Hello, readers! This is the last News Roundup of the 2016. Next time, I will be covering the first full week of 2017! Here are the top news items for this week.
Table of Contents
Here are the stories for this week.
- Obama and Abe’s Meeting at Pearl Harbor
- Bibi’s Anger
- Russia and Election Tampering Accusations
- Syria Update
- Iraq News
- Shooting in Turkey
Health & Science
In International News …
Obama and Abe Visited Pearl Harbor.
On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor with United States President Barack Obama in a symbolic gesture meant to highlight the strength as Japanese-American relations.
Although Abe stopped short of apologizing for the December 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese, he paid his respects to the victims of the attack by the Japanese Kamikazi and he vowed his country would never wage war again.
I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place.
We must never repeat the horrors of war again. This is the solemn vow we, the people of Japan, have taken.
For the ceremony, the two leaders laid wreaths at a plaque with the names of the fallen and held a moment of silence. Then they spread flower petals in the water.
Obama visited Hiroshima, Japan earlier in 2016. He was the first sitting U.S. president to do so. Obama called for a world without nuclear arms during that visit. As we will remember, Hiroshima was where one of the atomic bombs was dropped in 1945 during WWII.
Other Japanese prime ministers have made the trip to Pearl Harbor (in the 1950’s). But Abe is the first to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. That site was built from one of the destroyed ships during the 1941 attack.
The meeting of Abe and Obama addressed two concerns: One, both the U.S. and Japan are closely monitoring what China is doing with its aircraft carrier, which was just spotted in the Western Pacific for the first time. Two, Japan is concerned that Trump would increase dues of countries hosting the U.S. military.
Other Implications of the Visit
The meeting also underscored how deep the underlying tensions are when it comes to Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea.
China would like a full acknowledgement by Japan of the latter’s actions during the Second World War. Japan invaded China during the 1930’s. An estimated 20 million Chinese died during the invasion. During the Rape of Nanjing from 1937-1938, China says Japanese soldiers brutalized 300,000 people.
Additionally, China uses history to instill hatred in Japan. From a young age, Chinese kids are taught to hate the island country. This is used as a tool to legitimize Communism in China.
South Korea is angry at Japan for how it addresses the use of South Korean women as sex slaves during WWII.
Benjamin Netanyahu Is Not Impressed by the U.N. Resolution.
Benjamin Netanyahu is on the war path.
Following the 14-0 UN Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shown his displeasure toward the countries represented in the vote. Samantha Power, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., abstained from the vote.
About 570,000 Israelis live in the settlements in question. The lands were seized from the Palestinians during a 1967 war.
Most countries, including the U.S., view the settlements as illegal. But Netanyahu defiantly stated that he plans to move ahead with plans to create many more settlements.
Netanyahu lashed out on several fronts. He let his displeasure be known to ambassadors, world leaders, and to specific nations.
On Sunday, the Benjamin Netanyahu summoned 12 ambassadors from as many countries who voted for the resolution. Among them was Tony Kay, Britain’s deputy ambassador to Israel, on duty in place of David Quarrey, who was home for Christmas. (There were 14 countries total who voted for the resolution.) Dan Shapiro, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, was called in for a separate meeting for a later date that was yet to be determined.
Also on Sunday, it was announced that Israel was cutting civilian coordination with the Palestinians. Security coordination would still be maintained.
Israel wants to punish the U.N., but there isn’t a clear plan beyond Israel’s recent action to cut its contributions to U.N.’s agencies.
Israel suspended diplomatic ties with Senegal and New Zealand. Aid was cut to Senegal and a scheduled visit from Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye was cancelled.
For one thing, he wants to prove that U.S. President Barack Obama conspired to pass the U.N. resolution against Israeli settlements. Ambassador Ron Dermer asserted that there was intelligence and it would share it with the incoming Trump regime.
British Prime Minister Teresa May and Benjamin Netanyahu were supposed to meet during the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland which will be held January 17-20, 2017. However, plans had changed since Great Britain’s UN Security Council vote. Netanyahu reportedly made his announcement during his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.
More About New Zealand
Benjamin Netanyahu told New Zealand Prime Minister Murray McCully that an affirmative vote for the U.N. resolution against Israeli settlements would be seen as a declaration of war. On Friday, Dec. 23, Bibi called McCully was undeterred. A western diplomat confirmed that such a conversation took place
Here’s the exchange below.
If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador [from New Zealand] to Jerusalem.
This resolution conforms to our policy and we will move it forward.
Jonathan Curr, New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, was also called. A senior Israeli foreign ministry called Curr to tell him an affirmative vote by NZ would result in the closure of Israel’s embassy in Wellington.
Israel recalled its ambassador to NZ, Itzhak Gerberg.
Obama Places Sanction on Russia Amid Election Tampering Accusations.
In United States, accusations against Russia have been swirling for some time in reference to the 2016 presidential election. At the height of the summer, Russia was accused of trying to sway the election in Donald Trump’s favor due to the volume and frequency of leaks pertaining Hillary Clintons campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Many of the hacks were shared by Wikileaks, which has been accused of conspiring with the Russian government or using information from Russian hackers.
Earlier this month, President Obama launched on investigation to look into the possibility of Russia hacking our election system. He was joined by the Democrats.
The CIA later approached Congress and told members of the House that Russia had indeed hacked the elections. However, no witnesses were named and all that was produced was circumstantial evidence.
On Thursday, President Obama announced measures meant to “strike back” at Russia. The penalties include:
- The shuttering of two compounds owned by Moscow in Maryland and New York said to be “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.” The property at Pioneer Point in Maryland is 45 acres and it was purchased by the Soviet Union in 1972. The Long Island, New York property is 14 acres and it was purchased by the Soviet Union in 1954.
- Sanctions against the GRU, FSB, and four high-ranking officers from the GRU. The GRU is the Russian military intelligence service and the FSB is the spy agency that replaced the KGB. The names of the officers are: Chief Igor Korobov, First Deputy Chief Vladimir Alexseyev, First Deputy Chief Igor Kostyukov, and Deputy Chief Sergey Gizunov.
- Sanctions two suspected hackers and three companies accused of providing cyber support to the GRU.
- The release of technical information about Russian cyber activity. The information can be found via this link (PDF).
- The expulsion of 35 diplomats, who were declared persona non grata.
Furthermore, Obama said U.S. diplomats were harassed oversees by Russia via arbitrary police stops, physical attacks, and the release of sensitive information that put the diplomats in danger. White House Spokesman Eric Schultz said the incidents in question happened in the past two years.
Republican members of Congress supported the sanctions. In particular, John McCain and Lindsay Graham called them “long overdue” in a joint statement.
Two of the Sanctioned Individuals
Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, A.K.A. “Lucky12345” and “slavik,” is an alleged hacker wanted by the FBI. He was indicted in 2014 in a Philadelphia case for a phisihing scheme. He was also indicted in a Nebraska case for trying to defraud 12 banks.
Aleksey Belan, A.K.A. “Mrmagister,” is another alleged hacker. He is accused of breaking into computer networks for three major U.S. e-commerce companies between 2012-2013.
Turkey, Russia, and Rebels Agree to a Ceasefire in Syria.
On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire between rebels and the Syrian government which would begin at midnight local time (22:00 GMT). The news was confirmed by Turkey, which will work with Russian to make sure the ceasefire holds. The two countries will take part in peace talks in Kazakhstan within a month if things go as planned.
The High Negotiations Committee (HNC), which confirms jihadists groups, also confirmed the deal. The HNC is regarded by the U.N. as being the main opposition body against the Syrian government.
At least 13 armed opposition factions had signed up to the deal, according to the Free Syrian Army’s spokesman Osama Abu Zaid. The FSA is a loose alliance of rebel group factions.
Among the groups included in the deal were: Faylaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwwar Ahl al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, Jaysh Idlib, and al-Jabhah al-Shamiyah.
No jihadists are part of the deal. Also, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly called the Nusra Front) was excluded; rebels insisted that be part of the deal.
Additionally, the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) was left out of the deal. The YPG and other Kurdish militias control a large area in northern Syria along the Turkish border. Turkey categorizes the YPG as a terrorist group and as such the YPG will be left out of peace talks.
Islamic State Attacks in Baghdad; Coalition Gaining Ground in Mosul.
On Saturday, December 31, two bombs were set off in the al-Sinak market in Baghdad, Iraq. According to police, a roadside bomb was detonated near a car spare parts shop and a second bomb was detonated by a suicide bomber among the gathering crowd.
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 20 people and injured over 50 others. Most of the victims of the attack were Shiites who worked in spare parts shops in the area. IS consistently targets Shiite areas.
Coalition forces are making progress against jihadists in the city.
Over 2 years ago, IS took a large portion of northern and western Iraq but the terrorist organization has been beating back in multiple regions. Since October, a U.S. coalition has been focusing on capturing Mosul.
On October 17, the U.S. started leading a coalition to drive back IS militants from their strongholds in Mosul. The coalition consists of Iraqi security forces, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, Sunni Arab tribesman, and Shiite militiamen. They are assisted by U.S. warplanes and military advisors.
This week, Iraqi forces started the second phase of their offensive against IS in order to take back the city of Mosul. The forces opened up two new fronts in the city and were able to advance in three directions.
However, one airstrike may have led to civilian casualties. A van was hit because its occupants had fired a rocket-propelled grenade, but the van located in a hospital park.
Lt. Gen. Addul-Wahab al-Saadi, the commander of the special forces in eastern Mosul, informed the AP that the elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) had received reinforcements and were pushing into the Karama district for the second time since November. Also, the forces in Mosul were 2 km from the Tigris River, which divides the city. On Monday, U.S. airstrikes “disabled” the Old Bridge, the last of 5 bridges crossing the Tigris that was still functioning.
More than 100,000 people have fled their homes in and around Mosul. But the U.N. warns the figure will drastically increase as the government’s offensive continues and the disabling of bridges could make it difficult for civilians to flee.
There Was a Shooting in Istanbul on New Years’ Day.
Istanbul Mayor Vasip Sahin said that at least 35 people were killed in an attack on a nightclub in the city. Among the dead is one police officer. At least 40 others were injured.
The terrorist attack occurred at the Reina nightclub in the Ortakoy area of Istanbul at 01:30 local time (22:30 GMT). The club sits on the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. Some of the 700 patrons of the nightclub jumped into the strait to escape the gunshots.
Reportedly, one person with a long-range weapon opened fire on patrons at the nightclub. The attacker might have been wearing a Santa costume.
However, Dogan news agency reported that some witnesses claimed there were multiple attackers who spoke Arabic.
The shooting occurs less than two weeks after the Russian ambassador to Turkey was murdered by an off-duty Turkish cop in Ankara. Also, this is the first attack in a new year, which follows a year of at least 7 large and deadly attacks within Turkey, which mostly occurred in Istanbul and Ankara. On June 28, 2016, a gun and bomb attack the Ataturk airport in Istanbul lead to the deaths of 41 people.
In National News …
John Kerry Talks About Israel.
On Wednesday, December 28, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry gave his thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process (Video) and to explain the U.S. abstention in a recent U.N. Security vote against Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
John Kerry said that no U.S. administration had been as supportive to Israel as the Barack Obama administration. Kerry also pointed out the aid given to Israel. Funding has increased to its highest levels and more than half the international aid given by the U.S. goes to Israel.
The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and security with its neighbors. It is the only way to ensure a future, freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people. And it is an important way of advancing United States interests in the region.
There has never been love lost between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Regardless, Obama has kept the United States’ commitments to Israel and recognize its right to exist. But Bibi might be posturing for the right wing’s benefit.
Why the Relationship Between the Two Leaders Is Rocky
In March 2015, Netanyahu accepted a Republican invitation to directly address a joint session of Congress. At the time, the U.S. was working on a nuclear deal with Iran and Bibi didn’t the U.S. to be part of any such deal.
In June 2015, Obama conducted an interview in which he directly addressed the Israeli people. He warned that the Palestinian issue could ultimately send a message about Israel’s values. Obama also said the failure to make progress on a two-state solution could lead to diplomatic consequences: In particular, the U.S. would eventually refuse to stand in the way of a U.N. resolution.
Why did the diplomatic relationship between Israel and the U.S. seem to sour? Well, it might have started in 2009, when both countries seemingly went in different directions politically. Bibi represents the far right in Israel and Obama supposedly represented the left.
On top of that, Israel became a partisan issue at the same time, when it wasn’t before. One result: It put many liberals at odds with Israel or at least allowed liberals to be more critical of the country. Also, the politics the American Jewish community at odds with Israel since most Jewish Americans are liberal.
Here is a trend in the Jewish American vote from 1992-2012 (Courtesy of BBC.com):
- 2012: Obama (Democrat) 69% of Jewish vote, Romney (Republican) 30%
- 2008: Obama (Democrat) 78%, McCain (Republican) 22%
- 2004: Kerry (Democrat) 76%, George W Bush (Republican) 24%
- 2000: Gore (Democrat) 79%, George W Bush (Republican) 19%
- 1996: Clinton (Democrat) 78%, Dole (Republican) 16%
- 1992: Clinton (Democrat) 80%, George Bush Sr. (Republican) 11%
And this year, Hillary Clinton gain 2 percentage points over Obama with Jewish voters from four years ago. According to an initial estimate by Pew Research, she won 71% of the Jewish vote.
In Health & Science News …
Doctors Have Long Isolated a Gene That Causes Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.
Alzheimer’s disease was first described by German physician Alois Alzheimer in 1906. It would take another 90 years before scientists could indentify the genes that caused the disease.
There are more than 5 million people in the United States who have Alzheimer’s, but 5% have a rare type that is an early-onset form, which hits people under 65 years of age. And one percent of all sufferers have genetic mutations that will cause the disease.
One mutation that has been identified is called the Jalisco gene. It is named after the Mexico state where it is believed to have been originated. In medical terms, it is the A431E gene also known as presenilin 1.
There are roughly 50 families in the U.S. and Mexico that are known to have the Jalisco gene. And the children of parents inherited the gene have a 50/50 chance of inheriting it themselves.
Doctors are studying cases in the hopes of developing a drug. When they identify the gene within patients, they know who will develop early-onset Alzheimer’s and can predict when symptoms will first appear. A drug might not be able to stop the disease but the hope is it will help people keep their memory longer.
In Entertainment News …
There were quite a few celebrity deaths this year and in this month alone. In other news, Rex Ryan was fired as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
George Michael Died on Christmas Day.
Singer George Michael died in his Goring, England home on Christmas Day. He was 53 years old. The news was broken by the singer’s publicist, who cited heart failure.
Fadi Fawaz, a celebrity hairdresser, was George Michael’s lover. They dated for the past five years. Fawaz found Michael dead on Christmas Day in Oxfordshire.
Fawaz went to Michael’s home in the village of Goring-on-Thames because they planned to go to lunch for Christmas.
George Michael was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in London on June 25, 1963. He went on to become half of the pop duo Wham! The two made hit singles such as “Wake Me Up Before You Go-go” and “Careless Whisper.”
As a single artist, Michael produced popular songs like “Faith” and “Freedom ’90.”
Michael had another long-term partner, Kenny Goss, from 1996 to 2009. (The song “Amazing” was inspired by him.) Goss called Michael an “extremely kind and generous man.”
Back to Table of Contents
Carrie Fisher & Debbie Reynolds Died Within 1 Day of Each Other.
Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday, December 27, 2016. She had a massive heart attack.
Her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died a day later from what her son says was a stroke.
Carrie Fisher was onboard Flight 935 from London to L.A. when she experienced a heart failure on Friday, December 23, 2016. The heart attack occurred 15 minutes before the plane she was on was due to land at Los Angeles International Airport. She was at the European Premiere of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in Leicester Square, London, England the previous week.
Fisher, 60, had to be removed from the plane by rescue workers and rushed to UCLA Medical Center.
The emergency first-responders did not give Fisher’s name, but news of her illness was leaked by some passengers who took to Twitter. Anna Akana, known for her YouTube appearances, and comedian Brad Cage were sitting in front of Fisher. When she took ill, they Tweeted the news.
Carrie Fisher was the daughter actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher. When she was 2 years old, her parents divorced and Eddie Fisher went on to marry Elizabeth Taylor.
Carrie Fisher entered show business when she was 12. She appeared in her mother’s Las Vegas nightclub act.
Fisher is best-known for her role as Leia in the Star Wars films. She appeared in the original three films as well as two sequels. In the latter, she was General Leia Organa. She led the Resistance against the First Order.
In November, Fisher disclosed that she had a 3-month love affair with Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford in 1976 when they were working on the first film, although he was married at the time. Ford played Han Solo in the Star Wars films.
She struggled with being identified with the character for years but she appeared to make peace with it in later years. But she also struggled with drug addiction and mental illness.
In the mid-1980, Fisher needed to check into a rehab center to treat her cocaine addiction. In 2013, she was hospitalized due to bipolar disorder. Once when appearing on ABC’s The View, she talked about going under electroshock therapy.
Fisher was also an accomplished write. Her first book, Postcards from the Edge, was eventually adapted into a 1990 movie starring Meryl Streep. Fisher’s newest book was a memoir entitled The Princess Diarist.
Rex Ryan Was Fired This Week.
On Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills let go of head coach Rex Ryan, along with his twin brother, Rob, with a game left in the 2016 NFL regular season. The Bills will play the New York Jets on Sunday.
Rex Ryan had been hired by the team in 2015. Rob Ryan was brought along as an assistant/defensive coach.
Anthony Lynn, the man who replaced Greg Roman as offensive coordinator earlier in the season, has been tapped to serve as interim head coach. He is said to get “strong consideration” for the position on a permanent basis.
The Bills finished last season at 8-8. They are currently 7-8 with a game left. The last time the bills reached the postseason was in 1999.
Doug Marrone served as head coach in 2014 but he opted not to renew his contract. (That year, Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator after he had been let go as head coach by the Detroit Lions. In 2014, Buffalo had a remarkable defense and the team defeated the Lions.)
There was no progress made defensively. In 2015, the Bills defense ranked 15th in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed. The respective ranks are the same through 15 games this year.
Rex Ryan said the Bills would be his final stop as a head coach.
Serena Williams Is Engaged!
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian first met in Rome, Italy. This year, they got engaged in the same city.
Alexis Ohanian is a co-founder of Reddit. He and a college friend, Steve Huffman, created the website in 2005. On Reddit, users can post on a myriad of forums based on specific themes and communities.
Serena Williams is a 22-time major women’s champion and a two-time gold medalist (once in doubles, and once in singles, along with her sister Venus). Serena Williams won her seventh Wimbledon title in 2016, but dropped to No. 2 overall in the WTA.
Williams made the announcement about her engagement to Ohanian on the r/isaidyes board, where users share affirmative stories about wedding proposals. Her post was written in the form of a poem.
This will be my last post for the year, and I must say it was one of the worst for me.
Now, there were good things about 2016. I met some wonderful people, including those in the blogging community. I also learned quite a bit about myself, about history, and about the skills I need to succeed.
But there were many more things that saddened and infuriated me.
We lost so many beloved stars, including David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, and George Michael. And the loss of a famous mother and daughter pair within a day of each other was a total gut punch. It seemed like we lost the most stars this year and it continued on December 31.
One of those things that infuriated me was this election. Not only do I worry about our civil liberties, our general safety, and many other important conventions, but I do not like the type of discourse we are having lately on multiple fronts.
On a personal note, I saw a few business relationships dissolve. One in particular was extremely disappointing and enraging. (Do you know the feeling when you see a business with potential but the owner/CEO holds it back for no good reason? For those who follow the WWE: Think CM Punk and Pipe Bombs, but on a smaller scale.)
And it brings me back to issues that continue to bug me: the lack of opportunities and the lack of understanding. There is not enough space for me to get into it here, but I would like to address these topics and weave them into my posts next year.
Until then, I hope you have a happy and safe New Year. Stay tuned for my next featured post, which should be up tomorrow.
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