Hello, readers! This week, the News Roundup will be short (initially).
Right now, I only have time to show a few international news stories I felt were of great importance. In particular, I found a lot of information about Afghanistan and I wanted to share it.
Edit (02/13/2017): The post has been updated to include the full docket of stories I wanted to feature this week.
Table of Contents
Here are the stories I have curated for the week:
- Canadian Mosque Shooting
- Yemen Update
- Turkey Referendum
- Syria Update
- U.S. & Israel
- U.S. Veto
- Trump’s Call with Putin
- National News Overview
- Steve Bannon Power Play(s)
- Flint Water Crisis and More
Internet & Tech
- The Intersection of Sports and Politics
- NFL News
- Lakers News
Commentary: Free Speech and Stuff
In International News …
I am catching up a little bit from last week, but it is important to start with the mosque that occurred shooting in Canada.
A lone suspect was arrested in connected to a mosque shooting in Quebec City.
On Sunday, January 29, more than 40 people were at a Quebec City mosque taking part in Sunday prayers before the shooting occurred.
The victims of the shooting included people aged 35-70 years old. Six people were killed and at least seventeen people were wounded in the attack. Five victims in the shooting have suffered critical injuries. Another 12 needed to be treated for minor injuries.
Police spokeswoman Christine Coulombe said 39 people in the mosque were unharmed.
By Monday, Jan. 30, police reported that 2 suspects had been arrested. Initial eyewitness reports had placed three shooters at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center (“Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec” in French), but police later said only two people were involved in the attack.
But ultimately, one suspect was positively identified.
On Monday, Jan. 30, a sole suspect was identified in the shooting at the Quebec City mosque. Alexandre Bissonette, 27, is a French-Canadian student at Université Laval. He was charged with the murder of six people, all men, and the attempted murder of five others.
Authorities said that not all evidence was ready. Bissonette will in court appear once again on Feb. 21.
Quebec City is a mostly French-speaking province and it has a population of 500,000 . The reported just 2 murders in all of 2015. Canada has stricter guns laws than does the United States, so mass shootings are rare in Canada.
There are about 1 million Muslims in Canada. Many of the Muslims who immigrated to Canada and reside in Quebec originated from North Africa.
There is Islamaphobia in Canada. In 2013, a mosque is the Saguenay region of Quebec was splattered with what policed believed to be pig’s blood.
In 2015, the niqab (face covering Muslim women wear) was a big issue in Canadian elections. In Quebec, most residents supported a ban on the niqab for citizenship ceremonies. In the same year, a mosque in Ontario was set on fire a day after attacks in Paris.
Here’s an Afghanistan Update.
Afghanistan is the location of another forgotten war. The war in Afghanistan is now in its 16th year. Americans are currently still fighting the Taliban and are now dealing with an Islamic State affiliate there.
In July 2016, President Barack Obama broke his pledge to withdraw all combat forces from Afghanistan due to the increased attacks in the country. Now, there will be a presence of 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2017.
The 8,400 U.S. troops stationed in the country are there in order to conduct counterterrorism operations, train and advise Afghanistan’s military. More than 2,100 of the American military personnel in Afghanistan are conducting counterterrorism missions. The others are responsible for training and serving in an advisory capacity.
Over 1,000 strikes were conducted in Afghanistan last year. The Islamic State Khorasan Province group, the Afghan affiliate of IS, was the target for 267 of those strikes were against. Fifty-seven strikes were aimed at Al Qaeda.
In April, 300 Marines are to deploy to southern Afghanistan in order to support the Afghan Army’s 215th Corps.
In July 2016, leaders at a NATO summit pledged about $800 million to support the Afghan security forces through 2020.
To date, the United States has spent $69 billion to train Afghanistan’s army. Afghan forces are receiving $3.8 billion annually from the United States to maintain 352,000 Afghan Army troops and police officers. Kabul is expected to contribute around $500 million.
There Were Record Casualties in Afghanistan in 2016.
The United Nations has tracked civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan since 2009. The year 2016 had the highest body count to date. On Monday, the U.N. said nearly 11,500 non-combatants (one third of whom were children) has been killed or wounded due to the fighting. The leading cause of the casualties is fighting between Afghan security forces and militants in populated areas.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported 11,418 civilian casualties (3,498 dead and 7,920 injured). That was an increase of 3% since 2015. There was a 24% increase in child casualties.
There was a tenfold increase in attacks from the IS affiliate, resulting in 899 civilian casualties (209 deaths, 690 injured). Shiite Muslims are mostly targeted by the group.
The highest number of civilian casualties from air strikes (590, of which 250 were deaths) were also recorded in 2016. That is nearly twice as many casualties than in 2015. Mostly women and children are hit in populated areas.
The attacks are mostly concentrated in the following provinces (from most to fewest):
Since the U.N. has been keeping records of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, 24,841 civilians have been killed and 45,347 civilians have been injured as a result of the fighting in Afghanistan. Sixty-one percent has been attributed to the Taliban and other “anti-government elements”; 24% has been attributed to pro-government forces.
The Afghan Government Only Controls a Little Over Half the Territory.
The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reports that the Afghan government only controls around 57% of the territory in the country. SIGAR’s congressional report cited a change in strategy as being a reason for the loss of territory. In 2016, troops moved from remote outposts and bolstered defenses around provincial capitals, where insurgents had increased their attacks. About 9.2 Afghans, a third of the population, live in contested areas, which include the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, and Uruzgan.
In 2016, 6,785 soldiers and police officers were killed, while another 11,777 were wounded. Those are record numbers.
Nine U.S. Troops were killed in 2016.
Dominic Parker, the head of office for the U.N. humanitarian coordinating agency in Kabul, says at least 1.2 million Afghans are displaced. Some of the displaced are returning from refugee camps in Pakistan, where they are no longer welcome. His agency is looking to raise $500 million for the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Afghan Troops Need Air Support from the United States.
Mohammed Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s national security adviser, said his country’s forces need air support from the United States to support ground missions until Afghans could provide it on their own. Although Atmar didn’t give a timetable for any help from the United States, he did said Afghan forces didn’t need any more ground troops.
The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014.
Is the Trump White House Ignoring Afghanistan?
Donald Trump and his people may be largely ignoring the war in Afghanistan. DT visited Central Command on Monday and talked very little about Afghanistan. While he gave the Pentagon 30 days to come up with a strategy to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Afghanistan, he virtually has no plan to beef up Afghan security forces.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will be charged with looking into the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. He commanded troops in the early days of the war in Afghanistan and he supports the NATO coalition that is leading efforts to train and advise Afghanis.
Militants Buy Arms and Fuel from Corrupt Officials.
Mullah Akhtar Mohammad, 45, is a Taliban commander in Afghanistan. He purchases cheap weapons and fuel from low-ranking Afghan army officials. He said armed representatives from both sides meet twice a month.
These type of deals have been made since 2013.
According to a Jan. 2017 from the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), stolen arms and fuel from the Afghan army have ended up in the hands of the Taliban and other enemies. The SIGAR report said much of the theft was likely tied to corrupt army officials who took advantage of a policy shift in 2010. Until then, the United States directly purchased fuel from Afghanistan’s army; now, the army has purchases its own fuel.
The Taliban took parts of the Kunduz last year, but only briefly held there. It is threatening Lashkar Gah in Helmond province.
There have been an increased number of attacks in the capital (Kabul).
Recent Attacks in Afghanistan Have Come Against the Country’s Judiciary.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Public health reported that at least 20 people were killed in a suicide bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, that targeted employees of the judiciary. The blast went off at the end of the work day. Forty-one people were wounded.
No one has taken responsibility for the attack.
The judiciary (and particularly the Supreme Court) has been targeted by the Taliban since 2013. As a result, there is increased security near the court, which includes large concrete blast walls.
In June 2013, a suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives into a bus the carried court employees. Judges were among the passengers. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
In 2015, a bomber killed five prosecutors from the Attorney General’s office in Kabul.
In 2016, seven people, including 2 prosecutors, were killed by Taliban gunman at a legal office in Logar province.
Also in 2016, Taliban fighters killed four people at a provincial courthouse in Ghazni.
On Jan. 10, Taliban bombers set off twin blasts in a crowded area in Kabul during rush hour. More than 30 people were killed and 70 were injured as a result.
Six Humanitarian Workers Were Killed Last Week.
On Wednesday, six Afghan workers with the Red Cross were killed by suspected Islamic State gunmen. The aid workers were trying to deliver relief supplies to a snowy region in Northern Afghanistan. Two other aid workers have gone missing in Jowjan. The Red Cross convoy consisted of three drivers and five field officers.
Monica Zanerelli is the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan.
On Dec. 19, 2016, a Spanish ICRC worker was abducted between the city of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kunduz. He was released nearly a month later.
In April 2015, five Afghan workers for Save the Children were abducted in Uruzgan and later killed.
Peace Deals May Be the Only Realistic Option.
Hekmatyar is a former Afghan warlord who took part in the fighting against the United States after the 2001 invasion. The move is a calculated risk in the hopes of bringing the Taliban and other militant groups to the negotiating table.
While he was sanctioned, Hekmatyar’s assets were frozen, he was on a travel ban, and he was subject to an arms embargo. The sanctions were lifted at the request of the Afghan government after a peace deal was signed with Hekmatyar and Hezb-e-Islami in Sep. 2016. As part of the deal, Hekmatyar and his followers are being allowed to return to Kabul and will be granted full political rights.
Supporters of the peace deal believe peace agreements are the only realistic solution to the 15-year war in Afghanistan.
The situation will be monitored. Hekmatyar is seen as the chief (political) rival to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Here’s More Information About the Raid in Yemen.
Let’s begin with the basic details of the planning.
The agencies with key roles in the operation were U.S. Central Command, the Special Operations Command (which is responsible for overseeing global counter-terrorism military operations), and the CIA.
The “package” for the mission included:
- Two dozen Navy SEALs.
- Between 30-40 other Americans backing up the SEALs on the ground and in the air.
- A half-dozen Yemeni soldiers.
- A dozen commandos from the United Arab Emirates
- A Marine Corps Quick Reaction Force waiting offshore.
This was the largest collection of Special Forces since Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. The above information was corroborated by multiple officials.
Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens of SEAL Team 6 was killed during the raid.
The three non-fatal injuries suffered by Americans in the failed raid were the result of the MV-22’s hard landing. The aircraft had to be destroyed by a remotely dropped bomb.
There Were Conflicting Reports About the Real Target of the Raid.
While Trump officials initially said the target of the raid in Yemen was to capture information, the real target of the raid was Qassim al-Rimi, the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate.
The raid in Yemen that ended in disaster was aimed at capturing or killing Qassim al-Rimi. The 38-year-old is the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. He is considered the third most dangerous terrorist in the world. Al-Rimi took over the Yemen affiliate of al-Qaida in 2015.
It was not clear whether al-Rimi was at the al-Qaida camp when it was raided, but he is still in Yemen and he released an audio recording in which he taunted Trump. In the authenticated audio recording he said, “The fool of the White House got slapped at the beginning of his road in your lands.”
There were denials about the objective of the raid.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, the chief spokesman for the Pentagon, said, “I can tell you it’s not true.” He added that the military “never had any hope, intention of plan” of killing or capturing al-Rimi during the operation.
Col. John Thomas, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said:
There was no discussion of al-Rimi potentially being at that objective. We didn’t expect to see him there. We didn’t plan for him to be there, and this was not a raid that had anything to do with targeting that individual.
The objective was site exploitation to find out more about how AQAP operates, functions, and how they communicate with each other.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “The goal of the raid was intelligence gathering and that’s what we received and that’s what we got and that’s why we can deem it a success.”
A senior White House official disputed claims that the raid was about just gathering information. Al-Rimi was a target in the past and any mission that could possibly lead to his capture “drove the highest possible deliberations.” The official also said, “These types of missions have many tracks and are part of many worlds outside of the Pentagon. This was a high-risk mission demanding the president’s approval.”
Was DT Goaded into Signing off on the Raid?
It was reported the Defense Secretary James Mattis and Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, egged on Trump to go through with the disastrous raid in Yemen on Jan. 29. The two convinced Trump by saying that former President Barack Obama never would have gone through with such a raid. They insisted a successful raid would serve as a “game changer” in the fight against the terrorist organization.
However, a senior intelligence official told NBC News that “almost everything went wrong” from the beginning of the raid. As reported before, some villagers if the southern Bayda province said they were tipped off by the sound and number of drones nearby. The official said the cause could have also be a barking dog or walkie-talkie chatter.
DT Was Not in the Situation Room When the Raid Happened.
A report has emerged that Trump was not in the Situation Room when the early dawn raid in Yemen was going on Sunday, Jan. 29. Instead, he was in the residence. And in the morning of the attack, he was busy making angry tweets aimed at The New York Times.
Most presidents would be in the Situation Room when operations like the raid in Yemen are carried out. The president is advised on the legal aspects of the situation, the risk assessment of the commandos carrying out the mission, and a risk assessment for the civilians in the area. All this is given as part of a “full package” for an attack.
Former President Barack Obama was in the situation room when Osama bin Laden was taken out in 2011.
Al-Qaida Takes Advantage of the Situation.
After the botched Jan. 29 raid on a purported AQAP compound, the terrorist affiliate attacked three towns in southern Yemen. Loder, Shaqra, and Ahwa in the province of Abyan came under siege on Thursday.
The province of Ahwa was previously liberated from al-Qaida forces in the summer of 2016 with the help of Saudi and coalition air strikes. However, many disheartened government troops, who had gone without paid wages, had left their posts in the three towns that were temporarily captured by AQAP forces.
But on Friday, the terrorist affiliate was forced to withdraw from two of the towns. In Loder and Shaqra, there were overnight air strikes. Militants were also driven out by local residents who threatened to take up arms.
The Date for The Turkish Constitutional Referendum Is Set.
Two weeks ago, I shared links to a story about changes that might be made to Turkey’s Constitution. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had yet to sign legislation passed by the Turkish parliament. The parliament approved an 18-article new constitution by a 339-142 vote*.
Now, the country’s electoral board has confirmed there will be an April 16 referendum on the proposal that will dramatically expand the president’s powers if approved. In addition, Erdogan could remain in power until 2029.
The new constitution would make the presidency an executive position. The president would then have the power to hire and fire ministers. The position of prime minister would be abolished and replaced with one or more vice presidents.
The passing of a new constitution would reset the clock on Erdogan’s presidency to 0 in 2019 and could net him an extra five years in office. He was elected in August 2014. Under normal circumstances, he could have remained in power until 2024. A new constitution would possibly allow Erdogan to remain in office until 2029.
In July 2016, there was a failed coup. Since then, Erdogan’s opponents suspect he is moving closer to authoritarian rule.
* Erdogan is part of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The ruling party has 317 members of parliament, counting the speaker.
In Syria, It’s All About Coordination.
Iran Says It Has Perfect Coordination with Russia.
On Saturday, Iranian Admiral Ali Shamkhani told Fars news agency that Iran and Russia have “total strategic cooperation.” Russian warplanes are using Iranian air space in order to conduct airstrikes in Syria. Shamkhani told IRNA news agency that the arrangement is a joint decision made in the interest of fighting terrorism.
Shamkhani is the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council. He coordinates political, security, and military actions with Russia.
Russian airplanes first used Iranian military bases in August 2016 in order to launch on offensive against militants in Syria.
Tehran is working closely with Russia in order to support the Syrian government under President Bashar Al Assad. Iran sends military advisors and some voluntary fighters to support the Syrian Army.
Russia Says It Needs More Coordination with Turkey.
On Thursday, Russian air strikes killed 3 Turkish soldiers and injured 11 others. As part of the Euphrates Shield operation in Syria, the Russians were aiming at Islamic State targets in the area. However, a warplane hit a building being used by Turkey’s military.
Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan to express his condolences to the fallen soldiers. Putin blamed the incident on the lack of coordination between Russian and Turkish forces.
In 2015, a Russia air force just was shot down by Turkey, which said the Russians were invading Turkey’s air space.
The U.S. Might Not Move Its Embassy in Israel After All.
According to Al-Quds, a Palestinian daily publication, Pres. Donald Trump has no real plans to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The Saturday reports follow the request made by Jordanian King Abdullah that the United States refrain from doing so. The report said Trump’s people transmitted a message to the Jordanian king.
Beforehand, there was a meeting between the king and Trump administration officials. During a meeting between Jordan and Egypt’s foreign ministers, the issue of the embassy was discussed. Speaking on behalf of his king, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said it was important to keep the “Arab, Muslim and Christian identity of the holy city.”
But is the issue done there?
Douglas M. Bloomfield points to Trump’s campaign promise that he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv as an example of a promise that cannot be kept.
Netanyahu will publicly express disappointment although he privately agrees and endorses Trump’s decision. Trump began backing off his campaign promise almost immediately, and got a boost from a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who warned him of the damage the relocation could do to the U.S. role in the Arab world and Trump’s war against ISIS.
Trump and Netanyahu have heard from other friendly Arab leaders as well that the move could cause serious domestic problems for them, incite violence against American embassies and needlessly damage their diplomatic and covert relations with America and Israel.
David Friedman, Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, has been tapped to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman supported the move to Jerusalem and is a staunch opponent of a Palestinian state.
The U.S. Vetoed the U.N. Appointment of a Former Palestinian PM.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres nominated Salam Fayyad as the U.N. peace envoy to Libya. Fayyad is a former Palestinian prime minister who served from 2007-2013. He also was finance minister for the Palestinian Authority for two separate terms. Fayyad would have replaced Germany’s Martin Kobler, who served in his position since Nov. 2015.
On Friday, Fayyad’s appointment was blocked by the United States. Newly approved ambassador Nikki Haley said the U.S. objected on that grounds that “for too long, the U.N. has been unfairly biased in favor of the Palestinian Authority to the detriment of our allies in Israel.”
On Saturday, Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi called Haley’s reasoning for the U.S. veto a “flimsy excuse.”
Blocking the appointment of Dr. Salam Fayyad is a case of blatant discrimination on the basis of national identity.
Dan Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, called move “ridiculous” and “outrageous.”
The move is surprising in international circles. Fayyad’s appointment was expected to go without any objections from Security Council members. And although Israel praised the move, Fayyad was widely respected, even inside Israel, because he was viewed as a moderate leader.
Will the U.S. Move Away from the New START Treaty?
Two current U.S. officials and one former U.S. official have some alarming news.
According to these unnamed sources, Trump denounced the New START Treaty in his first call with President Vladimir Putin. When Putin asked about extending the treaty, Trump first asked his aides what that agreement was then said it was a bad deal for the United States. Trump also talked about his own popularity.
The New START Treaty is an agreement between Russia and the United States that limits the deployment of nuclear warheads by both countries. It was passed by the Senate in Dec. 2010 by a vote of 71-26.
According to the treaty’s parameters:
- The world’s biggest nuclear powers have until February 2018 to reduce the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550.
- The United States and Russia would also be called to limit the number of (nuclear) missiles carried be submarines and bombers.
- The treaty could be extended for another five years beyond 2021 by mutual agreement.
During his Senate confirmation hearings, now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he supported the New START Treaty and that it was important to “hold Russia accountable” for complying with it.
The three sources with knowledge of the call were allowed to view notes, which are classified.
The sources also said it appeared that Trump was not briefed before talking to Putin. It’s unclear if Trump was briefed by his national security advisor, Michael Flynn.
In National News …
These week, I needed to catch up on DT news, but one pressing issue is Steve Bannon, his top counsel. From the looks of things, Bannon is trying to consolidate his power.
Here’s Some News I Missed.
Trump Is Continuing Obama’s Pro-LGBT Executive Order
Since the election, many Americans (and advocates abroad) have worried that Trump and his team would make quick work of dismantling protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender people in the country. President Trump seems hellbent on erasing President Obama’s legacy and LGBT rights seem like low-hanging fruit.
Well, it looks like Trump will uphold one good piece of Obama’s legacy: the protection for LGBT federal workers. The White house said it would uphold a 2014 executive order by Obama which bars discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who work for the federal government, even via contractors.
However, observers caution there may be exceptions under the guise of religious freedom. There is cause for concern since Mike Pence, a fierce opponent of LGBT rights, is Trump’s VP. And numerous people in the White House, some of whom also opposed LGBT rights, are jockeying for positions and power within Trump’s administration.
Additionally, Jeff Sessions, who was picked to be Trump’s Attorney General, has stated that he opposed gay marriage. He has said he would uphold the Supreme Court Ruling on the matter, but he has a poor civil rights record.
Trump Wants to Gut Regulations.
On Monday, Jan. 30, Trump signed an executive order that required two regulations to be rescinded for every regulation that was implemented. This is in line with Trump’s “Contract with the Voters,” which he rolled out in October 2016.
Trump signed the order after a listening session with small-business owners. He claimed that small owners were especially hurt by regulations and this new rule will held them — as well as big business.
The new rule will called for agencies to identify two rules that will be taken down.
Trump Wants to Gut Dodd-Frank.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in order to prevent a financial collapse like the one that happened near the end of 2008.
Trump claims the rules established by Dodd-Frank were too tough on businesses. He even said that a few of his friends couldn’t get loans. Trump’s business advisory panel has executives from large U.S. companies, including Citigroup, Disney, General Electric, General Motors, and Tesla. The full review of Dodd–Frank by the Trump administration will take months, but his people are already eyeing provisions they want to take down.
One regulation requires companies to disclose the discrepancy in pay between CEO’s and ordinary workers. Once a year, companies have to present ratios: Each ratio is found by comparing the CEO pay with the average salary of the other employees. Acting Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Michael Piwowar has directed his staff to “reconsider” that rule.
Trump also wants to stop a directive that bars investment brokers from giving retirement advice to their clients based on what would yield the brokers the highest profits. The Obama-era rule was there to protect consumers and ensure that brokers (who are going to get paid either way) would work in their clients’ best interests.
Another Dodd-Frank provision that is targeted is the Volcker Rule, named after Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman. The rule prohibits banks from betting against their customers’ interests.
Trump’s people also want to get rid of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the brainchild of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and one of the most effective changes brought about by Dodd-Frank. Since the CFPB was established, it returned $11 billion to victims of predatory payday lenders, loan sharks, and financial companies who hit their customers with excessive overdraft fees.
In all honesty, the rule was fairly weak from the start. From 2013 to August 2015, then-SEC Chair Mary Jo White held up the SEC’s proposal for compliance, and that was a total of five years after Dodd-Frank was passed by Congress. Also, there were numerous loopholes in the rule which allowed companies to discount the foreign workers in the calculations and cherry pick information, thus hiding the real differences in pay. Additionally, disclosures wouldn’t have to be made until 2018.
And are 19 other Dodd-Frank regulations that were being held up by White by the time she left office. That’s probably where Trump’s team will start and they had tremendous help from the Obama Administration.
Trump Plans to Pull Out of Paris Climate Deal.
Myron Ebell, who was part of Trump’s transition team, informed reporters that Trump was planning to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement.
The agreement, which was drafted in late 2015 and signed on Earth Day 2016, was the successor of the Kyoto Protocol, was meant to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” There are 194 signatories to the agreement, including the United States.
While Rex Tillerson acknowledged climate change during his confirmation hearings, he was evasive for the most part. He is the former executive at Exxon Mobil.
Trump Is Already Raising Millions for 2020 Election.
According to Federal Election Commission filings, Trump has already started raising funds for his 2020 election campaign. As of Dec. 31, he had $7.6 million in the bank, given to him by small donors. Since the Nov. 2016 election, he and his people have sent emails asking for donations and making solicitations.
Trump submitted a letter to the FEC on Inauguration Day. He only needed to reach the $5,000 threshold to file his candidacy.
Between Nov. 29 and Dec. 31, Trump’s campaign committee, the Republican National Committee, and their two joint fundraising committees collected $13.5 million dollars in total.
It should also be noted that Trump’s campaign committee and the RNC spent a total of $14 million that went to Trump buildings, businesses, and family members.
Steve Bannon should be watched closely.
A recent executive order signed by Trump placed his chief advisor on the National Security Council. Specifically, Bannon now has a seat on the principals committee, which is the top interagency group in the NSC for discussing national security concerns.
The same order effectively demoted the director of National Intelligence and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the same committee. The two officials will only be permitted to attend the principals committee when “issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
Three Confirmations Happened Despite Democratic Efforts.
As it stands now, the Democrats simply don’t have the number to prevent the confirmations of cabinet members, but they did their best to delay most at this point.
Elizabeth Warren Was Silenced.
On Wednesday, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced as she read a 1986 letter from the late Coretta Scott King on the Senate floor. Over the previous 55 hours, Democrats held two all-nighters in order to delay the Senate confirmation vote for Jeff Sessions.
The letter from Mrs. King was sent to the Senate in order to oppose Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship. Sessions has a poor civil rights record and this time, he was up for the position of Trump’s Attorney General.
As Warren attempted to read the letter, she was interrupted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who cited Senate Rule 19, which prohibits senators from making disparaging remarks or other behavior “unbecoming a senator.” She was ordered to remain silent for the rest of Session’s confirmation period after a 49-43 vote that was largely along party lines.
Other Democratic Senators rallied around Warren, with some taking up to read the letter from Coretta Scott King.
Others used the hashtag #LetLizSpeak.
New Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) posted the whole speech and excerpts via Tweets.
One of Kamala Harris’s Tweets:
For her part, Senator Warren urged people to read the entire letter for themselves.
Senator Warren also took the time to thank the Non-Legislative Workers on the Senate Floor.
On Wednesday, Senator Jeff Sessions was confirmed as the next Attorney General by a 52-57 vote. Sessions didn’t vote, but the 52nd vote came from West Virginian Democrat Joe Manchin.
The rest of the Democrats opposed Sessions due to a number of positions he held. In 1986, he lost a judgeship due to accusations of racial insensitivity (he was said to have called a white man who worked to promote civil rights a disgrace to his race). While in Congress, Democrats cite Sessions’ positions on voting rights, immigration, and women’s health, among other things. Manchin said he did not see those things.
Betsy DeVos and Tom Price
Betsy DeVos and Tom Price were both confirmed last week, as well.
DeVos’s confirmation for Education Secretary on Tuesday was the most contested cabinet vote in history. She only garnered 50 votes from the Senate and needed VP Mike Pence to break the tie. Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Maine), joined Democrats to vote against DeVos.
Betsy DeVos is a troubling head of the Department of Education. She and her family had donated over $200 million to Republicans and she has a negative reputation, particularly in Detroit. She is an advocate of charter schools and supports using school vouchers (tax payer money) to pay for private, mostly Christian, schools.
Tom Price was confirmed as the Secretary of Health and Human Services along a party-line vote, 52-47, on Thursday. Democrats had not voted to advance Price’s nomination to the full floor vote, instead choosing to boycott. They are doing the same to Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for Treasury Secretary.
Democrats were opposed to their nominations largely on the issue of disclosure. They say Price has not explained some questionable stock purchases.
Democrats and activists worry about what Price will do as the head of HHS. Price is opposed to the Affordable Care Act and has talked about defunding Medicare and Medicaid.
Here’s More on the American Water Crisis.
In December 2016, I visited the Flint Water Crisis. I went back and added more information, but there is even more that needs to be discussed here.
There Is Definitely Negligence on the Part of Michigan Authorities …
But there is a case for environmental discrimination.
CNN has a fact sheet, and the synopsis of the situation is very enlightening.
Here are facts from the top:
- Flint is located 70 miles north of Detroit.
- Flint has a population of 98,310.
- About 41.2% of residents in the city live below the poverty line.
- The median household income is $24,862, compared to the median income of $49,576 for the rest of Michigan.
- African Americans make up 56.6% of the population.
Flint was once were the largest General Motors plant was located. However, GM reduced the size of the complex there beginning in the 1980’s. Thus began the city’s economic decline.
In 2011, the Flint was projected to be $25 million in the red. Michigan took over the city’s finances and appointed unelected city managers, who eventually switched the water supply from the Lake Huron (via Detroit) to the Flint River. There was supposed to be a two-year wait while a pipe was being built to bring Lake Huron water directly to Flint.
The state Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) was charged in a class-action lawsuit for not treating the Flint River water with an anti-corrosive agent.
It’s telling that General Motors refused to use water from the Flint River in October 2014. The MDEQ had reportedly handed out water-boiling advisories and increased chlorine levels due to the levels of bacterial found in Flint’s water supply. GM cited the corrosiveness of the chlorine for engine parts.
Residents Have No Reason to Trust the Latest Results.
On Tuesday, Jan. 23, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality released a report with test residents for the water in Flint, Michigan. According to the tests, lead levels in the drinking water were said to be below federal limits. But Flint residents don’t trust the reports.
A number of homes were monitored between July and December. Tests supposedly showed that those homes had lead at 12 parts per billion (ppb), which is below the federal threshold of 15 ppb.
Melissa Mays, a community advocate with Flint Rising, said that the problems with Flint’s water are far from being solved. She said the tests were limited since only “one percent of homes in one period of time” were tested. She also said that the water has other contaminants, like bacteria (which lead to a rash of shigellosis last year), and some pipes still need to be replaced.
Flint Mayor Karen Weavers claims that 20,000 lead-contaminated pipes need to be replaced. She would like to see the state and federal government help the city replace 6,000 pipes by the end of the year.
There Have Been Numerous Lawsuits.
Currently, there are at least four big cases against the players in the Flint Water Crisis. Plaintiffs in once case recently faced a setback.
A class action lawsuit filed in 2015 against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the city of Flint, and other state and city officials. The lawsuit asked for educational, occupational, and medical support, among other things, for residents affected by the unsafe drinking water.
Michael Pitt represents Melissa Mays, a plaintiff named in a lawsuit against Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the city of Flint, and state and city officials. The lawsuit was started in 2015 and just faced a setback in District court.
In all, 14 defendants have been named:
- Former mayor Dayne Walling
- Two emergency managers
- Dan Wyant, the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality
- Liane Shekter (from the DEQ)
- Adam Rosenthal (from the DEQ)
- Stephen Busch (from the DEQ)
- Patrick Cook (from the DEQ)
- Michael Prysby (from the DEQ)
- Brad Wufel (from the DEQ)
- Howard Croft, the Flint Department of Public Works Director
- Michael Glasgow, the Flint Utilities Administrator
- Daugherty Johnson, former city utilities administrator
The case was dismissed nearly two weeks ago by U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara. The judge said allowing the lawsuit to continue “would circumvent the SWDA (Safe Water Drinking Act).”
Cary McGehee, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, promised to appeal to the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals. She said the claims made in the case pertain to the 14th Amendment, which concerns equal protection under the law and substantive due process.
McGhee is also representing Flint residences in four other cases. One is a case involving over 1,700 residents suing the EPA. That cased was filed on Jan. 30, 2017.
O’Meara dismissed another case brought by Flint residents in Apr. 2016 on procedural grounds.
A 2016 CNN Report Outlined the National Water Crisis.
In Mid-2016, CNN looked at water systems across the United States, thinks in large part from data from the NRDC and other sources.
According to this CNN report, around 18 million Americans were drinking and bathing in contaminated tap water. Based on 2015 figures, 17.6 million Americans were served by 5,300 community water systems that did not meet EPA regulations for lead and copper. The water in those communities hadn’t been tested for lead, the water wasn’t properly treated, and residents had not been informed of the contamination.
The EPA and Cheating Utilities
The Environmental Protection Agency has done little about the water systems in violation of the law. Compared to states, which took action in 817 cases, the EPA only acted in 88 total cases, according to an NRDC report. The EPA also knows that many utilities “game the system” in order to hide the real levels of lead in water. Additionally, Flint was not listed as a violator of the lead and copper rule at the time of the report.
Marc Edwards, a leading researcher at Virginia Tech, uncovered the lead-water crisis in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000’s and the Flint Water Crisis. He also shared that utilities had been gaming the system for decades and that the EPA had done nothing to stop that behavior.
Utilities cheat in various ways. Methods they use include only testing low-risk homes, telling residents to pre-flush before the water is tested, and telling residents to slowly pour water from lead pipes. This skews the results.
Alan Morrissey once served as the former senior attorney in the EPA’s office of water enforcement. He left the agency in 2015 out of frustration; he wanted the EPA to focus more on water. Morrissey also said the agency was strapped for cash.
In Philadelphia, only 40 homes out of 50,000 were tested during one time period.
Many of our water systems have lead pipes, which were used for the durability. But like lead paint, it’s a bad idea. In the absence of replacing the pipes, many communities have mandated that the water be treated with orthophosphates, which coat the pipes and prevent lead from leaking into the water.
In 1990, the EPA mandated that water have an “acceptable” threshold of 15 parts per billion. Some homes in Flint, Michigan tested at 10,000 ppb.
In Regional News …
The Thomas Reuters Foundation shared some news on human and sex trafficking in U.S. cities.
There Was a Human Trafficking Raid in California.
The authorities in California conducted a state-wide raid to coincide with Human Trafficking Awareness Month*. In late January, 474 people were arrested in a crackdown on human trafficking. The people apprehended were charged with pimping, solicitation of prostitution, and human trafficking.
Fifty-five people were freed, 28 of them children. Some of those children were reported missing. The rest were adults who were forced into prostitution.
The state-wide raids happened over three days. The arrests and rescues happened in cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.
The announcement of the raids was made on Wednesday, Feb. 8.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Hotline received 5,500 reports of sex trafficking. There were more reported cases of human trafficking in California in 2016 than there were in any other state.
* President Barack Obama proclaimed January Human Trafficking Awareness Month in 2014.
There Were Other Arrests in At Least 15 States Connected to Sex Trafficking.
Around Super Bowl Sunday, police arrested at least 750 in sex-trafficking sting operations. In Houston, where the SB LI was played, over 100 people were arrested.
Nationwide stings of this nature were first carried out 13 years ago. Authorities time this sting around the Super Bowl because they say it is a peak period for illicit sex. The 3-week operations are led by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois.
This year’s sweep netted 29 pimp detainments and the arrest of 723 people who were paying for sex. The arrests were made across 15 states.
In addition, 6 minors and 86 adults were rescued during the sting operations.
In Internet and Tech News …
Words of caution for WordPress Users:
Hackers Have Defaced Thousands of WordPress Blogs and Websites.
Last week, I saw a blog post from calmkate that had news of a rash of successful hacking attempts on WordPress websites. There was a link to a BBC article, which I followed for more information.
As it turns out, tens of thousands of sites have been affected due to a security flaw in blogging software. WordFence, a security firm, said that there were 20 hacker groups attacking vulnerable sites. WordFence founder Mark Maunder said he believes that 40,000 blogs were hit by the hackers.
According to one estimate, over 1.5 million pages could have been defaced by hackers. Hackers have been defacing pages, but in some cases, they have taken over entire blogs.
An add-on for the blogging software that was introduced in late 2016 has a serious security flaw. Sucuri, a security firm, informed WordPress of this problem on Jan. 20. WordPress.org decided to wait a week before disclosing security vulnerabilities in order to protect millions of other WordPress sites.
Some site owners may need to upgrade their software. The patched version of the software was released on Jan. 26. Many blogs and websites have automatically applied the update, but there are others that might need to install it manually.
Sucuri’s founder, Daniel Cid, said the website takeovers are about the hackers finding a way to monetize their efforts. For instances, the hijacked sites could be used for spam and malware campaigns.
In Entertainment News …
This week, I am really catching up on news I wanted to share last week.
There Was an Intersection of Sports and Politics in the Past Two Weeks.
Politics at the Super Bowl
In his Feb. 2 article, Michael Hurley talks about how the NFL deals with political statements. There is a mention of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest from earlier in the 2016 NFL season, but the lead is how players, at least one coach, and a couple of owners feel about Donald Trump.
The real-estate mogul is entwined with Tom Brady, Pats owner Bob Craft, and head coach Bill Belichick. In the past, Bob Craft talked about Trump coming to his aid when Mrs. Craft died a few years ago.
Additionally, mentions of politics and of NFL Commissioner and Trump were scrubbed from the transcripts of player interviews during Super Bowl Week. Martellus Bennett said he might consider not going to the White House should his team win the Super Bowl. Mohammed Sun steered the conversation away from the travel ban. And Brady did his best to push away questions about his connection to Trump.
Planned Tour of Israel
On Sunday, Feb. 5, Israel’s tourism and public diplomacy ministries announced that a delegation of 12 representing the NFL would be coming to tour Israel this week.
The planned tour included 11 current and former National Football League players and one NFL executive:
- Cliff Avril (also a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks)
- Martellus Bennett (Michael Bennett’s brother and the tight end for the New England Patriots)
- Michael Bennett
- Calais Campbell (defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals)
- Justin Forsett (running back for the Denver Broncos)
- Carlos Hyde (running back for the San Francisco 49ers)
- Michael Kendrics (linebacker for the Philadelpia Eagles)
- Cameron Jordan (defensive end for the New Orleans Saints)
- Kirk Morrison (ESPN commentator and former linebacker)
- Kenny Stills
- Delanie Walker (tight end for the Tennessee Titans)
- Dan Williams (President of the Carolina Panthers)
The delegation of 12 would visit sites like Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Yah Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, the Black Hebrew community in Dimona, and Jordan Rivers’s Yardenit baptismal site. A few players would be baptized at Yardenit. Also during the visit, players would take part in an exhibition game with players from the Israeli Football Associated on Feb. 18 in Jerusalem.
Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan wants the trip to influence NFL fans and provide “a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world.”
Although it was not clear who was funding the trip, a press release from the Tourism Ministry cited America’s voices in Israel: http://americasvoices.us/about/
NFL Stars Pulling out of Trip to Israel
Michael Bennett and Kenny Stills have pulled out of a tour of Israel. Bennett, a defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, and Stills, a wide receiver for the Miami Dolphins, made the decision last week.
Bennett made a couple of tweets near the weekend to make it clear he would not be going to Israel. On Thursday, he included a picture of Civil Rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and simply wrote, “Im [SIC] not going to Israel.”
On Friday, Bennett included an image of a letter he addressed to the “World.”
Kenny Stills soon followed suit.
Here’s Your NFL News.
The 49ers Have Found Their Coach and General Manager.
For a few weeks, it was speculated that the 49ers were all but ready to sign Kyle Shanahan to be their next head coach. The problem was Shanahan was still at work as the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. The team went all the way to the Super Bowl and no announcement could be made until the NFL season was over.
Once that was out of the way, the 49ers signed Shanahan to a six-year deal.
On Sunday, Jan. 29, the San Francisco 49ers reported that they had hired former NFL safety and FOX analyst John Lynch to be the team’s next general manager. He was signed for a six-year deal, the same as incoming head coach Kyle Shanahan. The news was first reported by FOX Sports.
Finalists for the GM position had included George Paton and Terry McDonough. Paton is a Minnesota Vikings assistant and McDonough is the Arizona Cardinals’ vice president of personnel.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rappoport, the 49ers had identified Lynch as a GM candidate “weeks ago.”
John Lynch, who is 45 years old, last played the game in the 2007 season. (He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1993. He later played for the Broncos from 2004-2007.) Lynch served as a FOX NFL analyst from 2008-2016.
He has never before held a position in an NFL front office but he was being groomed to hold the position John Elway now holds in Denver.
But There Was One Condition That Needed to Be Met …
John Lynch went on KNBR and sat down for a radio interview soon after his hiring. He told the crew there that he wanted his interview process to be secret, mainly because he was concerned about the amount of leaks coming from the 49ers front office. (Near the end of John Harbaugh’s tenure as head coach, there were a series of leaks about Harbaugh and they continued after he was gone.)
Lynch said he was in a good position since he already had a job he loved (as NFL an analyst for Fox). That allowed Lynch to ask any question he wanted and to really grill Jed York. Lynch particularly asked about the source of the leaks and the secret nature of his interview was also a test.
It seems like York passed the initial test, but it remains to be seen if Lynch (and Shanahan) will be given the resources they need to succeed. Creating a harmonious environment for the new coach and GM will help to improve the team culture and that is a good start, as Lynch pointed out.
The Raiders Might Not Go to Las Vegas After All.
As previously reported, the Raiders were waiting on a late March vote to determine if the team would be cleared to move to Las Vegas, Nevada. However, the vote would be a moot point if the team does not have the funds to build a stadium.
On Jan. 30, 2017, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson pulled out of the funding pool for the Raiders. He initially pledged $650 million towards a $1.9 billion, 65,000-set domed stadium for the Raiders. Adelson withdrew his pledge because his name was not included in the lease proposal to the Las Vegas Stadium Authority.
The next domino fell a day later. On Jan. 31, 2017, Goldman Sachs also declined to finance the Raiders’ new stadium. The bank was only on board if Adelson was. Adelson has long and deep ties with Goldman Sachs.
He is the CEO of Las Vegas Sands, Corp. and he owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which reported on this news.
Adelson claims he was shut out of talks leading up to the lease document presented to the Clark County Stadium Authority.
We were not only excluded from the proposed agreement, we weren’t even aware of its existence.
The relocation application the Raiders filed with the NFL on Jan. 19 also left out Adelson.
The Raiders offered to pick up the tab for Adelson, which would give the team a $1.15 billion stake in the proposal. The Raiders would accept full operating responsibilities, but they only could have done so if Goldman Sachs was still part of the deal.
The other $750 million for the stadium could still come from a hotel tax supported by Adelson. It was approved in Oct. 2016.
People who might step up in place of Adelson and Goldman Sachs are Ed Roski and Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta. They also own casinos.
The Fertittas sold UFC for $4 billion and they were involved early on when the Raiders were studying a potential stadium site in Las Vegas — a 113-acre site west of Interstate 15 on Tropicana Avenue. Right now, the Raiders have their eye on a 61-acre plot on Russell Road, west of Interstate 15 and the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in south Las Vegas.
The Raiders only want to pay $1 a year in rent and retain all rights to the stadium, which they would share with the University of Las Vegas (UNLV).
Currently, the Lott Group (as in Ronnie Lott, a former player for the 49ers) and Fortress Investment Group are working on a plan to keep the Raiders in Oakland.
The NFL didn’t like the idea of a big bank like Goldman Sachs being involved. And the league likely won’t like the involvement of Ronnie Lott’s investment group, either.
The owners will vote on the Las Vegas issue when the NFL owners meetings commence on March 26-29 in Phoenix. Will they approve any plan that takes the Raiders to Las Vegas, or will they be considering a possible move to San Diego?
Pat McAfee Retires from the NFL.
On Wednesday, Feb 1, Pat McAfee announced his retirement from the NFL after 8 seasons as the Indianapolis Colts’ punter. He made the announcement while appearing on Comedy Central’s Barstool Rundown.
McAfee was selected in the seventh round in the 2009 NFL draft. He came out of West Virginia.
McAfee performed his punting and kickoff duties with a flair. But he might have been best known for his personality off the field. He would take to social media regularly and appeared on NFL Network on a segment entitled “Kickin’ It with Pat McAfee.”
McAfee finishes with a career net punt average of 40.1 yards and a career long put of 74 yards (set in 2016). He also totaled 26,669 punting yards, 43,621 kickoff yards, and 21 tackles.
Magic Johnson Returns to the Lakers.
Erving “Magic” Johnson is returning to the Los Angeles Lakers in a managerial role.
Magic will be brought on to advise Jeanie Buss in the areas of business and basketball. In addition to these primary roles, Johnson will collaborate with coaches, evaluate and mentor all players, assess future franchise needs, and help ownership determine the best path for growth and success. He will work at the team’s El Segundo offices and report directly to Jeanie Buss.
Quote from Magic:
Everyone knows my love for the Lakers. Over the years, I have considered other management opportunities. However, my devotion to the game and Los Angeles make the Lakers my first and only choice. I will do everything in my power to help return the Lakers to their rightful place among the elite teams of the NBA.
A week after the announcement, Magic Johnson said that wants to eventually “call the shots.”
Currently, Jim Buss is the team’s Executive Vice President of basketball operations. He promised in 2014 that he would step down if the team did not become a contender in 3-4 years.
The team is co-owned by Jim and Jeanie Buss. Analysts have agreed that Jeanie Buss should run the team, as it was a consistent contender under her leadership in years past.
The Lakers entered Friday with an 18-37 record. The franchise has endured its three worst seasons ever, posting successive records of 27-55, 21-61 and 17-65 entering this season.
Magic Johnson was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 with the first overall pick.
Johnson previously sold his stake in the Lakers in order to help invest in the Dodgers when the Major League Baseball team was being sold.
Commentary: Free Speech and Stuff
Now, while students at the school had every right to protest Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at the school (from outside the center where he was planning to speak), at no point did anyone have the right to destroy property or harm anyone.
Yiannopoulos is a controversial figure for many reasons. He is an openly gay conservative who works for Breitbart. Yet he says he chooses to be gay and that affords him privileges not afforded to straight men. His college tour is called “Dangerous F****t.”
Yiannopoulos says things to incite people, like blaming Barack Obama for worsening race relations in the United States. And he created a $2,500 Privilege Grant for (straight) white men to put them “on equal footing with their female, queer and ethnic minority classmates.”
Milo Yiannopoulos thrives on controversy and the actions by the masked individuals gave him a platform. He claims the left is incapable of arguing and reason. Attacks like those play into his rhetoric.
Much of what Yiannopoulos says is unmitigated garbage, but it does not justify violence or vandalism. And even he knows that much of what he says shouldn’t elicit any type of response. He has said himself that the best thing his opponents could do would be to ignore him and allow him to go away.
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