Washington careens toward government shutdown with no deal in sightMichael Mathes• President Donald Trump has stood firm against Democrats as he seeks border wall funding, risking a partial government shutdown if a compromise is not reached by December 21, 2018 (AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski) Washington (AFP) – An intensifying spending standoff sent US lawmakers scrambling Monday to avert a partial government shutdown, with Republican and Democratic leaders deadlocked over President Donald Trump’s demands for border wall funding.As Washington barreled toward a shuttering of key federal agencies in just four days, the White House appeared dug in on Trump’s call for Congress to budget $5 billion in 2019 to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border that he insists will check illegal immigration.If no breakthrough is reached, the shutdown would occur over the Christmas holiday — when most lawmakers flee the US Capitol — leaving Washington red-faced at the end of the year.The closure could potentially spill into early January, when the new Congress — including a Democratically-controlled House of Representatives — is sworn in.Lawmakers involved in funding negotiations suggested the first move would have to come from Trump’s team.”We’ll see soon, but the clock’s ticking away,” Republican Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby told reporters.Democrats are united in their opposition to Trump’s ask, saying their intent is to vote for no more than $1.6 billion in border security funding as laid out in bipartisan Senate legislation earlier this month.Trump launched a fresh attack on the opposition party and its offer of wall-less border security funding.”Anytime you hear a Democrat saying that you can have good Boarder (sic) Security without a Wall, write them off as just another politician following the party line,” he tweeted.White House senior advisor Stephen Miller said Sunday that building the wall remained a top priority and that Trump was „absolutely” prepared to shut down government to achieve that goal.- Not enough votes -Last week, a defiant Trump said he would be „proud” to shutter the government over border security.Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer stressed there are not enough votes in Congress to pass wall funding, and that it would be up to Trump to repeal his demand.”President Trump still doesn’t have a plan to keep the government open. In fact, the only indication he has given is that he wants a government shutdown,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.Democrats have made two offers to Trump, Schumer said: pass a funding stopgap, known as a continuing resolution (CR), for the unfunded agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year through September 2019, or fund most of the agencies and pass a CR for homeland security.”His temper tantrum will get him a shutdown, but it will not get him a wall,” Schumer said. „It’s futile.”The window for action is narrow. The House is off until Wednesday evening, leaving very limited time before funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department and other agencies expires Friday at midnight.Some members of Congress have told US media they see little chance of reaching a compromise in the coming days and have advocated for a short-term stopgap spending bill that would punt the problem until January.Complicating the stalemate, several of the 100-plus lawmakers who are either retiring at year’s end or lost their seats in November’s midterm elections, mainly Republicans, may not be fully motivated to return to Washington this week for a final federal spending vote.”Many of them don’t want to come back,” Schumer noted.Should a shutdown occur, it would be relatively limited, as Congress has already funded 75 percent of government operations through September.But Americans have little appetite for the standoff, and Trump would likely suffer if the government closed temporarily, polls show.Forty-three percent of respondents said they would blame Trump and Republicans for a shutdown, compared to 24 percent blaming Democrats, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University Poll. Thirty percent would blame both equally.
President Trump stumbled writing about one of his defining political issues: border security. Or, as the president called it in a tweet on Monday, „Boarder Security.”
Key takeaways from new reports on Russian disinformation Matt o’Brien and Barbara Ortutay, AP Technology Writers•Some suspected Russian-backed fake social media accounts on Facebook.Russians seeking to influence U.S. elections through social media had their eyes on Instagram and the black community.These were among the findings in two reports released Monday by the Senate intelligence committee. Separate studies from University of Oxford researchers and the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge reveal insights into how Russian agents sought to influence Americans by saturating their favorite online services and apps with hidden propaganda.Here are the highlights:INSTAGRAM’S „MEME WARFARE”Both reports show that misinformation on Facebook’s Instagram may have had broader reach than the interference on Facebook itself.The New Knowledge study says that since 2015, the Instagram posts generated 187 million engagements, such as comments or likes, compared with 77 million on Facebook.And the barrage of image-centric Instagram „memes” has only grown since the 2016 election. Russian agents shifted their focus to Instagram after the public last year became aware of the widespread manipulation on Facebook and Twitter.NOT JUST ADS Revelations last year that Russian agents used rubles to pay for some of their propaganda ads drew attention to how gullible tech companies were in allowing their services to be manipulated.But neither ads nor automated „bots” were as effective as unpaid posts hand-crafted by human agents pretending to be Americans. Such posts were more likely to be shared and commented on, and they rose in volume during key dates in U.S. politics such as during the presidential debates in 2016 or after the Obama administration’s post-election announcement that it would investigate Russian hacking.”These personalized messages exposed U.S. users to a wide range of disinformation and junk news linked to on external websites, including content designed to elicit outrage and cynicism,” says the report by Oxford researchers, who worked with social media analysis firm Graphika.DEMOGRAPHIC TARGETING Both reports found that Russian agents tried to polarize Americans in part by targeting African-American communities extensively. They did so by campaigning for black voters to boycott elections or follow the wrong voting procedures in 2016, according to the Oxford report.The New Knowledge report added that agents were „developing Black audiences and recruiting Black Americans as assets” beyond how they were targeting either left- or right-leaning voters.The reports also support previous findings that the influence operations sought to polarize Americans by sowing political divisions on issues such as immigration and cultural and religious identities. The goal, according to the New Knowledge report, was to „create and reinforce tribalism within each targeted community.”Such efforts extended to Google-owned YouTube, despite Google’s earlier assertion to Congress that Russian-made videos didn’t target specific segments of the population.PINTEREST TO POKEMON The New Knowledge report says the Russian troll operation worked in many ways like a conventional corporate branding campaign, using a variety of different technology services to deliver the same messages to different groups of people.Among the sites infiltrated with propaganda were popular image-heavy services like Pinterest and Tumblr, chatty forums like Reddit, and a wonky geopolitics blog promoted from Russian-run accounts on Facebook and YouTube.Even the silly smartphone game „Pokemon Go” wasn’t immune. A Tumblr post encouraged players to name their Pokemon character after a victim of police brutality.WHAT NOW?Both reports warn that some of these influence campaigns are ongoing.The Oxford researchers note that 2016 and 2017 saw „significant efforts” to disrupt elections around the world not just by Russia, but by domestic political parties spreading disinformation.They warn that online propaganda represents a threat to democracies and public life. They urge social media companies to share data with the public far more broadly than they have so far.”Protecting our democracies now means setting the rules of fair play before voting day, not after,” the Oxford report says.
More than 15,000 people, according to local press reports, joined the protest
Budapest (AFP) – Protesters threw smoke grenades at police who responded with tear gas in Budapest on Sunday as thousands of people rallied against a new „slave law” passed by the government of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
More than 15,000 people, according to local press reports, joined the demonstration — the first rally since Orban returned to power in 2010 to bring together all opposition parties, from greens to the far right, under the same banner.
The protest was called by unions and opposition parties outraged at reforms that hike the annual overtime hours that employers can demand from 250 to 400 hours and allows payment to be delayed by up to three years.
The government says the changes are needed by employers short of manpower and will benefit those wanting to work extra hours.
Sunday’s protest ended up at Parliament Square, where protesters chanting „Orban get lost!” have been gathering since the law was adopted on Wednesday.
Protesters led by two opposition lawmakers later marched to Hungary’s public television headquarters to read a petition but were refused access.
Protesters then hurled missiles and smoke grenades prompting police to respond with tear gas, as they have done in previous days.
„They don’t negotiate with anyone. They just do whatever they want. They steal everything. It’s intolerable. It cannot go on,” said one protester, Zoli, a transport worker.
Protests in the past week have been the most violent in Hungary for over a decade with dozens arrested and at least 14 police injured.
Other reforms passed by parliament, which is dominated by Orban’s ruling party, include a bill paving the way for new „administrative courts” to oversee public administration cases.
The justice minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, a close Orban ally, would oversee the courts, leading some to warn the premier could have near-total political influence over the judicial system.
Anger over the legislation has prompted opposition parties across the spectrum, who accuse Orban and his ruling Fidesz party of steering Hungary toward authoritarianism, to join forces.
Pro-government public and commercial media have portrayed the protesters as anarchists and „mercenaries of George Soros”.
The Hungarian-born US billionaire Soros has long been accused by Orban of plotting to destabilise Hungary.
(Bloomberg) — Anti-government protesters demonstrated in Hungary for the fifth time in less than a week, extending a string of rallies against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
People gathered outside the headquarters of state television in Budapest Monday, where the public broadcaster rejected a demand by opposition lawmakers to read a petition on air a day earlier. The Index.hu website estimated more than 1,000 had arrived, with more joining. The protests have become more tense, with security officers using tear gas each evening. Police said they would ensure public safety during the event.
The rallies have grown from an initial rejection of legislation allowing longer overtime to a call to undo parts of Orban’s creation of a self-styled „illiberal democracy,” including public media and a judiciary that’s free of government influence. They have also united the nation’s fragmented opposition.
Still, it’s uncertain whether the protests will succeed in pushing Orban into any changes. His ruling party enjoys a constitutional majority in parliament, which he has used to amass more power than any of his predecessors. Those steps are at the center of a European Union probe into the erosion of democratic values in Hungary.
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People walk outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw
LUXEMBOURG/WARSAW (Reuters) – The European Union’s top court ruled on Monday that Poland must immediately suspend a law that forced some Supreme Court judges to retire, drawing a line under a dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had already agreed to scrap the law that lowered the judges’ retirement age, after the European Court of Justice issued an interim judgment against the legislation in October. Monday’s order made the court decision final.
The eurosceptic and nationalist PiS initially pushed through a range of new powers after coming to power in 2015 that rights groups and EU officials said threatened the rule of law and increased the government’s control over Polish courts.
PiS originally argued the changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of Communism.
But as it prepares for national elections next year, it has shown signs of softening its position on a number of issues.
President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling party, said late on Monday he had approved revamped legislation to reverse the change to the judges’ retirement age.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Potter)
BEIRUT (AP) — A bomb blast in a northwestern Syrian town held by Turkish-backed opposition forces killed at least eight people and wounded two dozen Sunday, activists and local security said, the latest in a series of attacks along the border where Turkey has troops.
The spike in attacks follows Turkish threats to expand its offensive against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, moving from the areas it currently controls in northwestern Syria to the east, where U.S troops are also based. The U.S-led coalition against the Islamic State group backs the Syrian Kurdish fighters who have gained control of nearly 30 percent of Syrian territory, mostly in eastern Syria, after chasing out IS militants from the area. But Turkey considers the Kurdish militia an existential threat and considers it an extension of an insurgency within its territory.
Turkey has backed Syrian opposition fighters to fight IS militants and uproot the Kurdish militia from along its borders since 2016.
Meanwhile in Doha, Turkey’s foreign minister said if Syrian President Bashar Assad were to win internationally monitored elections, then Turkey and other countries would consider working with him. „If it’s democratic elections and if it’s a credible one, then everybody should consider that,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said, speaking at the Doha Forum in Qatar.
The Turkish minister said „credible, transparent, democratic and fair elections” must take place where Syrians, including those abroad, can vote. More than 5.6 Syrians live as refugees in neighboring countries, the majority of them in Turkey.
Besides its military operations, Turkey has been engaged with Russia and Iran, the two main allies of Assad in the war, leading cease-fire talks and efforts to form a constitutional committee made up of representatives of Assad’s government and the opposition, which Ankara backs. Cease-fires have largely held, but the formation of a constitutional committee has stalled amid disagreements over representation.
Images of the Sunday attack showed small fires and damaged vehicles at a busy market in central Afrin. Vegetables and other merchandise littered the ground, as sirens rang out and rescuers searched for casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the explosion killed eight people and appeared to have been caused by a car bomb. It said the bomb went off in a market near the base of one of the Islamist opposition groups governing Afrin. The activist-operated Shaam news agency reported the same toll.
Ahmed Kurdi, a local security official, said the bombing killed eight and wounded 24 others, all of them civilians. He said a second car bomb was discovered and diffused before it exploded.
Another attack on Thursday killed at least three civilians and one Turkish soldier.
The U.S.-Kurdish alliance has soured relations between Ankara and Washington. Turkey views the main Kurdish militia as an extension of an insurgency within its borders.
The U.S. military has set up observation posts to try to prevent friction between its NATO ally and the Syrian Kurdish militia. The Pentagon on Wednesday warned Turkey against unilateral action in northeastern Syria.
Late Saturday, the European Union roreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said a possible Turkish operation in eastern Syria is a source of „concern.”
She called on Turkey to refrain from any unilateral action, which it said would likely undermine efforts against Islamic State militants in the area or „risk further instability in Syria”
Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces drove the Kurdish militia out of Afrin in March. The majority-Kurdish town has since been controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters, but has often come under attack from Kurdish insurgents in the area. The Kurdish militia and affiliated groups complain of a systematic campaign by Turkey’s allies to drive out the local Kurdish population.
Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.
Paris (AFP) – A French anti-terrorist court on Monday charged a man arrested for allegedly supplying a revolver used in a mass shooting at a Christmas market in Strasbourg last week, a judicial source said.
The 37-year-old, who was not immediately identified, was ordered to be held in detention on charges of association with a terrorist conspiracy and weapons possession, the source said.
The man, initially arrested on Thursday, is suspected of helping to provide the pistol made at the end of the 19th century used by Cherif Chekatt, a career criminal who shot dead five people and wounded 11 at the market last Tuesday night.
Chekatt, who was on a list of possible extremist security risks, was shot and killed by police after a two-day manhunt in the city.
The alleged associate appeared before a judge in Paris, the prosecutors’ office in the capital said.
Six other people detained in the wake of Tuesday’s attack, including Chekatt’s parents and two of his brothers, have been released without charge.
The Islamic State group claimed Chekatt was one of their „fighters”, but this was dismissed by French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Chekatt’s father, Abdelkrim, told France 2 television Saturday night that his son believed the Islamic State „fought for a good cause”.
„I always told him they were criminals,” his father added.
Had his son hinted he intended to kill people, „I would have told police about him, so that he wouldn’t have killed anyone, and wouldn’t have gotten himself killed,” he said.
Four of the five people killed in Tuesday’s attack were foreigners or born abroad.
One was a 45-year-old Thai tourist, and another a 45-year-old Franco-Afghan garage owner who fled his country 20 years ago.
A 28-year-old Italian journalist, in town to cover the European parliament, was also shot and killed, as was a 36-year-old former Pole who had lived in Strasbourg for the past 20 years.
The dead also included a 61-year-old Frenchman who had just retired and was shot in the head as he stepped out of a restaurant.
PARIS (AP) — People filled a square in the French city of Strasbourg on Sunday to show respect and sympathy for the victims of last week’s shooting attack near a famous Christmas market as the death toll rose to five.
French authorities said a Polish man died in a Strasbourg hospital Sunday, one of a dozen people wounded in last Tuesday’s attack. Poland’s Foreign Ministry extended condolences Sunday on Twitter to his family.
According to the newspaper DNA, more than 1,000 people attended the memorial, which ended with a minute of applause and a rendition of France’s national anthem, „La Marseillaise.”
The hour-long ceremony took place in Kleber Square, not far from where a gunman opened fire on Tuesday evening. Strasbourg Mayor Roland Ries praised the city’s resilience in the face of hardship.
The „extremely large crowd in the Christmas market” on Saturday „was an illustration of our commitment to these values ??on which our living together is based, which we will continue to defend against all those who want to attack it,” Ries said.
An extensive manhunt for the gunman ended Thursday night when the main suspect, Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, was killed in a shootout with police in the city neighborhood where he grew up.
The attack remains under investigation. The Paris prosecutor’s office said two people who were close Chekatt were released from custody Sunday „in the absence of incriminating elements at this stage.”
Only one of the seven people authorities detained while searching for Chekatt was still being held.
Chekatt’s parents and two of his brothers, who were held for questioning for several days, were released Saturday.
The attack victims came from multiple countries: One of the dead was a tourist from Thailand. Another was an Italian journalist covering the European Parliament based in Strasbourg. The latest to die from his injuries was a Pole named Barto Orent-Niedzielski, according to the Strasbourg regional administration, or prefecture.
Polish news agency PAP identified him as a 36-year-old originally from Katowice, Poland. His brother Jakub had been posting updates on his condition on Facebook since the attack, and suggested Saturday that the family was considering when to end Orent-Niedzielski’s life support.
Then Sunday, Jakub shared the following note: „My brother Bartek Orent-Niedzielski has just left us. He thanks you for your love and the strength you brought him. He will always be there, watching over us, and will continue to bring us his joy. Thanks to everyone.”
In response, online condolences poured in.
Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel’s army said Sunday it has uncovered another Hezbollah „attack tunnel” leading from Lebanon into its territory, the fourth since it started a search-and-destroy operation this month.
Israel says the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group has dug the infiltration tunnels for use in a future conflict, and the military has been working to eliminate them.
The latest tunnel crossing into northern Israel was exposed at the weekend, the army said in a statement.
As with the other tunnels, soldiers placed explosives in it to keep out militants from the Lebanese side, it said.
The military refused to give the exact location, stressing the tunnel did not „pose an imminent threat”.
On December 4, the army announced an operation dubbed „Northern Shield” to destroy tunnels it said have been dug under the border by Hezbollah.
Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah in 2006 that was halted by a UN-brokered truce.
Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.
„The Lebanese government is held accountable for the attack tunnels dug from Lebanese territory,” the Sunday statement said.
„This is another blatant breach of UN Resolution 1701 and of Israeli sovereignty,” it added, referring to the resolution ending the 2006 war.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, and international community should do more to curb Hezbollah’s „acts of aggression against Israel”.
UNIFIL has verified the existence of two of the tunnels Israel has exposed so far.
Fast forward 12 months and the show that used to be one of the biggest gigs in the music industry is now reportedly struggling to book talent.
Timberlake was announced as the headliner in October of 2017 and as of mid-December, rumored headliner Maroon 5 haven’t publicly committed to the gig, though reports have them taking the stage in Atlanta on Feb. 3.
With the big game just six weeks away, it’s somewhat shocking that no official announcement has been made.
The Kaepernick effect
Former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee in 2016 during the National Anthem to protest racial oppression in the United States.
His divisive protest quickly caught fire and had hundreds of other players doing the same.
Reactions from NFL team owners, players and fans were mixed, as some felt like it was a dig at U.S. vets, while others felt it was a peaceful way to bring Kaepernick’s message to light.
And while this had a viral effect on the NFL in 2016 and 2017, and is still ongoing today, why is the Super Bowl halftime show suffering now?
Well, the easiest answer is Kaepernick, who was thrust back into national discussion for not only still being unsigned, but also becoming part of Nike’s new advertising push.
In September, Nike announced that the former NFL star and activist would be the face of the „Just Do It” campaign.
But it’s not just about Kaepernick.
Variety’s senior music editor Jem Aswad says it’s much more than just about Kaepernick, though that is certainly a major driving force.
„There’s always drama associated with the halftime performance,” he told ABC News.
This year, in addition to Kaepernick being vaulted back into the spotlight, Aswad points out that the game is being held in Atlanta, a city known for its rich history steeped in legendary black music.
„They had TLC, they had Usher, as well as Jermaine Dupri, who had Criss Cross and others, Atlanta is a juggernaut right now,” he said. „There are so many [now and dating back decades], I’d almost be reluctant to rattle them off.”
„They had this opportunity to celebrate Atlanta music with the Super Bowl Halftime show and what do we get, Maroon 5. This really isn’t a diss at Maroon 5,” he stressed. „Nothing against Maroon 5!”
Aswad said the NFL really missed the boat in celebrating the culture of the city where the big game is taking place with an all-white rock group.
The music editor added that with the positioning of the game in Atlanta, the controversy surrounding Kaepernick does come back up, as his protest is a „loaded topic,” especially in the „black entertainment community.”
„Some of the artists who have been approached either with Maroon 5 or before them … they are trying to balance the lineup with ideally a black performer from Atlanta, but we keep hearing they are getting, ‘No’s,'” Aswad added. „Rihanna reportedly turned them down, Cardi B has supposedly been going back and forth, we hear they are talking to Lauren Hill, we heard they are talking to Usher.”
He doesn’t think this has ever happened and that the show has not been set in the modern era so late in the game.
„I feel kind of bad for Maroon 5, they think they get this great opportunity and the reaction has been probably not what they would have hoped,” he added.
Maroon 5 STILL not confirmed?
It was as early as October that outlets like Rolling Stone magazine and Aswad at Variety were reporting that A-list stars, like the aforementioned Rihanna, were turning down the halftime gig because their values didn’t align with the NFL.
In November, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine spoke to Ellen DeGeneres and said about his band taking on the show: „I can neither confirm nor deny the truth of this rumor. It’s definitely a rumor and the rumor is a rumor that everyone seems to be discussing.”
„Whoever does it is probably equal parts nervous and excited,” he added, but noted, „This is all speculative because I don’t know who I’m talking about!”
Despite the lack of confirmation from Levine, there’s a petition on Change.orgthat has almost 75,000 signatures asking the band to drop out.
A request for comment from Maroon 5’s rep was not immediately returned to ABC News.
Weeks out and still no official word.
While there are a slew of unconfirmed reports on the halftime gig, absolutely no one has gone on the record and confirmed anything.
„Any act that would perform alongside Maroon 5 is effectively co-signing the NFL,” Aswad told ABC News.
Variety and Aswad reported over the weekend that Cardi B, who collaborated on a hit with the band and will be in Atlanta during the airing of the show in February, is also on the fence and hasn’t confirmed or denied that she’s been offered a role in the halftime show.
And while we don’t know if Cardi will join Maroon 5 on stage, other artists like Post Malone and Bruno Mars will be in town around that time for other shows.
In fact, Malone will be joining Aerosmith for a pre-game concert days before as part of the Super Bowl week celebrations.
JUST ANNOUNCED — @PostMalone will be joining @Aerosmith on Friday, February 1st, for night 2 of Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest! Two Rockstars, one stage… click & get your tickets now! #BudLight #SuperBowlMusicFest
Post Malone & Aerosmith – Bud Light Super Bowl Music Fest in Atlanta
That doesn’t mean they’ll head over to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to possibly join Maroon 5 … that’s if Maroon 5 even perform themselves.
What about the Anthem?
Last year it was P!nk performing a rendition of the national anthem that left millions with chills and feelings of American pride.
This year, while the halftime gig is the talk of the town, no one has mentioned the anthem, which still doesn’t have a performer.
So, while the teams are starting to plan for the playoffs with two weeks left in the regular season, the biggest game of the year is without an „official” halftime show and singer for the national anthem.
Only time will tell how the NFL and Atlanta fill that very large void.
The NFL did not immediately return ABC News’ request for comment.