In our Headlines…
Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) dominated the Nevada Caucus after having been declared the clear winner with only four percent of caucus sites reporting. Polls from the first sites to report showed that Sanders led among men and women; whites and Latinos; all but the oldest group of voters; those with a college degree and without; union and nonunion households; and well as liberal, moderate, and conservative democrats. Sanders has won the popular vote in each of the first three primary states, giving him a clear position as frontrunner in the race for the nomination. He has the third most funding, behind the two self-funded billionaires Tom Steyer and Mike Bloomberg. Despite Sanders’ lead in the large pool of candidates, none of the other Democrats have indicated that they will drop out soon. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is propelled by her recent debate performance, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) by her unexpected performance in New Hampshire and Joe Biden by his improvement in performance in Nevada relative to Iowa and New Hampshire (The New York Times, “5 Takeaways From the Nevada Caucuses,” 02.23.2020).
On Feb. 13, a senior intelligence officer who worked for the previous Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, held a bipartisan briefing about election security and Russian interference. The intelligence officer revealed that Russia has “developed a preference” for President Trump in the 2020 elections. She also revealed that Russia is supporting Sanders in the Democratic Primary. A senior White House official reported that Trump responded by stating that Maguire and the other official were being “played.” Five days after the briefing, Director Maguire was told to vacate his office by 10 a.m., and Trump announced that the U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell would be replacing Maguire as acting Director of National Intelligence until the Senate confirms a permanent Director of Intelligence. Grenell is close with the Trump family, and frequently defends the president on Fox News and Twitter. He has no previous experience in intelligence. According to the National Security Agency, intelligence officers are supposed to be apolitical, with an objective to “speak truth to power.” As a result, intelligence officers often work under a president who does not agree with their analysis of the intelligence gathered. However, three senior intelligence officers have stated that Trump’s extreme and public reactions to intelligence information may lead advisors to withhold certain information from Trump to avoid such consequences (The Washington Post, “Responding to the news of Russian interference, Trump sends chilling message to intelligence community,” 02.22.2020).
On Feb. 21, the Supreme Court voted to remove the last remaining impediment to the use of the Trump Administration’s “wealth test” for immigrants. The “wealth test” rules allow immigrants to be denied both admission and residency based on their potential need to depend on public assistance programs like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid and earned income tax credits. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to overturn a decision by an Illinois judge to block the implementation of such rules in Illinois. The administration plans to start enforcement on Feb. 24. This is a shift from the previous status quo that such requirements place an undue burden on poor immigrants as well as immigrants from non-English speaking countries. The Trump administration intended to put these rules into effect in October, but has been delayed by lower courts overturning them. Immigration officials will now weigh “positive” and “negative” factors of each person applying for a green card. “Negative” factors are anything that may indicate the individual will require government assistance, such as unemployment, lack of education or not being fluent in English (The Washington Post, “Supreme Court removes last remaining obstacle to immigrant ‘wealth test,’” 02.21.2020).
Around the World…
International concern about Coronavirus has spread after reported cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran spiked. In South Korea, the number of cases doubled from 300 to 602 over the course of last weekend. As a result, the South Korean government has raised their disease alert to the highest possible level. This will allow officials to devote more resources to containing the outbreak, as well as enabling the government to prevent public activities and temporarily close schools. In Italy, 123 cases have been reported, mostly in Lombardy and Veneto, the country’s industrial region. Nearly a dozen towns in this region, including 50,000 people, have been placed under quarantine. Schools and universities have also closed. Iran has reported 43 infections and eight deaths, leading Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Turkey to apply for immigration and travel restrictions (Reuters, “Concern over Coronavirus spread grows with cases jumping in South Korea, Italy, and Iran,” 02.22.2020).
Groups with links to both Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are working together to take control of territory in West Africa. This is an unlikely partnership, as the two groups are enemies in Syria and Yemen. Despite this, the two groups are coordinating attacks in order to establish agreed-upon spheres of influence in Sahel, which is below the Sahara desert. Sophisticated attacks by the two groups have targeted army bases and large villages with brutal force. JNIM, a group of Al-Qaeda loyalists, has 2,000 fighters in West Africa.
The Islamic State is thought to have hundreds of fighters and is actively recruiting new members in northeastern Mali. France, which has 4,500 troops in West Africa, is urging the United States to keep its 1,400 troops in West Africa, and for other European nations to contribute to the peace keeping efforts. 13,000 United Nations Peacekeepers are currently stationed in Mali (The Washington Post, “Al-Qaeda and Islamic State groups are working together in West Africa to grab large swaths of territory,” 02.22.2020).
Turkey’s southeastern border with Iran was hit with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake on Sunday, killing nine and injuring dozens in both Turkey and Iran. Over 1,000 buildings in Turkey collapsed, prompting rescue missions to extract people from the rubble. Iran and Turkey sit on top of multiple fault lines, making them the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.
Last month, an earthquake struck eastern Turkey, killing 40 residents of Turkey and inflicting structural damage in Iran (Reuters, “Nine dead in Turkey after quake hits rural Iran border region,” 02.23.2020).