezzling and misusing public funds when he was mayor of Paris. Mr. Chirac was the first French head of state to stand trial since Marshal Philippe Pétain was found guilty of treason at the end of World War II for collaborating with Nazi Germany.

Mr. Chirac, however, was tried in absentia because of his poor mental health, and last year Mr. Sarkozy became the first French president to physically attend his own trial since 1945.

Mr. Sarkozy, who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and mounted a failed comeback attempt in 2016, has denied wrongdoing in a complex web of financial impropriety cases that has plagued him since he left office.

He is scheduled to stand trial later this month in a separate case involving his 2012 campaign, in which he has been charged with exceeding strict limits on campaign spending. The longest-running and most serious case against him involves accusations that his 2007 campaign received illegal Libyan financing from the government of the now-dead strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Other cases against Mr. Sarkozy have been dropped, including one in which he was accused of manipulating the heiress to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune into financing his 2007 campaign.

The verdict came amid a heating political climate in France as the country gears up for the 2022 presidential election.

Mr. Sarkozy is on good terms with President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently steered France to the right, and he still wields considerable influence on the main political party in France, Les Républicains. With the presidential election fast approaching and no clear front-runners in sight, Mr. Sarkozy’s blessing is widely sought by party officials.

The case on Monday, known as the “wiretapping affair,” was the first against him to finally reach trial, as Mr. Sarkozy — a lawyer by training — used every legal recourse available to him to draw out proceedings.

Although the cases are separate, the wiretapping affair emerged from the Libya inquiry, which began in 2013 and led investigators to place wiretaps on phones belonging to Mr. Sarkozy and Thierry Herzog, his lawyer.

Through the wiretaps, prosecutors claimed in court, investigators discovered in 2014 that Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Herzog were using secret phone lines and that the two had discussed ways of obtaining confidential information about another case involving the former president that was being handled by France’s top appeals court.

Prosecutors said Mr. Sarkozy sought to illegally obtain information from Gilbert Azibert, then a magistrate at the court, including by promising to use his influence to secure a job for the judge in Monaco.

The job never materialized, but under French law, prosecutors do not have to prove that a corrupt deal was carried out to secure a conviction — only that one was agreed upon. At the trial, held in November and December, prosecutors accused Mr. Sarkozy of entering a “corruption pact” with Mr. Azibert, a charge he strenuously denied.

Mr. Sarkozy’s defense had asked the court to throw out the entire case, arguing that wiretapping his phone calls with Mr. Herzog was illegal and that prosecutors had taken fragments of casual conversations out of context to cobble together a faulty case.

Mr. Azibert and Mr. Herzog were also found guilty by the court.

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Vaccine rollout hit-or-miss for California farmworkers



In the wine region of northern San Joaquin Valley, the coarse spindles of pruned grapevines are sprouting delicate creepers that curl toward wire trellises, and cherry trees are shedding soft pink blossoms.

Along with spring, the second harvest season of the pandemic has arrived. Fields and packing sheds soon will be filled with workers, many of whom are migrants and already traveling up the Central Valley as crops ripen.

It is a “pivotal time” to inoculate farmworkers against the coronavirus before they return to their perilous work, said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres.

But it’s also the moment California is tossing out its existing strategy for vaccine distribution — controlled by local governments — and transferring it to a nonprofit insurance company, Blue Shield. The collision of harvest season with the Blue Shield takeover has left many community organizers and health officials worried that existing plans, though criticized for being inadequate and uneven, will be abandoned for a different set of uncertainties.

They say the insurance company has done little to alleviate those fears and has not asked for their help — despite the challenges of working with insular farmworkers, many of whom lack insurance.

“There is no plan we can look at or contribute to,” said Maria Lemus, executive director of nonprofit Visión y Compromiso, a network of promotores, members of vulnerable communities who are trained health liaisons. Her group has been educating farmworkers about the virus for months.

To date, the rollout of vaccines to farmworkers has been hit-or-miss, often driven by local elected officials, unions, nonprofits and employers using their connections to get doses into laborers’ arms. The patchwork system has raised questions about whether vaccines are being equitably shared with farmworkers, but the pending transition seems to be charging ahead without an on-the-ground perspective.

Lemus serves on the state’s Community Vaccine Advisory Committee, aimed at ensuring the distribution of doses has that viewpoint. She has heard nothing yet from Blue Shield on how organizations such as hers will be involved, she said.

“How can we do this together? They should just ask that question. I haven’t heard it yet,” she said. “Invite me to the party. I am happy to help.”

San Joaquin County Director of Health Care Services Greg Diederich echoed that frustration, calling the transition “opaque.” Though Blue Shield was supposed to begin its overseer role with his county last week, it did not, offering little explanation for the delay, he said. In Fresno on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the transition for “first wave” counties including San Joaquin would happen Monday.

When the transition does take place, Diederich does not know whether his agency will continue to have the ability to run farmworker clinics or “if ultimately [Blue Shield] determines who does what and gets what, and public health kind of takes a back seat,” he said. The uncertainty has prompted county officials in San Joaquin and Ventura to openly ponder whether they can opt out of Blue Shield’s oversight.

Blue Shield referred questions to the state Department of Public Health. A state public health official speaking on background said local health departments will lose most but not all direct control of vaccines, and the list of those allowed to administer the shots will be streamlined to ones the insurance company determines are most capable of reaching equity and speed goals. So far, few details of those changes have been made public.

Equity is a dominant concern in vaccine distribution, and one of the key explanations Newsom has offered for putting Blue Shield in charge. For days, Newsom has toured these politically conservative farmlands — where growers are struggling financially and where the recall effort against the governor is popular — promising protection for laborers crucial to the industry.

Despite earlier concerns, Central Valley Democrats have closed ranks around Newsom as recall organizers push hard in the final weeks of their effort. The Central Valley was hit hard by the virus, with more than 66,000 cases in San Joaquin County alone — though the number of new cases is declining.

But the toll on farmworkers, even young ones, remains starkly disturbing: A recent study found Latino food and agricultural workers ages 18 to 65 in California had nearly a 60% increase in mortality during the last year compared with pre-pandemic times, the highest risk factor for any demographic in the state. White food and agricultural workers saw a 16% increase in mortality, by contrast. The analysis translated to more than 1,000 food and agricultural workers dead from March through October, probably from the virus.

An agriculture worker stacks folded and empty boxes that contained fresh corn at a packing shed in Lodi.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, vice dean for population health and health equity at UC San Francisco School of Medicine and an author of the study, said her concern with centralized distribution is that speed and efficiency will be valued at the expense of those who are harder to reach. She believes it may be better to vaccinate by place — targeting everyone in a high-risk area, especially those in multigenerational and close-knit communities, rather than using tiers of eligibility and mass vaccination centers.

Diederich, the San Joaquin health official, said the county had done an in-depth analysis using data from COVID-19 deaths to assign a risk score to every resident, regardless of state tier, and was moving toward that location-based model. Now, he said, he doesn’t know whether that data will be used.

“It’s fine to do things fast,” said Bibbins-Domingo, “but if you are not actually vaccinating where the virus is, you will not be effective.”

That reality has Jesse Sandoval worried that the coming harvest season will be just as dangerous as the last.

The son of farmworkers who once picked in the fields himself, Sandoval now runs a labor contracting company that employs up to 1,800 people each year, mostly in packing sheds where they often work in lines at conveyor belts that turn crops into the neat packages found in grocery stores.

Recently, frustrated that San Joaquin County officials had not yet started inoculating farmworkers, he called a local politician. That politician, a friend, made a few calls, and within days, Sandoval and a fellow labor contractor had pulled together one of the county’s first clinics specifically for farmworkers, with 750 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We just called, I guess, some of the right people,” Sandoval said.

On Feb. 22, as hundreds lined up at a local fairgrounds for their shots, farmworker advocate Luis Magaña showed up to watch. He was bothered by how the appointments had been doled out mostly through employers and labor contractors, and promoted only by word of mouth. Working with other advocates, he waited until the end to snag some unclaimed shots for his own contacts.

“This is like a private event,” he said. “What is the process to apply? I want to organize one.”

Registered nurse Melanie Albor vaccinates a resident at an affordable housing community in Tracy.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The Blue Shield arrangement is meant to address such concerns. On Friday in Fresno, Newsom visited one of 11 new vaccine sites run by another state provider, OptumServe, in the Central Valley, promising mobile and small clinics targeting all farmworkers.

He pointed to 337 community-based organizations that the state and philanthropic partners have funded with $53 million to educate agricultural workers on the virus. Last week, Newsom announced he was moving 34,000 doses — enough to vaccinate 17,000 people — from an unused Walgreens supply meant for long-term care facilities to farmworkers, and increasing the Central Valley allocation of vaccine by nearly 60%.

Newsom said in a statement that the additional supplies were making good on his commitment to “meet our farmworker communities where they are, and deepening the innovate public-private partnerships that exemplify the best of California’s civic spirit.”

He sidestepped a question on Blue Shield’s transparency, citing the difficulties of a transition period and promising “next week that process begins on a whole new scale.”

Joan Singson, right, director of population health management for San Joaquin County, and nurse Melanie Albor counsel Parwin Mohammad Assan before she receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Tracy.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

But questions about the transition are growing as quickly as the crops.

Tellefson Torres, from the UFW Foundation, one of the community organizations working with the state, points out that migrating farmworkers may need to get a second dose in a different county than the first. She doesn’t know whether the state has plans to handle that situation.

She also points out Blue Shield’s requirement that vaccine seekers go through the state’s online system is a problem for farmworkers who may lack both internet access and the computer savvy to navigate a tricky sign-up. Until now, her organizers have handled that. It is unclear whether Blue Shield has its own workaround, though it does offer phone sign-ups.

Tellefson Torres said Friday that she asked the governor personally whether federally funded health clinics that serve the uninsured will receive additional doses for farmworkers but received no definitive reply.

“We need to ensure that what is on the books, in writing, is actually happening on the ground and that’s what I’m waiting for,” she said.

In the meantime, she and others are pushing ahead with their own efforts, worried their ability to do so may soon be cut off. UFW Foundation on Sunday was working with Santa Clara’s Monterey Mushrooms to vaccinate 500 farmworkers and planned to do another 500 shots later in the week.

Dozens of other farmworker clinics are popping up across the state, including for strawberry pickers in San Diego and Monterey and date packers in the Coachella Valley. On Feb. 19, a group of 90 Central Valley agricultural employers wrote to Newsom, pledging their locations as vaccine sites if allowed.

Sandoval on Thursday watched as his crew processed a truckload of sweet corn grown in Mexico. Powering up an ungainly contraption that spanned half the length of a hangar-like packing shed, two women grabbed green husks one by one, slotting them on a conveyor belt for a saw to slice off the ends before stripping them down to the kernels. Socially distanced but still close, six masked-and-gloved workers pulled off bits of silk, while others rapidly packed four pieces at a time into thousands of black plastic trays.

When the cleaned cobs reached Gilberto Hernandez near the end of the line, all that was left to do was run them through the wrapper, sealing each package in plastic. It is work this crew has done for years, even as the pandemic swept through last spring.

But this week is different — Hernandez was one of the fortunate who received the vaccine at Sandoval’s clinic.

“I feel good,” he said over the thunder of the machine. “One hundred percent safer.”

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How internet platform accountability is changing under Biden



Two people were dead; one was injured; and Jason Flores-Williams wanted to hold Facebook responsible.

But after filing a lawsuit in September alleging that the website’s lax moderation standards led to 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., over the summer, Flores-Williams withdrew the suit in January. His fight for accountability had collided with a law the activist attorney came to see as a “brick wall.”

“You have no levers of control, no leverage,” he told The Times. “You’re up against Section 230.”

A snippet of text buried in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Section 230 is the regulation under which websites enjoy broad freedom to choose if and how they moderate user-generated content. Flores-Williams had alleged that a Facebook post by the Kenosha Guard militia summoning armed civilians to the city had laid the groundwork for Rittenhouse’s violence there; but as Section 230 is written, Facebook and its peers are rarely liable for what their users post — even when it results in death.

Flores-Williams isn’t alone in seeing the law as outdated. President Biden, former president Donald Trump and a long list of Democrats and Republicans have all pushed for the law to be restructured or scrapped entirely amid increasingly bipartisan criticism of Big Tech.

But if liberals and conservatives are united in their calls for reform, they’re split on what that reform should look like — leaving internet companies stuck in a limbo where a massive forced change to their business model is constantly discussed yet never quite materializes.

Meanwhile, those who seek to hold the platforms accountable for the harms caused by content spread there are left searching for new approaches that might offer a greater chance of success — which is to say, any at all.

Section 230 takes a two-pronged approach to content moderation: not only does it absolve websites of liability for user content they don’t moderate, but it also says they can moderate user content when they choose to. That lets social networks, chat forums and review websites host millions of users without having to go to court every time they leave up a post that’s objectionable, or take one down that’s not.

Online platforms usually, though not uniformly, support leaving Section 230 the way it is. In a congressional hearing last fall, Alphabet Chief Executive Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey warned that the internet only works thanks to the protections afforded by the law; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke ranks to say the law should be updated, citing a need to promote transparency around moderation practices.

Of the law’s critics, conservatives typically lean toward unrestricted speech. A Trump executive order sought to modify the law so users could sue platforms if they restricted content that wasn’t violent, obscene or harassing, although legal experts said the order was unlikely to hold up in court and it appears to have had little impact on how the platforms conduct themselves.

On the left, critics have called for a version of Section 230 that would encourage more rigorous moderation. Reforms targeting sex trafficking and child abuse have also garnered bipartisan support in the past.

Both sides have only gotten louder in recent weeks: the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol prompted concern from the left about the role unregulated social media can play in organizing real-world violence, while the subsequent banning of Trump’s Facebook and Twitter accounts gave the right a striking example of how easily tech platforms can silence their users.

With Democrats now controlling the presidency and both houses of Congress, the party has an opportunity to rewrite Section 230, but it has yet to achieve consensus, with members floating multiple differently calibrated proposals over the last year.

The latest of those is the SAFE TECH Act, proposed last month by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mark R. Warner (D-Va.). The bill would increase platforms’ liability for paid content and in cases involving discrimination, cyberstalking, targeted harassment and wrongful death.

Flores-Williams said that last item in particular, which the sponsors say would allow “the family of a decedent to bring suit against platforms where they may have directly contributed to a loss of life,” opens the door for future cases along the lines of his withdrawn suit.

It could also bolster suits over deaths such as that of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol police officer who died after defending the Capitol on Jan. 6. The official cause of Sicknick’s death has yet to be determined, but the case is cited by the bill sponsors in their argument for the carve-out.

The implications could extend well beyond high-profile deaths, too.

“Talk about floodgates, right?,” said Daniel Powell, an attorney at the internet-focused firm Minc Law. “Floodgates to millions in liability for lawsuits where people have died for any reason that has any tangential relationship to social media.”

It’s not clear how broadly lawmakers and prosecutors would try to interpret SAFE TECH’s provisions, but if passed, the bill could force tech companies to rethink how they engage with user-generated content.

Nadav Shoval, CEO and co-founder of OpenWeb — a platform which manages comment sections for online media outlets such as TechCrunch and Salon — said changes to Section 230 could hinder innovation through overly broad liability.

“I have more questions than answers on this specific proposal, but I remain confident that changing the law at all is a mistake,” Shoval said of the SAFE TECH Act via email. “We have other laws in place that are not [Section] 230 to ensure the communities we host are safe, free from violence, hate speech, discrimination, etc.”

But clearer guidelines around moderating and distributing user content would be helpful, Shoval said; those are areas “which should be slightly regulated, or at least more clear, because right now there’s a lot of gray areas … where some guidance would definitely help.”

Other social media platforms that would be affected by the passage of the SAFE TECH Act — including Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit and Snapchat — declined or did not answer a request for comment on the bill.

The legislation faces a rocky path forward. Opposition to content moderation became a major Republican rallying cry under Trump, and the party has significant power to block legislation in the Senate through filibusters. With Democrats preoccupied by the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic crisis, liberal leaders might be hesitant to spend their time and energy on abstruse social media policies.

In the absence of imminent reform, some lawyers have adopted another strategy: trying to find novel legal theories with which to hold platforms liable for user content while Section 230 still remains in force.

“For as long as [Section 230] has been around, there have been plaintiff’s attorneys attempting to plead around the immunity it affords,” said Jeffrey Neuburger, a partner at Proskauer who co-leads the law firm’s technology, media and telecommunications group.

But the courts have “usually, with few exceptions” shot those efforts down, Neuburger added. For instance, he wrote via email, courts have “routinely and uniformly” rejected arguments that websites become liable for user content if they perform editorial functions such as removing content or deleting accounts; and have similarly rejected arguments that websites’ “acceptable use” policies constitute legally binding promises. And in the few cases where plaintiffs have managed to circumvent Section 230 defenses, the verdicts have generally been reversed on appeal.

“There are no easy answers,” Neuburger said. “It’s hard to regulate content online.”

An approach that might make it easier to regulate the places where content lives would be to alter the legal status of large internet platforms in a way that puts them under greater government control.

“Rather than trying to change Section 230, because I’m not sure that’s workable … maybe [try] treating these providers like public utilities,” said Daniel Warner, a founding partner at the online defamation-focused law firm RM Warner. “You can’t not give someone electricity because they support Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It just doesn’t work like that, and it shouldn’t. So I think the same goes for social media.”

While a push to use antitrust law to break up the biggest tech companies has gained momentum in recent years, the public utilities approach pivots in the opposite direction, embracing networks such as Facebook, Amazon and Google as “natural monopolies” and allowing them to dominate their respective markets — but only under tight government regulation.

Proponents of this approach argue that social networks have become central to their users’ lives and are prohibitively hard to leave. Critics say that compared to conventional utilities such as railroads and sewage systems, social networks are less essential to consumers’ lives and easier for upstart firms to compete with.

For Warner, the public utilities approach is mostly theoretical at this point: “We have yet to have an opportunity to make that argument and really explore it in detail.”

And going down that path could introduce new legal headaches, Neuburger said, such as forcing the government to delineate which platforms count as public utilities and which don’t, or to clarify how Section 230 should interact with contradictory state laws.

For now, everyone involved — from the kneecapped lawyers to the directionless politicians to the imperiled tech executives — remains trapped between an unpopular present and an unclear future.

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Korus and Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance: Keeping the V8 Vibe

That a new generation of Lexus IS has arrived recently was good news and bad news, Korus news. The good thing was the continuity of the already legendary Japanese sedan, but the bad thing was that there were no plans to reach it in Europe. This extends to all of its variants, including a sports car that has just seen the light of day. The Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance will be available in other markets with a mechanic that we thought was in danger of extinction, but will eventually survive a little longer.

This version is not a pure “F” like the previous Lexus IS F, but it has a lot of character thanks to the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V8 engine under the hood. It is linked to the eight-speed Sport Direct Shift automatic transmission like the IS 350 with a 3.5-liter V6 engine. Only in this case you get a power of 478 hp and 535 Nm of torque, a truly exceptional figure for a motor sedan. The benefits will be consistent with this power level.

The Lexus IS 500 F Sport Performance is able to accelerate from 0 to 96 km / h in 4.5 seconds and boasts an intoxicating sound thanks to a new exhaust system with quadruple exhaust. It has several driving modes, including the sporty Sport S and Sport S + to improve its performance. This model comes standard with systems such as Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) and Torsen Limited Slip Differential (LSD). Brake cooling has also improved, Korus reports.

Visually, the IS 500 F Sport Performance benefits from bulkier bumpers to accommodate V8 mechanics. As standard, there are 19-inch 10-spoke Enkei wheels that are lighter than the normal F Sport. We have already mentioned the tailpipes and there are also some dark chrome accents. The interior has badges in black, leather upholstery or stainless steel pedals.

This model cannot miss the Lexus Safety System + 2.5 with all its driving aids. Korus talks about some as Pre-Collision System (PCS) with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection and cyclist detection; dynamic speed control or lane departure warning with steering assistance This model will arrive in the United States in late autumn and, as we said, is not expected to land in Europe.

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Hundreds in Rare Hong Kong Protest as Opposition Figures Are Charged


HONG KONG — Holding banners and shouting slogans, hundreds of people assembled outside a court in Hong Kong on Monday in a rare act of defiance after 47 of the city’s most prominent pro-democracy politicians and activists were arrested.

The brief gathering of supporters, who held bright yellow signs reading “Release all political prisoners,” was an echo of the huge pro-democracy demonstrations that regularly filled the streets of Hong Kong in 2019. They lined up around the West Kowloon court complex, where the 47 opposition figures were being arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit subversion.

Such demonstrations have become an unusual sight in Hong Kong in the past year or so, after the city enacted restrictions to fight the pandemic and Beijing imposed a harsh national security law in June.

The police warned the crowd they could be in violation of the security law or illegal-assembly rules. In the afternoon, the police set up security lines around the court, forcing demonstrators to disperse.

“We know we cannot enter, but still we want to show our support,” said Wong Tin-yan, a district council member who waited hours but was unable to attend the hearing. “Hong Kong people are so angry. No other protests can happen, so we come here. The new law forbids everything else.”

The 47 opposition figures had been charged on Sunday by the police, the most forceful use of the national security law so far and a move that could effectively decimate the political opposition in Hong Kong.

The authorities say the group violated the security law by participating in a primary election held by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp in July. The group had hoped to win a majority of seats in the territory’s legislative council, then block legislation and force the city’s chief executive to step down.

While such moves might seem commonplace in democracies, prosecutors in Hong Kong have said the strategy violated the security law’s ban on interference with government functions.

The latest wave of prosecutions raises questions about whether the courts in Hong Kong will retain their independence. Beijing has increased pressure on the judiciary, stirring fears that judges will be increasingly inclined to convict opposition leaders.

Last week, Xia Baolong, the director of China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, demanded checks to ensure that members of the judiciary in Hong Kong were “true patriots.”

Mr. Xia singled out for criticism three pro-democracy activists who have been charged with breaking the security law. Joshua Wong, a protest leader, Jimmy Lai, a newspaper publisher, and Benny Tai, a law scholar, are “extremely wicked” and “must be severely punished for their illegal actions,” Mr. Xia said in a speech that also signaled plans to revamp elections to bar candidates deemed disloyal to the Communist Party.

The activists accused of subversion are likely to be held for months before their trials begin, because the security law sets a higher standard for bail.

Several defense lawyers told the court they objected to the prosecutors’ request for a three-month delay in proceedings. Having moved quickly to press charges, prosecutors should also ensure a speedy trial, said Paul Harris, one of the defense lawyers.

The police in Hong Kong have arrested more than 10,000 people over the protests that began in June 2019. Of those, more than 2,400 have faced charges. In addition, about 100 have been arrested under the national security law.

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Meteor Streaks Like a Firework Across U.K. Night Sky


LONDON — It was as brief as it was bright. For seven seconds, people across Britain who happened to be casting their eyes to the heavens shortly before 10 p.m. on Sunday were treated to the sight of a fireball meteor that lit up the sky.

One witness described on Twitter “a huge flash” that “burst into a massive tail of orange sparks trailing behind like a giant firework.”

Footage captured by security cameras across England in places including Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire and Solihull showed the meteor flashing brighter and brighter as it streaked across the sky before disintegrating.

The bright flash of light is emitted when an object in space — from something as small as a grain of sand to a hulking behemoth like an asteroid — crosses into Earth’s atmosphere and begins to burn up.

While millions of people might “wish upon a star” when they see the incredible light show in the sky, they are actually wishing on a meteor. If anything survives the journey and lands on Earth, it is then known as a meteorite.

Richard Kacerek, co-founder of the U.K. Meteor Network, a group of amateur meteor spotters, said their cameras detected the meteor at 9:54 p.m. in Wiltshire, England.

“We think it’s a piece of a comet or something softer like an asteroid that hit the atmosphere,” he said.

In this case, the fireball appeared to be moving slowly, he said, meaning it was visible for longer in the sky. Some people reported hearing a sonic boom, however, which would suggest a relatively large object traveling at a high velocity as it sped close to earth.

“The second half of the flight, we could see different pieces falling off it,” he said, and it was possible that some had survived as meteorites.

Hundreds of people from across England and as far north as Scotland and Northern Ireland reported seeing the meteor to the network, Mr. Kacerek said.

For amateur astronomers, the sight of a meteor streaking across the sky is not particularly rare: about three or four of them appear a year.

Still, typically at this time of year, the full moon makes meteors harder to see, said Mr. Kacerek. “This was an exception. This was a very, very bright meteor which overpowered the brightness of the moon.”

For those who were not on the lookout, the meteor was a pleasant surprise.

“It’s always an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event to see a very bright fireball unless you are like us and watching them and looking out for them,” said Mr. Kacerek. “For normal witnesses to witness something like this is definitely a highlight.”

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The $1.9 Trillion Question in the Senate


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The virus relief bill that the House passed on Saturday heads to the Senate this week, and White House officials hope President Biden will be able to sign it into law in the next two weeks.

Here’s what you need to know about the plan — and the coming debate in the Senate:

The current price tag is about $1.9 trillion — or roughly twice the size (after adjusting for inflation) of the stimulus bill Barack Obama signed shortly after taking office, in 2009. The Senate may shrink it somewhat, but the bill is likely to remain very large.

That reflects the fact that Biden and his aides don’t want to repeat the mistake of the 2009 bill, which many economists believe was too small to prevent a sluggish recovery. This time, Biden is erring on the side of aggressiveness, hoping to return the economy to full employment and spark strong wage growth.

Jerome Powell — the Federal Reserve chairman, appointed by Donald Trump — has avoided talking about the bill’s details but has signaled he supports moving aggressively, rather than focusing on the deficit. One factor: Over the past two decades, forecasters have repeatedly been too optimistic about economic growth — which suggests that policymakers have usually done too little to support growth, not too much.

The biggest item (costing about $420 billion) is a package of $1,400-per-person checks for most households. Other major items include an expansion of jobless benefits ($240 billion); an expansion of tax credits for parents and low-income workers ($130 billion); health insurance subsidies ($65 billion); and housing assistance ($40 billion).

The other half of the bill is mostly aid to state and local governments, including money for schools as well as for coronavirus testing and vaccination.

Polls have found that about 70 percent of Americans support the plan, including a sizable share of Republican voters. The $1,400 direct payments are especially popular. “People need help right now, and I’m OK with my tax dollars doing that,” Melissa Karn, 53, a Trump voter from the Phoenix suburbs, told The Times.

Research by Chris Warshaw of George Washington University suggests that the plan is the most popular piece of major federal policy since a minimum-wage increase in 2007.

Still, no House Republicans voted for the bill, and few if any Senate Republicans are likely to. Many believe that such a large amount of federal spending — following several other stimulus packages last year — is a waste of taxpayer money when the pandemic has already begun to recede. (A few Democratic economists agree.) Congressional Republicans also have a longstanding strategy of opposing any legislation proposed by a new Democratic president, to weaken him by making him look like a partisan figure.

In the language of economics, the bill is highly progressive — sending more money to middle-class and lower-income families than to upper-income families. Some of the cash payments would go only to lower-income families (like food aid), while others would be nearly across-the-board (like the $1,400 checks) but would have a larger proportional impact on poorer families.

Over all, an analysis by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University found that Biden’s proposal (which is similar to the House bill) would reduce poverty by almost 30 percent in 2021, moving 12 million Americans above the poverty line.

Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t merely try to halt the Great Depression after taking office; he also restructured the U.S. economy, by creating federal programs and strengthening labor unions. Ronald Reagan, coming from the other side of the political spectrum, didn’t merely try to crush inflation; he also transformed the tax code.

The virus relief bill is not on the same scale, partly because most of its provisions would expire over the next few months. Biden has signaled that his next major proposal — known as Build Back Better — is his more sweeping attempt to fix the U.S. economy.

But the current bill may still have some long-term impact. Many Democrats hope that some of the provisions — like the universal monthly payment for children and the expansion of jobless benefits — will prove popular enough that Congress later extends them.

The Senate will almost certainly remove a minimum-wage increase in the bill. It’s also possible that some Democratic senators will try to restrict how many households are eligible to receive the $1,400 checks — or otherwise reduce the bill’s size.

Ultimately, the Senate and House both need to pass identical bills for Biden to sign one. Many Democrats want to pass a final bill by March 14, when some benefits from an earlier stimulus — like expanded jobless benefits — start to expire.

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It’s the latest way to listen to people talk. It already has 10 million users, including big names like Elon Musk and Oprah. And Twitter and Facebook are experimenting with similar products.

Clubhouse is an audio app — currently invite only — that features chat rooms where people gather for live discussions about anything. It’s more interactive than podcasts, because listeners can click a tiny hand icon to ask a question (and hosts can boot rowdy participants). It’s also more fleeting, because recording is against the rules.

Clubhouse features chat rooms where people gather for live discussions.

The topics are endless: karaoke, nuclear power, mental health, racism in medicine and more. The Times columnist Kevin Roose writes that there is “a refreshing randomness to Clubhouse that makes it more interesting than social networks where every piece of content is algorithmically tailored to your exact interests.”

Clubhouse does have some problems, mostly stemming from its lax moderation. The app has hosted discussions with hate speech, harassment and conspiracy theories, and regulators in Europe are worried about its privacy policies.

As our colleagues Erin Griffith and Taylor Lorenz write: “Clubhouse is following a classic Silicon Valley start-up path that social media companies like Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook have also trod: viral growth followed by the messy issues that come with it.”

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World

Surf’s Up. The Temperature Isn’t.



Growing numbers of surfers are taking to the Great Lakes — even when the weather is well below freezing.