News Roundup (Week of Feb. 19-25, 2017)

news roundup, February, 2017, globe, space, vector

Hello, readers! This week’s News Roundup is heavy on national news.


In International News …

Russia Plans to Build up Troops on Disputed Japanese Islands.

Russia wants to boost the number of its troops on disputed islands in the Western Pacific. The islands in question — known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia — were seized by the Soviets after World War II. Japanese residents (17,000 in number) were forced to flee.

Future talks will undoubtedly hinge on Russia’s activity and intention for the islands. Last December, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two countries were able to strike numerous economic deals but no headway was made on the islands. The countries’ foreign ministers will meet in Tokyo on Mar. 20 and Abe is scheduled to make a trip to Moscow later on this year.

Will There Be an Arms Race Between the U.S. and China?

From the looks of things, yes.

China has recently been flexing its nautical muscle. In January, Shen Jinlong, who is close to Chinese President Xi Jinping, was appointed the new chief of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy. Shen has since led the navy on a few missions to show China’s military might.

Recently, the PLA had missions that took its ships to the Gulf States, the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Western Pacific. In January, a Chinese submarine that was returning from an anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia first docked at a port in Malaysia’s Sabah state. Chinese warships have also been sighted at ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

The moves are being made to send a message to the United States and China’s neighbors. As stated on StrongChina, a state-run website, China was making its “first show of force against the United States, Japan and Taiwan.”

China specifically has an eye on the United States due to the unpredictability of Donald Trump. China is expected to significantly increase the funding for its navy in respond to Trump suggesting that the United States should increase the number of its ships from 290 to 350, particularly as a challenge to China. As it stands now, the U.S. Navy is far ahead, particularly with 10 aircraft carriers to China’s 1.

Islamic State Can Quickly Manufacture Car Bombs in Iraq.

In Iraq and in Syria, Islamic State terrorists have been manufacturing makeshift “car bombs” in makeshift factories. Civilian vehicles have been outfitted with armor and explosives and guided toward the Iraqi coalition’s forces. Amaq, a news agency affiliated with ISIS, has claimed that 815 out of 1,112 suicide bombings have involved vehicles laden with explosives.

Staff Lt. Col. Muntadhar Salem is the head of the Counter-Terrorism Service’s Mosul regiment. He recalled the battle of Bartella, in which his group faced 7 makeshift car bombs from ISIS. In all, there were about 23 of those vehicles on the first day of that battle.

Bartella, a majority Christian two east of Mosul, was recaptured by the Iraqi government in Oct. 2016.

The first known “car bomb” dates back to 1920. Anarchist Mario Buda blew up a horse-drawn wagon on Wall Street in New York. The attack killed 40 people and injured more than 200 others.

Soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, insurgents attacked military convoys with what were called Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED’s).

During the resultant fighting between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, Al-Qaida would park vehicles laden with explosives in busy neighborhoods, for the explosives to be detonated later. Sometimes, the drivers of the vehicles would detonate the bombs themselves, given rise to the term Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED). This would later become a tactic of Islamic State of Iraq, the precursor to ISIS.

The type of “car bomb” Iraqi soldiers are seeing today started to be developed in 2011 in Syria. The explosives are cheap since they can be made out of a mixture (ANFO) of ammonium nitrate (found in fertilizer) and diesel oil.

According to the ATF, an average-sized sedan can carry 1,000 pounds of explosives and the lethal range of impact is around 125 feet.

The car bombs are made in factories, where one team strips down vehicles, removing doors, and replaces them with pipe metal and sheet metal. The other team places the explosives in the car.

According to Damien Spleeters, the head of Iraqi operations for Conflict Armament Research, it would take no more than two days for the car bombs to be made.

The soldiers on the ground have to avoid bombs within a 300-foot range. A range of about 1,000 would allow them to use rocket-propelled grenades in the hopes of stopping the guided car bombs. Othewise, the Iraqi Army has to rely on U.S. drones to take out the bombs.


In National News …

Michael Flynn’s Resignation Left Many Questions.

On Monday, Feb. 13, Michael Flynn resigned from his position as National Security Advisor amid controversy. In particular, Flynn was accused of speaking about the sanctions placed on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump was sworn in.

Flynn was found to have made misleading statements to Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials about communications with Russian officials. According to a report Feb. 13 from the Washington post, the Justice Department warned that Flynn’s dishonesty might have left him vulnerable to blackmail by Russian officials.

Flynn’s resignation came less than a month into his tenure. He was briefly replaced by Gen. Keith Kellogg in the interim. Kellogg might be a long-term replacement. His name is being considered alongside retired Gen. David Patraeus and former Vice Admiral Bob Harward.

Reps. John Conyers, Jr. and Elijah Cummings, had requested for a “full classified briefing” to determine who in Trump’s inner circle allowed Flynn to have access to sensitive information after he presented himself as a risk. Conyers is the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee and Cummings is the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.

Flynn was one of the longest-serving advisors to Trump, going back to the 2016 presidential campaign. Flynn is a retired lieutenant general who once headed the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Senior officials deny that sanctions were discussed but one U.S. official said that Flynn did discuss possibly lifting sanctions —which were levied against Russia by the Obama Administration in response to Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 elections — during a December call.

Flynn’s actions may have been in violation of the Logan Act. The obscure law bars private citizens from interfering in foreign relations.

House Republicans and Rand Paul took a hands-off approach in terms of Michael Flynn’s conduct.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said his committee will not investigate Michael Flynn. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he may carry out an investigation, but only on the leaks surrounding Flynn’s call.

However, there were Senate Republicans who felt that Flynn should be investigated for the purpose of thoroughness. That was the view of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who said an investigation should be done to determine what Flynn did and who else know about his activity. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-South Carolina) said that he would like to see the transcripts of the call and to determine whether Flynn was acting under instruction from another Trump administration official. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) said he thought testimony before the Intelligence Committee was in order.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), said that it “makes no sense” for Republicans to investigate other Republicans. While on the Kilmeade and Friends radio show, Paul said the following:

I think that might be excessive. It looks like the President has handled the situation, and unless there’s some kind of other evidence of malfeasance, this sounds like something that was internal White House politics and it looks like the President’s handled it.

When asked about how Senator (John McCain) was dealing with the news about Flynn’s resignation, Paul said this:

I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.

Here’s a link to the conversation via SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-429524614/randal-howard-paul

Some Republicans and Democrats Called for an Investigation.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) said that he felt that Flynn had committing a crime be lying about his conduct. Flynn said he failed to fully disclose what he talked about in the December call because he forgot some details.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) said that Michael Flynn’s resignation was a “troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national security apparatus.”

Roy Blunt, member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for an investigation into the allegations that Trump is connected with Russian officials.

John Cornyn (R-Texas) agreed there should be an investigation.

Democrat Adam Schiff called for an investigation into connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

The Russian Response Was … Something.

It would seem that Russian officials were genuinely angered by Michael Flynn’s resignation.

Russian Senator Alexei Pushkov tweeted that Flynn was hurt by “paranoia and a witch hunt.” Pushkov also said that Flynn was “pushed out” due to a building campaign of aggression against Russia.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, posted an online message in which he said, “either Donald Trump has been driven into a corner or the new administrations had been permeated with Russophobia from top to bottom.”

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the foreign-affairs committee in the Russian parliament’s lower house, said, “It is kind of a negative signal for normalizing the Russian-American dialogue.”

Flynn was known in Moscow. He had made semi-regular appearances to Russia Today (RT) and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2015. The two set at the same table during an RT gala.

Does People in Trump’s Administration Have Links to Russia?

Whether or not someone agrees that Russia tried to help Trump win election, the man hasn’t exactly helped to squelch those suspicions.

On a Super-Bowl Sunday interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump was asked if he respected Putin. Trump said yes, but that wasn’t a guarantee he and Putin would get along.

When O’Reilly responded by saying that “Putin’s a killer,” Trump said the following:

There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?

While many Americans might agree with this statement, it bears the question why Trump would say this in response to Putin’s record. It was curious and did nothing to help combat the allegations that Trump, his team, and his campaign had dangerous connections to Russia and the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.

According to current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and administration officials, multiple people working on Trump’s campaign and in his businesses were in constant communications with Russia. The intelligence officials said there were intercepted communications between campaign officials, like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn.

For his part, Manafort denies that he had any communications with Russian officials when he was part of Trump’s campaign. He said he had never had any direct connection to Russian officials or to Vladimir Putin himself. Manafort said that he only worked with Ukrainian President Yanukovich and that was when the country was “moving into the European orbit.”

U.S. Allies Say They Have Proof of Trump’s Corruption.

Communications between Trump advisers and Russian government officials were intercepted by at least one Western ally before Trump’s inauguration. Last year, the British government told its NATO allies that people working on behalf of Russia contacted officials from Trump’s campaign.

Since Aug. 2016, there have been numerous investigations into the connections between the Russian government and Trump campaign officials. And around the same time, an unnamed Baltic state looked into communications between executives in the Trump Organization and officials from foreign governments.

Among the Connections

Some details about Trump’s business partners were passed to the American government months ago. For example, long before the president’s inauguration, German electronic surveillance determined that the father of Trump’s Azerbaijani business partner is a government official who laundered money for the Iranian military; that information was shared with the CIA, according to a European source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Of equal concern to our allies is Trump’s business partner in the Philippines, who is also the special representative to Washington of that country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte. This government official, Jose E.B. Antonio, is the head of Century Properties, which in turn is a partner with the president’s business in the construction of Trump Tower at Century City in Makati, Philippines. According to people with direct knowledge of the situation, a European intelligence service has obtained the contracts and other legal documents in the deal between the Trump Organization and Antonio. That deal has already resulted in large payments to Trump’s business, with millions of dollars more on the way—all coming from an agent of the Philippine president.

The situation in the Philippines is delicate. The United States maintains military bases there, but Dutarte is an unstable leader.

Dutarte was elected last year. Since he has been in office, thousands of suspected drug users have been killed by death squads. When confronted with calls to under the slaughter, he has threatened to move away from the West and make China his primary ally.

Rex Tillerson’s Connection

Rex Tillerson and Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, are longtime personal friends and business partners. Rosneft is an oil company controlled by the Kremlin. Sechin is a former FSB member and he was the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration in charge of security services. Both Sechin and Rosneft were blacklisted as part of the sanctions against Russia for its incursion into Ukraine.

The FBI Releases Information on Trump’s Racism.

During the 1970’s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into charges that Trump real estate company discriminated against minority renters. The FBI released nearly 400 pages, which contained interviews from tenants, management, and employees.

Most of the people interviewed by the FBI said they were not aware of any discrimination. However, when black renters asked about available apartments on Trump properties, there were told none were available; white renters were offered leases.

From a 1974 interview, a former doorman at a Trump building at 2650 Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn said that he was told to tell any potential black renter that the rent was twice as high as it really was. That way, the black person might not be able to afford the rent.

Must of the testimony about discrimination may have originated with the National Urban League. That information was shared with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which filed a suit against Donald and Fred Trump in October 1973.

The trumps countersued for $100 million, accusing the federal government of defamation. In 1975, the lawsuit was settled by the Trumps and their company after they entered a consent decree. The Trumps made no admission of guilt but had to institute safeguards to make sure no prospective tenants were discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity, skin color, religion, gender, or national origin.

FBI Report: https://vault.fbi.gov/trump-management-company

Consent Decree: https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/FH-NY-0024-0034.pdf

Here Is an Update on Trump’s Immigration Policy.

Border Wall

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security internal report has been made to address the plans, costs, and challenges connected to the construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The federal government has already begun seeking waivers to address environmental laws and construction in specific areas. The government has also started working with contractors and working on steel purchases.

The Cost

The proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border could cost as much as $21.6 billion* and take more than three years to build. The increased price tag is due to the real costs of purchasing private land for the construction of the fence. But according to Bernstein Research, the wall could cost as much as $25 billion to build due to uncertainties.

* Trump’s own estimate for the cost was $12 billion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the price at $15 billion.

If the Department of Homeland Security can secure funding from Congress by April or May, the DHS will have enough time to find contractors and start construction in September.

The Plan

It would take 3 phases to add fortified fences and walls in order to cover just over 1,250 miles (2,000 km) of the border by 2020.

  • The first phase would cover 26 miles (42 km) of the border near San Diego, CA; El Paso, TX; and in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley. The cost of this phase would be around $360 million.
  • The second phase of construction would cover 151 miles (242 km) of the border, crossing parts in and around Rio Grande Valley; Laredo, TX; Tucson, AZ; El Paso, TX; and Big Bend, TX.
  • The third phase would cover 1,080 miles (1,728 km) to essentially seal off the entire border; but it’s not specified where the fencing would go.

About 654 miles (1,046 km) of the border is already covered by fortified fences.

The Challenges

Challenges include territorial and legal concerns. How will construction workers build around or along mountainous regions and valleys? And the government might have to use eminent domain to obtain some of the private land.

Also:

In addition to seeking eminent domain and environmental waivers, the U.S. government would also have to meet the requirements of the International Boundary and Water Commission, a U.S.-Mexico pact over shared waters. The report estimated that agreement alone could bring the cost from $11 million per mile to $15 million per mile in one area.

Deportations

The Department of Homeland Security has given immigration agents new guidelines in order to speed up deportations. According to the new guidelines, field agents will be given wider discretion to determine whether or not applicants have a credible fear of persecution if they are returned to their countries of origin. Agents are also being granted wide latitude to determine whether or not the applicants will be granted asylum if the asylum seekers’ cases are brought to immigration court.

In 2015, 18 percent of asylum applicants whose cases were brought to immigration court were granted asylum. Between July and September 2016, 88% of “credible fear” asylum claims were directly accepted by immigration officers.

The new guidelines, which are connected to Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration, will likely create more problems than it solves. For starters, there is a backlog of over 500,000 cases in immigration courts. It remains to be seen if the new guidelines see any change there.

Also, there are costs and logistics involved in deportation, including coordination with immigrants’ home countries for re-entry, as well as the mode of transportation. In the meantime, asylum seekers have to be housed in detention centers. The guidelines may require more beds and thus give require more services from private prison contractors.

Two Memos

According to two draft memos from the DHS, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection will be given new protocols to deal with illegal (and legal) immigrants.

The first memo allows gives ICE greater discretion to remove immigrants. Agents can target any immigrants who have been charged with crimes, even without a conviction. And anyone who is in the country illegally can be deported.

The second memo instructs CBP to hold illegal immigrants in detention centers until a determination can be made on their case.

Betsy DeVos Has Gotten off the Wrong Foot.

Betsy DeVos is having a rough go at her new job.

Around two weeks ago, Betsy DeVos stepped into her role as Secretary of Education, and she bumped heads with people who held a vested interest in our education system. Among them was a middle school and former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, Feb. 19, Carmen Fariña, the New York city schools chancellor, indicated that she was willing to work with DeVos. But Fariña wants to make sure that funding isn’t cut for New York’s public schools.

One of the troubling things DeVos said was that she wanted to see the Department of Education be eliminated in the future.

DeVos wants more public charter schools, private schools, and virtual schools under her leadership.

She accuses protestors of being part of planned events to make her life “a living hell.”

She said she plans to roll out the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” which was signed into law by President Barack Obama. But she still wants to promote school vouchers.

DeVos visited Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington on Feb. 17, 2017. Protesters briefly blocked her from entering the school.

While speaking to TownHall, DeVos claimed that the teachers at the school were waiting for instruction. However, the school defended its teachers via Twitter.

A former Washington schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, also voiced her displeasure with Ms. DeVos on Twitter.

DeVos Clarifies Her Positions.

On Axios, there are a series of quotes from new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, from her Senate confirmation hearing and from mid-February 2017 interview she gave to Axios. Jonathan Swan reports.

For starters, DeVos has been lambasted for her answer when asked about guns in schools during her confirmation hearing. She cited a Wyoming school and said “there’s a probably a gun in school to protect from potential grizzlies.” She said, “It was a valid illustration,” but realizes that, “It probably wasn’t the best illustration I could have given.”

When asked by Tim Kaine if all K-12 schools which receive federal funding should be legally mandated to meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, DeVos said, “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states, and the matter was “certainly worth discussion.” DeVos has since said that schools should absolutely be required to comply, but most will still believe she does not agree that there should be equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding.

Additionally, DeVos said she never gave the position of Education Secretary much thought after the election, but decided to take the opportunity presented to her after consulting with her husband, Dick.

She said that she and Trump were “very aligned” on school choice and higher education. They both want to promote vocational training and believe the four-year college system fails students.

DeVos looks forward to implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is said to reduce the federal government’s role in education. In the meantime, she will measure her success by her ability to implement that law, not by numeric goals yet.

She wants to “slim down the department in some ways” in order to cut costs and “incentivize states in other ways.”

When asked what the role the federal government should ultimately play in education, DeVos said:

It would be fine with me to have myself worked out of a job, but I’m not sure that — I’m not sure that there will be a champion movement in Congress to do that.

She recognizes that the federal government should protect students (from discrimination) and make sure they are in safe environments. However, she doesn’t believe there is a larger role for the Department of Education to play.

The DNC Chair Race Has Been Decided.

The DNC chair vote needed two rounds on Saturday.

After one round of voting in Atlanta, Tom Perez fell short of being selected the new DNC chair by one vote. After the first tally, Mr. Perez had 213.5 votes to Keith Ellison’s 200. The second round commenced on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Other totals from the first round:

  • Sally Boyton Brown received 12 votes.
  • Jehmu Greene received 5 votes.
  • Pete Buttigieg (Pronounced: BOO-tə-juhj) received 1 vote.

Brown, Buttigieg, Greene, Peter Peckarasky, Sam Ronan and dropped out of the race. Brown and Buttigieg did not endorse one of the remaining candidates. Green endorsed Perez and Ronan and Peckarsky endorsed Ellison.

At 2:48 pm ET, former DNC Chair Howard Dean threw his support behind Keith Ellison, but it was all for naught. By 3:23 pm ET, Perez was named DNC chair after received 235 votes. Ellison again received just 200 votes.

After receiving the gavel from outgoing Interim Chair Donna Brazille, Perez quickly made a motion to make Ellison his deputy chair. The move was met with applause, including from most of Ellison’s supporters.

What Can Sideline Milo Yiannopoulos?

Defending pedophilia (or in this case, hebophilia) can.

In January 2016, the far-right provocateur was on an episode of the Drunken Peasants podcast. When the discussion veered toward sex with minors and the use of the term “pedophilia,” Milo Yiannopoulos said things that took the hosts aback.

Yiannopoulos began by questioning why there were statutory limits against adults engaging in sexual acts with teenagers under 18 years of age. He said that molestation by priests could introduce young boys (even those around 13 years of age) to their sexuality.

But he was quickly countered by one of the hosts, who stated that we must set the limit somewhere, for most teens are not ready for sexual intercourse.

The discussion only recently went viral, and naturally landed Yiannopoulous in hot water.

There Went CPAC …

As a result of his comments, Yiannopoulos lost his keynote speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was due to speak about free speech on college campuses.

On Monday afternoon, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union (the group which sponsors the CPAC), released a statement announcing that Yiannopoulos had been dropped as the keynote speaker.

This year’s CPAC featured President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus.

In his Facebook apology, Yiannopolous said the tapes on which he appeared were “edited deceptively.” But he also wrote, “I am certainly guilty of imprecise language.”

Still, Schapp called the apology “insufficient.” Many would agree since the language Yiannapoulos used was entirely clear.

The Book Deal …

In addition to losing his CPAC speaking slot, Milo Yiannopoulos lost his book deal. Simon & Schuster announced it was cancelling the publication of Dangerous although the publishing company had stood by him throughout most of his controversies. At Breitbart, there were calls to fire the senior editor.

And Then Breitbart.

As soon as the book deal and CPAC slots fell through, numerous employees at Breitbart threatened to leave if Yiannopoulos wasn’t fired.

On Tuesday, he officially resigned from his position at the right-wing publication.


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