News Roundup (for the Rest of July and Some of June 2017)

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Hello, readers! This week, I will do something different for this News Roundup. I want so badly to catch up to some important news I missed from June and July, so I will post this today.

Tomorrow, I will do my best to post some news for this month before I go on a hiatus. If I can’t do all the stories I found, I will at least cover 4-7 stories I find important, including Shkreli’s sentencing and the recent violence in Charlottesville, VA.


Table of Contents

Here are the stories I have curated for this week:

International

National

Commentary: About McCain (and Others) …

Want to Contribute?

Social Media Links


In International News …

Since June, there were six stories I missed including stories from the Tokyo Bay, Sweden, and Mexico.

According to Reports, ISIS Leader Baghdadi Was Killed Some Time This Year.

In mid-June 2017, the Russian military announced it had killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the reclusive ISIS leader who announced a caliphate from the pulpit of Mosul’s Grand Al-Nuri mosque in 2014.

In addition, the Russian defense ministry announced that a Russian airstrike had killed other “senior members” of the terrorist network, which may have included around 30 field commanders and up to 300 of their personal guards. The IS leaders were reportedly meeting on the outskirts of Raqqa.

The report on al-Baghdadi was met with skepticism. Some Iraqi officials said they had not found proof of the terrorist’s death at the time. U.S. officials also said they had not been able to confirm the information.

A week after the Russian defense ministry made its statement on al-Baghdadi, Russia Senator Viktor Ozerov said that the terrorist leader’s death was nearly 100% certain. Ozerov, the head of the defense committee in Russia’s upper parliamentary house talked to Interfax news agency on Friday, June 23. He said the announcement would not have been made otherwise.

I think this information is close to 100 percent. The fact that Islamic State has still not shown him anywhere also adds to our confidence that al-Baghdadi has been killed.

What If Baghdadi Was Killed?

According to some experts on Islamists groups, there were two likely successors to the self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Iyad al-Obaidi and Ayad al-Jumaili, two former Iraqi army officers, where named as possible emirs in the event of Baghdadi’s death. The two had joined the Sunni insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion there. They later joined Baghdadi in 2014.

More Evidence of Baghadi’s Death?

In July, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that it had evidence of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death. According the Rami Abdulrahman, the leader of the British-based Syrian Observatory, activists in Deir al-Zor had been giving information by IS leaders about Baghdadi. However, there was no information about when or how Baghdadi had been killed.

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El Chapo’s Capture Has Led to His Cartel’s Waning Influence and a Power Struggle.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former kingpin of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, was captured in January 2016. He was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

Since Guzman’s 2016 apprehension, the influence of his cartel has waned. At the height of Sinaloa’s existence, the cartel had a reach that included 24 of Mexico’s 32 states and had done business in up to 50 countries. In 2016, the cartel had influence in 11 states; that influence has shrunk to only 7 states.

There is also a struggle for power within the Sinaloa cartel and out of it. Several factions of the Sinoloa, including those led by Damasa Lopez Nuñez (Guzman’s former right-hand man who was himself apprehended in May) and Guzman’s sons (nicknamed Los Chapitos) have vied for control. There is also a relatively new cartel called the Jalisco New Generation (CJNG), which has taken over some of the Sinaloa’s lost territory.

And as a result of this power struggle, violence has increased in parts of Mexico. This is especially true in the Sinaloa state, which had already say 907 homicides by the beginning of July. May and June were already the deadliest months of the year with 184 and 182 homicides, respectively. Between 30 and 35 people died as a result of gang violence in the hours between June 30 and July 1, 2017.

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Sweden Has Refugee Problem.

In May, Swedish authorities ramped up sweeps of undocumented immigrants across the country. In Stockholm, 9 undocumented workers were swept up at a construction site while at least 40 others escaped via rooftops.

Sweden is on alert mostly in response to an attack by an Uzbek driver in Stockholm. In April, a construction worker named Rakhmat Akilov drove into shoppers there. Afterward, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven announced his country would get tougher on undocumented immigrants, especially those whose asylum requests were rejected.

According to the Migration Agency, about 10,000 asylum applications are rejected each year. However, there are up to 50,000 undocumented immigrants already in the country working jobs in hotels, restaurants, transportation, and construction.

From 2015 to 2016, Swedish police tripled their workplace raids. The numbers are expected to increase in 2017.

Public opinion has shifted in terms of illegal immigration. In a 2017 survey conducted by Gothenburg University, more than half of the Swedish public supported tougher policies against illegal immigration.

Despite this information, there are concerns about this crackdown. For one thing, this changes the view of Sweden as the “humanitarian capital of the world,” known for being extremely welcoming to and tolerant of immigrants. More importantly, the crackdown will negatively impact asylum seekers and documented immigrants. The former might become part of a shadow underclass and the latter may be erroneously swept up in raids.

A Lack of Resources?

Dealing with undocumented immigrants is easier said than done. More powers were given to police officers in Sweden to carry out workplace raids, but in 78% of the cases officers were given to track down immigrants, the people in question had already fled. Also, while it is expected that there will be more deportations this year of asylum seekers whose requests are denied, there were fewer deportations from Jan.-Apr. 2017 compared to the same period a year ago.

Police officers partially blamed the lack of results on insufficient resources. For this year, the Swedish government approved an extra 800 kronor ($94 million) for the police, but some say that is not enough. However, Minister for home Affairs Anders Ygeman said even more resources will be given for the effort in the coming years.

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Investigations Were Started to Look into the USS Fitzgerald Crash in Tokyo Bay.

In the early hours of Saturday, June 17, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship in a very busy area off Japan’s Izu peninsula. The collision left a huge gash in the starboard side of the USS Fitzgerald, a 505-foot-long, 10,000 ton guide-missile destroyer. More importantly, 7 sailors were found dead the following day due to flooding in several berthing compartments. At least 3 others, including the ship’s captain, had to be evacuated due to injuries.

The cargo ship involved, the 730-foot-long, 29,000-ton ACX Crystal, suffered damage to its bow. No one on that ship was hurt and no oil leaked from the vessel.

Numerous investigations into the crash were expected, particularly from the Navy’s Judge Advocate General and the U.S. Coast Guard. Philippine and Japanese authorities were also expected to investigate.

These are the names of the sailors who perished:

  • Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby (19) from Palmyra, Virginia.
  • Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass (25) from San Diego, California.
  • Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T. Truong (25) from Oakville, Connecticut.
  • Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez (26) from Weslaco, Texas.
  • Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan (23) from Cula Vista, California.
  • Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland.
  • Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm, Jr. (37) from Elyria, Ohio.

Rehm, who was also a petty officer, died as he saved more than a dozen other sailors. A petition was circulated in order to name the Navy’s next destroyer after him.

About the Investigations

In all, there were six investigations into this crash.

Apparently, there may have been delay of nearly an hour from when the collision with the USS Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal occurred to when it was reported by the crew of the ACX Crystal. According to Japanese authorities, members of the merchant vessel reported the crash to them at 2:25 am Japanese time. At first, it was estimated that the crash occurred at 2:20 am. However, after interviews with the crew, the Japanese Coast Guard estimated that the crash happened 50 minutes earlier, at 1:30 am Japanese time.

There is still a discrepancy with U.S. authorities. The U.S. 7th Fleet (members of which were on the USS Fitzgerald) maintained that the crash occurred at 2:20 am.

According to the captain of the ACX Crystal, a ship owned by the Japan-based Dainichi Investment Corporation, the USS Fitzgerald did not respond to warnings before the collision. Capt. Ronald Advincula, who helmed the cargo ship, his crew used flashing lights to warn the crew of the Navy destroyer when it became clear the Naval vessel was on a collision course. However, there was no response.

According to preliminary reports, it appears that the crew of the USS Fitzgerald was at fault for the crash. According to two officials, the crew made a series of mistakes which might have included not warning the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson. Cmdr. Benson’s cabin was destroyed in the collision and he suffered serious injuries.

“They did nothing until the last second,” one official said. “A slew of things went wrong.” A second official said the tragedy “will wind up being our (the US Navy’s) fault.”

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Sergey Kislyak Ends His Tenure as the Russian Ambassador to the U.S.

Sergey Kislyak, who is a figure on ongoing investigations into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, ended his tenure as the Russian ambassador to the U.S. on Saturday, July 22. Kislyak, who served as ambassador since 2008, will likely be replaced by Anatoly Antonov, the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister; the nomination had yet to be approved. In the meantime, Denis V. Gonchar, the Minister-Counselor and Deputy Chief of Mission, would serve as Charge d’Affaires.

Kislyak became somewhat of a controversial figure as the Russia probe gained steam and more Trump administration officials were revealed to have contact with Russians.

  • In February, Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign after it was revealed that he had met with Kislyak the year before and failed to disclose the meeting.
  • Later, it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had met at least twice with Kislyak in 2016. Sessions recused himself in connection to the FBI’s investigation yet he denied talking to the Russian ambassador about campaign matters. However, it was reported on July 21 that U.S. spy agencies overheard a conversation Kislyak had with his bosses in which the ambassador said he spoke with Sessions about campaign matters and issues important to Russia.
  • In March, it was revealed that Trump advisor Jared Kushner had talked to Kislyak numerous times from April to December 2016. Before December, the two had shared phone calls. In December, the two talked about establishing a backchannel.

Also: A few months ago, I talked about Jon Huntsman’s consideration for the job of U.S. ambassador to Russia. The White House formally announced that he would be nominated for that position.

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Putin Signed Off on the Lease for the Russian Base in Syria.

On Wednesday, July 27, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a deal with the Syrian government to allow the Russian military to keep its Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province for at least 49 years. Under the agreement, the Russian military may use the air force for 49 years with the option of extending the lease for 25-year periods.

Terms of the deal were originally established in Jan. 2017. The current deal was approved by the two chambers of the Russian government earlier in July 2017.

Russia has used the base since it intervened in the Syrian Civil War in Oct. 2015 in order to help its most important Middle Eastern ally. Since then, Russia has used its airstrikes to help turn the tide in the war in favor of the Syrian government

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In National News …

In July, the Democrats pondered there next moves and some Republicans asked if there could be an investigation into Hillary Clinton.

Sen. Chuck Schumer Gets Kinda Real.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) said that the Democrats — and not Russia — were at fault for losing to Trump. He conceded that his party lost to Trump despite Trump’s low favorability ratings. In part, Schumer credited the 2016 loss to a lack of a coherent message. Instead, many voters felt that the Democrats just stood against Trump, which was not enough to inspire people.

At the same time, Schumer talked a little bit about the Democrats’ new message, “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, [a] Better Future.” Schumer said this was a “strong, sharp-edged, populist, bold economic message” which “appeals to the Obama coalition and the people who voted for Trump.” In particular, Schumer was referring to “former Democrats who voted for Trump.”

By “A Better Deal,” Schumer said the Democrats mean “a better deal for workers, a better deal for women, a better deal for prescription-drug buyers.” The Democrats later unveiled a platform which included a jobs training program and tax credits for companies who participated in it.

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Will There Be a Second Independent Counsel?

In a letter July 27, 2017 to the Department of Justice (PDF), Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked for a second independent counsel. If appointed, this special counsel will be tasked with looking at former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former FBI Director James Comey, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Goodlatte said that the primary investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election represented partisan gamesmanship and it was thus one-sided.

In addition, Goodlatte addressed questions previously sent to the Department of Justice which were unanswered or inadequately answered. Among those questions were concerns about Trump’s claims about being wiretapped by the Obama Administration and concerns about the unmasking.

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Commentary: About McCain (and Others)

Near the end of July, the United States Senate voted on three bills in an attempt to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (A.K.A. the ACA or “Obamacare”). One bill, the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation, was already passed by Congress in 2015 but vetoed by President Barack Obama. Another bill was the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which was harsher than the House version passed in May. Then there was a “skinny” repeal bill which would have taken away the mandate for insurance.

All these bills were bad because they immediately took health care coverage away from 20 million Americans who currently had plans. The Better Care Reconciliation Act was fairly terrible on its own because they were negotiated behind closed doors by only 13 people, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It was also reworked and pushed through without a CBO score.

Now, the week those bills were voted on, John McCain decided to go back to Washington, D.C. despite having had surgery to remove a brain tumor days before. I criticized McCain’s decision because it looked like he gave those bills another chance to be passé by voting to continue the debate. However, I noted that he promised to vote against the legislation as it was.

As it turns out, that might have been a good decision. McCain not only kept his word, but he was the deciding vote at the end and the rejection of these bills takes them off the table, at least until next year.

I don’t know why McCain did it but I suspect part of it was personal. As many of us remember, Trump disrespected McCain on the campaign trail.

The Arizona Senator was also being hounded by other Republicans. I wonder if McCain was getting back at them, too.

Credit Where Credit Is Due …

I would like to thank McCain for his vote on this issue, but he is not the only person who deserves credit here. I must also thank the Democrats for banding together and two other Republicans, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. The latter two were consistently against these bills and without them one of these bills would be law after consultation with the House to reconcile the legislation.

But without McCain, we would not have had this emotional buildup. And it led to these amazing moments:

CNN also had a play-by-play for McCain’s “No” vote.

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