Headlines: February 1, 2019
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday morning announced that the US would be pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia. The treaty has been in place since 1987 and was the first such agreement between two countries that banned an entire class of weapons – missiles launched from the ground with the range of 300-3000 miles. For months President Donald Trump’s administration has threatened to pull out of the treaty saying that Russia was in violation. On Friday Mr. Pompeo gave the required six-month notice for the end of the treaty.
Just minutes after his announcement the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) released a statement urging, “Russia to use the remaining six months to return to full and verifiable compliance to preserve the INF Treaty.” Additionally it said NATO would take any, “steps necessary to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the Alliance’s overall deterrence and defense posture.”
In other news, the new deadline for Congress and the President to fund the government for the rest of the year is February 15th and as of now there is no movement toward progress given Trump’s continued insistence on funding for a border wall. In an interview with the New York Times on Thursday, Trump called talks with Democrats, “a waste of time,” and implied that he might simply turn to a declaration of a national emergency to obtain money for his wall.
Meanwhile the US Customs and Border Patrol agency announced that it had seized the biggest ever shipment of the opioid Fentanyl – nearly 254 pounds – from a truck of Mexican produce heading into Arizona. The drugs were apparently hidden in the floor of the tractor-trailer and discovered during a secondary scan after drug-sniffing dogs were suspicious. The total street value of the Fentanyl is about $3.5 million. There was also about $1.18 million worth of methamphetamine found in the drug bust. Trump, who has claimed that drugs and violence are pouring over the US-Mexico border proudly tweeted, “Our great U.S. Border Patrol Agents made the biggest Fentanyl bust in our Country’s history. Thanks, as always, for a job well done!” What has did not clarify is that the drug bust was not linked even remotely to the refugee crisis at the border. Most drugs that enter through the border are trucked in through official ports of entry and not smuggled in by individuals seeking asylum. Trump’s wall would have no impact on drugs hidden inside produce trucks.
Meanwhile US immigration courts have turned away hundreds of people who showed up for their scheduled government-issued appearances. It is part of an on-going phenomenon that immigrants arrive at courts with government documents in hand saying they should appear only to be told that they don’t have a scheduled appointment. In the latest instance courts are citing the government shutdown and harsh winter weather for the confusion over court dates.
Just one day after publicly insulting the intelligence department heads of his own administration Trump walked back his comments saying that the media had “misquoted” them. Trump had responded to the Senate Intelligence Committee testimonies of FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats by ranting on Twitter about how “extremely passive and naive,” they were and that perhaps they should, “go back to school.” But on Thursday he posted a tweet of himself meeting with some of the heads and wrote, “Just concluded a great meeting with my Intel team in the Oval Office who told me that what they said on Tuesday at the Senate Hearing was mischaracterized by the media – and we are very much in agreement on Iran, ISIS, North Korea, etc.”
The FBI has released its report on the worst gun-massacre in modern US history, and it is a mere 3 pages long. The 2017 massacre in Las Vegas, Nevada where a white man named Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured nearly 900 more, was investigated at length for over a year. Survivors of the massacre are shocked at the brevity of the 3-page report which concluded that Paddock had no, “single or clear motivating factor,” in doing what he did. In contrast, after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the FBI issued a 1,500 page-report.
Republican Congressional candidate Martha McSally of Arizona is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for potential campaign finance violations. McSally narrowly lost to Democrat Krysten Sinema last November. Federal campaign finance laws allow a maximum of $2,700 per individual donor per election. According to AP the FEC, “flagged dozens of contributions to McSally from more than 60 donors that appear to exceed those limits, including one who cut a $10,000 check.”
In climate news, scientists have discovered a massive city-sized cavity inside one of the world’s biggest glaciers. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released a study on Thursday revealing that the cavity in the Thwaites Glacier is about two thirds the size of Manhattan and nearly a 1,000 feet tall. The Thwaites Glacier lies in Western Antarctica and is already seen as responsible for about 4% of the increase in sea levels. The presence of the cavity suggests that global warming is melting Antarctica’s glaciers faster than previously thought.
In Belgium, thousand of teenagers cut classes this week for the fourth time in a row – but they weren’t playing hooky. They were marching for the climate. There were an estimated 12,500 students marching in Brussels alone with similar numbers at another march in the country. Students are marching every Thursday in an effort to warn their governments to do more on climate change. Once 17-year old student named Manon Wilmart told reporters, “They left us a planet in a bad shape so it is our job to change that. But we can do it. We are younger and we know that we can do it. We are in the mood to change the climate, to change everything.”