News Roundup (Week of Mar. 18-25, 2017)

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Hello, readers! There was a lot of interesting and tragic news this week, but I wanted to focus on a few. I went in depth on a couple of them.


Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week:

International

National

Regional

Commentary: World Baseball Classic

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In International News …

Last week saw a tragedy in London, so that is where I will lead off the international news.

A Terrorist Attack in London Led to 5 Deaths.

Five people were killed and around 40 others were injured in a London attack on Mar. 22, 2017. Wednesday’s attack unfolded as a car ran into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge than ran into railing just outside parliaments. Then an “Islamist-inspired attacker” got out of the care and stabbed a police officer in front of the British parliament building before being shot.

At the time of the incident, the House of Commons was in session. The proceedings were immediately suspended once word of the attack reached parliament and MP’s were ordered to stay inside for several hours.

David Lidington, the leader of the House of Commons, said the assailant who stabbed a police officer had been shot.

The attacker tried to run towards the exit of New Palace Yard.

Daily Mail journalist Quentin Letts witnessed the stabbing from his office in the parliament building. He said he saw the assailant attack the police officer before approaching the parliamentary building, only to be stopped within 20 yards of it. Two “plain-clothed guys” shot the assailant.

Theresa May was still in the parliamentary building following Prime Minister’s Questions when the attack occurred. She was rushed away in a silver Jaguar.

Later, when May was at her 10 Downing Street officer, she called the attack “sick and depraved.” She also said that parliament would resume on Thursday.

MP’s were held in the Commons chamber until about 7:30 pm local time, five hours after the incident began.

Parliament would reconvene on Thursday in a show that terrorism would not interfere with the democratic process.

Queen Elizabeth was to make an official visit to open the new headquarters of London’s police force. However, that was postponed due to the Wednesday’s events.

The Scottish parliament in Edinburgh had planned to have a debate on Scottish independence on Wednesday. That was suspended in light of the day’s events.

Casualties

Among the dead were the police officer and the attacker. The police officer was identified as Keith Palmer, 48, who served as an officer for 15 years.

Tobias Ellwood was one of the first people to arrive on the scene. He tried to give first aid to the fallen officer, but stopped when it was clear the Palmer was dead. Ellwood confirmed the officer’s death to the press.

Also, three pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge died after being struck by the care. The deceased also included Aysha Frade and Kurt Cochran. There was also a 75-year-old man who was confirmed dead sometime after the others.

Frade worked at DLD College in London. Frade the was first confirmed fatality; she was crossing the River Thames at the time of the attack. Doctor Colleen Anderson said the Frade was found under a bus on the bridge and was announced dead at the scene.

Cochran, who was from Utah, were on a European trip with his wife to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Cochran’s wife, Melissa, was seriously injured and was still in the hospital.

In total, about 36 people had injuries. Seven of them were in critical condition.

Among the injured were:

  • 12 Britons (including 3 police officers struck by the vehicle)
  • 4 South Koreans
  • 3 French schoolchildren, aged 15-16
  • 2 Greeks
  • 2 Romanians
  • 1 American
  • 1 Chinese
  • 1 German
  • 1 Irish
  • 1 Italian
  • 1 Pole

Terrorism Links

In a statement, London’s Metropolitan Police said they were “treating this as a terrorist incident.” Islamic State later claimed responsibility for this attack.

The attack took place on the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks. Islamist militants killed 32 people in attacks in Brussels, Belgium on Mar. 22, 2016.

There were also two notable attacks involving militant Islamists that happened in London over the years. On July 7, 2005, four British suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 commuters on London’s transport system in what was the British capital’s worst peacetime attack. In May 2013, soldier Lee Rigby was stabbed to death on a street in Southeast London by a pair of British Islamists.

Due to the latest incident, Britain was on its second-highest alert level, “severe.” That meant that another attack by militants was considered highly likely.

Arrests

Police said they believed the attacker acted alone. He used a black Hyundai to mow down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge. The attack began around 2:40 pm local time. The car in the attack had been rented from Enterprise’s Spring Hill depot in Birmingham.

But there were eight arrests in London and Birmingham in connection with the attack. Three women and five men were charged with conspiring to commit a terrorist act.

The Attacker

The attacker was born in Great Britain. The attacker was identified as Khalid Masood, 52,who was born in Kent. Scotland Yard said was likely Masood had a different birth name and an investigation was being carried out to find any (other) aliases.

There was no prior indication that Masood intended to carry out his attack; he had prior convictions, spread over 20 years, but none for terrorism. In Nov. 1983, Masood was convicted of criminal damage. In Dec. 2003, he was convicted for possessing a knife.

According to May, Masood had once been under the surveillance of British intelligence services a few years ago, but “was not part of the current intelligence picture.”

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North Korea Tested a High-Thrust Engine.

On Mar. 19, North Korea’s official media, KCNA, announced the testing of a high-thrust engine at the Tongchang-ri rocket launch station. Kim Jong Un called the successful test “a new birth” of his country’s rocket industry.

KCNA stated that the engine will allow the country to launch satellites. But the engine is likely the type to provide future North Korean missiles with the ability to reach long-range targets.

Of course, the main concern is that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will launch nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States. This concern was addressed during the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister met the previous Saturday.

Pressing matters is the number of missiles and nuclear tests conducted under Kim Jong Un. And he has stated that his country is close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

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In National News …

Words

Here’s More About Trump’s Budget.

As you might has heard or read last week:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which could suffer a 61% cut.
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will suffer a $6.2 billion cut from 2016 levels if the budget is approved. That is the deepest cut since Ronald Reagan slashed the agency’s budget in the early 1980’s.
  • The Department of Labor would suffer a 21% cut if Trump’s budget was approved.

Other programs to suffer hits included

  • The agency that houses Meals on Wheels.
  • Amtrak
  • Teacher training
  • After-school programs
  • Summer educational programs
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Programs Which Could Suffer Complete Cuts

The Washington Post has a piece listing the 19 agencies Trump wants to completely defund. They include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which operates on a $440 million yearly budget. While funds from this agency only make a small part of the budgets from companies like PBS and NPR, local broadcasters would suffer the most. Ninety person of the federal agency’s funds go to local broadcasters.

Other agencies Trump wants to axe are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanity, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the legal services corporation, the Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Chemical Safety Board, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and regional economic development agencies. Many of these cuts will hurt the poor, although they are relatively cheap to run. The corporation for National and Community Service has the largest budget (which surpasses $1 billion), but it funds national service initiatives, like AmeriCorps.

More About the Corporation for Public Broadcasts

The Corporation for Public Broadcasts provides funds for close to 1,500 locally owned public radio and television stations. But this is a sharp departure from his vice president’s stance on the matter.

Public Broadcasting is often targeted by conservatives, but the public appreciates public broadcasting and it is relatively cheap to fund. New Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney argues that funding public broadcasting is akin to asking struggling Americans to asking them for money to spend it on something frivolous.How does VP Mike Pence feel? A few years ago, Pence was singing the praises of public broadcasting.

In 2014, Mike Pence, then the governor of Indiana, won the Association of Public Television Stations’ “Champion of Public Broadcasting Award. At his acceptance speech at that year’s Public Media Summit, he said:

I believe the state has the primary responsibility for educating our children and I will say from my heart through all of my life, one thing has been clear: Public television plays a vital role in educating all of the public, but most especially, our children.

Indiana has nine public television stations. When speaking of them in 2014, then-Gov. Pence said:

They enrich our local communities through distinctive programs and services and through collaborations with some of our most cherished institutions.”

Additionally, he also called the decision for his state to keep the funding public broadcasting “an easy call.”

What This ‘Skinny’ Budget Signifies

An article from Common Dreams’ Deidre Fulton highlights the goals of chief Trump strategist Steve Bannon, who want the “deconstruction of the administrative state” and implement his agency of “economic nationalism.” It also illustrates how hallow Trump’s populist message was.

This budget has been described as heartless and callous by a lawmakers, heads of agencies, and members of advocacy groups. The agencies threatened by Trump’s budget include many that help the poor, the disadvantaged, and workers. However, there would be no cuts to oil subsidies or other corporate welfare programs.

As it is, this budget likely won’t be passed by the Republican Congress.

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How Much Are the Trumps Costing America?

When Barack Obama was in office, Trump often criticized the president for going on vacation and enjoying a round of golf. My, have the tables turned.

As it turns out, Trump, who often said he would be too busy to take days off will likely take off more days than Obama ever did. And the costs tied to security detail will surpass the yearly budgets of programs Trump wants to cut.

In February, CNBC’s Jacao Pramuk compiled some stats from Politico and the Washington Post concerning the costs incurred by the Trump Family. I followed the story to the Washington Post report. There, a few journalists took a look at some of the financial, logistical, and personal costs of the Trump family’s travel habits and security demands.

Who Receives Security Detail?

The Secret-Service Division of the U.S. Treasury Department was authorized by Congress in 1917. According to law, the immediate family of the president had to be protected at all times. The statue was extended to include “key individuals, including the immediate family of the president” in 1984.

Including the president, at least seven members of the family will receive a security detail wherever they go. Donald, Donald Jr., and Eric Trump are especially demanding; the father travels to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, FL regularly on the weekends and the two oldest sons regularly travel across the globe.

In New York, the police force is tasked with patrolling in front of the Trump Tower, where Melania and Barron Trump are living for the time being.

Ivanka’s family moved to a Northwest Washington neighborhood earlier this year.

How Has Trump Traveled So Far?

Trump spent Super Bowl weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

By mid-February 2017, President Trump and his entourage made their third-straight weekend trip to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, FL. Also, Trump had visited the links five out of the last seven weekends since he was inaugurated.

By far, his favorite place to go is the Trump International Golf Course in West Palm Beach. It’s near his Mar-a-Lago estate and he had visited the course 10 total times. He visited the Trump National Golf Course in Jupiter when he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shino Abe.

What About His Oldest Sons?

Donald Jr. and Eric often travel to visit properties that bear the Trump name and that can talk them to different parts of the globe. On the same weekend Donald Trump made his third-straight weekend visit to Mar-a-Lago, his sons traveled to the United Arab Emirates to attend the grand opening of a Trump-brand golf resort.

Travels by Trump’s sons included stops to:

  • The Dominican Republic by Eric, to propose a Trump-brand luxury resort.
  • Dubai by “Don” and Eric, which cost the Secret Service more than $16,000 for hotel bills.
  • Vancouver, B.C. for a Feb. 28 grand opening of a Trump-brand skyscraper.

In early January, Eric Trump traveled to Uruguay to visit the Trump Tower Punta del Este, a Trump-brand condominium complex that was under construction. He may have stayed for at least two nights there, but his trip included discussions with estate brokers, an open-air lunch, and a party at to celebrate his visit. The Punta Del Este complex is not owned by the Trumps but will only bear the family name.

How Much Will This Cost the National Government?

The costs incurred by Trump alone involve multiple governmental agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.

The Government Accountability Office will produce a report and Trump’s travel and security costs in October. The report looked at a four-day (Feb. 15-18, 2013) trip taken by President Obama around Presidents’ Day that year. During that trip, Obama flew to Chicago to give an economic speech and to Palm City, FL to play golf with Tiger Woods and the owner of the Houston Astros (from Major League Baseball).

The total cost at that 2013 trip was $3.6 million. Trump may be incurring the same cost for each trip to Mar-a-Lago.

The Air Force One costs $200,000 an hour to fly. Presidential airlifts require watercraft, military working dogs, rental cars, hotel rooms, and rescue helicopters.

The Secret Service had to pay $12,000 for tents, portable toilets, light towers, and golf carts during that Super Bowl weekend visit.

During the Dominican Republic stop, the Secret Service paid $5,470 for a stay at the AlSol Del Mar hotel.

During Eric Trump’s Uruguay visit:

The Secret Service and “support” staff from the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo (the capital of Uruguay) stayed at a hotel in the country. The bill totaled $97,830 ($88,320 for the Secret Service and $9,510 for the embassy staff). The bills were paid through the State Department.

All told, the Trumps look to quickly surpass the total travel expenses the Obamas incurred during Barack Obama’s 8 years in office. He and his family cost taxpayers a total of $97 million during their travels. Over the course of four years, the Trump family could cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in security and travel costs.

What Are the Local Costs?

The cost of the NYPD to guard Trump Tower may total $183 million a year.

According to Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, trump’s trips there have cost taxpayers $60,000 a day in police overtime payments. The officials plan to ask the U.S. government to reimburse the county.

In Palm Beach, costs are incurred by the use of Coast Guard and other military units tasked with patrolling the shoreline. There are other security and staffing units needed to move the presidential apparatus.

What Are the Logistical Costs?

Jonathan Wackrow, the executive director of RANE (a risk-management company), is a 14-year veteran of the Secret Service. He worked in Obama’s detail and weighed in on the personal costs to Secret Service members. He called the demands of the Trump family “a logistical nightmare.”

Bedminster, NJ is dealing with the prospect of Trump making at least 10 visits there a year. Trump flew there in Nov. 2016 to stay at the Trump National Golf Club. The 8,000-resident township only received 48 hours’ notice for an around-the-clock security detail of six police officers; there were only 16 officers on the entire force.

In Palm Beach:

The Town of Palm Beach recently implemented a “presidential visit seasonal traffic mitigation plan” in hopes of stemming the island’s worsening traffic woes. Running every weekend until May, the plan includes a town order demanding sanitation and public-works crews leave the island every Friday by 3 p.m.

Local officials usually learn only a few days in advance that the president is coming, said Kirk ­Blouin, the town’s director of public safety. “We plan as if he is going to be here most weekends,” Blouin said, “because otherwise it’s too hard to plan.”

Are There Other Costs?

The Secret Service is being stretched thin. It has suffered budget shortfalls over the years, falling morale, and swift changes in leadership. In mid-February, the leader of the presidential security group, Joseph Clancy, announced that he was stepping down.

Wackrow said that agents were “at severe risk of burnout.”

There is a cost to national security, as Trump likes to conduct official, diplomatic visits out in the open. When Trump was in Palm Beach one weekend, he hosted the Japanese prime minister with Mar-a-Lago members dining close by.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), who represents Palm Beach, said Mar-a-Lago is a poor choice for a president’s long-term home: an exposed oceanfront club on a narrow, busy island, where traffic problems were already routine.

“Mar-a-Lago is no Camp David,” Frankel said. “It’s not set up with the intention or the forethought of keeping the president safe.”

The challenges for Mar-a-Lago as a presidential home were apparent from pictures posted on social media last weekend by club guests — including close-up images of the presidential limousine and a picture of a military official carrying the nuclear “football.”

Who Benefits?

Donald Trump is benefiting from the costs incurred by the increased security detail.

For one thing, as he travels and the press covers his travels (to his properties), those properties get free publicity. At Mar-a-Lago, registration cost $200,000 (a fee which has doubled since the election) plus a $14,000 yearly fee to renew membership.

He could end up getting government contracts. The Defense Department and Secret Service were looking into leasing a floor at Trump Tower, which normally costs $1.5 million a year.

Richard Painter, who once worked as George W. Bush’s chief ethic lawyer, acknowledged that the trips taken by the Trumps could be seen as the family using U.S. government assets to boot the family brand.

Is This Abuse?

As we all know, presidential families have round-the-clock protection. That has been the standard set for decades.

Ralph Basham, the former director of the Secret Service, said that the agency’s obligations extend borders, as long as the key individuals covered by the law travel. He said “The security of it outweighs the expenses of it.”

But at times, that standard has been tested and some would say abused. During George W. Bush’s tenure in office, he often went to his retreat in Crawford, Texas. Obama went to Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii each year.

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton even authorized Secret Service protection for their adult daughters for an unspecified period of time after the presidents left office.

In 1989, Jeb Bush traveled to Nigeria on a business trip two months after his father was sworn in as president.

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The Health Care Bill Was Essentially Defeated.

The Republicans had 6-7 years to present an alternative to “Obamacare” and that was what they came up with. As discussed last week, the bill did not have the full support of the Republican Party and the Democrats were united against the bill.

Some Republicans didn’t feel the bill went far enough and there were conservative individuals and groups, like the Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers, who wanted to see the bill’s failure. Well, it looks l like they got their wish.

The Bill’s Failure

After a talk between the Speaker of the House and Trump at the White House, House Republicans decided to pull their health care bill, the American Health Care Act, before a vote was to be held on Friday at 3:30 pm local time. The vote was originally rescheduled on Thursday, but there were never enough votes for it in the first place.

Only 17 percent of voters approved of the Republican bill.

Before the vote, Ryan stripped the bill of the mandate that basic coverage be offered. Basic care includes materinity care and wellness visits.

The National Nurses United (NNU) warned that this is but one victory. The fight for universal health care coverage still wages on. In particular, NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro criticized the Democrats for not pushing for “Medicare for all” when they had a Democratic president and a supermajority in the House and Senate. She also alluded to the town halls being held across the country, which were mainly based on voter’s concerns about their health care coverage.

The Koch Influence

On Wednesday, a network of advocacy groups run by the Koch Brothers, a pair of billionaire conservative donors, threatened to bar Republicans who voted for the health bill from receiving from a new pool of funds. On Thursday, the groups revealed a package for 2018 that will include millions of dollars for advertising, field programs, and mailings, only open to Republicans who voted down the bill. Overall, the groups plan “to spend between $300 million and $400 million on political projects over the 2018 cycle.”

The Kochs were opposed to the health care bill because they felt it did not go far enough to undo the policies established by the Affordable Care Act.

The Republicans who failed to comply would still have avenues for funding their reelection campaigns, but the money from the Kochs is too tempting for Republicans to resist.

As of Wednesday, over 20 Republicans expressed that they planned to vote “No” on the Ryan bill, effectively killing the legislation.

The Kochs often support Republicans in competitive congressional races. But they will withhold funds from party members if the brothers feel snubbed by those politicians. For example, Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), lost her Senate reelection campaign in 2016 after the Kochs refused to donate to her campaign for much of the race. And they might be inching toward funding primary candidates to challenge Republicans they are dissatisfied with.

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In Regional News …

A Hawaii legislator wants to make a change.

Beth Fukumoto Wants to Join the Democrats.

Beth Fukumoto has announced that she intends to switch to the Democratic Party. The move comes as she was ousted as the Republican leader in Hawaii’s House of Representatives in February, and her expressed disillusionment with the Republican Party during and following the 2016 presidential election.

During the election and after Trump’s inauguration, Fukumoto, 33, said that she did not like Trump’s rhetoric. In particular, Fukumoto, who is half part Japanese and part Irish, expressed a concern that Trump’s consideration of a Muslim ban and Muslim registry was “one step away” from internment camps (like the camps Japanese-Americans were put in during World War II).

Nor did Fukumoto like the rhetoric of other Republicans. Some members in the small Republican legislative caucus expressed that the party should be the “party of middle America,” although Hawaii is a more diverse population. Fukumoto said she grew increasingly uncomfortable with what she felt was bigotry and the growing resentment towards women. Additionally, she was disappointed that the party did not denounce Trump’s comments.

Fukumoto is “a self-described moderate” who was the first Republican in 26 years to represent the Oahu district. She first joined the Republicans because she felt “that Democrats were the status quo party.” She first won election in 2012 and became minority leader in 2014.

Fukumoto’s move leaves just 5 Republicans in the state House. There are currently 45 Democrats in that chamber.

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Commentary: World Baseball Classic

I just want to give a shout out to the United States Baseball team. I didn’t get to see them play, but they beat Puerto Rico 8-0 on Wednesday, Mar. 22 in Los Angeles to win the gold in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. This was the first time the U.S. Team had ever reach the final, let alone won a medal of any kind in this series.

Before, we had baseball (and softball) in the Olympics, but those were voted out of the 2012 Olympic Games. Before then, the United States and Japan were normally in contention. (And they face each other in the WBC semifinals). So, many were starved of seeing adults in an international baseball competition.

Now, I do have the regular MLB season to look forward to. I route for the San Francisco Giants. Their even-year streak was snapped, so let’s see what they can do this year. (Buster Posey, who was on this year’s WBC roster, is the Giants’ catcher.)

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