Hello, readers! Are you ready for this week’s News Roundup?
Table of Contents
I have added a Table of Contents this time. Please let me know what you think
- Chinese New Year
- Syria Update
- Trump and Putin Call
- Turkish Constitution
- Abuse at German Military Training Center
- French Election
- Update from The Gambia
- North Korean Resort
- Attack at Kenyan Base in Somalia
- Meetings with CEO’s
- Executive Orders
Internet & Tech
In International News …
Before diving into the news, let’s observe the Chinese New Year.
It’s the Year of the Rooster!
The start of the Chinese New Year was on Saturday.
Around the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, celebrations start as part of the Spring Festival. The festival will last until the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar.
The Chinese New Year is observed as a national holiday throughout the country. Governmental buildings, schools, and many businesses are closed during the eve of the Spring Festival until the seventh day of the first lunar month on the Chinese calendar.
People clean their homes in preparation of the festival. They also adorn their homes with read posters that have poetry.
Red can be seen throughout the festival. There are red lanterns and red envelopes that contain money. The latter is usually handed out to children.
During the festival, people set off fireworks in order to ward off bad luck and bring in good luck.
Each year of the Chinese calendar is dedicated to one of twelve creatures of the Chinese zodiac. This year is the year of the Rooster.
Here is a list of Chinese New Year observances from 2010-2020. As you can see, many Spring Festival observances occur sometime in February, and there are rare occurrences in late January.
Trump Weighs In on Syria.
Before being called by Putin and meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May, Trump talked about potentially putting “safe zones” in Syria.
Trump’s ‘Safe Zones’
On Wednesday, trump said he “will absolutely do safe zones in Syria” for refugees. However, he did not offer any details.
According to a draft document seen by Reuters, Trump may order the State Department and the Pentagon to come up with a plan for “safe zones” in Syria in the coming days.
Here is text from the draft order:
The Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, is directed within 90 days of the date of this order to produce a plan to provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region in which Syrian nationals displaced from their homeland can await firm settlement, such as repatriation or potential third-country resettlement.”
Such a plan would risk deeper involvement by the U.S. into the Syrian conflict and the possibility of American warplanes clashing with Russian warplanes. These are two things Trump voters and supporters had hoped to avoid.
President Obama was more cautious in his approach. Turkey wanted the U.S. to set up no-fly zones in Syria along the border with Turkey, but Obama declined. However, the U.S. supported militants like Al Nusra Front, which only changed it branding.
In essence, it seems like Trump is just re-branding what Hillary Clinton wanted to do. Clinton was more aggressive with her speech and she wanted to create “no-fly zones” in Syria. Additionally, Trump also said he wanted to do something of the like during the presidential campaign but only as an alternative to allowing Syrian refugees to come to the United States. It should be known that a no-fly zone would require war planes and ground support.
Reaction from Russia and Turkey
On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov urged caution before installing any safe zones and said that Russia had not been consulted on such a plan.
Our American partners did not consult with us. It’s a sovereign decision.
It is important that this [plan] does not exacerbate the situation with refuges, but probably all the consequences ought to be weighed up.
Peskov added that the White House had not yet consulted the Kremlin.
Turkey said it was watching closely to see what information comes from the study into safe zones ordered by Trump. Turkey hosts 2.8 million Syrian refugees. It supports safe zones.
U.K. Shift an Syria Policy
On Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson signaled that his party’s government would accept Bashar al-Assad being given the chance to run for re-election should a peace deal be reached.
As he was speaking to the Lords international relations select committee, Johnson said:
It is our view that Bashar al-Assad should go. It’s been our longstanding position. But we are open-minded about how that happens and the timescale on which that happens.
I have to be realistic about how the landscape has changed, and it may be that we will have to think afresh about how we handle this. The old policy, I am afraid to say, does not command much confidence.
Johnson was installed as foreign secretary last July. Days later, he insisted that Assad must be replaced.
This is a sharp reversal on policy. Officially, the Foreign Office held the position that Assad should only be in power as part of a transitional government.
Johnson likely changed course because of the developments of late 2016/early 2017: the emergence of Trump, the Syrian government’s victory in Aleppo, and now Turkey’s partnership with Russia.
Johnson stated that the U.K. supported democracy and if Assad had to stay as part of “a political solution,” that, “I don’t think we can really avoid such a democratic event.”
Johnson also warned Trump that Iran may need to be accommodated should any deal with Russia lead to the end of the Syrian conflict.
Additionally, Johnson also proposed the possibility of the U.K. working with Russia to extinguish the threat of ISIS (which he called Daesh) and to diminish Iranian influence.
Trump Takes Putin’s Call.
On Saturday, Trump took a series of phone calls from world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other leaders were from Japan, Germany, France, and Australia.
The Kremlin said the call between Trump and Putin was “positive and constructive,” and both sides were mainly focused on making sure the United States and Russia were on the same page in regards to Syria and defeating international terrorism. Among the topics discussed were (according to the Kremlin): the path moving forward in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the situation in Ukraine. Additionally, Trump and Putin promised to stay in “regular personal contact” and to arrange a face-to-face meeting sometime in the future.
It should be noted that the Obama Administration placed economic sanctions on Russia following the later nation’s actions in Ukraine (Crimea). This is a sticking point with lawmakers, including Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Rob Portman.
McCain, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement:
I hope Trump will put an end to this speculation and reject such a reckless course. If he does not, I will work with my colleagues to codify sanctions against Russia into law.
Portman said lifting the sanctions against Russia would send “a dangerous message to the world” in regards to American leadership.
Erdogan Will Sign Off on Changes to the Turkish Constitution.
There is a bill in Turkey ready to be signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which would expand his powers. On Wednesday, he said he would examine that bill. Erdogan was in Madagascar as part of a tour of East Africa.
The 18-article constitution approved by Turkey’s parliament would create an executive presidency for the first time. The new head of state would then be able to appoint and dismiss ministers. The office of the prime minister would be dissolved but replaced with one or two vice presidents.
There were brawls in the parliamentary chamber during the debates over this bill. Critics fear such a change would pave the way for one-man rule. Proponents of the changes argue that it would create a more effective rule and be in the model of the United States or France.
The main opposition to the bill is the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The CHP promised to challenge the bill in the constitutional court.
The ruling party is the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which holds 317 seats in the 550-seat parliament. The AKP pushed this bill and reached out to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for support of the bill.
There is a referendum due in April. It should come 60 days after Erdogan’s formal approval in the Official Gazette.
Abuse Is Being Alleged at German Military Training Center.
On Friday, the German website Spiegel Online reported on a scandal at the Staufer barracks in Pfullendorf, Germany. According to documents from an internal investigation, there was widespread abuse at the military training center by soldiers and military trainers.
The trainers and soldiers charged are being investigated for sadistic, sexual, and violent abuses. Some of the bizarre initiation rituals the trainers allegedly had recruits do included confining recruits to chairs while hosing them down with water.
Seven soldiers have been charged with criminal assault, unlawful detention, and coercion. Five officers were demoted but an investigation will need to be carried out to determine if officers knew of the abuse.
In 2015, there were already investigations into allegations that female soldiers were subjected to abuse at Pfullendorf*. However, no evidence was found.
The current investigation was kicked off after a female recruit contacted Defense Secretary Ursula von der Leyen and Hans-Peter Bartels, the ombudsman for the armed forces.
Von der Leyen and military officials disavowed the behavior of those involved in the abuse. Von der Leyen called the alleged behavior “repulsive and despicable.”
Hans-Peter Bartels fields complaints from soldiers for parliament. He called the incidents “macho behavior that should not be tolerated.” And in his annual report, he told lawmakers that reported sexual assaults in the military rose 52 percent from 2015 to 2016. There were 131 reported sexual assaults in 2016.
*Pfullendorf is a small town in Southern Germany.
Francois Fillon Defends His Wife As He Runs for President.
Francois Fillon, a 62-year-old former prime minister, is a conservative frontrunner from The Republicans (Les Republicains — LR) party in the French presidential race. He is being challenged (on the right) by the far-right Marine Le Pen and the centrist Emmanuel Macron.
Currently, his candidacy is under threat since there is a preliminary investigation into whether he misused public funds.
Le Canard Enchaine, a satirical weekly newspaper, reported that Penelope Fillon was paid €600,000 ($645,000) to serve as a parliamentary assistant to her husband, then to serve in the same capacity to his replacement, and to work at a cultural journal. The newspaper said its researched showed there was no evidence that Mrs. Fillon had ever worked.
On Thursday, Mr. Fillon addressed allegations that his wife was being paid for fake parliamentary assistant jobs. He said her duties included press reviews, proofreading speeches, and meeting people for him. He also said she worked for him for free for a number of years since he was first elected in 1981, but he had only hired her in 1997.
What the newspaper reported and what Fillon said seem to contradict the image and words of Penelope Fillon. The Welsh-born woman said the following to Le Bien Public in October 2016: “Up to now, I have never been involved in the political life of my husband.”
However, Fillon tried to clarify those remarks be saying his wife was not directly involved in politics. He said two of his children, who are both lawyers, did paid work for him for a period when he was a senator.
It is not illegal for French members of parliament to hire wives or children, but it is illegal for lawmakers to use taxpayer money set aside for parliamentary assistants to pay someone who does not work.
Questions Remain As Barrow Assumes the Presidency in The Gambia.
On Saturday, former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh departed The Gambia via a cargo plane. Jammeh is believed to be in Equatorial Guinea, whose president in is Teodoro Obiang Nguema. Nguema has ruled the oil-rich country since 1979.
Was There Theft?
Jammeh was able to leave with two Rolls-Royces and a Bentley. But did he steal from The Gambia’s coffers on the way out?
Mai Ahmad Fatty, one of President Adama Barrow’s advisors, alleges that more than $11 million (£8.8 million) is missing from The Gambia since was Jammah dismissed. In particular, Fatty said that Jammeh took nearly 500 million dalasis ($11.3 million) in the past two weeks alone.
The coffers are virtually empty. It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.
If true, that would leave the country in dire financial straits. Fatty said that normal expenditures generally amount to 200 million dalasis a year.
However, Halifa Sallah, one of new President Adama Barrow’s advisers, later cast doubt the claims of theft. He said the police were investigating to see if anything was stolen and the central bank and other banks were “functioning normally.”
Will Jammeh Be Investigated for Human Rights Abuses?
Barrow promised to investigate Jammeh for human rights abuses.
During Jammeh’s authoritarian rule, Gambian security forces were accused of torturing opponents, holding them without trial, or killing them. The Jungulers were intelligence agents at the heart of the worst allegations.
Among the allegations:
- People were beaten with things like electrical wires and fan belts.
- People were raped.
- Some were nearly suffocated.
- One man was forced to drinking cooking oil.
- Some people had melted plastic bags dripped on their skin.
Among the people targeted by Jammeh:
- Human rights defenders
- Student leaders
- Religious leaders
- Political opposition members
- Judiciary officials
- Security force personnel
Jammeh especially detested gay people. In 2014, Jammeh introduced anti-gay legislation. Under the newer laws, people found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality” offenses would be given life sentences.
It is unlikely Jammeh will be pursued by the international community in Equatorial Guinea. For one thing, that country does not recognize the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In a joint statement from the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union (AU), the three organizations had a conciliatory message regarding former Gambian authoritarian leader Yahya Jammeh. In particular, the three organizations wanted the rights and dignity of Jammeh, his family, his entourage, and supporters to be respected. This included discouragement against seizures of property and assets “lawfully belonging to them” and the discouragement of any legislative actions against Jammeh. Additionally, the statement described Jammeh’s exile as being only “temporary.”
My Fatty indicated that President Barrow’s team did not recognize the joint statement by the U.N., AU, and Ecowas.
Kids May Work on a Road Leading to a North Korean Resort.
It appears that workers on the road leading up to the Masikryong Ski Resort include men, women, and children as young as 11. And the workers are doing the back-breaking work of clearing the snowy roads while only armed with tools like pick axes, sticks, and improvised wooden shovels.
The Masikryong Ski Resort is for North Korea’s most affluent citizens. It boasts 10 slopes and first-, second-, and third-class rooms. From time to time, ruler Kim Jong Un will visit during the three-month-long winter season.
A Kenya Military Base Was Attacked by the Al-Shabab Militant Group.
There are conflicting reports about an attack at a Kenyan military base in Kolbiyow, a town in Somalia along the border with Kenya.
Al-Shabab fighters said they killed 50 soldiers and seized military vehicles and weapons. According to AFP news agency, the al-Qaida-linked militant group also claimed it gained control of the base and surrounding area.
But a spokesman from the Kenyan military said the attack from al-Shabab was repelled and scores of militants were killed as a result. But there is reason to doubt the reports coming from military.
This was not the first attack on a Kenyan base in Somalia. On Jan. 15, 2016, a Kenyan military base in el-Ade was attacked by al-Shabab. In that offensive, the militant group claimed that it killed over 100 soldiers. Kenyan military officials declined to give a death toll.
Kenya first sent soldiers to Somalia in October 2011. Kenya sends over 3,600 troops to the African Union in order to help protect Somalia.
What Will Replace the TPP?
Last week, Trump moved the United States away from the Transpacific Partnership.
On Thursday, one official on Trump’s team announced that the pres. would look to work on a bilateral trade agreement with Japan in place of the rejected Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japanese Prime Minister will visit the White House next month (expected date: Feb. 10), so that might serve as an opportunity to kick-start the process.
Trump has said he would rather work on bilateral trade deals instead of multilateral ones like the TPP. He also said he would want his deals to have 30-day clauses to allow the United States to terminate if those deals are deemed to be unfair to the U.S.
The TPP was being negotiated by 12 countries for over a decade. But often, the deal was described as essentially being a deal between the United States and Japan anyway.
Abe supports the TPP and views it as a way to counter China’s rising economy. But he will consider an Economic Partnership Agreement or Free Trade Agreement with the United States. Still, he wants to keep some form of tariffs on rice and at least four key agricultural products.
In National News …
Since entering the White House, Trump dominated the news as he has unleashed a flurry of executive orders, but his past meetings with CEO’s have long gone under the radar, for the most part.
Trump’s Meetings with CEO’s Before He Took Office Are Troubling.
Trump met with the CEO’s of Monsanto and Bayer in early January 2017. The companies are looking to complete a $60 billion merger that would create an agrochemical and seed corporation. The companies promise to create thousands of jobs and invest $16 billion in research and development.
Trump’s tweet about such a merger can be read here.
Trump talked to AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, at Trump Tower on Jan 12. Robert Quinn, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, was also in the lobby that day. It should be noted that Time Warner owns CNN, a news outlet Trump is highly critical of.The company is looking to merge with Time Warner. The merger would have to be approved by the Justice Department before going through.
Despite concerns, and AT&T spokesperson said the merger was not discussed. The statement release said, the conversation between Trump and Stephenson “focused on how AT&T can work with the Trump administration to increase investment in the U.S., stimulate job creation in America, and make American companies more competitive globally.”
Critics of the talks between Trump and the CEO’s worry that Trump might cut deals with companies that might hurt the American consumer. With the merger, a combined company might be able to set higher prices in agriculture. Monsanto and Bayer controlled a combined 70% of the U.S. market for cotton seeds.
Among the critics are lawmakers, including Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley.
Are the Concerns Valid?
The concerns are valid, given the number of moves Trump moved before taking office. For one thing, he refused to put his assets in a blind trust, which has been done by a number of past presidents, including Bill Clinton.
Also, Trump’s older daughter, Ivanka, attended a meeting her father had with the Japanese prime minister while she looked to get a licensing deal with Sanei International for some of her products. Sanei International is backed by the Development Bank of Japan, which is owned entirely by the Japanese government.
And here is some historical context:
In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson allowed a merger to go through in exchange for favorable coverage. The president of the Houston Chronicle owned a bank that was part of a merger. Johnson overruled the Antitrust Division.
In 1972, a scandal erupted due to Richard Nixon’s intervention in an antitrust case against International Telephone and Telegraph. The case was dropped at Nixon’s behest in exchange for donations related to the Republican convention that year.
Executive Orders (National)
So far, Trump has made at least a dozen yuuge executive orders in an attempt to chip away at Barack Obama’s legacy. There were at least 12 orders since Saturday, Jan. 21, alone, but I will visit a few in depth.
Among the orders:
As discussed last week, Trump signed an order to weaken the Affordable Care Act. In particular, provisions are aimed at “minimizing the economic burden” of the ACA, by which the Secretary of Health and Human Services and other agencies could waive or delay provisions of the ACA.
Next, he froze all pending regulations.
On Tuesday, his first full day in office, Trump signed a trio of orders. First, he rejected the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (as discussed above). Second, he froze all federal hiring. And third, he restricted funds from foreign organizations that provided or promoted abortions. The last part is called the “Mexico City Policy,” which was established by Ronald Regan and rescinded by Democratic Presidents ever since.
He signed an action to allow the resumption of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL Pipelines.
He signed an order to streamline the process for environmental reviews of high-priority infrastructure projects.
He signed another order for the Secretary of Commerce to make sure materials used to build, expand, or repair pipelines are made in the United States “to the maximum extent possible.”
He signed an order to instruct the Secretary of Commerce to contact shareholders to enquire about the impact of federal regulations on domestic manufacturing.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to: renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), place tariffs on the products of American companies that moved their jobs to Mexico, and to get Mexico to pay for a wall along the shared border.
It looks like he is trying to fulfill one, promise — or really, two rolled into one. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, Trump signed an executive order to for the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
One way Trump wants to pay for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is by instituting a 20% tax on goods from Mexico. There were no immediate details given as to how the tax would work, but it might be close to an adjustment tax Republicans are considering in the House of Representatives.
Press secretary Sean Spicer talked about a potential import tax on Thursday, Jan. 26, but he said it was on “one idea” to help pay for the border wall and it might be part of a larger tax package. He claimed a border tax would bring the U.S. $10 billion annually, if implemented. (Goods valued at $1.4 billion cross the border every day.)
The announcement about the wall came as Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, was flying to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. He eventually met with Craig Deare at the White House. Deare handles Latin American issues on the National Security Council.
The announcement put more of a strain on U.S.-Mexican relations. In August, Trump visited Mexico at the behest of Peña Nieto. That angered quite a bit of Mexican citizens since they remembered the words Trump spoke when he launched his presidential campaign in June 2015.
Pena Nieto’s Response
Hours after the announcement, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cancelled a planned trip to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The talk would have covered immigration, trade, and drug-war cooperation. The trip was cancelled largely in part to the pressure the Mexican president faced at home.
Trump’s tweets had something to do with it, as well.
The U.S. has a 60 billion dollar trade deficit with Mexico. It has been a one-sided deal from the beginning of NAFTA with massive numbers… of jobs and companies lost. If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,.
After Trump’s tweet restating that Mexico “should” pay for the wall, Peña Nieto made some tweets of his own stating that the planned meeting between the two leaders was cancelled.
English text of Peña Nieto’s tweets:
We have informed the White House that I will not attend the working meeting planned for next Tuesday @POTUS.
Mexico reiterates its willingness to work with the United States to reach agreements that favor both nations.
Trump tried to play it off as a mutual agreement and that Mexico wasn’t treating the United States “fairly.”
More Responses from Mexico
Of course, Mexicans see Trump as damaging their country’s relationship with the U.S. (although Trump says it’s the other way around).
Words from former President Vicente Fox:
I never thought the U.S. people would go for a president like this.
We don’t want the ugly American, which Trump represents: that imperial gringo that used to invade our country, that used to send the Marines, that used to put and take away presidents most everywhere in the world. That happened in the 20th century, and this is what this guy is menacing us with.
Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda said Pena Nieto should have cancelled his trip to Washington, D.C. much earlier, when Trump made it clear he would go through with construction of the wall.
While speaking on a Mexico news show on Friday, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo promised that his country would retaliate if Trump went ahead with the border text on imports that come from south of the border.
Guajardo also said Mexico is prepared to respond in kind to any action by the United States in terms of tariffs and other taxes on imports. Additionally, he said Mexico might be willing to walk away from NAFTA if negotiations offered no benefit for his country.
Possible Negative Impacts
On top of the other things he said, Guajardo said a 35% tariff against Mexico would inhibit manufacturing outside the U.S. and result in a “global recession.”
Over the last 20 years, 80% of Mexico’s exports go to the United States and around half of Mexico’s foreign direct investment has come from the United States. Mexico is the U.S.’s biggest export market. According to the most recent governmental figures, that has amounted to a $58.8 billion trade deficit with Mexico.
On Wednesday, Trump signed an executive order to aggressively go after undocumented immigrants. Among the rules were provisions to withhold funding from American jurisdictions that refuse or fail to comply with the new guidelines and to create 10,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement jobs. Another guideline called for the involvement of local police departments to become (more) involved with going after illegal immigrants.
Although there is an emphasis on criminals among illegal immigrants, Trump’s policies might allow for illegal immigrants who have not been convicted of any crimes to be deported. Among the list of deportation priorities are guidelines to target illegal immigrants who have been given a final order to leave the country but have not complied, those who are described as abusing public benefits, and those who are deemed by immigration officers to “pose a risk to public safety and national security.”
The last guideline is reminiscent of a law passed in Arizona a few years ago. SB 1070 was signed into law in April 2010 and it allowed local law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people accosted during an officer’s regular duties if “reasonable suspicion” existed. Most of the law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012, but that controversial clause remained.
In June 2016, Senator Jeff Sessions submitted estimates that as many as 1 million people staying illegally in the United States had been given final orders to leave the country but did not comply. About ¾ of those people had not been convicted of any crimes.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order limiting the number of people who could enter the United States due to contry. He also barred visitors from seven Middle Eastern and North African countries, thus suspending the Syrian refugee program. His reasoning was to protect Americans from terrorist attacks.
The countries listed are as follows: Iraq, Iran*, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen. All of these nations have Muslim majorities.
More specifically, visitors from the seven countries were banned from entering the country for 90 days. All refugees were banned for 120 days. All refugees from Syria are blocked indefinitely.
People who have green cards are legal permanent U.S. residents. Unfortunately, those who have green cards are included in the ban, provided their origin is from one of the seven nations singled out by Trump’s executive order. This information was given by Gillian Christensen, acting Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman, on Saturday.
* Iran sends the most visitors to the United States each year. An estimated 35,000 Iranians reached American shores in 2015.
On Saturday, senior administration officials said that green-card holders effected by the travel ban would have to speak to the U.S. consulate to make sure they can return to the U.S. Clearances will be given on a case-by-case basis.
Priority will be given to Christians entering the country.
Additionally, the official who spoke on Saturday said that foreigners had no right to came to the United States and dismissed the notion that the travel ban was a “Muslim ban.” A second official said there were Muslim-majority countries left out of the ban, like Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Oman, Tunisia, and Turkey.
The executive order created confusion at airports around the world last week. People were sequestered on planes and at terminals throughout the United States as officials were figuring out how to comply with the order. Others were turned away from flights in other countries if those flights were headed for a city in the U.S.
Among the people caught in the confusion were two Iraqis who had visas.
Hameed Khalid Darweesh, a former interpreter for the U.S. Army, was detained along with another Iraqi man at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday.
The other Iraqi man held at JFK Airport is Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi. He was joining his wife, who is a U.S. contractor.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other activist groups filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two men sequestered at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. The argument made was that the order violated a 1965 prohibiting immigration discrimination based on country of origin. On Saturday, the ACLU announced that a federal judge, Ann Donnelly, issued a stay on the travel ban for visitors who came to the U.S. on valid visas, have approved refugee applications, and others who have been authorized to enter the country.
And Saturday, a federal judge issued a stay on Trump’s order to deport those from seven majority-Muslim countries who entered the United States on valid visas. The stay is national and it will hold at least until a Feb. 21 hearing on the matter.
Judge Ann Donnelly ordered the government to issue a list of names of people effected by the order. Although unconfirmed, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimated that there were 100-200 people detained since the order was signed.
Quote from Donnelly:
There is imminent danger that, absent the stay of removal, there will be substantial and irreparable injury to refugees, visa holders, and other individuals from nations subject to the January 27, 2017 executive order.
Quote from Faiz Shakir, one of the ACLU attorneys:
I hope Trump enjoys losing. He’s going to lose so much we’re going to get sick and tired of his losing.
Where Trump Differs from Obama
According to the Morton Memo (circa 2010), about 2/3 of the illegal immigrant population was placed lower down the priority list for deportation. Those who were in the United States since childhood, nursing or pregnant women, and those who legitimately seeking asylum were among those granted leeway. By 2014, the Migration Policy Instituted estimates that 90% of illegal immigrants were removed from deportation priority lists.
Also under Obama: 750,000 people who were brought to the United State illegally as children (“dreamers”) were shielded from deportation. The order that facilitated this was called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA.
Obama still deported more illegal immigrants than past administrations, but his administration only prioritized newer arrivals, national security threats, those guilty of numerous immigration offenses (including immigration fraud), and those with serious criminal records (like gang members).
Congressional sources and Republicans close to the White House revealed that President Donald Trump’s advisors are debating whether or not to keep the “dreamer” policy of former President Barack Obama. According to the sources, Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, would like to seek a moderate approach to immigration. Stephen Miller (a former congressional aide to Jeff Sessions and Trump’s current senior adviser for policy) and Steve Bannon (the head of Breitbart News and Trump’s chief adviser) want to roll back all of Obama’s immigration policies and take a hardline stance on immigration.
It remains to be seen if Trump will roll back the protections or simply refuse to renew them. In public comments, Trump has been fairly muted on the issue. In an interview with ABC News last week, he said he would come up with a plan concerning the “dreamers” in roughly one month’s time.
Directives Aimed at Government Agencies
Government agencies that dealt with environmental issues came under attack last week.
Last week, Trump imposed a freeze on grants and contracts by the Environmental Protection Agency. The freeze could affect core operations of the EPA, including toxic cleanups and water quality testing, which is often contracted to outside firms. The EPA currently has $6.4 billion worth of federal contracts in place with over 600 firms, including Colorado State University.
In an email exchange made privy to ProPublica, one EPA employee said that such a freeze was “extraordinary.” The changes appear to be nationwide.
Myron Ebell, a well-known climate science denier and head of Trump’s transition team at the EPA, said that at least half of the EPA’s staff could be dissolved. Ebell also expressed a hope that the EPA’s budget would be slashed, as well.
From now on, the EPA’s research will have to be approved by the Trump Administration before being published. The agency’s research into global warming may be entirely deleted from its website.
Ebell returned to his role as the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The CEI is an industry-friendly think-tank that opposes climate science.
The EPA’s 2016 was around $8.6 billion. Ebell would like to see it be reduced by $1 billion.
Half of the EPA’s budget goes to state and local governments for infrastructure projects and environmental cleanup efforts. The other half of the budget goes to agency operations and environmental enforcement. That is where Ebell would like to see the cuts go
Gag Order and Scientists’ Defiance
Trump has ordered the EPA to delete all of its pages on climate change and emissions. Also, all governmental departments that work on environmental issues, including the National Park Service, have been banned from talking to the public.
A directive was sent by administration officials to internal departments after an Interior Department shared tweets concerning the size of inauguration day crowds and the content of Trump’s White House website. In particular, someone noted that information about climate change and civil rights was conspicuously absent.
As a result, government officials were warned to limit the amount of environmental information shared on social media. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services are among those essentially given a gag order.
In response, some employees from governmental agencies have taken to create alternate social media accounts, primarily on Twitter. Some handles include @AltNatParkService, @BadHombreNPS, @RougeNASA and @ungaggedEPA. By Jan. 25, there were at least 14 such accounts.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the official Twitter account of Badlands National Park in South Dakota (which is run by the Department of the Interior) had two tweets related to climate change taken down. Soon after, a Park Service official said the deleted tweets were made by a former employee who was no longer authorized to use the account. Also, the agency had been instructed to only post news concerning public safety and park information.
On Monday, Jan 23, Trump signed an executive order aimed at shrinking the size of government. The order precludes the agencies from filling current vacancies unless they fit under an exemption. It also prohibits the use of contractors to fill the vacancies.
Some experts believe the hiring freeze will do little, if anything. For one thing, it was not an executive order. Also, there are exceptions made for military personnel, who make up about 1/3 of the government’s employees and jobs that are deemed “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” Third, governmental jobs are protected by civil service laws.
However, there are some concerns. Civil service laws, which protect benefits of government workers and protect workers from being unjustly terminated, could be changed by the Republican Congress. And if the hiring freeze lasts for years (as opposed to weeks or months), younger workers could be discouraged from taking governmental jobs. The average age of employees in the current federal workface is 50.
There have been roughly 2 million governmental employees since the late 1960’s, according to the Office of Personnel Management. During that time, the size of the government workface has shrunken to 2% from 5% (in comparison to the overall population) in the last 60 years.
Congress has called it a week after Tuesday and it convene again on the 27th before shutting it down for January.But in their limited time, they managed to confirm a couple of Trump’s cabinet nominees.
Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was approved as CIA director on a 66-32 floor vote on Jan 23.
Nikki Haley was confirmed as ambassador to the United Nations on Jan. 24 in a 96-4 vote. The former South Carolina governor impressed the Democrats in a private meeting and during questioning by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hayley replaces Samantha Power and is the fourth Trump nominee to be confirmed.
There are a few other Trump nominees, like Elaine Chao (up for Transportation Secretary), and Ben Carson (up for Housing and Urban Development Secretary), who are waiting for floor votes. Chao was approved by the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Carson was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs on Jan 24.
The Democrats are holding up many other nominations. There is the legitimate concern over ethics and conflicts of interest. Also, there are nominees like Betsy DeVos, who values charter schools over regular public education, and Jeff Sessions, who may have fabricated his record as a civil rights lawyer. Both were grilled by Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Al Franken (D-MN), respectively.
In Internet & Tech …
Need a Girlfriend? There’s an App for That.
There are reportedly five major date-hiring apps in China. One in particular is “Hire Me Plz,” which was created by Cao Tiantian. It launched in 2015 and it has thus far built a base of 700,000 users.
Users who take advantage of the Hire Me Plz app can pay as little as 1 yuan* (15 cents) for an hour to go on a date, talk, or receive a massage from date contractors. (Sex is not a part of the services offered, since prostitution is illegal in China.) Prices may surge during peak times, like China’s Spring Festival. The App takes a cut from the hires.
*One dollar is equal to 6.68758 Chinese yuan.
In Entertainment News …
Last week, the Williams sisters met once again in a tennis major and we lost some more beloved entertainers.
That’s 23 for Serena.
The Williams Sisters squared off in the Women’s Finals at the Australian Open on Saturday. Venus and Serena Williams met for 28th time as professionals and for the ninth time in major finals.
Serena Williams won in two sets, 6-4, 6-4. The win finally moved her past Steffi Graf (one of my favorite all-time tennis players) for total majors one. Williams currently has 23 major wins, the most in the Open Era; she needs one more to tie Margaret Court for most all-time.
Last Week, We Lost Mary Tyler Moore.
Last week, the world mourned the loss of actress Mary Tyler Moore, who died at the age of 80.
Before Moore gained attention as Laura Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show, she was an aspiring dancer who all but gave up on the profession. But she managed to get in some practice on the set.
In the 1970’s, Moore starred in a self-titled show which served as a feminist symbol. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Moore played “Mary Richards,” an affable new broadcast producer who lived by herself in a studio apartment.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show was also the launch point of other stars and programs. Among the cast members were Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, and Betty White. In particular, Harper starred in the show Rhoda, which was named after her MTMS character, who was Mary’s best friend.
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