News Roundup (Week of Dec. 11-17, 2016)

News Roundup. current events

I’m running late again, but it’s time for this week’s New 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 Syrian Government Announced Its Victory in Aleppo.

On Tuesday, the battle of Aleppo appeared to come to an end, as rebels retreated in the East. Elsewhere, the civil war wages on. The Islamic State still holds parts of the country in the east and it recaptured Palmyra this week.

The Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah was instrumental in the Syrian government’s victory in Aleppo. The group had a role since the civil war began, by first keeping the government-held western part of Syria together. According to an official in the government’s coalition, Hezbollah beat back the rebels in October.

In particular, Hezbollah thwarted suicide attacks. In October, the rebels were using suicide bombers in cars and trucks. Hezbollah sharp shooters shot the vehicles before they could reach their intended destinations. And the fighters from the Lebanese group did it at the risk of their own deaths.

All told, the Russian air strikes were the most important factor in Assad’s victory. The air strikes added much-needed manpower for Assad, landed decisive blows, and thus allowed Assad to retake eastern parts of the city.

Evacuation Plans

Russia and Turkey worked out a ceasefire without U.S. involvement. Starting at 5 am local time (0300 GMT) Wednesday, rebels and civilians were to evacuate the eastern part of Aleppo.

However, the evacuation of Aleppo hit a snag on Wednesday. There was more fighting in the city as rebels rejected new stipulations imposed by Iran, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main partners in the war.

According to the U.N. and rebel forces, Iran wanted the simultaneous evacuation of Foua and Kefraya in the Idlib province west of Aleppo. Both majority-Shiite villages are under attack by rebels.

The evacuation plan comes after two weeks of advances Assad’s coalition made in Aleppo. Assad also reclaimed some areas near Damascus this year. The focus of the coalition has been on the rebels to the west, instead of ISIS, which remains as a challenge for Assad.

About 250,000 civilians were estimated to be in the eastern part of Aleppo. Some people stayed behind in government-captured areas because they felt they had nowhere to go and did not want to deal with the uncertainty of displacement.

It was reported that Syrian soldiers an allied Iraqi fighters shot 82 people dead in eastern Aleppo.

Abu Malex al-Shamali in Seif al-Dawla, which was one of the last districts in the city to be held by rebels, had a chilling message about the Syrian army. He said the army had a list of names and asked the families of fighters if they had sons with terrorists. Many were shot and left to die.

Reports of War Crimes

On Tuesday, the United Nations discussed reports it had received of war crimes committed by the Syrian army and an allied Iraqi militia called Harakat al-Nujaba. According to reports from the U.N. human rights office, the allied forces shot at least 82 people (including 11 women and 13 children) dead in eastern Aleppo as those civilians were fleeing or in their homes. The alleged shootings were said to occur in four different neighborhoods (Bustan al-Qasr, al Fardous, Al-Kalasah, and al-Saliheen) over the span of a few days.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’a al-Hussein, said he wanted Syria to allow the U.N. to monitor what is happening to the civilians as Syria takes control of Aleppo. He also expressed worry of what could happen in Douma, Raqqa, and Idlib, towns that were still being held by Rebels.

Things Are Heating up in the South China Sea.

There were at least 3 big developments with China in the South China Sea.

Chinese Installment of Weapons Systems on Artificial Islands

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a U.S. think tank, has been looking at artificial islands owned by the Chinese since June and July 2016. On Wednesday, AMTI said it appears that China installed weapons systems on all seven of its artificial Nansha islands in the South China Sea. Among the weapons are anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. AMTI supplied satellite imagery taken in November to support its claims.

The findings seem to contradict denials from the Chinese government that it wouldn’t seek to militarize those islands. China said its islands were for civilian use, but it was necessary for those islands to be defended. Chin had already built airstrips fit for a military beforehand on the larger reefs.

ATMI also said that the installation of weapons systems would seem to back up other platforms, like the HQ-9 system deployed to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands. That series of islands are also in the South China Sea, but further north.

The Spratly Islands (called Nansha by the Chinese) are owned by the neighboring nations. China’s artificial islands are: the Fiery Cross, Mischief, Subi, Gaven, Hughes, Johnson, and Cuarteron reefs. The first three are the larger reefs. The United States has conducted periodic “freedom of navigation” air and naval patrols near those reefs, to the chagrin of the Chinese government.

The South China Sea is a strategic trade route where several nations, including the Philippines, claim territory. About $5 billion worth of trade passes through the South China Sea each year. Besides China, countries that have claims to the body of water are: Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Taiwan, which China sees as a part of the larger country, also stakes a claim to the route.

The Threat of U.S. Confrontation with China

On Wednesday, Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the U.S. Pacific fleet declared that the United States was ready to confront China on its maritime actions in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Gene Shuang warned the United States not to take sides “on the dispute in the South China Sea.”

According to U.S. estimates, Beijing has added more than 3,200 acres (1,300 hectares) of land in the South China Sea over three years.

China’s Seizure of an Underwater Drone

On Friday, U.S. officials said that China seized an underwater drone deployed from the USNS Bowditch. The USNS Bowditch is an oceanographic Navy vessel crewed by civilians and it deployed two unmanned underwater vehicles. One was captured about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay off the Philippines by a Chinese Navy Dalang 3 class vessel.

The incident comes as the U.S. Navy expanded its fleet in response to a “growing China. The U.S. Navy now has 355 ships (including 12 carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 38 amphibious ships, and 66 submarines). Additionally, the drone was doing a military survey of the South China Sea.

China Fines an Unnamed U.S. Automaker.

On Wednesday, the China Daily newspaper announced that an unnamed U.S. automaker would be fined for fixing prices since 2014. At least 2 large automakers from the United States, General Motors, and Ford, have interests in China since the nation has the largest automaker market. But neither of those companies gave an affirmative response to the question of whether they were targeted.

China’s National Development and Reform Commission has been investigating numerous foreign carmakers since 2011 and has issued seven fines, including this latest one. Companies that have been targeted include Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and Toyota Motor Co.

It appears that the fine was unconnected to Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s president which might been seen by China as a violation against the “One China” policy. However, the newspaper editorialized that Trump needn’t “one-up” an important economical ally. Just last year, Chinese consumers bought more than one-third of the 9.96 million cars sold worldwide by GM.

Gentiloni Takes Over As Italian Prime Minister.

On Tuesday, interim Matteo Renzi’s replacement as Italian Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, received a vote of confidence from the Italian parliament. Gentiloni sought similar banking from the Senate.

In the Senate, a coalition of two main parties controls 140 seats out of 320. Smaller factions have indicated they will support Gentiloni for the moment.

Genitloni’s administration is basically the same as his predecessor’s. Thus there are added implications for reforms Renzi supported.

In particular, there is a prevalent fear that the Jobs Act, which made it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers, would suffer a similar fate as Renzi’s referendum. At the moment, the Constitutional Court said it would review a request by the CGIL union to call for a referendum on the act. However, that review won’t come until January 11, 2017.

A Mexican Vigilante Groups Retaliates Against A Gang Leader.

In Totolapan, angry residents in the town kidnapped the mother of a gang leader. A group of masked vigilantes, calling themselves a “self-defense” force, sent a message to let Raybel Jacobo de Almonte that they took “Mrs. Felix del Monte.”

Raybel Jacobo de Almonte, A.K.A. “El Tequilero,” has controlled the town for years. His mother was kidnapped so the gang would release loved ones captured last week.

Totolapan, in Guerrero state, is a very dangerous town. It is an area known for drug trafficking, killings, and kidnappings. It lies at the foot of a mountain where much of Mexico’s opium poppy grows.

On Tuesday, the government of Guerrero state planned to send 220 soldiers and police to the town in order to resolve the issue. Investigators managed to negotiate the return of a number of residents (and kidnapped gang members) from the vigilante group.


In National News …

Will There Be an Electoral College Shakeup on Monday?

The Electoral College will vote on Monday, December 19th, to officially vote for the next president of the United States.

How the Electoral College Is Supposed to Work

Electoral College proceedings must be held by law on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

But before then, on December 13, the states had to turn in the Certificates of Ascertainment, which guarantees that the governor of each state certified the election results. The Certificates of Vote must be turned in by December 28.

In total, there are 538 electors, from 51 locations. This matches the total number of congressional members, which counts 435 representatives, 100 senators, 2 Washington, D.C. delegates, and the vice president (the president of the Senate).

The Federal Register organizes the Electoral College. At one point, this was done by the Secretary of State. This changed after Harry Truman signed Reorganization Plan NO. 20 in May 1950.

The Prospect of Faithless Electors

According to the 2016 presidential election, 306 electors were pledged to Trump and 232 were pledged to Hillary Clinton. However, Clinton led Trump by 2.8 million votes. (Winning enough states is important.)

But at least one Republican elector has come forward to say he won’t vote for Trump (and would prefer someone like Ohio Governor John Kasich). Christopher Suprun wrote an Op-Ed for The New York Times in which he listed the reasons he could not vote for Trump; the essay was published on December 5, 2016. Faithless electors are allowed in Texas.

Harvard professor Larry Lessig said that up to 20 Republican electors might defect. However, it seems highly unlikely that will happen, let alone there will be 37 to effectively block Trump’s election. Republican leaders have been reaching out to various electors to get a gauge on how some will vote, particularly in states that allow faithless electors.

In 23 states, electors have to vote for the candidates for whom they have been pledged. If the electors fail to do so (in other words, they are faithless electors), their votes will be disqualified and they will be replaced by alternates. In states like South Carolina, a defection could lead to criminal charges.

Trump’s Transition Continues with More Controversy and Questions.

This week, Trump made three notable additions to his transition team and he continued to ruffle the feathers of China and other past and present governmental leaders.

Trump’s Cabinet Picks

This week, Monica Crowley was picked to serve as Trump’s senior director of strategic communications for the National Security Council. Her immediate boss will be Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and her colleague will be K.T. McFarland, who comes from FOX News.

Monica Crowley is also a FOX News analyst and conservative columnist for the Washington Times. She was an early supporter of Trump’s campaign and has a hardline stand against Islam and against the U.S. taking on any refugees from the Middle East. She thinks the United States should treat Islamic terror like the country treated Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Rick Perry was named to head up the Energy department. The former Texas governor has said in the past that he would like to eliminate that department. In the 2012 Republican primaries, he tried to list that department but forgot the name of it during a debate.

Most importantly, Trump announced on Tuesday that he had selected Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state. (The secretary of state is responsible for talking with foreign heads of state, setting foreign policy and working with the Pentagon.)

Rex Tillerson is the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, the corporation he has worked for since 1975. He worked up the ranks and became CEO in 2006.

Tillerson has extensive experience talking to heads of state and negotiating deals with them. He has strong ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin awarded him with Russia’s order of Friendship in 2013. The award is given to foreign nationals whose work helps to improve Russia’s relations with their respective countries, but Tillerson received his award after finalizing a deal with a Russian oil company.

Tillerson is also a member of the National Petroleum Council. The board advises the Secretary of Energy.

National Security Briefings

In an interview with FOX News’s Chris Wallace that aired on Sunday, Donald Trump said that he only receives about one intelligence briefing once a week. Trump said he doesn’t need any more than that because he is a “smart person.” In addition, Trump says Mike Pence receives intelligence briefings about six times a week.

Former CIA director Leon Panetta had a warning for Trump on Wednesday. While speaking to the Arab Strategy Reform, Panetta stressed the importance of the president receiving regular intelligence briefings. If Trump does not accept regular briefings any future attack should be blamed on him.

Was There Russian Meddling?

Two weeks ago, the Central Intelligence Agency briefed senators on its findings about the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to the CIA, the Kremlin hacked the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign and instructed several actors to release information in order to sway the election.

The information is supposedly based on assessments from 17 intelligence agencies. However, there were key disagreements among agencies. For instance, the FBI disagreed with the CIA about Russia’s motives.

Also, the CIA only presented circumstantial evidence.

The FBI, CIA, and National Intelligence directors refused to brief the House Intelligence Community on the alleged Russian cyber-attacks that were said to be carried out during the presidential election. Rep. Devin Nuñes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of Trump’s transition team, called for a briefing with National Intelligence Director James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, and CIA Director John Brennan for Thursday. The briefing was cancelled.

Dylann Roof Was Convicted of All Counts.

The shooter of churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was found guilty on all 33 charges against him on Thursday.

Roof faced 33 federal charges connected to the fatal shooting of nine churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. Charges included the commission of a hate crime and obstruction of religion.

The jury — which was made up of nine whites and three blacks — needed to come to a unanimous decision. Upon the verdict, the jury will be asked to reconvene on January 3 to consider whether Roof should receive the death penalty or life in prison.

Two survivors of the shooting testified during the trial. There were other witnesses who said Roof made numerous trips to the church before the day of the shooting.

Roof’s defense attorney, David Bruck, offered no witnesses and conceded that his client carried out the shooting. However, he tried to ask the jury to consider his client’s state of mind. That was rebuffed by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who offered the shooter’s state of mind made no difference in his guilt or innocence.

The prosecutors in the case are U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams and assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Curran.

Among the Information the Jury Considered

In Dylann Roof’s confession (which was found in his car), he said he wanted the shooting to lead to a reinstitution of segregation. However, the resulting sentiments led to the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, which had been flown over the Capital or on the grounds for 50 years.

Dylann Roof had pictures of himself in a racist manifesto. When he confessed his crimes to the FBI, he said that he had acted due to his research on black on white crime on the Internet.

Roof also he said he chose the church because it posed little danger to him. Additionally, he knew of its historical significance. The church, also known as Mother Emanuel, was the oldest in the South and Denmark Vesey was one of its founders. He led a failed 1822 slave rebellion which drove the church underground.

Roof says he wants to act as his own attorney during the sentencing phase.


In Regional News …

Ohio Passes Two Abortion Ban Bills.

On Tuesday, the Ohio legislature approved the most stringent abortion ban in the nation. The “heartbeat” measure, which was part of a larger bill against child abuse, would outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, even as early as six weeks after conception. The measure didn’t account for rape or incest, but there are considerations for the health of the mother.

The bill was sent for Gov. John Kasich to sign. Although he is firmly against abortion, he questioned the constitutionality of the “heartbeat” measure. In the past, similar measures have been struck down by lower courts in Arkansas and North Dakota.

Kasich ultimately signed the bill for a 20-week abortion ban, while vetoing the “heartbeat” measure. Ohio becomes the 16th state to institute a 20-week ban.

Kasich vetoed the stricter measure because he was worried that the bill would easily be struck down and cited the costs needed for court cases. Also, similar laws have been struck down in other states. The legislature would need a three-fifths vote in both houses in order to override the governor’s veto.

Anti-abortionists praised the approval of the 20-week ban. They say it will help Ohio in the fight against the Roe v. Wade ruling, which allowed states to make their own abortion measures, but legalized the practice for the most part. However, the Supreme Court has refused to hear such a challenge in January 2017.

Currently, the baseline for a fetus’ viability is at 22-24 weeks.


In Health & Science News …

Algorithms Are Being Used to Develop Cancer Vaccines.

On December 1, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy in San Francisco, California, and the Cancer Research Institute of New York City are taking part in a multimillion-dollar joint project. The two nonprofit organizations are pitting computer algorithms from 30 companies against each other in the effort to develop a successful cancer vaccine.

If the project is successful, scientists would be able to develop personalized cancer vaccines. The idea is to DNA from cancerous cells to develop a vaccine to help a cancer patient. In 2014, lab tests showed that this method was successful on mice. However, in order for this to work on humans, T cells, which are vital to the immune system, must recognize the cancerous material.

The main challenge for scientists is being able to predict which mutations to focus on and to find which proteins could be cleaved to molecules. Algorithms allow scientists to analyze patterns and make predictions. However, Robert Petit, who works for Advaxis in Princeton, New Jersey, estimates that algorithms — which differ from company to company — could be off by 60%.

The algorithms from the companies in this project are being used from melanoma and lung cancer samples.


In Internet & Tech News …

Yahoo! Experienced Yet Another Breach.

On September 22, 2016, Yahoo! announced that 500 million user accounts had been breached in a 2014 attack by hackers. There was also an attack between 2015 and 2016 where hackers used cookies to access accounts without a password.

On Wednesday, the search engine company announced that a separate, more recent hack led to one billion accounts being breached. Yahoo is working with authorities and a cyber-security firm but there is no word of who was responsible for the breach.

What information was taken? Yahoo says the information hackers took includes names, email addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, hashed passwords, and security questions/answers. However, the company says that unencrypted passwords, credit card numbers, and bank account information may be safe.

As a precaution, Yahoo! is notifying all affected accounts and telling users to change passwords. It has also voided unencrypted security questions and advising against the use of any security questions moving forward. (Security questions can make it easier for people to hack into accounts since most of them are common, preapproved questions provided by companies.)


In Enterntaiment News …

There Is Going to Be a Return to the Skills Competition During Pro Bowl Week.

In lighthearted news, the NFL is bringing back skills competitions to the Pro Bowl. The events include:

  • “Epic Pro Bowl Dodge Ball”;
  • “Power Relay Challenge”;
  • “Precision Passing,” and;
  • “Best Hands.”

The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 26, 2017. The skills competition will be aired on at 7 pm on ESPN.

Jeff Fisher’s Was Fired.

Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher was fired on Monday. The news comes weeks after it was announced that Fisher had signed a two-year extension with the franchise before the 2016 season began. In a press conference, Rams Executive Vice President of Football Operations and COO Kevin Demoff called the situation with Fisher “an organizational failure.”

The firing followed a 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the L.A. Coliseum on Sunday. The team started the season at 3-1 yet dropped 8 of its following 9 games.

The Rams never finished with a winning record since Fisher was hired in 2012. Fisher had an overall 31-45-1 record as head coach of the Rams. And he was fired before he could break the NFL record for losses by a head coach, which is currently held by Dan Reeves. (After watching Thursday Night Football, I know Fisher and Reeves are tied with 165 losses apiece.)

Jeff Fisher was under tremendous criticism by fans and noted Rams legends like Eric Dickerson. Dickerson, a Hall-of-Fame running back who played for the Rams and Colts, stated he would not attend another Rams game until Fisher was fired.

Before coaching the Rams, Fisher spent 10 years coaching the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans.

The two had an indirect back-and-forth earlier this season.

There is little patience for losing teams in Las Angeles, where the Rams returned this year after a 10-year detour to St. Louis, Mo.

Alan Thicke Has Died.

Alan Thicke, the actor best known as “Jason Seaver” on Growing Pains, has died at the age of 69. Singer Robin Thicke said his father died from a heart attack while playing hockey with Carter, Alan Thicke’s third son.

Alan Thicke was born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada in 1947. His given name was Alan Willis Jeffrey.

Thicke was able to start attending college at Western University at 16 years old because he had skipped two grades prior. He graduated 4 years later.

Thicke’s first entertainment gig came when he worked on the CBC variety show The Good Company.

After moving to Las Angeles, Thicke married actress Gloria Loring. The two were married for 14 years and had two sons, Robin and Brennan.

Thick found work as a producer and writer on various television shows. Among his credits was The Richard Prior Show. Thicke also wrote theme songs for shows, included The Facts of Life and Diff’rent Strokes, the latter on which he sang.

Thicke hosted a self-named daytime show from 1980-1983. He made an unsuccessful transition to nighttime. His sidekick on Thicke of the Knight, which debuted in 1983, was Arsenio Hall, who would go on to have his own late night talk show and a career as a comedian.

In 1985, Thicke landed the role of psychiatrist Jason Seaver on Growing Pains. The show would run until 1992.

Thicke’s last roles included appearances on NBC’s This Is Us and Netflix’s Fuller House.

Alan Thicke is survived by his wife, Tanya Callau (whom he married in 2005), and sons Robin and Brennan from his first marriage and Carter, from his marriage to Gina Marie Tolleson.

Craig Sager Has Also Died.

The basketball and broadcast communities lost Craig Sager, who lost his battle to leukemia this week.

Sager was a sideline reporter on TNT who was best known for his loud attire. He was once teased about this by Kevin Garnet, the former Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics player who know has his own segment on TNT.

Sager had a 40-year broadcasting career. Twenty-six of those years were spent with TNT. Although hard to believe, the 2015-16 NBA Finals were the first such games he worked on.

In 2014, Sager was diagnosed with myeloid leukemia. He would have to return to the hospital in 2016.

Sager leaves behind his wife, Stacy; children named Kacy, Craig Jr., Krista, Riley, and Ryan; and many friends, colleagues and admirers.


Commentary

As you can see above, I included numerous stories from Syria, but I have to note how limited the news is. As this piece from the Independent points out, there is a serious conundrum for Western outlets reporting on news from that area. (And the same thing is true for any news coming from the Mideast.)

Reporters are limited to reporting from the accounts of rebels in the area. However, many of the rebels are aligned with militant groups like Nusra Front, which was at a time connected to Al Qaeda. And the Islamic State (ISIS) is also battling against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Western reports point out bombings and the destruction of buildings, including hospitals. But it is always implied that the Syrian government is responsible.

There are other, less known reporters who paint a different story. Eva Bartlett, an independent Canadian journalist, says she has talked to refugees and most are loyal to Bashar. She also says rebels use hospitals to store weapons.

Of course, the entire situation requires more research, but it important to weigh these different reports and to question what we are being told. We should also question why all outside nations are aligned the way they are aligned in the war in Syria.

As an American, I have to question what the United States wants out of this war. Lest we forget, many of us want the Iran Nuclear agreement to hold, but our involvement in Syria pits us against the Iranians, even if indirectly.

Our alignment also puts on the side of the “rebels,” which include noted terrorist groups. Granted, Hezbollah is on the side of Assad, and it opposes one of our allies, Israel. But should the U.S. be involved at all? Why is it involved?


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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.

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