News Roundup (Week of Apr. 2-8, 2017)

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Hello, readers! Before I get into this week’s News Roundup, I wanted to say something.

Normally, I would publish a Write Anything Wednesday post, but I did not last Wednesday. I was sapped all week, but I managed to do a Famous Sayings post.

Also, I started doing extensive research for a couple of posts I wanted to publish last week, but that took me down another rabbit hole. As it turns out, the subject matter I wanted to talk about is connected — and in a way, it was preempted — by Thursday’s events.

That story is covered in this post, but I would like to make another post concerning the topic and how I feel about the news coverage surrounding it. I might have some unpopular opinions on the matter, but they are worth expression and consideration. The same is true for the connected posts I wanted to publish earlier.

Additionally, I would like to make some more posts covering the news items I have missed over the weeks. All weeks are busy and it’s hard to decide which stories to discuss. It’s also time consuming to find the stories and summarize them in my own words. That is partly my fault since I like to a thorough job with everything and inform my readers, so …


Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week:

International

National

Internet

Entertainment

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In International News …

This week, I only have time to talk about three stories concerning Russia and Syria. For some reason, the press in the U.S. has been eerily silent about the first two stories.

They May Be an Anti-Gay Campaign in Chechnya.

In Chechnya, authorities have launched an anti-gay campaign, according to a Russian newspaper. A report from Novaya Gazeta claimed that more than 100 men, from well-known television personalities to members of the clergy, were rounded up and disappeared because they were suspected of being gay. The report also said 3 people had been killed in the roundup.

When asked about this, authorities in the Russia republic flatly denied the report. Alvi Karimov, spokesperson for Ramzan Kadyrov, said:

You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the republic .If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.

As Ekaterina Sokirianskaia (Russia project director for the International Crisis Group) said, she had been told that the roundup happened in the Chechen capital (Grozny) and outside the capital from various sources. She also said it’s hard to verify reports like the one from the newspaper, but mostly because of the taboo nature of the topic in Chechnya.

Chechnya is part of Russia, but it “functions as a quasi-independent state.” It’s also very conservative. Many families disapprove of homosexuality and disown any relatives suspected of being gay. LGBT rights activists and independent journalists have been run out of the republic and many human rights activists who remain there openly support the persecution of gays.

In Russia, there was a law banning “gay propaganda,” but there are gay scenes in Moscow and other major cities. In St. Petersburg, an LGBT rights organization set up a hotline for gays in Chechnya to call in order to get help in safely evacuating the republic.

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A Metro Station Attack in St. Petersburg Killed 14.

In St. Petersburg, Russia, 11 people were immediately killed and 45 others suffered injuries on Monday due to an explosion between two metro stations at 14:30 local time (11:30 GMT).

By Tuesday, the death toll from the metro train blast in St. Petersburg had grown to 14. Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova informed reporters that three more people had died in hospital. At least 10 victims were positively identified by Tuesday evening, including two teenagers and a septuagenarian man.

Initial reports said there were two explosions, between St. Petersburg’s Sennaya Ploschad and Tecknologichesky Institut stations. Russia authorities later verified that there was only one explosion. Another explosive device was found and safely detonated in another location.

Svetlana Petrenko, a senior investigator, informed authorities that the train driver saved lives by continuing to the next station, despite the explosion; his decision made it easier for survivors to be rescued.

The train driver’s name is Alexander Kaverin. He said he was only following procedure. He and another metro employee also said the person who found the second bomb, at the Ploshchad Vosstaniya station, would be rewarded.

The Cause

Authorities immediately suspected terrorism, although they had not rule out other cases for the explosion. There were two immediate suspects, including an Islamic State-inspired group and Chechen nationalists, who have often sought to attack Russia’s transit system.

There have been past attacks credited to militant Islamists in Russia, in this decade. In 2010, a suicide bomb on the Moscow metro resulted in the deaths of 38 people. In 2011, twenty-seven people were killed and another 130 were injured when a bomb exploded on a high-speed train that was travelling between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Several thousand fighters from Central Asia have gone to Syria and Iraq to join the militants there.

Other fighters are recruited from disgruntled migrants who were living in Russia. They may be lured by militants who tell them to join the “cause” at “home,” meaning they are being told to carry out attacks in the places where they live outside of Syria and Iraq.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

Suspect

Also on Tuesday, Kyrgyzstan’s security service identified Akbarzhon Jalilov, a Russian citizen, as a suspect in Monday’s bombing; this was later confirmed by Russian authorities. Jalilov was born in the Kyrgyz city of Osh in 1995. (The city of Osh is in the Fergana Valley, which Islam has a strong influence.)

The attack may have been coordinated.The remains of the man who detonated the bomb may have been on the carriage of the train.

Authorities in St. Petersburg called for three days of mourning.

The metro was up and running again on Tuesday.

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A Reported Chemical Attack in Syria Leads to U.S. Air Strikes.

On Tuesday, Turkey’s health ministry reported that Sarin gas was used in an attack in the militant-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province. Between 70 and 86 people were reportedly killed by the attack. Among the dead are 30 children and 20 women, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Turkey’s health ministry also reported that 32 Syrians had been taken to Turkey for treatment. Three later died due to the effects of the chemicals.

The Syrian government was immediately blamed for the chemical attack. Turkey said the Syrian military dropped chemicals on a hospital controlled by the group formerly known as Al Nusra Front.

But Syria claims it hit the hospital with a normal air strike and chemicals were incidentally there. Syria’s Foreign Minister, Walid Moallem, said “the Syrian Arab Army has never used chemical weapons and will not use chemical weapons against Syrians and even against terrorists.” Instead, he blamed militants linked to Al Qaida and ISIS, saying they were responsible for bringing in harmful chemicals from Turkey and Iraq and stockpiling them in residential areas.

Russia said that there needed to be “a thorough and impactful international investigation” into the matter before anyone could be assigned blame for the use of toxic chemicals.

This is the third known chemical attack since the war in Syria began. In 2013, there were at least two such attacks, in March and August of that year.

The March attack in Khan al-Assal resulted in dozens of deaths, including government soldiers.

Since March 2011, more than 270,000 Syrian civilians have died due to the fighting in that country. Among those killed were 24,000 children.

The Syrian government was accused of using Sarin gas in Ghouta, outside of the capital, Damascus in August 2013. An estimated 1,400 people died in that attack.

* Sarin gas is a toxic nerve agent that is banned by international law.

The U.S. Response

Since word of the chemical attack reached the United States, senior American officials spent the following 48 hours in deliberations (in Palm Beach, FL). In talks involving Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary James Mattis, the U.S. considered immediate and long-term options for Syria.

By Wednesday, Trump’s team was considering taking action against the Syrian government. Options being discussed by the latter two included grounding Assad’s air force and “stand-off strikes,” shots fired by weapons from afar to target military targets.

For his part, Tillerson said the U.S. was looking into options to remove Assad from power. Tillerson said the solution in Syria might require an “international community effort,” but Assad should ultimately be deposed as leader.

Ultimately, the United States struck northern Syria. The U.S. missile strike was carried out at 8:40 pm EDT on Thursday.

Fifty-nine cruise missiles hit military targets in Syria, including an air base in Homs province. The missiles were launched from destroyers positioned in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

This action places U.S. ground forces in far more danger. There are currently 900 U.S. personnel in Syria, assisting Kurdish and militant forces in northern and eastern Syria. In March, the Washington Post reported that the U.S. would deploy 1,000 more ground troops to northern Syria.

U.S. troops are preparing for an offensive in the Syrian city of Raqqa, one of the last major strongholds of militants in the country. In fact, it is referred to as Islamic States, “de facto capital.”

The U.S. arsenal in the region includes strike aircraft on the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, guided-missile destroyers, cruisers (which can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles), and an amphibious naval force. The later includes the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit with Harrier Jets and Cobra gunships.

The Russian Response to the U.S. Response

In a statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday, it announced the revocation of the U.S.-Russian memorandum on flight safety over Syria.

The Russian side suspends the memorandum on the prevention of incidents and on ensuring the safety of flights in the course of operations in Syria, concluded with the United States.

The memorandum between the U.S. and Russia was signed in 2015 when Russia began its air campaign in Syria.

Additionally, the ministry said Russia was calling for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss U.S. strikes in Syria.

The Russian Ministry statement had biting words for one of its fellow Security Council member. The ministry accused the United States of moving without a proper investigation and trying to take attention away from a Mosul, Iraq debacle that resulted in the deaths of over 150 civilians over a week ago. Also, the Russian Ministry said the Syrian military only struck a building where militants were storing chemical weapons that would be used in Syria and Iraq.

Russia’s Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ignorances Konashenkov said the United States wasn’t efficient in its strike. According to Konashenkov, of the 59 missiles deployed by the U.S., only 23 hit their intended targets. He also said, “The Place of the fall of the other missiles is unknown,” and “It is nakedly clear that the attack on a Syrian air base with U.S. cruise missiles had been planned well beforehand.”

Putin’s Message

In a statement from Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Vladmir Putin was said to have condemned the attacks by the United States, based on a false pretenses.

President Putin considers the US strikes against Syria an act of aggression against a sovereign country violating the norms of international law, and under a trumped-up pretext at that.

Peskov said “all Syrian armed forces’ chemical weapons stockpiles were eliminated” and that was confirmed by the United Nations’ Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). On top of that, Peskov said Putin believes that the international community is utterly ignoring the use of chemical weapons by terrorists (in the region) and that is only making the situation worse.

Additionally, Peskov said the strikes carried out the U.S. only serve to inhibit the fight against international terrorism, while harming any efforts for U.S.-Russian cooperation. The relationship between the two countries is already “in a deplorable state as it is.”

As Peskov noted, these strikes directly betray the stance Trump took for much of his 2016 presidential campaign.

The Syrian Response to the U.S./Casualties

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to debate a resolution on Thursday. According to the text of a draft, the Syrian government would be asked to turn over any information, including flight plans, that might help reveal who was responsible for the chemical attack. Russia indicated it would not accept such a resolution and the vote was delayed due to disputes over the wording.

On Friday, Syrian officials condemned the U.S. air strike on Syrian military bases, calling it a “blatant aggression” that resulted in the deaths of up to 15 people and “significant material damage.” Six of those people (including Russia military personnel) were on one of bases attacked and 9 other people perished in surrounding villages.

In a statement, the General Command of the Syrian Army said:

This condemned American aggression confirms the continuation of the wrong American strategy and restricts the counter-terrorist operation that the Syrian army is conducting.

On top of that, the Syrian army command said Thursday’s attack made the U.S. “a partner of Daesh, Nusra and other terrorist organizations.”

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In National News …

I’m going to be honest: Last week was perhaps the worst week for news I have ever seen in my life. There have been so many losses for progressives and anyone with a shred of human decency in this country.

The Fight Against Gorsuch’s Confirmation Failed.

We have an extremist on the Supreme Court. Yay!

Early on Monday, the Democrats found the votes to hold a filibuster to block the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. By the previous weekend, there were only 37 reliable votes, 3 Democrats promised to vote in favor of Gorsuch’s nomination, and 8 others were iffy or had not yet stated their intention.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont became the 40th Democrat to say he would vote against the nomination. He was then joined by Chris Coons of Delaware.

Leahy’s reasoning: “I cannot vote solely to protect an institution when the lives of hard-working Americans are at risk.”

The Republicans promised to change Senate rules in what is called the “nuclear option.” Most senators do not want to use it, but now the Democrats called the Republicans’ bluff.

Justice Antonin Scalia died in Feb. 2016, but Republicans held up President Barack Obama’s nomination, Merrick Garland, for the last 10 months of Obama’s presidency. At least a few Democrats were holding out for this very reason. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer cited this as a reason for calling for the filibuster and Senators Tom Carper (Delaware) and Jeff Merkley (Oregon) cited Republican obstruction for their decision to join the filibuster.

Gorsuch was a federal appeals court judge based in Denver, Colorado. He was confirmed unanimously in 2006 for the appeals court seat.

Republicans were trying to paint the judge as a mainstream pick with bipartisan support. However, the Democrats were concerned that Gorsuch’s judicial record portends of a Supreme Court Justice who is “pro-business” and will rarely vote in favor of helping ordinary Americans.

The Nuclear Option

The Republicans did not have enough votes to move Gorsuch’s nomination to a cloture vote. They were only joined by three traitorous Democrats in a 55-45 vote. So Mitch McConnell deployed the nuclear option.

On Thursday, the Senate altered the rules to lower the threshold for approving Supreme Court picks. Through a series of choreographed steps, by which Majority leader Mitch McConnell asked for the rule change after first being challenged by the presiding officer (Mike Pence).

Afterword, Senators had to vote to sustain the ruling of the chair, but that failed by a 48-52 vote. Thus, the nuclear option stood.

A second cloture vote was taken and it passed since it only needed 51 votes to pass.

McConnell blamed this on the Democrats since Harry Reid, who was the Senate Majority leader in 2013, deployed the nuclear option before. However, Reid only did it for judges in lower courts and for cabinet picks after the historic obstruction by Republicans.

On Friday, Gorsuch was approved to the Supreme Court on a 54-45 vote.

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Trump’s Assault on Regulations Continues.

Since Trump took office, over 90 regulations have been suspended, delayed, or reversed by his administration or Republican members of Congress, according to a count by The New York Times in early March. Along the way, the Congressional Review Act (passed in 1996) has been invoked 46 times; it had previously been used once, in 2001 by George W. Bush. Another 75 new regulations have been put on hold due to an order by Trump earlier this year.

The rules in question include:

  • The rule to protect customers’ Social Security Numbers, web browsing history, and other personal information is not stolen or “accidentally” released.
  • The rule penalizing banks for not collecting extra money to cover potential losses for high-risk trades, like those that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
  • The rule that blocks individuals with mental health issues from buying handguns, based on their social security numbers.
  • The rule blocking hunters from using lead-based bullets on 150 million acres of federal lands.
  • Coal mining regulations.
  • Regulations related to oil drilling on federal lands and the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.
  • Rules requiring financial advisors to act in the interests of their clients.
  • Regulations aimed to protect Americans from contaminated drinking water.
  • The rule requiring corporations to publicize comparisons between CEO pay and average employee pay.
  • A rule governing how fuel trade groups and companies pay for royalties for oil, gas, and coal extracted from federal lands.
  • Rules regarding air pollution.
  • Rules regarding unemployment compensation.
  • Endangered species listings.
  • Rules regarding debit card fees.
  • A rule to make it easier for chicken farmers to sue chicken processors.

Of course, these changes have come after lobbying from corporations and trade groups, including telecommunications giants, automakers, and pharmaceutical companies. They argue the regulations are not needed because they effectively kill business or severely inhibit them (nonsense).

Challenges

However, Trump and administration officials will be challenged on the rollbacks. The rule he established to eliminate two regulations for every new regulation is already being challenged in court.

Democratic attorneys general in states like New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont are ready to sue Trump to block the rollbacks of some regulations. Republican attorneys general (including Scott Pruitt in Oklahoma; now the EPA director) did the same to Obama for eight years, so turnabout is fair play.

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Here Are Two Different Approaches to Student Debt.

While Donald Trump has made it harder for those with student debt, Bernie Sanders is working on eliminating it for millions of future students.

Trump Doesn’t Care About Debtors.

In March, Trump’s Education Department revoked an Obama-era rule that barred student debt collection agencies from assessing high fees on defaulted loans. When Obama was president, he issued a memorandum that forbade agencies from charging fees for up to 16% of the principle on loans issued through the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program if the borrower entered the government’s rehabilitation program within 60 days of default.

The memorandum was issues when a circuit court of appeals asked for guidance in a case brought by Bryana Bible. She took United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) to court after it charged her $4,547 in collection costs for a loan she defaulted on in 2012. After the memo was issued, the court sided with Bible.

USA Funds had to pay out $23 million this year to settle a class-action lawsuit born out of Bible’s case.

The change from the Trump administration will not affect those with Education Department loans but 7 million Americans with FFEL loans. The latter makes up half of all student debt, with a total of $162 billion in debt held by guarantee agencies.

Bernie to the Rescue!

On Monday, Apr. 3, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced the College for All Act aimed at providing a free education for students who families earn less than $125,000 a year. If passed, the legislation would eliminate tuition at community colleges, cut interest on loans in half, and increase funding for the Federal Work-Study program. Sanders promised the bill would the federal government would cover 67% of the cost by providing $47 billion a year to states, which would then cover the other 33% of the cost.

Sanders introduced similar legislation in 2015, but this bill has more support. Democrats who have announced their support include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Kamala Harris (CA), Richard Blumenthal, and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY). In the House, a companion bill is being sponsored by Reps. Pramila Jayapal, Rick Nolan, and Keith Ellison.

This is important legislation for the Democrats. In a speech, Sanders said:

Our job is just not to resist all of Trump’s dumb proposals, including massive cuts in education. Our job is to bring forward a progressive agenda, which represents the young people, and old people, and the working people, and poor people all over this country.

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In Internet News …

Many YouTubers are falling on hard times.

Advertisers Have Been Pulling YouTube Ads.

The trouble started when companies discovered their ads were being placed on videos of they did not want to be associated with.

From my understanding, YouTube’s algorithm began targeting channels with specific types of content. There are many channels that discuss politics and might have hot-button topics in their titles.

Many YouTubers are scared because their videos have been demonetized and they don’t know the full scope of this problem. Google is working with advertisers, but if the problem persists, many YouTubers will lose a steady stream of revenue. A number of channels (including some I’m subscribed to) have already been losing quite a bit of revenue and they have begun to use their back-up plans.

In this video, Philip DeFranco addresses the recent boycott of YouTube and Google by advertisers. Firms that have pulled ads from YouTube include: The British government, McDonalds, AT&T, and Verizon. The firms have pulled their ads because they found out that some of them have ended up on channels and videos they found offensive.

Secular Talk host Kyle Kulinsky talks about the recent YouTube boycotts in the United States and the United Kingdom. Kulinsky gave a few examples of how this problem could metastasize: For example, if someone talks about Israel an Israel is in the title of a video, that might be perceived as being anti-Semitic.

The videos could offer an object look at important issues, but as opinions tend to offend those who disagree and lead to heated debates, YouTube’s algorithm might shut out some content creators. It leads many to think this is but another tool to shut down opinion.

The Solution?

Philip Defranco talked about this, and there is someone out there who found a way to solve the problem. However, he patented it and patented all the possible solutions to the problem. Google would have to pay to use one of them.

In the meantime, big companies like Viacom will not be affected in any way. But smaller YouTube channels will have to use Patreon, find sponsors, or get brand deals (in which they advertise a product and encourage their viewers to visit the sites of companies).

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In Entertainment News

Bill-O …

Bill O’Reilly Is in Hot Water (Again).

Over the weekend of Mar. 31-Apr. 2, The New York Times published a report about Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. The host of The O’Reilly Factor and his network have paid out $13 million over the years to settle sexual abuse cases.

As a result of this news, many advertisers have pulled their ads from The O’Reilly Factor.

How has Bill O’Reilly gotten away with this? It’s simple math. Although O’Reilly has cost his company $13 mil over the years, his show has raked in $178 million in ad revenue in 2015 and $118 million in ad revenue in the first nine months of 2016.

Also, there has been a culture of sexual harassment at FOX News. If you will remember, Roger Ailes was let go by 21st Century FOX (FOX News’s Parent company) after the $20 million settlement with former anchor Gretchen Carlson led to more revelations about Ailes.

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