2017-07-01 00:00:00 ..
2017-08-15 06:04:22 UTC
2017-08-17 14:38:20 UTC
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The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.
The new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period.
Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States.
Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.
Officials will request the additional information when they determine "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting," a State Department official said on Wednesday.
The State Department said earlier the tighter vetting would apply to visa applicants "who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities."
The Guardian reports:
The European Union has rejected Donald Trump's offer to renegotiate the Paris climate agreement and pledged instead to bypass Washington to work with US business leaders and state governors to implement the historic accord's commitments.
Less than 24 hours after the US president announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 agreement and strike a new, less ambitious deal with the rest of the world, Brussels declared its outright refusal to engage in such talks.
EU officials will instead cut out the White House to deal directly with the US states and major corporations, many of whom have already pledged to live by the terms forged in Paris.
China vows to partner with the EU on clean energy.
But Beijing and Brussels have been preparing to announce their intention to accelerate joint efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.
According to a statement being prepared before an EU-China summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the new alliance will say they are determined to "lead the energy transition" toward a low-carbon economy.
The EU's climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, told the Guardian: "The EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy."
Let's not wait for the guy with the awkward handshake anymore.
That's the gist of documents, seen by the Financial Times*, about the upcoming EU-China summit this Friday in Brussels.
Cooperation on the deployment of electric cars, energy efficiency labelling, and scientific research into green innovation. Further increasing the share of renewable energy, by boosting interconnected power networks. Setting up a scheme for emissions trading in China, with an eye of coupling that scheme to the pioneering EU version. Money to fund developing countries' climate plans.
"The increasing impacts of climate change require a decisive response", the joint statement reads,"Tackling climate change and reforming our energy systems are significant drivers of job creation, investment opportunities and economic growth."
* EU and China strengthen climate ties to counter US retreat. Financial Times, Wednesday May 31, 2017. [Paywalled]
NPR, formerly National Public Radio, reports
Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, was fired by the Cleveland Police Department [May 30]. At a news conference, city authorities announced that the reason for his termination wasn't the deadly incident that brought him to national attention, but rather violations he committed in the course of his hiring process.
"Patrol officer Loehmann had been charged with rule violations concerning his application process to be considered a cadet with the Division of Police--specifically, answers he had provided on his personal history statement", Michael McGrath, the city's director of public safety, told reporters in prepared remarks.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer explains that Loehmann failed to disclose the full circumstances of how his time at a previous police department ended:
"Loehmann was allowed to resign from the Independence department after six months following a series of incidents where supervisors determined he was unfit to be a police officer.
"The disciplinary letter cites a letter in Loehmann's personnel file from Independence that says he was emotionally immature and had 'an inability to emotionally function'. The letter also cites an emotional breakdown Loehmann had on the gun range in Independence."
Cleveland authorities also announced that Frank Garmback, the officer driving the patrol car at the time Loehmann shot Tamir, would be suspended for 10 days for administrative rule violations of his own. He would also be required to take a tactical training course.
The penalties cap a review process conducted by Cleveland's Critical Incident Review Committee, or CIRC, in the wake of Tamir's death and the widespread protests it elicited. As the Plain Dealer reported last month, CIRC already "found no fault in the officers' actions leading up to, during and after the Nov. 22, 2014 shooting at Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland's West Side".
President Donald Trump plans to make good on his campaign vow to withdraw the United States from a global pact to fight climate change, a source briefed on the decision said on Wednesday, a move that promises to deepen a rift with U.S. allies.
White House officials cautioned that details were still being hammered out and that, although close, the decision on withdrawing from the 195-nation accord - agreed to in Paris in 2015 - was not finalized.
[...] The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump was working out the terms of the planned withdrawal with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, an oil industry ally and climate change doubter.
[...] The CEOs of Dow Chemical Co, ExxonMobil Corp, Unilever NV and Tesla Inc all urged Trump to remain in the agreement, with Tesla's Elon Musk threatening to quit White House advisory councils of which he is a member if the president pulls out.
On Twitter, Trump indicated that an announcement was coming soon.
"I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days," he wrote. "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
[...] Opponents of the climate deal were concerned after White House economic advisor Gary Cohn told reporters that the president was "evolving on the issue" during his trip overseas.
His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly channelled support for the deal behind the scenes at the White House, encouraging climate change activists that Trump might change his mind. Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, also supported remaining in the treaty.
There is a federal law saying that lobbyists need to be granted a waiver to work in the administration. This is overseen by the Office of Government Ethics. Historically, for both Democrat and Republican administrations, the White House has complied with providing these waivers.
The Trump Administration has not provided these waivers. Walter Shaub, the director of the OGE, has set a deadline of June 1 to provide these documents. The White House Council has provided instructions to employees to not provide this documentation, claiming providing them would be an undue administrative burden. This raises the question of why it would be an undue burden: due to the number of people provided waivers or the extent of the waivers granted.
Editorializing a bit, it is both heartening that the head of the office for Ethics is willing to proverbially "walk the talk" by putting his own position at risk to do the right thing, as well as depressing that such behavior is the laudable exception rather than the accepted norm.
Common Dreams reports
Speaking to CNBC on Monday [May 22], [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross, who accompanied Trump on the weekend trip to Riyadh, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard".
[...] Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East, adding: "Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents."
In Why Were the Saudi Streets So Quiet?, also via Common Dreams, Medea Benjamin adds:
Protest is illegal in the kingdom. It's also against the law to "distort the reputation of the kingdom" or "break allegiance with the ruler". A 2014 anti-terrorism law treats virtually all free expression as acts of terrorism, including "calling for atheist thought"; "contacting groups or individuals opposed to the Kingdom"; and "seeking to disrupt national unity" by calling for protests. People who dare dissent are publicly flogged, tortured in prison, and sometimes publicly beheaded.
The Interior Department is facing a lawsuit from a Christian geologist who claims he was not allowed to collect rocks from Grand Canyon National Park because of his creationist beliefs.
In the suit filed earlier this month, the Australian geologist, Andrew Snelling, says that religious discrimination was behind the National Park Service's (NRS's) decision to deny him a permit to gather samples from four locations in the park.
Snelling had hoped to gather the rocks to support the creationist belief that a global flood about 4,300 years ago was responsible for rock layers and fossil deposits around the world.
NPS's actions "demonstrate animus towards the religious viewpoints of Dr. Snelling," the complaint alleges, "and violate Dr. Snelling's free exercise rights by imposing inappropriate and unnecessary religious tests to his access to the park."
The lawsuit was filed May 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. NPS has yet to respond to the allegations.
A US Navy warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China in the South China Sea, the first such challenge to Beijing in the strategic waterway since US President Donald Trump took office.
The US patrol, the first of its kind since October, marked the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing's efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday the USS Dewey traveled close to Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands - among a string of islets, reefs and shoals over which China has territorial disputes with its neighbours.
The move angered Beijing, which reiterated its position that China has "indisputable sovereignty" over the Spratly Islands and their surrounding waters.
[...] One US official said it was the first operation near a land feature that was included in a ruling last year against China by an international arbitration court in The Hague. The court invalidated China's claim to sovereignty over large swathes of the South China Sea.
The US has criticised China's construction of man-made islands and build-up of military facilities in the sea and expressed concern they could be used to restrict free movement.
[...] US-based South China Sea analyst Greg Poling, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said [...] the key question was whether the US warship had engaged in a real challenge to the Chinese claims by turning on radar or launching a helicopter or boat - actions not permitted in a territorial sea under international law.
Otherwise, critics say, the operation would have resembled what is known as "innocent passage" and could have reinforced rather than challenged China's claim to a territorial limit around the reef.
War brewing with North Korea, picking fights with China. Good times.
The Washington Post reports Supreme Court rules race improperly dominated N.C. redistricting efforts
The Supreme Court ruled [May 22] that North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature relied on racial gerrymandering when drawing the state's congressional districts, a decision that could make it easier to challenge other state redistricting plans.
The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly tainted redistricting decisions by GOP-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama, and North Carolina. Some cases involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.
[...] [The justices] were unanimous in rejecting one of the districts and split 5 to 3 on the other.
Republican legislators used surgical precision to pack black voters into just two districts, the tentacular 1st and the snake-like 12th. The lower court found that these districts targeted voters on the basis of race in violation of the constitution, a move that effectively prevented black voters from electing their preferred candidates in neighboring seats. map
[...] This now-invalidated congressional map was one of, if not the very most, aggressive partisan gerrymanders in modern history. North Carolina is a relatively evenly divided swing state--Donald Trump won it by just 3 points last year--yet these lines offered Republicans 10 safe districts while creating three lopsidedly Democratic seats. Amazingly, all 10 Republican districts hit a perfect sweet spot with GOP support between 55 and 60 percent, a level that is high enough to be secure yet spreads around Republican voters just carefully enough to ensure the maximum number of GOP seats possible.
If anyone knows how important Twitter is to Donald Trump, it's the president.
“Without the tweets, I wouldn't be here,” he told the Financial Times last month.
To which Twitter's co-founder says: Sorry about that, world.
Evan Williams, who still sits on the company's board of directors, recently told The New York Times that he wants to repair the damage he thinks Twitter and the broader Internet have wrought on society in the form of trolls, cyberbullies, live-streamed violence, fake news and — yes — Trump.
“I thought once everybody could speak freely and exchange information and ideas, the world is automatically going to be a better place,” Williams told the Times. “I was wrong about that.”
“If it’s true that he wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry,” he said.