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Turkey Prepares for Military Operation as US Troops Start Leaving Syria

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  • The Trump administration announced Sunday that it would be stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
  • Many condemned the move and argued that the U.S. was clearly abandoning U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that have been on the frontlines fighting against ISIS alongside U.S. troops in the region.
  • On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that troops in Syria were already being removed following the announcement.

White House Announcement

U.S. troops began withdrawing from Syria on Monday, following a controversial announcement by the White House a day prior that U.S. forces will stand aside as Turkey launches a military offensive in Northern Syria.

The statement, made by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

The statement went on to say that the U.S. has “pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.”

“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it continued. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”

It is unclear from that statement whether or not all of the nearly 1,000 troops in the region will be removed. What is clear is that the announcement comes as a major shift in U.S. policy in the region that many on both sides of the aisle oppose.

U.S. Kurdish Allies

The announcement comes as a clear sign that the U.S. is abandoning its main ally in the fight against ISIS: Kurdish forces near the Syrian border.

U.S. forces on the ground in Syria have recruited and trained the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces for years. Those forces have done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters.

That is also not all they have done. Despite the claim in the White House’s statement that the U.S. is holding captured ISIS fighters at the taxpayer’s expense, it is actually Kurdish forces, and not the U.S., that have kept ISIS fighters and their family members in makeshift camps in Northern Syria.

For a while, Erdogan has been critical of the U.S.’s alliance with the Kurdish forces. Turkey has a separatist movement near its border with Syria made of Kurds, called the PKK. Turkey claims that the YPG and PKK are allied and considers them both terrorists.

The Turkish operation is geared to use military force to clear “terrorists” east of the Euphrates river, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG.

When Turkey says it is going to target terrorists east of the Euphrates River, many believe it is a clear message that they plan to remove Kurdish forces from their borders.

Response

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have also warned that allowing Turkey to go forward with a military operation will send a bad message about U.S. commitment to its allies.

But any bloodshed and damage a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in Syria will bring is not the only concern for the U.S.

Sunday’s announcement reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top U.S. officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.

Military officials have also argued that the U.S. needs the Kurdish forces to fight against an ISIS resurgence, as well as to guard the facilities where ISIS militants and their families are being held.

Those concerns were echoed in a series of tweets from the SDF on Sunday, where the group argued that a Turkish attack would “Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs.”

The SDF also said that the move will lead to “The return of leaders of #ISIS” and that ISIS would break out the nearly 12,000 prisoners held by Kurdish forces.

A great number of prominent lawmakers, including some of Trump’s main allies, also responded to Trump, condemning the move.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote a laundry list of tweets Monday criticizing the move, calling it a “disaster in the making,” and claiming it “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”

“If this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,”  he wrote. “Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.”

“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways,” he later added.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also responded while speaking Fox News.

“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said. “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”

Speaker of the House Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also spoke out against the president’s efforts.

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” he said in a statement. “American interests are best served by leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”

Trump Defends Himself

Trump still defended his decision on Twitter.

“When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,” he wrote, before going on to say that Europe has refused to take back captured ISIS fighters the U.S. is holding. “As usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”

 “The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he continued. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” he added. “They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”

Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was a big campaign promise of Trump’s. In December 2018, the president made a sudden announcement that ISIS had been defeated and that he was withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.

That decision received significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as military and foreign policy personnel in the Trump Administration. 

However both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled-down on the claim that ISIS was defeated in the region, even after Islamic State agents took responsibility for a suicide bombing in January, that left 19 people, including four Americans, dead in a U.S.-controlled city in Syria.

Toward the end of February, the Trump administration made a significant reversal and announced that it would leave about 400 troops in the region. In early March, several members of Congress wrote Trump a letter urging him to keep troops in Syria. Trump responded to that letter, writing “I agree 100%” 

Now, the administration’s most recent decision seems to be a definitive shift towards troop removal, and critics of the plan appear to have similar precautions as last time Trump made a similar effort.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)

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Ivanka Trump’s Goya Post Sparks Questions About Ethics Rules

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  • Ivanka Trump posted a picture of herself on Tuesday with a can of Goya beans and the caption, “If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” prompting accusations that she violated a federal ethics law.
  • The law in question states that federal employees cannot “endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction.”
  • The post comes after the CEO of Goya praised President Trump while speaking at a White House event, leading to calls for a boycott of the company.
  • To counter the boycott, prominent conservatives have voiced their support for Goya and have urged others to buy its products.

Ivanka Trump’s Goya Tweet

After posting a picture of herself holding up a can of Goya beans on Tuesday night, Ivanka Trump is being accused of violating an ethics law that prohibits federal employees from endorsing companies and products.

“If it’s Goya, it has to be good,” the president’s daughter and advisor wrote in both Spanish and English.

Ms. Trump’s post comes as Goya, which bills itself as the biggest Hispanic-owned food company in the U.S., has become embroiled in controversy in recent days. 

On Thursday, Goya CEO Robert Unanue appeared alongside President Donald Trump at the White House for the signing of an executive order that created an advisory panel aimed at boosting economic and educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans.

In a speech, Unanue praised the president and compared him to his grandfather who started Goya after immigrating from Spain. 

“We’re all truly blessed at the same time to have a leader like President Trump, who is a builder. And that’s what my grandfather did,” he said. “He came to this country to build, to grow, to prosper.”

Unanue’s remarks sparked significant backlash from those angry that the CEO of a company with such a large Latinx base would support an anti-immigrant president. Many called for boycotts of the company prompting #BoycottGoya and #Goyaway to trend on Twitter.

In response, a number of prominent conservative voices called on people to counter the boycott by buying more Goya products, and Unanue doubled down, refusing to apologize and calling the boycott an attempt at “suppression of speech.”

Potential Ethics Violation

Ms. Trump’s post renewed some of the same criticism and controversy surrounding Goya’s ties to the Trump family.

“If it’s Trump, it has to be corrupt,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted in Spanish.

Some, like model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen, took more direct shots at Ms. Trump and questioned the legality of her post.

“Had it with anyone who EVER defends this woman or puts her as the ‘sane’ one in this family,” Teigen wrote. “what a repulsive trolling of the people. also (in the SEA of illegal shit this family does) is this even ethically ok or legal??”

Many others also raised up the possibility of an ethics violation, alleging that Ms. Trump, in her capacity as a federal employee, had violated a federal ethics law that explicitly says federal employees cannot “endorse any product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental sanction.”

Among those arguing that she violated that law was Walter Shaub, the former head of the Office of Government Ethics. In a series of tweets, Shaub explained that the office looks at a number of contributing factors when deciding if an ethics violation has occurred, and outlined multiple reasons that Ms. Trump’s post breaks the law.

The first reason he provided was the fact that the president’s daughter has her official title in her Twitter bio and uses her Twitter account to “tout official activities of the administration,”  

“If you use that social media account to tout a company’s product a few days after the company’s CEO publicly praised your father-president from the White House rose garden, that’s one more factor weighing against you — and a particularly strong one at that,” he added.

Shaub also argued that promoting Goya after it received backlash because of the CEO’s remarks about President Trump created the appearance of an official sanction, and the fact that Ms. Trump is a top advisor in the president’s inner circle makes it so “there’s a strong appearance that you’re endorsing a product in your official capacity.”

“For this reason, Ms. Trump’s Goya tweet is clearly a violation of the government’s misuse of position regulation,” he continued. “Ms. Trump has had ethics training. She knows better. But she did it anyway because no one in this administration cares about government ethics.”

Next Steps

Currently, it remains unclear what repercussions Ms. Trump will face, if any at all. While some experts have said her actions could amount a fireable offense in another administration, most speculate that very little will be done to hold her accountable, citing past precedent.

In 2017, top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway was investigated after she told Fox News viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff” in reference to Ms. Trump’s clothing and jewelry line. Conway was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing after White House lawyer determined she spoke “inadvertently” and “without nefarious motive.”

In a statement to the media Wednesday morning, a White House spokesperson defended Ms. Trump’s actions, seemingly to add credence to the claims that little will be done

“Only the media and the cancel culture movement would criticize Ivanka for showing her personal support for a company that has been unfairly mocked, boycotted and ridiculed for supporting this administration — one that has consistently fought for and delivered for the Hispanic community,” the spokesperson said.

“Ivanka is proud of this strong, Hispanic-owned business with deep roots in the U.S. and has every right to express her personal support.”

Separately, President Trump himself also continued to tout Goya and express his support for the brand on Twitter Wednesday.

“@GoyaFoods is doing GREAT,” he wrote. “The Radical Left smear machine backfired, people are buying like crazy!”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Forbes) (CNN

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Some of the Country’s Biggest School Districts Are Announcing Reopening Plans That Could Ignore Trump Requests

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  • With the fall semester rapidly approaching, many schools around the country are beginning to release plans for reopening.
  • Still, many districts seem to be at odds with either the Trump administration’s wishes, state directives, or plans from neighboring districts. 
  • For example, the Miami-Dade School District is weighing its reopening plans even though Florida’s education commissioner has ordered schools to fully reopen five days a week.
  • Meanwhile, Los Angeles and San Diego’s school districts have announced that they’ll remain completely online for the fall semester, even though the Trump administration has threatened to pull federal funding for schools with such models.

Trump Administration Pushes For School Reopening

It’s a massive debate between students, parents, school officials, and lawmakers: How should schools reopen for the fall semester?

For many school districts, that question will need to be answered in the next few weeks as the start of their semesters is rapidly approaching. Pressure for answers also come as the Trump administration continues its hardline push for full-time, in-person classes in most schools across the country.

“American investment in education is a promise to students and their families,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said on Fox News on Sunday. “If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise.” 

In her interview on Fox News, anchor Chris Wallace asked DeVos why the administration wants to pull funding instead of funneling it into schools for things such as personal protection equipment; however, DeVos said the administration wants to make sure that the promise of in-person classes is “followed through on.”

The threat to pull funding from schools that don’t fully reopen has been a big sticking point for the Trump administration over the past week. Still, the administration hasn’t yet explained how it would do that.

DeVos has said that the administration will allow exceptions to its rule, adding, “where there are little flare-ups or hot spots, that can be dealt with on a school by school or a case by case basis.”

Still, with daily COVID-19 cases rising in 39 states, many have argued that the exception might actually be the rule right now.

Miami-Dade Schools

Take Florida for example. On Sunday, it reported more than 15,000 new coronavirus cases— the biggest daily record reported by a state so far. 

Even leading up to that, as cases were increasing, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order, stating: “Upon reopening in August, all school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students.”

In addition to that, Governor Ron DeSantis has pushed to reopen schools across the state for in-person instruction.

“I’m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools,” he said last week. “I want our kids to be able to minimize this education gap that I think has developed.” 

Despite this, DeSantis has offered a concession to parents wishing to keep their children home and out of schools in the fall, saying they have the right to make such requests at this time.

One area where that concern is especially relevant is South Florida, particularly Miami—the fourth largest school district in the country. As many have pointed out, it’s becoming a new epicenter of coronavirus infections in the United States.

On top of concern, there’s also some confusion regarding whether students must physically return to schools in. In fact, much of that confusion stems from the expectation that any plan could drastically change in the coming weeks, and some are unsure if their school district will abide by state or more local directives.

For example, even with Corcoran’s order, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has expressed some hesitancy to reopen school campuses.

“I mean, our superintendent is the one that runs our school systems and he has indicated that he’s not going to put our children at risk,” Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said Monday on Good Morning America.

“The education commissioner of the state of Florida has mandated schools be open but I’m not sure our superintendent is in agreement with that and certainly, you know, not if it poses a risk to our children or to the parent or those teaching.” 

Carvalho has maintained that the district will be guided by science, not politics.

“If the conditions on August 24th are what they are today, it would be very difficult for us to reopen schools,” he said Monday.

As of Tuesday, Miami-Dade appears to be following a plan to hold in-person classes two to five days a week, depending on the number of students and amount of space a school has. It is also allowing parents to choose a fully online option for their kids if they want.

New York Announces School Reopening Plans

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo outlined a specific reopening plan for schools in the state on Monday. 

According to the state’s latest policy, schools can only reopen for in-person classes if a region is in Phase 4 and the daily infection rate is below 5% over a 14-day average.

Notably, as long as New York doesn’t see another swell in cases, that would include most schools across the state; however, the big exception is New York City, which isn’t yet in Phase 4. 

Regarding New York City, last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed a “Blended Learning” plan, which would limit class size and contain a mix of remote and in-person learning for the country’s largest school district.

As far as what classrooms will look like for schools that could potentially fully reopen, that plan includes face masks when social distancing isn’t possible, regular cleaning of classrooms, COVID-19 screenings, and contact tracing for anyone who gets infected.

Schools will also stay shut down if the infection level rises to 9% or more over a seven-day average before the start of their semesters. 

Eligible schools have until July 31 to submit their individual reopening plans, and from there, the state education department will decide in the first week of August whether or not to accept those plans.

“You don’t hold your finger up and feel the wind,” Cuomo said Monday, criticizing President Donald Trump’s broad reopening goal. “You don’t have an inspiration. You don’t have a dream. You don’t have an emotion. Look at the data. We test more, we have more data than any state. Look at the data. 

“If you have the virus under control, we open,” he added. “If you don’t have the virus under control, then you can’t reopen. Right, we’re not going to use our children as a litmus test, and we’re not going to put our children in a place where their health is endangered. It’s that simple, common sense. And intelligence can still determine what we do, even in this crazy environment. We’re not going to use our children as guinea pigs.” 

California Schools See Mixed Reopening Plans

On the opposite side of the country in California, school districts in Los Angeles and San Diego announced Monday that they will not offer in-person classes at all for the upcoming semester. Instead, they’ll resume using online classes like they did in the spring. 

“Science was our guide then, and it will continue to be,” Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner said.

LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country. It and San Diego’s school district also make up the two largest school districts in the state.

The news came the same day that Governor Gavin Newsom largely reclosed most of the state. It also comes as California—like Florida—is seeing a staggering rise in daily cases.

While schools in San Diego and LA will not take very strict precautions, Monday, the Orange County Board of Education voted to reopen schools without masks or social distancing.

While the Board noted that school districts can craft their own reopening plan, it also called last semester’s remote learning an “utter failure” and even suggested allowing parents to send their children to another school district or a charter school if their district doesn’t reopen. 

In comparison, LA and Orange County’s reopening plans seem distinctively opposed to one another, even though Orange County borders LA and the two receive heavy crossover from traffic each day.

Other Major School Districts

In other massive school districts like Chicago, the teacher’s union is negotiating with the school system on a reopening plan. This comes as the city’s health commissioner said that schools could have “some capacity for in-person instruction” if the city keeps its cases under control.

In Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, officials are currently considering a two-day in-persion, three-day online hybrid plan. Still, the potential for online-only classes isn’t off the table, either. 

Meanwhile, Houston ISD is expected to release its reopening plan by Tuesday.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The LA Times) (NBC Miami)

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White House Turns on Dr. Fauci as Coronavirus Cases Surge

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  • Over the last week, Dr. Fauci has ramped up his criticisms of the coronavirus situation in the U.S. and disputed claims made by President Trump.
  • In response, the Trump administration sent out a list of remarks Fauci made early on in the pandemic that have since proven to be wrong.
  • Many condemned the move, pointing out that Trump has continued to push false narratives about the virus to this day even as Fauci has backtracked on past comments he made that turned out to be incorrect after more cohesive information came out.
  • Meanwhile, cases are surging all over the country, and Florida reported the single highest new cases ever recorded in a day in any state.

Fauci Ramps Up Warnings

President Donald Trump’s administration has launched a concerted effort to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading expert on the White House Coronavirus Task Force and key public figure in the fight against the virus.

According to reports, the White House has blocked Dr. Fauci from his planned televised appearances in recent weeks. Some White House aides have said that is because TV interviewers often try to push Fauci into criticizing Trump and his administration’s approach to the virus. One senior official told the Washington Post that the doctor is not always good at “staying on message.”

But another person familiar with the matter also told CNN that Fauci has been making fewer TV appearances because the president is “annoyed by his public statements.” 

Fauci himself seemed to hint at a similar reason in an interview with the Financial Times last week, saying, “I have a reputation, as you probably have figured out, of speaking the truth at all times and not sugar-coating things. And that may be one of the reasons why I haven’t been on television very much lately.”

In the same interview, Fauci also said that he had not seen Trump in person since June 2, and he has not briefed the president in two months. Despite the apparent limitations, Fauci has still been putting his message out.

During a Facebook Live event with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) on Tuesday, the top expert disputed the president’s claim that a lower death rate showed the United States’ progress in the fight against the coronavirus which he called “a false narrative.”

“Don’t get yourself into false complacency,” he warned.

The White House responded by canceling some of Fauci’s televised appearances scheduled for later in the week, according to the Post

But Fauci still continued to contradict remarks made by Trump, faulting states for opening too soon and emphasize the seriousness of the situation in the U.S. During a podcast interview with FiveThirtyEight on Thursday, Fauci disputed the president’s frequent claim that the U.S. is “doing great.”

“As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great,” he said. “I mean, we’re just not.”

Trump Administration Response

Trump, for his part, has responded by publicly undermining and contradicting the top public health expert.

During a Fox News interview Thursday, he said that Fauci “is a nice man, but he’s made a lot of mistakes.” 

During another interview earlier in the week, when asked about Fauci’s claim that, in his expert opinion, the U.S. was in a bad place, Trump responded, “I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him.”

However, the tension between Trump and Fauci escalated significantly on Saturday when aides to the president circulated a list of remarks made by Dr. Fauci to numerous media outlets that the administration said had later proved to be wrong.

That list, which multiple outlets have said resembled opposition research on a political opponent, was accompanied by a statement from a White House official who that “several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things” and noted about a dozen of those remarks.

According to reports, the list consisted of several instances early on in the pandemic where Fauci appeared to downplay the virus, including comments he made in January where he said the coronavirus was “not a major threat,” as well as reassurances he made in February where he minimized asymptomatic spread and argued that “at this moment, there is no need to change anything that you’re doing on a day-by-day basis.”

Response & Backlash

The list was a highly unusual move as it represented a direct attack by the Trump administration on one of its own members.

In response, many condemned Trump and praised Dr. Fauci, and the topic trended on Twitter. Some pointed out that the statements the White House had flagged were made by Dr. Fauci early on before there was more cohesive information about the coronavirus, and that he has since backtracked on those remarks.

But Trump, by contrast, has repeatedly downplayed the virus and actively made false claims about it as well as the use of face coverings. 

White House officials told reporters that their intent with the list was not to discredit Fauci, but to show that everyone should listen to a wide range of doctors. Others, however, said that it was incredibly hypocritical to send out this list of statements Fauci made months ago that later turned out to be wrong when Trump still touts some to this day.

The White House attempt to sideline and undermine Fauci also comes as the U.S. is seeing just massive spikes. On Sunday, Florida reported the highest amount of new cases in a single day in any state with more than 15,000.

On Monday, the New York Times reported that COVID cases are now officially rising in 39 states.

Trump continued to downplay the virus Monday morning, re-tweeting a post by Chuck Woodley where the conservative former game show host wrote that “Everyone is lying” about the coronavirus, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and doctors.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NBC News)

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