This past Sunday, I was preoccupied with NFL football to really get a full post reader for my news roundup. So, I thought I’d use Write Anything Wednesday to include stories I found but failed to summarize, along with other news I missed.
In International News …
There were a couple of items I wanted to look at, regarding the Middle East.
A Truck Attack in Israel Kills Four.
On Sunday, a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group if Israeli soldiers at the Armon Hanatziv promenade in Jerusalem. The soldiers were officer cadets who had been transported to the promenade by bus as part of an educational tour. Four of the soldiers died in the attack; 17 others were injured.
There were contradictions in the reports. While the military said one female officer and three male officers were killed, the police said three women were among the dead.
Police were able to identify the attacker and said he was shot dead. His name was Fadi Ahmad Hamdan Qunbor (28), according to his uncled, Abu Ali. Hamdan was from the Jabel Mukabar neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
Nine others from the neighborhood, including five of Hamdan’s relatives, were arrested on suspicion of aiding him.
A wave of street attacks carried out by Palestinians began in October 2015, but slowed in recent weeks. During that period, 37 Israelis and 2 visiting Americans died in the attacks.
During that same period, at least 231 Palestinians were killed in violence in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the attack on the Islamic State.
Although truck attacks are a common tactic among IS operative, it was unclear if this attack was connected to the terrorist group. Most attacks carried out by Palestinians are tied to nationalism. Also, only a few dozen Arab Israelis and Palestinians have expressed a sympathetic view toward IS.
Turkey Is Exerting Its Influence in the Peace Talks with Syria.
Although many news reports out of Syria should be looked at with a grain of salt, I am looking at the developing partnership between Turkey and Russia and the delicate nature of the peace talks.
On Tuesday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Recip Erdogan discussed broadening the ceasefire in Syria, as well as bilateral relations. Originally, there was a ceasefire in Aleppo and a few surrounding areas, but the two leaders were looked to expand it to the entire country.
This is still a tentative process and Turkey’s president still feels that a united, peaceful Syria is impossible with Bashar al Assad in power. Regardless, Erdogan wants to see the process through and go through with the peace talks. If the ceasefire holds (and it appeared to have held last week), the talks will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan.
On Saturday, Russia and Turkey agreed to include the United States in the peace talks regarding Syria. However, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, Mevlet Cavusoglu, reiterated that Turkey was imposed to including the Kurdish group YPG in the peace talks.
That last part is a sticking point between Turkey and the United States. Turkey considers YPG a terrorist group and an extension of the PKK in Turkey. The United States backs YPG in Syria and the U.S. Central Command was heavily criticized on Jan. 12 by one of Erdogan’s spokesman for the partnership.
In National News …
Congress was looking at Trump’s cabinet picks, but Democrats think the hearings were rushed. Not all the picks have disclosed all necessary financial documents. Nor have the nominees checked in with the Office of Governmental Ethics, which would check to see there are no conflicts of interest.
Congress Has Started Early Confirmation Hearings for Trump’s Cabinet Picks.
Last week, Congress held confirmation hearings for eight of Trump’s cabinet picks. The previous week, Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), who was tapped as Donald Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, was granted a hearing.
The people who were scheduled before this week were: Jeff Sessions (for Attorney General), John Kelly (Homeland Security Secretary), Rex Tillerson (Secretary of State), Mike Pompeo (CIA Director), Elaine Chao (Secretary of Transportation), Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), and Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development).
This week, Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education) was scheduled for Tuesday. Andy Puzder and Nikki Haley were tentatively scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Coats is described as “The Mister Rodgers of Republicans,” but he takes a hard line on critical issues.
Here are some positions:
- He supported the NSA’s bulk data collection program. He opposed Edward Snowden’s actions and the accompanying news coverage of the leaks.
- Coats thought it was legal and had the necessary oversight from all three branches of government. But Snowden contradicted that notion.
- Coats wanted to institute counterintelligence policies to thwart future leakers like Snowden.
- Coats is banned from Russia. He supported sanctions on the nation after it annexed Crimea.
- Coats is opposed to shutting down the prison at Guantanamo Bay and to investigating the CIA’s torture program.
- Coats was once ambassador to Germany. During that stint, German citizen Khaled Masri was kidnapped while vocational in Macedonia. He was sent to Afghanistan, where he was tortured and released five months later without being charged with a crime.
About the Confirmation Process
All cabinet-level officials, excluding the White House Chief of Staff, need to be confirmed. In addition, 1,212 other positions comprised of other senior posts and agency heads need to be confirmed by the Senate. Background checks are necessary for those positions, as well. Advisors don’t need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Positions that Need to Be Filled
Cabinet positions include:
- The Secretaries of
- The Defense
- Health and Human Services
- Homeland Security
- Housing and Urban Development
- Veterans Affairs
- The Attorney General
- The Director of the Office of Management and Budget
- The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Trade Representative
- Ambassador to the United Nations
- Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors
- Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Moving the Nominees Forward
Before nominees can be sent to the Senate, they must be vetted by the president/president-elect and the FBI. The president and FBI must perform background checks and look at necessary financial documents. If there are ties to foreign governments, there may be a conflict of interest.
Congress passed a law in 2004 to encourage a president-elect to submit nominees for national security positions as soon as possible following an election. Since those cabinet positions are so important, the new president should have those positions in sooner.
Only relevant Senate committees will interrogate and confirm a respective nominee. For example, the Judiciary Committee, which confirms judges, also takes a look at the Attorney General.
The committee can hold a hearing, after which it votes to move the nomination to a Senate floor vote. If the nominee is not moved forward, the nomination is effectively killed.
The committee can also report to the full Senate and give a favorable, unfavorable, or noncommittal report. The full Senate can vote to invoke cloture and move the nomination forward.
The full Senate can vote to confirm the nomination. No 60-vote threshold is needed for cabinet picks since Democrats removed that rule in 2014. However, Judges still need to get 60 votes for a confirmation.
Currently, the Republicans have 51 seats in the Senate, not counting Jeff Sessions, who is nominated for Attorney General.
In Regional News …
Last week, there were two developing stories in New York and California.
Free Tuition in New York?
On Tuesday, January 3, New York Mayor Andrew M. Cuomo spoke at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in attendance. Cuomo promised to make tuition at state colleges free for hundreds of thousands of middle- and low-income residents.
Cuomo, a centrist Democrat, has been criticized for working closely with Senate Republicans, but he has recently taken positions that would please progressives in his party. For instance, he voiced support for a minimum wage increase and paid family leave.
His pledge for free college, albeit limited, has wide support among progressives, as well. It was an important part of Sanders’ platform during his run in the Democratic primaries. And Sanders voiced his approval for Cuomo’s plan.
Under the governor’s plan:
People with a single or total (immediate) family income of $125,000 or less may be eligible for free tuition if they’ve been accepted to a state or city college in the Excelsior State. The limit would state at a $100,000 then increase to $125,000 in 2019.
Tuition at New York’s state and city university systems would be covered. Two-year community colleges are included in the plan, along with 4-year schools.
The State would cover the balance of existing state and federal grant programs. Some students could essentially receive a “full ride.”
Former Secretary Hillary Clinton also voiced support for the plan, although she never went as far as Sanders did on the topic of reducing student debt.
Cuomo’s plan does sound similar to Clinton’s plan, but the rollout would be much quicker. However, it is estimated that only 200,000 New Yorkers would be eligible by 2019.
Some private colleges worry that the extra assistance will hurt them, but Cuomo promises the plan would help students, regardless of the type of college they attend. The plan would just cover expenses other grants and financial programs don’t.
Cuomo also has yet to work out the details in way of the total cost.
In Internet and Tech News …
The first story comes off as highly inappropriate, but it really happened and it was a huge news item at the time. You have been warned, but it is an important story about journalistic integrity. It ties into my MLK Day post and another post about fake news.
Buzzfeed Releases an Unverified Dossier.
A week ago, CNN published a story about a dossier that supposedly proved that Russia was grooming Donald Trump to become a years-long leader in the United States, while keeping compromising information on him. Buzzfeed seized on the story and released an entire dossier, which was said to be compiled by a British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele (who may have since gone into hiding).
According to the documents Buzzfeed showed:
Trump stayed at the presidential Ritz Carlton in Moscow one year. The room was said to have heavily surveillance.
Since President Obama and Michelle Obama had stayed there in 2013, Trump wanted to sully the room. He hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed. (The act is called “golden showers.”)
Within hours, users on social media lampoon the story. On Twitter, hashtags like #PissGate and #GoldenShowersGate cropped up.
Trump also took to twitter and flamed Buzzfeed.
He eventually held a press conference on the matter and lashed out at a CNN reporter. He called Buzzfeed “garbage” and refused to take the questions of the reporter from CNN, calling the network “fake news.”
As it turns out, the story was started from 4chan’s /pol/ forum. Someone from the website trolled Rick Wilson and gave him the false info.
The Republicans Want to Destroy Net Neutrality Rules.
Net neutrality is in danger. This is an issue I’ve talked about before. It’s important because any change to it could stifle creativity and limit the amount of information available to Internet users.
Pai and O’Rielly
On Monday, December 19, 2016, the FCC’s two Republican members (Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly) sent a letter to five lobby groups to signify they would get to work on gutting net neutrality rules “as soon as possible.” The lobby groups represented wireless carriers and small Internet service providers (ISP’s).
Pai and O’Rielly plan to extend an exemption for small ISP’s but want to tackle the larger rules after Inauguration Day.
In February 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler reclassified ISP’s as common service providers under Title II of the Communications Act. Under the Title II net neutrality order, ISP’s are forbidden from blocking or throttling traffic, or giving priority to websites for payment. Additionally, there was a process for consumers to report unfair pricing and practices by ISP’s.
The order referred to ISP’s with over 100,000 subscribers. Those companies were required to be more transparent about the plans they offered and their network performance. Providers with fewer customers had a temporary exemption, which lapsed on Dec. 15 after the FCC could not come to a deal to extend it.
Both Pai and O’Rielly say that policy is “harmful” and imposes “unnecessary and unjustified burdens on providers.” They wanted to extend the exemptions and expand it to include providers with up to 250,000 subscribers.
If Pai and O’Rielly really work to undo the Title II order, it could take months due to the public comment process.
Marsha Blackburn’s Part
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) was just made the chairwoman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. She opposes the rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. She called them “a Trojan horse for [the] government takeover of the internet.”
Here is some more of what she said in 2015:
Last week’s vote by the FCC to regulate the Internet like a 1930s era public utility is further proof that the Obama Administration will stop at nothing in their efforts to control the Internet.
There is nothing ‘free and open’ about this heavy-handed approach. These overreaching rules will stifle innovation, restrict freedoms, and lead to billions of dollars in new fees and taxes for American consumers.
The rules were upheld by a judge in 2015.
Blackburn has pushed her Internet Freedom Act in order to override the rules and block the FCC from reinstating them.
Democrats want to reach a compromise with Blackburn in order to keep net neutrality mostly intact. But it is clear Blackburn wants to dismantle all regulations set up by Title II.
It should also be noted that Trump has appointed Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach to his FCC landing team. Both of them are outspoken critics of net neutrality.
In Entertainment News …
There were a few outstanding items this week.
Here’s Some More NFL News.
There were three items from the NFL I wanted to discuss before.
Joey Porter Was Arrested Early Last Week.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are through to the AFC Championship game, but their outside linebackers coach was in trouble the week before. After the Steelers won in the Wild Card Round of the 2016 NFL playoffs, Joey Porter (who also played for the team for eight years) was arrested in the Southside of Pittsburgh. He was reportedly in an altercation with a police officer.
The arrest occurred at 9.30 pm on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. Porter was arrested outside a bar called the Flats on the south side of Pittsburgh after he got into an altercation with a doorman and security guards.
The Doorman was identified as Jon Neskow. He denied Porter entry into the bar and said, “Last time you were here, you threatened to kill me.” Porter tried to lunge forward, but he was pushed back by an off-duty police officer.
According to the officer, he placed his hands on Porter’s chest to prevent an attack on Neskow. Then Porter grabbed the officer’s wrists and pushed them back toward the officer. Porter held a tight grip on the officer’s wrists and the officer felt threatened.
Porter was originally placed on leave by the team following his arrest. But after four days, he was allowed to join the team on the sidelines during the Divisional Round against the Kansas City Chiefs in MO.
Porter was taken to Allegheny County Jail, where he was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, resisting arrest, public drunkenness, and terroristic threats. He was released on Monday, Jan. 9 after posting a $25,000 bond.
On Thursday, Porter’s charges were reduced to disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.
Not Porter’s Only Incident
Last year, Porter went on the field late in a Wild Card game in Cincinnati, when the Steelers played one of their AFC North division rivals, the Bengals. Porter provoked Bengals cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, drawing a penalty on the Bengals. Porter was later fined $10,000 for the incident.
Porter wasn’t the only Steeler’s coach to interfere in the game. Near the sideline, Offensive Line Coach Mitch Munchak pulled Reggie Nelson’s hair. Nelson was a safety for the Bengals.
Munchak was fined $10,000 for pulling the hair, but the fine was later rescinded.
The Raiders Want to Relocate to Las Vegas.
The Raiders planned to relocation file papers in order for the team to move from Oakland to Las Vegas. The Raiders want to move because of their poor stadium situation. The team has been given no viable options to upgrade and the city of Oakland has done nothing to improve conditions at the Oakland Coliseum.
The Raiders need 24 votes from the owners in the spring in order for them to make the move.
If the Raiders have the go-ahead, they might have two options to finance a new stadium:
One is a deal for a $1.9 billion Las Vegas Stadium project. According to the original deal, the Raiders would pay $500, they would receive the help of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson (to the tune of $650 million), and Clark County would pitch in $750 million from hotel room tax revenue. However, no one has come to terms.
Another option involves the help of Goldman Sachs advisors.
Bill O’Reilly Was Accused of Sexual Harassment.
O’Reilly and Jack Abernethy (the division’s co-president) were being accused of sexual harassment by Juliet Huddy, a former personality for the network. In an August letter sent by her lawyers, Huddy alleged that her advancement opportunities with the company were limited because she refused O’Reilly and Abernethy’s sexual advances. Also, O’Reilly was alleged to have starting hitting on her in 2011.
No lawsuit was filed and in September, but FOX News paid to make a sexual harassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly and Abernethy disappear. Huddy was given a six-figure settlement in order not to sue.
FOX News denies the claims against O’Reilly and Abernethy.
Abernethy was made co-president in August. He was signed to a long-term deal after the matter was settled.
Bill O’Reilly, 67, enjoys top ratings at the network with his 8 pm (Eastern Time) show, The O’Reilly Factor. His contract with FOX News expires this year.
Huddy first joined the network in 1998. In 2007 and 2011, she co-hosted a syndicated FOX show that aired on broadcast stations. She also appeared regularly on The O’Reilly Factor, starting in 2011.
O’Reilly tried to kiss Huddy when she visited his home in Manhasset, N.Y. She also accused O’Reilly of trying to have sex with her on numerous occasions. She said she was ultimately reassigned a predawn newscast on the local New York Fox TV station WNYW, where she was until September. By the time she was reassigned, she was no longer allowed to appear on The O’Reilly Factor.
Huddy’s Father, John Huddy, was a former FOX News consultant and close longtime associate to Roger Ailes. Huddy was part of the purge that happened at FOX News after Ailes was let go.
Other Sexual Harassment Claims at FOX News
As many will remember, O’Reilly was sued in October 2004 for sexual harassment by Andrea Mackris. She was a former associate producer who alleged that O’Reilly initiated phone sex and said lewd things at work and at dinner meetings. The case was settled because there may have been recorded evidence of O’Reilly’s misconduct.
Last year, Chairman Roger Ailes was let go after former anchor Gretch Carlson accused him of sexual harassment. After 21st Century FOX did an internal investigation, Carlson was paid $20 million in a settlement. Other women had alleged that sexual harassment was part of the FOX News culture.