With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.

Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”

Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.

Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.

pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used-car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.

But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used-vehicle market.

The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles three or four years before trading them in.

SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.

New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go farther are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes.

Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.

You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition, which helped the battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”

$45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.

“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.

Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.

The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.” 

A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.

Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely that many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.

Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.

“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”

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A Polish Priest’s War Against Abortion Focuses on Helping Single Mothers

SZCZECIN, Poland — The Polish state has banned abortion for 29 years, but that has done little to prevent women from finding access to the procedure, leaving the Rev. Tomasz Kancelarczyk a busy man.

The Roman Catholic priest plays ultrasound audio of what he describes as fetal heartbeats in his sermons to dissuade women considering an abortion. He has threatened teenage girls with telling their parents if they have an abortion. He hectored couples as they waited at the hospital for abortions on account of fetal abnormalities, which were permitted until the law was further tightened last year.

But Father Kancelarczyk’s most effective tool, he acknowledges, may actually be something the state has mostly neglected: helping single mothers by providing them with shelter, supermarket vouchers, baby clothes and, if need be, lawyers to go after violent partners.

abortion bans proliferate in some American states, Poland offers a laboratory, of sorts, for how such bans ripple through societies. And one thing evident in Poland is that the state, if determined to stop abortions, is less focused on what comes afterward — a child who needs help and support.

much the same as in the parts of the United States where abortion bans are being put in place.

“They call themselves pro-life, but they are only interested in women until they give birth,” said Krystyna Kacpura, the president of the Federation for Women and Family Planning, a Warsaw-based advocacy group that opposes the government ban. “There is no systemic support for mothers in Poland, especially mothers of disabled children.”

the measure doesn’t go far enough.

One was that of Beata, a 36-year-old single mother who did not want to disclose her full name for fear of stigma in her deeply Catholic community.

When she became pregnant with her second child, she said the father of the child and her family shunned her. No bank would lend her money because she had no job. No one wanted to hire her because she was pregnant. And she was refused unemployment benefits on the grounds that she was “not employable.”

“The state completely abandons single mothers,” she said.

Then one day, as she was sitting on the floor in her tiny unfurnished apartment, Father Kancelarczyk, who was alerted by a friend, called, encouraged her to keep the baby and offered help.

“One day I had nothing,” Beata said. “The next day he shows up with all these things: furniture, clothes, diapers. I could even choose the color of my stroller.”

Nine years later, Beata works as an accountant and the son she chose to have, Michal, thrives at school.

For many women, Father Kancelarczyk has turned out to be the only safety net — though his charity comes with a brand of Christian fervor that polarizes, a division on stark display in Szczecin.

Father Kancelarczyk’s gothic red brick church towers directly opposite a liberal arts center whose windows are adorned with a row of black lightning bolts — the symbol of Poland’s abortion rights movement — and a poster proclaiming, “My body, my choice.”

Every year, Father Kancelarczyk organizes Poland’s biggest anti-abortion march with thousands departing from his church and facing off with counterprotesters across the street. Before a local gay pride parade, he once called on his congregants to “disinfect the streets.”

He gets hate mail nearly every day, he says, calling it “Satan’s work.”

Ms. Kacpura, the advocate who opposes the government ban, says that the lack of state support especially for single mothers has opened up space for people like Father Kancelarczyk to “indoctrinate” women who find themselves in financial and emotional distress.

Under Communism, child care was free and most Polish workplaces had on-site facilities to encourage mothers to join the work force. But that system collapsed after 1989, while an emboldened Roman Catholic Church put its shoulder behind the 1993 abortion ban as it also rekindled a vision of women as mothers and caregivers at home.

The nationalist and conservative Law and Justice Party, which was elected in 2015 on a pro-family platform, saw opportunity and passed one of Europe’s most generous child benefits programs. It was a revolution in Poland’s family policy.

But it still lacks child care, a precondition for mothers to go to work, as well as special support for the parents of disabled children. Over the past decade, groups of parents of disabled children twice occupied the Polish Parliament to protest the lack of state support, in 2014 and 2018.

When someone contacts Father Kancelarczyk about a woman contemplating abortion — “usually a girlfriend” — sometimes he calls the pregnant woman. When she does not want to talk, he says he will engineer bumping into her and force a conversation.

He also admonishes the fathers, waving ultrasound images in the faces of men looking to leave their pregnant girlfriends. “If men behaved decently, women would not get abortions,” he said.

While abhorred by many, he is admired in the religious communities where he preaches.

Monika Niklas, a 42-year-old mother of two from Szczecin, first attended Mass with Father Kancelarczyk not long after she had learned that her unborn baby had Down syndrome. This was 10 years ago, before the ban included fetal abnormalities, and she had been contemplating an abortion. “I thought my world was crumbling down,” she said.

During his service, Father Kancelarczyk had played a video from his phone with the sound of what he described as a fetal heartbeat.

“It was so moving,” Ms. Niklas recalled. “After the Mass, we went to talk to him, and told him about our situation.” He was one of the first people to tell her and her husband they were going to make it and offered support.

After her son Krzys was born, Ms. Niklas gave up on her career as an architect to take care of him full time. Krzys, now 9, got a place in a school only this fall, one example of how government support falls far short of matching their needs.

She now advises expecting parents of disabled children, trying to counsel them to keep their babies — but without sugarcoating it.

“I never just tell them, ‘It will be all right,’ because it will be hard,” she said. “But if you accept that your life will be different from what you had envisaged, you can be very happy.”

“We have these ideas about what our children will be — a lawyer, a doctor, an astronaut,” she added. “Krzys taught me about love.”

But in all her counsel, she said, one thing barely features: the abortion ban.

“This has not impacted how people make decisions,” she said. “Those who want to get an abortion do it anyway, only abroad.”

Many women here concurred.

Kasia, who also did not want her full name used because the stigma that surrounds the issue, is one of nine women currently living at Father Kancelarczyk’s shelter. She was 23 when she became pregnant. She said her boyfriend had abused her — the police refused to intervene — and then left her. Her mother had kicked her out of the house. A friend contacted an abortion clinic across the border in Germany.

“It is not difficult,” she said of getting an illegal termination. “It is a matter of getting a phone number.”

In the end, it was a near-miscarriage in the eighth week of her pregnancy that changed Kasia’s mind and persuaded her to carry out her pregnancy.

Father Kancelarczyk offered her not just free room and board in his shelter but a lawyer, who took the former boyfriend to court. He is now serving a 10-month sentence and might lose custody.

“I feel safe now,” Kasia said.

Father Kancelarczyk says the number of women referred to him because they were considering abortion did not increase when Poland’s ban was tightened for fetal abnormalities. But he still supports the ban.

“The law always has a normative effect,” he said. “What is permitted is perceived as good, and what is forbidden as bad.”

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Putin Aims to Shape a New Generation of Supporters, Through Schools

Starting in first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. They will be given a steady dose of lectures on topics like “the geopolitical situation” and “traditional values.” In addition to a regular flag-raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons celebrating Russia’s “rebirth” under President Vladimir V. Putin.

And, according to legislation signed into law by Mr. Putin on Thursday, all Russian children will be encouraged to join a new patriotic youth movement in the likeness of the Soviet Union’s red-cravatted “Pioneers” — presided over by the president himself.

Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russian government’s attempts at imparting a state ideology to schoolchildren have proven unsuccessful, a senior Kremlin bureaucrat, Sergei Novikov, recently told thousands of Russian schoolteachers in an online workshop. But now, amid the war in Ukraine, Mr. Putin has made it clear that this needed to change, he said.

end 30 years of openness to the West.

even a hockey player with suspect loyalties.

But nowhere are these ambitions clearer than in the Kremlin’s race to overhaul how children are taught at Russia’s 40,000 public schools.

militarize Russian society, building on officials’ ad hoc efforts after the invasion to convince young people that the war was justified.

“Patriotism should be the dominant value of our people,” another senior Kremlin official, Aleksandr Kharichev, said at last month’s workshop for teachers, which was hosted by the education ministry.

His presentation defined patriotism bluntly: “Readiness to give one’s life for the Motherland.”

Mr. Novikov, the head of the Kremlin’s “public projects” directorate, said that with the invasion of Ukraine in February, teachers faced “a rather urgent task”: to “carry out explanatory work” and answer students’ “difficult questions.”

“While everything is more or less controllable with the younger ones, the older students receive information through a wide variety of channels,” he said, acknowledging the government’s fears about the internet swaying young people’s views. A poll last month by the independent Levada Center found that 36 percent of Russians aged 18 to 24 opposed the war in Ukraine, compared with just 20 percent of all adults.

published by the education ministry last month shows that Mr. Putin’s two decades in power are set to be enshrined in the standard curriculum as a historical turning point, while the teaching of history itself will become more doctrinal.

The decree says that Russian history classes will be required to include several new topics like “the rebirth of Russia as a great power in the 21st century,” “reunification with Crimea,” and “the special military operation in Ukraine.”

And while Russia’s existing educational standard says students should be able to evaluate “various versions of history,” the new proposal says they should learn to “defend historical truth” and “uncover falsifications in the Fatherland’s history.”

As government employees, teachers generally have little choice but to comply with the new demands — though there are signs of grass-roots resistance. Mr. Ken says the Alliance of Teachers, his union, has provided legal guidance to dozens of teachers who have refused to teach this spring’s propaganda classes, noting that political agitation in schools is technically illegal under Russian law. In some cases, he says, principals have simply canceled the classes, knowing they were unpopular.

“You just need to find the moral strength not to facilitate evil,” Sergei Chernyshov, who runs a private high school in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk and has resisted promoting government propaganda, said in a phone interview. “If you can’t protest against it, at least don’t help it.”

Come September, such resistance could become more difficult, with schools directed to add an hour of class every Monday promoting the Kremlin’s version of patriotism. Virtual guest speakers in those classes will include Ramzan Kadyrov, the brutal strongman leader of the Chechnya region, and Patriarch Kirill I, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church who has called the invasion a righteous fight, according to a presentation at last month’s workshop.

schedule of the weekly classes posted by the education ministry. In October, fifth graders and up will have a session apparently meant to discourage emigration; its title: “Happiness is being happy at home.”

Also beginning in September is the Kremlin’s new youth movement, an idea endorsed by Mr. Putin in a televised meeting in April and enshrined in legislation he signed on Thursday.

A co-sponsor of the legislation, the lawmaker Artyom Metelev, said the creation of a new youth movement had long been in the works, but that the West’s online “information war” targeting young people amid the fighting in Ukraine made that measure more urgent.

“This would have also all appeared without the military operation,” Mr. Metelev, who is 28 and a member of Mr. Putin’s United Russia party, said in a phone interview. “It’s just that the military operation and those, let’s say, actions being carried out in relation to our country have accelerated it.”

Moscow’s propaganda infrastructure aimed at children remains far more limited than it was during the Soviet era — a time when young people actively sought out underground cultural exports smuggled in from the West. Mr. Chernyshov, the Novosibirsk school director, believes that the Kremlin’s attempts to sell its militarism to children will now also eventually run up against the young mind’s common sense.

“A 10-year-old child is much more of a humanist than the typical Russian citizen,” he said. “It’s simply impossible to explain to a child in plain language why, right now, some people are killing others.”

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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The Fight Over Truth Also Has a Red State, Blue State Divide

To fight disinformation, California lawmakers are advancing a bill that would force social media companies to divulge their process for removing false, hateful or extremist material from their platforms. Texas lawmakers, by contrast, want to ban the largest of the companies — Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — from removing posts because of political points of view.

In Washington, the state attorney general persuaded a court to fine a nonprofit and its lawyer $28,000 for filing a baseless legal challenge to the 2020 governor’s race. In Alabama, lawmakers want to allow people to seek financial damages from social media platforms that shut down their accounts for having posted false content.

In the absence of significant action on disinformation at the federal level, officials in state after state are taking aim at the sources of disinformation and the platforms that propagate them — only they are doing so from starkly divergent ideological positions. In this deeply polarized era, even the fight for truth breaks along partisan lines.

a nation increasingly divided over a variety of issues — including abortion, guns, the environment — and along geographic lines.

a similar law in Florida that would have fined social media companies as much as $250,000 a day if they blocked political candidates from their platforms, which have become essential tools of modern campaigning. Other states with Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed similar measures, including Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and Alaska.

Alabama’s attorney general, Steve Marshall, has created an online portal through which residents can complain that their access to social media has been restricted: alabamaag.gov/Censored. In a written response to questions, he said that social media platforms stepped up efforts to restrict content during the pandemic and the presidential election of 2020.

“During this period (and continuing to present day), social media platforms abandoned all pretense of promoting free speech — a principle on which they sold themselves to users — and openly and arrogantly proclaimed themselves the Ministry of Truth,” he wrote. “Suddenly, any viewpoint that deviated in the slightest from the prevailing orthodoxy was censored.”

Much of the activity on the state level today has been animated by the fraudulent assertion that Mr. Trump, and not President Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. Although disproved repeatedly, the claim has been cited by Republicans to introduce dozens of bills that would clamp down on absentee or mail-in voting in the states they control.

memoirist and Republican nominee for Senate, railed against social media giants, saying they stifled news about the foreign business dealings of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

massacre at a supermarket in Buffalo in May.

Connecticut plans to spend nearly $2 million on marketing to share factual information about voting and to create a position for an expert to root out misinformation narratives about voting before they go viral. A similar effort to create a disinformation board at the Department of Homeland Security provoked a political fury before its work was suspended in May pending an internal review.

In California, the State Senate is moving forward with legislation that would require social media companies to disclose their policies regarding hate speech, disinformation, extremism, harassment and foreign political interference. (The legislation would not compel them to restrict content.) Another bill would allow civil lawsuits against large social media platforms like TikTok and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram if their products were proven to have addicted children.

“All of these different challenges that we’re facing have a common thread, and the common thread is the power of social media to amplify really problematic content,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel of California, a Democrat, who sponsored the legislation to require greater transparency from social media platforms. “That has significant consequences both online and in physical spaces.”

It seems unlikely that the flurry of legislative activity will have a significant impact before this fall’s elections; social media companies will have no single response acceptable to both sides when accusations of disinformation inevitably arise.

“Any election cycle brings intense new content challenges for platforms, but the November midterms seem likely to be particularly explosive,” said Matt Perault, a director of the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina. “With abortion, guns, democratic participation at the forefront of voters’ minds, platforms will face intense challenges in moderating speech. It’s likely that neither side will be satisfied by the decisions platforms make.”

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Payment Data Could Become Evidence of Abortion, Now Illegal in Some States

Digital payments are the default for millions of women of childbearing age. So what will their credit and debit card issuers and financial app providers do when prosecutors seek their transaction data during abortion investigations?

It’s a hypothetical question that’s almost certainly an inevitable one in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last week. Now that abortion is illegal in several states, criminal investigators will soon begin their hunt for evidence to prosecute those they say violated the law.

Medical records are likely to be the most definitive proof of what now is a crime, but officials who cannot get those may look for evidence elsewhere. The payment trail is likely to be a high priority.

HIPAA — which governs the privacy of a patient’s health records — permits medical and billing records to be released in response to a warrant or subpoena.

“There is a very broad exception to the HIPAA protections for law enforcement,” said Marcy Wilder, a partner and co-head of the global privacy and cybersecurity practice at Hogan Lovells, a law firm. But Ms. Wilder added that the information shared with law enforcement officials could not be overly broad or unrelated to the request. “That is why it matters how companies and health plans are interpreting this.”

Card issuers and networks like Visa and Mastercard generally do not have itemized lists of everything that people pay for when they shop for prescription drugs or other medications online, or when they purchase services at health care providers. But evidence of patronage of, say, a pharmacy that sells only abortion pills could give someone away.

a new state law authorizes residents to file lawsuits against anyone who helped facilitate an abortion.

“With the ruling only coming down late last week, it’s premature to understand the full impact at the state level,” Brad Russell, a USAA spokesman, said via email. “However, USAA will always comply with all applicable laws.”

American Airlines Credit Union, Bank of America, Capital One, Discover, Goldman Sachs, Prosperity Bank USA, Navy Federal Credit Union, US Bank, University of Wisconsin Credit Union, Wells Fargo and Western Union did not return at least two messages seeking comment.

American Express, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo have all announced their intentions to reimburse employees for expenses if they travel to other states for abortions. So far, none have commented about how they would respond to a subpoena seeking the transaction records of the very employees who would be eligible for employer reimbursement.

Amie Stepanovich, vice president of U.S. policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, a nonprofit focused on data privacy and protection, said warrants and subpoenas can be accompanied by gag orders, which can prevent companies from even alerting their customers that they’re being investigated.

“They can choose to battle the use of gag orders in court,” she said. “Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.”

In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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Crypto Industry Helps Write, and Pass, Its Own Agenda in State Capitols

In July, the state ordered a dozen A.T.M. providers that sell crypto in exchange for cash — including Cash Cloud, Coin Now and DigiCash — to register as money transmitters, despite appeals from the companies, documents obtained by The Times show.

Last year, Mr. Aloupis introduced the bill to exempt two-party crypto transactions, after lobbying appeals by Mr. Armes and a trade group he leads, the Florida Blockchain Business Association. (Its members include Binance, the large crypto exchange.) The bill failed to win Senate approval, and it was reintroduced for this year’s session.

Russell Weigel, the Florida commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation, said he endorsed the legislation that Mr. Armes had championed.

“If I go and buy groceries at your food store, that’s a two-party transaction,” Mr. Weigel said. “Do I need a license for that? It seems absurd.”

Lobbyists for Blockchain.com, a cryptocurrency exchange that moved last year from New York to Miami, and Bit5ive, which manufactures crypto mining equipment in the Florida area, joined the effort, contacting dozens of state lawmakers.

“They are very pro crypto,” Robert Collazo, the Bit5ive chief executive, said of Florida lawmakers.

In the future, the company plans to raise money for crypto-friendly legislators in Florida, said Michael Kesti, Bit5ive’s lobbyist. The legislative affairs director of the Florida blockchain association, Jason Holloway, is already running for the State House, with donations — some in cryptocurrency — from Mr. Armes and others.

“I don’t want it to seem like we are paying for the influence,” Mr. Kesti said. “But we do want to support them.”

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Silvio Berlusconi Angles for Italy’s Presidency, Bunga Bunga and All

ROME — Early this month, Silvio Berlusconi sat at a dining room table in his mansion with his girlfriend, more than a half-century younger, and an old political ally. As they feasted on a pumpkin souffle and truffle tagliatelle, the 85-year-old Italian former prime minister and billionaire made hours of phone calls, working his way down a list of disaffected lawmakers he hoped to persuade to elect him president of Italy next week.

“‘We are forming the Bunga Bunga party and we want you with us,’” Christian Romaniello, a lawmaker formerly with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, recounted Mr. Berlusconi as saying, referring to the sex-fueled bacchanals that Mr. Berlusconi has deemed merely “elegant dinners.” According to Mr. Romaniello, Mr. Berlusconi then added, “‘But I’ll bring the ladies.’”

The Italian presidency, the country’s head of state, is a seven-year position usually filled by a figure of unimpeachable integrity and sobriety whose influence flows from moral authority. The current holder, Sergio Mattarella, is a quiet statesman whose brother was murdered by the mob. Another contender is Mario Draghi, the prime minister and a titan of European politics who has led the country to a period of unusual stability.

Then there is Mr. Berlusconi, who despite his recent bad health, waxen appearance and weakened political standing, is making an unabashed push to win a career-culminating position that he hopes will wash away decades of stains — his allies say unjustly thrown mud — and rewrite his legacy.

mob links and bribing lawmakers; the tax fraud conviction; the ban from office; the sentence to perform community service in a nursing home; his use of his media empire for political gain; his use of the government to protect his media empire; the wiretapped conversations of his libertine party guests regaling the Caligulan extent of his bunga bunga debaucheries; his close relationship with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, who gifted Mr. Berlusconi a large bed; his appraisal of Barack Obama as “young, handsome and sun tanned”; his comparing a German lawmaker to a concentration camp guard; his second wife’s divorcing him for apparently dating an 18-year-old.

It’s an unorthodox résumé.

Mr. Berlusconi’s conflicts of interest, judicial problems and past behavior made him less than an excellent candidate, said Emma Bonino, a veteran Italian politician and civil rights activist who once ran for the office herself. “I don’t think he would give a good image of our country in the world,” she said.

Mr. Berlusconi declined to comment for this article. But he and his team of longtime advisers are selling him as a moderate, pro-European champion of democracy and can-do capitalism. “I think Silvio Berlusconi can be useful to the country,” Mr. Berlusconi, speaking of himself in the third person, said in October.

In usual fashion, he is using all the levers at his disposal to reach the requisite majority of 505 votes in the secret balloting for the presidency among lawmakers that starts on Monday.

read the headline) and published an insert on his qualities (“hero of liberty”). Weeks ago, lawmakers opening their mailboxes found a photograph of Mr. Berlusconi, arms up and bathing in adoration, on the cover of an anthology of his speeches.

the great-grandfather has remained the father figure of the center-right, which now has — if united — the largest bloc of lawmaker electors in Parliament and a strong desire to choose the next president.

But Mr. Berlusconi’s insistence has caused a major headache for Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party, both at work and at home. Mr. Salvini’s girlfriend is the daughter of Denis Verdini, one of Mr. Berlusconi’s closest advisers, who is publicly applying pressure — from house arrest after his conviction in a bankruptcy fraud case — to elect Mr. Berlusconi.

After years of promising Mr. Berlusconi that he would back his candidacy for president, Mr. Salvini sent a stinging message to Mr. Berlusconi this week, saying that, “We must verify if Berlusconi has the numbers before the start of voting next week.” Mr. Salvini indicated that he had somebody else in mind.

Giorgia Meloni, the hard-right leader of Brothers of Italy, the third party in the center-right alliance, spoke on Tuesday of the possibility of Mr. Berlusconi’s stepping aside, prompting speculation that he might drop out.

the cover of Espresso magazine.

For all Mr. Berlusconi’s seeming unsuitability to fill the role of head of state, his allies argue that Italians elected him multiple times, that political considerations motivated the magistrates who hounded him for decades and that he was a self-made and brilliant businessman who built an empire.

But his outsize appetites and self-interested use of power fueled a backlash that seeded and grew the enormous anti-establishment Five Star Movement, co-founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo, who once derided Mr. Berlusconi as a “psychotic dwarf.”

Five Star took power in 2018 as Italy’s leading party, and Mr. Berlusconi’s support dwindled. He took a back seat to the rising nationalists, first Mr. Salvini and then Ms. Meloni, and railed against Five Star as incompetent good-for-nothings and a threat to democracy. He mocked their trademark universal welfare plan as a joke. He called their power structure communist.

Five Star has since imploded and scattered members into a mixed group of lawmakers desperate to avoid new elections that would almost certainly cost them their jobs and pensions. Mr. Berlusconi has explicitly promised to keep the legislature going as president, has called the universal income plan good for the poor and showered gifts on former rivals.

Luigi Di Maio, the Five Star leader who once refused to join any government with Mr. Berlusconi, this Christmas accepted a centuries-old oil painting of Venice from the mogul’s collection, according to a person close to Mr. Di Maio, who declined to comment.

As Mr. Berlusconi worked the phones alongside his girlfriend, who is also a member of Parliament in his political party, he sat next to Vittorio Sgarbi, one of his former ministers and a lawmaker and television personality who is well liked by many Five Star members.

When Mr. Sgarbi called Mr. Romaniello, the former Five Star lawmaker, who was interrupted while making Carnevale masks with his two small children, he jokingly introduced Mr. Berlusconi as “a Grillo-following friend.”

In an interview, Mr. Romaniello said that he was flattered by the call and added that friends contacted by Mr. Berlusconi also respected the former prime minister’s phone banking and “positive charisma.” But Mr. Romaniello said that he still considered himself, politically, “an adversary,” adding that Five Star had been born “as the antithesis of Berlusconi.” A phone call, he said, would not win his vote.

By Tuesday, even Mr. Sgarbi had bailed on Mr. Berlusconi and was urging him to be a kingmaker.

“I don’t think he can do it,” he said in an interview, saying that the duo had only persuaded about 15 lawmakers to back him, far short, even if he had a base of about 450 conservative supporters, to win the election. “It’s useless to try if you don’t have the numbers.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Berlusconi’s lawyers in Milan successfully argued for a delay in a bribery trial related to his bunga bunga tribulations until after the presidential vote, his team snapped back and vowed that he would persist and, as always, speak for himself.

“I will not disappoint those who have trusted me,” Mr. Berlusconi said.

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India’s Christians Attacked Under Anti-Conversion Laws

Muttur Devi, a lower caste woman who works on a farm in the impoverished state of Bihar, adopted Christianity two years ago. Still, each morning, she affixes a bindi, a small circular sticker, to her forehead, and paints a vermilion stripe on her scalp. These are visible Hindu marks that she says help disguise her departure from Hinduism.

“If I take this off,” she said, touching her bindi, “the whole village will harass me.”

One cold night this past winter, Pastor Patil drove to a secret prayer session in an unmarked farmhouse. He quickly stepped inside. On a dusty carpet that smelled like sheep, two dozen Pentecostal Christians waited for him. Most were lower-caste farmers. When a dog barked outside, one woman whipped around and whispered, “What’s that?”

Pastor Patil reassured the woman that she was doing nothing wrong and that God was watching over. He cracked open his weathered, Hindi-language Bible and rested his finger on Luke 21, an apt passage for his beleaguered flock.

“They will seize you and persecute you,” he read, voice trembling.

“You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends,” he went on, tracing the passages with his finger. “They will put some of you to death. Everyone will hate you because of me.”

The farmers sitting on the floor, some holding sleeping babies, watched him closely.

They also checked the windows to make sure no one was coming.

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