- Employees at the Chinese consulate in Houston,Texas were spotted burning documents on Tuesday, raising questions and concerns about further deteriorating relations between the United States and China.
- Later that night, the U.S. ordered the consulate to close by Friday, with the State Department citing concerns over American intellectual property.
- The Justice Department has also charged two Chinese students with trying to steal U.S. intellectual property on behalf of themselves and the Chinese state, though it’s unclear if that is connected to the consulate’s forced closure.
- The Chinese government has now threatened to retaliate, calling the closure “outrageous and unjustified.”
Chinese Consulate in Houston Burns Documents
The U.S. State Department has now ordered the Chinese government to clear out of its consulate building in Houston, Texas, by Friday.
That announcement, which came Tuesday night, sparked immediate condemnation from the Chinese government, which vowed to retaliate.
The situation seemingly began Tuesday evening when people at that consulate building were spotted burning documents in what appeared to be trash cans.
Police and firefighters responded to the scene after calls from some residents in the area. Despite their presence, authorities never entered the consulate grounds because they weren’t granted access to it, a move that is in line with diplomatic rules.
Several hours later, local TV station KPRC 2 captured more footage showing people inside the consulate grounds hosing down what appeared to be flaming containers.
The event raised several questions and concerns, particularly that U.S.-China relations had hit a new low. In fact, such a thought was not unrealistic. Both countries have continually ramped up tensions with one another over the last year. In addition to a trade war, both countries have also expelled or restricted each other’s journalists. They’ve slapped sanctions on each other’s government officials. On top of that, President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus.”
More recently, the U.S. has declared that it no longer views Hong Kong as separate and autonomous from China. That came after China passed a controversial national security law that allowed it to impose its law enforcement on the city for the first time ever.
U.S. Orders the Consulate to Shut Down
Following the reports of burning documents, U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus officially announced the consulate’s closure. In a brief statement, she said the Trump administration had ordered it shut down in order “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”
“The United States will not tolerate the [People’s Republic of China’s] violations of our sovereignty and intimidation of our people, just as we have not tolerated the PRC’s unfair trade practices, theft of American jobs, and other egregious behavior,” she added.
Though she did not give a specific reason, Ortagus suggested that China had violated the Vienna Convention, which governs diplomatic relations between states, Notably, the rule of that convention state diplomats must “respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State” and “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.”
Houston police have also confirmed that employees at the consulate, as well as at a building where many of them live, will be evicted on Friday.
As far as what China specifically did to prompt the U.S. to make this move, that much has not been released. In fact, it’s unknown why the U.S. singled out Houston’s consulate instead of another.
While in Europe on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the U.S. has “long complained” about intellectual property theft by China.
“President Trump has said ‘enough,’” Pompeo said. “We’re not going to allow this.”
There is reason to suggest that the move is tied to another event that occurred on Tuesday: the Justice Department’s indictment of two Chinese nationals on charges of hacking and targeting sensitive coronavirus vaccine research.
Those nationals, two former engineering students, are now charged with hacking companies connected to high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and gaming software development. Additionally, they’ve been charged with dissidents, clergy, and human rights activists in the United States, China, and Hong Kong.
What’s more, the Justice Department has accused China of sponsoring them, alleging that they were aided by the Chinese Ministry of State Security. Notably, this is the first time the U.S. has ever charged suspected Chinese hackers of working on behalf of the state.
“China steals intellectual property and research which bolsters its economy, and then they use that illicit gain as a weapon to silence any country that would dare challenge their illegal actions,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said in a statement very similar to Ortagus’ comments.
“This type of economic coercion is not what we expect from a trusted world leader,” Bowdich said. “It is what we expect from an organized criminal syndicate.”
Still, it is currently unclear if this situation is directly tied to the consulate’s closure.
China Promises to Retaliate
Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, called the consulate’s forced closure “outrageous and unjustified,” adding that it is an “unprecedented escalation” that violates international law.
“The U.S. has far more diplomatic missions and staff working in China,” Wang said in a threat to retaliate. “So if the U.S. is bent on going down this wrong path, we will resolutely respond.”
“#China’s consulate in #Houston is not a diplomatic facility,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) said Wednesday. “It is the central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States. Now that building must close & the spies have 72 hours to leave or face arrest. This needed to happen.”
While it’s unknown how China plans to respond, many media outlets have suggested that China may move to close either the U.S. embassy in Beijing or one of the U.S.’s five consulate offices scattered throughout China.
One of those offices includes a consulate building in Wuhan that is currently seen as a likely candidate for closure. Part of that decision could be influenced by the fact that the U.S. evacuated that office in January due to the coronavirus outbreak, a move which insulted the central government in Beijing. In fact, that office still hasn’t reopened.
So far, however, China’s only move has been issuing a renewed travel warning for Chinese students in the U.S. That warning advises them that they could face arbitrary interrogations, the confiscation of personal belongings, and potential detentions. Likely, that warning alludes to the Justice Department’s charges against those two former students.
See what others are saying: (KPRC 2) (The Washington Post) (BBC)
Conservatives are Mad at “Woke” Xbox for Minor Climate-Related Updates
The fury comes after Xbox announced it was slightly altering existing consoles to better utilize and save energy.
Same War, New Battlefield
Mere days after M&M canceled their “spokescandies” due to backlash from the right, led largely by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, conservatives have found a new front for their ongoing culture war: Xbox.
Carlson spent months complaining that small character redesigns were “woke” because they made the animated anthropomorphized M&M’s — in his own words — “less sexy.” His campaign finally proved successful on Monday when the company announced it would be doing away with the spokescandies and replacing them with actress Maya Rudolph.
Conservatives, now facing a sudden dearth of non-issues to complain about, quickly found a new issue to rage against. Xbox announced in a blog post earlier this month that it is making minor updates to lower its environmental impact as part of an effort to reach Microsoft’s goal of being carbon-negative by 2030.
Now, instead of having an Xbox wake up to update games, apps, and software during random times of the night, it will do that at a time of night when a user’s local energy grid is generating the most power it can from renewable sources.
Xbox also said it would automatically update some older consoles to a power-saving mode that aims to reduce electricity consumption when it is turned off — a feature that is already the default on newer consoles.
According to The Verge, the only difference for users is that an Xbox in power-saving mode takes around 15 seconds to boot up instead of doing so immediately as the console does in “sleep” mode. The change is a small price to pay for what the outlet described as “significant” energy savings.
Xbox Under Fire
To many leading conservative voices, the minimal shifts were just another example of “woke” culture.
While discussing M&M’s spokescandies Tuesday morning, “Fox and Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt brought up Xbox’s new changes with Fox radio host Jimmy Failla.
“So Xbox has also announced that they’re going woke too, you know, because of climate change,” Earhardt said.
“I mean, it’s crazy what they’re doing, but we understand what this is. It’s not that it’s actually going to offset emissions, okay — the level of reduction is infinitesimal,” Failla claimed, without evidence. “But they’re trying to recruit your kids into climate politics at an earlier age; make them climate conscious now.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think of that — you’re right, they’re going after the children,” Earhardt agreed, despite the fact that internal data from Microsoft shows just around 10% of Xbox owners are under the age of 18.
Other prominent conservatives also did their part to bait Americans into anger on social media, including America’s Foundation, which posted a tweet stating that “the woke brigade is after video games.”
The post linked an article from the right-wing website TheBlaze, which asserted that “Xbox will force gamers to power down to fight climate change.” That, however, is false — Xbox has said users can switch back and change the settings any time they want
Still, top lawmakers continued to share the article and spread its false claims, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.).
“First gas stoves, then your coffee, now they’re gunning for your Xbox,” he wrote in the post, which was flagged by Twitter and given an “added context” warning.
The same warning, however, was not placed in a very similar post by Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Tx.), who also shared the article.
“They want to take your guns. They want to take your gas stoves. And now they want to take your Xbox. What’s next?” he wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Daily Beast) (VICE)
Washington State Launches Investigation Into Abuse at Private Special Ed. Schools
Allegations include staff kicking a fourth-grader and dragging a child with autism around by his leg.
Washington State’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has launched an investigation into a system of private schools for kids with disabilities after ProPublica and the Seattle Times reported on allegations of abuse.
The series of articles focused on Northwest School of Innovative Learning (NWSOIL). NWSOIL is a set of private schools that serve 500 Washington public school students with serious disabilities. ProPublica and the Seattle Times found years of complaints from parents and school districts against NWSOIL alleging abuse, overuse of isolation rooms, and unqualified aides teaching instead of certified professionals.
One district claimed NWSOIL staff kicked a fourth-grader. Another alleged that a child with autism was dragged around by his thigh.
Many former NWSOIL employees also claim that they were pressured by their parent company to to enroll more students and skimp on basic resources, like staffing.
In a seven-page letter, OSPI reminded NWSOIL of its authority to revoke or suspend a school’s approval, meaning that it could shut NWSOIL down.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations made in the articles, OSPI is examining what, if any, actions need to be taken with respect to Northwest SOIL’s approval to contract with Washington school districts,” Tania May, assistant superintendent for special education at OSPI, wrote in the letter.
OSPI has demanded any records of mistreatment, maltreatment, abuse, or neglect as well as documents pertaining to restraint or isolation of students and calls to the police. They are also seeking information about the student-to-teacher ratio and staff qualifications.
In the letter, OSPI claims that all of this was previously unknown to them as well as to police, Child Protective Services, and local school districts. They are asking NWSOIL for an explanation as to why the allegations were not reported.
NWSOIL defended itself in a public statement.
“Use of restraints and seclusion are always used as a last response when a student is at imminent risk of hurting themselves or others,“ it said. “We strongly deny any allegation that we understaff and/or pressure staff to increase admissions in order to maximize profits.”
Washington state representatives are considering a reform bill that will give them more oversight on the publicly funded system of private special education schools.
In this legislation, OSPI and at least one district that sends students to this program would be required to visit before approving the contract. It would also standardize district agreements with programs like NWSOIL, including financial safeguards to make sure funds are being used appropriately.
See the full series: (ProPublica) (The Seattle Times)
Mass Shootings in Half Moon Bay, Oakland Rock California
Just since Saturday, at least 19 people have been killed and 17 have been injured in mass shootings in California.
California Sees Third Attack in Under a Week
Two California localities experienced separate mass shootings Monday, just days after an attacker killed 11 and injured nine others in a suburb of Los Angeles.
The first of the most recent shootings took place in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town about 30 miles outside of San Francisco, where a gunman killed seven and critically injured an eighth at two different locations.
According to authorities, police were dispatched to the first location around 2:20 pm and found four people shot to death and a fifth victim also suffering gunshot wounds. Shortly after, three more people were found dead at another site nearby.
About two hours later, police discovered the suspect in his car in the parking lot of a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office substation with a semiautomatic handgun in the vehicle that officials later confirmed he had purchased legally.
Sheriff Christina Corpus said the man was taken into custody “without incident” and is “fully cooperating.” He has been identified as a 66-year-old Half Moon Bay resident of Asian descent.
Currently, the gunman’s motive is unknown, but the Sheriff told reporters Monday that both of the locations he targeted were nurseries, and it has since been reported that they were mushroom farms.
“All evidence we have points to this being an instance of workplace violence. The Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location, is where the subject was employed,” Corpus said in a press conference Tuesday, though she added that, so far, the “only known connection between the victims and the suspect is that they may have been coworkers.”
As of writing, it remains unclear why he targeted the second location. A mushroom farm called Concord Farms has told reporters that it was the site of the second shooting — which a law enforcement official confirmed to The Washington Post.
In a statement to the media, a spokesperson said the farm had “no past knowledge” of the alleged gunman or his possible motives. Little has been released about the victims, though Corpus said Tuesday they were all adults and a “mixture of Asian and Hispanic descent,” some of whom were migrants.
Authorities had previously stated that, because people both live and work on the farms, children were among those who witnessed the shooting. However, on Tuesday, one official walked that back and said while children were indeed in the vicinity, police do not have information about specific witnesses.
Just hours after the violence in Half Moon Bay, seven people were injured, and one other was killed during a shooting at a gas station in Oakland. Very little has been reported about the incident, but police have said that the shooting was “between several individuals.”
Renewed Calls for Gun Control
Californians continue to reel from the rapid succession of mass shootings in a state known for its strict gun control laws.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates against gun violence, the state ranks No. 1 in the country for gun law strength. An analysis led by the organization found that California has the sixth-lowest rate of gun ownership and the eighth-lowest gun death rate.
Many of California’s top lawmakers have argued that the state’s relatively low gun violence statistics emphasize the need for more federal regulations.
“The Second Amendment’s becoming a suicide pact,” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) told CBS News in an interview.
“We’ll continue to find whatever loopholes we can and continue to lead the national conversation on gun safety reform. And the data bares out. It works. It saves lives,” he continued. “California’s 37% lower than the death rate of the rest of the nation, and yet, with all that evidence, no one on the other side seems to give a damn. I can’t get anything done in Congress.”
Following the Monterey Park shooting, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Ca.), alongside other Democratic colleagues, introduced two gun control bills in the upper chamber. The first would ban assault weapons, while the second aims to raise the minimum age to purchase assault weapons from 18 to 21.
President Joe Biden quickly threw his support behind the measures, urging Congress to pass them.
“The majority of the American people agree with this commonsense action,” he said in a statement Monday. “There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation.”
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