Five Americans who had been imprisoned in Iran left the country today after the U.S. negotiated their release, President Biden said. The agreement involved unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue and dismissing federal charges against five Iranians. The deal was a result of two years of high-stakes talks and is part of a larger effort by the Biden administration to de-escalate tensions with Iran.
The Americans — Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi and Morad Tahbaz, as well as two others who have not been named at their families’ request — flew to Doha, the capital of Qatar, for a Cold War-style prisoner exchange with two of the five Iranians. The Americans are returning to the U.S., but three of the Iranians declined to return to Iran, according to U.S. officials.
The American prisoners had been jailed in Iran on unsubstantiated charges of spying, and some had been held for years in Evin Prison, one of the country’s most notorious detention centers. (Here’s what we know about them.)
News of the arrangement has generated intense criticism from Republicans who say that releasing billions in oil revenue amounts to paying a ransom and that it could lead to the taking of more hostages. Biden administration officials have said the agreement with Iran was the only way to win the release of the five Americans, and have denied that the deal indicates a major shift in the long-hostile relationship between the U.S. and Iran.
Options to avoid a shutdown are dwindling
Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s bid to avoid a government shutdown at the end of this month by passing a temporary funding bill faces stiff Republican opposition. Roughly a dozen members of McCarthy’s own party made clear today that they opposed his proposal — which combines a stopgap spending measure with steep funding cuts and new border controls — leaving him with dwindling options and little time to find his way out of a spending impasse.
McCarthy could still try to avoid a government shutdown by passing a stopgap bill with the support of some Democrats. But some Republicans on the right have said that such a move would lead to a challenge to his job.
Justin Trudeau accused India in a killing on Canadian soil
Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said today that “agents of the Indian government” carried out the killing of a Sikh community leader in British Columbia last June. The explosive allegation was based, according to Trudeau, on intelligence gathered by the Canadian government.
Trudeau said that he raised India’s involvement in the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Group of 20 summit meeting earlier this month. The allegation is likely to further corrode the already strained relations between the two countries.
U.S. News released its revamped college rankings
U.S. News & World Report released the results of what it said was the most substantive overhaul of its college rankings empire. There were few changes at the top of the list, with Princeton, M.I.T., Harvard and Stanford leading the nation’s top-ranked universities. But several lower-profile public institutions, like Fresno State and Florida Atlantic, made significant leaps.
The new ranking formula, which was revamped after criticism that the previous formula unfairly skewed educational priorities, assigns greater emphasis to retention, graduation rates for students who received need-based Pell grants and the earnings of recent graduates compared with those of people who had completed only high school.
In other higher education news, Vassar, one of the country’s first women’s colleges, was accused of paying male professors more in a lawsuit.
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It’s a fraught time for talk shows
During the writers’ strike in 1988, Johnny Carson returned to the air and wasn’t seen as a hypocrite contradicting his on-air principles. Conan O’Brien, who returned during the 2007-08 writers’ strike, is treated as a folk hero for staging quirky stunts and calling attention to how much he needed his writers during the strike. But the talk show landscape has changed.
Hosts who have announced returns during the ongoing writers’ and actors’ strikes — including Bill Maher and Drew Barrymore — reversed their plans after receiving relentless blowback from guild members and their supporters. The controversy, our TV critic James Poniewozik wrote, is a reminder that hosts are not just your TV friends, they’re also people’s bosses.
How to tell if your A.I. is conscious
The idea that a robot or a computer could be considered conscious has become subject to more serious scrutiny of late, as artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT have exploded in popularity. In a new report, a group of philosophers, neuroscientists and computer scientists came up with a list of qualities that might suggest consciousness in a machine.
The list includes the ability to be aware of one’s own awareness, to create virtual models of the world, to predict future experiences and to locate one’s body in space. If we’re able to discern these traits in a machine, the report argues, then we might be able to consider the machine conscious.
To save the rhinos, they bought them
A herd of 2,000 southern white rhinos in South Africa, thought to be the largest single population of their kind, was put up for auction in April with a starting price of $10 million. No bidders came forward and the future of the rhinos, which nearly went extinct a century ago, appeared precarious.
But this month, a conservation group announced that it had purchased the animals, and that it planned to release them into the wild. The group will need to release about 300 rhinos each year for the next 10 years to remain ahead of new births at the farm where they live, since the population is growing by about 10 percent annually.
Have a prosperous evening.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Matthew
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