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10 things you need to know today: December 31, 2022

Former Pope Benedict XVI dies, Trump's tax returns released, and more

1

Former Pope Benedict XVI dies at 95

Pope Benedict XVI, who served as the head of the Catholic Church from 2005 until he became the first pope to resign in 600 years in 2013, died Saturday at the age of 95. Pope Francis, Benedict's successor, had informed the public that Benedict was "very sick" earlier in the week. Born Joseph Alois Ratzinger in Bavaria, Germany, the pope emeritus was, even in retirement, "embraced by traditionalists as the embodiment of their ideals," The Washington Post writes. "His death leaves that movement — which is at times vocal and oppositional to Francis — without a figure of comparable clout." Praised as a "giant of faith and reason" by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Saturday, "critics are more likely to remember [Benedict] as a crusher of dissent who did far too little to address sexual abuse in the church, stumbled in some of his public declarations, and lacked the charisma of his predecessor, John Paul II," The New York Times adds. In keeping with Benedict's wishes, the Vatican said the former pope's remains will be on public display in St. Peter's Basilica starting Monday, with a "solemn but sober funeral" to follow.

2

Trump's tax returns released

On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee released six years of former President Donald Trump's tax returns. The documents, which ran thousands of pages, "showed Mr. Trump had paid a total of $1.1 million in federal income taxes in the first three years of his presidency, but paid no tax in 2020 as his income dwindled and losses mounted," The New York Times reports. Additionally, despite repeatedly promising to donate his annual salary in office, Trump apparently made zero charitable contributions during his last year in the White House. "Trump acted as though he had something to hide … As the public will now be able to see, Trump used questionable or poorly substantiated deductions and a number of other tax avoidance schemes as justification to pay little or no federal income tax in several of the years examined," Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-Va.), a member of the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement after the documents were released. Republicans slammed the release, with Fox News contributor Mark Penn calling it "all politics" and asking, "Who really cares about Donald Trump's tax returns the day before New Years?"

3

Police arrest University of Idaho stabbing suspect

Police arrested a 28-year-old criminology Ph.D. student in eastern Pennsylvania on Friday as a suspect in the deaths of four University of Idaho students who were stabbed to death in November. DNA reportedly played a major role in the eventual identification of Christopher Kohberger, the suspect, who attends Washington State University, a short nine-mile drive from Moscow, Idaho, where the quadruple homicide took place. The victims — Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20 — were good friends, and staying together in a rental home when they were murdered, likely while they were sleeping. The case had initially baffled authorities and shaken the small community of Moscow, which hadn't had a murder in the five years prior. Kohberger has been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony burglary, but "this is not the end of this investigation," Bill Thompson, the prosecutor for Idaho's Latah County, said.

4

Groundbreaking journalist Barbara Walters dies at 93

Longtime ABC News anchor and renowned interviewer Barbara Walters died at her home in Manhattan on Friday at the age of 93. A breaker of glass ceilings — Walters was both the first female co-host of the Today show and the first female anchor of a network evening news program  — her Barbara Walters Specials "made Ms. Walters as famous, or nearly as famous, as the people she interviewed," The New York Times writes. She joined ABC News in 1976, later becoming the host of 20/20 and subsequently launching The View; in her five-decade career, she accumulated 12 Emmy awards. "In all the years that Barbara has spent covering the world, those of us who have moved along in her wake have done better because she was there first setting standards, and she has taught us all something," former World News Tonight anchor Peter Jennings said during her induction to the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1989.

5

Southwest Airlines promises to reimburse customers for costs caused by cancelations

Southwest Airlines has promised to reimburse customers "for meals, hotel, and alternate transportation" following its disastrous cancelation spree. The airline cut thousands of flights because of inclement weather across the country and its operational structure, which left it unable to bounce back from the initial scheduling issues. In response to the disruption, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wrote to Southwest's CEO, calling the cancelations "unacceptable." Several senators have also called for investigations against Southwest, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) writing that the government "must hold Southwest's CEO accountable for his greed and incompetence." The airline is expected to resume normal operations on Friday. The company apologized in a statement, saying, "We know even our deepest apologies — to our customers, to our employees, and to all affected through this disruption — only go so far."

6

The S&P 500 finishes year with worst losses since 2008

The S&P 500 closed Friday to mark the worst year for the index since 2008, finishing with an annual loss of 19.4 percent. "It's just its third annual decline since the financial crisis 14 years ago and a painful reversal for investors after the S&P 500 notched a gain of nearly 27 percent in 2021," writes The Associated Press. "All told, the index lost $8.2 trillion in value, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices." All three of the major stocks ended three-year win streaks in 2022, with the Dow doing the best relatively, down about 8.8 percent, while the Nasdaq fared the worst, down 33.1 percent. "Sticky inflation and aggressive rate hikes from the Federal Reserve battered growth and technology stocks and weighed on investor sentiment throughout the year," CNBC explains, while "geopolitical concerns and volatile economic data also kept markets on edge."

7

Arizona court rules pre-statehood abortion ban cannot be enforced

In a win for abortion-rights groups on Friday, an Arizona court ruled that doctors cannot be prosecuted under an 1864 ban on all abortions except in cases to save the patient's life. The law, which predated Arizona's statehood and had been barred from being enforced for years, was blocked on the grounds that subsequent Arizona laws do allow for the procedure. The decision means that Arizona's state law, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, will remain in place. "It is very clear, with no uncertainty, that abortion is safe and legal in Arizona through 15 weeks of pregnancy," said Brittany Fonteno, the president of Planned Parenthood Arizona. "The attorney general's attempts to take us back to 1864 are not going to be allowed in Arizona."

8

Putin and Xi reaffirm Russia-China relations amid unrest

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met virtually on Friday to solidify their partnership. The meeting comes as Russia faces "unprecedented pressure" in the war against Ukraine, CNN reports. At the same time, China is facing the repercussions of its zero-COVID policy and a new rise in COVID cases. Both countries have continued to strengthen ties amid global opposition; China, notably, has refused to condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine, opting instead to blame the U.S. and western allies for the escalation of conflict. "In the face of increasing geopolitical tensions, the significance of the Russian-Chinese strategic partnership is growing as a stabilizing factor," said Putin during the meeting. Added Xi, "In the face of a difficult and far from unambiguous international situation, we are ready to build up strategic cooperation with Russia."

9

Andrew Tate arrested in Romania on human trafficking charges

Andrew Tate, a controversial internet personality and former pro kickboxer, has been arrested in Romania along with his brother, Tristan, and charged with human trafficking and forming an organized crime group, The Washington Post reports. In a statement, Romania's anti-organized crime agency, DIICOT, said that four total suspects, including two British citizens and two Romanians, were arrested on such charges; one of the suspects was also charged with rape, though the agency declined to specify who. Tate, a British and U.S. citizen, is known for expressing misogynistic views and hate speech that has gotten him banned from multiple social media platforms. He recently made headlines for engaging in a heated exchange with 19-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. In an email, Tate's talent agent called the human trafficking allegations "an orchestrated hoax put on by the matrix," per the Post.

10

President Biden grants end-of-year pardons to 6 former convicts

In one of his final acts of 2022, President Biden on Friday announced he was granting "full pardons" to six former convicts, whose offenses ranged from teenage consumption of drugs and alcohol to second-degree murder. The pardon recipients vary in age and gender, but have all previously completed the various sentences for their crimes, each of which occurred decades ago, often while the recipient was still a teenager or young adult. The most significant pardon granted on Friday went to Beverly Ann Ibn-Tamas, who was convicted of second-degree murder after she killed her allegedly abusive husband in 1976. As the White House noted in its announcement, "during her trial, the court refused to allow expert testimony regarding battered woman syndrome, a psychological condition and pattern of behavior that develops in victims of domestic violence."

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