News Roundup (Week of Dec. 4-10, 2016)

I’m a little late with this post, but are you ready for this week’s News Roundup?

What You Will Find in This News Roundup

As I work on these new roundups each week, I keep finding more and more news items I should have included in the previous week. In an effort to be more comprehensive, I have expanded the maximum number of items from each category and to the total each week.

With that in mind, I will be aiming to include a total of 10 articles minimum and 30 items maximum. Here are the areas I will focus on (mandatory items are in bold):

  • Up to 15 Items from Around the World That Have a Huge Impact
  • Up to 10 Items with a National Impact
  • Up to 10 Regional Items (from Various Cities, Towns, States or Provinces, from Any Country)
  • Up to 5 Health News Items
  • Up to 5 Tech/Internet Items
  • Up to 4 Entertainment Items
  • One Commentary Item (My Input/Reader Input/Mailbag)

In International News …

The Indonesian Earthquake Has Claimed 100 Lives.

On Wednesday, there was a 6.5 earthquake in Indonesian province of Aceh, which is on the northern tip of Sumatra Island. The area that was hardest hit was the Pidie Jaya regency, home to about 140,000 people. In all, 100 people were confirmed dead as a result of the quake.

On Friday, officials called off a search for more bodies, declaring that 99% of the victims of the quake had been accounted for.

As many will remember, Indonesia was the hardest hit by a tsunami nearly 12 years ago. On December 26, 2004, the same area was hit by an earthquake. More than 120,000 people died in Aceh alone. About 226,000 around Indian Ocean shorelines died in total.

The Government Coalition Nears Victory in Aleppo.

On Friday, the Syrian army stepped up its offensive to retake eastern Aleppo with a mix of ground fighting and airstrikes. The army reported that it had taken about 85 percent of the area, which accounts for 32 of 40 neighborhoods. Rebels have controlled the area since 2012.

Also on Friday, the Syrian army declared a ceasefire in select parts around the capital of Damascus and in the northwestern province of Idlib. The ceasefire was to begin in the evening, but there was no word of when it would end.

The 100,000 people trapped in shrinking rebel-held land have virtually no access to food, water, or medical care.

The United States is trying to work out an agreement with Assad and Russia to allow civilians safe passage out of the warzone and to deliver humanitarian aid. Russia wants the U.S. to talk to the rebels and get them to surrender (in Aleppo). State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States and Russia planned to talk about Aleppo on Saturday.

Hundreds of Missing Men

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled rebel-held parts of the city. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian Defense Ministry reported that up to 10,500 people (4,015 of them children) fled during a humanitarian pause that Russia instituted on Thursday.

However, many it was also reported that rebels prevented others from leaving. Rupert Colville said that up to 100,000 people may have been trapped.

Rupert Colville is the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. He also reported on the possibility that hundreds of men disappeared after crossing over into government-controlled territory. He is basing this on UN evidence, which cites that men aged 30-50 may have been separated from their families and people who were taken in from questioning often have their identity cards confiscated.

White Helmets, a civilian rescue group, said that 46 civilians were killed and 230 were injured in east Aleppo on Thursday. It also said that 3 barrel bombs carrying chlorine gas were dropped.

While Sergei Lavrov said that the U.S. and Russia plan to talk in Geneva about developing a plan to evacuate fighters, the U.S. said that it had not agreed what the talk would be about.

Additionally on Friday, the U.N. General Assembly voted 122 to 13 for an end to all hostilities in Syria, the allowance of humanitarian aid and the end of all sieges (including in Aleppo). The vote is non-binding, but it was used to send a message to Russia and Syria.

Why Aleppo is Important

Aleppo is important because:

  • It was once Syria’s largest city, with 2.3 million people living there at its peak.
  • It served as the country’s industrial and financial center.
  • The old city is a Unesco World Heritage site.
  • It was famous for its 13th Century citadel, 12th Century Great Mosque and souks (huge covered markets)

Aleppo became the center of the conflict in July 2012. That’s when rebels launched an offensive to get rid of Assad’s government. However, the rebels were unable to land a decisive blow.

At one point, the rebels controlled the eastern part of the city while the government controlled the West.

At Look at Assad’s Support

Russia intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015.

Reasons Russia helped:

  • Russians trained and equipped many in the Syrian military.
  • It established Russian as the main player in the conflict.
  • It’s a projection of military power.
  • Russia wants to be seen as equal with other NATO countries.

Russia’s assets are centered at the port at Tartus and Khmeimim air base.

Iran is involved because:

  • It wants to preserve its land corridor.
  • It wants to have access to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
  • It wants to protect Shia shrines.
  • It wants to increase its geopolitical specter across the Middle East, in the face of its Sunni Rivals, especially Saudi Arabia.

Assad plays his allies off each other.

The Use of Barrel Bombs

According to numerous humanitarian groups, the Syrian government has deployed barrel bombs. They are used to maximize casualties.

Aerial bombardments are the #1 killer of Syrian civilians. Barrel bombs are being dropped by the Syrian government regularly because they are easy to produce and produced locally.

Barrel bombs can be made with “TNT, metal fragments, nails, ball bearing, and shards of old machinery.” They may weigh between 440 and 1,100 pounds. They come in two forms: a cylindrical container (usually an oil barrel or gas tank made of cement or metal) that is up to 5-feet long or a square container/water tank with a length and height of 10 feet and 6.5 feet, respectively.

U.N. Resolution 2139 (in February 2014) called for all parties to refrain from attacking civilians and the indiscriminate use of weapons, like barrel bombs in populated areas.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies using barrel bombs.

A Warning to Trump

A group of U.S. Allies has warned Trump about his Syrian strategy. During the campaign, Trump repeated said that he would like to work with Russia in order to fight ISIS, because that is such a high priority. However, Western allies have warned that such a strategy could backfire.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has received help from Russia, Iran, and Shiite militias. Rebels have been supported by Western nations, including the United States.

The Syrian Civil War began as a revolt against Assad’s government in March 2011. In all, over 300,000 people have died in the conflict. Over half of all Syrians have been made homeless by the fighting.

European diplomats believe a political solution in Syria must be met in order end recurring revolts and the migration of militants among civilians to other countries. They say Syria must ultimately have a new president. Assad is of the minority Alawite sect and is of a long-standing authoritarian regime.

Matteo Renzi Resigned As Italian Prime Minister.

On Wednesday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was forced to resign from his post as a result of a recent vote. Renzi waited until the 2017 budget was passed until he made his resignation final.

Renzi was prime minister for 2 years and 289 days. That is the fourth-longest tenure since 1990.

Renzi’s referendum to reform the country’s constitution was rejected by a 20-point margin on December 4. Official numbers showed that voters in metropolitan Italy rejected the reforms 60%-40%, while voters abroad voted 59%-41% against Renzi’s referendum.

The stunning defeat — which came with high voter turnout — came at the end of a 66-day campaign to push the reforms. Much of the push against the reforms came from anti-European Union groups.

Renzi argued his reforms would “make Italy more governable,” but there were severe structural changes that would affect government bodies. Power would be taken from the Senate. And changes to electoral law would have guarantee majorities for the largest political party in the lower house of government, the Chamber of Deputies. Renzi belonged to the Democratic Party (PD), which is the largest party in the parliament.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella started consulting with political parties about how to proceed. (Italian presidents are there to make sure there are smooth transitions within the government).

It remains to be seen if Renzi’s party or another will put forth a new caretaker prime minister or if general elections will be held soon. If the latter happens, the Five Star Movement (M5S) stands to benefit. The Northern League, a right-wing populist party, is also looking to gain ground. The Forza Italia party, the party of the disgraced former PM Silvio Berlusconi, might also be in the mix.

The next election is due in 2018, but two opposition parties want it to be called early.

The Effect on Italian Research and Universities

Renzi had promised to boost universities and science, but failed to deliver. Some scientists even say that he interfered with academics.

Italy’s research and academic funding is the lowest in the European Union, but the output from those sectors is among the highest in the EU. Unfortunately, it appears there is no relief for academic and scientific institutions in the 2017 budget.

The 2017 budget allots €271 million of the money earmarked for research and universities for university departments which are judged to have the best research output. Physicist Giorgio Parisi of the University of Rome La Sapienza said the move would further deprive southern universities other institutions.

The Effect on Italian Banks

The vote also has a severe effect on the country’s third-largest bank, Monte dei Pashci di Siena (MPS). Italy has a number of banks that are in financial trouble. Monte dei Paschi wants €5 billion. Many international investors agreed to help re-finance the ailing bank on condition Italians approved the referendum.

The President of South Korea Was Impeached.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached on Friday due to a corruption charge. The 64-year-old is accused of colluding with a friend (Choi Soon-sil) and former aid to get big businesses to support two foundations. The foundations were set up to support her policy initiatives. The friend and aid have already been indicted.

Park, who has a 5% approval rating, was impeached by a parliamentary vote of 234-56. The vote was carried out by secret ballot and at least 200 votes (or 2/3) were needed in order for the motion to pass. At least 60 members of Park’s conservative Saenuri Party voted in favor of impeachment.

The case now moves to the Constitutional Court, which will decide whether to uphold the impeachment in a process that can last up to 180 days. The nine-member court will look to see if the vote followed due process and if there were sufficient grounds for impeachment. If the court supports the parliamentary vote, Park will be the first elected South Korean leader to be dismissed in disgrace.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is currently serving as interim president. Park’s five-year term is set to end in 2018, but if she is dismissed, an election would have to be held within 60 days of her departure.


In National News …

The DAPL Protesters Were Granted a Victory.

On Monday, November 14, 2016, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would not allow the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Corps cited a need to study the possible environmental effects of DAPL. (The media release could be viewed here.

Early this week, the Corps announced it would look to reroute the Dakota Access Pipeline. This is a victory for anti-DAPL activists and, more specifically, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

As stated before, the largest concern about the pipeline is the proposed drilling to route the pipe under the Missouri River. Water protectors contend that DAPL will threaten the local water supply. In particular, Lake Oahe will be threatened by inevitable leaks of the pipeline.

Now, this isn’t over by any stretch of the imagination. While the companies behind the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners stand to lose money if the pipeline wasn’t completed by January 1, 2017, they may still try to finish the pipeline after Trump’s inauguration. However, the Army Corp of Engineers would have to approve permits and allow the easement.

Ben Carson Is Among New Cabinet Nominees.

On Monday, Trump nominated Ben Carson as head of Housing and Urban Development. However, Carson has no history in the area and in the past, he has voiced his opposition to the agency.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt was nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has ties to coal and gas companies and he has sued the EPA several times, albeit unsuccessfully. He is also leading a case against an Obama regulation. The case involves 27 states and it’s headed to the Federal Appeals Court in Washington, D.C.

One of Obama’s signature environmental rules, passed as a regulation by the EPA, was the Clean Power Plan (CPP). The purpose is to force states to curtail emissions from power stations that run on coal and gas. The CPP is fragile at this point and could easily be killed by the next administration.

Michael Flynn, a former lieutenant-general, was nominated as National Security Advisor. Flynn has been accused of harboring anti-Muslim views.

James Mattis was nominated for Defense Secretary on Thursday.

John Kelly was nominated to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

Elsewhere, Rudy Giuliani has removed his name from consideration for Attorney General.

Jill Stein Is Still Voting for Recounts in 3 States.

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 to halt the recount. The judges there said there were no grounds to start the recount in the first place.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote an 8-page decision in which he agreed with the Appeals court justices and the Michigan Republican Party. He cited that there was no proof of vote tampering, but noted that Stein brought up some valid concerns. Goldsmith also cited the possible cost of the recount, which would be around $5 million by one estimate.

Stein’s recount request voted on 75,000 ballots. The ballots in question had no choice for president selected and. There were half as many ballots in the 2012 election, when there was also a higher voter turnout.

Over 20 counties had started the recount, but Goldsmith’s decision brought that to a halt. Michigan had 4.8 million votes cast. Trump only defeated Clinton in Michigan by 10,704 votes.

In Wisconsin, the state’s 3 million votes were being recounted. Trump was originally said to have won by 22,000 votes, but Clinton has cut into that lead by 82 votes in the recount. The recount was 70% complete by Wednesday.

In Pennsylvania, Trump’s lead shrank to about 44,000 after the election officials updated the voting totals. About 6 million votes were cast in the state.

U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond in Philadelphia scheduled a hearing on Friday about the recount. A decision is expected on Monday.

John Glenn Has Died at 95 Years of Age.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr. was born on July 18, 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He grew up in Concord, Ohio. He was the son of a plumber and teacher.

He married Annie Castor and studied at Muskingum College.

Glenn served as a Marine Corp pilot in World War II. He flew 59 combat missions in the war. In the Korean War, he flew 90 more. He was eventually promoted to test pilot.

In 1957, he set a record by flying from Las Angeles to New York in 3 hours, 23 minutes.

He was among the first test pilots selected when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created in 1959. He became one of 7 original Mercury astronauts.

Glenn participated in two space flights.

He was the first American astronaut to orbit the earth. He was launched into orbit on February 20, 1962 in the Friendship 7. Once in space, he orbited around the planet 3 times in five hours. The capsule was launched by the Atlas rocket.

He would return to space on October 29, 1998. At age 77, he joined 6 younger astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery. During nine days, the Discovery orbited Earth 134 times. The team retrieved a satellite and did scientific experiments.

Glenn served 24 years as a U.S. Senator, representing Ohio as a Democrat. He first won election in 1974. His focus was on foreign affairs and national defense.

Tweet from Gov. John Kasich in memory of John Glenn: https://twitter.com/JohnKasich/status/806957749133332480


In Regional News …

Two Have Been Arrested for the Tennessee Wildfires.

Recent Wildfires in east Tennessee have killed 14 people, damaged or destroyed 2,400 buildings, and caused over millions of dollars in damage. On Wednesday, 2 juveniles were charged with aggravated arson for setting those fires.

No details were immediately released about the identities or genders of the juveniles. But they may be charged as adults.

The Cause of the Oakland Warehouse Fire Is Being Investigated.

Last week, there was a deadly warehouse fire in Oakland, California. The December 2 fire broke out during a dance party being held there. Thirty-six people died in the blaze.

Up to 100 people were in the building when the fire broke out on the first floor. The smoke billowed up to the second floor and prevented anyone from escaping.

The cause of the fire has not been determined. An investigation may take weeks.

Inside the warehouse, known as the “Ghost Ship,” there were numerous code violations and makeshift living quarters. The building had very few exits and a number of fire hazards. Former residents said flammable material was strewn about and there were an unreasonable number of cords in usage. Additionally, there were times when the building had no electricity or running water.

Despite the concerns raised to and by public officials about the living conditions, the illegally converted warehouse was never shut down. The building hadn’t been inspected in at least 30 years and it was unclear if it ever was.

Oakland City Councilman Noel Gallo blamed budget cuts for the lack of firefighters and code inspectors. He also said many people are driven to Oakland due to skyrocketing rents in nearby cities, like San Francisco.

Derick Ion Almena, 46, founded an artists’ colony inside the warehouse. Among the residents were musicians, painters, woodworkers, dancers, and other artists.

The building was owned by Chor Ng, who lived off the premises.

Almena and Ng have come under fire about the living conditions.


In Health/Science News …

Pets May Be a Critical Tool for Helping Manage Mental Illness.

Here’s some great news for people who have pets. I think they already know this, but it’s nice to have confirmation.

In a study published on Friday in the journal BMC Psychiatry, researchers found that pets help people with serious mental illnesses (like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) manage those illnesses. Lead researcher Helen Brooks, a mental health researcher at University of Manchester (U.K.), and her colleagues interviewed 54 people with chronic mental illnesses.

Of those 54 people, 25 said they considered their pets to be part of their social network. In 60% of those cases, pets were closer to respondents than (other) family members.

Pets help the patients in a number of ways. One thing that helps the patients is a routine that comes with taking care of another living being. The routine forces people to stay involved. But most of all, pets are often intuitive and know how to comfort their human companions.

Three Mysterious Liver Cases in Virginia Are Being Investigated.

There were three recent cases in which three Virginia Tech students under the age of 25 experienced decreased function of their livers. The Virginia Department of Health is investigating these cases. So far, none of the three patients has died and none of the cases appear to be related. New River Health District spokesman Bobby Parker has said that there appears to be no risk to the greater public.


In Tech/Internet News …

Did Pewdiepie Really Delete His Channel?

Sometime last week, popular YouTuber Pewdiepie made a video in which he told users he would delete his channel once he reached 50 million subscribers. This news was picked up by other popular YouTube channels and other online news outlets. But on Wednesday, PewdiePie had a surprise for viewers.

Based on how long it took him to reach 50 million subscribers, is that a long time away? 😄


In Entertainment News …

Joe McKnight’s Shooter Was Arrested This Week.

Ronald Gasser, 54, was arrested for manslaughter in the shooting death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight. Officers say the two were arguing before Gasser shot McKnight 3 times. McKnight was reportedly standing on the passenger side of Gassers car before shots were fired.

At a press conference held this week, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newall Normand read off a few angry messages sent to law enforcement regarding the investigation of Joe McKnight’s shooting death. Many of the messages were sent to a local leader for supporting law enforcement.

(I question the point of the sheriff reading these messages.)


Commentary

Much has been said about identity politics, with regards to the past U.S. Presidential Election. To be honest identity politics could be good or bad. Yet we have mostly focused on the bad type, which is divisive by its very nature.

A good use of identity politics looks at different groups, addressing their greatest needs, and getting them proper representation (in government). As Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has recently stated, the good is what we (and the Democratic Party) should be focusing on.

Now, is the left guilty of bad identity politics? I would say yes, but not without point to the right, as well.

On the far left, we have what are called social justice warriors. This group includes people who wear feminism as a label but fail to focus on serious issues faced by women around the world. Many of them threw their support behind Hillary Clinton and called anyone who opposed her or even raised concerns about her sexist or misogynistic.

On the right, we have white supremacists religious fundamentals who act like the left’s SWJ’s. At the moment, “alt-righters” are being given a platform because they were emboldened by Trump’s speech and electoral success. This group gets angry at people who criticize Trump and will make excuses for any of his bombast and missteps.

Identity politics has always existed in one way or another. This election has kind of laid all this bare. I just wish more people would see things the way they are.

Would You Like to Contribute to My News Roundup?

Would you like to share a short opinion about news items? Here are the parameters:

We will treat this like a commentary section in a newspaper. You can add your thoughts to any relevant news topic, but do your best to keep your word count to 300.

If your comment is approved, I might only edit it for spelling and grammar. Once that’s done, I will put your comment near the end of the News Roundup post and credit it to you.

If you are interested, please go to my new Contact Me page and leave a message. I will get back to you via email and we can discuss the details.

By the Way …

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