Headlines: January 30, 2019
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The heads of several US intelligence agencies gave testimonies to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday directly contradicting the foreign policy positions of President Donald Trump and his administration. The officials included FBI Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Together they emphasized that North Korea will not denuclearize in spite of assurances it has given to the satisfaction of the Trump government; and, that Russia remains a threat to US alliances even though Trump has continually sought good relations with Moscow. The Intelligence officers also said that the Islamic State remains a threat despite Trump’s claims that it has been defeated, and that the Iran nuclear deal was working – a deal that President Barack Obama had negotiated and that Trump was dismantling. Most strikingly, they made no mention of the US-Mexico border – which Trump has considered the greatest national security threat.
President Trump angrily ranted on Twitter against the intelligence heads for contradicting him in more than 5 separate typo-filled tweets on Wednesday morning. On Iran he said, “The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran. They are wrong! When I became President Iran was making trouble all over the Middle East, and beyond. Since ending the terrible Iran Nuclear Deal, they are MUCH different…” Trump then added, “They are testing Rockets (last week) and more, and are coming very close to the edge. There economy is now crashing, which is the only thing holding them back. Be careful of Iran. Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday introduced an amendment to a bill that would acknowledge, “al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates in Syria and Afghanistan continue to pose a serious threat to us here at home.” McConnell directly contradicted Trump on the President’s desire to ends the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, saying that his amendment, “would recognize the dangers of a precipitous withdrawal from either conflict and highlight the need for diplomatic engagement and political solutions to the underlying conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.” On Tuesday the New York Times published a report saying that most Republican lawmakers were at odds with Trump on foreign policy. Journalist Peter Baker summarized, “They think pulling out of Syria and Afghanistan would be a debacle. They think North Korea cannot be trusted. They think the Islamic State is still a threat to America. They think Russia is bad and NATO is good.”
In other news, the US began enacting a new policy of sending asylum seekers to Mexico to await the processing of their cases in what Associated Press called, “one of the most dramatic changes to the U.S. immigration system of Donald Trump’s presidency, if the policy survives an anticipated legal challenge.” The new policy has been introduced quietly and with no fanfare. The first person to be subjected to it was a 55-year old Honduran man named Carlos Gomez who was returned to Tijuana on Tuesday. Mexico’s government has said they would only accept asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis. On Monday, a spokesperson for the Mexican government, Roberto Velasco Alvarez, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post saying, “our new migratory blueprint is at odds in some respects with the announcement by U.S. authorities that some migrants looking for asylum who entered through our shared border could be returned to Mexico to wait for their proceedings.”
The global watchdog group Transparency International has released its annual index on corruption for the year 2018 and concluded that the US no longer holds a place in the top-20 least corrupt nations on earth. It is now 22nd on the list of 180. The report does not measure actual corruption – which is of course hard to measure – but the perceptions of corruption in the public sectors of nations. Zoe Reiter, the watchdog’s acting representative to the United States, told Reuters, “Concerns around the Trump administration are quite serious, but this has been stewing for several years…Conflict of interest wasn’t a new problem, but it was illuminated in its glory when you have someone who is basically breaking norms.” She added, “Trump is a symptom not a cause. His presidency is illuminating some of the problems.”
Prosecutors in cities around the country are beginning to back away from charges relating to marijuana possession in a move hailed by proponents of legalization. Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore, Kim Foxx in Chicago, Larry Krasner in Philadelphia, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. in Manhattan and Eric Gonzalez in Brooklyn are among those that are refusing to charge on the basis of marijuana. Baltimore’s Mosby told the New York Times that it’s a matter of priority. She said, “If you ask that mom whose son was killed where she would rather us spend our time and our attention — on solving that murder, or prosecuting marijuana laws — it’s a no-brainer.” The trend goes hand-in-hand with legalization efforts around the country that have successfully made the case that marijuana use is not linked to violent crime.
The Polar Vortex has hit the Midwest, slamming cities like Chicago and Minneapolis with weather that authorities are calling “life-threatening extreme cold” that “can lead to rapid onset of frostbite and hypothermia.” Among the most vulnerable to weather-related deaths are homeless people. In Chicago alone there are 80,000 homeless people – many of whom are at risk with shelters filled to the brim. Earlier this week President Donald Trump predictably used the cold weather as a tool to try to debunk the reality of climate change, tweeting– once more without using spellcheck – “In the beautiful Midwest, windchill temperatures are reaching minus 60 degrees, the coldest ever recorded. In coming days, expected to get even colder. People can’t last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming? Please come back fast, we need you!” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Tuesday posted a cartoon to its Twitter feed with the caption, “Winter storms don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening.” The NOAA said later that the tweet was not made in response to Trump.
And finally, Democrats have picked former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to deliver the Party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union address next week. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer called Abrams, “a present and future leader in this country,” in his statement. He added, “Stacey Abrams offers a welcome, stark contrast to President Trump’s politics of division and lack of leadership as American families are still feeling the impacts of his self-imposed shutdown.” Abrams welcomed the opportunity saying, “I plan to deliver a vision for prosperity and equality, where everyone in our nation has a voice and where each of those voices is heard.” Trump will deliver his address next Tuesday, a week later than usual.